Report by Fact Finding Team consisting of Students and Staff of Loyola College which visited Dalit villages affected by the November 7 atrocities in Dharmapuri district
The great poet Thiruvalluvar taught the world not to inflict any kind of suffering upon others as people know by experience it causes suffering to themselves. (Thirukkural 318: Tannuyirkku innamai). At Dharmapuri in Tamil Nadu about 2,000 Vanniyars gathered on 7th November 2012 to unleash mayhem for six hours, burning down nearly 500 houses of their Dalit neighbors. They did it with great joy as if they were celebrating the festival of lights – Karthigai Deepam. In their frenzy they revealed that sections of Tamil society have made no progress in the past 2,000 years from the days described in the Sangam classical poems of Purananuru. It was common those days for mobs to raid neighboring villages, steal their cattle, plunder their wealth, burn their houses and fields and celebrate their victory. This is what the Vanniyars did on 7th November; but this happened in the 21st century India, built on a great compassionate Constitution, and in a world that celebrates human rights, dignity and justice. Shame on Tamil society!
I am an Indian Citizen – I will Vote Again
A Report by Students
A Field-Investigating Team of students of Loyola College visited the villages in Dharpampuri District on 13th November 2012. Our aim was to assess the extent of suffering of the Dalit people and the damage and loss of their property, as well as to comprehend the reasons for this outrageous attack perpetrated by a caste group. The unprovoked attack, arson and looting occurred in Vellalapatty Panchayat area under Dharmapuri Union in Dharmapuri District. The villages are situated along the Dharmapuri-Tiruppattur Highway. Dalits living in Natham, Anna Nagar, Chengalmedu and Kondampatti villages were attacked by Vanniayars living in about 30 neighboring villages. (List of Vanniyar villages are included in Appendix 1).
In a Nutshell
What happened? Systematic looting, vandalism, terrorization and burning down of some 500 Dalit houses has resulted in once happy families now living as refugees lacking even proper food and shelter. This planned attack by about 2,000 Vanniyars lasted for about 6 hours. Armed with petrol bombs, crowbars and other weapons, the Vanniyars systematically looted the houses, stole all valuables such as gold, silk sarees and appliances, burnt all documents including house and land pattas, ration cards and certificates of students. They also stole cattle and sheep. Then they set fire to the houses, gutting them to the ground in front of people, old and young including children who ran for their lives. Young school children witnessed fathers of their classmates stealing all valuables and pouring petrol, opening gas cylinders and setting fire to their houses.
Why did this happen? Our conclusion is that the leader of the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK), Dr. Ramadoss, is exploiting the ignorance and poverty of some Vanniyars for advancing his family interests and political ambitions.The political influence of PMK has, of late, registered a steep nosedive. In the last election to the Legislative Assembly parties like DMDK got a foothold in Northern Tamil Nadu and a share in the Vanniyar vote-bank. The PMK also has split into two. Therefore, Ramadoss has again resorted to his old tactics of burning and looting Dalit villages with the help of Vanniyars. Ramadoss has used Kaduvetti Guru, the embodiment of violence, to instigate Vanniyars and burn down the Dalit houses. The Dharmapuri incident and the response of the government and various parties in Tamil Nadu reveal that prejudice, hatred, lawlessness and inaction are destroying our society.
Heartless men with burning torches roaming free
Origins of the Arson
The attack on Dalit villages of Dharmapuri is a premeditated act meticulously planned over a period. This must be emphasized so that people are not misled to think that a love marriage between a Dalit young man and a Vanniyar young woman is the sole cause for the arson. One year ago at the Vanniyar Youth Festival celebrated on Chithra Full Moon Day, the Vanniyar Sangam leader, Kaduvetti Guru declared: “Those non-Vanniyar young men, indulging in love-marriage with Vanniyar girls should be cut and felled; the Party will stand by such an act.” Dr. Ramadoss was present at this meeting. Again, about a month before the burning of the houses, at the PMK Party meeting held in the Dharmapuri Vanniyar Marriage Hall, Kaduvetti Guru repeated the same venomous statement inciting communal sentiments and call for violence.
