Dalit Human Rights activists accused in murder case

Chavittu Kali is a Dalit folklore of the agricultural culture of the subalterns of Valluvanaadu, Kerala.Thiruvananthapuram, Sept 29.  Four suspected activists of a Dalit organization, Dalit Human Rights Movement in Kerala have been taken into custody in connection with the murder of a 60-year old man in Varkala. Acccording to police, Ashokan, a young lawyer and Das Cherunniyoor are suspected to be the main conspirator. The others arrested are Subhash and Jayachandran who are accused to have carried out the operation. The police says they have solid information that DHRM workers who had camped at a colony in Kannankodu travelled to Varkala on the night before the day of the murder. The police team is interrogating those who were taken into custody.

Earlier to the killing, there had been some tension between Dalits and  Ezahavas in Varkaa. The issue was about the desecration of a statue of Sree Narayana Guru, a  reformer mostly revered by the latter. However, the killing lead to mass interrogation and police combing in the poorest dalit colonies around the arrea (Varkala, Kundara, Chathanoor, Kadakkal ).

The  police said they will also enquire dalit organizationt’s  link with any other extremist groups. However, the Director General of Police (DGP) in Kerala, Mr. Jacob Punnoose on Monday said that the Kerala Police had not received any Central Intelligence input on the existence of terrorist organisations in the State. He was one of the key note speakers on a consultation programme hosted  in Kochi  by the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative  on “police reforms”.

According to press reports, The DHRM was registered in North Paravoor in 2007 as a human rights organisation with 25-year-old Selvaraj, a firebrand activist, as its chairman. Das  Cherunniyoor near Attingal, headed its operations in the south while the north was headed by  Shaji. The DHRM workers seems to have conducted awareness classses among dalits to attain their political goals.  For the past 3 years, DHRM was actively engaged in Dalit issues in Varkala area. Earlier, dalits in this area were mostly aligned to popular communist movements.  The DHRM also participated in the last general elections by launching its own candidate who recieved 5217 votes. The electoral acceptance of DHRM lead to rivalry towards the new generation dalit movement from the established polical masters. The organisation was stronger in the south and had a presence in almost all the Dalit pockets in the state.

However, the sangh parivar organizations  started wider membership campaign in the area by offering protection from police torture. Nearly 200 dalits from Charum moodu and  Injayil Konam village joined BJP within two days time. Dalits have been asked by RSS lcal leaders to show their BJP membership card to police as a preventive measure from interrogation. The Hindutva organizations are planning to expand the strategy to other DHRM pockets in southern Kerala and exploit dalit victimization in mass.

Dalit Leaders take their detention to Judiciary, alleges police torture

Sep 30, 2009.  Two leaders of Dalit Human Rights Movement (DHRM), activists of which have been detained in connection  with the murder case, today approached the Kerala High Court, seeking anticipatory bail.  DHRM Chairman Selvaraj and Secretary K A Rajan submitted that they apprehended arrest in the case relating to the murder of a 60-year-old man at Varkala in Kollam.

Both said that police was giving an “extremist character” to their organisation and that they had nothing to do with the murder.  Police yesterday detained 14 activists of DHRM for questioning in connection with the murder. Earlier police arrested two DHRM activists from Kannur.

DHRM leaders, says that four of their members faced third degree torture from the policemen at DySP office, Kollam. The victims were named as Vinod, Kannan, Vilasan and Unni who were picked by police from Puthukulam and stripped and physically tortured in police lock up. They were allegedely hanged upside down and police poured spices over their body. Families of the victims were threatened by police saying that their name will be added in many other cases.

DHRM leaders say that they are victimised by political interests of CPI(M), RSS and Shiv sena. “We are not involved in the killing. Actually, Shivsena and RSS activists tried to attack DHM workers the day before killing in Varkala. Those who were arrested,  Sudheer, Sunil and Jayachandran  left the organization a long time back. Our legal advisor, Advocate Ashokan was arrested while he was trying to file case to help other innocent DHRM activists. Police is misleading the public by relating the name of DHRM within two hours of a killing.”

