The world is in Lockdown, but even during these times, casteism has not been locked down. Since the first nationwide lockdown that began on March 25 till the 12th of May, that is amidst the Lockdown 3.0, there have been at least 30 major incidents of caste-based violence in Tamil Nadu State, according to the study by a Madurai-based NGO Evidence.
Many activists and social workers say that the lockdown is used as an opportunity for assault by the upper castes. Caste-based violence has raised its ugly head to higher levels in Tamil Nadu during the time of the pandemic, allege social activists.
A Kathir, the executive director of Madurai-based NGO “Evidence” said that Tamil Nadu should be declared as an atrocity state. The caste situation here is like in no other state.
They say people attacking doctors will be booked under the National Security Act. Why is that concern not there over Dalits? How are people attacking in groups during lockdown?
The caste discrimination is rising to new levels, this is a result as some of the upper castes people are linking the stigma associated with coronavirus to Dalit groups and say that they are not hygienic.
Villupuram district has seen attacks on Dalits over alleged fears that they may be ‘carriers of coronavirus’. When those from dominant castes oppose the entry into lanes used by them and Dalits resist, it leads to a clash between the two groups, says Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (VCK) Lok Sabha MP D Ravikumar who represents the Villupuram constituency.
Referring to the cluster of cases at Chennai’s central fruit, flower and vegetable market, the MP says, “90% of the workforce are Dalits, so the outbreak has increased the stigma. When Dalits go to the water tank, ration shop and other public places, upper castes create tension. When Dalits resist, it leads to clashes. In these cases, action should be taken against people creating caste tensions immediately and the police should not be lenient,” says Ravikumar. He believes that violence due to the coronavirus stigma will reduce once the lockdown is lifted.
“In a lot of incidents, there are 40-50 people attacking in groups. How is this possible in a lockdown?” asks Kathir. Honor killings, group attacks, murders, rape, and harassment, all has happened during this lockdown.
The report says domestic violence has increased in society. Caste-based violence has also increased now, and the victims are not even able to complain properly due to the lockdown. Under SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act, if the accused moves for bail, they have to intimate the victim.
The High Court has now said accused don’t need to appear because of the COVID-19. Now people are using this in their favor and moving for bail. The government should make a policy decision on this.
According to Evidence, the severity levels of crimes have also seen a rapid escalation during the lockdown. According to their study, on average, 100 cases are filed under the SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act. In a month; most of these cases are minor incidents while four to five could be bigger crimes. But in the month of April, during the lockdown, the 30 incidents are all big, showing a rapid increase in brutal crimes.
Among many incidents is an incident of honour killing of M Sudhakar in Morappanthangal village in Arani. He belongs to the Oddar caste, was murdered on March 29 by relatives of the girl he loved who belonged to the Vanniyar caste. Two accused, including the woman’s father, have been arrested.
In another incident on April 24, a reporter of the political party Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi’s (VCK) Velicham TV channel, Adi Suresh, was attacked after he reported about a group damaging the portrait of Dr. BR Ambedkar in the town.
On April 21 in Karambakkudi in Pudukkottai district, MBA graduate Muruganandham, a Dalit, married his lover Bhanupriya. Soon after the wedding, Bhanupriya’s relatives attacked Muruganandham and kidnapped her. “Bhanupriya was rescued after action by Evidence,” said Kathir.
On May 8 in Udayakulam village in Tuticorin, a dispute over loan led to the murder of A Palavesam and his son-in-law R Thangaraj by a group belonging to the Devar community. On the same day in Salem, Vishnupriyan, a Dalit, was murdered by upper caste groups, Evidence says.
The incidents of assaults on Dalits have increased on the migrants returning from cities to villages. People who have been quarantined as they returned from hotspots, but their families have to face the brunt of discrimination. In some villages in Tiruvannamalai district, upper caste people have allegedly even placed thorns outside Dalit colonies to ensure they don’t move out.
In Nilakottai, there have been incidents where shops have refused supplying to Dalits, because of the perception that they are not hygienic people. Sanitary workers, scavengers, maids… there is a perception that they are not clean. Not all have bathrooms in their houses. Government bathrooms are hardly in usable conditions, so they still use open spaces.
“They say TASMAC revenue hit Rs 175 crore on the first day it was opened. At least 80 percent of that would have come through the poorest of poor people. They’re people who struggle for food, so it’s likely that the money is from loans. Two Dalits were murdered in Thoothukudi because of this. It’s a cycle and it’s all linked,” says Kathir. Reopening of Tamil Nadu State Marketing Corporation (TASMAC) liquor stores has only added to their troubles.
Unfortunately, there’s no specific time for caste discrimination. It’ll be there at all times. There is no dearth of laws against caste-based discrimination in India. Kathir, meanwhile, wants the authorities to come down hard on attackers by booking them in the state’s Goondas Act.
They say people attacking doctors will be booked under the National Security Act. Why is that concern not there over Dalits? How are people attacking in groups? It’s a shame that people are fine to die of coronavirus but won’t let go of their casteism. Coronavirus is scanning the society and has brought out the worst in some people. Caste is even more dangerous than coronavirus.