People's Democracy

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


No. 43

October 25, 2009



Major Struggles Conducted For Dalit Cause


P Sampath


AFTER the formation of the Tamilnadu Untouchability Eradication Front (TNUEF) in the state, struggles to fight untouchability and atrocities against dalits have intensified manifold. The state committee of this front met on September 6 at Virudhunagar and reviewed its activities, and discussed the impact of victorious struggles on issues like sub-quota for Arundhathiyar community within the SC/ST reservation quota, demolition of a portion of the Uthapuram untouchability wall in Madurai district on dalits in Tamilnadu. The TNUEF state committee meeting then took several decisions including the organisation of a survey in many districts on the plight of dalits and several direct actions to be organised against untouchability.

The meeting also decided that on September 30, the death anniversary of Comrade B Srinivasa Rao (a leader of the communist movement, who led the glorious struggles for an uplift of social and economic conditions of dalits, who are mainly agricultural labour in East Thanjavur), the Front would conduct direct actions against untouchability in eight districts of Tamilnadu. Temple entry movement at three centres viz, Tiruvannamalai, Villupuram and Nagapattinam was also planned. In another five centres, it decided to launch movements against social isolation of dalits in various forms --- a barber shop refusing to cut their along with others, the practice of two tumblers system at the tea shops, restriction of access for dalits to the village burial ground, non-permission for using the public toilets by dalits, etc. Perambalur, Ariyalur, Dindigul, Coimbatore and Virudhunagar districts were the areas where such practices are in vogue.




The movement for entry into the Koothaandavar temple in Vedanthavadi village of Tiruvannamalai district ended in success. P Shanmugam, a state committee member of the CPI(M) and general secretary of the Tamilnadu Tribal People Welfare Association, and P Dellibabu, MLA, led the movement. In the over a hundred years of existence of this temple, this was the first time that dalits were allowed to enter the temple. Dalits were emotional and cheerful at the time they gained entry and thanked the TNUEF and CPI(M) for helping them change their dream into a reality.

Under the leadership K Balakrishnan, general secretary of the Tamilnadu Kisan Sabha and state secretariat member of the CPI(M), hundreds of dalits marched towards the Droupathiamman Temple in Kangiyanoor village of Villupuram district. Here a team of police personnel under the command of the district�s superintendent of police blocked the marchers. The SP did not allowed the marchers to proceed further, and a dialogue between the police personnel and the marchers did not yield any result. The police officials were adamant at not allowing the dalits to enter the temple. While the dialogue was going on, police personnel suddenly began a lathi-charge against the mass and brutally attacked them. All of a sudden, G Latha, CPI(M) MLA who is a dalit elected from Gudiyattam (a general constituency), was dragged down. Police personnel kicked their boots into her stomach, causing her severe bleeding. She was immediately rushed to the district hospital for treatment. The police not only attacked the dalits and others who had assembled there to assert their fundamental right, but also foisted false cases against 104 of them, arrested them and imprisoned them in Cuddalore jail. Leaders like K Balakrishnan, and G Anandan, district secretary of the CPI(M) in Villupuram, were also put behind bars.

Condemning the brutal police attack on dalits, powerful demonstrations were then held at several places in the state.  A powerful demonstration, in front the district collector�s office at Villupuram was conducted on September 21 wherein thousands of people participated.

On September 22, G Latha and other CPI(M)  MLAs staged a hunger strike in front of the state government�s secretariat in protest against this inhuman attack by the police. K Balabharathi, leader of the CPI(M) group in the assembly, led this hunger strike. Leaders of the CPI(M) and CPI addressed the protesting MLAs.

After this incident, the divisional revenue officer led a group of dalits into the Draupathiamman temple at Kangiyanoor of Villupuram district on October 7.

Dalits in and around the villages of Kangiyanoor have lauded the bold initiatives taken by the TNUEF and CPI(M) in this regard. On several earlier occasions, efforts made by dalits to enter the temple had not fructified; they were beaten and their women were humiliated.




