kuppan

A screengrab from the video showing a dozen men lowering the dead body of N. Kuppan. Courtesy: India today, August 22, 2019.

There are still  cases “ where the dalits  could not even carry the dead bodies across certain lands belonging to the people of the so-called higher castes,” lamented Justice R Mahadevan of the Madras High Court, reported last  month, on December 8 , 2021. The PTI report was picked up by only sections of the media, like indianexpress.com, and went largely un-reported, or scantily reported in Tamil and Tamilnadu itself.  

“A46-year-old Dalit man’s dead body had to be lowered from a steep 20-feet-high bridge over a river for completing his last rites after members of the local upper-caste community refused to allow the funeral procession to pass through their land.”

The second news item, also under-reported in Tamil and Tamilnadu itself, of last month was a report, (Times of India,  TNN / Dec 14, 2021),  on Human Trafficking, Child Bonded Labour and Slavery  In The Land Of Self-Respect Movement.

We shall go into both the sad and shocking reports in this part-2 of the article.

See the (Part-1) of this article ‘Honour killings’ in the land of ‘self-respect movement’, published on December 6, 2021, to mark the death anniversary of BR Ambedkar.
https://countercurrents.org/2021/12/honour-killings-in-the-land-of-self-respect-movement-part-1/
 

“ Honor killings are notoriously under- reported by the State. India’s latest National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) report recorded only one instance of honor killing in 2018 in the country, in Delhi. The year before, it again recorded only one case, this time in Surat, Gujarat. According to the report, there were no such cases in Tamil Nadu during both years,” said a report of 2020. In 2018, 10,773 people eloped due to their “love relationships” according to the NCRB.

https://theswaddle.com/honor-killings-india-law/

It had come to light that 300 Dalits were murdered in Tamil Nadu between 2016 and 2020, very few of them reported, and only in 13 cases were sentences pronounced by Courts. We do not know how many of them are pending in Appeals.

356 cases of  honor killings were reported from across India in three years, between 2014 and 2016: 28 were killed in 2014; 251 in 2015, and 77 in 2016 (Times of India, Sep 22, 2018). But only one case each in 2017 and 2018!  That is how the problem is dealt with: Don’t report it. (See part-1).

In July 2019, when Thol. Thirumavalavan, an MP from Chidambaram, Tamilnadu, asked for the status of the Bill (The Prohibition of Interference with the Freedom of Matrimonial Alliances Bill) in the Lok Sabha, the Minister of State, Nityanand Rai, alluded to the last NCRB report – and its grossly underreported numbers – as the government’s official point of reference, maintaining that existing provisions in the Indian Penal Code were sufficient to deal with honor killings.

In 2019, the Madras High Court, following a suo motu public interest litigation petition, dismissed a status report filed by the Director-General of Police, J.K. Tripathy, claiming that awareness campaigns about honor killings were being conducted across Tamil Nadu, through the distribution of pamphlets and erection of flex boards. However, when asked by the court, even the police officer who had filed the report, conceded that not even one such flex board had been erected in Chennai city.

https://theswaddle.com/set-up-common-burial-grounds-without-caste-segregation-madras-hc-to-govt/

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Social Justice Day in Words and Bluff In Practice

Before we go into these December 2021 reports, we should see a latest, “positive” report?

It was only recently the Tamilnadu Assembly decided  on September 6  to observe Periyar’s birthday, September 17,  as the social justice day. It was welcomed by all including BJP that had four MLAs.

Speaking on the occasion, Chief Minister Stalin said: “Periyar’s two basic ideals were, that there should be no inequality in the society and there should be no difference between men and women and his second aim was to have a society free of caste and slavery. Tamil race learned about self-respect because of his self-respect movement.”

The chief minister added that only in Tamil Nadu did a social reform movement turn into a political party and achieve its goals by enacting laws for the principles.

“ Everyone from the Tamil Nadu secretariat to the last government office in the state will take a pledge to get rid of all the inequalities in the state and read out a pledge written for the occasion, ” he added.

This report deals with the too wide a gulf between precept and practice.

BJP floor leader Nainar Nagendran said that social justice is one of the principles of the BJP, which believes in religious beliefs. The party is working for the eradication of caste and gender discrimination.  Periyar worked for the same principles; hence the BJP welcomes the move, he said.

That may appear to be ironic, but it is not. If PMK, which openly calls for a ban on inter-caste marriages, particularly that involved dalits as one of the spouses, can be there on board, why not BJP?  MLAs of both BJP and PMK were elected with the help of an alliance with ADMK, one of the two major Dravidian ruling parties. DMK too earlier had alliances with both.  PMK had ministers in several Union cabinets also.

