Dalit Camera: Through Un-Touchable Eyes
Today, August 6th, marks the 23rd anniversary of Tsunduru massacre of Dalits in Andhra Pradesh. When the case finally reached the Andhra Pradesh High Court, all the accused (including those who had been convicted by the lower court) were acquitted on April 22, 2014. Several Dalit and human rights activists held a round table meeting in Hyderabad to chart out a protest programme against the judgment and also decide on how to seek justice. The following text is a transcript of the views expressed (in Telugu) by veteran human rights lawyer Bojja Tharakam at the meeting. His address was transcribed by Sundeep Pattem.
After this judgment, I came here to listen to what all of you are thinking. Together, we need to decide on a course of action. This is what I am wishing for. We should not stop at conducting a protest or meeting. How to take this process forward, in accordance with the law.
We cannot say what the result is going to be in the Supreme Court, cannot think that it will be different from the High Court. This is exactly how it happened in Karamchedu. The trial court sentenced six to death, and about 60-70 got 2-3 years in prison. The High Court struck it off completely. No death, no life sentence, no 2-3 years, nothing. Then we took it to Supreme Court. It did not come up in the Supreme Court for a long time. They managed it. After a lot of effort, we managed to get a hearing. Normally, there is an ‘appeal against acquittal’. The Supreme Court has to investigate – after the trial court gave sentences, the High Court reversed them. Why did the High Court strike off the cases, for what reasons? Instead of investigating, it was so strange.
We had M.N. Rao garu as the advocate, to argue on behalf of the State. I was with him in private capacity, on behalf of the victims. Two Supreme Court judges. You will not believe it – M. N. Rao garu was not allowed to speak by the judges. M.N. Rao garu, a senior advocate, very respected, worked as High Court judge. He was not elevated to Supreme Court judge only because of being from a BC community. He was more capable than those who came before or after him and got elevated in the Supreme Court.
He was practicing in the Supreme Court, when this case came to him. He took it up as a challenge, and said I should be along with him. I said I will. The two judges were not allowing him to speak, they started saying “It’s been 26 years. Still, what case? What appeal? What happened has happened. Why don’t you let it go?” I asked strongly, “Are these words to be spoken by Supreme Court judges? In that case, why do we still have ‘appeal against acquittal’ in the Criminal Procedure Code then? Why don’t you remove it? First hear us and then decide. How can you say that?”
This is what M. N. Rao garu should have said. But, he did not. He was too respectful, very patient. He said, “Tharakam, you speak.” The judge asked, “Who are you?” I said, I am speaking on behalf of the victims. “The State itself is not interested, what is your interest?” We had a big battle with him. “This case has gone on for 26 years already. Appeal will take another 2 years. Don’t we have any other work to do? Will you hear or argue the case for 26 years?” He did not speak factually. M.N. Rao garu was not saying anything. What could he say? I said “In this country, the Dalits have been waiting for 200 years for justice; they don’t mind waiting for 20 years more.”
Then they started hearing. Once we started, putting the case aside, the judge starts saying “Don’t bring ‘Harijans’ into this case, don’t bring Harijans.” He says this, when the case itself is about caste-based atrocity. Every time they did this, I argued strongly. Then they allowed him to argue, it went on for 2-3 days. In the end, the Supreme Court upheld the lower court’s judgement.
It was a tremendous case. We brought out so many legal provisions. M. N. Rao garu argued very well. A case with so many legal implications. Deviously, while passing the judgment, the two judges said, “We are allowing your appeal, upholding the punishments. But, this case should not be reported in the Law Journal.”
This is the way of the judicial system. From then to now, I am thinking, there is no change. I am bringing it your notice. What kind of system and methods we have to fight. They will murder. Police won’t register a case. If they do, they won’t write a proper chargesheet. If they do, they don’t investigate properly. They do not accept witnesses properly. Then give whatever judgement they want.
This is continuing. Tsundur is a continuation. We have to think seriously and intensely – Do we have an alternative? Within this judicial system itself. I am not talking about anything outside. When the need arises, we can think about it. How much ever we expose them, and their casteist arrogance, they are not changing. That is the surprise.
