PUCL July, 2004

Attacks on Dalits at Kalappatti, Tamil Nadu
Report of PUCL fact finding team, May 2004

People’s Union for Civil Liberties (Tamilnadu/Pondicherry)
32. Kachaleeswarar Street, Off Armenian Street
Chennai 600 001

Findings of the team (pdf format)

The violent incidents in Kalappatti village on the evening of 16.05.2004 left about 75 houses in ashes. The affected Arundhathiyas ran away fearing for their lives. The worst affected eight were undergoing treatment in the emergency ward in the Government Hospital. The police, who had arrived after the violence, have banned entry of any new persons to Kalappatti. Permission was denied to human rights organizations, social organizations, political parties etc. The weeklies such as Nakkeeran and Kumutham and other newspapers had not provided a complete picture of the incidents.

People’s Union for Civil Liberties constituted a state level fact finding team to visit Kalappatti to assess the actual conditions of the affected victims and to investigate into the background of the incidents that have been given a caste colour.

The Team visited the village on 24.05.2004 and consisted of:
1. Mr. Markandan [Former Vice-Chancellor, Gandhigram Rural University]
2. Mr. Kana. Kurinji [State Vice President, PUCL – TN & Pondy.]
3. Mr. Balamurugan [Advocate and Member – National Council, PUCL]
4. Mr. Pavendan [Advocate and President, Tamil National Lawyers Centre]
5. Mr. Jeyaraman [Secretary, People’s Sarvodaya Movement]
6. Mr. Murugavel [Advocate and EC Member, PUCL Coimbatore]
7. Gopi [Executive Committee Member, PUCL, Coimbatore]
8. Sonia Manohar [Student, College of Media & Communication, Bangalore]
9. Nandini Rao [Student, College of Media & Communication, Bangalore]
10. Ilango [Social worker]
11. Chandrasekharan [Social worker]

The team was assigned the following tasks:

1. Visit the area where the incidents took place;
2. Meet the affected people;
3. Meet those against whom cases have been registered;
4. Meet those admitted with injuries in the Government Hospital;
5. Meet the officials of the District administration to get information on actions taken to ensure normalcy in the area;
6. Write a report on the investigations

Kalappatti – Some Data
Kalappatti is a Gram Panchayat. It is located about 14 kms away to the north of Gandhipuram of Coimbatore, northwest of Avinashi Road, 6 kms from Peelamedu adjacent to the city. The major occupations of the people are agriculture and employment in Sharp and Texmo industries and many small industries. The village receives water from the Athikadavu scheme. There is a temple under the control of the Hindu Endowment Board and some small temples are also to be found.

Population of Kalappatti Panchayat : 8,000
Oppressed (Dalit) people : 1,200
Others (other than Dalits) : 6,800
Dalit area : 174 houses
Others : 675 houses
Total : 849 houses

The area affected in the incidents in Kalappatti is Sastri Road and Puthu Colony. The team first visited the area where the incidents took place. Most of the houses were in ruins, burnt or smashed. Women were in a state of shock and in tears.

Summary of the incidents
The team visited the affected areas. The affected general public, the Gounders who have been charge sheeted, peasant leaders, Panchayat leaders, village administrative officer, Tahsildar, District Collector and the injured under treatment in the government hospital were interviewed and information collected from them.

The following conclusions are reached on these:

Sudha (20) w/o Murugesan, Surya (child 1 year)
" It was Sunday evening. My son and I were inside the house. All of a sudden a mob came and poured petrol and set the house on fire. Our house perished in the fire. I am scared of what is going to happen nex

Sastri Road and Puthu Colony are situated in Kalappatti Panchayat. These are inhabited by the Dalits. On 16.05.2004 from around 6 PM to 9 PM, for about 3 hours, the houses of the Dalits were under attack and more than 70 houses were set on fire and destroyed. Shops and temples did not escape the arson. Cattle were burnt alive. Trees were also burnt down. Household items were, destroyed TVs, clocks and ornaments were robbed. Cash was looted.

Ponnuswamy (63) and Muthammal Ponnuswamy (45)
"We have a petty shop in front of our house. On 16th evening about 300 people looted our shop. Bottles were thrown away. The shop was set on fire. The inside of the shop and the outside burnt. I was also injured in the attack. About Rs.7000 inside the shop was looted."

