Preying on Dalits
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
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).