"If NSS rebuild the wall, we will break it again", says Dalit women who broke the caste wall in Vadayambadi
"No matter what the case we lodged, we never got any favourable action from the government. Puthenkurish police has not responded or taken any action on the complaint that we gave them. whatever cases we have filed, they all go to the trash bin", says Shyamala, a Dalit woman from Vadayambadi who brought the caste wall down.
Ammini, a native of Choondi, is now at Vadayambadi Bhajanamatam, protesting the caste wall built by NSS. She is one among the women who tore down the caste wall on Ambedkar Jayanthi. In eighteen minutes, the caste wall that stood tall segregating the public ground from the Dalit colonies came tumbling down at the hands of Dalit protestors. The wall was built by NSS by forging fake documents that gave them ownership over the land that was in fact public property. Ammini says that she is willing to lay her life down if that's what it took to win her children freedom of movement in this country.
Police had demolished the protesters' pandal early in the morning on January 21st and arrested them playing right into the NSS agenda to annihilate the Dalit struggle against NSS's ownership and control over the public ground. The pandal had been standing there for over a year now, by the road that isn't even a bus route. This is a panchayat road but the NSS complained against the pandal, saying it blocks free movement.
Two journalists were arrested for covering the protest along with KPMS leader Shashidharan Vadayambadi who questioned this unjust action by the police. On January 24rth, the day the journalists and Shashidharan could be bailed out, yet another arrest took place. This time, police arrested Joy Pavel, the protest auxiliary committee convener, who was on his way from Ernakulam Press Club after a press meet announcing Dalit Self Respect Convention. Joy Pavel remains in jail to date.
"I came here in 1964. My house is in Choondi. I know the matters here very well even though I stay there. We used to draw water from the Panchayath well on the ground. Now that they built a wall around it, we have to walk far to collect drinking water. Even to get to the shops we have to go all the way around the ground. All our cultural programmes, Onam celebration and kids' programmes were held on this ground. It is our deity is in that temple over there. Back then, a Dalit man called Makotha Pappu used to offer the prayers there. Later, they took over our temple(pathi) and built it big and we had to move away to build a small shrine for ourselves.
That stage on the ground — we built it with our own hands. We carried the stones on our backs and stacked them ourselves to build it. How could they build a wall to separate us from the grounds after all that we have done? If we knew that they'd do this to us, we wouldn't have help them to build the stage. 29 of us were arrested on the day we destroyed the wall.
First, they occupied ten feet forth from the 10 cents of land and built a foundation. We argued that they can't have more than one acre and ten cents of land for themselves. Disregarding our resistance, they built the foundation in a single day. But we were not going to give up. We stood on the land in protest, claiming our right for it. 15 women and 14 men were arrested that day. They assembled their workers and JCBs to lay the foundation for the wall and set rocks on them. All in one day's time. Later, eight layers of hollow bricks were stacked to build a giant wall. The construction was carried out under police protection and we could do nothing but stand and watch helplessly.
"But we protested on all those days. Straight for 35 days. The next day, on Vishu which was also Ambedkar Jayanthi Day, by around seven in the evening, we tore the wall down in eighteen minutes. If they had known our plan, they would have crushed our resistance with police help. The police were present here all during our protests. But they couldn't do anything. It was not a few of us who destroyed the wall. Our people just kept swarming in from everywhere and tore it down. They couldn't do anything and they didn't. Since then, we held 155 consecutive days of relay hunger strike. A lot of people were present. Complaints were lodged and a court verdict was also announced by then. But nothing was settled. That's when the district Collector summoned all parties for a compromise and status quo was declared. Although, we discontinued the strike as per instructions the resistance was still alive. A move to collect a petition signed by one lakh people was underway by then. They approached us with a demand to build an arch-entrance for the coming temple festival. Few days ago, Collector summoned us again for a discussion. No political leader or organisation spoke for us that day. We were represented by our protest's convener alone.
They demand the removal of this protest pandal here. We have nothing else to say but a big "No".
We made it clear that we wouldn't cease our protest. On, January 20th, we were given 24 hours to vacate the protest pandal. We were informed that the Collector had ordered for the pandal to be removed at 10 A.M the following day. Two people were on their hunger fast that day along with five other people. We were prepared to meet the police at 10 A.M. But 37 vehicles and two other big vehicles carrying hundreds of policemen were rallied to remove the protest pandal. This place was packed with policemen. It was so overwhelming for us."
Ever since the police intervention, the protest pandal was moved to the K.P.M.S office. As per police demand, the protest banner had to be removed from the office. It is a shrivelled banner laying in a corner there now.
"Do you see that photo on the banner? There were policewomen present as well. It's was just us, a handful of women present. Seven of our men were taken. We didn't expect them to come at the break of dawn and arrest our people. We weren't prepared."
"Journalists, Abhilash Padacherry and Ananthu were talking to us and police came demanding their I.D cards. They didn't have I.D cards with them at the time. Without further questions, they were arrested. Ananthu's phone was handed to Shashidharan. I don't know if it was passed on later. But later when Shashi was asked about the phone he said that he didn't have it with him. The police assaulted Shashi then and there. He hung onto post over there as the police beat him up. A group of three policemen battered him brutally and tore his clothes off. One of the policemen was the Chotanikkara S.I."
