Dalit Lives Matter: Put An End to Caste Consolidation on the Basis of Dalit Oppression

“The accelerated and all-round penetration of capital, including in agriculture, takes place not so much by eradicating as by utilising the stubborn remnants of feudalism in production relations and value systems, thereby reproducing them in new forms. Such survivals not only ensure the availability of cheap labour power and raw materials for both Indian big capital and imperialism, but also provide a structural foundation for the persistence of various obscurantist and parochial ideas as well as systematic casteist and feudal-patriarchal oppression, often in most barbaric forms. In short, feudal survivals in league with growing corporate control over the country’s economic lifelines and institutions of parliamentary democracy retard and distort the development of productive forces and act as the biggest stumbling block to a thorough democratisation of Indian society and polity”

From the General Programme adopted by 9th Congress of CPIML (Liberation) held in 2013.

-- Bhuvana

A suicide theory was in need when Ilavarasan’s body (a dalit who married a Vanniar girl) was found on the railway tracks. Though there is an official version about the cause of his death, very few buy this story. Gokulraj’s headless body was found again on the tracks. Initially rumour of suicide was spread and later occurrence of murder was established by due enquiry process. Now in Sankar’s muder, it is one more step further for the dominant caste thugs in Tamilnadu. Sankar, an engineering student, who was selected in the campus interview and who was supposed to join the company in a few days, was killed in broad day light, in a crowded market place, right before the functioning lenses of a CCTV camera, while general public including his wife were witnessing. The killers have graduated from ‘suicide’ to ‘murder’ to ‘lynching’ or ‘public hacking’ of dalit youth who dared marry a dominant caste lover. This shows the scale to which the hegemonic dominant caste forces in Tamilnadu are emboldened by the absolute failure of the Tamilnadu state machinery in preventing and controlling such killings and with the way the ruling class parties in the state have been dealing with earlier such cases. In Tamilnadu, it is now just short of public celebrations of such horrendous caste hegemonic- killings (until a more apt term for ‘honour killings’ comes up…., may be ‘hegemonic killings’?).

Five of the killers were arrested. Kausalya’s father and one more relative surrendered. These arrests do not evince any hope of control of such killings for the people of Tamilnadu who have seen the enquiry and arrest processes in Gokulraj’s murder. Here too, initially there was an attempt to paint the murder as a suicide but later things gave way to arrest of a few from Dheeran Chinnamali Gounder Peravai, an upper caste outfit. The main accused, Yuvaraj absconded but he was circulating 6 audios in the social media periodically. He even gave interviews for TV channels. He surrendered but not before the suicide of DSP Vishnupriya, a young dalit officer, who was the investigating officer in Gokulraj murder case. A love story behind her cause of the ‘suicide’ was also concocted. Yuvaraj, who played a very important role in the witch hunt and ‘death’ of Perumal Murugan, surrendered after announcing publicly, the place, date and exact time of surrender. Hundreds of his supporters gathered there and gave him a hero’s-welcome. Another DSP, Vishnupriya’s friend, a dalit, who was openly saying before the TV cameras that she may be targeted for claiming Vishnupriya was pressurized to arrest somebody else who have nothing to do with Gokulraj’s murder, was admitted in a hospital within a few days of these revelations, after an ‘attempt for suicide’.

Yuvaraj was campaigning against love marriages and was active in preventing upper caste girls from being friendly with dalit boys with his own style of moral policing through his caste outfit for over three years. He is of course in jail now. Bail was once rejected. But nothing concrete has come up from the CB-CID enquiry even after six months of his surrender. Before that for three months he was evading arrest and was giving lectures over whatsapp. He was not nabbed by the police even after such audacious virtual appearances, but he himself surrendered. But, an investigating officer, who is powerful in the eyes of the common people commits suicide. Her friend, another supposedly powerful police officer is being admitted in the hospital for attempting suicide and Yuvaraj, a caste mafia, surrenders like a hero….. Any hope left for dalits and the common people in these turn of events after Gokulraj’s murder? If anything had happened, it is only the emboldening of the hegemonic caste forces in the state in committing such crimes.

Ilavarasan did not get the police security he was seeking for when he was alive. But his funeral was held amidst heavy police security. Sankar’s earlier complaints were ignored by the police but it acted swiftly in conducting his funeral amidst the protests of his parents and relatives against receiving his body before the arrests of the killers. After five years of pampering by the Jayalalitha government, Tamilnadu police under the direct control of the chief minister has now acquired the art of organizing funerals of dalits, whose deaths result in protests of dalits and condemned by the democratic section in the state. We saw this in the case of Tirunaalkondaseri in the first few days of 2016, where the police which was supposed to obey and implement the High Court order to allow the funeral procession of an old dalit man through a common road, lathi-charged the relatives of the dead dalit man who demanded the implementation of High Court order and carried the body through some other route and finished the final formalities all by itself. In both life and death there is no honour for dalits in Tamilnadu but they are killed to protect someone else’s ‘honour’.

Tamilnadu had been no heaven for the oppressed castes and it has seen dalits being burnt alive (right from the days of Kilvenmani), being hacked to death in public, being forced to eat human excreta and drink urine. Those incidents of atrocities and attacks were born straight from class and caste antagonisms which existed then as strong as they thrive now and such atrocities have not come to end. Many attacks were rebuffs for clear cut manifestations of economic and social progress of dalits, of course with the help of reservation, which in turn led to their assertion. What is added and rendering the situation more dangerous not just for dalits but for the democratic life in the state in the recent attacks on dalits, is the political consolidation of the emergent non-dalit castes: a consolidation that is sought to be achieved by performing oppression and violence against dalits.