The PMK was notorious, when in late 1980s, its cadres burnt down over 1400 dalit houses, and felled lakhs of trees to create road blocks, as part of its agitation for reservations. Later in 1989, DMK govt granted 20 percent reservation to vanniars, under MBC category. PMK had, in the past, alliances with Congress and CPI-M too. In 2019, PMK cadres, apart from sexual abuse of dalit women, burnt down around 150 dalit houses in Ponparappi village in poll-related violence. They were joined by Hindu Munnani, a chauvinist outfit, that indulged in anti-Christian (dalits) activities. The reputed MIDS (Madras Institute of Development Studies) had conducted a study that said the attack was “pre-planned and murderous”, was aimed at dalit voters, and added…

Tamilnadu police were silent spectatorsThey bluffed in the Court as we shall later see in this report. Thus they keep up not only law and order, but also ‘self-respect’ of the state.

DK President K. Veeramani, 1933-born veteran Periyarist leader and successor, who welcomed the announcement, said:   henceforth M K Stalin would be addressed with the appellation Samooga Needhikkaana Charithra Nayagar (Historical Icon of Social Justice).

Vanniyar party PMK filed civil and criminal cases against the makers of the film Jai Bhim, alleging the film insulted their community and its honor. PMK has been an ally of the two parties for decades, now with ADMK.

“Society free of caste and slavery” in words. But in practice, they are freely indulged in while the state machinery, the police  and most of  the Tamil media wink at such things.

We very much know Jats, their Khap panchayats and caste violence including honor killings of those involved in inter-caste marriages. We see reports of Love jihad too. But little is reported from Tamilnadu, about its Katta panchayats , even when over 300 dalits were killed, many of them in broad daylight, and many are youth involved in inter-caste marriages.

Brazen violence indulged in by caste mafias of Tamilnadu are under-reported. Perumal Murugan, the writer who became famous, was silenced by only such mafia: Sections of Tamil social media reported it, including the names of ‘educated’ mafia leaders, and ‘outside media’ picked up the stories. But it is under-played to keep self-respect intact.

Periyar and his self-respect movement are hailed; anti-Brahmin expletives abound in social media; but few dare to expose, let alone question the non-Brahmin feudals and hegemons, who control, for decades, the Tamilnadu polity, in particular both the Dravidian parties, and their allies like brazenly casteist, anti-dalit party PMK.  

Celebrate Periyar, celebrate social justice day, and carry on with brazen casteism and slavery in practice. Do not see, say, and listen evil. That will be politically correct, more so in Tamilnadu. And ‘positive’ news is healthy. But unfortunately the virus of casteism is not allowing it.

Tamilnadu is said to be among the best-administered states in India: it effectively kills ‘negative’ news.

Let us see childhood of slavery first, then proceed to denial of social  justice even in death. Both are based on reports that appeared in December2021.     

***

 Children ‘sold’ as Bonded Labour in The Land Of Self-Respect Movement

It is not rare… “ Some of the families were in bondage for three generations.”

children

“The children lost social skills and found it difficult to converse. They are now under the care of the district child welfare committee.” (Times of India,  TNN / Dec 14, 2021)

Living with a herd of 500 goats and excluded from the outside world, their family and community, four siblings Vetrivel, 9, Velayutham, 8, Sundar, 6, and Sakthivel, 7, who were in bondage, lost two years of precious childhood. Goats’ owner Govindarajan convinced parents to ‘sell’ the two younger boys for Rs 6,000 each… Vetrivel and Velayutham smiled for the first time in two years on seeing their younger brothers.

In a state where subsidized Anna Rice scheme was introduced over five decades ago, they rarely got Arisi Soru (rice). They often dreamt of having Arisi Soru. That is when rice stocks enough for more than two years are rotting in godowns, and free rations are given in the name of covid-19. 

In a state that swears by Periyar and social justice, social and economic crimes go scot free, and mostly unreported. The govt. and the media work hand in glove:

Pathimaraj of SHED India, an NGO, said that the story of the four boys was just the tip of the iceberg of a cruel bonded labour system prevailing in the delta region. The NGO has rescued at least 40 children in the last couple of years.

It is not rare: Ramanathapuram district had such cases. Thanjavur and  Cuddalore districts, centres of Periyar’s DK movement, also had similar known cases. So did Dharmapuri and Krishnagiri.

Manimaran is also among the several children from the tribal Irula community who are caught in the vicious cycle of human trafficking and child bonded labour for goat grazing.

Irula was the oppressed tribal community that featured in the film Jai Bhim, based on an incident of early 1990s, where madras High Court Judge Chandru, then a lawyer, helped the victim family against many odds, the police and state machinery backing the oppressors. Vanniar organizations and their party PMK protested, filed even criminal cases, against the film makers contending it had ‘insulted’ their community!