"This is our community's building. Us, protesters are constantly asked to disperse from here. They removed over protest pandal as well. Now we are sitting on the ground here and protesting. We won't go back. That's our resolve. Either we win or we lose fighting. But we won't back down.", says Kumari who was one among the people who tore the caste wall down.
"Police threaten us by saying that we can't be seen sitting on the public road to protest and that we had return to our homes to protest peacefully. But we can decide for ourselves.? This is an issue regarding the temple ground. How can that we solved if we all returned to our homes? So we will not disperse from here", says Ammini.
"They say that whoever supporting our protest had to be Maoists and that we shouldn't join them."
"Police told us that the 'Maoists' are here to hijack our struggle and turn against us." says the women in union.
"If they all withdrew support, we will be alone in this struggle and our resistance will fall apart. That could break us they think. We will not go back. We will win or we will die. We don't need anyone's permission to die for our cause. We are certain of it." says Kumari.
"Mohanan, one of the protestors, climbed up that tree over there to hang himself. He walked to the tree with some rope when the police came for him. They tied his limbs together and took him to the station. He could be bailed out that evening. What on earth is happening here? They just won't let us live. They go to our workplaces and obstruct our work. They distribute notices with obscenities about the protesters. Spread rumours that there was extra marital affairs going on between the protestors". They insulted us all around the neighborhood with those notices. Although you can't find a name or address on those notices. Completely anonymous.", exclaimed Ammini.
"No matter what the case we lodged, we never got any favorable action from the government. Puthenkurish police has not responded or taken any action on the complaint that we gave them. The fate of our cases is to end up in the police station trashcan. The police has asked us to go to the station so that they can 'educate' us on how ignorant and futile our resistance is. They have warned us to not accept support from anyone from outside as they are all 'Maoists' and that we could go to jail for associating with them. But what if they are Maoists?
Don't we all accept help from people who are willing to extend a helping hand when all hope is lost? We will accept help from anyone who sympathises with our cause. If they are Maoists, then that's the state's doing. If they turn us into Maoists, that is the sole responsibility of the state. No party has supported us yet. They took us for a TV channel discussion once. But none of them spoke us. They all supported the Nairs. Even the leaders of KPMS didn't try to help us when our people were arrested. Now who should we accept help from? Police calls our supporters Maoists. Nobody here is trying to turn us into anything. We don't go with them anywhere for anything. They talk to us about our plight. They sympathize and extend help. That's all.
The police say that Manuel and Jenny are here to turn us into Maoists and that our children won't get any government jobs if we associated with them. We haven't been able to go for work for a couple of days now. We will protest until we can. Either we win and they lose, or they win and we lose. If they build this wall up again, we will tear it down again. This ground should stay as it is for everyone, for all castes and communities. We don't want ownership of this ground. This ground should be opened to the public is all we say. Our people are scared to leave their homes because of the police. Some of us might die in this struggle, but we lived so far. What is this point in living without self respect? The wall was built like a prison wall. So tall that one could not see past it. This ground is where our kids grow up playing. Where will they go? This ground must stay as it is.
The skirmish goes way back to 1984. Just imagine, we brought the wall down in eighteen minutes. That too at night. None of us were hurt during the demolition.", says Ammini. She believes that it was because their cause was righteous."
"Nobody from NSS has spoken to us directly yet. Police speaks for them. Since the protest the caste discrimination against us has heightened. They asked Omanakuttan not to enter the temple but to go and light a candle at any of the churches there. If we are at the temple, the Nairs will make sure that their people are standing ahead of us in line to pray as it is an insult to their caste to stand behind us. During the temple feast, the food served to one of our girls was asked to be returned as it was saved for one of them. Who takes back food from someone after serving it to them?
Once, they threatened our employers at a company to not give us jobs. Since they have power, they could deprive us of our livelihood. One of our boys was working as as a laborer at a temple construction site at Puthankavu. They had him fired as well. They are trying to scare us into submission.
We had requested to build a stream to our colony for water through a 40 cent plot just below the colony. We got the plot registered under the Panchayath member's son's name for the same. Later, he sold the plot and the water stream project never happened. The Nairs also illicitly take tonnes of wood from the wood mills with no accountability whatsoever. Those are the kind of things happening here."
"The man over there is a plus-two teacher who once said that our caste people shouldn't be allowed inside the temple as we are as low as animals in caste status. They torture us in many ways including distributing notices claiming incestuous relations between a father and daughter in our colony. The shame of it drove the family to the brink of a mass suicide which was averted because so many of us extended emotional support for them. We never retaliated for any of their atrocities until the building of the wall. If they don't let us live with dignity, we are willing to die together. What else can we possibly do? I know I am willing to die if that's what it took to win freedom of movement for our children", says Ammini.
[Quotes from Dalit women - Ammini, Kumari, Karthu, Bindhu, Shyamala, Usha etc. published originally in Malayalam on 28/12/2018]