“It is not our strategy to kill innocent people. As an organization, DHRM is engaged in empowering poverty ridden dalits by awareness. We believe in legal and democratic tools in attaining our goal. We taught discipline and culture to dalit community which will help them to resist exploitation by left and right organizations. Earlier, Police arrested some DHRM activists from Kollam and Velamanoor for questioning. But their name was purposely included in “court room fire case” at Kollam Judicial First class magistrate. The victims were detained for 7 days by police authorities.”

” The chain of events lead to an orchestrated plot to silence and malign DHRM activists by illegal detention and arbitration. There are plenty of similar cases against various dalits in kerala and we are determined to counter them legally” said, Saji Mon and Prince, State committee members of DHRM to Thejas News Paper (5th October 2009)

Dalits in Kerala

Kerala had the most oppressive caste system in India, which for a long time in its history was a hurdle to social progress and reinforced divisions in the minds of its people. Only the Namboodiris, the Malayalam-speaking Brahmins who read the Vedas and were at the top of the hierarchy, had any real immunity from this oppressive system. Dalit women  weren’t allowed to cover their bosoms, their ears were cut off if they didn’t wear stone ornaments (markers of caste identity), not to talk of sexual atrocities on them.

The tools-down agricultural revolts launched by Ayyankali, the intrepid leader of the Pulaya masses of south Travancore, for access to public roads and admission of Pulaya girls in government schools, and the `Upper Cloth Riots’ by the Channar community, which fought for its women’s right to clothe themselves above the waist, are well-known examples of early Dalit rebellion in Kerala.  Ayyankali and his followers refused repeated christian missionary promptings to convert and displayed amazing political consciousness even in the early part of the 20th century. They insisted that they wanted to fight and win and yet keep their Dalit identity intact.

Dalits’ social integration in Kerala started with their participation in Communist-led struggles against landlordism and caste discrimination. Even 70 martyr’s of the communists agraian struggle about 50 or more were from Dalits. Land reforms initiated by E.M.S Nampoodiripad Ministry was a major factor in dalit empowerment in Kerala. But, The dalit representation in communist leadership of  Kerala is very less compared to the caste hindu representation. However, 70 % of dalit votes are still goes to communist parties.

Currently, the Dalits of Kerala are the most literate among the S.C. populations in the country. The Dalit population is distributed all over the State, although its concentration is high in some districts such as Palakkad, Thrissur, Kollam and Thiruvananthapuram. Dalit representation in government jobs in Kerala is 7.6 per cent, which, though not on a par with their percentage in the population, is a better proportion than that of Muslims (who have only 11.4 per cent of government jobs even though they form 26.9 per cent of the population).

DHRM managed to develop a cadre-like structure in the organization and seems to be fighting for social respect in society than reservation in government jobs. DHRM asked its cadres to shun the religious practices of the Hindus, particularly during marriages, funerals, and other personal and community ceremonies which caused major worry to hindutva forces in Kerala. Further, the organization  advocated dalits of the poverty ridden colonies to approach the organization for settling the disputes and quarrels among them, which  caused a major concern to corrupted civil servants.

Despite the reservation and the relative prosperity, Dalits still face social stigma in Kerala. This is evident in Kerala’s  rural areas, but the stigma is as strong, though not as visible, in the cities as well. It is expressed in snide remarks about the appearance, accent, and manners of Dalits and in the reluctance to co-operate with them in social functions and personal gatherings. In villages, upper-caste women rarely participate in the marriage functions of Dalits. Even those who go there usually do not take the food (a dinner is an integral part of all marriage functions here). 

