ON November 4, a 19-year-old Dalit youth was killed in police firing at E. Kottaipatti village in Tamil Nadus Madurai district, a kilometre from Uthapuram where 15 Dalit women were injured and 70 houses were ransacked when the police reportedly let loose terror hardly a month earlier (Frontline, November 7). Uthapuram had seen the demolition of a section of the wall of untouchability after the government intervened in response to public demand.
The firing apparently followed the failure of a small band of policemen to disperse a crowd that was protesting against an attack on the convoy of K. Krishnasamy, president of Puthiya Tamizhagam, a Dalit political party, the previous day when he visited Uthapuram and nearby Dalit villages. In the police action a number of people, including women, were injured. Reports said the police asked the protesters to remove the roadblocks so that a police party, led by Deputy Inspector-General of Police, Madurai Range, could proceed on its way to Elumalai, where Krishnasamys car had been targeted.
Muruga Devi, 40, the mother of the victim, K. Suresh, said her son was killed in the police firing when he tried to protect her from the police attack. An official release, however, said the police went to the place to control a clash between two groups of people and they opened fire when stones were thrown at them. In a quick response, Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi announced a solatium of Rs.2 lakh for the victims family. He also ordered an inquiry by a retired District Judge.
A team from the National Commission for Scheduled Castes, led by Assistant Director P. Narayana Moorthy, visited E. Kottaipatti on November 7. The villagers told the team that Sureshs body was dragged to a distance of 500 metres before it was taken into a vehicle.Krishnasamy told a press conference that his convoy had been attacked by a group of persons who did not want peace to prevail at Uthapuram and other villages. He said he was not given enough police protection and wanted the government to take action against those responsible for that. He alleged that a 300-strong mob had erected barricades and placed boulders on the narrow strip of land at Ezhumalai village to prevent the movement of vehicles.
State secretary of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) N. Varadarajan, in a statement, blamed the attack on the police failure to provide adequate security to Krishnasamy and demanded a judicial inquiry into the firing. He later met the Chief Minister and apprised him of the initiatives by his party to bring peace and normalcy to Uthapuram and nearby villages.
At a meeting held in Madurai, Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi general secretary Thol. Thirumavalavan condemned the police failure to provide security to Krishnasamy and complained of bias against Dalits. He said only an unbiased approach by the government could lead to a lasting solution to issues concerning Dalits.
The attack on Krishnasamys convoy led to sporadic violence in several southern districts. There was tension in Madurai, Dindigul, Virudhunagar, Tirunelveli and Thoothukudi districts for three days with protesters targeting buses. Hundreds of persons were arrested.
Uthapuram has almost returned to normal and in the surrounding villages the process is on. Although the Chief Minister promised to set up peace committees, the district administration was yet to act. The police have filed 15 first information reports (FIRs) and charges have been made against about 850 persons, including Dalits and non-Dalits. The menfolk of E. Kottaipatti, Goundanpatti, Chellayeepuram and Elumalai, all Dalit villages, have fled their homes fearing arrest and torture.
Signalling a change in the approach of the district administration, the new District Collector, P. Seetharaman, who replaced S.S. Jawahar, visited Uthapuram and other villages hours after he took charge on November 10. He ordered the officials to conduct a peace committee meeting and sought the peoples cooperation.
Welcoming the change in the administration, P. Sampath, convener, Tamil Nadu Untouchability Eradication Front, said the people expected the administration to take firm and honest steps to end caste-based oppression.S. Viswanathan