Is violence against Dalits increasing in a worrying trend in 'progressive' Kerala?

In the recent years, crimes against Dalit and Tribal communities have taken a turn for the worst in a state that claims itself to be progressive
Is violence against Dalits increasing in a worrying trend in 'progressive' Kerala?

Kerala is often portrayed as a very progressive and secular state, with high literacy and educational standards. However, that’s not the case. The state suffers from many of the same problems that plague the other parts of the country. One of these is Kerala’s proud claim of having done with caste violence in the state. However, recent incidents contradict the notion.

The elephant in the room would be the Walayar case, wherein two Dalit sisters were sexually assaulted and murdered. They were found hanging in a shed near their home, and the police vigorously pursued a suicide angle. After post mortem reports revealed sexual assault, and protests strengthened in the state, the police began to pursue rape and murder.

Is violence against Dalits increasing in a worrying trend in 'progressive' Kerala?
Systematically failing the victims: The many lapses in the Walayar case

However, many lapses in the investigation have led to the acquittal of all the accused in the case. There is still hope, as the High Court will hear statements from November 9 onwards. In the Walayar case, the police have been accused of deliberately messing up the case to save the accused. This is not the first time the police have been a target of protests. There was a time when they tried to save some of their own.

Vinayakan was 19-years-old when he died by suicide in 2017. A day before his suicide, Pavaratti police brought him and another boy and girl to the police station on exorbitant claims. The girl was allowed to leave after her father came to collect her. However, the police reportedly physically and verbally abused the two boys and tried to force them to admit to a string of chain snatching cases. When they refused, the police resorted to torture. Vinayakan’s friend, Sharath, spent a week in the hospital following this, meanwhile the former died by suicide the next day.

After reports of police violence emerged, a postmortem was done on the Dalit boy, and it revealed evidence of torture and severe physical abuse. However, the case went nowhere in the next few months. The original investigator-in-charge of the custodial torture was Crime Branch DySP Feroz Muhammed, and his report was largely supportive of the police officers. Moreover, the accused officers — Sajan and Sreejith — returned to service very soon after their suspension. According to witnesses and family, the police had claimed they arrested Vinayakan for “having long hair”, and that the officials said the Dalit boy looked suspicious because “he wore Kohl”.

In Vinayakan’s case, many had accused the left government of being apathetic to the violence faced by the marginalised community. This may not be very surprising since left party members have been accused of violence against Dalit in previous incidents. An old but very relevant example would be the case of Chitralekha, a Dalit auto driver, who faced discrimination from CPI (M)-affiliated CITU auto drivers in Kannur. She had reported facing discrimination since 2004 when she joined the union and their stand. The problem started with the male drivers shouting casteist slurs at her, and soon evolved to telling people that Chitralekha and her mother were prostitutes. When she fought back, the abuse took a violent route when her auto was attacked and damaged. It was soon burnt and she had to skip town. She returned to the stand in 2008 but the abuse continued. Neither her husband nor her 10-year-old child was spared from the abuse.

As Kannur is predominantly Left, her abusers enjoyed political leeway, she had alleged. And they did. The then CM Oommen Chandy promised her land, but that didn’t materialise because of the allegation that she owned five acres of land, mainly spread by the union members. Her husband has been included in the Goonda list. She mentions that they didn’t like that a Dalit woman was entering their space, and she is right.

In another recent incident, a 16-year-old Idukki Dalit girl attempted suicide, last month, alleging sexual assault by a former DYFI member. The police arrested the accused, Manu Manoj, who had been ousted by the party by then. While investigations are going its way, the conditions that lead to such incidents seems concrete. Going further back, 15-year-old Vishnu Pranav, another Dalit boy, was allegedly attacked by Gopi, of the Kudumbi community in March this year. The man attacked the boy because the latter was taking bath in the temple pond, and the former reportedly said, “Temple ponds are not for Dalit boys”.

This is not the first time that individuals have taken law into their hands. In 2018, a mob attack on a Tribal youth shook Kerala to its moral core. A group of individuals tied up and beat Madhu (27), a Tribal youth, for allegedly stealing rice and other provisions. Allegations aside, this was not a natural reaction for many reasons. One is that the perpetrators of the attack brutally assaulted him and as a result the 27-year-old died while the police was taking him away. Secondly, the perpetrators took a selfie with the tied up Madhu, in which the attackers were seen smiling at the camera. The incident started a wide spread protest, which reached nowhere thanks to a general apathy. Netizens had a field day with the incident, but it didn't last long in the collective consciousness.

Physical violence and abuse are not the only troubles for the marginalised community. Tribal and Dalit students have been facing institutional apathy for decades. Half-baked educational policies replace tall electoral claims and none of it benefit Adivasi or Dalit students.

Is violence against Dalits increasing in a worrying trend in 'progressive' Kerala?
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Reservations are toppled, reserved seats vanish without fulfilling promises and financial support exists on paper. When the perpetrators are individuals, we can identify a way to deal with it. When the system itself is apathetic to the condition of a community and follows specific patterns, then change must come at the policy level and not remain as claims.

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