Another Dalit victim

Published : Jul 09, 2014 12:30 IST

At the Dalit colony in K. Pitchampatti village in Tamil Nadu's Karur district, residents demand exemplary punishment for the culprits in the rape and murder of a young girl.

At the Dalit colony in K. Pitchampatti village in Tamil Nadu's Karur district, residents demand exemplary punishment for the culprits in the rape and murder of a young girl.

“GIVE the culprits exemplary punishment to prevent recurrence of such heinous crimes. This is our only prayer to the government.” The father of the 17-year-old Dalit girl who was raped and murdered in Tamil Nadu’s Karur district on June 23 spoke these words in a feeble voice, but the message they carried was loud and clear.

Lending their support to this message were the residents of the Dalit colony in K. Pichampatti village where the incident happened. Mostly farmhands, they have stayed away from work out of fear and are also too scared to send their children to the middle school because it is located in the caste Hindu area in the village.

K. Pichampatti is a nondescript village, around 60 km from Tiruchi, and it is not unusual here for girls of farmworkers’ families to take up jobs during the summer vacation to supplement the meagre family income. K. Ponnusamy and P. Nagavalli’s daughter, too, had taken up a job on daily wages in a company in Karur that makes mosquito nets. She had passed her 12th standard examinations and planned to join a polytechnic course in a private college.

She would cycle to the nearest bus stop at Sithalavai in the morning and catch a bus from there to her work spot and return to the village again on her bicycle around 7-30 p.m. On June 23 evening, when she did not return even an hour later, her worried parents set out to search for her; three other girls who worked with her had returned home.

An hour later, a neighbour informed them that her body had been found in a nearby betel vineyard. They rushed to the spot. The sight of their daughter’s body lying in a narrow irrigation ditch continues to haunt them, said Ponnusamy, his voice choking. The police suspect that the girl was waylaid, forced off her cycle and carried into the betel vineyard, where she was raped and strangled.

Recently, a bar-attached liquor outlet of the government-owned Tamil Nadu State Marketing Corporation was shifted to the village from the adjacent national highway. Dalit residents had to cross the liquor outlet on a poorly lit path to reach their colony. Many of them told this correspondent that Dalit women returning to the village from their workplace after dusk were subjected to obnoxious comments from drunken men at the outlet. As a result, some of the girls who used to work in nearby towns had stopped going, they said.

P. Sathya, a nurse, said Dalit girls no longer felt safe in the village. Since there was no bus service to the village after 8 p.m., working women had to use bicycles to reach the colony. Unless the culprits are booked and punished severely, the fear of being sexually assaulted will haunt Dalit women, especially those going out to work, she added.

M. Murugan, a marginal farmer, said the authorities should start a school in the Dalit habitation so that their children could attend classes without fear.

Initially, it appeared that the police would take swift action in the case, but things soon slowed down to a “snail’s pace”, alleged human rights activists. Though 13 special teams were formed to nab the culprits and several suspects were questioned, the police could not achieve a breakthrough even nine days after the murder.

The police invoked the provisions of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Amendment Ordinance, 2014, after dilly-dallying, the activists said. According to the first information report registered on June 24, Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code and Sections 5 and 6 of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012, alone were invoked in the case. Some of the Dalit girls complained to the Collector on June 30 that the police harassed them on the pretext of conducting an inquiry. But the police denied the charge.

The District Collector visited the Dalit colony only on June 26 close on the heels of an inquiry conducted in the village by P. Ramasamy, the Assistant Director of the National Commission for Scheduled Castes. K. Kandasamy, secretary of the Karur district unit of the CPI(M), said that of late atrocities against Dalits, particularly women and girls, had increased.

S. Dorairaj

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