August 6, 1991 –
That is a date which marked a watershed in the Dalit Movement of Andhra Pradesh, a date which is remembered for ever by all the Dalits for the epoch making events that happened on that day in a small village called Tsunduru in Guntur District of Andhra Pradesh. It was a small apparently inconsequential incident that brought in its wake a series of actions and reactions between the Dalits and uppercastes leading to macabre torture and massacre of an entire community of Dalits in the village. These incidents brought into sharp focus the atrocities that the latter are capable of unleashing against the former with all the inhuman ruthlessness and communal frenzy they could muster and the level of tacit support and protection they can command as a matter of routine from the bureaucratic, police, and media systems that are nurtured and cultivated to serve the needs and interests of the ruling classes. It took a long drawn and unified struggle of the entire Dalit community from the low hutments of Deenapur village to the high seats of power in Delhi to secure justice to the victims of the atrocities and bring the guilty to book. The case highlighted the fact how difficult it is for a Dalit cause, however justified it is, to receive just attention, in the normal course of law. At the same time, the case also galvanized sentiments of all Dalits in the state and spontaneously brought them on to an organised and common platform to put up resistance in cases of similar atrocities.
Mr. Uppalapati Srinivasa Rao, a typical product of Rural Christian Junior College of CARDS at Deenapur, ideally moulded in the best standards of Dalit Renaissance at CARDS, went back to his village Tsunduru with a determined resolve to sincerely put into practice what he learnt at CARDS in the service of his community in his own village.
The Dalit community of Tsunduru Village has already been in the process of awakening and awareness. About 150 Dalit Youth who were the products of the Rural Christian Junior College of CARDS at Deenapur were receiving higher education at various educational institutions. They have been organising Dalit Youth Committees to create awareness in the community and to inspire them to react effectively to the various problems arising out of the caste system from time to time. Mr. Uppalapati Srinivasa Rao played an active and crucial role in activities such as Nirmal Hrudaya, service to the persons disabled by old age, installation of stature of Dr. Ambedkar, resisting the acts of injustice against Dalits etc. Very naturally he incurred the wrath of the upper caste landlords.
From 6 December, 1990 to 14 April, 1991 CARDs organised a Torch rally covering about 1000 villages in Guntur District to celebrate the Birthday Centenary of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar. The rally took place in Tsunduru Mandal on 2nd, 3rd and 4th February, 1991. A Dalit Seminar organised in this connection at Tsunduru was addressed by several Dalit Intelligentsia. The upper Caste landlords of Tsunduru resented this growing upsurge of Dalit Renaissance in the village and their own inability to stop it.
Under these circumstances, a small rather insignificant incident took place in the village Cinema House. On July 1, 1991 involving Mr. Govathuti Ravi Kumar, a Post Graduate student at Andhra University, who was also the Secretary of the Ambedkar Youth Association in the village. It was alleged that his foot touched an upper caste person, sitting in the front row. It could have been an accident and it could also have been a casual misdemeanor of a young boy. The incident led to a small altercation then and apparently subsided at that.
But it was not to be. The upper caste land lords were already seething with pent up animosity against the Dalit youth of the village. They made it an excuse to aggravate the situation as a means to intimidate the community as a whole, to put them on the back foot and there by check the rising tide of Dalit Renaissance even if they could not hope to obliterate it altogether. From the fact that the reaction took 8 days to manifest itself, it was evident that it was not spontaneous and impulsive but a calculated and preconceived strategy. On July 9, the village Panchayat President and his nephew assaulted the boy and chased him out of the village as the first step of the strategy to test the reaction of the community. Then three days after, on July, 12, the landlords of the upper caste attacked the Dalit Colony itself. But strangely enough a criminal case was registered against the Dalits by the police contrary to the facts of the situation. That obviously was the kind of hold that the uppercaste had on the system as a matter of routine.
On the following day, Mr. Uppalapati Srinivasarao, along with two other local youth activists met the Dist. Collector and submitted a petition representing about the grave insecurity, he faced in the village. They followed it up with a similar complaint to the Inspector of Police at Tenali on 26th July. Again on July 30, there was a violent confrontation again between the two communities. Mr. Srinivasarao also attended the Dalit students conference at Ongole in the neighbouring District and appraised them about the situation CARDS already took notice of the developing situation and sent a report about it to the government as well as the press. But there was no response from the Govt. or the Police. On August 4, a Dalit Shop Keeper was stabbed by the upper caste people near Revenue Office in Tsuunduru Dalit youth admitted him in the hospital.
August 6, 1991 saw the climax of the situation, the blackest day in the annals of Tsundru Village. The upper castes along with some hired goons attacked the Dalits, Chased, hunted, massacred, butchered some of them in the most ghastly manner in broad day light - bundled them up in bags, buried them in a stream nearby and terrorized the rest of the community. The Dalit Youth who survived the holocaust fled the village helter-skelter. CARDS came to the rescue of the flabbergasted and helpless community and led them safely to Tenali Railway station and from there to the security of a local church at Ithanagar, a Dalit area of the town. The wounded were admitted to Hospital.
Mr. Srinivasarao who was the chief target of the upper castes, went underground into safety of another village. CARDs took the initiative to give wide coverage to the news in the press and also arranged food and necessary succour for the victims taking refuge in the church till other Dalit organisations arrived on the scene with aid in cash and kind. CARDs also organised a committee under the leadership of Mr. Kathi Padmarao a renowned Dalit Intellectual to take charge and do the needful in the case. The committee mobilized relief aid required by the victims, sent a fact finding report to the Govt with a charter of 9 demands for the effective rehabilitation. As a result Govt. declared an amount of Rs. 50 millions as aid for relief and rehabilitation. Even though peace has been restored and some of the problems have been attended to by and by, many more remained unresolved. The Dalits do not know, how much of the amount declared by the Govt. has been actually released and how it was spent. Nor has the Govt. bothered to tell details to the public.
P. Ranjan Babu at CARDS, the Visionary of Dalit Renaissance that he is, did not allow the issue to rest in cold storage as yet another local story of forgotten atrocity against Dalits. He took the next scene of the episode from the salubrious campus of Deenapur to the highest seat of power at Delhi. He made use of his relationship with Mr. Manohar Prasad of Ambedkar foundation at Delhi. The later in turn discussed the issue with Dalit representatives in the Central cabinet viz., Mr. Ramvilas Paswan and Mr. Buta Singh. CARDS sponsored a delegation of Dalit Activists to visit Delhi. The Dalit members of Parliament belonging to SC, ST, BC and Minority Communities were organised on a common platform at the instance of CARDs. They made efforts to submit a petition to the then. President of India Mr. R. Venkatraman, who however did not grant an interview. This again brought into focus the apparent influence of caste based society even on high seats of power. This made the Dalit leaders and intellectuals reflect on the need of Dalits occupying high positions of Power. In due course this realistion took the shape of concrete action when Dalit leaders came to occupy the positions of Speaker of Parliament and President of India.
It took 25 years of ceaseless and tireless commitment to service for the Dalit Renaissance movement envisioned and spearheaded by CARDS to travel a long and difficult way from Deenapur to Delhi.