It was a brickbat disguised as a bouquet. That was why Coimbatore District Collector Archana Patnaik chose to take a day’s leave to avoid accepting the bouquet from Youth for Social Justice (YSJ), a collective of lawyers and activists. Though they claimed they were presenting the bunch of flowers in appreciation of her services, it was indeed a mock gift for her alleged role in protecting perpetrators of caste violence.
In the absence of the collector at her chamber, the bouquet was left with her secretary by the protestors. A letter tucked into the bouquet said she ‘deserves appreciation’ for not taking action against rampant social discrimination and caste practices prevalent in the district.
The forum, with offices across the state, alleges that repeated pleas for taking action against social discrimination, atrocities and violence were left unattended by the collector and other officials. That is why it resorted to this novel form of protest.
Inspired by the ideals of Dr BR Ambedkar and Periyar EV Ramasamy, YSJ launched India’s first helpline for protecting Dalits in distress in November last year. A single call to the toll free number 1800-425-33-444 will ensure legal, social, political and emotional support to Dalits who face humiliation and atrocities from caste Hindus.
“The helpline functions from 7 in the morning until 11 at night. On receiving a distress call, members of the forum will reach the spot offering all possible support. Our volunteers will collect evidence and record statements. They will be later handed over to the police along with the complaint of the victim,” explains R Ramesh, an advocate who is an active member of the forum. As most of the forum members are practising lawyers, they help resolve the issue to the satisfaction of the victim if the issue does not require police intervention.
Calls to the helpline average 500 per month. “Late night calls are recorded and returned in the morning,” adds Ramesh. According to him, most cases of atrocities against Dalits get a lukewarm response from the police and the government. As a result, the perpetrators of inhuman crimes and practices go scot-free after the initial enquiry.
“Our only concern is that a Dalit in distress must get justice. Our members would pressurise police with better legal advice and maximum available evidence to act tough on the guilty,” says advocate Panneer Selvam, President of YSJ. “Demolition of caste walls, abolition of the two-tumbler system, opening of public roads and temple entry are a few cases that we have successfully taken up in recent days”.
“The police, often members of dominant castes, remain partial and insensitive to Dalit causes. We are forcing them to take action’’ he adds.