“In Kerala, Dalit men are labour bare-bodied. In that parochial, sexually inhibited community, you see bare, male Dalit bodies all the time. They are beautiful. But to upper caste people, men as well as women, those bodies don’t exist. They are no threat to anybody. They don’t see Dalits as physical, leave alone sexual beings. It’s as though in that society caste-prejudice overcomes human biology and desire.” says booker prize winnerr, Arundhathi Roy ( courtesy : http://out-caste.blogspot.com/)

Dalits in kerala are  also often derogatorily labeled with nick names even in visual media and public places. There are many subtle aspects against Dalits, which has been handled down through language and customs. A pretty nasty expletive word in malayalam language,  “pulayadi mon” –  refers to someone who’s mother has done “pulayattom”. The expletive is a reference to some dalit custom. The expletive means something like a ho’s son.

Upper castes  who controle the major share of land are also worried about the lack of availability of lower-caste people for household works and agricultural labour. Most of the  dalit youngsters are quitting their traditional work in order to attain better social acceptability.

About Kerala Police and Torture

The police in Kerala state are notorious for its use of custodial torture. Often the police use torture as a means for extracting statements from suspects. Torture is inflicted upon persons arrested and detained in police custody in connection with the crime and also against innocent persons whom the police question in connection with their other regular duties.

Use of unwarranted force by local police is so common that it is now a practice by the local police to slap persons whom they talk to. It is a common scene in Kerala for police officers to slap a person as they approach a stranger before even uttering a word. This practice has gained approval of senior police officers as a ‘shortcut’ to psychologically overpower the person to whom the officer is speaking to.

It is also a common practice for police officers across the state to take into custody persons whom they suspect of being found at places ‘where they cannot explain the reason for their presence’. As strange and loosely worded this expression is, so is the reason for the local police to prohibit persons from spending time outside their house, particularly during evening hours, at open play grounds and village grounds in rural areas of the state.

The common practice is for the local police to roam around in police vehicles in the villages and order persons, especially the youth, to go home, if they are found hanging around in public places. To prevent the people from returning, the police would approach anyone who is found in public places, ask the person why he is hanging around in the locality while slapping him hard on his face and pushing the person off holding him by his neck and ordering him to return home. This is widely practiced in Kerala that parents now advice their children not to go out of the house in the evening. Such practices are mostly focused against young males in the guise of preventing and controlling theft in rural villages.

On 28 February 2008, a Dalit a deaf victim named Binish was taken into custody by Pattanakadu police and severely tortured him in an attempt to force him to speak. The Kerala State Human Rights Commission has also taken the case into notice and issued orders for the state police to investigate the case.

Soon after the police officers involved in Binish’s case was placed on suspension pending investigation in this case, it is reported that the officers have now started pressurising Binish’s family to withdraw the complaint they have filed at the police station. It is also reported that some senior police officers are also helping the accused officers in this process. In the absence of an independent mechanism in India to investigate complaints against the police the possibilities are that in this case the police will try to cover-up the guilt of the accused police officers, by fabricating evidence or avoiding crucial evidence concerning the incident during the investigation in this case.

According to Section 331 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860, anyone who causes grievous hurt for the purpose of extorting from the sufferer, or any person interested in the sufferer, any confession or any information which may lead to the detection of an offense or misconduct can be punished for imprisonment for a period not more than 10 years and also fine. A corresponding provision of the Code relevant to this Section is Section 348 of the Code which deals with wrongful confinement. According to this Section, anyone who wrongfully confines any person for the purpose of extorting from the person confined or any person interested in the person confined any confession or any information must be punished for a period that may extend to three years and also be liable for fine.

These two provisions of the Code are incorporated in the penal law in India to prevent custodial torture; though the definition of torture as it is conceived in India is far below the universal standards. Pain, as defined in the UN Convention against Torture, includes mental and physical pain. This concept has attained universal recognition and a norm of customary international law. The police officers who  practice torture are liable to be charged for crimes under these two Sections of the Indian Penal Code, 1860.

The Government of Kerala has recently launched a state-wide programme to promote and rebuild police-citizen relationship in the state. The programme titled ‘Janakiya Police’ (people’s police) was launched on 26 March 2008. However, to gain any respect and confidence of the people, the state government must first control the abuse of authority by the police and fasten accountability in the police force. Without attempting to this no other efforts will generate public confidence upon the local police, not only in Kerala, but in the entire country.

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