Tension has gripped Erode district in Tamil Nadu after two Dalit youths including a minor alleged brutal assault by a group of men from a caste Hindu community. The incident happened at Vengamedu near Gobichettipalayam on November 20 and 21, according to a police complaint lodged by one of the Dalit youths on November 24. The complaint also alleged that the men from the Gounder community who assaulted them urinated into their mouths when they asked for water.
One of the victims is a 17-year-old polytechnic college student. Another victim is Kirubakaran, a mechanic. They both belong to the Arunthathiyar community (SC). The Gounders are categorised as Backward Class (BC) in the state.
Revenue Divisional Officer (RDO) G Divya Priyadarshini chaired a peace meeting between two communities on Tuesday, November 28. Both communities have been requested not to engage in any act that may disturb public peace.
The police booked the youths after a Gounder resident gave a complaint against them on November 21, alleging that the duo tried to steal hens from her house. A few days later, the Dalit youth lodged a complaint against the assailants from the Gounder community, who have now been booked under the Scheduled Caste /Scheduled Tribes Prevention of Atrocities Act.
The FIR against Dalit youths was based on a complaint, alleging attempted livestock theft, given on November 21 by Palaniyammal, a resident of Kadukkampalayam. In her complaint she said her house door was locked from the outside and she alerted the neighbours by phone call. “When neighbours gathered, the duo fled the spot on their two-wheeler into a farm. They were not seen anywhere till the next morning,” the complaint said. The duo were booked under section 379 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) which stipulates punishment for theft.
On November 25, Gounder community members including political party functionaries from parties including Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) and the Congress picketed the office of the Deputy Superintendent of Police to quash the FIR against Gounder residents.
According to the FIR, based on the complaint by Dalit minor, the assault on November 20 happened when he along with cousin Kirubakaran were consuming liquor at Vengamedu in the village of Kadukkampalayam. A man from the Gounder community questioned them over it, allegedly using casteist slurs, which led to a scuffle. Three other men from the Gounder community rushed in to support the man from their community, assaulted the Dalit youths and snatched away their smartphones and a motorbike.
The next morning, on November 21, when they approached the attackers to get back their phones and the bike, a group of seven men from the Gounder community allegedly stripped them half-naked and beat them with an iron rod while other villagers watched. "When we asked for water the Gounder men urinated on our mouths and abused us using casteist slurs," the complaint said.
The youths were rescued by Siruvalur police at around 7 am on the morning of November 22. They were sent to Gobichettipalayam Government Hospital where they are undergoing treatment.
Three days after the attack, on November 24, based on the petition sent to the Gobichettipalayam DSP office by the minor, Siruvalur police registered cases against 20 persons, out of which 18 are yet to be identified. The FIR has named two men from the Gounder community - Kannusamy, husband of Sumathi, president, Kadukkampalayam panchayat, and Sasikumar. Speaking to TNM, Sumathi, an AIADMK leader, refuted the allegations and said her husband tried to rescue the youths.
An officer attached to Siruvalur police, while downplaying the caste atrocity angle, said Kirubakaran was a repeat offender and a history sheeter in theft cases. “The Dalit youths were there to steal the hens and goats. The men took the extreme step of beating them up rather than alert police because they lost a lot of livestock,” the officer alleged.
Arumugam, Director of Madurai-based Social Justice Human Rights and Promotion organisation, alleged that police tried to restrain the Dalit youths from complaining against the Gounder men. Arumugam, who met the survivors, told TNM that police personnel from the Siruvalur station had threatened the survivors that they wouldn’t be able to live peacefully in Erode if they filed a complaint against Gounder men.
Arumugam said the complainant from the Gounder community is trying to make the Dalits look like thieves. "If the Gounder woman's complaint was true, they could've used their bikes to flee from the spot rather than spending the whole night on the farm only to be caught and beaten up so badly,” he said. He also asked what stopped the residents from alerting the police instead of waiting till the next morning.