- Subhash Gatade
Tsundur, Guntur, A.P. which had made headlines way back in 1991 when eight dalits were lynched by a 400 strong armed mob of Reddys is again in the news. The recent judgment of the A.P high court has overturned the judgment of the Special courts and has acquitted all the accused involved in the case for ‘want of evidence’.
As rightly noted by Human Rights Forum (HRF) the judgment is ‘brazen injustice’ and is ‘reflective of upper caste anti-dalit bias’ and ‘betrays insensitivity in the judiciary to an inhuman caste atrocity.’ It is expected that the state does not waste time in moving the Supreme Court to get this retrograde judgment overturned and render justice to the families of dalits.
What is more disturbing and shocking is the fact that when the Special Court formed to deliberate on the case had finally given its verdict seven years back, it was considered a ‘historic’ in very many ways. The conviction of the perpetrators – twenty one of the accused were life imprisonment and 35 of the accused were asked to serve one year rigorous imprisonment – was considered a significant milestone in the ongoing dalit emancipation movement.
The judgment by the special court had demonstrated the immense possibilities inherent in the SC and ST Prevention of Atrocities Act (1989) which till date remain on paper. As rightly noted it was the first time in the nearly twenty year old trajectory of this act that special courts had to be set up at the scene of offence.
It is noteworthy that Dalits in Tsundur were so united that they neither accepted any summons from the courts nor they ever went to court which was situated at some distant place from the village. They demanded in unison that the courts should come to them and the government had to concede to their demand and set up special courts in a school premises.
They had also demanded that they be provided with a Public Prosecutor and a judge who has a positive track record while dealing with cases of dalit atrocities. After lot of dilly-dallying the government had complied with this demand also.
It has been normal in all such cases of dalit atrocities that as time passes, people including victims and their families loose interest in continuing their fight for justice. They come under pressure or are coerced into changing their statement in the courts etc. The significance of the Tsundur struggle was that the people leading the campaign were successful in keeping the people mobilised all these years. Tsundur became a rallying point for different left and democratic forces in the state and it was harbinger of a new turn in the left politics also which resolved to take up the issue of caste oppression.
D Dhanraj was a crucial witness to the whole case. He did not falter for a moment despite tremendous pressure brought upon him by the powerful Reddys. One could see that Tsundur, the small village in Guntur, had created many such ‘unsung heroes’ – ordinary looking people who faced heavy odds so that they get justice. Merukonda Subbarao, a fifty six year old daily wage-worker, who had served as the first president of the ‘Tsundur Victims Association’ was another such ‘hero’ who identified and named forty of the accused standing in the court room, from among the one hundred and eighty three accused. It was clear that the whole incident was etched in his memory so strongly that he did not falter despite the judges requests to repeat the identification. And who can forget Martyr Anil Kumar, a young man in his twenties who was in the forefront of the struggle so that the perpetrators of the massacre are punished without delay. Anil was killed in a police firing during one of those struggles.
As is clear in every other atrocity against the dalits, the Reddys who have dominated the state politics since independence, tried with all their might so that they are allowed to go scot free. Utilising their contacts in the Judiciary, bureaucracy or police administration they tried to delay the process of justice as long as they could do it.
Attempts were made to buy or coerce the dalits in very many ways and the state also tried to play second fiddle to the Reddy’s. It felt that by distributing largesse to the dalits, giving jobs to few of them, awarding compensation to the victims’ families they could calm down their yearning for justice. But dalits in Tsundur wanted nothing less than severe punishment for the perpetrators.Unitedly they raised a slogan ‘Justice not Welfare’. It was worth emphasising that with their continued resistance they were able to make Tsundur a key issue in state politics.