Cry of the oppressed goes unheard

Isn’t it bizarre that we have no choice to decide our birth but we are saddled with a future that is often governed by the family we take birth in? It certainly is so in the case of 28-year-old Ganga Ratnamma, who lies listless on the Penukonda government hospital bed, staring at the walls. The strong impact of the humiliation meted out to her at the hands of the upper castes at Mallasamudram village in Gorantla mandal on September 14, has left her traumatised and shaken.

Recalling the incident, she speaks with great difficulty: "About 10 persons chased me for a short distance, cornered me and disrobed me before beating me up." Unable to continue, she looks at her brother Venkata Swamy (30), to takeover from her. He narrates in a choked voice: "She remained unconscious for two days after they attempted to throttle her to death." Ganga Ratnamma fell an easy prey to the wrath of the upper castes — merely by the fact that she belonged to the Dalit community. This is not the first time that grave injustice has been meted out to the Dalit community by the upper castes who enjoy the backing of both the officials and police. Right from Karamchedu, to Tsundur to Alamur to Mallasamudram, the Dalits have been at the receiving end. And Mallasamudram is just a case in point. The village, bedevilled with caste conflicts is now suddenly quiet. The cacophony of children playing and elders chatting is no longer heard.

The men of Dalitwada fled the village for fear of life, leaving behind some old women and a few children who are unable to understand why they are being the target. Fear lurks in the eyes of the Dalits who are grappling with the trepidation of a possible outbreak of violence once the 13 upper castes who have been arrested by the police are released on bail. Little do they realise that the police can prevent recurrence of yet another bloody caste violence in the village.

"The Dalits strongly feel that the scars of the mindless brutality unleashed by the upper castes could probably be wiped out, provided the other side sincerely repents their actions and contribute their mite in creating a congenial atmosphere. The problem lies with the other section which goes out of its way to keep alive the social apartheid on the sly for obvious reasons," says social activist Jyotirmayi from Anantapur. While the victims of Mallasamudram village narrate the horrendous episode of how their women were pulled out of their houses, dragged by hair, kicked and beaten up with sticks and stones, the upper castes insist that ‘nothing much’ had happened and brush the incident aside as a ‘trivial issue’ which started at the village borewell. Even as the Dalit women show their freshly inflicted wounds, the police prefer to join the upper castes’ chorus blaming the Press for making much ado about ‘nothing.’

The origin of such clashes can be traced back to petty fracases in most cases where the police is called to contain violence. The problem aggravates when the latter usually displays a clear tilt towards the upper castes. The Dalits feel cheated and isolated.

This is probably one of the reasons why several cases of human rights abuse never get to see the light of the day. The Dalits of Mallasamudram are involved in a grim battle for justice and, are determined to continue it. But, they are not very sure if they will get justice in the end. The Dalits have a history of being the suppressed class. They are subjected to untold agony, humiliation, harassment and torture for no apparent reason. They were subjected to social ostracism at Timmayyagaripalle in Chitvelu mandal of Cuddapah district for exercising their franchise in the elections after nearly 30 years. This is the land where Scheduled Castes are beaten up for taking out a marriage procession from a temple street at Alamur village in Anantapur district.

"The Mallasamudram incident is really sad and clearly reflects lack of awareness among the rural women. However, in our village set-up, we need not always depend on the government machinery to solve such problems. The village elders should mobilise themselves and tackle such sensitive issues through their influence and experience," says Vice-Chancellor of Sri Krishnadevaraya University Saraswathi Rao, a woman activist to the core. Finding fault with the government housing programme, she says, "Why should separate Dalitwadas be created in towns and villages. It’s time Dalits were made a part of the mainstream."

True. But will the upper castes ever allow this to happen, is a point to ponder. However, 10-year-old Jalamma from Mallasamudram, has found a simple solution to her plight. She says, "nenu anni devulla ki mokkukoni vachche janma lo ‘pedda intilo’ pudatanu. Appudu na baadhalu anni teeripotayi". (I’ll earnestly pray to God to make me born in an upper caste family in my next birth. Only then will all my problems be solved.) Jalamma has understood the bitter fact — a Dalit is destined to face humiliations once being born in a poor Dalit family. But can anyone deny the bitter and agonising truth in Jalamma’s innocent remarks?

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