All those whom the team met were asked to state the cause of the incidents. On the basis of the evidences and comparing the information gathered, the attack by the mob and the setting on fire commenced at 6 PM. Sivasami, the farmer’s organization leader, said that it was at 6.30 PM. He further stated that initially two from the Gounder caste were attacked. This was the reason for the counterattack by the Gounders. But Selvaraj s/o Muthuswamy (Gounder), undergoing treatment at the Government Hospital, stated that when he came back after work at 6 PM, people were running and that fire was raging in the colony and before he could find out what had taken place, he was assaulted by the Dalit youths. Therefore it was evident that fire was started in Sastri Road and Puthu colony even prior to this and that the allegation of assault on two Gounders as a provocation was false. The immediate reason for the incident was therefore not the alleged attack on two Gounders. The attack on the Dalits was preplanned

R. Sivasamy, s/o Raman Gounder, Tamizhaga Vyavasayigal Sangam, Kalappatti Branch.
"I am the Kalappatti branch leader of Tamizhaga Vyavasayigal Sangam. In reality there are no problems by the colony people. We sit together and drink tea in the teashop. Outsiders instigate the problem. In one meeting organized by outsiders, they said that “we would enter the temple, we would ask for Gounder girls, we would cut off the tuft of hair on the Ayer’s head, we shall destroy the Agama mantram,” It is these people who talk like this who create the problem. There was a peace meeting because of the problems related to cricket game. The issue of temple entry also led to peace meetings.

Those boys even asked questions to Tahsildar. They do not want to be called ‘harijan’. They are the prime cause of these problems. Thangarasu beat up the colony boys when two of the colony boys stamped him. The next day 30 of them came and threatened Thangarasu. Sub Inspector calmed them down. Only after two of our boys were stabbed that evening that the problem became big. Dalit women set fire to their own house. After that only our people went around setting fire. They are threatening that cases will be foisted under PCR. The son of the lame Madasamy Annachi who provides loan has been foisted with PCR case. 22 persons were implicated under PCR. But 52 have been arrested. We have been handing over our boys to the police. Two Dalits who have been accused but have not been arrested. The MP and MLA visited them but not us."

a. To the question ‘What do you think of Dalits entering the temple to pray?’ his answer was that there should be equality. ‘If they wish to create history, then we will challenge it’

b. To the question ‘Would you give the Dalits jobs in your field?’ his answer was that after the problem is over, the issue of their employment would be considered.

The background for this is:

  1. The anger caused by the Gounder boys three years ago when they asked the Dalits boys to pick up the ball while playing cricket. This led to the beginning of tension between the two.
  2. The Dalits were not allowed to enter the Mariamman temple managed by the Hindu Endowment Board.
  3. A poster on Ambedkar birth anniversary was pasted by the youths of the Dalit based organization on the temple walls leading to the beating up of one of the Dalit youth; This was then followed by a peace meeting organized by Tahsildar;
  4. The Dalits resorted to a road blockade when the sitting BJP Member of Parliament had come to campaign for reelection alleging that he had not done anything for them. This led Nagaraj, a BJP member of Ward No.3, to declare that there was a need to put an end to the arrogance of the Dalits. It is understood that he further stated that a lesson would be taught to them after the elections are over. A suitable reply was decided to be given to them at a meeting held by Paiyya Gounder, the Panchayat President, Kalappatti Ponnuswamy and Devaraj in the event of a poll boycott by the Dalit. This is one of the reasons.
  5. On the previous day on 15.05.04 evening some Gounder youths traveled along with Dalit youth in a share-auto (autorickshaws that carry 6 passengers). The Gounder youth slapped a Dalit youth alleging that the leg of Dalit youth touched him. Later the Dalit youths went to the Gounder youth and questioned his action. This is considered as the immediate reason for the subsequent incidents.
  6. Wearing such clothes as churidar by Dalit girls and moving about in these clothes came in for criticisms from Gounder youths and those in the tempo stand.
  7. Girls belonging to the Gounder castes that were going to colleges and schools or going outside were teased by Dalit youths.

