Caste Violence and struggle for Democracy:
A case study of Tsundur Massacre
Dr. P. Kesava Kumar
For me the Wound is not new
Only the way I got wounded is new
The experience is as past as yesterday
Only the way I got experienced is new.
- P.C. Ramulu, Dalit Poet
Twenty years ago my name was Kanchikacherla Kotesu
My birth place Keelavenmani, Karamchedu, Neerukonda
Now the hardened cruelty of the landlords
Tattooed on my chest with a plough’s point-Chunduru
Hence forth Chunduru is not a noun but a pronoun
Now every heart is a Chunduru, a burning
…Don’t shed tears for me
If you can
Bury me in the heart of the city
Rendering the tune of life, I will bloom like a bamboo garden
Print my corpse on the page of this country
I will diffuse into the pages of history a beautiful feature
If you can
Invoke me to your hearts
Again and again I shall take birth in this very country
By becoming a struggle of wild flames.
(Am Raised for a Fistful of Self-respect, Kalekuri Prasad, Dalit Poet)
Social violence is historically rooted collective violence. In India, Caste violence is a prominent form of social violence. It manifests in both psychological and physical forms. This is institutionalized to uphold the hegemony of the upper caste over dalits. The upper caste often uses violence to control and exploit dalits in the name of caste. This kind of social violence is as old as the caste system and its practices of untouchability. From eighties onwards, this becomes a pan- Indian phenomenon and took much vulgar and cruel turn than earlier. The reason may be the assertion of dalits in post independent India for human dignity and organizing for political power. Since dalits are retaliating to the age old upper caste dominance, the upper caste feel threatened. As a result, the upper caste are organizing against dalits in large scale and attacking in brutal way. More over, upper caste intended to perform this social violence in public as to create terror and fear among weak. The institutions of the state are not only prone to be casteist and targets dalits in all possible ways. On one hand, the upper caste/class is demeaning the democracy, and on the other dalits are enriching the meaning of democracy through their struggles. The Dalit struggle around the Tsundur massacre is the classic example for this. In the year 1991, land holding ruling upper caste Reddy community attacked dalits (Mala community) and massacred eight people. This is in continuation of Karamchedu massacre of 1985, in which the then ruling Kamma landlord community killed five dalits (Madiga community).In Karachedu massacre, all the accused are acquitted. Where as in Tsundur massacre, Dalits demanded a special court at their own village under SC/ST atrocities prevention act and build the Dalit movement. In Tsundur case, the accused got convicted, though the case prolonged for sixteen years. The Tsundur case not only exposes the casteist society and also reveals the strength and weakness of Indian democracy. Tsundur struggle remains as a milestone in Indian history towards building democratic and casteless society. In Dalit studies, inclusion of issues relating to caste violence helps in understanding the structural inequalities that leads to the conflicts. Further, in writing social history of dalits, the Dalit struggles against these massacres are crucial.
Caste Violence: Everyday Social reality of India
Violence against dalits is an everyday social reality of India. Caste violence is not a new phenomenon. It is as old as the caste system. The atrocities, insults, humiliations, discrimination are exclusively reserved for dalits. Kilvenmani (TN) , Kanchikacherala, Karamchedu, Tsundur, Vempenta (AP), Belchi(Bihar), Puliyangundi, Tamrabarani, Melavalapu (TN), Kambalapalli (Karnataka), Jajjera (Haryana), Kairlanjee (Maharastra)… all these places are familiar by atrocities on dalits, humiliations on dalits, and insults on the dignity of dalits. These are not just isolated incidents; there are reflections of ruling caste hegemony over dalits. Whether it is Andhra , Tamilnadu, Bihar, Maharastra, whether it is a village or city, university, office, temple, street or any other public sphere, dalit visibility could not be tolerated by the ruling castes any where and assertion of dalits in any form . Many incidents were happened in the past and the incidents from eighties onwards has a significance by contributing new political discourse in the nation and Dalit movements are build around these incidents. The incidents of caste violence of late nineties is reported and analyzed in the Dalithulu (Broken People). In Tamilnadu, the caste violence as chronicled in the Frontline from 1995-2004 is a testimony of this violence. Today the indian nation familiar with many massacres against dalits is because of the stiff resistance of dalits against the caste hegemony. Dalits have taken the route of fighting to protect them and asserting their identity in public for self respect and dignity. Dalits are in a process of building a democratic nation.
