Tuesday, December 31, 2002

'Dalits under attack as police remain apathetic'

By S. Dorairaj

VILLUPURAM DEC. 30. It was 11.30 p.m. on December 22, when most of the 350-odd Dalits of Annamangalam in Villupuram district, squatted on the ground, were anxiously waiting to watch the `therukoothu' organised at their colony by one M. Rajaram to fulfil the ``last wish'' of his father, Munusamy, who died recently.

Even a power failure could not curb their interest in viewing the show which had `Vaali Moksham' as its theme. Some enthusiastic youngsters quickly arranged a couple of petromax lamps at the venue so that there was no interruption.

But neither the spectators nor the performers knew what was in store for them in the next 30 minutes.

An armed gang comprising members of a non-Dalit community, descended on the scene around 11.50 p.m. and launched an attack with long sickles and iron rods. The Dalits, both young and old, along with the folk artistes, started running helter skelter. Then the gang stormed the Dalit colony, ransacking the houses, destroying property and injuring men and cattle.

The violence was a sequel to Rajaram's alleged `failure' to appear before the local panchayat in connection with a case registered against his brother.

As many as 50 Dalits managed to reach the Valathi police station, around 2 a.m. on December 23, seeking protection. They were able to return to the colony only after the arrest of 12 non-Dalits under the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (prevention of atrocities) Act, 1989.

But their hopes of the village returning to normality were belied by the `shocking news' that a case was registered against Rajaram and 50 others on the same day, accusing them of setting fire to a haystack belonging to a non-Dalit. This had resulted in a fresh bout of tension in the village.

A virtual `social boycott' was allegedly slapped on the Dalits. As most of them were landless farm labourers, they had to go to neighbouring villages seeking farm work. "Barring a few Dalit families, they were neither allowed to graze cattle in the village nor purchase articles in local shops."

Narrating this reported sequence of events at a press conference here today, human rights activist, P. Kalyani, said the problem at Annamangalam had its roots in the ``denial of permission'' to the Dalits in the Kumbabishekam of the Droupadiamman temple in the village four months ago.

Prof. Kalyani accused the police of not properly enforcing the SC/STAct, 1989, and the SC/ST (PA) Rules to protect and rehabilitate Dalit victims "as amply demonstrated by the Annamangalam incidents."

Describing the Annamangalam episode as only the tip of the iceberg, he said of the 7,362 cases reported under the SC/ST Act in the State from 1990 to 2000, 3,369 had been `referred', 1,653 were `pending trial', 56 `under investigation', 2,090 `acquitted' and in only 164 cases, the accused were `convicted.' According to him, cases had been `foisted' against human rights activists, who worked for the welfare of the Dalits. In some other cases, the accused were not nabbed immediately. Under the prevailing circumstances, `kattapanchayat' groups had reared their heads.

Source: The Hindu, December 31, 2002

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