Traditional caste Panchayats and human rights violations

“Caste panchayat and its violations”

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”– we can not forget this citation. But at the same time we cam not deny that some injustice has taken place in the name of justice. At an international level, many human rights organizations and courts have spoken against racial discrimination, violations and war crimes. Yet, very often even these voices participate in discrimination. Our Indian constitution was framed in the year 1950. Based on this constitution, various laws have been formulated. In order to implement these laws, various courts and human rights organizations have been established. But have these laws really provided justice for the affected? This question has led to a wide range of debates in various platforms. Law alone can not alleviate our social distress. Moreover, many social activists have continually pointed out that social change can be brought about only through awareness and democracy based struggles. It is only in name that we can say the Political Constitution has been ruling India. Religion and caste determine the rule the lives of many Indians, especially when expressed politically. Our Indian society is a caste based society. Here the dominant caste groups have constituted an authority structure. This authority is strengthened politically as well as socially. We could not deny that in most village authorities there is an atrocious notion that “we decide every thing and solve every thing.” Two tumbler systems, denial of temple entry for dalits, denial of women’s participation in politics, as well as violations and murders for opposing caste discrimination have all become part of their daily activity. Caste Panchayat is the outcome of such brutal atrocities. This caste Panchayat can be termed as Khap Panchayat. This is an institution which claims it is providing justice but at the same time indulges in such unjust actions. In the name of intervention in domestic violence, untouchablity, love affairs, and land lease problems, caste Panchayat members have enacted social boycott, excommunication, torture, assaults, and outraging the modesty of the accused. The caste Panchayat group never allows the accused to approach a police station, court, or any other organization—instead, they themselves act as judges and unleash extreme violence on the accused. In cities some people form khap Panchayats to act in politics and strengthen their caste based unions. But in these organizations, everything is centered on money. In an unstructured form, the khap Panchayat groups act as notorious gangs to threaten and collect exorbitant money from the innocent people. But in villages, these khap Panchayats consider themselves as institutions, setting up a hierarchical structure to bring order in their communities. These caste Panchayats are mainly established on the basis of caste and patriarchal authority. Even in cities many khap Panchayats exist. But do Panchayats based on caste exist in rural settings? Who could believe this? There are more than 1500 police stations and courts in Tamilnadu. Even in small cities, big shopping complexes like malls are constructed. Our growth is accelerating dramatically, evidenced by our installing internet, amassing foreign exchange, and participating in trade conference at the international level. Moreover, how could this form of caste Panchayat take place in villages? If they do exist, who will respect these Panchayats? If they are respected, who will enact judgment in these Panchayats? In reaction to these unbelievable realities, discussions were put forth. Our EVIDENCE team is systematically monitoring and intervening, as well as documenting the news of victimization at the hands of caste Panchayat-related cases including excommunication of couples from a village, women committing suicide due to caste Panchayat judgments, commanding a youngster to light camphor on his hand and walk around a temple to prove his innocence, and the torture of a college student who was tied to a tree for insulting the caste Panchayat. Our Tamilnadu government has passed an order that Goondas act will be enacted against persons who organize illegal community caste Panchayats. Though such orders have been passed, many caste Panchayats are still formed, ignoring these laws and continuing to inflict tortures and bestowing severe punishments. Our EVIDENCE research team conducted a study on “caste Panchayat and its violation” in the months of May-June 2010. Following are the questions administered to the respondents to find out the present status of illegal community Panchayats. What really happens? Do caste Panchayats exist in villages? In what forms has it been functioning? For what types of problems are caste Panchayats gathered? What type of punishment is awarded? How much penalty is awarded? If anyone initiates action against the caste Panchayat, what type of action would the members take