It is not that post-independence India has been notably more violent than in the nineteenth or early centuries, when it was common for landowners to coerce and intimidate recalcitrant labourers and tenents, and to use the language of caste against them wherever this proved feasible. What has been different in recent times is that since the 1970s the ideals of the ‘secular’ nation-state have been regularly inverted by groups claiming to be under threat from the real or imagined aggression of militant ‘Dalits’.this has allowed many of the victimizers to represent themselvesboth as victims and as embodiments of national virtue.(Bayly, susan caste, society and politics in India –from the eighteenth century to the modern age, Cambridge, cambdidge university press, 352-353 ) according to the government figures, there were 40,000 anti-harijan ‘atrocities’ between 1966 and 1976, this being the period of Indira Gandhi’s so called ‘decade of development’. Another 17,000 such incidents were officially recorded for the nineteenth months of janata rule(march1977-january1980) Tamilnadu, Mararastra., Gujarat and the gangetic north Indian states have been the worst hit areas. In 1981 a total of 1,429 officially designated ‘crimes against harijans’ wre reported in UP, campared with only eight in Bengal and ninety four in kerala. From the mid-1980s to the late 1990s, accounts of such attacks remained a prominent fueture of home affairs press coverage in many states including Tamilnadu, UP,Maharastra and Gujarat. Worst of all has been Bihar, where as of January 1995 more peole had reportedly died in ‘caste war’ outbreaks than in the whole of the six year conflict between muslim separatists and the Indian security forces in Kashmir.ibid.345
It is revealing from the incidents that upper caste violence against dalits is increasing in its magnitude. It is more cruel and vulgar than the past. The upper caste targeting dalits apart from killing, injuring, terrorizing, the very source of livelihood by burning their houses, boycotting from the work etc. dominant caste are able to mobilize all other castes against dalits. ‘ The increased political power and economic prosperity of the forward caste is contributing to inflict violence on dalits in a systematic and concerted manner. There is a correlation between socio-economic and political inequality and caste system and increasing violence on dalits by the upper caste.’
The attacks on dalits are pre planned and carried in organizing manner. The target is not individual but as many as possible. The people are attacked are need not be any relation to the preceding dispute. In these mass attacks, there is an effort to involve other castes. In these attacks destroys Dalit houses, and demolish the collective symbols of the community. In these assaults, Dalit women are set in vulnerable position, often sexually abused. Moreover, always strong political hand works behind the attacks.
