People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


Vol. XXXII

No. 45

November 16, 2008

 

Let Us Make Anti-Untouchability And Anti-Caste Struggle A National Movement!


P Sampath


THE Kula Vivaksha vyatireka Porata Sangham (Struggle Committee Against Caste Discrimination) of Andhra Pradesh recently had its decennium celebrations in Hyderabad on October 16, 2008. P Sampath, secretariat member of Tamilnadu state committee of CPI(M) and state convener of Tamilnadu Untouchability Eradication Front (TNUEF) participated in the convention held in connection with the celebrations. We give below the gist of his speech:


I thank you very much for the opportunity given to me for participating in the decennium celebrations of the KVPS and sharing our experience in Tamilnadu in fighting against the menace of un-touchability. In fact, we are very much inspired by your movement in Andhra Pradesh for land and against un-touchability. Again, I am proud to say, it is your movement, your experience, and the confidence they gave that made us launch the Tamilnadu Untouchability Eradication Front (TNUEF).


CASTE HIERARCHY AND

SOCIAL OPPRESSION


The institution of caste is a social phenomenon peculiar to the Indian sub-continent. It is inseparably intertwined with the mode of production and division of labour obtaining in the Indian society. Caste in its pristine form was synonymous with class: it was through a process of evolution the overlapping - castes within the class and classes within the caste - occurred. In our experience, we are able to see that social oppression has become a big obstacle in mobilising the mass of the working class, be it for protection of national sovereignty or for social change. The caste system being hierarchical in nature, every caste has some castes above and some castes below its stratum. As every caste fights against the upper caste, it also has the pride in dominating over the lower caste. But Dalits are a segment that has no scope to harbour any sense of such pride. In the varnashramic order, they are even kept outside the chaturvarna (four entities) and called panchamas, meaning the fifth segment and hence outcaste. They are kept not only outside the caste system but outside the villages too. They have to live in the slums outside the main village. Yes, they have to bear the brunt of the oppressive caste system. Untouchability is a punishment meted out to them. 95 per cent of the dalits are workers in towns and villages. It becomes the duty of the entire working class to fight for the eradication of this social menace. A considerable number from the backward classes and other castes belong to the working class. As abolition of untouchability is a prerequisite for building the unity of the working class, naturally it becomes the prime task of this class. Along with this, we have to campaign against the very caste system. Only with the abolition of the caste system, the unity of the working class and the unity of the people can be built on solid foundations.


FORMS OF UNTOUCHABILITY

AND THE STRUGGLE


Untouchability exists in various forms in the Indian provinces. In Tamilnadu, we have, with the help of many class and mass organisations, conducted surveys in as many as 4000 villages spread over 22 districts to have first hand information about the forms of untouchability. As many as 163 forms could be detected through these surveys. They mostly relate to inequality in tea shops and hairdressing saloons, accessibility to common pathways and common water bodies, pathway to dalit burial ground, temple entry, sharing of common properties of the village, discriminatory treatment in PDS shops, opening of government offices and schools, delivery of mails by the postmen, attitude of the bureaucracy and the handling by the police etc. In a particular village, dalits are restrained from rearing male dogs. To top it all, was the untouchability wall at Uthappuram in Madurai district to deny dalits access to the main village. There may still be more forms that would have eluded our surveys. It is not only the dalits that are suppressed but their woes as well. Those who observe untouchability have no qualms of conscience; the dalits who had got inured to these sufferings for a very long time had almost resigned to fate. But today they have started asserting their rights and this is a welcome trend that has to be encouraged.


We highlighted the facts brought about by the surveys through the media and also approached the district administration concerned for redressal. When the administration refused to move, we moved into direct action; they were as many as 267 such actions in the past few years. In certain villages the victory was decisive and lasting. In some villages, they were temporary and required constant attention and follow-up. On many occasions we fought independently and sometimes jointly with the Dalit organisations; on some other occasions we synchronised our struggles with theirs.


