People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 47

November 30, 2008


Untouchability in Tamilnadu

Struggle against violence and atrocities continues

P Sampath

A part of Uthappuram wall was demolished and a common 36ft wide pathway was opened up, thanks to the effective campaign and struggles of the CPI(M) and the Tamilnadu Untouchability Eradication Front (TNUEF) on the issue, and the eventual intervention of the state government of Tamilnadu. This had the desired impact on the democratic minded people of Tamilnadu in general and the dalit masses in particular. When such walls to prevent access to dalits were attempted to be built in districts like Vellore, Salem, Madurai city etc., by the oppressive forces, they were prevented through the struggles of the dalits. The Uthappuram wall has become quite proverbial in the sense that wherever an obstruction to the access of the dalits is encountered, the question raised is “An Uthappuram wall here too?” Naturally, the Uthappuram victory had its own telling effect in that it has encouraged the CPI(M) and the TNUEF to organise struggles to protect the dalit interests that get reflected in various forms.

Atrocities Against Dalits

Though the Uthappuram wall was broken, the oppressive forces would not accept the reality. They did everything to prevent the dalits from using the pathway. They resorted to washing their soiled linen, cleansing the utensils etc., on this street, in order to prevent the smooth movement of the dalits. The dalits were prevented from using this street even for their family functions like house-warming ceremonies, ear-boring ceremonies etc., in which they would go in a procession. Stones were thrown on them when they attempted to do so. The driver of the tractor who drove through this street was attacked. All these happened only with the implied consent of the police who stood guard there. Complaints were given under Protection of Civil Rights (PCR) Act. FIRs were registered but no arrests were made. The district administration also did not care to act. This naturally enhanced anger and discontent among the dalits. This situation ultimately snowballed into eruption of clashes in the month of October. This time the police became very pro-active and registered cases against 540 persons. When men eluded arrest, about 60 dalit women were arrested. They included a mother who had given birth to a child just three days ago, a six month old child and old women. Women, including an 80 year old grandma were brutally attacked. Only when the district CPI(M) leaders including P Mohan, MP, intervened, they were released. The leaders of the TNUEF including its convener P Sampath met the released women at Usilampatti and consoled them.

During this period when the men were at large and the women arrested and taken to the police station, the police utilised the opportunity to break open the dalit houses and damaged whatever properties that came in handy for them including TVs, fans, tables, chairs, cots, utensils etc. Properties worth lakhs of rupees were damaged. Having indulged in such a nefarious act, the police promulgated Cr P C 144 banning entry into the village. On hearing this, the district leaders of the Party with P Sampath, state secretariat member and P Mohan went to Uthappuram violating the ban order and met the people there and ascertained the intensity of the situation including the extent of damage to their properties. Because of the false cases against 540 people, the men-folk could not enter the village, lest they should get arrested. The next day, a team of CPI (M) MLAs led by Balabarathi, leader of the Tamilnadu CPI(M) legislature party with N Nanmaran and Latha met them. On behalf of the TNUEF, a team of lawyers went there. U Vasuki, Central Committee member of the Party met the people of Uthappuram along with the AIDWA leaders. DYFI leaders also visited the village.

Demonstrations and relief measures

A 2000 strong powerful demonstration was held at Madurai in which the Party’s state secretary N Varadarajan participated. After he met and represented this matter to the chief minister, the attempts for arrest were given up by the police and the men could return to the village. Slowly normalcy was restored. The CPI(M) raised a fund of Rs Two lakhs from Party members and distributed relief materials to the affected people of Uthappuram on the eve of Deepavali. The efforts and struggles of the Party and the TNUEF have given a lot of confidence to them. AIDWA and DYFI units launched earlier in this village have now started functioning.

Attempts at disruption

The dominant forces as well as some vested interests among the dalits have not taken kindly to the CPI(M) and its mass organisations taking roots in the village. Towards this end, they tried to create some clashes in and around Uthappuram. During this period, Puthia Tamilagam leader Dr Krishnasamy along with 300 volunteers went to Uthappuram. On his way back, some clashes erupted, as there were no proper security arrangements. Instead of taking action against those indulged in violence, police registered false cases against 850 people and started arresting anyone who could be arrested, at random.

Youth killed in police firing

The dalits started picketing against the false cases at E Kottaipatti, a village near Uthappuram and blocked the traffic. A small contingent of police with the DIG went there. Instead of assuaging their feelings or dispersing them through peaceful and softer methods, police resorted to firing, killing in the process a 23 year old youth called Suresh. DYFI conducted a protest hunger strike against the police firing in Madurai in which 1000 youth including those from Uthappuram and E Kottaipatti participated. N Varadarajan met the chief-minister and demanded judicial enquiry into the incident and the same was ordered. The attempt to arrest 850 men was also given up. This enabled men from E Kottaippatti, Kaundampatti, Perumalpatti, and Chellayipatti to return to their villages. Peace and normalcy was also restored.