    Nanjammal (70)
    "A big mob came running. They threw away whatever they could lay their hands upon. They set fire and I saw my house burning. Vessels were destroyed and clothing burnt. Except for the grinding stone everything else became ashes."

Chronology of reasons:
1. Cricket game - Three years ago
2. Demanding rights of entry to temple - For the past two years
3. Teasing girls - Since a year ago
4. Pasting of poster of Dr.Ambedkar on his birth anniversary - April 2004
5. Road blockade during the election campaign
of BJP candidate -- May 2004
6. Altercation in the share-auto 3 years ago - 15 May 2004

Except for the issue of eve teasing, all other stated reasons are clearly related to the issue of assertion of democratic rights and equality before law.

Both the parties have stated the issue of eve teasing as an issue. If this allegation is further probed, it can be found that the issue that emerges is contributory to such behaviors and are related to the issues such as power, property rights, Puritanism and social status. Amongst these, the single most critical issue that provokes a whole community indirectly is the notion of inferiority of that community. This gets translated into the protection of the chastity of women. It is for this reason that in all conflicts that women are targeted for attack – her chastity is attacked.

Oppressive forces destroy the community’s purity and their seeds are attempted to be planted. Any war or conflicts do not matter to these forces. The whole community rises up when they are told that the women are teased. This then constitutes an easy reason for the subsequent assault. A good example is that the larger or majority communities and their organizations use this allegation as an excuse to attack Dalit and minority communities.

For instance:
(1) Pamphlets used by the Hindu fascists prior to Gujarat riots the use of the allegation of teasing of women police to justify the brutal murders of Dalits in Tirunelveli when 17 were forcibly drowned in the river.

(2) The rumors that a Thevar woman was to be married off to a Dalit being used to justify attack on Dalits that subsequently led to caste riots in southern district.

In the hierarchical caste order, teasing of Dalit women by high caste men, entering into a casual sexual relationship etc are considered permissible. But a reversal of role by the Dalit men is considered as worthy of being punished with death and attacks on the community as punishment. As long as the perception that women are property exists in society, any solution would only be cosmetic.

Pazhaniammal (27), Maruthachalam (35) and Prakash (14)
"The mob that came in the evening poured petrol into our house and set it on fire. We could not stop them. Two goats 4 years of age were also burnt alive. I could not bear their cries.. Do such people exist?"

The game of cricket entered and took roots in India consequent to colonialism and can be played without any body contact with other players (See ‘A corner of a foreign field: The Indian history of a British sport ‘by Ramachandra Guha). Casteism plays a role in the game reflecting the society. The fact that other than Vinod Kamble, there has not been any significant Dalit player in the last 70 years of cricket is not to be understood as an unexpected outcome. In Kalappatti one of the important incidents is that the children of the Dalits were ordered to gather the ball going outside the boundary in the cricket game played by the upper caste children.

Sreenivasan (60) and Veerammal
"About 500 people came and attacked all those who they got sight of. Set fire to my house. Cycle and bike in the house were destroyed. They did not hear our pleadings. All the things my three sons slowly saved and got are all now lost."

Entry into a temple is a right of all peoples. This is especially so where the temple is under the control of the government. There have been problems related to the denial of temple entry. Peace meetings were held by the government twice without resolution of the issue nor related laws enforced.

Rasathy Karuppuswamy, and 2 year old child
"The mob attacked and set on fire. They took away our TV. They shouted at us “Are you not seeing the TV and becoming arrogant?”

Uma Sampath (28)
"House was burnt. TV smashed and ornaments looted."

Pasting of poster regarding Dr.Ambedkar’s birth anniversary on the temple walls was prevented. In this regard, Babu (20 years), a Dalit, was assaulted. It is a practice that the temple walls are used to paste posters on all functions that take place in the village. Only this particular poster was objected to. This poster was not pasted anywhere in the village. Instead, the poster was pasted only at the Four Roads at the entry point of the village and in the Sathy-Coimbatore highway.

Balan (40), tea shop owner, Adi Tamizhar Viduthalai Munnani
"I have a teashop near the temple. About 300-400 people came running with knives, poles, canes, petrol bombs etc. They hurriedly began setting fire. The temple and teashop were also burnt. Only the trident remains. That green tree also half burnt."

