In Tamil Nadu’s southern districts, prisoners are segregated on the basis of castes

Discussion in 'Politics & Society' started by Singh, Jan 11, 2012.

  1. Singh

    Singh Phat Cat Administrator

    Joined:
    Feb 23, 2009
    Messages:
    20,305
    Likes Received:
    8,270
    Location:
    011
    Caste In Prison Stone


    In the political biography of Tamil Nadu, conflict between Dalits and other backward castes (OBCs) is a chapter that is still being written. Not only is untouchability still widespread across the state’s southern districts like Ramanathapuram, Thoothukkudi, Thirunelveli, Madurai and Dharmapuri, there have been frequent clashes since the early 1990s between Dalits and Thevars, an OBC community with significant presence in the region. Just last month, violence in Paramakkudy claimed the lives of seven Dalits.

    Observers recall 1995 as a year that saw tensions take a turn for the worse. As many as 50 Dalits were killed by Thevars over the next two years. The attacks, though, were not one-sided; an equal number of Thevars were killed by Dalits in retaliatory violence. The atmosphere was so charged with caste politics that speaking up for justice was not easy. Chandrashekar, chief of the Pallar Cultural Development Forum, which ran a campaign against anti-Dalit atrocities, was forced underground after his name turned up on the police list of ‘wanted’ men. Popularly known as Tamil Maran, he was finally picked up by the cops in November 2000 on a visit home to attend a family function. He spent a year locked up as an undertrial. In 2006, he was nabbed again for violating bail conditions; this time, he spent a year-and-a-half behind bars.

    Tamil Maran’s activism was the outcome of his bitter experiences of discrimination since childhood. Dalits bore the brunt of the worst attitudes; they were served (if at all) at eateries in separate cups and plates, kept off public roads, and not even allowed to ride bicycles, let alone use or own a vehicle. If Tamil Maran had hopes of jail being different, they were soon quashed. Caste followed him into prison. He was incarcerated at the Palayamkottai Central Jail in Thirunelveli, one of the districts worst hit by caste violence. There was only one noticeable difference from the outside world—the low likelihood of inter-caste violence. This was for the simple reason that prisoners were segregated by caste into different blocks.

    But that didn’t mean no discrimination. Maran says he was beaten up for no reason by members of the jail staff who were Thevars. The food served in his Dalit block was scarcely edible and hardly enough to quell his hunger. His access to books and newspapers was restricted. His visiting time for friends and relatives who came calling was curtailed. He had to work, but was not paid. And he was deprived of medical attention. “Prison life does not offer anything to reduce the sense of [inflicted] violence,” he says, “It only flares it up.”

    There are 1,600 prisoners in Palayamkottai Central Jail, and the segregation in this facility is very efficient. “Thevar, Nadar and Dalit prisoners are put in different blocks,” says Selvaraj, a constable who has been working there for a decade. “In this jail, [caste segregation] is inevitable. How can we mix up people from different castes? It is impossible. We cannot manage the violence [that will occur] if we do so.”

    It is not just in Palayamkottai that prisoners are sorted by caste and jailed apart. “In most jails across the southern districts, inmates are divided on the basis of caste,” says R Alagumani, a lawyer practising at the Tamil Nadu High Court’s Madurai bench who has initiated a number of public interest litigations for prisoner rights, “But in Palayamkottai, it is formally approved.” Segregation by itself, he says, would not be so terrible if some sense of equality were to prevail across all blocks. But that is not so. Alagumani says that Dalits cannot be humiliated any more than they are inside prison.
    “There are eight blocks with 30-35 cells each,” says Tamil Maran, as he sketches the structure of Palayamkottai. The fourth block, far from the main building, is for Dalits; Thevars, Nadars and Muslims are all in different blocks. If prisoners get unruly, one form of punishment is to place a guard of a ‘rival caste’ in the block. So, if knuckles need to be rapped (so to speak) in a Dalit cell/block, Thevar constables are deployed there. Serious misbehaviour attracts a punishment that can make the hardiest break into a cold sweat: being put into the cell of an antagonistic community. “The jail authorities only try to widen the gap between communities and aggravate the abhorrence they feel for each other,” says Tamil Maran, “They exploit the volatility thus created.”

