Seshachalam massacre: Murder as state policy

 

Twenty Adivasi, OBC and Dalit workers from Tamil Nadu were brutally killed by Andhra Pradesh police on April 7, 2015, in the Seshachalam forest region of Chittoor district in Andhra Pradesh under the pretext that they were smuggling red sanders logs, and were shot down in an 'encounter'.

A fact-finding team comprising of researchers and activists from EFLU, Osmania University, University of Hyderabad and Kula Nirmoolana Porata Samithi (KNPS), along with Youth For Social Justice members from Coimbatore visited the site of massacre in Chittoor, AP on the 11th and 12 of April, 2015 (See video reports by Dalitcamera Ambedkar here and here).

A press meet was later held at Coimbatore Press Club on 21 April, 2015, to condemn the staged killings by AP police with backing from Chandrababu Naidu government. The meeting was organised by advocate Paneerselvam of Youth For Social Justice. Dr. Ravichandran Bathran of Dalitcamera Ambedkar, who was involved in the fact-finding team and in helping to organise the meeting in Coimbatore, recorded and broadcast the meeting live on the Dalitcamera Ambedkar Youtube channel.

Those present at the meeting included: Advocate Paneerselvam, Advocate Garkey (both from Youth for Social Justice) Mr. Ibrahim (of Welfare Party of India), Mr. Velmurugan (Leader of Tamilar Valvurimai Katchi), Mr. Thamilarasu and Mr. C. R. Bijoy (Peoples Union of Civil Liberties).

Mr. Duddu Prabhakar, veteran human rights activist from KNPS, Andhra Pradesh, was also a part of the fact finding team. The following is the text of his speech at the press meet. It was translated from Telugu by Dharma Teja

 

Everyone, please forgive me, I can't speak in Tamil. I feel proud to speak at this meeting, in the land of Periyar. I thank Mr. Paneerselvam of Youth for Social Justice, who are taking forward the ideals of Periyar, and my friend Dr. Ravichandran of Dalit Camera, for giving me this opportunity. On 11th and 12th (April), a fact finding team went to Chittoor district's Seshachalam forest in Andhra Pradesh, the spot where the massacre took place and I was part of that fact finding team. As a resident of AP, the state whose government committed these murders,  and as part of the fact finding team, I think I have been given this honour to speak here. We have seen the spot (where the 'encounter' murders happened), and the friends here who have spoken before me have explained the details.

The AP government has been saying very clearly that those murdered were coolies - "Red Sanders coolies and Red Sanders thieves, that's why we have shot and killed them." That's what the AP forest minister, Bojjala Gopala Krishna Reddy, has been saying. And even the central government minister Venkaiah Naidu has been asking, "what business do coolies have in the forests, that's why we killed them." They have been very clearly publicising that.

Those who saw the dead bodies on that day, those who followed the media – it was very clear to everyone that it was murder. As the AP and Tamil Nadu governments have been projecting, this is not about the rivalry between the states. This is actually a struggle between coolies from Tamil Nadu and the upper caste ruling landlord power structures in Andhra. For dominance over the Red Sanders in Seshachalam forests, the Kamma and Reddy communities have been fighting and the coolies from Tamil Nadu were murdered as part of this. This is the naked truth.

Friends, I am telling you that this is the first massacre of its kind in Indian history after Independence. Why? Because the murdered coolies didn't have any separate political ideology. They weren't working for a separate Eelam. They are not members of the Maoist party that wants to dismantle the state. They weren't fighting for a separate state like Kashmiri militants. They didn't even have any aim to demolish the Indian state. They just wanted to demolish their hunger. For a handful of food. For months on end, they left their wives, children, and home and went to work as coolies in forests, all for a few grains of rice. Holding their stomachs, they migrated to work as coolies, to overcome their hunger, to feed a few grains to their wives and kids, they are coolies who were forced to become thieves.

The Red Sanders smugglers smuggle Red Sanders in four stages. The coolies go into the forests and for days and weeks, work without food, and carry the Red Sanders logs on their shoulders to bring them to the roads. There is a batch that does this and they are the coolies. From there, there is a batch to transport the goods out of the forests. Another batch to transport to the harbour and another batch to export it to other countries. All this is a mafia. They are not carrying small gold pieces in their pockets or some papers in their pockets. Tons and tons of Red Sanders is taken from Chittoor Seshachlam forests to Madras (Chennai) harbour in four stages. The forest officials get a share in this, the police at check posts get a share, and it is not possible to load all that into the ships at the harbour without the knowledge of customs officials.

All these: the forest officials, police officials, politicians in Andhra and Tamil Nadu are a mafia. This mafia operates this smuggling. None of these politicians, forest officials, police or customs officials have cases against them or were beaten with lathis or shot with bullets. But only the coolies who work for the Red Sanders smugglers, were shot in the hearts and in the brains, at point blank range and had unusually big bullet holes in them.They shot them like animals. "If you come to steal from these forests, we will shoot and kill you like this!" This is what the AP government is openly proclaiming.

They could have booked cases, prepared foolproof charge sheets, got them punishments through courts, as they have legal powers to do all this. If they had the intention of stopping Red Sanders smuggling. Chandrababu Naidu had such a noble aim, everyone in his party - from local leaders to the leaders at the centre in Delhi - are proudly proclaiming: that this mass murder was planned by the AP government to stop Red Sanders smuggling. That means, to stop Red Sanders smuggling, murders have to be committed. That's what the government is publicising. This is the tragedy. The government, which is supposed to protect law and justice, has committed these murders; it seems to have come to the conclusion that the smuggling won't stop without committing murders and is now murdering people in droves.

