The suicide of Dalit student Rohit Vemula following his expulsion from Hyderabad university has created a stir and sparked off a debate about caste-based discrimination in India, reports from a village in Tamil Nadu indicate that the situation is much worse than one can believe.
Although being buried by policemen may not sound very bad, for 30-year-old M Karthikeyan from Vazhavur, it’s just a part of an ordeal that his family and many others have been going through. After keeping the body of his 100-year-old grandfather on ice for several days, Karthikeyan could not even attend the funeral himself.
Dalits in the area have been using a piece of land to bury their deceased for years, and after protests, a pathway was built to the burial grounds, according to The New Indian Epxress. But the trouble started when the influential Vanniyars prevented Dalits from using the funeral path, under an AIADMK leader.
When Karthikeyan, who recently completed a teachers training programme, decided to take his deceased grandfathers funeral from the public road, the District Collector, DIG, and 200 security personnel tried to convince Dalits against using the road. The Vanniyars opposed the funeral procession on a public road, saying it was bad omen.
But Karthikeyan, who had already witnessed his grandmother’s body being snatched by the police and cremated in a similar manner days before, was determined to take the funeral from the road and kept the body on ice, as an interim High Court order followed his petition, The Hindu reported.
The Collector S Palanisami, who also challenged the order, admitted that they were unable to implement the Madras High Court order allowing Dalits to use the route, since avoiding caste clashes were the priority. As the situation got increasingly tense, Karthikeyan and his family even threatened to commit suicide by pouring kerosene on themselves and demanding that the police implement the High Court order.
Despite all the opposition, the SP of the area arrived with 200 policemen three days after the death on January 6, and asked the family to carry out the burial immediately. Although they tried to prevent the police from taking away the body, the procession was taken towards the public road, where the Vanniyars had set up a road block, as reported by The Indian Express.
As the procession was lathi charged, police took the body and rushed through the forest path, and upon reaching the burial site, carried out the final rituals, in the absence of the family.
While the administration failed to protect rights of the Dalits after intimidation from the influential caste in the area, Karthikeyan still doesn’t know where his grandfather was laid to rest.