    What happens in jail, however, only mirrors what happens outside during caste conflicts, according to Rajiv Rufus, a lawyer practising at the Madurai bench. “This is a strategy used by the government whenever caste violence erupts in these parts of Tamil Nadu,” he alleges, “Thevar cops are deployed in localities where Dalits live in, and vice-versa. This only escalates the violence.”

    There is another pattern that plays a role in this insidious game. Among Dalit prisoners, leaders suffer the most grievously. In 2009, M Bharatan, a Dalit activist running an organisation called Human Rights Council, was hauled off for his alleged involvement in the murder of three Thevars in Thirunelveli. He recounts his days in the lock-up. “Our community leaders were under strict surveillance inside jail,” he says, “They were not allowed to mingle or even to talk to one another. They closely monitor what we do, talk and even read.” And Dalits are systematically kept away from others. Bharatan remembers an announcement asking prisoners to enrol themselves for yoga class. “I expressed interest, but was rejected,” he says, “They said there are ‘other people’ and I was not supposed to be there.” His one-and-a-half years in prison taught him that the authorities only want to fuel the rage: “Two sets of jail rules exist in the prisons of Tamil Nadu’s southern districts—one for Thevars and another for Dalits.”

    Tamil Maran offers details. “At the film screened twice every week, the first show is always reserved for Thevars. While Thevar prisoners are free to use mobile phones, Dalits are not. While Thevars do not have too many restrictions on visitors, Dalits are given a separate place where officers often interfere with warnings that ‘the meeting time is up’; Dalit women visitors have to endure long waits, even gross insults. Dalits don’t even get letters in jail—the authorities either tear them up or open them.” The exclusion of Dalits is painfully evident in matters medical. “Dalits have no access to the prison hospital,” continues Tamil Maran, “If a Dalit prisoner is sick, he is only provided some pain killers. If a Dalit prisoner is seriously ill, he is taken to the nearby government hospital, but not the prison hospital. Doctors visit inmates every week, but they hardly step into the blocks reserved for Dalits.”

    Unwilling to put up with all this, Tamil Maran got a special order from the High Court to access books that the jail authorities would not allow. “They had banned me from reading,” he says, “I had no option but to go to court.” Jail officers then began keeping a checklist of the books he read— “I have read all the books of Ambedkar available in Tamil”—and subjecting him to long interrogations on what he had learnt.

    Meanwhile, Selvaraj, the Thevar constable in Palayamkottai, claims clarity on who is to blame for all the tension. To his mind, ‘they’ are a nuisance. “They make a mess of things even for small reasons,” he says of Dalits, “They often complain about the quality of food and absence of electricity.” He refutes charges of discrimination as baseless. “I have nothing against them, but they unnecessarily create problems,” he adds, “They are organised. I am scared of being attacked.”
    Selvaraj is not entirely inaccurate in his assessment of Thevar fear—while they often enjoy the favour of jail authorities, they are also scared of being attacked by Dalits.

    “I am very careful whenever I have to meet somebody from the ‘other community’ in jail. Why should we invite trouble? They are waiting for a chance to create problems. The officers always help us—that is the only relief,” says a Thevar convicted for murder who is lodged in the Palayamkottai jail.

    Karuppuswami, a 34-year-old auto driver who was freed a few months ago after serving a ten-year sentence for murder, says he was scared of Dalit inmates and glad he was imprisoned with fellow Thevars. “I had the experience of being ill treated by cops of their caste. I was confident that our police would help me if I was in need,” he says. As it turned out, his caste affiliation did come of help; once, on being caught for using a mobile phone, all he suffered was having his handset confiscated—easily replaced when his sister made her next visit.

