The protest against the ‘Caste Wall’ at Vadayampady, near Kochi in Kerala took an ugly turn when the police and RSS/Sangh Parivar goons attacked dozens of protesters gathered for a dalit ‘Self Respect’ march. Hundreds of dalits and progressive activists had gathered at Vadayampady today morning shouting the slogan ‘Jai Bhim’. Sangh Parivar goons numbering around fifty attacked the protesters. Police initially remained mere spectators and then charged on the dalit protesters arresting 42 of them. Many of them were brutally attacked. Penpilai Orumai activist Gomathy was severely injured. Dalit leader Dr Hari was brutally attacked by the police. Some of the protesters were later released by the police. Police even prevented journalists from covering the protest march.
On 21st January the police had unleashed its brutal force on the protesters and destroyed their protest tent injuring many protesters. Two journalists covering the police atrocities were also arrested branding them as Maoists. Abhilash Padacherry, Editor of Newsport.in who was live streaming the incident, and Ananthu Rajagopal, an intern with a daily were arrested and later released on bail. Sasidharan, a resident of a Dalit settlement in the vicinity and taluk secretary of the Dalit outfit Kerala Pulayar Maha Sabha (KPMS) also was arrested. Later V.K Joy (Joy Pavel) who is the Dalit Bhoo Avakasha Samara Munnani ( Dalit land rights struggle movement) convener was arrested by the police. He was returning after holding a press conference in Kochi. He is on a hunger strike in jail.
The dalits of the area were on a year-long struggle a ‘caste wall’ built around what has been a community space in their neighbourhood. Dalits in three colonies, housing some 180 families had been using the 95-cent ground as a community space since 1967.
MP Ayyappan Kutty, general convenor of the Dalit Bhoo Avakasha Samara Munnani, the organisation leading the agitation for unfettered right of way over the land told the Hindu news paper:
“We used to draw water from a well across the ground, had it for a playground and as a pathway to a PDS outlet on the other side and for holding family events. Not long ago, our forefathers used to worship in the pathi (small shrine, which the Nair Service Society calls Keezhkkovil meaning the temple below) located in the ground close to the road. Trouble began when we thought of holding a Deshavilakku festival in 2016. The NSS, which claims to represent the uppar caste Nair community, resisted it and took steps to erect a 1.7 metre high wall encircling the ground thereby trying to appropriate it,” he explained.
Dalits in the colonies petitioned the panchayat, revenue authorities and moved court against the plan unsuccessfully. The NSS unit had shown sprung a surprise by producing a conditional patta (title deed) for the ground issued by the Tehsildar of Kunnathunad in July 1981. A wall thus constructed was pulled down by the protesters on April 14, 2017, on Ambedkar Jayanti. Meanwhile, an RTI inquiry revealed that the Taluk office of Kunnathunad could not trace any records of the patta. This prompted the protestors to petition the Chief Minister to intervene and reclaim the ground as a public space accessible to all. After the wall was razed, the district collector convened a conciliatory meeting in June, 2017, where status quo anti was advised till cases pending in courts relating to the issue got decided upon. “But the NSS used the forthcoming temple festival as a ruse to pull down our pandal,” says Mr. Kutty.