I have just returned from a visit to K. Velayudhapuram (KV for short), a village close to Tirunalveli, 700 kms or hrs from the metro city of Chennai. Having witnessed the true horrors of belonging to a particular caste in free India, I am writing furiously to media people seeking their attention.
Here is a short narrative on the issue that people in this village are grappling with.
6 generations of Arundathiyar community have been living in K. V serving the dominant caste- Reddiyars.
Now when I use the word “serve” I mean the following:
1. Working in the houses of dominant caste for a meager wage
2. Doing menial labor for the dominant caste- including lifting of carcasses, manual scavenging, cleaning of garbage and burning dead bodies for which they don’t get paid.
3. It also means, when the upper caste men decide to have some fun, they can call anybody from this dalit community, even if they are just passing by, and kick them and beat them up. The rule of the land being- “you don’t need to have a reason to beat up a dalit, they are born to get beaten up.”
The unwritten law that the state government, panchayats, police and collectorate silently abide by:
1. If the upper caste youth get bored, they gang up against a dalit who is just passing by and beat him black and blue.
2. They can pull out any dalit boy from his house and hit him. (the rule of the game is 10 vs 1 -a gang of upper caste boys against a single dalit child)
3. No dalit is allowed to take a bath or even wash his hands in the village lake. The fact that the upper caste people wash their buffalos and cows in the same lake is a different story.
4. Dalits cannot walk with chappals into any street where the upper caste people reside.
5. If you are a dalit, you cannot own a bicycle, or get a government job.
6. All dalits should address the upper caste youngsters and elders as “sami” (lord)
7. Punishments to dalits can vary from forcing the entire dalit family to fall at the feet of every upper caste member in the village, to raping the dalit women for self gratification.
The turning point:
On June 8th 2006 when one of the dalits got beaten up, because he fetched water from a fall, the entire community felt enough was enough; every one of them- including women and children went to the police station to ask for justice. They sought the help of Mr. Bharathan, and a FIR was filed. The police finally reluctantly got the accused behind bars.
That was the first time, in K.V , an upper caste person was even accused for hitting a dalit.
On June 9th, the community woke up to a whole new problem. They suddenly discovered that the power supply was cut and so was water, milk and provisions supply. The upper caste men were showing their displeasure on the arrest. The dalits also lost their jobs in the houses and fields of the upper caste people.
After 3 months and 25 days, when I visited this community for the first time, I was shocked to see thorn bushes and barbed fences being placed all round this community’s living area by the upper caste men. Apparently, they had started building the fences to isolate the dalit families and make sure that they don’t come anywhere near the ‘upper caste land’ - which is the entire village outside the arundathiyar’s living area!!!
And all through this, neither the district collector nor the local police have done anything to stop them.
Inspite of 5 petitions and repeated visits to the collectorate office, the arundathiyars are yet to get even WATER!
When the government started building the toilet for this community- the first ever, little did the community know that it’s going to be a toilet without water.
As Subramaniam, a dalit villager, says, “If we had saved the money we spent on travel to the collector’s office in the last 3 months we could have got ourselves a water pump fixed.”
And now that they have been completely isolated, the community fears that the upper caste people could gradually close in on them with electric fences and allow them to die “naturally” when they attack the community from the one way road.
Today the arundatiyars are busy packing their little belongings. “They will not let us live. They are going to avenge us for having filed the FIR and rest only after they kill our babies.” The families don’t know where they are going to move. But they want to leave so that they can survive.
Can we, citizens of a ‘free’ India sit back and watch this community leave their houses, their rights to the village common resources – land, water, electricity? Are we truly free when incidents like this repeatedly occur in our villages across the country?
And just because they are a minority of 45 families who have been repeatedly exploited by 400 upper caste families is it alright for the government and its machineries to pretend and ignore this shocking incident, is it alright for them to wrap up the files and go home at the end of the day?
What would you do if you belonged to this community? Stand up and fight? Or leave to save your life? And if you were a child here?