It was just two days after the 100th International Women’s Day. Hardly a day had passed since the passing of the historic women’s reservation bill in the Rajya Sabha. The praises for the inept government that passed the bill after 14 years of long wait had not yet died down. The voices of regret for losing valuable outside support for ‘just another bill’, was still being heard in the corridors of power in Delhi. Just when impostors were becoming heroes, a true martyr sacrificed his life for upholding the dignity of a woman. For the mainstream media, the sacrifice was not worth noticing, for it was the death of an unknown man in the fight for the marginalized. The state government did not deem the cold blooded murder fit enough to act upon immediately, for the urgent matters of unveiling a half completed assembly was pending before it.
Com. Veluchamy (38), a CPI(M) branch secretary in Pallipalayam, Namakkal District, Tamil Nadu was stabbed to death by a local money lending group on 10th March 2010, just one hour after he registered yet another complaint at the local Police station claiming threat to his life by the same group that killed him. He had earned the wrath of the group by exposing their barbaric sexual assault on a young woman and their subsequent uploading of the filming of the gruesome assault on the internet. A little bit of a socioeconomic background of the town would be helpful in understanding the context of the action.
Pallipalayam’s main economic activity is power loom weaving. There are about 20,000 power looms in the town and more than 25,000 workers are directly dependent on it. The daily working time of the workers is about 12 hours and they work almost all days of the month. Despite such a strenuous working schedule, the workers lead a hand to mouth existence and regularly they have to knock the doors of local money lenders for loans. Using the poverty of the weavers, money lenders lend them around them Rs.100000 and exploit them to the core. The weavers are not allowed even a day of holiday and if they abstain themselves owing to even ill health they are severely beaten up. The government has continuously remained a mute spectator to all these atrocities. The weavers are driven to despair and deprivation to such an extent that not long ago there were reports of kidney trade in the area. The rising prices of even the most basic necessities have only worsened their condition. There are about eighteen money lenders in the area in which Com. Veluchamy lived. Upto Rs.50000 is given for weekly interest. For every Rs.1000, the weekly interest is Rs.200. With such a heavy interest the workers are never able to repay the principal but only could keep paying the interest endlessly. If a borrower is not able to pay the interest for even a week an exorbitant fine was imposed.
The utter destitution of the workers and the lawlessness of the system were used by a group led by a person named Sivakumar to satisfy their own vulgar urges. A woman worker was not able to repay a week’s interest and she sent her just married daughter the following week to repay the loan. The innocuous girl had a shock in store for her. The money lender made one of his goondas sexually abuse the girl and the money lender himself captured the assault on camera and assaulted the girl and sent her home. The assault that was captured on the video was uploaded on the internet and circulated even in the cell phones. The young daughter’s body was sold to prying eyes just because she was poor. The family was shocked.
The distraught mother nowhere to go, approached the local CPI(M) unit. Com. Veuchamy, immediately registered a complaint with the local Police and followed the case to get the gang arrested. A report was also published in the Theekathir (Tamil daily organ of the CPI(M)) newspaper dated 20-02-10. The Police was forced to arrest Sivakumar. Subsequently Com. Veluchamy received death threats from the gang and he immediately took it to the notice of the Police on 25.02.10. The Police even after receiving the complaint made no effort to protect him. A few of Sivakumar’s gang members went to Com. Veluchamy’s house on the afternoon of 10-03-10 and threatened his family members. So a complaint was registered by him again at 9:45 P.M the same day claiming threat to his life by the gang. Just one hour after the second complaint was registered the gang members fatally stabbed Com. Veluchamy to death. Had the police acted immediately on the first complaint the incident could have been prevented and a life could have been saved. Even after all this, only a huge mass protest by the people of Pallipalayam on the following day made the police shed its inertia and start the efforts to nab the murderers.
This is not a one off incident occurring in the remote corner of the country. Ever since the country embraced neo liberalism the textile industry has been one of the worst hit. The big mills were closed everywhere and the textile industry which was one of the biggest organized job provider in the country slowly turned unorganized. With the government’s approach destroying agriculture, a huge reserve labour for the sector was created. People who traditionally did not belong to the weaving community also started rushing towards the jobs in power looms as agriculture and allied fields no longer proved viable. Even the affected family in the above incident belongs to the Arundhatiyar community, a community not traditionally associated with weaving. The contractors took advantage of this situation and exploited the workers. The earnings became lower and lower and brought the workers destitution and starvation. We cannot have forgotten the starvation and suicide deaths of the weavers of Andhra Pradesh in the beginning of this century. The same Pallipalayam town in which Com. Veluchamy lay down his life was in the eye of a controversy for kidney trade just a decade ago. The weavers were forced to sell their kidneys for paltry sums of Rs. 30000 and Rs. 40000. At one point of time, more than 50% of the unrelated organ transplants in south India were from this area. The government only attempted to arrest this trade but never really took measures to solve the root of the problem.
The state government of Tamil Nadu led by the DMK has been projecting the present rule as the golden era of Tamil Nadu. Rarely a week passes by without one congratulatory meeting or the other organized in praise of the chief minister.The central government at the same time has become unashamedly neoliberal. The mainstream media is also happy to toe this line and second such hollow celebrations. It is in this circumstance, that making the voice of the marginalized heard becomes an important political task. Com. Veluchamy has laid down his life for performing that duty. He has left behind three young children aged 11, 8 and 7. A true homage to the martyr would only be a fight for a better world. A world in which those children would see no more exploitation.