A Dalit youth, by name Ilavarasan from Natham, and Divya, a young woman from Vanniyar community have been deeply in love for the past four years. They were married on 14.10.2012 under the Special Marriage Act in the presence of police officials. (Interestingly, Ilavarasan has been selected for the post of Inspector of Police.) Given the venemous speeches appealing to crude caste instincts some Vanniyars started threatening Ilavarasan-Divya couple and their families. Therefore, both had sought police protection. In the meantime, the Vanniyars had convened their traditional village panchayat and ‘ordered’ that Ilavarasan and Divya should be handed over to the panchayat before 7.11.2012. They threatened that if the couple are not handed over both the families would not be allowed to survive. It is said that due to continued pressure from relatives, Divya’s father Nagaraj committed suicide. Whether this death is a really a suicide is in doubt and will be known only when investigated by an institution like the CBI.
Trees cut down to block roads
Using Nagaraj’s death as a convenient rallying point the Vanniyars who had been planning for this attack now carried out their diabolical scheme. Vanniyars of Mathikonpalayam and S. Kottaavur blocked the roads to ensure that the Police did not have easy access to the Dalit villages. The old tactic of felling large trees across the road came naturally for them. Some 2000 Vanniyars gathered and first entered the Natham village. They placed the dead body of Nagaraj near Ilavarasan’s house. They came with terrible weapons, petrol and petrol bombs. One violent group set fire to Ilavarasan’s house. Others entered the 250 houses in Natham. They systematically broke open the doors, looted everything in sight, opened gas cylinders, threw petrol bombs and set fire to houses. Similar acts of violence were let loose on houses in nearby Dalit villages of Anna Nagar, Chengalmedu and Kondampatti. At least 50 Vanniyars entered each house to loot and burn.
A total of about 500 houses have been destroyed in the violent arson. Besides the 250 houses in Natham village, about 200 houses in Kondampatty were burnt down. 56 houses in Anna Nagar village were torched. Bicycles, two-wheeled motor vehicles, cars and mini-trucks numbering over 300 have been damaged or burnt. Timber and woodwork materials worth over Rs. 7 lakhs belonging to Ravi engaged in carpentry work were completely gutted. Sound system equipment worth over Rs.10 lakhs belonging to Sivaraj, and Cable TV network equipment worth over Rs.15 lakhs have also been burnt to ashes. Even a temple was not spared. Jewels of the Dalit deity in Kodaikaliamman temple, worth several crores of rupees, kept secure in the house of Sakthi in Natham Colony were looted. Large amounts of food grains were stolen along with cattle and sheep.
Money and jewels kept in safes for marriages and Deepawali celebrations were stolen. Crowbars were used to pry open cupboards to steal money, jewels and silk sarees. Domestic appliances such as TVs, refregirators, washing machines, and furniture such as cots and almirahs have been burnt. All documents, including property documents, identity cards, family cards, community certificates, pension paper, mark certificates etc. have been reduced to ashes.
Our investigating team estimates that the Dalit people of the four villages have suffered a loss of property worth over Rs. 25 crores.
1. The students of Loyola College strongly condemn this violence and arson perpetrated by the caste chauvinists on Dalit people and their property in Natham, Anna Nagar, Chengalmedu and Kondampatti villages of Dharmapuri District.
2. Ten days prior to the date of the incident, namely, 7th November, the local police had received news of possible attack. Yet they did not take any pre-cautionary action. On the day of the incident the police could have resorted to ‘lathi charge’ to disperse those Vanniyars involved in ‘road roko’ in Naickenkottai area to prevent the police force from entering Natham village. This would have helped prevent the looting and burning. The police could have also reached the Dalit village by taking a different path, via, Konanginaickenhalli to prevent or control the violence and arson. It is highly condemnable that the police have miserably failed in their duty. Therefore, appropriate action should be taken against the officials of the Police and the Revenue Departments for failure to act timely.