The experience at Chettipulam in Nagapattinam district was different from what we saw in Kangiyanoor. Hundreds of dalits, led by P Sampath, state convenor of the TNUEF, and V Marimuthu, MLA, marched towards Sivankoil but the police blocked their way one km before the temple. The processionists then broke the police barricade. But the police reassembled only a little before the temple so as to prevent the dalit mass from entering the temple. The temple was, moreover, locked illegally by caste Hindus in order to prevent the dalits from entering the temple. However, the dalits insisted that the police must break the lock and allow them to enter.  But the police refused to do so. The divisional revenue officer, who was there, suddenly sealed the lock and thereby barred the entry of one and all into the temple. After the peace talks, he assured that the temple would be opened for dalits shortly. However, all the agitators were arrested, kept in a Kalyana Mandapam and released in the evening.

The very next day, led by the village panchayat president, caste Hindus broke the seal open and entered the temple. They also declared that the dalits would never be allowed to enter the temple at any cost. Leaders of the TNUEF and CPI(M) then met the district collector as well as other government officials, asking them to intervene in this matter, warning that otherwise they would be forced to lead the dalit mass again to enter into the temple. Following this attempt, the district administration did interfere and took a group of dalit people from the village in two police vans for entering the temple. The DRO and DSP led the team.

Caste Hindus and their goons, mobilised in a large number, tried to block the way leading to the temple. They also pelted stones and iron scraps against the policemen and their vehicles, injuring several policemen and the DSP. The DRO�s vehicle was damaged heavily. The police then felt compelled to resort to lathi-charge. Later, they did some firing in the sky to disburse the caste Hindu crowd. The dalits in the police vans, however, returned home without entering the temple. The police registered cases for illegal assembly and indulging in violence against 250 people under several sections, and arrested 25 people. Tense situation came to prevail in this area.

Condemning this incident, both the TNUEF and CPI(M) urged the state government to arrest those involved in perpetration of violence against dalit people, under the PCR Act and under the Prevention of Atrocities against SC/ST Act. They also demanded that they ensure the dalits� entry into the temple. Against this incident, a powerful demonstration was held at Vedaranyam of Nagapattinam district on September 20, condemning the casteist forces who unleashed violence in order to prevent dalits from entering the temple.

The district collector of Nagapattinam later announced that the government would arrange for the entry of Chettipulam dalits into the Sivankoil temple. This announcement created a sense of confidence among the dalits who have welcomed it. Struggles conducted at several places have scored successes. The dalit people of Irulakkudumbanpatti in Dindigul district, of Udayanatham in Perambalur district, of Periakrishnapuram in Ariyalur district, of Nanjundapuram Varappalayam in Coimbatore district and of Kattalaipatti in Virudhunagar district have appreciated the TNUEF and CPI(M) for taking up their cause and taking it to success. Similar feelings have been expressed by dalit people of the areas where their movement is yet to achieve success and where the struggle is on.

CPI(M) MLAs Nanmaran and Balabharathi, state secretariat member A Lazar, district secretaries Pondy, T Murugesan and Balasubramanian, and Thirunavaukkarasu (Tamilnadu state secretary of the All India Agricultural Workers Union) were in the forefront of these agitations. Hundreds of dalit people and other masses participated in each of the struggles.

The TNUEF has decided to organise a massive procession of dalits and other democratic people to the state government�s secretariat on October 27. This will be aimed at pressing the dalit and tribal issues, such as liberating them from slave-like jobs like removal of blockage in sewer pipes and tanks and removal of night soil by hand. The procession will also press the demand for 19 per cent reservation for the SCs, filling up of vacancies, distribution of land and house sites with pattas to the dalit people, recovery of the Panchami lands, building a memorial for Ondi Veeran (a leader belonging to Arundhathiyar dalits) as was once accepted by the government, inclusion of all sections of Arundhathiyars in the sub-quota announced by the government and raising its percentage according to their population. Massive preparation is going on throughout the state and other dalit and democratic organisations are coming forward to participate in the procession cum rally on the 27th of this month. The rally will be addressed by leaders of the CPI(M), various mass organisations and other dalit organisations.