Tamil Nadu’s shame during the COVID-19 pandemic
"...the world is Hell, and men are on the one hand the tormented souls and on the other the devils in it.”
-- Arthur Schopenhauer, cited by Rajeev Bhargava
It is said that the test of a system happens in a crisis. The test is to its vitality, durability, viability and flexibility. This disconcerting process has been all-encompassing during the COVID-19 pandemic – social, cultural, economic-developmental domains have been unsettled. There is an all-round talk of a ‘new normal’ that has yet to emerge and settle down to.
The ‘old normal’ in terms of casteism, especially against Dalits, is however yet to abate. In fact, the lockdown period in Tamil Nadu has witnessed a big spike in cases of atrocities against Dalits.
Within 50 days of lockdown period, there have been more than 40 cases of reported atrocities in the state.
These include murders, (dis)honour killings, caste based humiliations, police torture and rape.
What is worse, the judicial procedure too has been disbanded in such crimes, citing lockdown as an excuse. If an accused in a caste crime seeks bail, it is mandatory to inform the petitioner. The courts have used lockdown as an excuse to do away with informing the victim about bail application. The perpetrator easily gets bail and is able to come back to society and intervene with the complainant and witnesses at will.
The majority of these caste crimes have been reported from the northern districts of the state where Vanniyars, a Most Backward Caste community, are dominant.
Besides, many interior and southern districts such as Pudukottai, Kanyakumari and Salem have also recorded such acts of shame. The victims were young Dalits, mostly working and studying in cities and towns away from home, who had returned to their native villages following the countrywide lockdown.
Here is a list of cases that have been reported in the media post lockdown which was imposed on March 24.
26 March: Youth belonging to the Paraiyar caste were violently beaten up by the dominant caste Vanniyar youth for fishing in the common pond. This took place in Allurepattu village, Thiruvennainallur, Villupuram district. A case has been registered.
27 March: A Dalit youth, Tamilselvan of Kottaipeti village near Nilakottai married a dominant caste girl, Kavitha, last year. Threatened by Kavitha’s family, the couple lived in Periyakulam. On 16 April Kavitha delivered twin boys. On 22 April, the couple with the babies, went to their village Kottaipeti. On 27 April, a 50-member gang of Kavitha’s family and relatives went with swords and deadly weapons and attacked 15 Dalit houses, damaging them.
27 March: Rajadurai belonging to the Paraiyar sub-caste of Dalits, was butchered by Balamurugan and two other person belonging to the dominant Nadar caste. Complaint has been registered. This took place at Thopurai village, near Thiruchendur in Thoothukudi district.
29 March: Sudhakar, a Dalit youth working in Chennai, had returned to his village, Morappathangal, near Arani town in Tiruvannamalai district. He was in a relationship with a Vanniyar girl, Parimala. Her father Murthi and a relative Jayakumar brutally murdered Sudhakar. Both accused were remanded and lodged in Vellore jail.
30 March: Pandian, an Arunthathiyar, was electrocuted by dominant caste Vanniyars at Athippakkam village, near Ulundurpet, Kallakuruchi district. The reason was his love affair with a Vanniyar girl.
31 March: Gouthama Priyan, an engineering student, was assaulted by Eswaran, a police constable in Kuppanatham village near Chengam in Tiruvannamalai district when he was chatting with his sister’s friends. He was wearing a T-shirt with the image of Dr BR Ambedkar on it. After a lot of effort, they were able to get the police to file an FIR against police constable Eswaran. The cop was booked under the SC/ST Act and placed under suspension. But to date he has not been arrested and remanded.
02 April: Husband and wife belonging to the Arunthathiyar caste were beaten black and blue by the dominant Thevar caste villagers. The couple was walking on a common road. This took place in Munkilrani village, Maanamadurai Taluk, Sivagangai district.
04 April: Arunthathiyars of the village were threatened with dire consequences including murder by cattle salesman Sakthivel Gounder and son of former minister. The reason was that they did not vote for the ruling AIADMK (All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam) in the local body elections. The dominant caste had decided who the village would vote for. This took place in Pappampalyam village, Tirupur district.
06 April: Bharathiraj, Dalit resident of Veppanpatti village, Pudukottai district married Veeralakshmi for love. Veeralakshmi’s parents, belonging to the dominant caste, threatened them. The couple had complained to the Superintendent of Police.
