Sunday, August 04, 2002

A Dalit damned for defying her village

Madurai Aug. 3. The 27-year-old Dalit woman, Azhagammal, of Padaminchi hamlet near Ulagampatti village in Sivaganga, lives in fear. Surviving a brutal police assault and harassment at the hands of a caste Hindu-dominated `oor' (local) panchayat, Azhagammal, who works as a noon meal worker, has been forced to shift her residence to Tiruchi, where she lives under the protection of a group of women activists.

Trouble began for her when she sought a divorce from her unemployed husband two years ago. The panchayat opposed it, but she obtained divorce through court. Stung by it, the panchayat ordered her to hand over her child to her husband.

When she refused to do so, she was ostracised by the village. The panchayat was also opposed her attempts to bring agriculture coolies from a nearby village to till her lands.

Irked by her "impertinent" behaviour, it slapped a fine of Rs. 51,000 to "teach her a lesson.'' When she expressed her inability to pay, she was ordered to prostrate before the panchayat members with a "concession" that reduced the fine by Rs.1,000 for each prostration. Succumbing to pressure, she prostrated 47 times to reduce the fine to Rs. 4,000.

When Azhagammal reported the matter to the police, they refused to act. She, then, referred the matter to the District Collector. The administration ordered an RDO enquiry under Sec. 107 of Cr.PC. Warrants were issued to all, including Azhagammal.

But the decision to approach the higher officials annoyed the local police. On July 7, plainclothes policemen descended on her house on the pretext of executing a warrant under Sec. 107 of Cr.PC. Azhagammal claimed that she was beaten inside the house. With her dress in shreds, four policemen allegedly dragged her out of the house and beat her with a log till she lost consciousness. When she regained consciousness, she found herself in the Ulagampatti police station.

After nearly five hours, two women constables arrived on the scene and escorted her to the Ponnamaravathi Government hospital where she was given first aid. She was produced before the Devakottai RDO, who instructed her to meet him in August.

Fearing a threat to her life, she approached the Women's Legal Aid Centre of the All-India Democratic Women's Association at Tiruchi, which admitted her in the Government General Hospital for "multiple injuries on her thigh and back".

After nine days of treatment, she was discharged.

``The police need not use force while executing a warrant under Sec. 107 Cr.PC. Petitions to the Chief Minister and the Chairman of State Human Rights Commission have already been faxed,'' says Arjunan, Sivaganga District CPI (M) secretary.

The SP of Sivagnaga, V.A.Ravikumar, said a departmental inquiry was on. The DIGs of PCR Act and Human Rights also held enquiries, he added.

Source: The Hindu, August 4, 2002

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