When the allegation of boycott of election by Dalits is examined, it is seen that the Dalits complained to C.P Radhakrishnan, the sitting MP and candidate of BJP, that during his tenure, the Dalits had not benefited in any manner in the village. The Dalits had then resorted to a road blockade when the candidate refused to give them a patient hearing. The MP returned on coming to know of this action of the Dalits. The local BJP leader Nagaraja Gounder warned that this arrogant behaviour would be put to an end once and for all after the elections were over. In addition, in a meeting organized by Paiyya Gounder, Kalappatti Ponnuswamy and Devaraj a similar decision was said to have been arrived at.

Murugesan (22) s/o Ponnuswamy
"When it was known that the BJP candidate Radhakrishnan M.P was coming here to canvas for votes, in order to make it known that he had not done anything during his tenure to our area, we resorted to a road blockade. He returned without coming to our village. Then the BJP Ward 3 councilor stated ‘let the elections get over. We will take care of you.’ He went away. There were strangers in the mob. 40 feet coconut and 25 feet neem tree are burnt."

A rumour that the Dalits campaigned for a poll boycott was spread around. But the team could observe that most of the Dalits had voted with the mark on the finger visible. The allegation that they had boycotted the polls is evidently false.

Ramalingam s/o Thavasimuthu (40), grocery shop owner

"We belong to the Nadar community. We have a general store. I was asked that day “Why have you put up shop here? If you continue to put up the shop, you would not remain alive”. I was threatened. I have a child and I feel that I should leave this place."

As such every citizen has also the right not to caste his/her vote if he/she is not satisfied with any of the candidates. PUCL had filed a PIL case demanding that the option that one is not voting for anyone should be provided in the list of choices for voting in the electronic voting machine or voters slip (PUCL Vs Govt. Of India (SC 2004) Case is still pending.). This case is pending. If such an opportunity is provided, the boycott of polls would become part of the democratic process and there would be scope for professing one’s preferred ideology and for reforms in the electoral laws.

Sekhar s/o Balan
"About 200 people came running. They had metal pipes, cycle chains and petrol bombs. In Sastri Road 16 were injured of which 6 are in serious conditions. This problem started three years back. Gounder children studying in the 6th and 7th standard were playing cricket. They asked our boys to throw back the ball that went out. When our boys said that they have other work to do, the Gounder boys abused them ‘sakkilitha…..’ and beat them up. When our boys came and complained about this, Paulraja Annan went to enquire what the problem was, he too was beaten up. We filed a complaint in the Kovilpalayam police station, a peace meeting was called and for the time being the issue subsided."

BJP and CPI were the main contestants in the May 2004 parliamentary election in Coimbatore constituency. C.P Radhakrishnan for BJP and Subharayan for CPI contested. It is obvious that the dominant castes were provoked with the threat of boycott of BJP who stands for the protection of specific class, religious and caste interests. Looking at the way the assaults were carried out in Sastri Nagar and Puthu Colony, the houses were attacked, set on fire and looted. A child was thrown aside. The assault continued for three hours from the early hours in the evening. The assault was carried out by a mob. In the assault the participation of outsiders and strangers along with people from the village is evident. Burnt out houses, half burnt goat kid, lamp posts sans lamp, the damaged drinking water taps, smashed TVs, and broken objects indicate that the attack was organized and planned. The incident in the share-auto seems to be an immediate cause.

Issues such as those related to cricket game, eve teasing, temple entry denial, poster on Ambedkar birth anniversary, and boycott of candidate in the election all exploded with the share-auto issue.

Head is the most important in the human anatomy. Legs are the lower most part of the body. Right is superior and strong. Left is inferior and weaker. Right signifies male character and left signifies female character.

Up x down
Strong x weak
Right x left
Superior x inferior
Head x leg

Any good thing ought to be carried out with the right hand. Right leg should be placed forward first. Food should be taken with right hand. Left hand should only be used to clean one’s anus. Money should be given/taken using the right hand. Similar biases pertaining to the body parts have significant importance in Hindu scriptures. As a result of this chathurvarna (Brahma – Hindu god – creator, manusmrithy, bhagawad geetha) was born. Brahmins from the head, kshathriyas from the shoulders, vysyas from the hips and shudras from the legs were created. Those further below are called as ‘Scheduled Castes’.