11 April: A group of Arunthathiyars had cooked beef for dinner. Since the oxen had broken its leg, it was slaughtered. Municipal Commissioner Sasikala entered into the village with police late in the evening and poured poison in the cooked food. This took place in Choriyankinathupalyam village, Vellakovil Municipality, Tirupur district.
14 April: Anitha, belonging to the Arunthathiyar community was beaten with slippers by Sarasu and her husband, both of whom belong to the Vanniyar caste. The reason was that Anitha filled drinking water from the public pipeline. Complaint has been registered at Ayilpetti Police Station under the Prevention of Atrocities against Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes Act 2015. A counter complaint was also filed against Anitha and three other persons. This took place in Bilippakuttai Samathuvapuram, Rasipuram Taluk, Namakkal district.
21 April: Muruganadam, an MBA graduate and a Dalit was in love with Bhanupriya for four years. Bhanupriya belongs to the dominant caste in Karambampadi, Pudukottai district. On 21 April they got married, which angered Bhanupriya’s family. Her relatives, numbering 15, attacked him and kidnapped her. She was released later after the intervention of NGO Evidence.
22 April: 33-year-old S Amsavalli, an Arunthathiyar woman village Panchayat president of T Konakapadi (reserved for Scheduled Caste Women) in Omalur block near Taramangalam in Salem. On April 22, she was not only prevented from discharging her duty but abused by a ward member Mohan, who belongs to the powerful Vellala Gounder caste and is the husband of the former president (reserved then for General-Woman).
22 April: Dhanapal, an elected member of the Primary Agricultural Cooperative Bank, was prevented from discharging his duty by Subramani who belongs to the dominant Nadar caste. This took place in Salem district.
23 April: Sadaiyan Peyaran, president of Rasendrapattinam village near Vriddachalam in Cuddalore district, claimed that he and other presidents faced similar problems, especially during the COVID pandemic.
24 April: Arunathathiyars were prevented from using the common road and brutally attacked by dominant caste residents in Ramachandrapuram village, Sivagiri taluk, Tenkasi district.
24 April: In Tiruvannamalai district, a group of 15 dominant caste attacked Dalit families at Keelpachur Thanda village following a land dispute. The perpetrators forced the Arunthathiyars to hand over their land. 12 persons were remanded to judicial custody. Seven persons were treated at hospital. Arunthathiyar houses were destroyed with JCB by the mob.
24 April: At Ulundurpet town in the newly formed Kallakurichi district, Adi Suresh, a reporter of Velicham TV of the Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi, was brutally beaten by a gang of casteist goons who damaged the portrait of Ambedkar on the wall of the Ulundanvar Koil Government Middle School. The reporter was beaten and hacked for reporting on the damage.
24 April: Devaraj and Hariharan while reaching Srirangampatti were beaten and abused by a dominant caste group. Three persons were remanded for the crime. This took place in Ayyampatti village in Dindigul district.
25 April: Cuddalore district VCK leader’s father was axed to death for revenge.
25 April: At Chidambaram, 55-year-old Natrajan, a Dalit was brutally murdered.
27 April: Three Dalit youths were tied to a lamp post at Veppankadu village near Valliyoor in Tirunelveli district over a local dispute.
28 April: Four dominant caste youth were found stealing mangoes from the farmland of Balakrishanan, a Dalit. Subbaiah and three others belonging to the dominant caste were remanded for abusing Balakrishnan. This took place in Lingavadi village near Naththam in Dindigul district.
01 May: Desecration of Babasaheb Ambedkar statue by dominant caste youth near Manjakuppam Head Post Office in Cuddalore district.
02 May: In Kanyakumari district, Anandhi Nagar colony, a Dalit youth, Vinoth was reportedly murdered for marrying a dominant caste girl. On 02 May Vinoth was murdered by Jennistern. A complaint was registered at Asaripallam Police Station and the accused was arrested.
04 May: Panchayat president Selvi, belonging to the Koravar caste was prevented from discharging her duty and was abused with casteist slurs by dominant caste Kuppusamy. A complaint was filed against him in Goundachipudur village, Darapuram Panchayat Union in Tirupur district.
06 May: In Neruchipettai, Bavani Ammapettai in Erode district, sanitary worker Balan died of cardiac arrest while on duty. To the utter shock of his family, his body was sent home by a push cart by the government authorities.
