Monday, December 06, 2004

Tsunduru Massacre of Dalits: Trial started at Special court

The first witness Mr. Medikonda Subbarao testified on December 1, 2004 before the Special court set up at Tsunduru under SC/ST atrocities (prevention) Act, 1989. He identified about 50 culprits and narrated the sequence of events on August 6,1991. On December 2, the second day of the trial, the second witness boldly narrated the brutal massacre of Tsunduru Dalits. The Upper caste Reddy culprits were trying their best to pressurize the Dalit Witnesses to turn hostile. They are offering money and sending messages of threats. Despite all these attempts, Dalits have decided to tell the truth.

Dalits of Tsunduru waited more than 13 long years. They waited till their demands are met. They demanded a special court to be set up in Tsunduru under SC/ST Atrocities (Prevention) Act, 1989.They also demanded the appointment of Public prosecutors of their choice to argue their case in the special court. The Govt appointed Mr. Chandrasekhar and Mr.Siva Nageswara Rao, both Human rights activists, as special public prosecutors in the Tsunduru case. Dalits of Tsuduru forced the Govt to implement some of the provisions of the SC/ST Atrocities (prevention) Act 1989 for the first time in the history of the country.

The Upper caste culprits tried to delay the trial for several years through legal hurdles. Dalits bravely faced all these hurdles. Finally, the trail started.Unfortunately the press at the state and national level is not giving the attention it deserved.

It is our responsibility to extend our moral support to the Dalits of Tsunduru during the trial period. KNPS leaders have been camping in the village and also attending the trial. Except two or three members from NGOs and other organizations, no well-known organization or prominent Dalit leaders attended the trial.

I write this mail to request all Dalit, B.C, Women, Minority and People's organizations to send their representatives to attend Tsunduru trial and extend your moral support to the Dalit Witnesses and the families of Dalit victims. The trial will be held on all Wednesdays and Thursdays till the end of December 2004.

K.Satyanarayana

State Secretary,
Kula Nirmoolana Porata Samiti (KNPS)
ANDHRAPRADESH

1 Comments:

At December 9, 2004 at 4:17 PM, Blogger Dalit Rights said...

Karamchedu and Tsunduru are not mere incidents of atrocities against Dalits but are significant landmarks in the history of Dalit movement in Andhra Pradesh. The movement articulated a new sense of self-respect, reclaimed the constitutional rights of Dalits and consolidated an important anchor in the interlinked fields of welfare/rights/policies/ studies related to Dalits in A.P. Tsunduru strengthened the demand for a Dalit president which ultimately led to the appointment of Dr.K.R.Narayanan, as the 8th President of the Republic of India.

Dalit Mahasabha, the harbinger of Dalit movement, which was formed in the wake of Karamchedu, took up the Tsunduru incident in an exemplary manner. Under their consummate leadership, the massacred Dalits were cremated right in the middle of village Tsunduru and the place was named Raktakshetram (The Land of Blood), a live reminder of the atrocity. They brought together the shattered community, scattered all over the district, and sheltered them in well-maintained camps for nine months, with meager resources and without any help from the state agencies. Over the next two years, the Sabha saw to it that four hundred and fifty families were given pucca houses; that the victims' families were given compensation of Rs. 1 lakh each, that eighty seven members of the community got government jobs and that those who were cultivators were given agricultural land of half acre each. The community settled back in their own village. In short, the Sabha ensured that the traumatized community stood on its feet again psychologically, economically, socially and politically to be able to continue their life and struggle for justice on their own. While Dalit Mahasabha has moved to other issues, Tsundur remains strongly on their agenda.

The struggle for the securing of these rights was long and bloody. During this time, while the main accused were not arrested, several of the protesting Dalits and their leaders were arrested and given prison sentences. Some of the young Dalit activists abandoned their education, refused marriage and dedicated themselves to the cause of Tsunduru. Anil Kumar, a key witness to the incident, was killed in police firing when they were staging a dharna to set the law in motion.

The emergence of a strong Dalit movement also led to an important change in the left politics of Andhra Pradesh. Almost all the left political parties started separate wings to work on issues of caste. The ML parties had rallied to the side of victims during the time of the Tsunduru incident, which confirmed the primary character of caste oppression first seen at Karamchedu. While Janasakti was the first one to start DAFODAM (Democratic Action Forum for Dalits and Minorities), Kulavivaksha Vyatireka Porata Samiti of CPI(M) and Kula Nirmulana Porata Samiti. The latter two organizations have over the last few years developed a presence in many areas where they have been working on atrocities on Dalits. If the constitutional approach of the Dalit Mahasabha strengthened the Dalit movement, the presence of ML groups led to an increased confidence and interest among the young. Frustration with the institutional casteism (especially among the police) faced by the wearying work of Dalit politics post-Tsunduru only strengthened their belief in the need for a violent political confrontation.

Looking at both the Dalit Mahasabha's growth and at the formation and increasing influence of Dalit organizations among the left liberal and ML parties, it is clear that the Tsunduru incident has been a formative experience in Dalit politics from the nineties onwards. It is understood by all the parties on the side of the Dalits that the continuing drive for justice and strength is yet another chapter in the legacy of Tsunduru.

All these developments have a bearing on the trial (which finally commenced a few days back). The first witness was unable to give her account due to distress, and her position in the witness order was changed by the prosecutor as he feared that she was under duress. Testimony was given on 1st December by Merukonda Subbarao, who had served as the first president of the Tsunduru Victims Association. This fifty six year old daily wage-worker, identified and named forty of the accused standing in the court room, from among the one hundred and eighty three accused. The incident was etched in his memory so strongly that he did not falter despite the judges requests to repeat the identification. He also withstood the cross-examination by the defense counsel.

The magnitude of Subbarao's act calls for a respectful salute. What does it take for a Dalit to stand up against the might of the upper-caste and name oppressors in a court, when in the past, he could not even walk on the street with them, leave alone look them in the eye? How many more Subbaraos will be needed before such incidents become part of a shameful history to be left behind? The Dalit women understood what he had done, and gathered quietly round him, felicitating his act when he came out of the court room. By the next day scores of Dalits from surrounding villages thronged the Special Court in Tsunduru to witness the trial. That the Tsunduru Dalits are no longer afraid to give witness offers just cause of celebration. They understand that it is the positioning of the court in the Dalitwada, and all that symbolizes that has made this moment possible.

It is for us to follow their lead.

- Swathy Margaret and S. Jaya

 

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