(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
February 28, 2010
Dalits' Struggle for Dignity
Evokes Brutal Killing
N S Arjun
HOW arduous and bitter is the struggle of dalits for social justice and dignity can be gauged from the events in Boyalagudem village in one of the most backward districts of Telangana region, Mahabubnagar, in Andhra Pradesh. Three days after everyone of us celebrated the completion of 60 years of our Republic, a dalit, Marepalla Thimmanna, was hacked to death in the centre of the village for daring to fight the caste discrimination against dalits. Although 11 of the murderers have been remanded to judicial custody, there is palpable tension in the village with dalits fearing further attacks. The suspect role of the police in the murder is further raising the fears of dalits in the village.
Boyalagudem, as the name itself suggests, is dominated by the backward caste Boyas who number around 600 out of total population of around 1500 people. The dalits, both Madigas and Malas, number around 300 while the rest comprise other backward castes along with a sprinkling of upper caste people. This village falls in Gattu mandal of Gadwal division and is one of the most backward regions of Mahabubnagar district. The literacy rate here is a shocking 16 per cent while the average in the district is 45 per cent. Despite being in the vicinity of the huge Jurala irrigation project, there is hardly any irrigation facilities. Most of the people of the village migrate to Karnataka, which borders the village, and other places in search of work. The youth of the village, particularly Boyas, are traditionally used as foot soldiers by warlords of neighbouring Kurnool district in their factional fights.
There is a long history of oppression by Boyas and other backward caste people against dalits in Boyalagudem. They are not allowed to sit on the raccha banda (village meeting point) or chairs in hotels; they are not permitted to enter temples; they are routinely abused by caste names and harassed by letting the cattle into their fields. Most of the land is owned by the Boyas, Gouds and upper caste people, with an average of 15 acres while the dalits are predominantly agricultural labour and small farmers with holdings of one or two acres. The scale of oppression can be seen from the fact that the dalits have to contribute their one-day wage or equivalent grains in order to provide toddy (desi liquor) to people of these dominant castes every month. With great difficulty, it was converted into once a year. When in 1984 dalits refused to continue with this practice, there was a brutal attack on the entire dalit habitation. Fourteen persons skulls were broken and women and children were also beaten up in this attack. But this brave resistance resulted in putting a full stop to this demeaning practice since then. However, the oppression continued in other forms and tensions kept simmering.
In this context, the Struggle Committee against Caste Discrimination (KVPS) made an entry into the village in 2007. It established contacts with the dalits during its struggle for ensuring compensation to land losers in Nettampadu lift irrigation project. Dalits who lost land got compensation as a result of the struggle and came close to the organisation. Around this time, the KVPS had taken up a state-wide cycle jatha campaigning against caste discrimination and surveying the various forms in which it existed. KVPS state vice president B V Raghavulu also particpated in this cycle jatha programme, lending the campaign a high visibility. The dalits of Boyalagudem, particularly the militant among them, actively participated in this exercise and resolved to fight.
Under pressure from KVPS, the then YSR government made the campaign against caste discrimination a part of its official Praja Padham programme, by which elected representatives meet the people. D K Aruna, the local Congress MLA visited Boyalagudem in 2007 under the programme and publicly spoke against the two-glass system prevalent in hotels in the village and also sought entry of dalits into temples. The dalits of the village, who were also voters of the Congress party, were enthused by this show of solidarity by their MLA. The very next day they went to hotels, sat on the chairs and asked for tea in the normal cups. Already enraged by the MLA's exhortations, the other caste people brutally beat up the dalits for daring to seek equality and dignity. The MLA was nowhere to be seen after this attack and it was the KVPS which stood with the dalits. Along with the dalits of the village, it held a dharna in front of Gattu police station, seeking filing of cases under the Prevention of Atrocities (PoA) Act against the attackers. Under sustained pressure, the police filed an FIR under PoA and some arrests were made after few more dharnas by the KVPS. It was the first time that this Act was used in the village and arrests made and it gave confidence to the dalits while further enraging the dominant caste sections.
Marepalla Hanumanthu, brother of the murdered Marepalla Thimmanna, played a leading role in this agitation seeking punishment of the attackers. Hardly 5.5 feet in height, this man looks ferocious and evokes fear among the enemy. Naturally, he also evokes confidence and faith among his brethren. Hanumanthu was marked for harassment by the dominant castes people who came together to nip this resistance in the bud. Aided by the Assistant Sub-Inspector of Gattu, the local sarpanch and others began foisting false cases against Hanumanthu. A rape case in one police station and a case of cattle theft in another distant police station were among the numerous cases against him. During this period, the sarpanch, Prabhakar Goud, was killed by unidentified persons in 2008. Along with Hanumanthu and his brother, leaders of KVPS in the mandal and division were implicated in the murder case because they played a key role in raising the consciousness of dalits and organising them in the fight against caste discrimination in the village. The KVPS leaders were physically with the dalits during the attacks on them while they tried to enter the hotels and temples in 2007.
AND THE MURDER
In the last three years, around 18 cases have been registered in just Gattu police station while in the entire Gadwal division, the figure stood at 74. But there is not a single conviction. No arrests have been made in 40 cases! In most of the cases, the sympathies of the police are with the accused and every effort is made to subvert these cases, including threatening of witnesses etc.
In the latest case of murder in Boyalagudem, the police was repeatedly alerted by the KVPS about the conspiracy of the dominant castes to eliminate Hanumanthu. On January 5, 2010, he was attacked by a group with sticks and stones. He fought initially and later ran up to Gattu police station to escape being killed. There he was joined by KVPS Gattu mandal president Marenna and both filed a complaint against the attackers. The police took no action. KVPS held dharnas and petitioned the DSP to make the arrests. In fact, the KVPS held a convention in Gadwal on January 20 which was attended by around 500 persons belonging to families of dalit victims who filed those 74 cases under PoA Act. This convention was addressed by B V Raghavulu, who sought prompt action from the police. On January 28, under sustained pressure the police arrested one accused in the case of attack on Hanumanthu. But the remaining main accused were not touched. It is learnt that the ASI told them that since you will however be arrested why dont you bump him off and go to jail. This advice was acted upon the next day, January 29, by the accused who waylaid Thimmanna and hacked him to death in broad daylight. Why Thimmanna was chosen instead of Hanumanthu was puzzling initially. KVPS general secretary John Wesley says that Thimmanna was a cool-headed, much respected leader of dalits who did much of the organising for KVPS. The calculation could be to take out the key organiser first and then go for the hot-headed militant leader next. Another reason could be they might have been not confident enough of targeting Hanumanthu, who is always prepared for such an eventuality.
The district administration reacted late to this brutal murder of dalit leader. The district collector and SP visited the village a week later and counselled the people to refrain from further attacks. A police outpost has been set-up in the village. The dalits are demanding that it be made a permanent post. The tainted ASI has been transferred out of Gattu police station while the concerned DSP has sought transfer. Compensation of 1.5 lakh rupees has been promised to the widow of Thimmanna. D K Aruna, now a minister, has so far not bothered to visit the village. KVPS has sought declaring the village as 'Atrocity-prone' and special measures from the government to remove the poverty and illiteracy in the region. The DSP and RDO must visit the village regularly and counsel the people against indulging in any forms of caste discrimination.
A team of lawyers belonging to
All India Lawyers Union
(AILU) led by K Pardhasaradhy, all
Meanwhile, the KVPS has called for a 'district wide campaign against growing attacks on dalits in the district. This campaign would culminate in 'Chalo Collectorate' in Mahbubnagar on March 3.