Three decades later, life has not changed for many, as this report shows. All this in Tamilnadu, the land of self-respect movement, ruled by DMK and ADMK, both Periyarist parties, for about 55 years without break.

“Over the next eight years, the boy remembers being handed over to at least six ‘owners’,”  all natives of Ramanathapuram district, Tamilnadu, until he was rescued in June, 2021. The young children, aged 6 to 9,  took the livestock for grazing for not less than 10 km a day. Their day started as the first rays of the sun stroked their village and extended well into dusk. They moved from one place to another place and suffered the vicious cycle of migration every three to four months.

The owner verbally and physically abused them. On that particular day, the owner hit them severly as one of the goats in the herd was missing,” said a member of the rescue team, quoting the two older boys. The children lost social skills and found it difficult to converse.

Some of them were in bondage for three generations. Lack of sustained efforts led them into re-bondage.

Sundaraj has no regrets about selling four of his sons for a little more than Rs 60,000 to the owner of a sheep herd in the past couple of years… While the two older boys were sold for Rs 25,000 each, the younger ones were taken as bonded labourers for Rs 6,000 each. He and his wife Papathi were among the three families rescued from bonded labour from Vallampudur on the outskirts of Thanjavur in the summer of 2014… Living in abject poverty with no steady income, the charcoal maker sold his sons – Vetrivel, 9, Velayutham, 8, Sakthivel, 7, and Sakthivel, 6, to Govindarajan to feed his pregnant wife and a one-year-old daughter. It took two years for the boys to return.

“Mannuchikinga (sorry) sir” was the only response from Sundaraj when questioned him about his sons, said a member of the district bonded labourer vigilance committee. The boys were rescued from three owners from Punnainallur, Vallampudur and Pattukottai on December 5.

For the family, their semi-nomadic life is no different. Except for Rs. 1,000 and a pack of rice as a relief measure, they can avail nothing from the government as they have no identity proofs required to avail welfare schemes.

 illustration

(Illustration by Times of India, Dec 29, 2021. Report by Shanmughasundaram.)

According to civil society organisations and government agencies, around 60 boys, aged between six and 17 years were rescued from goat/sheep grazing units in the delta region. Of them, around 30 were rescued from Thanjavur district in the past three years.

Many of them were malnourished, with signs of torture on their hands and legs.
“The scars remind me of my days with the herd. I used to sleep along with the animals. There was a constant fear of getting beaten up if any sheep went missing so I would always be counting sheep in my mind,” said Manimaran, showing scars left by owners who would beat him for the slightest transgression.

He recalled some of his owners’ names, starting with his first owner Nagaraj. The owners, who are mainly into supply of meat, had changed, but life remained the same. “I grazed sheep for three years for Muthupandi, who had more than 1,000 sheep, along with a few other boys. I stopped thinking about my family. The face of my parents gradually faded from my memories,” the boy said.

Back home, many families remain emotionless over the injustice done to their children. Some of the parents of the rescued boys say they had no choice but to send away their child to meet their immediate needs.

“He (Krishnamurthy of Ramanathapuram) gave us Rs 40,000 for the medical expenses of my mother. Since the boy, who was grazing his goats, ran away, he asked me to send my younger son (Subash) to take care of the animals until the school reopened,” said Ramesh of Kallur in Cuddalore district. His son was rescued from Tiruvarur two weeks ago. Subash told officials that his elder brother was sold to a different person…

But since the family had no means to take care of them, the child welfare committee refused to hand over the boys to the parents. “We have enrolled the boys in the government run special (social defence) school and put them in bridge courses,” said Thanjavur district child protection officer N Natarajan.

A few miles away, R Babu, his wife Rani and three children live in a thatched hut with no place to take cover during rains. They took an advance of Rs 10,000 from a sheep owner for the final rites of their daughter, Kannagi, 12, who died two months ago. He let his son Karuppusamy, 11, graze goats after taking an advance of Rs 5,000. “After my daughter’s death, I borrowed money from a known person to take my son out of goat grazing and put him in a school. But he is not going to school properly,” said Babu, who makes charcoal and also grazes goats to eke out a living.

Babu’s parents Raman and Bhoomi live with his sister’s family amid ‘karuvelam kadu’ (thorny bushes). A bridle path for nearly 400m from the outskirts of the village leads to their hut that is made of polythene cover.

“We are waiting for ration cards and house patta,” said Raman who along with his family was rescued from bondage in 2014. They were in bondage for three generations.

The parents of the boys told the officials that their livelihood had been severely affected following the Covid-19 pandemic and ensuing lockdown. They faced difficulty in making ends meet. It was then that Govindarajan approached them and asked them to send their children with him, promising to feed them and not give them hard work.