    And so, caste segregation persists in Tamil prisons. “Caste-based separation of the inmates is a matter of convenience,” says Dr Krishna Swami, a legislator from Thoothukkudy district. “This is not a desirable practice, but we should see the practical side of things,” adds the Assembly member who started his political career as a Dalit rights activist.
    Alagumani is not convinced. “It is against the spirit of the Constitution,” says the lawyer, “Dalits in prison are subject to all sorts of discrimination. It does not help in healing and only escalates the animosity.”



    Caste in Prison Stone | OPEN Magazine

     
  2.  
  3. SpArK

    SpArK SORCERER Senior Member

    Joined:
    Oct 24, 2010
    Messages:
    2,093
    Likes Received:
    1,104
    Location:
    KINGDOM OF TRAVANCORE
    Thoothukkudi, Thirunelveli, Madurai and Dharmapuri are known for lawlessness and caste oriented societies..

    They have villages based on caste and riots between villages is nothing new.
     
  4. Iamanidiot

    Iamanidiot Elite Member Elite Member

    Joined:
    Dec 21, 2009
    Messages:
    5,326
    Likes Received:
    1,493
    In that area caste based segregation works best.Mix the bunch we will have some hack and slash coming
     
  5. Nagraj

    Nagraj Regular Member

    Joined:
    Jan 7, 2011
    Messages:
    804
    Likes Received:
    254
    :shocked::shocked: our stupidity when it comes to caste is amazing.:hail:
     
  6. HeinzGud

    HeinzGud Senior Member Senior Member

    Joined:
    Nov 26, 2011
    Messages:
    1,961
    Likes Received:
    382
    Location:
    Colombo, Sri Lanka
    Tamil cast discrimination is also in SL.............. Vellar Tamils in Jaffna do not hold marriage connection with Batticalo and Koolie Tamils
     
  7. KS

    KS Bye bye DFI Veteran Member

    Joined:
    Aug 3, 2010
    Messages:
    8,008
    Likes Received:
    5,718
    Location:
    irrelevant
    Violence between Thevars and Dalits is a recurring theme in the southern and south central districts and you never know when one of the guys start throwing their sickles at the other and before you blink it would have become an all out riot hacking and slashing each other.

    Though not an ideal one, this segregation is a practical one.
     
  8. Iamanidiot

    Iamanidiot Elite Member Elite Member

    Joined:
    Dec 21, 2009
    Messages:
    5,326
    Likes Received:
    1,493
    The worst aspect is even the police get caught in this crossfire and the feuds are bloody brutal
     
  9. KS

    KS Bye bye DFI Veteran Member

    Joined:
    Aug 3, 2010
    Messages:
    8,008
    Likes Received:
    5,718
    Location:
    irrelevant
    what once used to be a strictly inter-caste affair (violence) has now become intra-caste too due to conversion.

    Christian Thevars fight with Hindu Thevars, christian Nadars fight with Hindu Nadars..

    Thoothukudi, Ramnathapuram, Sivagangai, Madurai,Theni are some of the most violent districts in TN. On the flip side they are also culturally rich areas. Simple, humble folks who place too much pride in caste.

    Even in my place we give importance to caste..but it doesn't get this violent.
     
  10. KS

    KS Bye bye DFI Veteran Member

    Joined:
    Aug 3, 2010
    Messages:
    8,008
    Likes Received:
    5,718
    Location:
    irrelevant
    BTW one factual mistake in the article...Dharmapuri is a northern most district and Thevars are not found there.
     
  11. Iamanidiot

    Iamanidiot Elite Member Elite Member

    Joined:
    Dec 21, 2009
    Messages:
    5,326
    Likes Received:
    1,493
    @Karthic have the Madhurai nayak\Naidus\Naickers completely got away from this violence.They were originally the perpetuators of this violence i thought

    Kamalhassans movie Thevar maggan ,Subramaniapuram nicely show the idiotic madurai veeran attitude
     
    Last edited: Jan 11, 2012
  12. KS

    KS Bye bye DFI Veteran Member

    Joined:
    Aug 3, 2010
    Messages:
    8,008
    Likes Received:
    5,718
    Location:
    irrelevant
    I don't know, but the Naidus/Nayackers now are a mercantile lot and peaceful..Maybe some in rural madurai will have "that" attitude, but not the urban ones.