This attempt of consolidation on caste lines by oppressing dalits is getting intensified in the state after the dominant caste forces could see its results in terms of winning seats in the elections. Caste being a factor in winning elections is again not new and exclusive in Tamilnadu. But what is new is that it has a hard-core anti-dalit element introduced by conscious planning. We can draw parallels only with the designs of Sanghis to win elections through caste and communal polarization.

It is ironic that, Pattaali Makkal Katchi (PMK) which drew new contours in Tamilnadu politics through vigorous and successful protests for reservation for Vanniars, a backward caste, has now emerged as the prominent force in engineering caste polarization by oppressing dalits. One of the only two seats lost by AIADMK in 2014 Loksabha elections went to PMK. This was Dharmapuri where PMK was successful in fomenting an anti-dalit mood in the backdrop of Ilavarasan episode and arson against Dalit villages. PMK leaders not only lit the caste fire by invoking the lofty duty of their caste men in protecting the ‘honour’ of women of their castes but they were violent even towards dalit boys wearing jeans, T-shirts and sporting sun glasses. They publicly demanded the heads and limbs of dalit boys who ‘seduce their women’ into ‘love drama’. They alleged that dalit boys have mastered the habit of exhorting money from the dominant caste families by luring the upper caste girls. Thus the idea of dalit boys being enemies of caste honour and pride was constructed centering around the issue of inter-caste marriages and violence was instigated on the pretext of teaching them a ‘lesson.’

When this design tasted electoral victory too apart from burning hundreds of dalit houses and ransacking their life time earnings, caste hegemony in other pockets of Tamilnadu gained confidence. Representatives of these dominant caste outfits sit on panel discussions on television shows and say boldly that Dalits boys should be taught a lesson. Caste hegemonic-killings continued and many dalit lives were lost in southern, eastern, western, and northern districts of Tamilnadu.

The interim chief minister from AIADMK asserted in one of the assembly sessions that there are no caste hegemonic-killings in Tamilnadu! Bureaucrats drawing appropriate message from such statements use their powers to suppress and distort information about such crimes and prevent such cases coming to the fore and the caste killers go on a spree. In Sankar’s murder one can see from the footage available in the internet that the killers were not in hurry in fleeing the spot after the murder. They relax and then start their two-wheeler, three of them taking enough time to sit comfortably on it, one of them still holding the weapon in his hands, taking a cool u-turn before leaving the scene. They were not running or fleeing. They were just leaving.

The situation is marked by the calculated silence and opportunism of the ruling class parties of Tamil Nadu. An NGO, Kathir, estimates that Sankar’s killing was the 81st caste-hegemonic killing of a Dalit in the past three years. Thol Tirumavalavan, the leader of the Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi is now saying there were 600 dalit killings in the southern districts alone in the past five years and 70% of them are caste hegemonic-killings. But for the best part of this term, he himself was busy partnering Ramadoss, the leader of the most virulently anti-Dalit PMK, in the name of championing the cause of Sri Lankan Tamils.

Jayalalitha, who is the Chief Minister of this state never expressed any view on the earlier caste hegemonic-murders. She did not say anything on this murder too. For Karunanidhi and Anbumani, the CM-aspirants, Sankar’s murder is a mere ‘law and order’ problem and nothing more. Ramadoss refused to comment when asked by the media about Sankar’s murder. Jayalalitha and Karunanidhi do not want to upset the dominant caste vote bank and for Anbumani and Ramadoss it is their dream come true. And the BJP is completely silent on the issue.

Sivaperumal, a dalit youth from Dindigul married Kamatchi Priya, his lover from uppercaste, in May 2013, the time around which Ilavarasan was fighting his case in the high court. Now after Sankar’s killing, he has approached the Dindigul district police for protection for their lives. They said they may also be attacked and killed by Kamatchi’s parents. Kamatchi is three months pregnant now. She already suffered a miscarriage when both of them were attacked when they were in Chennai. As there was no action from the Chennai police on the complaint given by Sivaperumal and Kamatchi Priya, they returned back to Sivaperumal’s native place, Sithaiankottai in Dindigul. In his present complaint he has said that they are receiving threats frequently.

In Tamilnadu the English media is still using the term ‘honour killings’ but in Tamil it is replaced by some other terms denoting caste hegemonic-killings. The Tamil equivalent of ‘honour killing’ is on the gradual exit in the Tamil media as this term does not appropriately and adequately express the gravity of this oppression and as this term seeks to trivialize and even justify a heinous crime. This may be a very marginal response to the monster of murderous severity. But it is a sign that the land of Periyar will not bow down very easily before the caste hegemons. Caste hegemony is not an issue that can be settled in the forthcoming elections. It is a long drawn out battle. But the people of Tamilnadu will have to rise up against caste polarization through Dalit oppression for winning elections.

What is needed is a Dalit Lives Matter struggle to make sure that such killings come to an end so that Sivaperumal and many other young dalits who have not approached the police will have an existence without fear. Such a struggle must demand legislation to curb caste-hegemonic killings and punish perpetrators, and safeguard the constitutional rights of dalits and young people to marry anyone of their choice. Such a struggle must demand that the land of Bharathi and Periar be free of caste discrimination and dalit oppression.

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