ANDHRA PRADESH: Dalits Struggle for Self Respect
With the pressure exerted by the activities of the KVPS and Mahabharatha Hakkula Porata Committee, the district administration was forced to intervene and ensure that dalits are allowed participation in the conduct of Mahabharat festival. The district collector and superintendent of police had conducted many parlays with the upper caste people and the dalits that ultimately forced the upper castes to concede to the demands of the dalits.
THIS is a saga of struggle for self respect by dalits, near the abode of the wealthiest Hindu God in the world. The annual revenues of Tirupati Lord Balaji exceed Rs 2500 crores and the daily hundi collections exceed Rs 3 crore.
Tirupati comes under Chittoor district of Andhra Pradesh. Though the wealthiest God is nearby, people continue to be poor. Poor in respect of self respect too. Their cries for self respect have not yet reached the rulers as also the God. It is said that all are equal before the God. And that God treats all the people equally. But practice is different from preaching. Even today, God is a sour grape for the poor dalits of this district.
Pachikapalem is a village in Vedurukuppam mandal near Tirupati. Every year people from 47 villages join together and celebrate Mahabharat festival in a grand manner. The celebrations have been going on for the past 86 years in this village. The drum beating, playing of musical instruments singing, dancing, enacting the scenes from Mahabharat are all performed by the dalit people. All kinds of menial jobs too are allotted to them.
Bakaasura Vadha, the killing of demon Bakaasura, a main event in Mahabharat is also enacted as part of the festival and as part of Bakaasura Vadha drama, Agnigunda Pravesam, the act of entering a ground filled with fire is also performed which is out of bounds for dalit people. And offering Pongal on the occasion – a kind of prasad offered to the God, is also forbidden for dalit people. They are treated as untouchables and the prasad prepared by them cannot be offered to the God!
On July 31, 2016, as part of the celebrations, people in large numbers gathered for the festivities, from 47 villages. Dalit youth too came by a cart. The cart was smashed and the dalit youth attacked by the upper caste oppressors for daring to travel in a cart and attend the festival! The sub inspector of police who tried to intervene was chased away and his lathi broken to pieces.
The agitated dalits went to the police station seeking justice and for registering cases against oppressors. Police could only pacify the dalits but could not control the upper caste goondas.
Next day, however, cases were registered against eight arsonists. RDO, joint director of social welfare, and higher police officials called for a peace meeting and tried to settle the issue amicably. They promised that dalits would be permitted to enter the holy fire as also the temple.
Within minutes, the upper caste arsonists turned wild and challenged the dalits. They warned that the poor dalits should learn to live under their feet, and that if they dare to assert for rights, they will be consigned to flames.
On August 3, 2016, dalit people under the leadership of Kothapalli Subramaniam, president of KVPS, a Left organisation fighting for the rights of dalits, held a rally and established their right by entering the temple!
Unable to digest the entry of dalits into the temple, the aggressors vowed to avenge. They proclaimed that if necessary, they will discard the God, abandon the festival but never permit the dalits to enter the temple.
In retaliation, they stopped engaging dalits for agriculture purposes, demanded immediate repayment of loans, stopped their brick tractors from plying, and called for a virtual social boycott of all dalit people. These are the age old crude methods deployed by oppressors everywhere to control the poor dalits by beating at their belly.
The district revenue and police machinery was brazenly siding with the upper caste oppressors and did precious little to help the poor dalit people. Those publicly practicing untouchability were not charged. On the contrary, cases were registered against dalits for asserting their rights guaranteed by the constitution of India.
On August 5, 2016, revenue divisional office called for a peace meeting and tried to convince the dalits to allow the upper caste people to organise the festival according to their own wishes disregarding the dalit people. Unable to tolerate the humiliation in the hands of high level officials, they walked out of the meeting.
KVPS sought the intervention of the national SC/ST commission member Kamalamma into the issue, but even her intervention went in vain.
This year, again the festival of Mahabharat is coming up. To put an end to the discrimination on the basis of caste during the festival, a Mahabharatha Hakkula Porata Committee (Struggle Committee for Mahabharatha rights) has been set up. Struggles are going on under the guidance of this committee to end discrimination.
Out of 66 mandals in the district, the Mahabharat programme will be organised in 145 centres covering 42 mandals. In some of these centres, discrimination is being practiced even today.
To counter this anti-constitutional practice, the committee has planned padayatras, dharna in front of Chittoor collectorate during the month of July 2017.
RSS Attacks on Oppressed People Increase
Prakash Ambedkar, grandson of Dr B R Ambedkar, expressed concern over the increasing attacks on oppressed classes mainly dalits by the RSS forces. He participated as a chief guest at a meeting on ‘caste discrimination’ organised by the Kulavivaksha Porata Samiti, (KVPS) Chittoor district on July 12.
Addressing the gathering, he said Modi government and Hindutva organisations are gradually trying to retrieve Manuvadam in the society to maintain caste discrimination.
In Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat, Hindutva communal forces were attacking SCs in the name of protests against cow slaughtering. But the BJP governments in both the states failed to take action against the communal forces. He said innocent Dalits were killed in the attacks. He called upon the people to fight against caste discrimination.
Prakash Ambedkar criticised the TDP-BJP government in the state for its failure to appoint representative of dalits as EO or chairman of the temple administration. He demanded that an IAS officer representing SCs should be immediately appointed as EO of the TTD.
National leader of Dalit Shoshan Mukti Manch, V Srinivas Rao said that it is due to the collective fight that the dalits could achieve equal rights in the observance of Mahabharat festival in Pachikapalem of Chittoor district. He said the fight for the rights of SCs to temple entry, wherever they are denied, will continue.
He called upon the people to fight against the anti progressive forces and BJP-allied political parties in the 2019 elections.
Mahabharata Hakkula Porata Committee leader K Subramanyam, RPI state president Anhaiah, retired judge Guravaiah, CPI(M) state committee member Kandarapu Murali, ex MP Chintamohan, CPI(M) district secretary Kumar Reddy, CPI district secretary Ramanaidu were present in the meeting.