Chronicle of caste conflict in AP : Kanchikacherla to Vempenta via Tsundur
In Andhrapradesh, Kanchikacherala Kotesu burnt alive by the upper caste in the Kanchikacherla of Krishna district of Coastal Andhra in the year 1969 got public attention. Then onwards, the violence against dalits is in increasing trend. The mass attacks on dalits by the forward castes are witnessed after 1982. From Padirikuppam incident of 1983 to 1991 Tsundur massacre at least 20 mass attacks took place against dalits. In other terms, Dalit movement evolved through the struggles against these incidents. Dalit movement becomes an autonomous movement and transforms ideologically by organizing dalits. These struggles will definitely resist the hegemony of the upper castes. The practices of untouchability and atrocities on dalits are continuing in the post-Tsundur. The interesting feature is that many of the incidents are recorded by various democratic organizations and initiated struggles against these atrocities in different forms based on their political understanding on the issues of caste. The Andhra Pradesh Civil Rights organization (APCLC) came out with a report on atrocities against dalits committed in between 2001-2002.It came to understanding that the caste discrimination that brings inequality in social relations is continues same manner in economic relations. For Dalits who are living with inequality in social and economic realm, struggles are inevitable for them to lead a better life in much dignified and respectful way. The upper castes are attacking dalits when ever dalits are questioning their hegemony. The attacks on dalits are not happening because of the conflicts at individual level. These are happening to protect the cast system, so that it keeps continuing the hegemony and exploitation. This is the backdrop for the massacres of Karamchedu, Tsundur, Vempenta. At the same tome, the parliamentary left party forced to consider the issue of caste and on going attacks on dalits. It has formed Kula Vivakshata Porata Samithi and came with a report in its news paper Prajasakthi. Another organization named Kula Nirmulana Porata Samithi, which has the ideological leanings towards revolutionary left parties came with a report on the attacks of dalits in Kula Nirmulana, explains that these attacks are happening because of the rising consciousness of dalits and dalits are not resisting to follow the rules of the caste system and keeping away from the prescribed roles of traditional system. It further appeals the Dalit and other democratic organizations have to consolidate their force to counter the ongoing attacks on dalits. Apart from these, Sakshi, Human rights Watch, an NGO take initiation on the reporting of these atrocities came with a Dalit Human Rights Monitor-2000.It came with an idea of Dalit human rights and its violation. Dalit human rights are such that these violations do not fall in the same categories as the kinds of human rights violations more commonly addressed by human rights activists and in human rights discourse. Dalit human rights violations are as much violations of social and economic rights as they are of civil and political rights. Dalit human rights violation occurs in a seeming democracy, perpetrated by a civil society based on caste and inequality and with the connivance of the state. They are rights violations against whole communities, not just one individual. It is argued that the contours and changes in the Dalit movement can be made sense of through the impact created on the and by the three major massacres against dalits, in Karamchedu in 1985, Tsundur in 1991 and Vempentta in 1998. Around these gruesome events, the Dalit movement shaped and re-shaped its agenda, political discourse and strategy of transformation. In the history of Dalit movement of Andhra, these three incidents not only stand symbolic and also signify different stages of Dalit movement. Dalit Maha Sabha born out of the struggle in response to Karamchedu massacre, in which five dalits were killed by the upper caste Kamma landlords belonging to the ruling Telugu Desam party. Karamchedu struggle brings out the specific problem of Dalit to the political agenda.From the tsundur massacre, Dalit movement emerged as an alternative independent autonomous movement. It is instrumental in debating the problem of caste among the other revolutionary parties. The revolutionary organizations are compelled to follow the leadership of Dalit Maha Sabha. This may be marked as a qualitative change in the politics of telugu society. Dalit struggle centred around Tsundur facilitated the entry of Bahujan Samaj Party in Andhra. The Vempenta massacre exposes the nescessity to resolve the internal contradictions between Dalit communities on one hand, the existing ideological and practical distance between Dalit movement and revolutionary left on the other. The situation demands the task of radicalizing Dalit struggle and the revolutionary parties has to get acceptance from Dalit communities.
Tsundur : Land holding Reddys and Educating Dalits
Tsundur is a village located in Vijayawada- Chennai railway line, Guntur district of Coastal Andhra.It consists of 1665 households with a population of about 5,800.The reddy community is the most dominant community of having 450 families, while the Dalit castes number up to 400 families(300 Malas and 100 Madigas ).There are about 225 Telaga, 25 Brahmin and about 15 Vysya families and other backward caste constitute about 50 families. Interestingly, in Guntur district kammaa are the dominant community in every aspect. The Reddy community are dominant in the nearby eight villages of Tsundur. Of 2,420 acres of cultivable land, the Reddys own1, 220 acres and only a meager 78 acres belongs to the dalits.(Brahmins-110 acres, vysyas-62, telagas-250 and the rest owned by intermediary castes). Though most of the land is in possession of the upper castes, there are no big landlords. Most of the land is in the form of holdings that are less than one hectare and is owned by as many as 1044 persons.253 households own plots that measure between 2.5 and 5 acres and 84 households have holdings of more than five acres each.. On average each household owns about 12 acres. The land is fertile and irrigated by Krishna canal and yield three crops a year. No Dalit, however owns more than a hectare.
