tirunelveli-001

I have just returned from a visit to K. Velayudhapuram (KV for short), a village close to Tirunalveli, 700 kms or hrs from the metro city of Chennai. Having witnessed the true horrors of belonging to a particular caste in free India, I am writing furiously to media people seeking their attention.

Here is a short narrative on the issue that people in this village are grappling with.

6 generations of Arundathiyar community have been living in K. V serving the dominant caste- Reddiyars.
Now when I use the word “serve” I mean the following:
1. Working in the houses of dominant caste for a meager wage
2. Doing menial labor for the dominant caste- including lifting of carcasses, manual scavenging, cleaning of garbage and burning dead bodies for which they don’t get paid.
3. It also means, when the upper caste men decide to have some fun, they can call anybody from this dalit community, even if they are just passing by, and kick them and beat them up. The rule of the land being- “you don’t need to have a reason to beat up a dalit, they are born to get beaten up.”

The unwritten law that the state government, panchayats, police and collectorate silently abide by:
1. If the upper caste youth get bored, they gang up against a dalit who is just passing by and beat him black and blue.
2. They can pull out any dalit boy from his house and hit him. (the rule of the game is 10 vs 1 -a gang of upper caste boys against a single dalit child)
3. No dalit is allowed to take a bath or even wash his hands in the village lake. The fact that the upper caste people wash their buffalos and cows in the same lake is a different story.
4. Dalits cannot walk with chappals into any street where the upper caste people reside.
5. If you are a dalit, you cannot own a bicycle, or get a government job.
6. All dalits should address the upper caste youngsters and elders as “sami” (lord)
7. Punishments to dalits can vary from forcing the entire dalit family to fall at the feet of every upper caste member in the village, to raping the dalit women for self gratification.

The turning point:
On June 8th 2006 when one of the dalits got beaten up, because he fetched water from a fall, the entire community felt enough was enough; every one of them- including women and children went to the police station to ask for justice. They sought the help of Mr. Bharathan, and a FIR was filed. The police finally reluctantly got the accused behind bars.

That was the first time, in K.V , an upper caste person was even accused for hitting a dalit.

Repercussions:
On June 9th, the community woke up to a whole new problem. They suddenly discovered that the power supply was cut and so was water, milk and provisions supply. The upper caste men were showing their displeasure on the arrest. The dalits also lost their jobs in the houses and fields of the upper caste people.

After 3 months and 25 days, when I visited this community for the first time, I was shocked to see thorn bushes and barbed fences being placed all round this community’s living area by the upper caste men. Apparently, they had started building the fences to isolate the dalit families and make sure that they don’t come anywhere near the ‘upper caste land’ – which is the entire village outside the arundathiyar’s living area!!!
And all through this, neither the district collector nor the local police have done anything to stop them.
Inspite of 5 petitions and repeated visits to the collectorate office, the arundathiyars are yet to get even WATER!
When the government started building the toilet for this community- the first ever, little did the community know that it’s going to be a toilet without water.


As Subramaniam, a dalit villager, says, “If we had saved the money we spent on travel to the collector’s office in the last 3 months we could have got ourselves a water pump fixed.”

And now that they have been completely isolated, the community fears that the upper caste people could gradually close in on them with electric fences and allow them to die “naturally” when they attack the community from the one way road.

Today the arundatiyars are busy packing their little belongings. “They will not let us live. They are going to avenge us for having filed the FIR and rest only after they kill our babies.” The families don’t know where they are going to move. But they want to leave so that they can survive.

Can we, citizens of a ‘free’ India sit back and watch this community leave their houses, their rights to the village common resources – land, water, electricity? Are we truly free when incidents like this repeatedly occur in our villages across the country?
And just because they are a minority of 45 families who have been repeatedly exploited by 400 upper caste families is it alright for the government and its machineries to pretend and ignore this shocking incident, is it alright for them to wrap up the files and go home at the end of the day?
What would you do if you belonged to this community? Stand up and fight? Or leave to save your life? And if you were a child here?

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11 Comments

  1. what is this? is it a true story? or some indian writing fiction? i just cant believe this.