against such person? We consider this study to be a challenging one. Until now, no such study has been conducted regarding caste Panchayat. But many fact finding initiatives have been conducted on caste Panchayat and its violations. There are no details regarding caste Panchayat systems and its forms. Keeping this in mind, our EVIDENCE team selected 5 districts (Madurai, Theni, Dindugal, Virudhunagar and Sivagangai) and covered 167 villages in the study area. We had many doubts ton how these village people might answer our questions regarding caste Panchayats. We also faced the possibility of receiving threats or attacks while carrying out our research. How could we tackle such a situation? Fortunately, our team conducted and completed this study successfully. The questionnaire form contained 70 questions in three parts. The team comprised of 8 fact finding groups to conduct this research. Our team interviewed educated people and important people in the villages. The respondents have duly signed and declared that information given to us is to the best of their knowledge true. Hence we consider these signed forms as important evidence. Many respondents of the study asked us not to reveal their names and details about their village. At the same time, many respondents made an appeal to us to seek their support while we initiate any legal action to abolish the caste Panchayat. It was such a memorable experience for us that people have outwardly shown support for our organization. Research Findings Caste Panchayat and its structure: From our findings we found that the each of 167 villages studied has caste Panchayat. In 94 villages, the caste Panchayat is common for all communities. In 73 villages, there are separate Panchayats for each community. In 14 villages, the Panchayat is separate for dalit and non-dalit communities. In 59 villages, each community has separate Panchayats (i.e. in a village with people from various castes such as Nadar, Thevar, Nayakkar, Pallar, Parayar, or Arunthathiyar, each caste has separate Panchayats), also separate caste groups exist in each village. From our findings, we discovered that in 73 villages, people refer to their Panchayat head as Nattamai, in 16 villages as Panchayatar, in 7 villages as Periya vettukarar, in 30 villages as the community or caste head, in 18 villages as Ambalakarar, in 39 villages as village Periyathanam, in 56 villages as Panchayat Head, and in 8 villages as Pannaiyar. Also, in many villages people call the Panchayat head several different names. Our team next asked the villagers, how the Panchayat heads were selected. The answer was in 20 villages as local body elected representative, in 89 villages based on caste representatives, in 86 villages based on heredity, in 36 villages based on status, and in 5 villages based on education. Also some others are elected based on different factors. Caste Panchayat and women participation: Next our team raised the question, “are women allowed to take part in caste Panchayat?” We found that in 73 villages, women are allowed to take part in caste Panchayat. Among these 73 villages, in 37 villages women are not allowed to voice their opinions. Caste Panchayats will mostly be held near the residences of caste Hindus. The Panchayat may also be gathered near a temple, Mandai or Panchayat office. Our next question was “Are the penalties and punishments determined by caste Panchayats recorded?” The answer is “yes” in 56 villages, but in 108 villages, penalties and punishments are never recorded. Problems and intervention of caste Panchayat: In response to the question, “For what type of problems are caste Panchayats convened?,” in 154 villages the reply was for family problems, in 91 villages for economic problems, and in 73 villages for caste atrocities (untouchability). In 103 villages the reply was for sexual harassment, in 118 villages for land disputes, in 66 villages for violating village restrictions, and in 122 villages for individual problems. Caste Panchayat and its atrocities: Among the 167 villages surveyed, in 161 villages the caste Panchayat awarded punishments. In response to the question “What forms of punishment are awarded?,” the reply was that in 148 villages punishment is awarded, in 127 village the caste Panchayat ask the accused to seek apology, in 50 villages they are subjected to social boycott, and in 29 villages the accused are subjected to torture. Caste Panchayat and tortures: For the question, “What individual tortures are imposed by the caste Panchayat?,” the reply was that in 9 villages the accused persons are assaulted with logs, in 19 villages they are made to light camphor in their hands, in 45 villages they are asked to roam around the temple, in 5 villages asked to dip hands in hot oil or ghee, in 109 village the accused and family members are asked to prostrate in front of the Panchayat, in 94 villages they are tied to trees, in 9 villages they are abused, in 64 villages they are subjected to