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Preying on Dalits

S. Viswanathan

Two more alleged incidents of atrocities on Dalits in Tamil Nadu come to the foreground.

Numerous are the ways in which Dalits are tormented. They are murdered and maimed; women are raped; their children are abused and deprived of schooling; they are dispossessed of their property; their houses are torched; they are denied their legitimate rights and their sources of livelihood are destroyed. Adding to the long list of atrocities committed on Dalits were two incidents reported recently in Tamil Nadu, in which three Dalits were forced to consume human waste.

On September 5, at Kaundampatti in Dindigul district, Sankan, a Dalit agricultural worker, was forced to drink urine — for having lodged with the police a complaint of trespass against a caste Hindu, following a dispute between them over a piece of land. Sankan had to suffer many atrocities during his five-year-long struggle against his caste-Hindu landlord to get possession of the land. In his complaint, Sankan stated that the landlord had collected nearly Rs.1 lakh over a period of 15 years through deductions from his wages, as the price of the land.

An equally horrifying incident occurred at Thinniyam village in Tiruchi district on May 22. Two Dalits, Murugesan and Ramasami, were forced "to feed each other'' human excreta. The "crime'' they committed was that they stood by another Dalit, Karuppiah, who was engaged in a prolonged struggle against a former panchayat president and her husband to recover an amount of money he said he had given them as a bribe to get a house allotted for his sister.

Both incidents are related to the growing aspiration of Dalits to own land, either for cultivation or to build a house, and the continued opposition or indifference of caste Hindus and the government in this regard. Ironically, the principal accused in the Thinniyam incident, the panchayat president's husband, is a retired teacher, while in the Kaundampatti incident one of the alleged perpetrators of the act is a Chennai-based police constable, who belonged to the village.

While a first information report (FIR) has been registered with regard to the latest complaint, a case has been registered in connection with the earlier matter. In connection with the Thinniyam incident, 10 persons, including the former panchayat president and her husband, are liable to face charges under the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act and the Indian Penal Code. People's Watch-Tamil Nadu, a Madurai-based non-governmental organisation, has taken up both the cases with the National Human Rights Commission and the National Commission for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.

Thinniyam is a tiny village near Lalgudi. About 100 Dalit families live here; the Kallars, comprising 200 families, are the predominant caste here. Seven years ago, Karuppiah (38) reportedly paid Rs.2,000 to S. Rajalakshmi, who is a Kallar by caste and was the president of the local panchayat. With no house having been allotted and Rajalakshmi's term drawing to a close, Karuppiah demanded that the money be returned. Subramanian, Rajalakshmi's husband, who was then in service as a teacher, first asked for time; later he denied that he had taken any money. A frustrated Karuppiah tom-tommed his complaint on May 20. Enraged, Subramanian, along with his son, abused and assaulted him with footwear, Karuppiah later said in a complaint to the police. The next morning Subramanian and his relatives allegedly assaulted Murugesan and Ramasami with footwear and hot iron rods for helping Karuppiah bring his grievance to public notice. It was at that time that the two were reportedly forced to feed each other human excreta.

Sankan (44), who was in Chennai on September 25 to present his case to government officials, told Frontline that he had been a victim of breach of trust. He said that since his boyhood he had been working on the farm of a landlord of the village. Sankan said that about 15 years ago the patriarch of the family had agreed to give him a piece of land on the condition that he would deduct Rs.500 every month from Sankan's wages. But he was not given any land. He was sent out of the farm five years ago. Ever since he has been pressing his erstwhile employer to give him the land. He also took the issue to a civil court. Meanwhile, the landlords attempted to sell the disputed land. When Sankan resisted the entry of Kannan, who claimed to be one of the new owners of the land, he and his family were assaulted. He lodged a complaint with the police on September 4. The next day Kannan along with a group of persons, including the police constable, Annadurai, confronted Sankan and attacked him. In his statement Sankan said that he was dragged for about 200 metres and beaten. When he stumbled, he was caught by the hair and an assailant urinated into his mouth.

The investigation into the incident has been entrusted with the Protection of Civil Rights wing of the police. Ironically, one of the officers investigating the case is a police inspector who was transferred from Tuticorin district in connection with police excesses on Dalits in Sankaralingapuram

(Frontline, April 12).