These are stories that came out and reported officially. We do not know how many more were sold to slave.

***                                                  ***

“Convert all caste-based cremation/burial grounds into common facilities accessible to all people of the same faith”: Madras High Court “suggested.”

Justice R Mahadevan, of the Madras High Court, suggested that all the boards put up in the cremation grounds situated in every village/block/district by different communities to use that part of the land exclusively for their castes and communities be removed and allow the entire cremation grounds to be used for the members of all castes and communities without any discrimination.

He gave the suggestion while disposing of a writ petition from Kalaiselvi and Rajaram, praying for a direction to the Kallakurichi district Collector to allocate a permanent place for burial ground for Arunthathiyar (SC) community. His Order begins as follows:

“Death is the great equalizer of human beings”– Kilroy J. Oldster

This Court wishes to commence this order reminding itself to the aforesaid words, even at the threshold.

In his poem, ‘Death the Leveller’, the English dramatist, James Shirley (1596-1666) made poignant about the virtue of equality in his philosophical words, as follows:

“The glories of our blood and state

Our shadows, not substantial things;

There is no armor against fate;

Death lays his icy hand on Kings:

Spectre and crown

Must tumble down,

And in the dust to be equal made

The poor crooked scythe and spade…”

Four centuries after the poem was written, it  remains wishful thinking in India, even in Tamilnadu that swears by Periyar and his self-respect movement, a state Periarists ruled for over five decades without break. 

The related PTI report dated December 8, 2021 was picked up by only sections of the media, like indianexpress.com. (Writ Petition No. 9229 of 20 and W.M.P.No. 9767 of 2021, Court order DATED : 29.10.2021).

The court was responding to a plea seeking a separate burial ground for the Arunthathiyar community in Tamil Nadu’s Madur village. The complainants said they presently bury their dead on the banks of a waterbody.

The bench, comprising Justice R. Mahadevan, denied the plea for establishing a caste-based cremation/burial grounds. Instead, he urged the local body and state officials to convert all caste-based cremation/burial grounds into common facilities accessible to all people of the same faith.

“Every citizen should be entitled to use the common burial/cremation ground with all connected facilities and amenities attached thereto, without being discriminated or segregated,” Justice R. Mahadevan said, noting it is mandated under Article 25, guaranteeing the right to freedom of religion. (Report dated Dec 8, 2021)

“The law emerges clearly that the right to bury the dead body in accordance with one’s religious rites and customs is a part of the fundamental right to religion under Article 25 of the Constitution. The use of public land or public facilities cannot be subject to discrimination on the ground of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth.”

***                                               ***

“They do not have lands where they can cremate or bury the dead bodies of their community people”

“The Supreme Court has laid down that the right to life under Article 21 of the Constitution also includes the right to die with dignity, ” the judge cited in his Order.

Rights are indeed written in the Constitution and law. But reality is that around half of  India’s rural people are landless; or have too little a patch of land. And many community burial grounds have boards restricting entry to some castes, as the judgment itself conceded.

In Kerala, where they were given, by government, small plots of household land, many of the poor bury their dead by digging a hole, often underneath a living room, and cover the floor again.

The judgement says:

“ The economic and social status of the respective caste/class also decided whether they had ownership of lands which could be used for cremation/burial. It is indeed an undeniable fact that there have been several instances where Dalits, Arundathiyars and several others perceived to be members of the lowest in the hierarchy of the caste system, do not have lands where they can cremate or bury the dead bodies of their community people, and still worse cases, where they could not even carry the dead bodies across certain lands belonging to the people of the so-called higher castes. With these prefatory words, this court now, proceeds to state the facts of the present case.”

The court, lamenting how caste discrimination continues unabated even after death, noted how “right from the beginning of the introduction of the caste system, the social interaction between different castes and classes of society have always been in such a way that the different castes in the hierarchy of system do not interact with each other from birth to death.”

Reports show crematoriums are often made available closer to the privileged caste people’s houses, making access for SC communities difficult.

Note that it was only a suggestion by the judge when he said the boards be removed, and common facilities be ensured. Tamil and Tamilnadu media – Government media also – hardly reported it; “scanty” reports, buried in inside pages, if at all.

The judge also suggested including values of religious and communal tolerance and mutual respect for different communities and cultures in the school curriculum. But there is no dearth of platitudes, which are aplenty, more so citing Periyar. Reality is as reported below:

“…Dalits sometimes have to keep their deceased relatives for several days until they can resolve where to bury or cremate them,” Lalit Babar, general secretary of the National Federation of Dalit Land Rights, told Reuters. Moreover, “in rural areas where caste biases are most entrenched, Dalits have lost their burial ground to village elites,” Babar said.