tortures, and in 15 villages they are assaulted by the villagers. Penalty and its details: For the question, “Does the Panchayat fix the penalty amount based on the crime?,” in 37 villages the reply was “yes,” and that Rs.100-10,000 is fixed as the minimum penalty amount with Rs.500-Rs 1 lakh fixed as the maximum penalty amount. Social boycott: Next our team raised the question, “What types of social boycotts are enacted by the caste Panchayat?” The reply was that in 97 villages, the villagers are not allowed to talk with the concerned person. In 56 villages, grocers were not allowed to sell grocery items to the concerned person. In 70 villages, the concerned persons are denied from participating in family functions. In 40 villages, they are forbidden to from hiring themselves as laborers. Caste Panchayat against sexual harassment: In our research, we found that in 88 villages, caste Panchayats take action against a concerned person involved in sexual assault. Particularly, in 50 villages, the concerned person is imposed with a penalty. In 12 villages, the concerned person is made to prostrate themselves in front of the Panchayat. In 35 villages, there is a tradition that if the victim is an unmarried woman, the caste Panchayat forces the accused to marry her. However, if a caste Hindu man sexually assaults a dalit woman, he is merely imposed with a penalty, and he is forced to seek apology. At the same time, if a dalit man sexually assaults a caste Hindu woman, the Panchayat imposes severe penalty and a social boycott against him, as well as taking legal action against him. In only 2 villages, the affected woman is permitted to decide the judgment herself. Apart from sexual assault, in the case of rape, in 74 villages, Panchayats take actions against the concerned person. Mostly the punishment will be enacted in the form penalties and compromise. If a dalit man rapes a caste Hindu woman, severe punishment is imposed and severe legal actions are taken against him. Apart from the point that the act of sexual assault itself is the greatest violation, the caste Panchayat gives more importance in its judgment to caste of the accused. And for the question, “Are the judgments awarded by the caste Panchayat merely followed up as rituals?,” our findings were that in divorce cases, the concerned persons are asked to step up on a wooden rod. They are asked to light a lamp, and a part of the roof from both of the houses is taken and then broken to symbolize that there is no relationship between the two families. For the question, “If both punishment and penalty are given, and if the accused prefers to pay a greater amount, does the Panchayat reduce the punishment?,” The reply was “yes” in 43 villages. For the question “If the accused doesn’t pay the penalty amount, is the level of punishment increased?,” the reply was “yes” in 70 villages. For the question, “If anyone opposes the caste Panchayat and goes to the police, what action will the Panchayat take against them?,” in 88 villages, the concerned person is excommunicated from the village and in 29 villages, money is collected from the villagers to take action against the opponent. We found in our survey that in 45 villages, the caste Panchayat was held within the past 3 months. In 21 villages, the caste Panchayat was held within the past 3- 6 months, in 37 villages, Panchayat was held within the past 6 months- 1 year, and in 47 villages, it was held within the past 1-2 years. Committing suicide and excommunicated from village: For the question, “Has anyone committed suicide due to the judgment of the caste Panchayat?,” the reply was “yes” in 2 villages among 167 villages. In 31 villages, due to the judgment of caste Panchayat, the concerned person had left the village. Legal action against the caste Panchayat: In response to the question, “if anyone approaches law instead of the caste Panchayat, in will the Panchayat take action against them?,” respondents in about 57 villages replied that action would be taken against them. Among the 167 villages, only in 18 villages had a concerned person lodged complaint against a caste Panchayat. FIR was filed for only 10 complaints, and in only 6 cases were the accused arrested. Important findings gathered by our team members during this research: 1. Dalit Nagaraj resides in Vedasanthur at Dindugal district. He had love affair with a caste Hindu girl and they got married. Fearing that it was unsafe to stay in the village, they left the village, returning after 30 days. Noticing this, a caste Hindu gang took them to coconut farm and sacrificed a sheep, spreading the blood upon the couple’s heads. Then they separated them both. Recently, Sumathi got married to another man in her own caste. This incident had taken place within the past 3 months. 2. Dalit Vinoth Kumar resides in Nilakottai at Dindugal district. He had love affair with a caste Hindu girl. Knowing this, the caste Panchayat enacted severe punishment for them and separated them both. Aftera few days, the caste Hindu girl was found dead in a suspicious manner. For the past 2 months, Vinoth Kumar and his family have resided in Karur. 