3. In the official list of affected villages, Chengalmedu and Alangarai have not been included. In Chengalmedu village, besides dwelling houses, even agricultural lands of Dalits have been destroyed by the Vanniyars. Therefore, along with Natham village, Anna Nagar, and Kondampatti, Chengalmedu and Aalangarai villages should be included and immediate relief material distributed to the affected people in these two villages.
4. The relief of Rs.50,000/- announced by the Government has been notified under the Chief Minister’s Public Relief Fund. The caste repression let loose is an act of violence against the Dalit people. Therefore, all the affected villages should be declared as violence-prone area and each affected family should be granted a total relief amount of Rs.10 lakhs each.
5. “Dr. Ambedkar National Relief to the Scheduled Caste Victims of Atrocities Scheme” (Revised Scheme 2010) provides relief of Rs. 3 lakh each to arson victims. The Collector should take immediate efforts to submit applications to the Chairman of the Dr. Ambedkar Foundation (http://ambedkarfoundation.nic.in/html/schatro2010.pdf).
6. The Dalits in the four villages have suffered immense material loss and mental trauma. They have no houses, jobs and immediate work. The Government should immediately provide dignified government jobs to one person in each family.
7. The relief materials distributed by the government have not fully reached the affected people. Therefore, the government should take every possible action on a war footing to rehabilitate the victims. Further, until such time they are fully rehabilitated, the government should take total responsibility for the basic necessities such as food, clothing, dwelling and medical care.
8. The identity cards, ration cards, property documents, certificates of students and all other certificates and documents of the affected Dalit people have been burnt to ashes by caste fanatics. Therefore, a group of Revenue Officials should be commissioned at the earliest in order to see that all the lost certificates and documents are issued to the students and families. These officials must visit the villages personally and ensure that the documents are issued within a period of one month.
9. Official government sources have indicated that only 268 houses have been destroyed. This is not true. Our field study has confirmed that about 500 houses have been destroyed. This distortion of fact is an attempt on the part of government officials to hide the truth. We condemn this most vehemently.
10. The violence perpetrated on the Dalits is unprecedented in magnitude and has serious implications for the future well-being and peace and harmony of people in Tamil Nadu. We therefore appeal to the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu to make a personal visit to the affected villages and hasten the process of relief measures through government officials.
11. Appropriate orders should be passed for a CBI enquiry to investigate this incident of violence in Dharmapuri District. In case the Government does not come forward to order a CBI enquiry, we insist that the High Court should take suo moto cognizance and order a CBI enquiry.
12. In order to inquire into the cases filed by the people affected by the caste violence, and to ensure punishment for those found guilty, a Special Court should be established and inquiry conducted as per the provisions of the Prevention of Atrocities Act, 1989. (CHAP-IV(14) – For the purpose of providing for speedy trial, the State Government shall, with the concurrence of the Chief Justice of the High Court, by notification in the Official Gazette, specify for each district a Court of Session to be a Special Court to try the offences under this Act.)
13. The violent incidents of looting and burning have severely affected the students of these four villages. The half-yearly examinations are approaching but the students are not in a position to concentrate on studies. Besides, there is also a situation where these students are likely to be isolated by the rest of their peers in the classes. This is to be highly condemned. Therefore, these students should be offered proper counseling. Special provisions should be made to help them sit for the examinations in a conducive atmosphere. Further, taking into account the loss of their books, notebooks, equipment and certificates, and keeping their future education in mind, the government should provide each student a scholarship fund of Rs.1 lakh. Plus-two students should also be helped to find admission in good colleges with hostel facilities.