“While some Dalit families make use of patches of their own land for cremation, landless families face serious problems while accessing the burial site in villages. According to the recent data, 71% of Dalits are landless laborers who work on land they do not own. In rural areas, 58.4% Dalit households do not own land at all. This varies for people from different communities in different regions, but landlessness is a refrain that binds all.”

Richard Devadoss, a convener for the South India Coalition for Land Rights, explained the obvious…the powerlessness that cuts at the heart of the issue:

“Without land, they have no power, no dignity, even in death.”

***                                           ***

Government bluffs, High Court wonders

Justice R Mahadevan of the Madras High Court, in his Order mentioned incidents

“where the dalits  could not even carry the dead bodies across certain lands belonging to the people of the so-called higher castes.” We shall now see one such case:

About a week after the August 17, 2019 incident (dead body shown in the photo above), a video went viral prompting the Madras High Court to take up the issue suo motu.. Tamil Nadu government told the court that no one denied access to Dalit villagers of Vaniyambadi in Vellore to their cremation ground.

Noting that there were no caste-based differences in the village, it said the pathway to the burial ground was not an encroachment but patta lands. Owners of those lands would have permitted the villagers to pass through their land to reach the cremation ground had anyone approached them, counsel for the government said, adding that unfortunately no one approached them or the local authorities. Assistant Solicitor General G Karthikeyan appeared.

However,  a division bench of Justice S Manikumar and Justice Subramonium Prasad, wondered why the Dalit villagers air-dropped their deceased from atop a bridge if the access to the burial ground was not denied.

Kuppan’s (it was his dead body shown in the photo) relatives alleged that the caste Hindus encroached upon the path meant for the Dalits to transport the bodies. They had bought lands surrounding the path and did not want corpses to be carried through the area, allege relatives. “For over 20 years now, we have had trouble accessing the grounds we traditionally used as a crematorium.”  

Obviously, the Government was bluffing as revealed by facts given by its own revenue and police officials: 

“ In a recent hearing, expressing shock over the submission made by Vaniyambadi tahsildar that a separate place had been earmarked for Dalits to cremate their deceased, the court observed that when right to entry into temples, hospitals or any public office is equal to all, irrespective of religion or caste, why should there be a separate burial/ cremation ground for Dalits.

“ Censuring the authorities for adopting such a practice, the Bench said, as per Article 14 of the Constitution, every citizen of India is entitled to equality before law or equal protection of laws within the territory of India and wondered what need there was for having separate or earmarked space to bury persons based on their caste that too when everyone falls under the category of Hindu.”  (Times of India, TNN / Aug 29, 2019)

According to one police official speaking to the Hindustan Times, the caste Hindus, mainly Vellala Gounders and Vanniyars, would not allow bodies to be taken through a stretch of farmland.

Periyar and his self-respect movement are hailed; anti-Brahmin expletives abound in social media in a quixotic manner; but few dare to question the non-Brahmin feudals and hegemons, including those named above, who control the Tamilnadu polity, in particular both the Dravidian parties, and their allies like brazenly casteist, anti-dalit party PMK.

“Due to lack of space in the village crematorium, we have been cremating our dead on the banks of the Palar river for the last four years,” a Dalit villager said.

“Though it was common pathway and we used it since our ancestors’ days, they fenced it recently. When we requested them to open the fence, they were not ready. So, we were forced to carry the body around and lower it from the bridge,” a relative named Kumar told HT.

This, however, is not the first time such an incident occurred, according to the community which added that they have faced similar discrimination in the past.  Some of them even said that this is the only way for them to cremate bodies and that there is no alternative way.

21-year-old Vijay, a nephew of Kuppan told web magazine TNM, “For over 20 years now, we have had trouble accessing the grounds we traditionally used as a crematorium. Members of the dominant caste own the land now and don’t let us enter the area with corpses. Caste Hindus have a separate ground that we can’t use for cremations. Before the bridge came into existence 15 years ago, we used to just leave the body in the water. But now we lower it down the bridge to cremate it.

We have appealed to various district authorities for years now to help us, but to no avail,” he added.

According to one report in the Times of India, cremating their dead by lowering them from the bridge has become a common practice for the Dalits who have been denied their right of way for over four years. The newspaper reports that soon after the bridge over the Palar river was built, caste Hindus took over the path to the river where Dalits cremate their dead. They have prohibited Dalits from using the path.

(for more, visit: https://www.thenewsminute.com/article/denied-road-access-dalits-vellore-forced-lower-body-bridge-cremation-107621)

That the TN govt bluffed is not new. It did the same thing about honor killings too:

In 2019, the Madras High Court, following a suo motu public interest litigation petition, dismissed a status report filed by the Director-General of Police, J.K. Tripathy, claiming that awareness campaigns about honor killings were being conducted across Tamil Nadu, through the distribution of pamphlets and erection of flex boards. However, when asked by the court, even the police officer who had filed the report, conceded that not even one such flex board had been erected in Chennai city.