There are about 200 matriculates among dalits. There are 10 to 15 post graduates among dalits, and there are none among Reddys. Guntur district has the largest number of post graduate dalits in A.P. The presence of Christian missionaries have been one of the causes for this high level of education among dalits in tsundur and coastal Andhra as a whole.The dalits of tsundur are economically independent relatively. Nearly 500 dalits work with the railways as fitters, maintenance men and gang workers. A few of them work in the telephone department as well. Dalits are numerically strong and educationally coming forward in this region. The Green revolution generating the surplus for farming community and dalits used to get regular employment as agricultural coolies. In addition to this dalits move out to nearby town Tenali to do petty jobs. In Tenali town, dalits belonging to Itha Nagar are assertive in aspects and supportive to the dalits of nearby villages. Usually dalits resists the dominance of Kamma community in the town, either in the elections of local college or in other incidents. In this process, against the Kamma community, considering as common enemy, other communities like Brahmins, Kapus, Backward castes, including Reddy community compelled to be with dalits as a bloc due to their muscle power. This will reflect in identifying with political parties, Kamma community with Telugu Desam Party and, dalits and others with congress party.
In case of Tsundur, Reddy community are traditional and having feudal outlook. Though the agrarian relations are entering into capitalist mode due the increase in surplus in agriculture, there is no significant change in cultural and political values of the dominant community. This is marked as capital without capitalist culture. Reddy community feel elevated in times of ruling Congress party under the chief minister belongs to the same community. Dalit community is relatively independent, assertive and conscious of self respect and human dignity. Traditionally dalits belongs to congress party, Dalit man elected as the Mandal president on congress ticket for the reserved Mandal Parishad. Tsundur dalits have regular contacts with Tenali town due to the train facility, and most of the families related to the Itha nagar. Some of the dalits are actively involved radical students politics and post-Karamchedu Dalit movement. In this backdrop, the conflict is inevitable between the feudal Reddy community and self respecting dalits.
Tsundur: Another name for Indian caste violence
The conflict between dalits and reddys reached to the end point by August 6,1991 known as Tsundur massacre. In which seven dalits were killed and many wounded in the well organized caste raid of reddys of Tsundur and nearby villages, with a support of Telaga community. The police forced dalits to runaway from dalitwada, in an understanding with Reddys. Around 400 upper caste people ganged together and divided into two groups, killed dalits with traditional arms whomever they met on their way. The bodies were packed in a gunny bags and thrown into the nearby Tungabhadra drain. The media reported these incidents are due to the earlier conflicts between two communities, rather one of the ongoing incidents of caste violence against dalits. One has to look into the earlier incidents that triggered this massacre. The conflicting atmosphere prevails among dalits and reddy communities on some occasions prior to this massacre. Inauguration of statue of Ambedkar in centre of village along with Subhash Chandra bose and Potti sreeramulu questioned the traditional hegemony of upper caste Reddy community in symbolic way. In another occasion, Dalit youth made an attempt to watch a play Chintamani on the occasion of Dussera festival along with the upper caste. This claim irritated the supremacy of the Reddy and Telaga community and become intolerant towards Dalit cliam of equality in public place. The incident of touching the leg of Dalit youth on the uppercaste reddy fuelled the situation. This incident followed the fight between two communities in the cinema hall itself. Later, Reddy community beaten the Dalit youth involved in the cinema hall episode and beaten up his father, a school teacher
The teacher decided to leave the village for this insult. Dalits of the tsundur united together and consoled the teacher not to leave the village and even fined rs.25 for not complaining against Reddy community to the police. Later on for complaining to the police against Reddy community on this incident, the upper caste under the leadership of Reddy village surpanch take a decision to socially boycott the dalits on July 9, 1991.In all these incidents the assertion of dalits felt by the upper caste as threatening the dominant caste hegemony.