  2. its not funny at all… even if its fiction it sounds horrifying.. i dont know why you are asking about children… even as an adult i cant imagine living there… it sounds like the story in some hindi film.

  3. i am from tamil nadu… but i have never heard these things… may be also because i am from the city belonging to upper middle class… far removed from such sticky issues… i know i can donate some money to CRY, but how will you stop them from leaving? have they already left?

  4. Very interesting.. and what of the government that allows Temples and other public trusts to overtly carry put discriminatory policies? THis land has a lot of laws – just no enforcers. The basic question is “who will guard the guards” namely the Cops and the Criminal Politicians? Perhaps time has come to do what a bunch of IITians are doing – fight elections. All this money donation, pussy footing around the problem and talking about empowerment is going to do nothing for the dalits except some serious changes at all levels. Snd lets stop talking about “them” and “us” – we are one nation under various gods, let live up to that ideal!
    Jai Hind

  5. Certainly in this community, not only a child but an elder too is helpless. Such problems do exist in our country and we’ll have to take action to stop them. Since, there is no out right solution to this as all levels here viz the law breakers and the law protectors are acting in a similar manner, it requires people like us and media to meet, educate these upper class people(who derive a sense of pleasure in other’s miseries). Media can play a vital role in this by airing these atrocities on dalits and pressurizing government to take the necessary action. Since every thing is politicized in our country, why not this? Atleast it would bring some government’s attention to that neglected area/issue!!

  6. Certainly in this community, not only a child but an elder too is helpless. Such problems do exist in our country and we’ll have to take action to stop them. Since, there is no out right solution to this as all levels here viz the law breakers and the law protectors are acting in a similar manner, it requires people like us and media to meet, educate these upper class people(who derive a sense of pleasure in other’s miseries). Media can play a vital role in this by airing these atrocities on dalits and pressurizing government to take the necessary action. Since every thing is politicized in our country, why not this? Atleast it would bring some government’s attention to that neglected area/issue!!

  7. While all the other upper castes other than brahmin community are looked as backward castes and are given quotas in everything including commiting crimes freely, in india nobody can feel freedom. if there is a way out for them, it is just to form a communal party and to prove the amount of votes they can supply. all they need is a little support from people who care.

  8. Hi Sushma,

    I am reading this exactly after 4 years and don't know whether this changed or not..did it? Did you do anything else from writing this piece? I haven't seen any reply of yours on the comments nor any update or follow up details.

    This is what I hate about people like you. If you can't take an issue further and to some direction or conclusion, don't take it up! I don't even know if you will be reading this comment, but am doing what I can. I loved to be proved wrong and won't mind apologizing to you, if you have done something, but can't accept any excuse.

    With no Regards,
    Alok

  9. Dear Alok,

    This was posted by my colleague, Sushma (who has since left CRY) after one of her visits to a CRY-supported program area in Tirunelveli. But I would like to respond on her behalf. Sincere apologies for the delay as we noticed the comment a little late.

    Tamil Nadu, including the district of Thirunelveli is a core area of CRY’s operations in the southern region and we have been working with grassroots NGOs there for many years now to eradicate the root causes that violate children’s rights. Issues like gender & caste discrimination, livelihood and displacement. Many of these causes especially caste and gender discrimination are very deep-rooted and systemic in nature having percolated through generations and found a strong-hold in every aspect of people’s lives.

    We, at CRY, have seen permanent, lasting change take place but it has not been easy or quick, it has sometimes taken years of working with the local communities in the area as well as local authorities to bring about a change in people’s mindsets, economic and social situations. Our work at Thirunelveli through our project partners, to encourage communities to understand their rights and demand what if rightfully theirs, is continuous and ongoing.

    Supporting us in this journey of ensuring basic rights to children, are people from all walks of life – individuals, media, corporate houses, activists – all of whom believe that every child regardless of birth and circumstances are born equal. Just like you have been supporting us. Please feel to contact any one of us at the Bangalore office on any further information you require about CRY. You could also read more about our partner initiatives at http://www.cry.org/projects/storiesofhopea.html

    Regards,
    Poonam

    p.s. Thank you for running for CRY at the Sunfeast10k in Bangalore.

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