Fact Finding Report of Andhra Pradesh Dalit Mahasabha on the Lakshimpeta Massacre
Three women whose husbands were alive on June 11th became widows on the 12th. One lost a father, and another woman also lost a husband a few days later. 20 victims suffer and grieve in a hospital, nursing seriously injured limbs and heads, fighting for their lives. This is the scenario I witnessed with my own eyes in Lakshimpeta, on July 3rd.
They still do not understand why the Toorpu Kapus had launched such a brutal attack on them, armed with spears, axes, bill hooks and bombs, wounded and killed so many when the day had not fully dawned and most of the villagers had not woken up. Nor do they understand why the fact that tilling the 45 cents of land legally allotted to each of them by the Collector should have caused so much caste hatred.
State support and organized killings
In Andhra Pradesh, it has been seen that the State stood by the oppressors whenever organized attacks have happened in the past. In other words, organized attacks happen only when the oppressors have the support of the State. The attack in Karamchedu happened because of the support of NTR's samdhi. The Chunduru attack happened when N. Janardhan Reddy was in power. Today, the victims of Lakshimpeta say, loudly and clearly, that their oppressors launched an attack only because they had the support of the PCC President Botsa Satyanarayana.
Botsa Satyanarayana wields the power of the de facto Chief Minister in the three districts of this region (North East Andhra). The police stations, MRO offices, MDO offices – all function under his control. His family dominates the politics in the region. His control and use of the local liquor mafia, goonda elements to neutralize opposition and exercise wanton misuse of power, sustains his domination.
The Congress has spilled the blood of the same Dalits who brought it into power. That is in Vangara mandal, fortress of the Toorpu Kapus. The total population of the mandal is around 50,000, spread over 39 villages and 28 panchayats with 38,000 voters. Of these 39 villages, only 9 are in the control of the Velamas. The Toorpu Kapus dominate the remaining 30 villages. The Scheduled Tribes are around 4.5% of the population while the Scheduled Castes constitute another 15%. 25% of the people here are Kapus.
The Toorpu Kapus' reign of terror
These Toorpu Kapus had not only targeted the Dalits, but had also attacked the backward classes of Rajakas (Dhobis), Medaris (wicker workers), Padmashalis (weavers), Kamsaalis (goldsmiths), Vadrangis (carpenters) and Mangalis (barbers) many times. None of those communities have land. A caste feudalism reigns over here. Botsa Satyanarayana presides over this regime. Political fixers like Botsa Vasudeva Naidu wield power under his patronage.
The original planned Ayacut of the Madduvalasa reservoir was 2, 750 acres. 13 villages are covered by this. Kottisa, Lakshimpeta, Magguru, Gudivada, Peda Devakiwada, China Devakiwada, Kothapeta, Nookalawada, Geetanapalle, Patuvardhanam, Koppara, Kondachakarapalle are the important ones among them. Decades ago, the government had acquired land or whole villages in this area. Residents of some villagers received compensation and they migrated and settled elsewhere. Residents in some other villages did not receive any compensation and those villages remain where they were.
As this reservoir was not properly built, instead of providing water to the villages it has made life more problematic for some villages as the mosquitoes, snakes and other creatures breeding in water have started invading them. A lot of people died because of these new problems. In Sriharipuram, Rajampeta, Neelayavalasa, and Vangara villages, especially, many Dalits developed health related issues and their families were driven into new crises. The untimely deaths of livestock brought in other problems.
Evidently, there was a lot of graft involved in the construction of this reservoir. A parliamentary committee has to visit and submit a report on this. The Toorpu Kapus have expanded their caste domination in the area covered by this reservoir. As the landless poorer communities migrate to other places, more villages fall into the grasp of the Kapus.
