On the day of Dussehra, Ramojipeta, a village in Illanthakunta Mandal of Sircilla district from where the Chief Minister’s son, Mr. K Tarakarama Rao (KTR), was elected, witnessed a tragic Tsundur-like (in Guntur, Andhra Pradesh, 1991) and Laximpeta-like (Srikakulam, Andhra Pradesh, 2012) Dalit atrocity. In the ghastly attack, nine Madiga Dalits were injured, 14 houses were damaged ,eight motor bikes were destroyed, and other properties were destroyed beyond repair. Buffaloes belonging to the Dalit community were also attacked. All youth of the Madiga community ran into the paddy fields in surrounding areas and hid themselves to protect their lives. Fearing an attack, a pregnant woman ran into a paddy field and hid there from 11 PM to 4 AM to protect her baby-within, and herself. What led to this ghastly incident? What are the reasons for this atrocious incident? In order to know this, we have to go into the background of this atrocity and subsequent developments.
Background of the incident
In the year 2013, the gram panchayat of Ramojipeta village decided to install the statue of Baba Sahib Ambedkar in the center of the village. But it had not been accomplished for some reason.Then the Dalits belonging to Madiga community started laying the foundation stone to construct the base for this statue in the month of August ,2020.
In a sharp response, people from the Mudiraj caste (OBC) objected to the installation of the Ambedkar statue. By this time, people from the Mudiraj caste, especially youth, had already been influenced by Hindutva forces and had come into that fold. The Hindutva organizations led by Reddies at the Mandal level also incited the Mudiraj community leaders to oppose the installation of an Ambedkar statue, instead demanding a Shivaji statue in its place. When the Madiga community installed a basement for the Ambedkar statue, members of the Mudiraj community destroyed it. In response, Madiga people filed a case for the violation of panchayat agreement that had approved the installation of Ambedkar statute. Since then, Mudiraj people had been waiting to teach a lesson to Madiga community. One key point to note is that while Mudiraj community belongs to the OBC group, they have displayed, in recent times, a trend of identifying with dominant castes in the region like Reddies and Velamas in establishing themselves as superior to Madigas as per caste system. This is at the root of the confrontation in Ramojipeta.
Agreement before local MLA
According to the victims, the local MLA from the ruling party (TRS), who also belongs to the Dalit community, called both caste groups to the Mandal headquarters, pacified and advised them to install both Ambedkar and Shivaji statues. Both groups agreed to the proposed idea. Having come back to the village, Mudiraj caste people retracted on the agreement and wanted only the Shivaji statue but not the Ambedkar one. They violated the agreement reached in the presence of the MLA. The local MLA ought to have intervened to solve this problem. This could be read as the indifference of the ruling party that the MLA belongs to the Dalit community. The TRS party leadership largely hails from the economically and socially dominant caste – Velamas, accommodating some upwardly mobile caste groups from the OBC community.
The way BJP is consolidating itself is by trying to represent the interests of another dominant caste of Telangana, namely Reddies, while also accommodating economically well-off OBCs. It wants to pull Reddies away from Congress, while luring OBCs through the construction of some pan-Hindu symbols. The installation of Shivaji statue is a part of this game plan.
Batukamma festival, Dussehra, and attack on Dalits
On the night of 25th October, 2020,when the entire state was celebrating Batukamma (symbol of Telangana identity) and Dussehra, madigas of Ramojipeta village were attacked by Mudiraj caste at 11pm with lethal weapons. This mob was led by village sarpanch, namely Pendela Mondaiah and village head man Choppari Bhumaiah. Normally, this festival was celebrated together at village centre (Bodrai). Mudiraj caste people did not invite Madigas to play drums as was the usual practice and prevented them from collecting Jammi leaves which are considered holy on the day of Dussehra. The vice-president of the village, Bejjanki Srinivas, who belongs to Madiga community was not allowed to break coconut at the site of festival.
In response, Madigas decided to celebrate the festival singing songs, playing dandiya with two small speakers. The Mudiraj caste people who had celebrated throughout the day with large loud-speakers, did not want the Dalits to celebrate the festival at all. They complained to the Illanthakunta police the music volume was too high and it disturbed the whole village. Then the police of Illanthakunta mandal called the Dalit vice-president of the village and asked him to put an end to the celebration. As they prepared to stop the celebration, a group of 50 Mudiraj people armed with sticks and iron pipes stopped electricity in the village and started attacking Dalits with sticks, iron pipes, rocks and bricks. The president of the Ambedkar association and his father were hit on the head, and were severely injured. The head injuries were so deep that even after hospitalization, they are yet to recover fully. They started breaking the doors and windows of every house, while beating up the inhabitants. In this attack, nine people were injured, 14 houses damaged, eight bikes and other properties were destroyed. They even beat up Buffaloes. When the mob began beating on the door of a house, the inhabitant, a pregnant woman ran into the fields and hid there for 5 hours to protect herself and her child. In this attack, the women of Mudiraj caste also took active part. Like the Kapu women of Laximpet village Dalit killings, women from the Mudiraj community attacked with chilli powder and bricks. In order to protect their lives, like in Tsundur, all male members of the Dalit community ran into the nearby fields.
The role of Police and Administration
About 7 people were hospitalized in Siricilla hospital. After they got discharged, they lodged a police complaint. The police are yet to register the complaint. Important people, who planned the attack are not arrested. On the contrary, the police filed 307 attempt to murder case on 16 madigas who are victims. This indicates how BJP at the Mandallevel, and TRS at the district and state levels are united against Dalits.
The Cause of the Incident
It is surprising to the fact-finding committee to see relatively high level of consciousness of Madiga community. They are not pure landless agricultural labours unlike in many other villages. Almost all Madiga families have some amount of irrigated land. As marginal and small farmers, they are able to grow paddy in the small plots that they have. Inspired by life example of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, they went to higher studies. They have seven post graduates, ten graduates, four B.tech graduates. Through them, their parents are well aware of Ambedkar and Jyothirao Phule. They are mostly self reliant and live with self respect. They are politically aligned with TRS party.
Mudiraj community (probably under the influence of Hindutva forces) did not like it and treated them as inferior. Economically, they are doing much better than the Dalits. They have more lands than Dalits and are on an upwardly mobile trajectory from middle peasants to becoming rich peasants benefiting from the irrigation facilities from the Maner dam before and recently linked to the Kaleshwaram project, after the formation of Telangana state. Moreover, their caste based occupation of fish farming flourished especially after Kaleshwaram water filling tanks, resulting another assured source of income. Further they are also getting handsome amount on fruit gardens owned by reddis by taking on lease and exporting to other states. Definitely, they are economically more powerful than Madigas of the village. The old people aligned politically with TRS but youth are aligning with BJP recently.
In the recent past, BJP and its mass and cultural organisations are working to gain a foothold by trying to attract the Mudiraj community in the village. Counterposing Shivaji statue to an Ambedkar one is precisely a result of that mobilization. More generally, the emerging rich OBCs across the region are beginning to attempt a domination of Dalits in villages in the process strengthening the village caste hierarchies instead of forming bonds of solidarity between these communities exemplified brilliantly by Mahatma Jyothirao Phule. This pattern is visible also in this recent Dalit atrocity in Ramojipeta village.
Fact Finding Team:
Prof. K.Laxminarayana, Dr. Balaboina Sudharshan, Dr. Pasunuri Ravinder