Untouchability in AP
It is quite strange that almost 54 years after Independence, untouchability still prevails in various forms and atrocities on Dalits and girijans occur with regular monotony in the "progressive" State of Andhra Pradesh. The State's dubious record in this regard should be a source of concern for Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu who pursues economic reforms with a human face and wants to establish an egalitarian society by the year 2020.
On the 94th birth anniversary of former deputy prime minister and prominent Dalit leader Babu Jagjivan Ram on April 5, some Dalits accompanied Civil Supplies Minister N Janardhan Reddy, a TD Rajya Sabha member and two legislators, into a local Hanuman temple at Tankara village in Mahbubnagar district and performed puja. Four days later, the upper caste elders imposed a fine of Rs 5,000 on the Dalits and detained them for the entire day.
Only after the incident came to the Chief Minister's notice, the local police swung into action and arrested Achanna, leader of the upper castes in the village. The Left parties claim this is not an isolated incident but there are many such instances of obnoxious practice of untouchability reported from various parts of the State. The most usual practice of upper castes is to prevent the entry of the Dalits into temples.
Another practice of hotel owners is to serve tea to Dalits in separate glasses kept for them. The CPI-M alleges that untouchability is prevalent in hundreds of villages in the backward and "forward" districts alike. The party has taken up a week-long programme for organising padayatras from April 14, marking the 111th birth anniversary of B R Ambedkar, to create awareness among the Dalits about their rights. In the last few days, in scores of villages, the Dalits have entered the temples and offered prayers under the aegis of the CPM-led Struggle Committee Against Caste Discrimination.
The Dalits also sipped tea from "common glasses" at the hotels in their villages. But such symbolic gestures hardly alter the serious situation rampant in the countryside. Andhra Pradesh, which boasts of Cyberabad and rapid strides in Information Technology, has gained notoriety for the high incidence of atrocities on Dalits. No less than 2,000 offences/crimes have been reported against Dalits and girijans in the State every year since 1995, when the present Chief Minister took over.
Besides, almost 10,000 cases are reported every year under the SCs/STs (Prevention of Atrocities) Act as well as the Protection of Civil Rights Act (which deals with offences of untouchability). As if money could ease trauma and wipe out stigma, Naidu has enhanced the ex-gratia to Rs 2 lakh for the families of murder victims and Rs 50,000 for rape victims among Dalits. About a 1,000 victims/families get relief totalling Rs 1 crore every year.
The government has constituted 22 mobile courts in the State to try the cases under PCR Act. A special PCR Cell has been set up by the State police. DSPs have been appointed in nine districts for expeditious investigation of crimes under the SCs/STs Act. Special courts have been constituted in each district for the trial of offences under SCs/STs Act. Three special sessions courts are functioning at Guntur, Tirupati and Secunderabad.
Incidentally, the government appointed a one-man commission under Justice K Punnaiah to enquire into the issues of untouchability and atrocities against SCs/STs and to suggest measures to eradicate untouchability. Despite all these measures, the incidence of untouchability and atrocities on Dalits has been alarmingly high. Caste discrimination has persisted from the Congress days but under Telugu Desam, the caste rivalries between upper castes and Backward Classes and Dalits got accentuated.
During TD founder-patriarch N T Rama Rao's tenure, Padirikuppam, Dechavaram and Karamchedu incidents were reported. Coastal Andhra witnessed caste riots on an unprecedented scale in December 1988 in the wake of the killing of former MLA Vangaveeti Mohana Ranga Rao. The scourge of casteism flourishes under Naidu.