Nagaraj s/o P. Kasi
"The Gounders expect that we would get up and give up the seat to them in the bus. When our girls wear churidar, they are teased badly. When we wear good clothes, they would insist that we wear clothes suited to our caste. They do not like us to go outside and work and wear neat and fine clothes. The bus stop is near the Gounders place. On 15th Saturday 2004 evening when we were returning by the share-auto, one of our boys was slapped by Thangarasu, a Gounder boy, alleging that our boy’s leg touched him. When we went and questioned this the next day, they warned us that they would drive us away."

Gounders belonging to the shudra varna, though a relatively lower position, expecting respect and subservience from the still 'lower' castes is a reality. Touching of the leg of an upper caste by the leg of a Dalit is an unforgivable offence. This incident is to be seen thus within the framework of manusmrithy where untouchability constitute an essential component of its laws.

Therefore, the incident that served as a trigger was the touching of a Dalit’s leg.. Cattle were killed. Property of the people was destroyed. Women are in shock. Children are scared.

Ramesh (21) s/o Shanmugham (40)
"I do coolie work. I am the branch Secretary of Adi Thamizhar Viduthalai Munnani. The tradition of not allowing us to enter the Mariamman temple continues to this day. Though this has been discussed with the Tahsildar. Even the former Panchayat member Shanmugham could not enter the temple. On the day of the incidents, I had requested the police to provide us immediate protection. Head Constable Karunakaran said that protection cannot be given as there is a lack of police personnel. When I was returning, there were 10 persons on the left side and another 10 on the right side with pieces of pipe, knives, poles, sword etc. They said” Hey… Sakkilithayoli… asking for a Gounder girl, eh?” I was beaten on my knee with the pipe. I was slashed with the sword on my back. Though injured at 6.30, I was able to go to the government hospital only at 9.30. By this time, a lot of blood drained away. I am in pain and am weak. Is the gaining of rights by Dalits not liked by any one?"

Babu (24) s/o Balan
"There were also women in the mob that came to attack us. They threw chilly powder. They asked “Hey, do you want to celebrate Ambedkar’s birth anniversary? On 13.4.2004 in connection with Ambedkar birth anniversary celebrations, a poster of Adi Tamizhar Viduthalai Munnani was pasted on the temple walls, which is the usual place for pasting all posters. This incident became big and the police had to be involved."

Having lost the right to equality, freedom of speech, right to vote, right to chose and preach any religion, freedom of thought as expressed in the Constitution of India , Kalappatti and its destruction are the results of attempts to recover these rights and freedom. India has celebrated golden jubilee of the independence. The 10th elections demonstrating democracy have taken place. Kalappatti incidents call for a review of laws, the manner of their implementation, functioning of the government machinery and electoral process. It is noteworthy that there is no freedom to even celebrate the birth anniversary of the Father of Indian Constitution, Dr.Ambedkar.

Shanker (25) Diploma in Mechanical Engineering
"The two-tumbler system still exists in some teashops. A casual visitor cannot see this but only when closely observed one can. It is not only in the teashops, but such practices are there in Sharp and Texmo industries. Our boys, even if they score good marks in examinations, are not employed as supervisors…only coolie work for us. Amongst us there are 2 BEs, 5 diplomas and 7 college graduates."

Though Coimbatore is a nerve center for textiles mills, machine tools, engineering industries and motor pump sets, agriculture continues to be the major source of livelihood in the rural areas. The landlords invariably belong to Gounder or Naidu castes. The basic manual labour in agriculture is carried out by the Dalits. For ages, these people depended on the landlords for livelihood. The caste order was oppressive. Coimbatore is one amongst those cities impacted by the new economic policy since 1990. 75 percent of the textile mills have closed. Engineering industry also face a set back. Workers were being made redundant. Drought like conditions have made lands fallow.

The Dalits consequently had to move to the cities in search of livelihood. They worked in construction sites, as plumbers and such like. Contact with the outside world, education, and propaganda of political groups had begun to ease the tight knot that is the caste hierarchy.