3. Dalit Balachandar, resides in Malapatti at Dindugal. He had love affair with Sangeetha, a caste Hindu. They were married, but the violent caste Hindus brought both of them to the Panchayat and separated them both. The Panchayat then brutally attacked Sangeetha. Some of the villagers then murdered Sangeetha by mixing poison in her food. 4. A dalit woman, residing in Thirupachethi village at Sivaganagai district, was sexually assaulted by two caste Hindu boys. No legal action was taken against the accused, but the caste Panchayat imposed a penalty of Rs.20, 000 per head. 5. In Madhagupatti village at Sivagangai district, the caste Panchayat had separated a man from his village for a land issue. He now resides outside of the village. As he is forbidden from speaking with his wife, he now meets her secretly outside of the village. 6. Murugesan resides in Vadipatti in Periyakulam at Theni District. He had love affair with dalit women Laxmi and they were married. Knowing this incident, the caste Panchayat furiously threatened them both not to enter into the village. The couple left the village and stays at Thirupur. Caste Panchayat and its atrocities-intervention of EVIDENCE: Dalit women committed suicide due to dishonor done by caste Panchayat: Thiruchenkattankudi village is under Thittacheri police limit, at Nagapattinam Taluk. Three dalit girls from this village, Devi (18), Sathya, and Parimala, went to Thirupur to work in textile industry. There Sathya engaged in a love affair with one Pitchaimani, and married him during April 2010. Upon learning of this marriage, the Thiruchenkattankudi caste Panchayat gang brought the three girls and Pitchaimani on 18.5.2010 to the village and severely beat them with sticks from a Tamarind tree. Out of shame, Devi committed suicide by pouring kerosene on herself and lighting herself on fire. In response to this incident, Thittacheri police had filed FIR in Cr.No. 120/2010 under IPC section 309. Sexual assault on tribal girls-caste Panchayat imposed just Rs.2000 as penalty: Kalliyammal (24) and Panju (14) are two sisters hailing from tribal community residing in Moongilpallam village, in Kodaikanal taluk, at Dindugal District. On 13.4.2008, these two sisters were kidnapped and sexually assaulted by Palpandi and Murugesan. In response to this incident the girl’s father Thirumal and some of the tribes went to the Panchayat for justice. Aside from issuing threats, the Panchayat imposed a mere penalty amount of Rs.2000 on the accused. Under the influence of EVIDENCE, Kodaikanal police had filed FIR in Cr.No.167/2008 under IPC section 366(A), 376 r/w 3(2) (5) of SC/ST Act. The accused were then arrested. Brutal attack for opposing the judgment of caste Panchayat: In Valayanenthal village, in Paramakudi, at Ramanathapuram district, some dalit youths had erected their community flag post near their dwelling. The local caste Hindus were furious at this display and damaged the flag post. This incident caused some dalit elders to make a complaint with the elders of caste Hindus, who called for caste Panchayat. The caste Hindus stated that “for years you had given respect for us, but nowadays you people are not respecting us,” and also threatened the dalits that if this disrespect continued that they would face many problems. On 5.7.2009, about 20 violent caste Hindus, with some deadly weapons including sickles and wooden logs, forcibly entered into the residential area of the dalits, brutally attacking them. Nagaraj and Gurusamy sustained serious injuries in this attack. In response to this incident, Emaneshwaram police had filed FIR in Cr.No.54/2009. Brutal attacks on washer men after tying in post: Sankaralingapuram lies in Amathur at Virudhunagar district. Some of the residents of this village had trespassed onto a government wasteland and were illegally preparing some materials needed to produce crackers. On 9.10.2007, someone had set fire to the hut where the materials were being prepared. The Sankaralingapuram caste Panchayat gang had misunderstood that the washer men residing near the factory were responsible for the fire. The caste Panchayat gang took the washer men Palpandi, Sathavu, and Senthilkumar to a mandai and tied them to a post, brutally attacking these three men. As a result of this attack, the three men sustained severe injuries. Around 200 violent gang members were involved in this attack. Sexual assault on 15 year old girl-caste Panchayat asked accused to marry the victim: Yasodhai (15) resides in Surankulam village at Mudhukulathur. She was sexually assaulted by one Thandayuthapani on 24.11.2007. A caste Panchayat was gathered in response to this incident. The caste Panchayat decided that the accused Thandayuthapani should marry Yasodha. With no other options, the girl’s father Pandiyan agreed with them. But after