The Dalits here have been facing untouchability, oppression and governmental neglect for ages. It is not in this particular area alone that the Dalits have been victims of attacks by the Toorpu Kapus. Bontalakuduru and Gopidevipeta in Echcherla mandal; Borubhadra in Santabommali mandal; Sriharipuram, Patuvartanam, Kottisa Lakshmipuram, Shivvaam, Maddivalasa, Kothapeta and Singala in Vangara mandal; Attevalasa in Kotabommali mandal; Tellapalli and Nandigama in Nandigama mandal; Padali in Bontalakoduru mandal; Balakavanipeta and Lingalavalasa in Tekkali mandal; Anantagiri in Vajrapu Kothuru; Palavalasa, Ambada, Gulumuru in Heera mandal; KK Rajapuram in Kothuru mandal; Todaram and Kothavalasa in Amudalavalasa mandal; Tolapi in Ponduru mandal; Purushottamapura in LN Peta mandal – Dalits in all these villages, across Srikakulam district, have been facing attacks from Toorpu Kapus according to reports submitted to the Andhra Pradesh Dalit Mahasabha by Dalits from these villages who attended our meeting in Lakshimpeta.
The Fact Finding Team
Around 20 committee members from Andhra Pradesh Dalit Mahasabha, including Chintapalli Guruprasad, P. Benjamin, Koti James, Nuthalapati Chandrasekhar, Kathi Chetan, Palteti Penta Rao, Nagamani, K. N. Ramdas, Vinod Kumar, J. Simhachalam, Tirupurupu Guruvulu, K. Rajulu, Karapati Asirinayudu, Raya Suryanarayana, L. Suryanarayana visited the village.
Some Dalits from Santakaviti, Rajam, Saribujjili, Amudalavalasa, Jaara, Boorja and Palakonda also accompanied us to console their sisters in Lakshimpeta who had been widowed, and shared around 20 kgs of sweets with them. In a display of kinship and affection, they also distributed saris to the women of the village and there wasn't an eye that remained dry during the occasion.
The Dalits of Lakshimpeta and from the other villages resolved that they would not rest until all the guilty were punished and will depend on their own means to sustain themselves during the struggle. The solidarity expressed by the visitors, who also brought in supplies of rice and toor dal etc to back their resolution, helped the Dalits of the village to regain some courage and we could see the glint of confidence in their eyes springing from the knowledge that all the Dalits of not just Srikakulam but entire Andhra Pradesh were with them. In this regard, the role of P. Benjamin, Nuthalapati Chandrasekhar, L. Suryanarayana, R. Suryanarayana, Guruvulu, Bokara Narayana Rao and others who have been shouldering the historic responsibility of spreading awareness of Ambedkarite thought in the region has been very important.
Testimonies at a public meeting
On the previous day, July 2nd, a public meeting was held in Ambedkar Auditorium in Srikakulam to condemn the Lakshimpeta massacre, which was attended by thousands of people, despite heavy rains. The most significant part of the meeting was when women, daughters and children of the martyrs of Lakshimpeta poured out their testimonies.
They narrated how their loved ones where killed before their eyes only because their families had started cultivating land on their own. They said that even as they pleaded with the attackers not to kill, the Toorpu Kapus went around the whole village, wielding spears, axes and bombs and picked on the people as they spotted them. From seven in the morning till ten, they went about their carnage brutally attacking half-awake unarmed men, women and children. We are unable to recover from this grief, they said. 'Did we deserve to be hunted like animals only because we started tilling land?', they asked. 'Don't we have the right to live in this country?'
They went on: 'The Collector came over and handed over cheques worth 3.5 lakh rupees to only five families. We have not deposited those cheques in the bank. We had made it clear that we will accept them only when all the 80 families are benefited.'
When a call was made for presenting clothes to the women who had been widowed, people came forward to contribute Rs.14,000 on the stage itself. When we from the committee bought clothes for the five martyrs' families they appeared visibly relieved. They had been wearing clothes marked with blood stains since the day of the carnage. This government is so heartless that even when the whole village had been bathed in blood and the victims were left with no clothes that did not bear marks of blood, it could not spend a paisa out of its over a lakh crore budget to buy some new clothes for them!
The role of Dalit representatives
Even the Dalit ministers, enjoying high positions thanks to the reservations granted by Ambedkar, did not bother to arrange new clothes for the victims. They went through the ritual of visiting the village but did not give the victims any assurances. When the Chief Minister refused to order a CBI probe, they failed to even register a protest, or resign from their jobs. While people are getting killed and Dalits are in a state of sorrow, the ministers are trying to divert their attention by conducting tours on the Sub-plan issues. Why do these Congress MLAs and ministers need those posts when their brothers are being killed, their kin seriously wounded, rendered homeless and they can't even apply pressure on the government to arrest the culprits and institute a special court in the village? When the government chooses to ignore the Dalits' plight, won't the ministers be guilty of betraying their fellow Dalits if they encourage such an attitude?