Dalit conceptions of Democracy
Tsundur massacre is a rallying point for Dalit consolidation. Nation has already charged with the agitations in relation to the implementation of Mandal commission recommendations. Nation becomes polarized on the caste lines. The uppercaste youth agitated against the reservations by demeaning dalits. In Andhra Pradesh, Dalit movement of post Karamchedu politically and culturally consolidating its position on the issue of caste in opposition to state and other alternative movements. In this backdrop, Tsundur massacre got national importance on the question of caste. More than 100 MPs cutting across the political parties met the President and PM in delegation against the tsundur caste violence. Dalit organizations of whole south India expressed their solidarity to the victims and agitated for justice. More than 15000 dalits spontaneously participated in the funeral march of tsundur martyrs. All the democratic organizations came together in support of Dalit agitation under the leadership of Kathi Padma Rao of Dalit Mahasabha, though they have different view points on the question of caste and the liberation of dalits.
The agitation took different turns in course of time. Tsundur agitation under the leadership of Kathi Padmarao demanded for rehabilitation package consisting one acre land, one house, job for all eligible people, and a residential school. Some Dalit leaders like K.G.Satyamurthy and Vu.Sambasiva Rao of UCCRI (M.L) are critical of Padma rao for confining to this package and failing to take up the Dalit movement politically further. We need social justice, just not compensation. For this dalits have to prepare for self protection in fighting against the upper caste hegemony. K.G .Sathyamurthy appealed dalits to form Samatha Voluntary force for self protection, since the institutions of state are fail to respond in favour of dalits. However, the struggle continued for some time.
At the stage of trial, Dalit movement is in low phase. Tsundur struggle is under no leadership. Kathi Padma rao become silent on tsundur issue and tsundur dalits went to the extent of disowning his leadership.This is the time Dalits even lost the bargaining capacity with mainstream political parties. The collective Dalit consciousness is narrowed down to Dalit sub caste consciusness on the issue of categorization of reservation for SCs. The organizations like Malamahanadu and Madiga Dandora confined their struggle only to he issue of categorization and gave up any other issue of their own community. The response of Madiga Dandora to the killing of Madiga community of Vementa massacre shows the attitude of newly emerged Dalit consciousness. It is similar with Mala mahanadu for not responding to the Tsundur agitation in later phase.
Government announced the rehabilitation package as an agreement with Dalit leader K.Padma Rao. Dalits fought for the separate court at their own village under the SC/ST atrocities prevention act of 1989.Tsundur special court is the first of its kind in the nation. Government agreed to have public prosecutors on the choice of victims. The human rights activist lawyers Chandrasekar and Siva Nageswara Rao are agreed to be the public prosecutors to plead on behalf of the victims. But the case was delayed for sixteen years on different reasons. The victims of gave their witness in front of the court without any fear. The witness may consider as the testimony of self-respect of tsundur Dalit victims. The only one organization that gave the moral support to the dalits was the Kulanirmulana Porata Samithi. They organized many meetings at the time of trail and campaigned for the social justice by involving many Dalit and other democratic organizations. The special court convicted 21 accused for life imprisonment under the section 302, and 35 accused for one year rigorous imprisonment out accused of 219.Most of them got acquitted under benefit of doubt or of other reasons. The public prosecutor argued for the death penalty by considering this as the rarest of the rarest and act as deterrent for others. There is a mixed response on the verdict. However, most of the Dalit leaders considered this as the victory of Dalit movement. Infact, this is the victory for the uncompromising relentless struggle of tsundur Dalit victims. They are not just silent with rehabilitation, they are asserted till the end for the social justice, to punish guilty.
Dalit movement centred around Tsundur struggle brought two models of the democracy. One is to achieve political power without bloodshed by empowering dalits within the existing democratic setup. This is some what close to the BSP model. Other is in favour of new democracy by rebelling against the system in the context of all the supposed democratic institutions are either weakened or casteist. The democratic model of this type even prepared to operate out side the existing democratic set up. However, tsundur case revels that state and its machinery fail to protect the interest of dalits in normal democratic functioning. The judgment reflects an attempt to keep dalits in faith of Indian democracy in contrast to the earlier cases the upper caste accused are acquitted without any punishment.