Where is the direction for justice? Where is the protection for constitution? The police who are supposed to ensure justice, the politicians who are supposed to protect the constitution, are becoming mafias and murdering coolies - will this stop the Red Sanders smuggling? It will never stop and the Andhra politicians clearly know this. Earlier, as friend Mr. Paneerselvam has told you, until now, for the past ten years, the Reddy community has been ruling AP and they have been smuggling the Seshachalam Red Sanders logs and earning crores and crores. This Reddy community mafia has been operating with its political nexus in Chittoor and Kadapa, and that is where all their funds come from. Now the Telugu Desam government belonging to the Kamma community is in power and they want to push out the Reddy smugglers and take hold of Seshachalam forests. As a part of this struggle for domination, they murdered the Tamil Nadu coolies.

Friends, I want to share a plea with you. In Tamil Nadu, from the time of Veerappan's sandalwood smuggling to current Red Sanders smuggling, why are most coolies from Tiruvannamalai district? Even when many coolies from Tamil Nadu are being arrested, why do they keep coming back to log Red Sanders? What are the living conditions of people belonging to Tiruvannamalai district? It is one among the 250 most backward districts in India. It is one of the 28 districts in India which have the least implementation of government welfare schemes. That is the reason why many from Tiruvannamalai migrate as coolies, risking their lives. And today they have been sacrificed.

What are the Andhra police saying? Even though we can understand what happened very clearly, the Andhra police are saying, "450 coolies attacked them with guns and axes and we shot back in self-defence. And in that self-defence, 20 thieves died and the remaining 430 coolies ran away." The police are saying that the 430 coolies ran away with 50 kg-60 kg Red Sanders logs on their shoulders! So it is clear to us that this is a fake encounter. We can conclude that these are murders.

One more thing. I want to tell you that there is another danger. They might file fake cases to account for the 430 escaped coolies. I am worried that they might kill more people by lying that they are among those escaped 430 coolies. In Andhra, thousands of people from Tamil Nadu, from Tiruvannamalai district, thousands are languishing in jails. They can't even afford to apply for a bail. If they are really smugglers and thieves, they should be crorepatis. They don't have money for a bail or even to file a petition, they have no chance to see their families. They have no chance to apply for bail, and can't even afford a lawyer.They do not even have Rs. 100 or 200 to apply for a bail petition first, they are in such utter poverty. We saw their houses, we saw their wives and children, and we saw their parents. They are suffering from hunger. They don't even have pucca houses. They have poor huts which don't even have walls. In fields, in faraway regions, they are living in fear.

What I want to tell you is, while the Tamil Nadu government announced 2 or 3 or 5 lakhs for the murdered, you have to make a demand. A life's worth is not 5 to 6 lakh rupees, thousands are languishing in Andhra jails, they can't get bail as they can't afford a lawyer and are languishing in jail for years. You demand that the Tamil Nadu government send a team of advocates and get them out of jail. If the TDP government has any honesty left, the AP government, to even prove that these are not murders, I demand that they should start a CBI enquiry. Because, until now, in this country, if anyone has gotten a life or death penalty, it is always Dalits, Adivasis and Muslims. Except them, no one else gets those punishments in this country. All those punished with life and death penalties are Muslims, Dalits and Adivasis. No upper caste landlord or politician was ever punished with these. So, courts and laws will not do justice to us is what the Dalit-Bahujans are already thinking.

Now even the governments are clearly saying that there is no use of laws and courts and murder for murder is what will stop the smuggling. Through the Seshachalam encounter murders, it is a warning to all the Dalit-Bahujans in this country. If an elected 'responsible' state government thinks that they can stop this only by committing murders - then the Dalit-Bahujans can no longer have respect in laws and courts, if they start thinking an eye for an eye, or a murder for murder, is the answer, and to overcome hunger, if those crores and crores of people start thinking along those lines..if they think that way for even one minute, where will all the laws, courts and politicians in this country go? I ask those communities in power to think about that.

So for the Dalit-Bahujans to get justice, to at least have some faith in laws and courts, the AP government should start a CBI enquiry. All of you should demand that.

This is not a problem for only the state of Tamil Nadu. To murder coolies, those who didn't retaliate to beatings or abuse, who risked their lives and came to work to fight their hunger - those coolies are getting murdered, for the first time. For the first time, the AP state's Chandrababu government has started murdering the coolies! How far will this go, how serious will this get? You murder someone, then label them as a thief. Even if they are a thief, will you murder them? If you want to just murder thieves, what are the police, courts and laws for? "Yes, we will murder the thieves," is what the governments are saying. They can murder anyone, and to justify their murder, they are labelling them as thieves and this is being atrociously publicised in this country. We have to stop this propaganda. This is not a Tamil Nadu problem. This is a survival problem for all the Dalit-Bahujans in this country. A survival problem, a hunger problem, a problem of life and death, and a problem of untouchability. This is a life and death mater for 100 crore people in this country. For the first time, Chandrababu has started this massacre.

Against this massacre, we have to unite all the people suffering with hunger and untouchability. We are with you, all the Dalit-Bahujans are with you, Kula Nirmulana Porata Samiti of Andhra and Telengana are with you. You are not alone. The coolies of Tamil Nadu are not alone, Dalit-Bahujans across the nation and many people's organisations and rights organisations are with you. We should say this to the Tamil Nadu Tiruvannamalai people, people struggling with hunger and give them this guarantee. We should spread and publicise this support widely in Andhra, Telengana and everywhere by organising meetings and condemning these massacres and atrocities. You should all publicise and talk about these massacres in your respective districts and mandals that the Dalit-Bahujans masses of this country are in a dangerous situation. I kindly request you to do this. You listened to me very patiently, for that and for giving me this opportunity, a heartfelt thanks to all the friends.

~~~

 

Dharma Teja is currently working in Hyderabad. You can find him on Twitter at @dharmatejalv

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