What is more disturbing and
shocking is the fact that when the Special Court formed to deliberate on
the case had finally given its verdict seven years back, it was
considered ‘historic’ in very many ways.
The conviction of the perpetrators –
twenty one of the accused were life imprisonment and 35 of the accused
asked to serve one year rigorous imprisonment – was considered a
milestone in the ongoing movement for dalit emancipation.
The judgment by the special court had
demonstrated the immense possibilities inherent in the SC and ST
Prevention of Atrocities Act (1989), which remain on paper only. As
rightly noted, it was the first time in the nearly twenty year old
trajectory of this act that special courts had to be set up at the scene
It is noteworthy that Dalits in Tsundur
were so united that they neither accepted any summons from the courts
nor they ever went to court which was situated at a distant place from
the village. They demanded in unison that the courts should come to them
and the government had to concede to their demand and set up special
courts in a school premises.
They had also demanded that they be
provided with a Public Prosecutor and a judge who has a positive track
record while dealing with cases of dalit atrocities. After lot of
dilly-dallying the government had complied with this demand also.
It has been normal in all such cases of
dalit atrocities that, as time passes, people including victims and
their families loose interest in continuing their fight for justice.
They come under pressure or are coerced to change their statement in the
courts etc. The significance of the Tsundur struggle was that the
persons leading the campaign were successful in keeping the people
mobilised all the years. Tsundur became a rallying point for different
left and democratic forces in the state and was harbinger of a new turn
in the left politics by pressurising to come to a resolution to take up
the issues of caste oppression.
D Dhanraj was a crucial witness to the
whole case. He did not falter for a moment despite tremendous pressure
by the powerful Reddys. One could see that Tsundur, the small village in
Guntur, had created many such ‘unsung heroes’ – ordinary looking people
who faced heavy odds to get justice.
Merukonda Subbarao, a fifty six year old
daily wage-worker, who had served as the first president of the ‘Tsundur
Victims Association’ was another such ‘hero’ who identified and named
forty of the accused, of the one hundred and eighty three listed,
standing in the court room. It was clear that the whole incident was
etched in his memory so strongly that he did not falter while accepting
the judges requests to repeat the identification.
And one can never forget the role of
Martyr Anil Kumar, a young man in his twenties who was in the forefront
of the struggle, to make sure that the perpetrators of the massacre are
punished without delay. Anil was killed in a police firing during one of
As is clear in every other atrocity
against the dalits, the Reddys, who have dominated the state politics
since independence, tried with all their might to be allowed to go scot
free. Using their contacts in the bureaucracy, police administration and
even judiciary, they tried to delay the process of justice as long as
they could do it.
Attempts were made to buy or coerce the
dalits in very many ways and the state also tried to play second fiddle
to the Reddys. They felt they could calm down the yearning for justice
by extending largesse to the dalits, giving jobs to a few of them and
awarding compensation to the victims’ families. But dalits in Tsundur
wanted nothing less than justice by pronouncing severe punishment for
the perpetrators. Unitedly they raised a slogan ‘Justice not Welfare’.
It was worth emphasising that with their continued resistance they could
make Tsundur a key issue in the state politics.
A brief recap of the events in this
‘historic case’ tells us that, to attack the dalits, the upper caste
(namely the Reddy) used the pretext of alleged harassment of a Reddy
girl by a dalit youth in a cinema hall. The planned nature of the attack
was evident also from the fact that within no time a mob of few hundred
Reddys wielding traditional weapons (and few of them carrying modern
firearms) descended on the dalit hamlet and unleashed their fury against
the innocents. Sensing an imminent attack, most of the men folk had
already left the village. Once the marauders came to know of this they
literally chased the dalits on the road adjoining the Tungabhadra canal
and lynched them one by one.
Looking back it is clear that the planned
attack against the dalits was another futile attempt by the Reddys to
reassert their age-old authority which had seen fissures with the
growing influence of dalits. The changed atmosphere in the village was
for everyone to see. Not only many of the dalit boys and girls had
benefitted from the affirmative action programmes in education, a few
among them had even surpassed the Reddys in many aspects. Several dalits
of the village were working with Indian Railways. Overall situation was
such that the Dalits had refused to follow the medieval dictates
reserved for them under the prejudice of Varna system.
All that is past now. The judgment of the
high court which has overturned the verdict of the Special Courts
reminds us that the journey to achieve justice is going to be a long
Any cursory glance at the cases of mass
crimes against dalits tells us that the high court judgement is no
exception rather it is the norm.
