By T.M. Mani (Now T.M. Umar Farooq)
134 pages p/b
Table of Contents
Chapter – 1: VANA DURGA
Chapter – 2: THE RIGHT TO BURY DEAD BODIES
Chapter – 3: COLLECTOR GANGAPPA
Chapter – 4: MURDER CASE – IMPRISONMENT
Chapter – 5: Dr. AMBEDKAR
Chapter – 6: CONVERSION TO A DIFFERENT RELIGION
We did not expect a downpour that night. There were heavy showers accompanied by thunder and lightning. Three of us were curling round in three corners in the pial of that dilapidated choultry. We were almost completely drenched by the rains. I thought we could take shelter in the huts near the choultry for a while and asked Chinna Pappa for her opinion. She was two years younger than us. Could be about ten years.
“No Anna, they are all velalars. They knew our caste. All these days they were moving with me freely touching and playing, only yesterday Meenatchi asked me about our caste. I thought they also belonged to our caste and told her our caste. She passed on the information to everybody and from yesterday nobody speaks with me.
“Why did you tell them?” I asked.
“I don’t know that they wee velalars. I thought that they too belonged to our caste and so told them.”
Chinna Pappa felt guilty. Even at that time there was some light in the tea shop which was a little away. “We shall request them to permit us to sleep here for a while. Then only we can go to work tomorrow.” I said. “They know about our caste, don’t they?”, asked Chinna Pappa.
“when I went to get tea in the afternoon they asked me. I said Odda Chettiar. Therefore, they will permit us.” Said Thangavelu, who was nearby. Our hopes were not belied.
The rains now were a light drizzle. All the three of us did not change clothes. A ‘shorts’ below and a towel above were our clothes. Chinna Pappa used to have a skirt and a blouse and also an upper garment. Like a boy she used to work with us regularly. A few years later she was given in marriage to someone whose ill-treatment she could not bear and so she committed suicide.
The distance between the place where we worked and our huts was about ten kilometres. Many people would return home after finishing the day’s work. Saying that I need not strain myself, my mother asked me to stay in the choultry itself.
She used to send me gruel with those who were coming to work in the morning. This was the food for me throughout the day. For Thangavelu who was working with us and Chinna Pappa also stayed with me in the choultry. We were six children to our parents. When the child, my younger brother, was born, my mother stopped my primary schooling so that I could take care of him. I had to take him to the place where mother was working and after he was suckled to bring him back to our hut. If mother went to a different village for work, I too had to go and take care of my brother. If he felt sleepy, I had to use mother’s old saree, tie it up as a swing from the tree and make him sleep.
When the younger brother began to walk about, I was sent to work for daily wages. It was during those days that I had to live in places like choultries and lead life like a stray dog or fox.
If fact even in places where a dog, fox, pig, lamb or cow could move about freely, we wee not allowed to move about. That is because we are untouchables. We had to carry on with such a degradation and shame. Yes, we learnt about Thanthai Periyar and Ambedkar right from our very early childhood. This is a blessing which our forefathers did not have. They believed that their woes were due to Destiny, Fate, etc. They never raised the questions, “Why?”, “What for?”. They accepted the caste based social order without any resistance. Or, they were used to it.
Many of Our ancestors were so afraid of the dominant upper castes that they ran away from the village and nothing was known about their fate afterwards. My grandfather’s grandfather one Alagan ran fearing the wrath of a big landlord and settled in this place. And, of course, Vaithi’s son Perumal and thereafter Perumal’s son Muthu – he was my father: all these people, one by one were leading a life of slavery on the same farm.
When for the sixth generation my turn came to serve as a alave in that agricultural farm, our family was caught in the maelstrom of Indian independence of “Velliane, veliyeru” (Quit India). When crores of people who were treated as worse than dogs and untouchables even in the twentieth century we got freedom for Indian. In the elections our family wanted its votes to be cast for the Congress Party’s symbol, the bull, in the ballot box. Our landlord Manickam Pillai, a Justice Party leader got angry on this score. He threw all of us out from even that slavish work he was providing. This is how democracy in free India helped us.
(For generation after generation, leading a life of slavery and eking out a bare existence with half-filled stomachs – ) even this himself to the landlord all his life spent his last years in hunger and then died of starvation. My mother and father could not find some other farm to lock themselves up as slaves and went about, town after town, in search of some work on daily wages. It is in that background that I had spent my young days. Wherever we went, the phrase, “Move away”, simply haunted our minds. In Temples, temple tanks, Agraharams (living quarters of Brahmins), tea-shops and even in places where water is provided to quench thirst. Water is given freely, we were denied admission.
On the one hand such an insulting life and on the other side thoughts of Ambedkar and Periyar’s self-respect. In between we were seized of the realities of life. This book outlines a few of those sufferings and struggles in an atmosphere of dejection and frustration. The incidents and the theme of the book are equally applicable to crores of Dalits in our Mother India.
Dalit Blue Tigers Movement