    Thevar magan and Subramaniapuram..?..that's nothing.Watch Virumaandi....It shows how things are in rural areas in southern districts , though on a slightly exaggerated note.And Mukkulathor (Thevar,Maravar & Kallar) people are the main culprits..:D
     
  13. Iamanidiot

    Iamanidiot Elite Member Elite Member

    Joined:
    Dec 21, 2009
    Messages:
    5,326
    Likes Received:
    1,493
    Good to hear the naidu/naickers stopped this.Atcually the naidu's were the original culprits of all this violence they were the one's who set the bad example in the first place
     
  14. Param

    Param Senior Member Senior Member

    Joined:
    Jun 9, 2010
    Messages:
    2,808
    Likes Received:
    647
    Location:
    TN
    Tirunelveli and Tuticorin have the highest literacy rate in TN.
    These districts also have the best sex ratio in TN.
    Most of the recruitment in the army from TN happens in Tirunelveli.
     
  15. Ray

    Ray The Chairman Defence Professionals Moderator

    Joined:
    Apr 17, 2009
    Messages:
    43,118
    Likes Received:
    23,543
    Location:
    Somewhere
    We must look at the ease of administration of the jails rather than look at all issues from the point of view of caste.

    From a pure administrative point of view, there is no doubt that if there is such enmity and bad blood, it is better to separate the warring faction by housing them separately.

    Other forms of discrimination is sheer cussedness of the officials.

    One has to be also aware that all this caste stuff is also reported and taken in a highly imaginative manner that there has been a slight.
     
    Last edited: Jan 11, 2012
    parijataka likes this.
  16. Iamanidiot

    Iamanidiot Elite Member Elite Member

    Joined:
    Dec 21, 2009
    Messages:
    5,326
    Likes Received:
    1,493
    Brigadier Southern TN and Rayalseema are pretty nasty places and segregation best works here
     
  17. Ray

    Ray The Chairman Defence Professionals Moderator

    Joined:
    Apr 17, 2009
    Messages:
    43,118
    Likes Received:
    23,543
    Location:
    Somewhere
    Maybe you are right.

    I looked at the issue from purely an administration point of view where it is better to segregate is the enmity is so intense.

    If there is a riot or killing in the Jails, heads will roll.

    So, who will be the one to readily offer his head?
     
  18. KS

    KS Bye bye DFI Veteran Member

    Joined:
    Aug 3, 2010
    Messages:
    8,008
    Likes Received:
    5,718
    Location:
    irrelevant
    Again its the Thevars who mostly join army...

    Regarding literacy rate Kanyakumari , Nilgiris , Chennai fare better than Tirunelveli.
     
  19. Ray

    Ray The Chairman Defence Professionals Moderator

    Joined:
    Apr 17, 2009
    Messages:
    43,118
    Likes Received:
    23,543
    Location:
    Somewhere
    Then there will be many 'Military hotels' out there! :)
     
  20. KS

    KS Bye bye DFI Veteran Member

    Joined:
    Aug 3, 2010
    Messages:
    8,008
    Likes Received:
    5,718
    Location:
    irrelevant
    Not sure of it. I'm from western TN. But as far as I have heard, not many.
     
  21. The Messiah

    The Messiah Bow Before Me! Elite Member

    Joined:
    Aug 25, 2010
    Messages:
    10,788
    Likes Received:
    4,552
    That cant be segregated forever.

    Because this very segregation insures that the fighting continues in a cycle...throw them all in. They will fight but after some time fighting will stop.
     

Share This Page