LYNCH LAW AGAINST HARIJANS
(Painful and shameful atrocities in Thumbapatti)
Stop the Chavadi Courts in our Villages
The Chavadi Courts:
It is a well known fact that though the Harijans are denied entry in the public chavadies in the villages in Tamilnad, they are tried by the caste Hindus at these chavadies and victimised to such an extent that they always live in fear of the caste Hindus. One of the reasons why the Harijans in the villages do not respond to our movement of the removal of their civil disabilities is their constant fear of this victimisation by the caste Hindus under the leadership of the village Periambalagar, the chief of the caste Hindus. In several places, the villagers run these chavadi courts under the colour of holding Panchayats. The poor Harijans are summoned to the chavadi and tried like slaves. If any of them go against the order of the Periambalagar then the Lynch Law is put into operations and they are subjected to merciless beating and torture with a view to strike terror in them and to demonstrate the absolute power of the Periambalagar. The victimisation of the Harijans at the chavadi takes place in various forms according to the circumstances and the whims of the Periambalagar and his council—public whipping, imposition of heavy fines and confiscation of their properties on failure to pay the same, foisting of false cases, economic boycott by denying labour and with holding wages, social ostracism by prohibiting their taking part in social functions and religious ceremonies, denial of water by preventing access to tanks and wells, denial of foodstuffs by banning sale of articles to them in the village-shops etc. etc. The liberation of the Harijans is possible only if the Government takes strong measure against the villagers for holding these illegal and unlawful courts in the name of the village panchayat. No civilised Government can tolerate the persecution of a backward and minority community by the villages in the various manners mentioned above.
Atrocities in Thumbapatti:
The following account of the trial of Harijans at Thumbapatti on 1st August 1953 would make any heart bleed.This village is 22 miles from Madurai and it is the native place of Shri P. Kakkan, M. P., one of the prominent Harijan Leaders of Tamilnad. It is learnt that all the adults in the Harijan cherri were summoned to the mandai (common place) in front of the chavadi. The caste Hindus did obeisance to the Periambalagar and his council, in the usual manner, by doing full prostration, their belly touching the ground to pick up the dust. About a dozen Harijan youths were then picked out for trial on the charge they were suspected of the various petty thefts occurring in the village. It is however learnt that youths who were a bit assertive and not usually submissive to the caste Hindus had been singled out for punishment. They were given blows with sticks and were asked to admit having committed the thefts. The other Harijans were questioned and under fear of victimisation they are said to have thrown all the thefts on the accused. Judgement was passed that the youths were guilty and some of them were handcuffed for being duly punished. It is learnt that one of them however remonstrated and tried to escape on some plea. This disrespect to the chavadi court was immediately resented by the villagers and it is learnt that the Periambalagar promulgated the chavadi ordinance that the Harijan youths be severely dealt with. The Lynch law was put into operation and a most merciless attack was made on the Harijan youths. All those who had some grudge or prejudice against the Harijans got the opportunity to wreak vengeance on them with impunity. The Harijan youth who had tried to escape was dragged by his legs over the rough and stony ground. The others were beaten with sticks and tied to the trees and again beaten so mercilessly till their bones were almost broken. There they were made to stand, tied to the trees for about eight hours, as the pitable objects of public scorn. The Harijans in general appear to have been warned that they should not co-operate with the Harijan workers.
False Case Foisted:
What the villagers did thereafter is still more shameful. It is the usual practice to foist cases on the Harijans and to get the police to take immediate action. When it was discovered that the Harijans had sustained serious injuries, the villagers realised that they would get into trouble. It is learnt that Shri Poosari Kakkan, the Eighty-years old father of Shri P. Kakkan, M.P., who is working as the village Thotti, was therefore asked to give a false complaint that some articles in the Harijan temple were found missing since the previous evening and a report was sent to the Police by the village Munsif, that these articles were recovered from the Harijan youths. Shri Poosari Kakkan, and his relation, another village Thotti named Etti Kakkan, are said to have brought these articles and given to the village Munsif. Immediately on receipt of the report the Police came, arrested the Harijan youths on a charge of theft and sent them to the Hospital as they were found wounded. We do not propose to publicly criticise the action of the Police. Enough to say, the atrocities on the Harijans by the villager s, did not catch the official eye of the Police!