06 May: Rajesh and his mother Rajkumari were assaulted with sickles for not coming to work at dominant caste employer Neelakantan’s farmland. It happened in front of the police. This took place in Vempakudi village, near Aranthangi in Pudukottai district.
07 May: Manoharan, a Dalit community of Karm Abaviduthi village of Pudukottai district, was brutally attacked by Palraj and more than ten dominant caste men. A complaint was registered against them at Kamakudi Police Station.
07 May: Eswaran, a lawyer belonging to the Dalit caste lives near Bharathiyar University gate II. On 07 May while he was eating, Vadavalli Police station Sub Inspector entered and thrashed him. Eswaran’s left ankle was broken.
07 May: Vinoth Kumar and his two friends were severely beaten up by Nallamayan and eight other dominant caste members. A complaint was registered at Usilampatti. Five of them were arrested. This took place in Keezhamaatharia village of Madurai district.
08 May: Indira and 10 other Dalits of Maaththure village in Cuddalore district were brutally attacked by N Pudur Panchayat president along with other dominant caste residents. Complaint was registered at Veppur police station.
08 May: Vishnupriyan, an MCA graduate working in the IT sector and who was newly married, was murdered and his brother injured and is battling for life at hospital. It was orchestrated by the dominant caste Vanniyars. This took place at Flower Bazar area, Omalur taluk in Salem district.
08 May: Balavesam, a Dalit of Udaikulam village, Thoothukudi district, had borrowed Rs 40,000 by pledging his house deed five years ago. Balavesam and his son-in-law Thangaraj asked for the return of their house deed with settlement of loan, which led to quarrel and murder by dominant caste Muthuraj. A complaint was filed against him.
08 May: A Dalit youth Milton was brutally attacked by a dominant caste gang at Ranipet.
09 May: In Thanjavur district, Paraiyars of Kallamangalam village under Pappanadu police jurisdiction were murderously attacked by the dominant caste Kallars.
09 May: Sasikumar, a law college student, was brutally attacked abused by a dominant caste gang led by one Gopinath. Case registered at Namakkal Town police station. This took place in Vagurampatti village, Namakkal district.
17 May: Jagannathan, 76, a retired government officer passed away. His body was forced to taken through slushy fields. The village has norms – if a Dalit dies, his/her body should be taken to the burial ground only in a roundabout route and not on the common/public road. This took place in Chithanakkal village in Tiruvannamalai district.
17 May: Dominant caste Vanniyars were riding their bikes at high speed down an Adi Dravidar street. When the Dalit Paraiyars told them not to ride at high speeds, they were brutally attacked. This took place in Ocheri village, Nemuli taluk of Ranipet district.
25 May: Dhanasekaran, a youth belonging to the Arunthathiyar sub-caste of Dalits, was brutally beaten and houses were destroyed by a 17-member gang belonging to the dominant caste. His bike was stolen because he was riding it on the common road. This happened at Suriyakanthal village in Kil Pennathur taluk in Tiruvannamalai district. Complaint was lodged and case registered at Vettavalavu police station.
The oppression that Dalits experience today has to be understood in the context of the political power and economy. The equality and justice that the Dravidian movement in Tamil Nadu fought for, and to a measure achieved, were limited to the non-Brahmin dominant or intermediary castes.
The protracted atrocities against Dalits is the result of the two major Dravidian parties in Tamil Nadu and their open insensitivity towards Dalits. Hence the perpetrators of atrocities and the dominant leaders in the Dravidian parties share the same traits. As a result, the ruling dispensation, no matter which one it is, sets aside Constitutional obligations.
The above observations are well justified in the context of DMK leaders RS Bharati, Dayanidhi Maran and TR Baalu and AIADMK leaders like Dindigul Srinivasan and the minister from Karur.
The COVID-19 pandemic and the lockdown has only proven again that the Dravidian parties were implicit anti-Dalit in the past and are now explicit anti-Dalit.
The lockdown has intensified and given advantage to casteist forces to perpetrate discrimination and violence against Dalits. During the lockdown, people's movements are restricted and atrocities are not protested. The mainstream media has limitations to cover atrocities against Dalits. And court proceedings are limited. The district administration is busy with enforcement of preventive measures against the virus.
All of these are likely to have emboldened the dominant castes to perpetrate increased violence against Dalits.
(The author wishes to thank MC Rajan, Evidence Kathir and Karuppaiah for support)