On Tsundur, you know the details. Caste arrogance, nothing else. Reddys, Telagas, some BCs, one Chakali, one Mangali, the case was on them. 8 people were killed. Along with the murders, chasing and killing, two of them were cut to pieces, packed in gunny sacks and thrown in the Tungabhadra. The other six corpses, after repeated stabbing, were kicked into the canal. The corpses floated up somewhere after 2-3 days.
The judge say, “The police could say where the corpses were found.” What kind of police is it? Since 4 days, there were clashes. The police had been there for 4 days. On 6th August, Reddys attacked the village. The mala-madiga men ran away, the women were left behind. The men were chased with arms by the Reddys. The police were camping there for 4 days, small incidents were happening. That day, while police were watching, 200 Reddys with swords were chasing the malas and madigas. Even when they were coming back, the police did not take away their weapons. The men were chased away, the ground was made free. This was the work of the police.
The judge says, “There is no evidence to say who was killed where.” How will you get evidence? The police were there, they have to give it, but they did not. After 8 murders, all the men ran away. They ran away out of fear of life. Of them, the judge says “In this case, after such horrible murders, how come no one reported to the police?” When the police were there and seeing all of this happening in front of their own eyes, will anyone go and report to the same police? We know what happens in many such cases. The police will first jail those who come to report. The same police who watched people being cut to pieces, who will report to them. Who knows, maybe someone reported, they would have thrown it out.
As such, there is no need for the police report. The police report is needed for the investigation process to commence. It is not needed for running the case. There should be witnesses, they must state what they saw. The statements must be recorded by the police. They should place it before the court. The witnesses will state before the court. If they are truthful, judge sentences for punishment. If not, dismiss the case. The judge needs to examine the witnesses in front of his eyes. Determine whether they are speaking the truth or not. Is there truth or falsity in their words. In law, there is a term. The judge will say, “I hear the ring of truth in these words.” When there is truth, it will be such. The judge has to say it. “I hear the bells of truth ringing. That is why I believe it.”
In such group attack cases, at least two people have to give witness. The court looks for corroboration. In this case, for each murder, 10-20-30 people gave witness. This particular person killed that particular person. They stated this without any scope for doubt. Some of these the court did not accept at all, for some it said not believable, some punishments were given. The kind of wounds, it is called medical evidence. The medical evidence supported what the witnesses said. There are witnesses, medical evidence, wounds, corpses. The judge says, “The time of death could not be fixed.” Is this is a wedding muhurtam to fix a time?
Every witness said cleary, “Attack started in our village at 11am, went on till 4pm.” The judge says he wants a statement like “The murder happened at 11:40.” The reasoning is so absurd. It will not stand as justice, however wicked the judge may be. This judgment shows that these judges are past even wickedness. A person who was being chased, running for his life, jumped into a canal in the way, and got across. In the cross -examination, the judge asked if he knew how to swim. He said no. The judge says his words cannot be believed. He himself claims the canal is 10 metres wide. Who told him that? It is not there in the witness statements. In any case, will someone running for fear of life think about the width and depth of the canal? His judgment has this kind of absurd reasoning.
Still, the complete judgment has not been written. Perhaps, he wants to see what the reactions will be, and make some changes accordingly. Usually, for such a big case, only after the complete judgment is written will it be declared. But, he declared the operator portion beforehand. Operator portion is that he let all the accused go. He will give the reasons later. Usually, judges do this in civil cases. Not in criminal cases, for which all the strong reasons for letting go should be written.
We had our doubts as soon as the case came to (the judge) Narasimha Reddy’s bench . Without my asking, the Government appointed me the Special Public Prosecutor. I thought hard whether I should take it or not. I had not completely recovered from brain surgery. I was not sure if I could take on such a heavy case. I felt I should not refuse such an important responsibility placed on me. So I went and asked the judge for some time. I asked for another week’s time to recover. But he did not grant it. Besides, he says, “Your health is very important for us. After coming to know that you have been hospitalized, I have been asking your son about it.” My son was the Collector in Warangal. This man is also from Warangal, keeps going there every week, don’t know for what. “I asked your son about you every time, people like you are very needed.” he went on like this.