Thandayuthapani’s parents denied this proposal, the caste Panchayat was once again gathered, convincing Yasodhai’s father that “we will get Rs 1 lakh from Thandayuthpani’s parents and give it to you, we can’t do marriage between this two.” Now FIR has been filed regarding this incident. Research findings Our EVIDENCE team had conducted research on 167 villages in five districts Madurai, Sivagangai, Dindugal, Theni, and Virudhunagar. Still there are some villages which were left out of this research. Our findings prove that in all 167 villages studied, caste Panchayat systems exist. Gangs use the influence of caste, money, and politics to implement their dominancy through these caste Panchayats. The main root of this caste Panchayat system is a desire to preserve village structure and caste, causing community members themselves to feel the need to take up authority. It is shocking to learn that dalits themselves also follow this khap Panchayat. Though there are many influences which frame the caste Panchayat system, the main influence is caste and male dominance. It is sad that this caste and male dominancy is prominent among dalit communities as well. The public knows the duties of the police authority, courts, and human rights commissions. The public also knows that all of these departments work from the root of the Indian constitution. The Panchayats implement their violation and atrocities out of a desire to preserve village structure. In doing so, these groups have created a false image that taking legal action against the caste Panchayat is similar to taking action against the whole village people. During our research, some of the caste Hindu elders openly confirmed that they support a caste Panchayat system. Giving judgments for every problem, they report to be above the influence of the police and the courts. Only for murder cases do they allow police intervention. They also raised the question: “how could police be involved, when the victim and accused obey our rule?” The truth is that the caste Panchayat with their violations and village structure is slowly affecting the implementation of Indian constitution. We felt shocked to hear from a law student that, at a village near Usilampatti around 5-6 dalit women are subjected to sexual assault each year. The accused are made to prostrate before the victim’s family by the caste Panchayat, with the intent of avoiding of legal action by creating sympathy with the victim. Still no legal action has been taken against even a single accused person. The law student also added that FIR was also not filed against any of the accused. Kuttimeikipatti village lies near Alanganallur at Madurai. Here the caste Panchayat gang fixed the lease amount without informing the public. Mokkaiyan at Muniyandi (65) had questioned the caste Panchayat group regarding the lease. In response to this, the caste Hindu gang had brutally attacked him on 12.4.2010. From our research we also found that some elected Panchayats are also under the control of caste Panchayats. Before conducting Panchayat meeting, the Panchayat president, vice-president and members approach the members of a caste Panchayat gang. There they hold a discussion dictating which topics should be debated and what decisions should be made, effectively determining the outcomes of the Panchayat meeting. From this practice we can conclude that theses Panchayats are ruled by caste Panchayat gangs. Recommendations • Tamilnadu government should conduct a detailed research all over Tamilnadu determining whether caste or khap Panchayats exist in villages. The findings should be released as an open statement. • Special laws should be framed to abolish caste Panchayat. Tamilnadu government should pass an order that persons in violation of these laws should be arrested under the Goondas Act. • Tamilnadu government should take immediate action to form a caste Panchayat monitoring team in each Taluk. The team should include social activists, human rights activists, lawyers, and media persons. • Government should frame special police station in each district to file complaints regarding the atrocities committed by caste Panchayats. Affected people should be provided protection, legal consulting, compensation, and rehabilitation. • Cases should be filed against caste Panchayat gangs who impose social boycott on accused people. Severe action should be taken so that the gang will not be allowed inside the village until the judgment of the case is announced. • Our organization is concerned that a punishment of social boycott is equal to that of death. Government has not taken any legal action against caste Panchayat gangs who impose social boycott. We believe that the main reason for this inaction is that villagers support Panchayat gangs. A great demonstration should be arranged to spread awareness for villagers about the abolishment of caste Panchayat, knowledge of laws, and messages of equality. (A.Kathir @ Vincentraj) Executive Director