Small efforts at asserting rights meant questioning the hitherto unquestioned authority of the oppressive castes. These led to such incidents as the murder of Murugesan in Sekudanthazhi (Avinashi), externment of Dalits in Kara Cheri (Kinathukkadavu) and being driven away from the village

Education and, political and social awareness led the Dalits to think about their status. This led to the coming to light of the caste oppression that was rampant in the suburbs of Coimbatore. The dawn of the 21st century saw the murder of Sekudanthazhi Murugesan followed by the caste oppression on the Arundhathiya caste in Kinathukkadavu Kara Cheri.

The Kalappatti incidents need to be seen as a continuation of this process. The caste order, while maintaining a functional hierarchy, also confers the logic and legitimacy to oppress those below by those above. In this power sharing structure, Varnashrama Dharma retained the rigid order without any fracturing all these years. When a challenge to this order is perceived, status quo is sought to be achieved brutally. The prevailing peace is then conducive to the oppressive forces to maintain the oppression.

What took place at Kalappatti is one part of this process. 75 huts and cattle were confined to the flames. If the whole of society do not condemn this assault, these incidents would continue to be enacted. The law has woken up from the slumber and commenced to lethargically move its wheels. The oppressive castes still cannot tolerate the conscientization of the lDalits and their emergence as a political power.

Saraswathy (35), Pazhaniswamy (16)
"My son is handicapped in both legs. He is 16 now. I have to brush his teeth and give him bath. Everything has to be done by me. We were inside the house and had the door shut. Smoke was gushing all around. I wanted to run away with my son but could not carry him alone. I thought that if we were to die then both of us should die together. Neighbors soon came and helped us to escape."

A significant factor of this village is that the Gounders here are of two sub-castes – Kongu Velala Gounder and Narambu Katti Gounder. The Kongu Velala Gounders own land, wealth, agriculture and produce while Niramabu Katti Gounders are below them in terms of affluence. But during the assault on the Arundhathiya community, both these sub-castes were together in the deed.

Though the information on the assault was communicated to the police, the negligent reaction from the police led to the destruction of property worth lakhs to the fire and arson. The district administration arrested 53 under the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act. Relief has been provided to the victims. As the first installment, the minimum relief amount has been disbursed. The assurances of Muruganandam, the Collector of Coimbatore district, that an amount of Rs.9 lakhs is to be disbursed in the next phase and that the law would take its course are to be applauded.

Findings of the team (pdf format)

Recommendations of PUCL fact finding team

  1. Adequate and satisfactory compensation to be given to those victims who were assaulted and whose property destroyed;
    a. Construction of new houses for those who have become homeless and repairs of damaged houses
    b. Relief that has been provided as of now is grossly inadequate. There are a number of persons who have been left out and they should also be given relief.
    c. A proper and realistic assessment is to be made of the property lost by each household and compensation for these are to be immediately provided.
    d. Public property such as buildings, street lights, drinking water taps etc destroyed or damaged should be restored.

  2. The main accused in the FIR are still not taken into custody. Immediate steps should be taken to take them into custody.
  3. Fear is prevalent that the Dalits would be attacked by the dominant caste. Therefore, for a short period,
    a. Protection to be provided to them.
    b. Steps should be taken by the administration to ensure that those accused are prevented from entering the village under the provisions of the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act.
  4. Government should appoint special public prosecutor to aid the victims.
  5. The manifestation of untouchability exists in the temple managed by the Endowment Board of the government, which should be rectified by the government.
  6. Separate tumbler system still prevails in the region which has to be effectively eliminated.
  7. A bus stopping should be arranged in the habitation of the Dalits in front of Vilayattu Mariamman temple.
  8. A public toilet for men should be constructed and a playground should be established in the habitation of the Dalits.
  9. A training should be arranged amongst the Dalits on their rights and laws.
  10. During caste clashes, the police should not hesitate from protecting the people without any delay.
  11. A public telephone number should be allotted for reporting any such incidents.
  12. Somannur, Avinashi, Karacherry, Kulathur, Valayapalayam, Kalipalayam, Paramasivapalayam, Pallapalayam, Neelambur, Madhapur, Shyamalapuram, and now Kalappatti experiences brutal caste oppression. Government should immediately look into this and bring out a white paper on this. Newer approach should be developed to put an end to untouchability.
  13. A peace meeting should be convened by the district administration between the two communities in Kalappatti to work out modalities for peace amongst these communities.

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