A Dalit student died from committing suicide on November 3, 2023 after he was reportedly assaulted for speaking to a girl from another caste. The assaulters were boys from a higher caste. The incident occurred in Pudukkottai district of Tamil Nadu.
The family members of a 16-year-old Dalit boy have lodged a police complaint alleging that he experienced harassment based on his caste and was subjected to physical assault by students from an Other Backward Community (OBC) community.
The victim, whose name was V Vishnu Kumar, was an 11th-grade student at a government boy’s higher secondary school in Keeranur; he was from the Paraiyar community which is classified as a Scheduled Caste in the state and also reportedly belonged to an economically underprivileged family. The girl, whom he reportedly spoke to belonged to the Kallar community, attended another government school where Vishnu had completed his education up to class 10. Vishnu was friends with the girl even after he transferred to a different school for his further studies. However, the Kallar students were displeased by this association, and had previously also “warned” him against talking to his friend.
The victim’s mother, Uma has asserted that her son was assaulted due to their caste. While initially categorised as an unnatural death, the police have since revised the case to incorporate provisions under the SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act and section 306 (abetment to suicide) of the Indian Penal Code.
“The case came to me after being altered. We are conducting the investigation, questioning witnesses and cross verification is on-going. We will soon make arrests, so until then we do not want to reveal any information as it may affect the enquiry process,” an official has reportedly disclosed to the Hindustan Times.
According to The NewsMinute, the victim was on his way to school when he was physically assaulted and subjected to caste-based slurs. His assailant was furthermore identified as a fellow student belonging to the Kallar community, which is a dominant community. After the incident, deeply distressed, the student returned to his home and tragically took his own life a few hours later. The Kallar community comes under the De-notified Communities (DNC) within the Most Backward Class (MBC) category.
The Udayalipatti police have filed a case against the perpetrators, invoking several sections of the Indian Penal Code including 294(b) (engaging in obscene acts in or near a public place), 323 (inflicting voluntary harm), and 306 (abetment of suicide) of the Indian Penal Code. Additionally, they are charged under sections 3(1)(r) (intentional humiliation of a member of a Scheduled Caste or a Scheduled Tribe), 3(1)(s) (verbal abuse based on caste in public view), and 3(2)(va) (committing offences against a person or property with knowledge of their belonging to a Scheduled Caste or a Scheduled Tribe) of the Scheduled Caste/Scheduled Tribes Prevention of Atrocities Act.
Are caste atrocities becoming the norm in Tamil Nadu?
According to an article by Outlook India, caste violence in Tamil Nadu commonly arises not just between Brahmins and Dalits, but it also arises very often between Dalits and castes that occupy the ‘middle’ rank, mostly OBC caste. The Dalit communities in Tamil Nadu are reportedly relegated to segregated areas where they live in isolated pockets which are typically located away from the homes of the dominant castes. Thus these instances are not uncommon, Sabrang India recently covered the harrowing incident two young boys in Tirunelveli faced on October 30 when the two Dalit youths were subjected to a brutal attack during which their belongings were stolen and they were also urinated upon. The victims have asserted that the assaulters resorted to humiliation and greater violence after they learned that the victims were Dalits. In this case too, the attackers belonged to a dominant caste. The most recent development in the case is that along with other legal actions, the Goondas Act has been slapped on the six men who assaulted the two youth.
In January 2023, after a Christian Dalit boy committed suicide after he was beaten, following this his family continued to receive threats to their life. Recognising the grievous nature of the incidents and the vulnerable position families are in after they file complaints in response to being attacked, Citizens for Justice and Peace had written to the DGP of Villupuram in Tamil Nadu seeking protection for the family as well as action against the perpetrators.
Furthermore, according to The News Minute report, a fact finding report by a collective named Evidence suggests that about 103 instances of caste based violence against Dalits have taken place in in Pudukkottai district between November 2022 and August 2023; these instances take up about almost 10% of the total instances reported in the state. The collective has also stated that three districts, including Pudukkottai, Tirunelveli, and Thoothukudi have witnessed a huge number of caste based violence against Dalits, and thereby has demanded the government declare these as “atrocity prone zones”.
An essay by The Wire corroborates this statement, using National Crimes Record Bureau (NCRB) data, the essay states that incidents of violence against Dalits in Tamil Nadu have been on the rise and between 2019 and 2021, reported cases of such violence in the state increased by nearly 20%, surpassing the national average increase rate of 9.7%. On November 4, an organisation named Dalit Intellectual Collective also asked Chief Minister Stalin to hold an all-party meeting to address the reported rise of ongoing hate crimes against Dalits.