14. Action should be taken under the National Security Act against Pattali Makkal Katchi, and any other caste organization that is working against the sovereignty of India by making inflammatory speeches against the constitutionally recognized government policies such as promotion of inter-caste marriages, thus inducing violence among people. Further, all such organizations and parties should be declared illegal and should be banned. Action should be taken against the Vanniyar Sangam for inciting communal violence. The Election Commission which has given recognition to PMK as a political party should examine the caste violence and take appropriate action, including de-recognition of the party.
15. Kaduvetti Guru, one of the leaders of the Vanniyar Sangam and a member of the Legislative Assembly, should be removed from the membership of the Legislative Assembly by the Speaker for his direct criminal involvement in the Dharmapuri riots. Dr. Ramadoss the Founder of PMK and Kaduvetti Guru should be arrested and prosecuted for their involvement in the arson. The field research has revealed that the following local leaders were the key figures in organizing and leading the attack on Dalit villages: Mathialagan (District Youth Wing Leader), S. Kottavoor Madhu (Vanniyar Sangam District Secretary), Chinnasamy, Vellalapatty Raja, Tea shop Krishnan and Mani. These and other local PMK and Vanniyar Sangam organizers should be arrested under the Prevention of Atrocities Act of 1989.
16. Relief to the affected people should be provided on the basis of the judgment in the Vachathi case.
17. The government should provide to each of the affected families 5 acres of wetland under the already existing scheme of providing land for landless poor.
18. On the basis of Prevention of Atrocities Act, 1989, complaints should be received from each family affected in this riot and the perpetrators of violence should be identified and cases should be registered against them.
19. The officials of the Revenue and Police departments should undertake surprise checks and recover all the money, jewels, and livestock stolen and hidden by the Vanniyars. Separate cases of theft should be registered against all those indulged in looting. Banks, jewelers and pawn brokers should be contacted to investigate if stolen money, documents and jewels have been deposited or cashed.
20. We appeal to all well-meaning people in the society including, writers, intellectuals, religious leaders and those promoting the ideals of great leaders and visionaries to condemn these atrocities. Dalits who have been oppressed for ages and made to live in abject poverty have sought emancipation and dignity through education and economic empowerment. They had also shunned any ideology of caste, and following Dr. Ambedkar and other leaders stand for the abolition of caste. Inter-caste marriage where it occurs must be welcomed and encouraged. However, those filled with jealousy and a prejudiced mindset seem determined to keep the Indian society in perpetual dark ages. The violent Dharmapuri communal atrocity is an indication of the extent to which fanaticism rules the minds of people, and those political leaders who wish to exploit caste prejudice for their selfish goals. Some caste groups would like to keep the Dalits perpetually under servitude. They hope to achieve this by destroying any economic progress made by Dalits. The dangerous trends developing in Tamil society must be condemned and corrected. We recall that in July 2003, in Puthukooraipettai village near Virudhachalam in Cuddalore District, the Vanniyars have most cruelly murdered Kannagi, a Vanniyar girl, who defying caste-imposed restriction, was in love with Murugesan a Dalit youth. This most cruel act had the blessing of the PMK party. The fact remains that besides PMK, the Kongu Vellalar Peravai and Thevar Federation are also continuing to oppose marriages which defy caste-restrictions. Such uncivilized behavior is against the letter and the spirit of the Constitution of India. It is also an indication that the Tamil society is regressing rather than acting as a most progressive cultural entity befitting its claims of a glorious civilizational past. It will be a matter of grave distress if writers, intellectual, general public and the Government, Judiciary, press and others remain mere spectators at a time like this.
They are learning too much – Burn the books!
How Can Dalits Sleep on a Cot?
Why should they cook? Indeed, why should they eat?
Appendix 1: Vanniyar villages that participated in arson and looting
Report prepared by:
Prof. J. Amirtha Lenin, P. Ajay, S. Santhoshkumar, Arul Muthu Kumaran, K. Balaji, Antony Shaji, A. Francis
20 November 2012.
Emptied cupboards and almirahs