Such is the commitment of the TN Govt., which in fact was for a separate facility, even when it was on public lands. See below:

***                                                     ***

Govt. for a separate facility for the SCs

The Govt., a product of ‘self-respect movement,’ offered a separate facility for the SCs.  That was in spite of earlier Court orders (eg. See Madurai case below; the Court now also suggested a common arrangement. The facts of the case were mentioned in the Court order as follows:

“Reiterating the averments made in the counter affidavit, Mr.Stalin Abhimanyu, learned Government Counsel appearing for the respondents, stated that totally, there are 30 families belonging to Arunthathiyar community residing at Madur Village and they have been using the lands in Survey Nos.64 and 65 of Odai Poramboke for cremating dead bodies of their community for the past three decades. They have now requested to provide suitable land for burial ground.

“ Pursuant to the request made by the Arunthathiyar community people, the Revenue department has verified the surrounding lands to be earmarked as a burial ground for Arunthathiyar community people, but there was no suitable Government land available in and around the place.

“ In the mean while, it was suggested that the Arunthathiyar community people may use the lands in Survey Nos. 64 and 65, classified as Odai Poromboke for burying the dead bodies of their community people as a temporary arrangement, till a permanent land is identified and earmarked as a burial ground. Thus, the learned counsel submitted that the Revenue Divisional Officer, Kallakurichi in his proceedings dated 15.06.2021 has already directed the Tahsildar, Kallakurichi to find a suitable Government Poromboke land or acquire any other private land for burial ground to Arunthathiyar community people of Madur Village and hence, this writ petition may be dismissed.”

(Poromboke refers to govt.wasteland). The Court order says:

“15… the larger issue that once again comes to fore is the sociological menace of the divisive forces at play, such as, caste and the resultant ideas of segregation staring at society and the issues to which this Court, being a Court of law and justice, cannot turn a Nelson’s eye to.

“16. It is rather ironic and to be placed on record that the members of the Arunthathiyar community, who for lack of land or property or a particular ground for cremation or burial of their dead bodies and being forced to dispose of their dead bodies in the water body or other public lands, have not approached this court. However, considering the important sociological issue raised in the writ petition and the constitutional guarantees available in this regard, this case calls for an analysis of the issue viewed from the societal as well as constitutional viewpoint, in order that this Court aids in the fulfilment of the constitutional guarantee of the right to dignity from birth to death encompassing every aspect of human life including ending with the right of a human being to decent cremation/burial/disposal of his body after death.” (it shows the SCs’ state, and their level of confidence.)

“26. In our opinion, the right to take out religious processions would include the right to take dead bodies for burial in the graveyard. As observed by the Supreme Court, this right cannot be interfered with on the ground that it offends the sentiments of another community.”

No Caste or community can be allowed to appropriate any Government land exclusively for the purpose of last rites of the members of that Caste or community alone. Further, the refusal for any caste to use the burning Ghats on the ground that the societies of other castes are maintaining, is discriminatory and violative of Articles 14, 15 and 25 of the Constitution of India.”

“25. Before going into the measures to be taken in the future for prevention of such instances of social disability, discrimination, segregation on lines of caste and other diverse factors, it is significant to examine the earlier instances, where various High Courts had an opportunity to deal with the said issue.

(i) In T. Balasubramanian v. Commissioner , this Court was of the view that ‘allotment of a separate cremation yard based upon communities or castes should come to an end’. In the said writ petition filed to challenge the order passed by the respondent/Commissioner, Corporation of Madurai, Madurai, cancelling the agreement entered into between the said community and the Corporation in allotting a separate cremation yard for the purpose of burning the dead bodies belonging to the members of the petitioner’s community, this Court held as follows:

“11. Even though the writ petition is dismissed as without merits, it is necessary for this Court to direct the respondent/Corporation that the allotment of a separate cremation yard based upon communities or castes should be brought to an end. At least in the departure from this world there can be unity so that apartheid may not be practiced by the official acts of the Corporation. The Corporation must make note of such a direction in future and desist from allotting such separate sheds on caste basis. Even though the Corporation Act makes it obligatory for the Corporation to provide public cremation grounds, it does not mean that it should be vivisected on the basis of community wise or caste wise. While the writ petition is dismissed, the Corporation is hereby directed to maintain a common cremation shed depending upon the requirements in a particular area.”

