‘No One Killed the Dalits’

Meena Kandasamy

“In the past few days, we have been hearing and sharing pictures of the lynching of two Dalit children in Faridabad, Vaibhav and Divya. And it is something that is very shocking and at the same time very graphic. But I will start by telling you that the killing of children is a caste Hindu speciality. From our memories of Gujarat genocide in 2002, we cannot forget the bodies of children who were lined up, arranged next to each other. And there is a long history of the killing of young children. If we look at the massacre in Kilvenmani, that happened on Christmas day, 1968, 23 children were killed. All of them were burnt to death. In fact it was not just that the children were locked up in a hut and burnt to death but there is one episode which anybody in Kilvenmani will tell you again and again - how one of the mothers of a child in a desperate attempt to save the child threw the child outside, hoping that somebody will save the baby, somebody in the mob would have the humanity to save this child. But they basically chopped the baby into pieces and threw the baby back into the hut and set it on fire. This is the caste Hindu humanity that we have in this country.

So when we trace the history of massacres whether it is Villupuram, whether it is Bathanitola, whether it is Laxmanpur Bathe, let us realise that the killing of children is a watermark that runs through the heart of caste atrocities. So even as we grieve, even as we are shell-shocked with this cruelty, let us understand where the caste system comes into play and how it works.

I wrote on Kilvenmani and I decided to write about it because it not only shows the cruelty of the caste system but also the cruelty of the state machinery. In Kilvenmani, you have a particular case with the police aiding the landlords who lead the lynch mobs. The police framed a very flimsy case; they watered down every testimony and they gave plenty of escape routes for the accused to walk free. The politicians never took the threat that Kilvenmani would be burnt as seriously as it deserved. The Congress party in Kilvenmani in Nagapattinam district was represented by the man who actually lynched the Dalits. Gopalkrisna Naidu was the president of Tanjore Congress while the chief minister of the state at that time was C.N. Annadurai. He comes and says “People should forget this as they forget a feverish nightmare or a flash of lightning”. This is India’s first Dravidian chief minister. And then Periyar, a month later speaks about the event. And he says “wage is not something you can demand, a wage is that which is fixed by market conditions”.

But, personally, when I read about this case - How 44 people, men, women and children, were lynched to death, I was betrayed not by what the caste Hindus did but what the judgement did, as I felt the judgement was as merciless as the massacre itself. If we revisit the Tanjore district in the immediate aftermath of Kilvenmani, you will find something very interesting. You have all these landlords who would go out and say things like “there would be hundred more Gopalkrisna Naidus, hundred more Kilvenmanis would continue to burn”, and one of the other things they said was that  “hundreds of landlords are willing to face the gallows and hundreds of them are ready to embrace the news” and this is where the twist comes. This is the state of mind of the perpetrators, their willingness to face the legal consequences of their action but then the judiciary steps in and not one landlord was sent to the gallows, none received life term. On the contrary, every single one of them was acquitted. Therefore, the murders are described as casteist, as feudal, they were at least anticipated, that they have to face the consequences of their action. They knew that crime will have certain punishment. But this is when Kilvenmani case took such a turn and the judgement in this case marked an important moment in our nation’s history. Because, the court set a dangerous precedent.

So today, if a massacre of that scale happens, the caste Hindus will go on and say, no, we are not going to spend any time in jail, we are going to walk free. And it is not about only this massacre because Kilvenmani is not just Kilvenmani. Kilvenmani continues to happen all over India. It happend in Kilvenmani in 1968 but, it happened in Villupuram in 1978, it happened in Tsundur, Bathanitola and continues to happen elsewhere. This mass killing of Dalits continues to happen again and again. And the way in which the judiciary functions, it also gets replicated in the same manner...”

Excerpted from the Dalit writer and activist Meena Kandasamy’s speech delivered at the 7th Anuradha Gandhy Memorial lecture at Mumbai on 30 October, 2015. The full lecture may be read at: