The Tamil Nadu govt has ordered a judicial panel to enquire into the death of Ilavarasan. Round Table India has been documenting the caste violence in Dharmapuri since the news of the burning of hundreds of Dalit homes there broke out. We are adding video testimonies from Dalit activists, and news reports, as an ongoing compilation of these tragic events.
Dalit leader and activist P. Sivakami's comments on the 'suicide' reports of Ilavarasan's death:
'Looking at the whole picture, this appears like a murder.
If you ask why?
When you see the press reports, they say he put his head on the rail tracks or jumped in front of a speeding train. If that is so, had he jumped in front of a speeding train his body would have been smashed. In case it was not, and only got thrown away due to the impact of the speeding train, then his posture would reveal that. I have seen many bike and lorry accidents, his arms and legs would have been misshapen. But here, his body has been laid down neatly, both his legs and arms are in position. He is wearing a white shirt, on that shirt there is not any sign of blood stains. Only his head shows injury. And if you see the way the blood from his head injuries appears, it is seeping into the stones. There is no evidence of splattering of blood. This is one observation that is circumstantial. This will be addressed by forensic studies.
This death cannot be called a suicide under any circumstances. This is definitely a murder. It only remains to be proved.'
Ilavarasan's interview after Divya's court statement:
Ilavarasan: The girl has been threatened a great deal. They are not even allowing her to see me.
Q: How did such a brave girl take such a decision?
Ilavarasan: She has taken such a decision only for two possible reasons:
That they might do something to me – 'if you speak like this, saying you want to be only with your husband, we will kill him and then we'll see to whom you can go and reach'.
Or else, it would be about her mother, knowing her love for her mother, they would have threatened her saying that 'you will not see your mother'. These are the two ways in which they would have pressured her to take such a decision.
Video clips of Divya after the first and second court hearings.
In the first video, a visibly upset Divya states that she wants her parents and her husband. And she finds herself isolated and alone without any support.
In the second video, Ilavarasan gives an account of his relationship with Divya, how they fell in love in college, his proposal, their elopement and marriage. In the same video, you see a visibly traumatized Divya being escorted by her lawyers in the Madras High Court premises. She collapses showing the tremendous stress she has been put through to be separated from her husband, Ilavarasan.
Reports in the mainstream media
In the mainstream media, reports have been claiming Ilavarasan's death is a suicide even as the parents refused to believe such a theory. A report in The Hindu on the postmortem:
A forensic expert on Saturday said the details of the post-mortem examination of the body of Dalit youth Ilavarasan indicated that he could have been hit by a speeding train.
Talking to The Hindu over phone, Dr. Vallinayagam, Dean, Government Medical College Hospital, Tiruchirapalli and former Director and Professor in Forensic Medicine, Madras Medical College, who has performed over 12,000 post-mortem examinations, pointed out that certain findings, such as the presence of a black grease mark on the left forearm and wrist, the damage to the skull and the covering membrane of the brain being torn irregularly could all have been because of being hit by a train.
After getting to know the details of the three-page autopsy, he explained that the train's speed and the manner in which the body came in contact with the moving train also mattered. The autopsy had concluded that Ilavarasan had died of head injury and recorded external injuries, including abrasions on his forearms, lacerations and a deep cavity in the head. Brain matter at the scene was recovered. The rib cage, heart, liver, spleen and kidneys were normal.
And here is a report which quotes railway officials as saying that there's 'No official record of train running over Ilavarasan':
In case the train had run over the youth, the Kurla Express driver would have given a written message to the nearest Station Master – Hosur in this case – and the Divisional Headquarters (Bangalore).
Enquiries with the Hosur station and railway officials in Bangalore revealed that there was no such intimation on record.
"After Kurla Express, two more trains passed that way. Had the drivers or guards noticed the body, they would have recorded it and reported it to the nearest Station Master..." Senior Divisional Safety Officer, Bangalore Division, Praveen Pandey told The Hindu.
The drivers of a passenger train and an inter-city express had also not noticed a body along the track. "Normally if he (the driver) hits (anyone), he informs, ...in fact, he is supposed to inform anything unusual seen during the trip... that is a standard rule. He has not given any statement...," Mr. Pandey said.
Asked about the possibility of the train driver not noticing a person committing suicide, a railway official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said such a situation could arise if the incident took place in darkness or when there was a steep curve or inclement weather condition. In the Dharmapuri case, Kurla Express passed the location where the body was found around 12.50 p.m.'
A little background
Excerpts from interviews Round Table India had conducted with Dalit women activists P Sivakami and Asha Kowtal on the Dharmapuri caste violence:
Interview with P Sivakami
Kuffir: We are disturbed by the Dharmapuri violence, one of the greatest tragedies in recent times, so many families were brought to the streets. What are your views on this? The Vanniyars are supposedly a backward class who are equally poor in some ways, but why did this happen? Their discourse seems (to indicate) there are more such things in the offing.
Sivakami: Actually, there have been inter-caste marriages between Dalits and Vanniyars earlier also, nothing happened there. Of late, a frustrated Ramadoss and his MLA Kaduvetti Guru, with ulterior motives, have been carrying out campaigns against inter-caste marriages and the repealing of the SC ST Act. Not only with ulterior motive of stopping of inter-caste marriages but they were also instigating caste violence, saying that, whoever tries to grab our girls should be murdered.
So they go on campaigning like that, and they were unchecked by the government, because these kinds of talk warrants arrest under normal circumstances. But the government did not do anything; plus because everybody knows what the attitude of the government towards the Dalits is. None of our requests are even heard by the government.
So people know that this is a vulnerable community, even government is in the hands of the dominant castes and here this Ramadoss and Kaduvetti Guru are saying that you should kill them, it implies that there is no one for this community. And you can easily escape (if atrocities are committed) and cannot be booked under (the relevant) acts. So, I think they have the strength to come and attack, otherwise why should they come in large numbers and attack the villagers?
Kuffir: That is the point: they organized (attackers) from across the villages.
Sivakami: Yes, they had a meeting.
Kuffir: They had (also mobilized) other dominant communities?
Sivakami: No, no, other castes were not involved in this particular incident. So they set ablaze nearly 268 houses and as you say (now) they are all homeless. They are living in the open. The weather is not good for health. It is not cold, but in the month of December, January it is particularly bad. Most of them suffer from cold, fever etc including the children, and the newborns, and the pregnant women. Old people and young people, all sleep together like refugees from foreign countries.
Our initial action was to bring it to the notice of the SC ST commission. A number of demonstrations and agitations took place; any organization worth the name took out a struggle for Dhramapuri. It is not only me, everyone (did). But the result was zero. There was no announcement for building the houses, immediate relief of 50,000 (to affected families) was given. But we were demanding about 7 and half crores, we filed a case in the court. But nothing happened. (Then) what we did was that we had an all-party meeting, all organizational meeting, and joint (meetings) also.
From our party, namely Samuga Samatuva Padai, we organized a padayatra from Dharmapuri to Chennai. We walked nearly 169 Km in 7 days with all the victims. We went through villages and small towns and explained to people what had happened at Dharmapuri, we got the sympathy of the fellow Dalits. There was great reception for this padayatra, especially in Vellore district. Even the press reported that the government started finding out who is funding this padayatra, who is supporting, who is giving accommodation for these people etc. To that level, it was a successful thing (effort).
We handed over a memorandum to the Governor. Immediately after that, Government had released 7.5 crores, as ordered by the High Court of Chennai. Though the high court had ordered, for several days they did not pass the govt order, (only) because we took out the padayatra we got it. Now, there are two major demands remaining: one is the arrest of Ramadoss and Kaduvetti Guru under the National Security Act and secondly the building of houses of the same size that they were living in, minimum 300 sq.ft., or whatever size they were living in. This was the condition.
Also 2500 people attacked them but less than 200 people were arrested. Since there was no charge sheet filed, after 90 days they were let out on bail. And they have not taken action against the District Collector and district SP who did not prevent this atrocity.
Interview with Asha Kowtal
Kuffir: And he is building social alliances to fight this cause (of opposing inter-caste marriages). Earlier the Gounders wouldn't probably approach these Vanniyars but they're coming together at least at the party or the political leadership level. So that aspect is there, and we can understand (through this) how people of different dominant castes come together on this through Khaps in Haryana, people from radically different regions. They also come from UP and Rajasthan sometimes to hold these Khaps, I think. How do we challenge this kind of hostile alliances? If the dominant castes feel threatened in such a fashion – either they have to bow in before this assertion and expansion of mobility because it can't be stopped or... very bloody costs have to be borne by the Dalits.
Asha Kowtal: I can only speculate, or fear actually that how long can we take violence like this, this kind of attacks and crimes on us. Because even when I was in Dharmapuri and (preparing to) leave, in a discussion with some of the other local leaders - they were saying that this attack was carried out when our boys were not in the village. They had all gone for coaching classes, some had gone out for exams, others had actually gone - because this happened before the festival – to Bangalore or (wherever they worked) to get money.
So most of the men were not around in the village at that time, the younger men and boys were not there. That is why they were able to do this. If our boys were there this would not have happened and then immediately he was telling us, I remember, that in all the houses around there now: 'we will also keep petrol bombs in our houses, to defend ourselves'. He was saying that when this happened here, the message had gone to all the nearby Dalit localities, so they were also ready for this kind of violence. Violence again could result in more violence from our side also. That is something which always really comes to my mind.
Fact finding reports on the brutal, organized attack on Natham colony, Anna Nagar, Kondampatti in which nearly 300 Dalit homes were looted, vandalized and burnt down on November 7, 2012:
Further news reports, activists' statements and related material on this issue will be updated regularly.
With inputs from student activist Joshua Isaac.
[Videos courtesy: the net; transcribed by Anu Ramdas]