(ii) In P. Rathinam v. State of Tamil Nadu, rep. by Secretary to Government, Home Department, Fort St. George & Others, while dealing with the case of discrimination caused to the members of the scheduled caste at the time of cremation of dead bodies, this court held as under: 8 2009 6 MLJ 235 (DB)

“3. The prayer itself appears to be very general and omnibus in nature. Therefore, in course of hearing, we had called upon the petitioner to specify his specific grievances. The petitioner submitted that the problem relates to use of the cremation-cum-graveyard, which was constructed under the welfare scheme of the Government of Tamil Nadu. His main grievance is that when recently a person belonging to scheduled caste community expired, the family members of such deceased person were not permitted to use the cremation-cum-graveyard because of the caste feeling prevailing in the village.”

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“Officers could have been more pro-active in preventing untouchability”: Court

“10. In the background of the sentiments expressed in Article 17 of the Constitution as well as in the Protection of the Civil Rights Act and in the lucid expression used in the judgment, dated 02.09.2008, in W.P.No.3855 of 2005, we can only add that the officers could have been more pro-active in preventing any forbidden practice of untouchability. It is no doubt true that in a particular village or in a particular area there may be some apprehension of law and order situation. It is a matter for the public officials, including the Collector and Superintendent of Police to control the same. It will be the duty of all public officials concerned to ensure that no member of any particular community would be forced to go to a different place for the purpose of cremation of a dead body. Anything contrary, either directly or indirectly, would obviously be against the sentiments expressed in Article 17 of the Constitution.”

“10. It is a matter of common knowledge and we take judicial notice that in the State of Rajasthan, almost all the Municipal Corporations have divided the burning Ghats and have allotted them to different communities to be maintained by them. The division of lands for the purpose of maintenance cannot be a ground to exclusively appropriate the municipal lands for burning Ghats of the respective communities. The use of public land or public facilities cannot be subject to discrimination on the ground of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth. The refusal for any caste to use the burning Ghats only on the ground that the Societies of other Castes are maintaining it, is discriminatory and violative of Article 15 of the Constitution of India. If such refusal is on the ground of untouchability, the matter will be subject to violation of provisions of the Protection of Civil Rights Act and Scheduled Caste & Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, and punishable in accordance with the provisions of the said Act.”

“29. It is an admitted fact that the lands in S.Nos.64 and 65 classified as odai poramboke in the revenue records, have been used for burying the dead bodies of Arunthathiyar community people of Madur village. Though it is stated on the side of the respondents that the usage of the said water poramboke lands is only for temporary measure and the Revenue Divisional Officer, Kallakurichi, already directed the Tahsildar (ADW), Kallakurichi, to take immediate steps to find out the alternate land for permanent burial ground for the Arunthathiyar Community people, this court is not inclined to accept the same, in view of the settled principle that the encroachment made in the odai poramboke lands for any purpose is highly condemnable; and that, the department has to maintain common burial and burning grounds irrespective of caste, creed and religion. In such view of the matter, the respondents are directed to take an immediate step to acquire a suitable land for common burial ground for all the people of Madur village.”

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“Suggestions” made by the Court

30)Above all, the entire analysis and discussion made in the preceding paragraphs of this order, in regard to the issue involved, would compel this court to suggest the following for appropriate action of the state Government / Local body / authority concerned:

i)To remove all the boards put up in the cremation grounds situated in every village/ block / District, by different communities to use the part of land exclusively for their castes and communities and allow the entire cremation grounds to be used for the members of all castes and communities without any discrimination.

ii)To construct and maintain common cremation/burial grounds in every village without any distinction whatsoever on the basis of caste and community within the respective religion without in any way impinging upon the right of every citizen to their fundamental right under Article 25 of the Constitution of India.

iii. Every citizen should be entitled to use the common burial/cremation grounds with all connected facilities and amenities attached thereto, without being discriminated or segregated.

iv)To take steps for the prevention of any instance of social disability in a manner as to act towards the fulfilment of its commitment under the Constitution as well as the International Convention for Elimination of All Forms Of Racial Discrimination, and the Declaration on Race and Racial Prejudice, to which India is a signatory.

v)To engage in meaningful discussion and dialogue with stakeholders such as government as well as non-government organisations and other private entities, who are aware of the anthropological as well as sociological factors that need to be assessed for remedial measures in this regard and implement the same in an effective manner.

vi)The decision taken or orders to be passed should make a specific mention with respect to the various kinds of social disability that are rampant in everyday life which touch upon the aspect of social intercourse on the lines of caste as well as other ethnic factors that continue to divide people in our society. The ‘social disability’ to be addressed is to include aspects of cremation/burial of the dead body of different communities in society and specific provisions for construction and maintenance of common cremation/burial grounds for all communities of a particular religion and in accordance with their religious beliefs of each religion as protected under the Constitution.

