NCHRO deeply condemns the Police action against Dalit villagers protesting a ‘Caste Wall’ in Vadayampady.
Dalits have been fighting against what they term ‘a Caste Wall’ built around the community space in their neighbourhood at Vadayampady, east of Kochi in Kerala, for over a year. The Dalits insist that the plot claimed by the Nair Service Society, a community organisation that runs the Bhajana Madam Devi Temple, is actually public land. The society has rejected the allegation.
The story begins with a 1.7 metre high, and 400 metre long wall was built by the NSS (Nair Service Society) in 2016. This wall was protested and torn down April 14, 2017, on Ambedkar Jayanti by Dalit Bhoo Avakasa Samara Munnani. Since then, 180 families have been protesting the unfairness in land rights. There is a 95 cent vacant ground next to the temple premises. This was ‘poromboke bhoomi’ (land that does not belong to anyone) and was used as a recreational and cultural space by the Dalit families of Vadayampadi. Dalit activists say the wall was constructed simply to prevent them from using the compound and visiting the temple. The controversy erupted when Dalits were prevented last year from holding their annual festival on the government revenue land property. Since then, an indefinite strike was initiated demanding cancellation of the title deed given to the NSS for the revenue land. The presence of the wall forced the Dalit villagers to take a longer route to fetch water from a well on the other side of the ground and deprived their children of a playing area. It also left the Dalit families, who live on small pieces of land given to them by the government, without a place to conduct marriages and other functions. In Vadayampady, Dalits, who mostly belong to Pulaya and Naika tribes, live in three settlements near the ground – Bhajana Madam Colony, one of Kerala’s first Dalit colonies established in 1967, Laksham Veedu Colony and Settlement Colony. Few Nair families live near the temple. The residents and activists registered police complaints against the temple authorities for allegedly usurping the ground, but not much has happened. In response to an RTI filed, the village officer had conceded that even when the ‘Patta’ land had been gifted to the NSS, there are no official records about this possession and that according to the basic tax registers, the land is still marked as revenue land. The Nair Service Society rejected the allegation, insisting the land was granted to the temple by the government.
The immediate trigger that fired up Dalit protest is the way the State’s police machinery acted as an instrument of Dalit oppression and violation of their human rights. The police chose to attack and arrest the Dalit activists who had peacefully protested against the illegal occupation of their land. They removed the protest tent and allowed the temple authorities to construct an entrance to the temple at that place. Despite the peaceful nature of the agitation over the months, the police last week evicted the protesters. The civil society has a responsibility to support and protect the rights that marginalized communities have over public places, especially the rights that they possess over spaces that are part of their local histories.
NCHRO joined a group of writers, cultural personalities and public intellectuals condemning the police action at Vadyamabadi. “The police action is a disgrace to democratic Kerala”, said prominent writers and political commentators such BRP Bhaskar, A Pouran, Paul Zacharia, K Satchidanandan, B Rajeevan, CS Venkiteswaran, Sashikumar, Paul Zacharia, NS Madhavan, Najmal Babu (T.N. Joy), J. Devika, M.N. Ravunni, Rekha Raj and many others.
They have also called for the unconditional the release of Joy Pavel, currently under judicial custody. The demands raised by the Dalit organizations are loud and clear. Whether or not the Government or party has any sincerity or commitment toward the truth and facts of this issue, what they must immediately do is to officially nullify the title-deed that was illegitimately received by the NSS and also retrieve all the false cases leveled against those who were arrested at Vadayampady. They should also take stringent action against the police officers who committed atrocities and the officials who granted the permission to erect a ‘caste wall’ at the premise.
The Ernakulam Collector had announced that the dispute had been temporarily settled. He banned construction work, building of walls and other development activities in the area until the Civil Court settled the matter. He also allowed access to Dalits to the grounds. However, residents are unsure about this settlement, as they feel that members of the NSS who have political and police support can take over the grounds at any time.
In our society there still exist feeling of superiority of caste and birth. Allowing caste discrimination to persist is shameful. Discrimination and the suppression of rights are root causes of instability. Hopefully, the wicked practice of Untouchability would be removed from the society sooner rather than later and our country would usher into a new era of social equality and brotherhood which will be the true India of Gandhi and Ambedkar. Every single day reminds us that our freedoms cannot be taken for granted and that our work to prevent abuses and violations is far from done.