The funeral procession of a 65-year-old dalit woman was attacked by upper caste men on August 14 in Serugudi village of Kumbakonam taluk in Thanjavore district. The incident took place in the presence of revenue and police department officials.
Anna Lakshmi of the dalit settlement in Sirugudi village passed away on August 13 and her funeral took place the next day. The majority upper caste of the locality, the Vanniyars opposed the funeral procession passing through the public road for a distance of 100 metres, stating that the mortal remains of a dalit shall not be carried through the area where the dominant caste people live. Considering the tension already prevailing in the village due to frequent disputes between the two communities, the officials of revenue and police department were present on the day of the funeral.
However, despite the presence of the officials, the members of the dominant Vanniyar caste started pelting stones at the funeral procession passing through the public road. Seven persons including four women were injured in the attack and were hospitalised in the Kumbakonam Government Hospital for treatment. The revenue and police officials in attendance turned to be mere spectators and no action against the offenders were taken. Since the men carrying the mortal remains couldn't bear the stone attacks, they left the body on the road. Undeterred by the attack, few dalit women carried the body for over 200 metres to the burial grounds and completed the formalities of the burial.
Son of the Deceased Arrested by Police
Illayaraja, son of the deceased Anna Lakshmi along with another person was arrested by the police at midnight for reasons best known to the police officials. They were released later on August 15 evening, after the intervention of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPI[M]) and the Tamil Nadu Untouchability Eradication Front (TNUEF), whose 3rd state conference was underway in Thanjavore.
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Illayaraja told NewsClick, "I was shocked by the sudden demise of our mother and after all the mishaps during the procession, the police knocked our doors at midnight and arrested me along with a relative of ours. The police department is siding with the dominant caste and are continuing to victimise us for no reason. We are still worried about what will happen in the future.”
Further, three persons belonging to the dominant caste were arrested and then let off without any charges being framed.
Lack of Amenities in the Settlement
One of the residents of the village, while speaking to NewsClick, said, "Our settlement has around 50 families and we do not have any basic amenities here. There are no community toilets and drinking water facilities. Since, we reside in houses without pattas (legal document for land), we are under continuous threat of being evacuated. We literally live like refugees in our own village since we don't own any lands here".
Another woman of the village said, "The ration shop is located in the area of dominant caste people and we are continuously harassed while going to the shop. They verbally abuse us. Also, they are threatening to retain our cattle grazing on their lands. If they do so, we will lose whatever small earning we get through our cattle.”
CPI(M) polit bureau member Subashini Ali who was in Thanjavore to attend the conference of TNUEF paid a visit to the village. She met the family members and the residents of the village and conducted a detailed enquiry into the incidents on August 16.
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Speaking to NewsClick, she said, "The dalit residents are not provided with the basic amenities. We demand the district administration and the state government to ensure proper drinking water supply, electricity connections and transport facilities. The offenders should be booked under the Scheduled Caste /Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act and they should be immediately arrested for the crime committed.”
"Incidents of honour killings and caste atrocities are on a rise in a progressive state like Tamil Nadu which is not a good sign,” she added.
Residents Face Continuous Threats
The dalit residents also claimed that they are continuously facing the intimidation of the dominant caste, as they are smaller in number and depend on the dominant caste landlords who hold the majority of the land in the village for earning their living. Only five dalit families in the village hold lands.
The villagers also accused that they hardly get five days of work in a month under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA). They also alleged that they are under paid for the work they do. The reduction in allocation of funds for MGNREGA also add to the woes of the agricultural labourers, the larger number of them being dalits and women.
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