vii. Penal action to be taken and any violation thereof should attract imprisonment as well as fine as deemed fit by the law. Also, the aggrieved persons should be afforded legal remedies for such violations by the other.

viii. To conduct awareness programs in order to bring about societal change in a way as to boost effective implementation in its letter and proper spirit.

ix)To consider granting incentives, financial and otherwise to constituencies/wards, etc., as well, which are able to enforce the spirit of such law by engaging its people to accept common cremation/burial grounds irrespective of caste or community with a sense of mutual respect.

x)To include, as part of the school curriculum, the values of religious and communal tolerance and mutual respect for differences and diversity in religion, community, culture and tradition.

xi)To ensure that the educational resources of the country including the teaching profession are utilised to combat segregation and apartheid in all forms, by fostering the scientific temper in children and including in the curricula and textbooks ethical considerations, taking note of human unity and diversity and that, no invidious distinctions are made among the people, and by training teachers to achieve these ends. This would go a long way in fulfiling the promise of substantive equality as enshrined in the Fundamental Rights as well as the ideals of justice, equality, liberty and fraternity as envisioned in the Preamble to our Constitution. This measure is particularly important, as the best way to bring about a societal change is to shape young minds in their formative years of educational and socio-cultural conditioning.

31.With the aforesaid observations and directions, this writ petition is disposed of. No costs. Consequently, connected miscellaneous petition is closed. (29.10.2021)

Full text of the judgment by Justice R.Mahadevan  is available here:

https://www.sekarreporter.com/burial-ground-case-full-order-of-mr-justice-r-mahadevan-writ-petition-no-9229-of-20/

***

Conversion into Christianity did not end seggregation

dalit cemetery

Till death do us part: Dalits are buried on the other side of the wall in this cemetery, in the town of Trichy, Tamilnadu.  (BBC photo)

Many in India have embraced Christianity to escape the age-old caste oppression of the Hindu social order, but Christianity itself in many places does not shrug off the worst of caste discrimination. In fact, clergy are often part of the system.

In the town of Trichy, situated in the heart of the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, a wall built across the Catholic cemetery clearly illustrates how caste-based prejudice persists.

Those who converted to Christianity from the formerly “untouchable” Hindu caste groups known as Dalits are allocated space for burial on one side of the wall, while upper-caste converts are buried on the other side. The separating wall was built over six decades ago, when Periyar and his movement were at a peak.

(The writer was a media person who frequently contributed articles to countercurrents.org.)

See the (Part-1) of this article ‘Honour killings’ in the land of ‘self-respect movement’, published on December 6, 2021, to mark the death anniversary of BR Ambedkar.
https://countercurrents.org/2021/12/honour-killings-in-the-land-of-self-respect-movement-part-1/
 


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3 Comments

  1. Satya Vara Prasad Arundhati says:

    Existance of social contradictions can not be denied.How ever ultimate decisive role is played by economic contradictions.

  2. S. N. Murthy Ch says:

    It is so painful to know about this pathetic conditions of Dalits in our country, particularly in Tamilnadu, even when the country is celebrating “Amrutotsav” of “Independence” and despite much politics and movements purportedly guided by “periyarism ” and “ambedkarism”.

  3. Binu Mathew says:

    Pon Chandran writes –

    It is true that Tamil Nadu Society continues to be a caste-ridden Society, inspite of more than fifty years of Political Rule of Dravidian Parties, which spearheaded Anti- Caste campaign since 1920s, under the leadership of Periyar.
    At the same time, we should admit that things are no different even Communist Ruled States like Kerala and West Bengal!
    Even a State like Andhra/ Telangana which went through a massive Peasant Revolutionary Movement is not an exception.
    This only reiterates that seizure of power through electoral means will not bring in fundamental changes in the society. It requires a long drawn protracted struggle, particularly a socio- cultural revolution to shake the edifice of the Caste System.
    Not withstanding the above, in Tamil Nadu, the electoral politics facilitated to dislodge the hegemony of Brahmins as a social class in the Civil society. It did also bring in social justice in education and government jobs. This does not mean that I hold a brief in defence of the Dravidian Parties.
    I recall that I submitted a detailed report to CC in 2021 Quoting umpteen number of instances of Caste atrocities perpetrated, that too in the midst of pandemic!
    Yes, it is all reported in the land of Periyar!
    It was in the land of Gandhi, the apostle of peace, the worst carnage against Muslims took place. Tamil Nadu is not an exception.
    We need to examine the Classes and Castes behind the political hegemony, which hinder the social change.
    Indeed, I submit the with due respects to the author’s social concern and his critique about Tamil Polity.
    Warm Regards
    Pon Chandran
    Coimbatore.