Police break up Dalit protest in Kerala

Activists were on year-long struggle against ‘caste wall’ on community space

A year-long struggle by Dalit activists against a ‘caste wall’ built around what has been a community space in their neighbourhood at Vadayampady, east of Kochi, has come to a head with the police forcibly dismantling the tent pitched to shelter protesters and arresting them along with two journalists on Sunday.

Right behind where the tent stood has been erected a permanent arch with a flight of stairs to the elevated ground from the road below.

Three of those arrested – Sasidharan, a resident of a Dalit settlement in the vicinity and taluk secretary of the Dalit outfit Kerala Pulayar Maha Sabha (KPMS); Abhilash Padacherry, journalist with an online news portal, and Ananthu Rajagopal, an intern with a daily – continue to be in remand, facing charges of obstructing public servants from performing their duty.

MP Ayyappan Kutty, general convenor of the Dalit Bhoo Avakasha Samara Munnani, the organisation leading the agitation for unfettered right of way over the land, maintains that Dalits in three colonies, housing some 180 families had been using the 95-cent ground as a community space since 1967.

“We used to draw water from a well across the ground, had it for a playground and as a pathway to a PDS outlet on the other side and for holding family events. Not long ago, our forefathers used to worship in the pathi (small shrine, which the Nair Service Society calls Keezhkkovil meaning the temple below) located in the ground close to the road. Trouble began when we thought of holding a Deshavilakku festival in 2016. The NSS, which claims to represent the uppar caste Nair community, resisted it and took steps to erect a 1.7 metre high wall encircling the ground thereby trying to appropriate it,” he explained.

Dalits in the colonies petitioned the panchayat, revenue authorities and moved court against the plan unsuccessfully. The NSS unit had shown sprung a surprise by producing a conditional patta (title deed) for the ground issued by the Tehsildar of Kunnathunad in July 1981. A wall thus constructed was pulled down by the protesters on April 14, 2017, on Ambedkar Jayanti. Meanwhile, an RTI inquiry revealed that the Taluk office of Kunnathunad could not trace any records of the patta. This prompted the protestors to petition the Chief Minister to intervene and reclaim the ground as a public space accessible to all. After the wall was razed, the district collector convened a conciliatory meeting in June, 2017, where status quo anti was advised till cases pending in courts relating to the issue got decided upon. “But the NSS used the forthcoming temple festival as a ruse to pull down our pandal,” says Mr. Kutty.

Temple administration president B. Ramesh Kumar says there’s no bar on anybody using the ground ‘ in accordance with the customs and rituals of the temple’. The protesters, however, say that the temple had been in a state of disuse before it was revived by the efforts of the local community, cutting across caste lines. “We are only asking the temple authorities to let the ground remain a common property of the entire local community. We began our agitation when they built the wall infringing on our right of way,” says Mr. Kutty.

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Printable version | Jul 12, 2020 7:29:46 PM |

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