 Prasad, Kalekuri. ”Pidikedu Atmagauravam Kosam Talettina Vadini.” (Am Raised for a Fistful of Self-respect) In Kesava Kumar & K. Satyanarayana (Eds.) Dalit Manifesto. Hyderabad: Vishphotana, 1995.
 Dalithulu. Bharatadesapu Antarani Vaipai Jarige Kula Himsa. Hyderabad :Sakshi, Human Rights Watch, 1999
 Viswanath. S. Dalits in Dravidian Land (Frontline Reports on anti-Dalit violence in Tamilnadu) Navayana:Pondicherry, 2005
 Murali, K. Upper caste violence on Dalits: Case Studies of Karamchedu and Chundur Massacres, M.Phil Dissertation , submitted to Department of Political Science, University of Hyderabad, 1995. (Unpublished) P. 15
 Incidents of Karamchedu (1985),Neerukonda, Tanguturu,Timmasmudram, Chalakurthi are prominent. In post Tsundur, there are many incidents took place.The incidents of Vempenta (1998) and Papili are prominent.
 Andhra Pradesh Pourahakkula sangham (APCLC). Dalitulapai Dadulu Agedeppudu? 2002
 Ibid. p.4
 A.Jefanya, A.Rajendra Prasad, K.Satyanarayana. Report on Dalitulapai Dadulu, Kula Nirmulana Bulletan-1 , January 2001, Pp. 8-16
 Sakshi, Human Rights Watch. Dalit Human Rights Monitor, Andhra Pradesh ,July 2000 p.8
 Ajay, Gudavarthy. Dalit and Naxalite Movements in Andhra Pradesh: Solidarity or Hegemony, EPW
 Kranthi. Dalita samasyani agendaloki yekkinchina Karamchedu(July1991 Yedureetha), In Vu.Sa. (Ed.)Dalita Rannaninadam, Hyderabad: Yedureetha Publications,2005 p.31-37
 Jaladi mathaiah, Jaladi Immanuel, Mallela Subba Rao, Angalakuduru Rajmohan, Samson, Jayaraju and Mandru Ramesh are killed in that massacre.
 Vu.Sa. Agrakula durahankarula Naramedhaniki Kannerai Karchichai Mandina Chunduru (Sept.1991 Yedureetha), , and Dalituliki sayamkadu, anghika Nyayam Kavali.(Oct.1991, Yedureetha) Dalit Rana Ninadam p. 53-60 &P.70-74 K.G.Satyamurthy Dalita Vudyama Diksuchi .Dalita Atma Gourava-Atma rakshana Vudyamam p.68
 K.G.Sathyamurthy. Dalitudu Na Chelikadu, Kadante Vilukadu. (Sept .1991,Yedureetha), Dalita RanaNinadam P.92-93 &p94-96
 K.Krishna, Tsunduru Prosecutortho Kasepu… (Interview).Kula Nirmulana p.34-35
 Kesava Kumar, P. Chunduru Naramedham; Mana Prajaswamyam Teerutennulu, Bahujana Keratalu, Vol.2, No.8 August 2007 p.17-21
Swaruparani, Challapalli .Prathigatana, Atmarakshana disaga chunduru vudyamam, Charcha vol. 2. no.8 May-June 2007 pp. 19-21
Swaeruparani. Challapalli. Nurella vudhyamamphalam chunduru vijayam Charcha vol. 2. no.9 July-September 2007 pp. 7-10
Bahujanakeratalu Vol.2 no.8 August 2007
Gogu Syamala. Chunduruni gurthuchesukundam, Bahujanakeratalu vol .1 no11-12 (and editorial
Dalit human rights violations-Atrocities against dalits in India national public hearing April 18-19, 2000, Chennai, TN, National campaign on alit human rights)