But he did not give me one week’s time. We got started. It was so strange. It was a big appeal, 28 people got punishments. He did not allow any of the advocates appealing to argue, he used to argue himself. On top of it, he would say things like “What kind of arguments are these? If you are not capable of arguing, why did you agree for such a big case? Is this the way to argue cases?” He did not allow anyone to argue properly. If I asked for one day’s time, he would say, “What one day, sir? These people have been rotting in jail from so many years. You are a civil liberties leader, and you are asking for more time. Will you deprive them of their freedom?” After we started, for one week, he did not allow them to argue. Only he used to speak. Asked them some questions.
I told him then itself, “The way you are investigating is very suspicious. It is not proper, you should not do it this way.” When he continued in this fashion, on the second day, I felt there was no use. I told him “You should not be conducting the inquiry on this case. Your behavior, your questions, your comments, all of it is highly objectionable. I do not have faith in you.” On hearing this, he was stunned. “You say such a thing, say you have no faith in me? You say you have no faith in the judicial system?” Yes, because I’ve lost faith, I said I don’t have faith. He says, “Why did you not say so beforehand?” How can it be said beforehand? After the case has run for a while, after seeing your attitude, then, I feel like this. One can have faith in the beginning, but along the way, it can be lost.
He asked me to give in writing. Asked us to put in an affidavit, we did that. “Have only you lost trust, or has the victim also lost trust?” I said, we have lost it, so have the victims. We have lost trust because the victims have lost trust. He said, “You are the public prosecutor, you cannot speak like this.” I told him that I am not a regular public prosecutor, asked him to look at the Act. The Special Public Prosecutor is responsible for protecting the interests of victims. I will not keep quiet if you are like this, if injustice happens to them.
He said he will charge me for contempt of court. Asked him to do it. He asked for the name of the particular victim who had lost faith. I did not have the name right away, but called him the next day. When he came, the judge asked, “Is it true that you have lost trust?” The victim said yes. He asked for it in writing, we gave it. When it came up again after a few days, he starts saying “Why to issue contempt? I have boundless respect for you. I am very sad that such a situation has arisen. Please think about it again. Withdraw your remarks.” I refused to do it. After having lost faith, how is it possible to withdraw the remark?
When he was due to dictate the orders, I told him that it was we who told you about the lack of faith. The victim had told us the same, but the victim is in fear. He is afraid of what you will do. Already he is in grief of losing 8 people, relatives. He said it out of grief. It is not proper to pile on contempt of court. Remove him from the contempt of court. Keep it on the two of us, myself and my associate Raghunath. He asked us to give in writing, we did. He took it. When we got the orders he dictated in the morning, he had issued on all three of us. I said, why did you issue on the victim after agreeing to remove? Then he says, “Oh, his name is also on it? I am removing it.” Signing on the order, he said, “Since I am removing on the victim, no need on the two of you as well.” and removed it on us.
The reason I am telling all of this is that there is a lot of background, there are motives. It is said that motives should not be attributed to judges. But here the motives are clearly visible. Normally, to reverse the judgement of a trial court, the High Court needs to show much stronger evidence than the evidence on which the sessions court judgment was based. What is the evidence being shown here? What is the strength? “How did he get across without knowing to swim”? “The police is not able to provide exact time of death”? Will anyone overturn judgment on murder cases on these grounds? Surely, according to tenets of Law or normal procedures of inquiry, there are several reasons to be suspicious of the judge.
In any case, since the judgment has come, we have to appeal. After the appeal also, it will be a battle. The struggle after Karamchedu incident is indicative. It was the earlier one, showed us the way courts will function. With clear evidence, after showing the wounds, corpses, witnesses, if he is not convinced, what will he believe? Only his own words. So, we must take it to the Supreme Court. Since it is the Government’s case, the State needs to appeal. We will recommend it. If the State does not, we have to put in a private appeal on behalf of the victims. I believe that the State will do it. They cannot go back after things have come this far.