There are 61 SC and ST MLAs in the State Assembly. What kind of a pressure did they bring on the government? As laid down in the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, and as it was done in the case of the Chunduru massacre, a Special Court needs to be established in Lakshimpeta itself. If that is not done, the SC and ST MLAs and ministers should pressurize the government to do it. That is their responsibility.
The attempt of the Ministers to dilute the gravity of the problem by bringing in the Sub-Plan issue is a historic crime. The Congress is already losing the confidence of the Dalits across the country. Now, it is being viewed as a party that has betrayed Dalits. Andhra Pradesh Dalit Mahasabha asks the Dalit ministers and MLAs whether they do not have the responsibility to resign if the government does not listen to their demands? When the Reddies and Kapus have come together to establish a caste hegemonic reign in the state, should not the Dalits in different parties, in different social, cultural and human rights movements also come together?
Caste bias in the Government's response
When the NCSC team visited Lakshimpeta, all the victims met them under the leadership of the Dalit Mahasabha. All these demands were submitted before the panel. The Commission asked the Andhra Pradesh government to establish a special court in Lakshimpeta, and also to grant pattas to the Dalits in the village. The government's rejection of even the Commission's recommendations clearly reveals its caste bias. Therefore, Dalits, Bahujans and Minorities of the state have come together to intensify this agitation.
Meanwhile, the Toorpu Kapus organized dharnas in Palakonda on July 6th to protest the arrest of Botsa Vasudeva Naidu, under the guidance of the PCC president, Botsa Satyanarayana. Among the Kapu leaders who attended, the prominent kulaks were Buktala Satyam Naidu, Botsa Rama Rao Naidu, Karri Govind Rao Naidu, Botros Appala Naidu, Pangem Naidu, Balaga Venkata Naidu and some others. It is not only the oppressed who are agitating, but the killers are also protesting! Perhaps they were demanding the right to kill. The government has not arrested any of those agitators until now. Which means the Kapus' organized attacks on Dalits will not stop until Botsa Satyanarayana is arrested. Why did Botsa Satyanarayana, as a responsible minister, or his wife Botsa Jhansi, as a responsible MP, not visit the victims until now? Doesn't that mean they're shielding the Toorpu Kapus?
Another important issue: why was the police picket in the village removed when there was tension in the village? Was the government not aware that they were gathering weapons? If the government chooses to ignore violent attacks on Dalits in broad daylight, will their right to life be protected? Will the Constitution be protected? When the government displays blatant caste bias, and doesn't heed the demand for a special court in the village or grant pattas to the Dalits, do the Dalits have any choice but to agitate for their human rights?
That is why we have given a call for a 'Chalo Hyderabad' programme on July 17th, the day when Dalit blood was spilled in Karamchedu, which will be held at Dharna Chowk, near Indira Park in Hyderabad.
National Dalit leader Dr Udit Raj will attend this meeting. Gaddar, the leader of the Dalit cultural movement, Guda Anjaiah, Jayaraju, Masterji and other Dalit cultural warriors will initiate the meeting. Many other Dalit, Bahujan and Minority leaders will also participate in this agitation. Dalit officers will stand by this protest. The victims of Lakshimpet will be at the forefront of this protest.
The Dalit movement for human rights will not stop. It will go on until the Dalit Bahujans seize state power. Our rights are not being realized in this upper caste rule. They are grabbing our votes to kill us. This is the moment when we have to move forward with the realization that we need to build our own state. This is the historic moment when all democratic, secular forces need to support the Dalit movement for human rights. Unity should characterize the form of this struggle. When upper caste political forces are preparing to divide the Dalits in the name of castes and sub-castes, Dalits, Bahujans and Minorities should unite in resistance. Let us make this historic agitation a success.
Dr. Kathi Padma Rao,
Founder General Secretary,
Andhra Pradesh Dalit Mahasabha.
Translated from Telugu by Kuffir. Pictures courtesy: Dr. Kathi Padma Rao.