The dalit community in Tamil Nadu are anxiously awaiting for government action, as they endure caste atrocities and discrimination with over 15 such incidents reported since the Assembly elections concluded in the state in April this year.
The offences are of severe intensity, including a twin murder, discrimination of a village panchayat president and denial of participation to dalits in temple festivals, among others. Furthermore, many incidents go unreported, while many others are settled even before it reaches the court of law due to political intervention or fear of further intimidation.
In the wake of a spurt in such atrocities, the Tamil Nadu Untouchability Eradication Front (TNUEF) and other dalit rights' organisations are demanding the state government to urgently convene the biannual state level vigilance and monitoring committee. The demand for constituting the state commission for SC/ST has also been raised again.
OFFENCES CONTINUE, FEW CASES ‘SETTLED’
After a brief lull due to the Assembly elections on April 6, reports of assaults on members of dalit community are on the rise again. Days after the polling, two dalit youth were killed by a gang of youth belonging to the Vanniyar community in Arakkonam in Ranipet district. The Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (VCK) claimed that the murders were politically motivated.
A dalit youth was murdered inside the Palayamkottai central prison in Tirunelveli, which has been termed as a planned murder by the relatives of the deceased. Caste clashes were allegedly behind the attack on the dalit inmates.
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Another elected president of Kallaraipadi panchayat in Tiruvannamalai district faced caste discrimination from the panchayat secretary. The staff was placed under suspension following the complaint of the president, Ezhumalai belonging to the dalit community.
In another incident, members of the dominant Maravar community uprooted the fencing of the common burial ground constructed with the panchayat funds.
“The members of the Maravar community were upset with the fencing and the gate installed around the burial ground. They were nor prepared to share the common entrance with the members of the dalit community. We had to protest and then meet the district police chief to ensure that a case is filed under the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act,” said Ponnusamy, Sivagangai district secretary of the TNUEF.
Other incidents including the denial of temple entry for dalits in a village in Tindivanam and the destruction of a public water tank near Vikravandi which were reportedly settled after talks.
“The incident in Vikravandi was settled after the intervention of the leaders of the ruling party (the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam). The offenders replaced the water tank and no case was registered in the incident,” said an office bearer of Vizhupuram district TNUEF.
Several dalit settlements lack access to cremation grounds and had to carry the dead bodies through rivers and water bodies. Incidents of ‘air dropping’ dead bodies after denial of access to crematorium have also been reported in Tamil Nadu.
VIGILANCE AND MONITORING COMMITTEE
With increasing number of incidents of caste discrimination and atrocities against dalits, the demand for effective implementation of the provisions of the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Amendment Act, 2015 has further intensified.
K Samuvel Raj, general secretary of the TNUEF, has demanded the state government to convene the mandatory biannual meeting of the state level vigilance and monitoring committee headed by the chief minister.
“The rule 16 of the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Amendment Act mandates convening the state level committee twice every year in January and July. The chief minister must convene the meeting in July this year and ensure stringent actions are initiated against the culprits,” Samuvel said.
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Witness for Justice, a dalit rights organisations has written to the CM demanding the same, stating that, “the committee should have met 56 times in the last 26 years while it has met only four times”.
The organisations have also demanded the CM to direct the state police chief to file the monthly report about the functions of the SC/ST protection cell.
‘CONSTITUTE SC/ST COMMISSION’
Notably, the state with 20% SC population and 1% ST population does not have a commission for SC/ST like many of its neighbours.
VCK MP Ravi Kumar raised the issue in Parliament during February 2021 and accused the then All India Annatra Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) government of inaction despite a Madras High Court order in 2016 which ordered the formation of the commission.
“Article 338 of the Indian constitution mandates the formation of a commission for the SC/ST. The DMK government must follow states like Kerala, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka and form the commission without any further delay,” added Samuvel.
The lack of a tribal sub plan in the state, which is aimed at bridging the gap between the tribal and general population on basic amenities including education and healthcare is another cause of concern.
“It is high time that we have sub plans for the most vulnerable sections of the population,” Samuvel said.
Reportedly, the AIADMK government paid very little attention on several issues including an alleged caste wall collapse in Coimbatore which killed 17 people of the Arunthathiyar community. The silence of DMK another other parties on several instances including the murder of a youth leader of the Democratic Youth Federation of India (DYFI) have put the Dravidian parties under the scanner on issues relating to dalit rights.
It should be noted that the COVID-19 induced lockdown since March 2020 has not led to any abatement of the atrocities: 17 murders, four manual scavenging deaths, five sexual harassments, seven incidents of discrimination of elected panchayat presidents and three honour killings have been reported till June 2021 during the lockdown period.
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