AIDWA has approached the High court to order for relief to the affected people of Uthappuram, action against the police who attacked the women and also for a judicial enquiry into the police atrocities out there.

An independent fact finding team led by Professor A Marx along with lawyers and representatives of Human Rights and other voluntary organisations wanted to visit uthappuram. As they were prevented by the police, they approached the High Court and got the permission. They visited the village and met the people there. They have come out with a report which says among other things that the “CPI(M) had been with the dalits of Uthappuram from day one …. We saw for ourselves relief measures being distributed by the CPI(M) leaders when we visited the village.” They have sent their report to the government and the Human Rights commission. The Hindu dated November 2, 2008 says “The team congratulated the Communist Party of India (Marxist) on its fight against untouchability in general and at Uthappuram in particular”.

On our insistence, the district collector has been transferred. P Sampath and P Mohan met the new incumbent and insisted that the other demands of the dalits of Uthappuram like bus-shelter, drainage etc., should be addressed without any further delay. They pointedly brought to the notice of the collector that the police outpost was functioning from the premises of the dominant caste organisation in the village and this had vitiated the very neutrality of the police.

On ownership of land

In Ittikkal Akaram in Krishnagiri district, dalits have been cultivating 100 acres of land for a pretty long time. They demanded pattas to this land. The forest department gave its clearance. But the district revenue officials refused to issue pattas to the dalit cultivators. Now, the TNUEF has mobilised the people of the village and the democratic forces on this issue and is carrying on the movement. Protest demonstrations with the participation of hundreds of people have been staged. The High Court subsequently ordered the district administration to take measures to issue pattas to the cultivators. But the dominant forces have been resisting this move and they have even resorted to violence against the dalits. Cases under PCR Act have been registered against the perpetrators of violence. Continuous movements are being conducted demanding implementation of the HC order. In the same village, there are 186 acres of land allotted to dalit families by the government in 1976. But the dominant forces have not allowed the dalits to enter this land. The dalits fought the issue for several years but to no avail. Now, the TNUEF has taken up this issue and has been agitating on it.

There is a reading room known as “Kamarajar Vasakasalai” in the dalit residential area in Nathampatti of Virudunagar district. The people wanted to convert this reading room into a community hall for which they started collecting funds. The land belongs to the reading room. The dalits started the construction only with permission of the government. But the dominant forces could not tolerate this. They forcefully stopped the construction. The administration simply overlooked the issue. Only after the TNUEF intervened in the matter, the district administration and the police permitted the dalits to proceed with the construction. Provoked by this decision, the dominant forces occupied the gram panchayat office building and put up a sign board declaring that the building belonged to five non-dalit communities. They forced out the panchayat president to function from the government veterinary care centre. They also demanded a 30 acre land belonging to the dalits as land for public use. The district administration also cancelled the patta, took over the land and sent the police to fence the land. The dalits got organised under the Party and the TNUEF, and defeated the move. There was a powerful demonstration in front of the Virudunagar district collectorate in which P Shanmugam, general secretary of the Tamilnadu Hill People’s Association and district leaders of the Party participated. The land continues be in the possession of the dalits. Continuous campaign and struggle are being planned for re-issuance of patta for the land and also for redeeming the gram panchayat office building from the dominant forces.

Against obstructing the pathway

In Solaiyur village in Vellore district, dalits demanded entry into the temple and got it. This angered the oppressive forces. They retaliated by obstructing the common pathway used by the dalits by fencing it with barbed wire. The district administration just winked at it. Then the people fought the issue under the leadership of the CPI(M). There was a dharna led by V Meenakshi Sundaram, state committee member of the Party in which hundreds of people participated. This led to negotiations in the presence of the district collector and the eventual removal of the fencing.

In the Arundhathiar (dalit) colony in Arakkonam of the same district, dalits have been living there for a number of years. But they were given only temporary pattas. But later, their pattas were cancelled and they were asked to vacate the place. A powerful demonstration was held with N Varadarajan participating in it. The dalits have declared that they would not vacate the place, come what may. The struggle led by the Party is still going on.

For temple entry

In Panthappuli village of Sankarankoil taluk of Tirunelveli district, dalits are not allowed entry into the Mariamman temple. When the issue was taken up with the district sessions court, the court held that all including the dalits had a right to worship in the temple. But the dominant forces were resisting the implementation of the court order. The district administration, instead of implementing the order, has now sealed the temple. The Party held a demonstration protesting against the anti-dalit attitude of the district administration and demanding recognition of the rights of the dalits to worship in the temple. P Sampath and the district leaders participated in this. Continuous campaign on this issue has been planned.

The series of struggles against untouchability and for dalit rights have strengthened the confidence of the dalits in the CPI(M) and its mass organisations.