Because the State is responsible here, Police is the State. He asked if I am pointing the finger at the Police. Yes, I said. He said “You are arguing on behalf of the Police, which is the State. Are you questioning your own witnesses?” It cannot be avoided. For justice, there can be a situation where you suspect your own witnesses. Does the police behave like this? When people are being chased and killed with weapons in front of their own eyes, should they not apprehend? After it happened, even after three days, 8 people of the villagewere missing. Did they say, “Arre, we saw people being chased with weapons. Where are those people?” Did they search anywhere? They did not move until the corpses were found. If the corpses did not show up, the case was gone. This kind of police. The appeal needs to happen. If the State does not, we will do it.
Since leaders of many associations are here, this is my wish. This case, the way it was examined, the punishments given and reversed, the behavior of the judges. All of it needs to be publicized in all of Andhra Pradesh, in a statewide campaign. You must expose the whole system. There is no contempt of court if you speak the truth. Now there is a new amendment. Earlier, even if you are speaking the truth, if you speak against the judge, it was contempt of court. With some realization, they have amended the law. If you speak the truth, if there is evidence that the judge has taken money, there is no contempt of court. Speaking the truth as the truth, there is no contempt of truth. Even if we are jailed for speaking the truth, let some of us go to jail for contempt of court. Let us go to jail for the truth. Has he taken money or is he acting in favor of the Reddy caste? We can ask for a discreet enquiry by the CBI. Since we are suspicious, people are having these thoughts.
No letting it go. No going back in fear. Some time ago, they used to get away with it. But even when the corpses were buried, we got them dug up again, showed up the wounds. There is this history in Andhra Pradesh. There is no need of fear. All of this is within the four corners of the law. We are not doing anything against or outside the law. The thing we should do is to remove any fears and doubts in us. This is a challenge. Tomorrow, we will face even bigger challenges. Lakshmipeta. Here they killed out of caste arrogance. In Lakshmipeta, it is not just caste arrogance, but also about land – “Malas and Madigas will ask for lands? Will not let go when asked to?” That is why they killed. So, Malas do not have rights to till even Government lands? We have to settle it. It will be settled in Lakshmipeta. Here, about caste arrogance, we will settle it.
All of you have the power to face these challenges. I have faith in you. Maybe I stayed alive a few more days to run these cases. All of you should come forward and accept the challenge. In Bihar, UP, 20, 30, 40, 50 people are being killed. So many cases. The courts are striking the cases away. The State is not going for appeal. The Dalits are not even trying to press for appeal, they are in such a horrible situation. The situation in Andhra Pradesh is much better. The actions here must show the way for the struggles against atrocities all over India, this is what I am wishing for. Excuse me, I have taken so much of your time.
All of you must work out a plan of action. How to take this across the country. We did it in Karamchedu. ‘All India protest against the Karamchedu massacre”, brought together leaders from all over India. We organized a very big meeting. In some important state headquarters, we organized meetings. We publicized, that such a horror took place in Karamchedu, such a horror took place. Compared to then, we have more resources. We have the acumen, we have grown in courage. Now we have everything. Even for a reserved seat, we are asking for 3-4 crores per seat. We have reached this stage. Not talking about whether it is right or wrong. Our capacities are such. Then, when 8 people are slaughtered by Reddys, and when a Reddy judge lets them go, what will we do? I am wishing for a movement led by you all across India. I will be with all of you. You have to take the lead. I cannot take the lead at this stage. I will be with you. Thank you.
We can show our strong protest against the judge and judgment. We can hack the judgment to pieces. After the judgment has come, there is no contempt of court. If we have no evidence, we cannot say that Narasimha Reddy has taken money and given this judgment. If we find evidence, we will say it, no going back. “Reddy has given judgment in favor of Reddys” – we could not say this then. Since the case hearing is over, we can say it now. We could not have said it while it was being heard. Now that it is over, we can show the judgment, how his opinions are, and say it.
We do not have any kind of fears. Hence, I am again wishing that all of you take it forward, and taking leave. Thank you.
Please also read other related articles:
Tsunduru says: ‘You just fight back’: by Unnamati Syama Sundar
Brahmanical Courts and the Death of Justice: by N. Sukumar and Shailaja Menon
The uniqueness of the Tsundur struggle: by Anoop Kumar & Ashokan Nambiar
If all the accused are innocent, then who killed the Tsundur Dalits? – Duddu Prabhakar