The Truth Known:
The villagers were good enough to send a mass petition supporting their action to Shri A. Vaidyanatha lyer. President, Tamilnad Harijan Sevak Sangh. It was forwarded to me for enquiry and report. A small committee consisting of the President of Melur Taluk Congress Committee, the Secretary of Melur Taluk Harijan Sevak Sangh, the Secretary of the Seva Samaj, Melur and myself accordingly enquired into the matter and found that the villagers had made a merciless attack on the Harijan youths and kept them tied to the trees for about eight hours till the arrival of the Police. The complaint given by Shri Poosari Kakkan and the Periambalagar were examined by Shri Vaidyanath lyer and they admitted to him that the complaint given to the Police was a false and concocted one. The Periambalagar also expressed regret for the wrongs done to the Harijans. Meanwhile the police also investigated into the complaint given by Shri Poosari Kakkan and referred the case as ‘ undetectable ‘. No case was however taken against the villagers. It appears the bones of the Harijans youths had not actually broken. The marks of beatings with sticks and of the rope-tie were visible on their bodies for several days. Two of them were kept at the hospital for two days and their legs were X-rayed to make sure if their bones were broken. They were sent out with plaster bandages on their legs. They were not able to walk properly for a fortnight.
Two enquiries conducted:
An enquiry was conducted by the Dy. Welfare Officer, Madurai under orders from the Dy. Collector and another enquiry was recently conducted by the Revenue Divisional Officer, Madurai under orders from the Government. The result is yet to be known.
Civil Disabilities in Thumbapatti:
There was terrible opposition from the villagers of Thumbapatti when the Harijans took water from the public Oorani in 1948. Till then the Harijans were taking water from a dirty pond where cattle are washed and men bathe. Some Harijan youths were severely beaten and an attempt was made to set fire to Harijan houses. The village Munsif and others are said to have been warned by the authorities in this connection. One case, where a Harijan was denied coffee in the glass tumbler in a teashop in Thumbapatti, was reported to the Police on 19th August 1953 and the tea shopkeeper was convicted and sentenced to pay a fine of Rs. 10 by the Sub-Magistrate. The village barber declares that he is willing to serve Harijans. Yet the Harijans do not go to him probably because of the secret warning given to them by the caste Hindus. Some Harijans had gone to the barber on 1st July 1953 and there is reason to believe that the trial of the Harijan youths on 1st August 1953 was an arrangement made to strike terror in the Harijans.
Our general experience:
It is our general experience that when the Harijans make bold to asset their elementary rights, the villagers summon them to the chavadi and persecute them in one form or other. Such happenings took place in Mangulam. Kuruvankulam, Adanoor, Pathiettamgudi and Karugakottai. The higher officials of the Police were good enough to visit these places. In some places, the Harijans were summoned to the chavadi and warned as at Kottagudi, Kidaripatti and Pullipatti. The subordinate Police officials usually support the caste Hindus and thus the latter get the freedom to apply their Lynch law and bring the Harijans to a sense of their social servility.
Can we tolerate this:
The question before us is whether we can tolerate this kind of public lynching and humilitation of the Harijans in these days when we had revolted against the atrocities of the Dyers at Jallianwalla bagh. In Jallianwala, the atrocities were committed by foreign bureaucrats on men and women who had assembled in a gathering. Here similar atrocities were committed by our villagers on a few Harijan youths who were tried at the chavadi with a view to strike terror in the Harijans in general.
What the Government must do:
Village Panchayats consisting of elected members including Harijans,have been formed by the Government in the villages. One wonders why the caste Hindus should be allowed to run their chavadi courts in parallel to these Government recognised Panchayats. These chavadi courts are a menace to the social, economic and political progress of the poor backward class communities in the villages. There can be no salvation or freedom to the Harijans in the villages unless these chavadi courts are banned by the Government. All our efforts for the removal of the civil disabilities of Harijans will go in vain till the chavadi courts are prohibited from dealing with the Harijans. Before spending 3 lakhs of rupees for the eradication of untouchability, the Government must take necessary measures to stop the victimisation of the Harijans at the chavadi and enable them to raise their heads as human beings. Untouchability in public places has become a thing of the past in Kerala because of the non-existence of these chavadi courts in that part of the country.
It was Mahatma Gandhi who made us realise the great injustice we do to poor Harijans in the villages by treating them as low castes and slaves. But for him the Harijans in the various parts of the country would have gone out of the Hindu fold because of the unbearable sufferings under the caste Hindus. It is now 21 years since Mahatma Gandhi observed the Epic Fast at Poona to create public opinion in favour of the Harijans. No doubt there has been a great awakening during the last decades and there is now general sympathy towards the Harijan movement. The Government is pledged to the removal of all the social and civil disabilities of Harijans and it is giving full co-operation to all peaceful and legitimate efforts to improve the status of the Harijans. But we have to admit that there is still, lot of prejudice towards the Harijans in the villages. We appeal to all public workers to bring about a change of heart of the caste Hindus in the villages so that the Harijans are no longer treated as a separate Untouchable class. We appeal to all leaders to work for the eradication of untouchability and to see that the Harijans are treated as part and parcel of the Hindu society.
Head Office: Melur.
Swami Anand Tirth, M.A., Regional Officer,
All India Harijan Sevak Sangh
– Page -4066-70, Selected Works Of Ambedkar