Hundreds gather in support of Peda Gottipadu Dalits in Guntur
As the fiery sun retired for the day over Andhra Pradesh amidst fluttering flags and distant sloganeering, activists and political parties reached the Wolf Hall Playground in the heart of Guntur city on Sunday, less than 30 km away from the state’s capital of Amaravati.
The activists had gathered together as part of a Dalit ‘self-respect’ meeting in support of the Scheduled Castes (SCs) of Peda Gottipadu.
The Peda Gottipadu Dalit Solidarity Committee - a collective with nearly 57 political organisations and rights groups, had obtained permission for the public meeting from the Hyderabad High Court after a month-long legal battle, as they had been denied permission by the police.
CPI (M) state secretary P Madhu, senior advocate Y Koteshwar Rao, Y Srinivasa Rao of Dalit Soshan Mukti Manch (DSMM), Telugu writer G Kalyana Rao, along with several activists from Tamil Nadu and the two Telugu states, addressed the massive gathering.
Peda Gottipadu, a village with as many as 1,000 Dalit families, sees most of the youth work as plumbers, painters and mechanics while several others work as construction labourers.
The entire incident started after a group of Dalits in the village were attacked allegedly by upper caste men over a minor brawl which broke out on New Year’s Eve.
The Dalits alleged that a group of Kammas; a dominant caste associated with the ruling Telugu Desam Party (TDP), abused them due to their caste, before assaulting them.
According to Dalits from the village, the police were called on the same night, and Kammas were made to ‘apologise’ to the Dalits, who were formerly labourers in their fields.
However, the issue took a more violent turn after Kammas allegedly resorted to violence and attacked two Dalit men, 55-year-old Jonnalagadda Prakash and 51-year-old Jonnalagadda John. The Dalits also accused the Kammas of molesting a Dalit woman who had attended church for her Sunday prayers.
Following this, Left parties and Dalit rights’ groups took up the case. Earlier this year in January, the 'Chalo Peda Gottipadu programme' was foiled by the police, as authorities imposed prohibitory orders.
In a piece for The Wire, Prof Gundimeda Sambaiah discusses the Peda Gottipadu incident and argues that, "Violence has been used as a weapon against the marginalised communities by the upper castes for several years now. It is employed not just to teach the ‘downtrodden’ a lesson, but also to keep the lower castes in their ‘respective places’ in the society.”
An emotional stage
Several emotional scenes were witnessed on the stage in Guntur as 67-year-old Jonnalagadda Jaya Baghyamma, walked on to the stage amidst rhythmic ‘dappu’ beats.
Addressing the meeting, Jaya broke into tears while speaking, even as Kalyana Rao urged her to stay strong and continue.
Jaya alleged that Kamma men abused the Dalit men and showed their ‘masculinity’ by approaching them near the church with weapons and stripping their lungis in front of the Dalit women.
She also accused the Kammas of humiliating the women by asking them if they would ‘sleep with us for Rs 10.”
Jaya also claimed that Dalits were beaten up even in the presence of the police, due to the clout that the upper-caste men held.
Several speakers also lashed out at the police and the TDP-led Chandrababu Naidu government for alleged police inaction in the case and use of ‘excess force’ against the victims as police cases were filed.
Writer G Kalyana Rao began his speech by pointing out that attacks on Dalits were not a new phenomenon in the state, irrespective of the party in power. He claimed there were no convictions in several cases of alleged atrocities against Dalits.
"For Dalits, studying is a crime. Walking with their heads held high, is a crime. Exercising the freedom which humans are entitled to, is a crime in this country. Every time you do this, you will be subjected to attacks, despite top officials in the government being Dalits,” he said.
“You have given nothing to us. Neither land, nor protection, give us weapons under SC/ST POA Act” Rao said, adding that Dalits in the country must continue to struggle for their rights.
Those who had gathered, demanded that the prime accused be arrested and cases be filed against them, including under sections of the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act. They also demanded that the ‘false cases’ against them, be scrapped.
Security stepped up
While organisers of the event had secured permission from the HC, a massive number of policemen had been deployed on the ground. The officials also employed drone-camera to monitor the movements of people closely.
Several cops were also seen video-graphing the activists and those who had gathered.
Activists alleged that the TDP government was afraid of Dalit unity and accused the police of adopting measures to silence them.
PostedOn: 05 Mar 2018
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