WHERE THE DRAVIDIAN

MOVEMENT FAILED


Tamilnadu is a state being ruled by the Dravidian parties DMK or AIADMK - for the past four decades. Though they claim to be the disciples of Periyar E V Ramasamy, the great social reformer, they did nothing to eradicate un-touchability. On the contrary, some of their leaders and cadres remain in collusion with the oppressors. The president-ship of four village panchayats in Tamilnadu like Pappapatti and Keeripatti was reserved for the dalits but somehow, this was not allowed to be implemented for ten long years. It is only because of our initiative and struggle, the district administration moved and ultimately Dalit presidents were elected. In many temples dalits could gain entry. Two-tumbler system in tea shops was given up in many villages. Equality was established in hair-dressing saloons. Right to burial grounds was granted in some villages. Access to dalit burial grounds through public path was allowed in some villages. All these happened only as we intervened in these issues. It is our struggle that made the government demolish a part of the untouchability wall at Uthppuram to allow public access to the dalits there. This was an event that caught the imagination of the whole of Tamilnadu and even the nation. We have taken upon ourselves eradication of untouchability as a priority task in the struggle for social reforms.


CAMPAIGN FOR THE

ARUNDHATHIARS


The Arundhathiars of Tamilnadu can be best equated with the Madigas of Andhra Pradesh; they are the dalits of dalits. Though they constitute 5 per cent of the population in Tamilnadu, they have not got a share of even 1 per cent in education or employment. We demanded a sub-quota for them in reservation. We conducted a hectic campaign on their issues. We organised a huge rally of 20,000 people towards the state secretariat. The state government subsequently appointed a one man commission to decide on the sub-quota and they have also agreed to implement it as soon as the report is submitted. This is an issue that gave fillip to the social reforms movement in Tamilnadu. Our demand for absorbing vettiyans (crematorium workers) as regular government servants won partial victory in that 178 such vettiyans in the crematoriums in Chennai have been absorbed. We have demanded abolition of manual scavenging and the struggle is still on. A number of Arundhathiar organisations are with us in the campaign.




FACING VIOLENCE


The victories full and partial that we could register in our fight against untouchability, and on dalit issues in general have considerably enhanced the respect and clout of the party among them. However, I would like to point out here that we have only touched the fringes and have a long way to go, considering the enormity of the issue. We had to face the wrath and atrocities of the oppressive forces in our fight against untouchability; on most of the occasions, the bureaucracy and the police were on the side of the oppressive castes. When dalits in some villages rose against the injustices meted out to them, the oppressive forces in collusion with the government machinery unleashed violence against them. A dalit was forced to eat faeces in a village called Thinniyam. A dalit girl was washed with night soil for the sin of falling in love with a boy of an upper caste. In Uthappuram, dalits were attacked while using the public road that became accessible for them after the demolition of the wall, for family functions. Women in this village were attacked and properties damaged by the police. The police registered criminal cases against as many as 540 in this small village. On some occasions our comrades were attacked and they had to face fake criminal cases. However, these could not deter the onward march of the dalits nor our increasing intervention in the dalit issues.


OUR EXPERIENCE AND

SOME WEAKNESSES


Introducing the Indian constitution in the constituent assembly, Dr Ambedkar declared inter alia that untouchability stood legally abolished. But he regretted later for saying so. He rightly said therefore, that eradication of untouchability could not be achieved through administrative measures and legislations alone. It required the unity and struggle of the dalits and also the co-operative and coordinated efforts of the democratic forces. The social reforms movement in India could not succeed in getting untouchability eradicated because it did not club class issues including the question of land along with other issues of social reforms. The same way, the class and mass organisations suffered from a weakness of not giving due importance to the social issues including eradication of untouchability and casteism, along with other issues. The class and mass organisations have to shed these two weaknesses. While organising the struggles, they have to tag the issues of social oppression and those of class oppression together. It is through this process, desired changes and progress could be achieved.


The Tamilnadu Untouchability Eradication Front (TNUEF) has been functioning as a broad platform of action towards this goal. The TNUEF comprises of 45 state level class and mass organisations, 15 state level dalit and human rights organisations, 40 district level dalit organisations along with a large number of class and mass organisations. The mass organisations in the TNUEF represent about 30 lakh members. District units have been formed in 29 out of the 34 districts. It is only one year since this front was launched. But mass organisations and the CPI (M) had been carrying on the campaign against untouchability for quite long. However, the launch of the TNUEF is a watershed in the movement.


LET OUR VOICES REVERBERATE

ACROSS THE NATION!


Atrocities on dalits are very rare, and caste clashes almost nil in the states of Kerala, West Bengal and Tripura where the Left parties are strong. Outside these states, it is Andhra Pradesh and Tamilnadu where we could register victories in our fight against untouchability. Let it impact on other states! Let the fight against untouchability and social oppression become a national movement!