It was only last year, July 2013, that
Patna High Court acquitted nine out of 10 accused in the Miyapur
massacre for ‘lack of evidence,’ overturning a lower court order. The
Aurangabad Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (SC and ST) special
court judge, Krishna Kant Tripathi, had awarded life imprisonment to 10
persons on September 20, 2007. The Miyapur massacre was a major carnage
in which the Ranvir Sena killed 32 people, mostly Dalits, supposedly to
avenge an earlier Naxal attack in Senari village of Jehanabad. A mob of
400-500 Sena people had entered the village and began firing at the
villagers, on 16th June 2000.
The same year one witnessed Patna High
Court overturning another judgment by the lower court where 11 accused
involved in the killing of ten CPI (ML) activists, in November 1998, had
been convicted. One had witnessed similar reversals in the Bathani Tola
massacre where 23 were accused, and Laxmanpur Bathe massacre that saw 58
deaths. In all the above cases Ranveer Sena was said to be involved but
was allowed to go ‘scot free’.
No doubt that the lower courts had
convicted the accused – which the high court later reversed – but a
close reading of the cases would make it clear that loopholes were
deliberately left which could facilitate the accused. E.g., the police
had pronounced Ranvir Sena supremo Brahmeshwar Singh “Mukhiya,” the
prime accused, an “absconder”. It is a different matter that this
dangerous criminal was languishing in Ara jail since 2002. It may be
added here that when Nitish Kumar assumed reins of power in 2004, one of
the first thing he did was to disband Justice Amir Das Commission when
it was nearly ready with its report. This commission was appointed in
the immediate aftermath of the Bathe massacre and had gone into great
details about the political patronage, which Ranvir Sena received, from
different mainstream political establishments.
It is possible that all these details
where the state and its different organs come out in rather unflattering
terms could be brushed aside as a story repeated ad nauseam.
All the talk of dalit atrocities could be
presented as another extension of the way in which ‘state in the third
world’ unfolds itself. But the key point worth emphasising is that caste
atrocities, much like gender oppression or racial atrocities, have a
specificity which transcends the binary of ‘state as perpetrator’ and
‘people as victims’. In fact they implicate the partisan role played by
the people themselves.
The ‘Report on Prevention of Atrocities
against SCs,’ prepared by NHRC (2004), presents details of the way in
which the civil society presents itself. Here civil society itself
becomes a distinct beneficiary of caste based order and helps perpetuate
the existing unequal social reactions and frustrates attempts to
democratize the society because through the customary arrangements the
dominant classes are assured of social control over people who can
continue to abide by their commands without any protest.
Of course the uncivil nature of the civil
society presents before us a unique challenge where the need then
becomes to rise above a mere discourse on civil and constitutional
rights and address the failure of the largest democracy of the world to
go beyond mere form. We have to appreciate that it concerns the greater
hiatus that exists between constitutional principles and practice and
corresponding ethical ones based on a diametrically opposed ideal.
Everyone has to see that under the purity
and pollution based paradigm, which is the cornerstone of our caste
system, inequality receives not only legitimisation but sanctification
as well. As inequality is accepted both in theory and practice, a legal
constitution has no bearing on the ethical foundation of caste-based
societies. In fact Dr Ambedkar, the legendary leader of the oppressed,
had this very reality in his mind when he emphasised the difference
between what he called ‘political democracy’ and ’social democracy’, and
the difference between ‘one person having one vote’ and ‘one person
having one value’.
To conclude, one can go on enumerating
cases of dalit oppression and explain the manner in which perpetrators
of atrocities against dalits are ‘saved’ judicially.
One can perhaps make a beginning with the
first massacre of dalits, in 1969, in independent India when 42 dalits –
mostly children and women – were burnt alive by a gang of marauders
belonging to the local upper castes in Kizzhevanamani of Thanjavur,
Tamil Nadu. Dalits and other exploited people in that area of Thanjavur
had launched an agitation under the leadership of Communist Party on the
issue of wages which had infuriated the dominant caste people.
Here also the judgment by the Court was
disturbing. The courts had acquitted all the accused with the specious
argument that ‘it appears unbelievable that all these members of the
upper caste’ would have gone walking to the dalit hamlet/basti.’
It is said that shadows of Kizzhevanamani
have continuously hovered around atrocities against dalits and adivasis
in post independent India. Question arises how long it is going to
Gatade is a New Socialist Initiative (NSI) activist. He is also the
author of "Godse's Children: Hindutva Terror in India," and "The Saffron
Condition: The Politics of Repression and Exclusion in Neoliberal