A 24-year-old CPI(ML) comrade Mariappan from the washer man (Vannar/dhobi) caste in Tirunelveli was brutally killed by casteist, communal forces on July 20. His head was chopped off – the body was found in the morning yesterday and the head, in the late evening. The accused had threatened Mariappan in Court the very day he was killed – they told him they would chop off his head for daring to pursue the case of an attack on a comrade who had, along with others, asserted the right of people of the Vannar community to take a funeral procession along a corporation road in spite of objections from the casteist elements aligned with the Hindu Munnani outfit.
600 people including Comrade Mariappan’s family and comrades are on a fast since this morning; they have declared that will neither eat nor receive the body till all the accused are arrested. Three of the accused have been arrested but the main accused is hiding – reportedly in a BJP supporter’s house. The BJP is trying to claim the innocence of the main accused.
Mariappan’s wife Vidya is expecting their first baby – on the very day he went missing, relatives had gathered in the house for the ‘valaikaapu’ ceremony in which the pregnant woman is blessed for a safe birth.
Since 2007, Mariappan had been an activist of the CPI(ML), as well as AICCTU and RYA. His father Comrade Shankar is the branch secretary of the party in Ward 44 of Tirunelveli town. CPI(ML) branches are active in Wards 43 and 44, with members mostly being from the working class and the Vannar community. In ward 44, Viswanatha Pandian, a leader from the dominant caste (Mukkulathor) used to “disallow” anyone else from contesting local body elections. But ever since the CPI(ML) became active there, the dominant caste candidates had had to face rival CPI(ML) candidates from the oppressed caste. As has been witnessed elsewhere in the country as well, people from Dalit and oppressed castes are routinely denied the right to vote or contest elections – and their assertion of this right, of what Ambedkar called the principle of ‘one man, one vote’ and ‘one man, one value’, is seen as a social and political challenge to dominant caste ‘honour’ and clout.
In 2013, a funeral procession of a man of the Vannar community was held, and CPI(ML) comrades had asserted the right for the procession with the body of the departed man to march through the corporation road. The dominant caste people in the area with the help of Hindu Munnani elements obstructed the funeral procession and one comrade was attacked by the Hindu Munnani goons. Our comrades staged a road block, forcing the authorities to intervene and restored the right to take the procession through the common road. The party filed a complaint against the attack on our comrade, and Comrade Mariappan was one of the complainants and witnesses.
The dominant caste and Hindutva elements were incensed that people from the oppressed Vannar community were asserting their civil and political rights, and especially with having to appear in Court in the matter of the complaint made by Comrade Mariappan. On July 20, Comrade Mariappan had gone to the Court along with two witnesses; and the accused had warned him that he would be killed on that same day. They declared that they would cut off his head.
That evening Comrade Mariappan did not return home. His father Comrade Shankar thought he might have gone to watch a movie. But another Comrade, Sundararajan, said that since Mariappan had been threatened by the accused, it was best to make a complaint in the police station.
Comrades Shankar and Sundararajan went to the police station at midnight. The police began its search that night and Comrade Mariappan’s headless body was found next morning. The head was found in the evening.
The barbaric decapitation reeks of casteism. The incident is reminiscent of the manner in which CPI(ML)’s Comrade Bant Singh’s limbs were chopped off in Punjab because his daughter demanded justice against rapists.
Even as the Dalits’ protests in Gujarat have brought the barbaric casteist-communal ‘cow protection’ outfits into focus, the killing of Mariappan reminds us that this nexus between casteism and communal Hindutva is country-wide. Everywhere, the oppressed castes are told –either join the Hindutva outfits and accept your subordinate status in the casteist order as your ‘rightful’ place. Or else, if you refuse and assert your equality, dignity and rights, you will be subjected to barbaric torture and executions.