Caste atrocities in Tamil Nadu have increased nearly fivefold in lockdown: Dalit organisations

10 June 2020
Vishnupriyan (left) and Sudhakar (right), two Dalit men, were murdered in two different incidents in Tamil Nadu during the nationwide lockdown. There is a rising number of atrocities against Dalits and Adivasis in the state that have taken place during the lockdown.
LEFT: COURTESY Muthukrishnan; RIGHT: COURTESY Murugesan
Vishnupriyan (left) and Sudhakar (right), two Dalit men, were murdered in two different incidents in Tamil Nadu during the nationwide lockdown. There is a rising number of atrocities against Dalits and Adivasis in the state that have taken place during the lockdown.
LEFT: COURTESY Muthukrishnan; RIGHT: COURTESY Murugesan

On 29 March, Sudhakar Murugesan, a 24-year-old of the Kullathur community—classified as Scheduled Caste in Tamil Nadu—was murdered by a group of men, in Morrappathangal village of Thiruvannamalai district. In September 2019, he had married Sharmila, a woman from the caste-Hindu Gounder community, classified as Backward Class in Tamil Nadu. “Sudhakar and Sharmila, from the neighbouring village, had gotten married without anyone else knowing,” Murugesan, Sudhakar’s father, told me. He continued, “She belonged to an upper-caste community and her family kept troubling us.” Fearing for their life, the couple fled to Chennai, where Sudhakar began working as a mason. However, 16 days after their wedding, Sharmila’s family managed to find her and forced her to return to her parents’ house. Sudhakar however, remained in Chennai fearing for his life. “He came back home because of the lockdown. His wife’s family, who had threatened to kill him, were waiting for this opportunity,” Murugesan said. 

That morning, Sudhakar had left his house to go to the fields. “Fifteen minutes after he left, we got a call that he had been attacked” Murugesan, said. “By the time we reached the spot, he had died. His mother has been bedridden since then. She doesn’t eat, and is crying all the time,” Murugesan, who broke down frequently while speaking over the phone, told me. “We want justice for our son.”

The murder of Sudhakar is one among the rising number of atrocities against Dalits in Tamil Nadu that have taken place during the national lockdown to combat the coronavirus pandemic. The lockdown brought not only a daily struggle for food and employment for Dalits in the state but also a sharp uptick in caste-based murders and public humiliations. Under the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, the SC/ST Protection Cell of the state chaired by the director general of police is required to collect and publish data every month on the number of atrocities that have occurred. However, the body has not published any of the relevant statistics for the duration of the ongoing lockdown. The office of JK Tripathy, the DGP, directed me to Thamarai Kannan, the assistant DGP for welfare. Kannan’s office did not respond to our queries about the number of atrocities that have occurred in the state and why the administration had not published the data.

Sujatha Sivagnanam is a freelance journalist based in Tamil Nadu who has previously reported for the New Indian Express. She is currently working as a special correspondent for Simplicity.

Keywords: caste atrocities Tamil Nadu SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act coronavirus lockdown Dalit atrocities
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