SCs victims of violence even during lockdown

Two dozen instances of violence reported in 16 districts from March 25 to May 31

June 19, 2020 04:51 am | Updated 04:51 am IST - CHENNAI

The COVID-19 lockdown, per se, may not have led to heightened violence against Scheduled Castes (SCs), but this has not deterred offenders of law from committing crime against members of the community, according to a cross-section of officials and activists.

In fact, the pandemic appears to have provided a pretext for making trouble, feels K.S. Kandasamy, Collector of Tiruvannamalai, where six cases were booked under the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, since March 25. This included two cases of murder.

One of the cases pertains to the instance of a college-going SC youth, wearing a T-shirt with an image of B.R.Ambedkar, becoming a target of attack allegedly by a police officer in Thokkavadi village of Chengam taluk. The officer, suspended after the incident, gave an explanation to the authorities that he found that the youth was not wearing a mask, the Collector explains.

According to information compiled by the State government, more than two dozen instances of violence against members of the community were reported in 16 districts during March 25-May 31.

Double stigma

D. Ravikumar, Villupuram Member of Parliament, says the lockdown had created an opportunity for imposing “double stigma” on SCs.

A large number of workers at the Koyambedu market, who are all members of the community, on returning to their villages faced “enormous hardship” in buying provisions or fetching water, he said.

In a village in Villupuram even access to a fair price shop was denied, forcing the MP to take up the matter with the district administration, which acted swiftly.

Referring to the instance of a girl having been beaten by a group of persons in a Samuthuvapuram colony in Pilippaikuttai of Namakkal district, I. Pandian, a Madurai-based activist, says this may have been caused by a perception in certain sections that the SC community is not known for maintaining cleanliness and hygiene, as the alleged assailants are all residing in the colony.

As for the incident in Thoothukudi, where three persons were reported to have murdered in two instances, Sandeep Nanduri, District Collector, however, points out that though his district [and neighbouring Tiruneveli district] had seen a number of caste clashes in the past, cases of violence have “gone down” during the lockdown. At present, Thoothukudi is one of the districts enjoying relaxation of conditions in general.

Tiruppur Collector K. Vijayakarthikeyan discounts the contention that the lockdown has anything to do with violence. A senior government official points out that first information reports (FIRs) have been filed in all cases and officials concerned are inquiring into them. Also, the official, not willing to commit himself about the presence of any trend in the absence of statistical evidence, adds that there is a view even among sections of officials that lack of occupation among people during the lockdown is the primary cause of violence.

Another official says that as the lockdown has led to prolonged stay of sections of SC persons in their home villages, who are otherwise living in cities for livelihood, their “apparent affluence” is among the factors that have contributed to friction between communities.

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