ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Forty Years since Keezhavenmani

The fight for emancipation by the dalits of Nagapattinam was a struggle against all odds.

Forty years ago, on the night of 25 December 1968, in the village of Keezhavenmani in what is today Nagapattinam district of Tamil Nadu, 44 dalits, many of whom were women and children, were burnt alive in a hut in which they had taken refuge. The reason: the labourers had the “temerity” to organise themselves and demand better wages for agricultural work. All that they were demanding was six measures of paddy for every 48 harvested on the land of the mirasdars (landlords). In the course of a prolonged struggle for better wages the dalit workers had organised under a communist union. In retaliation, the landowners had formed a paddy producers’ association. It was not just the demand for higher wages that was galling to the landlords; the fact that they were standing up to the all-powerful mirasdar was unacceptable.

A mockery of a court case followed. Ten landlords were convicted to 10 years of imprisonment. But the Madras High Court overturned the judgment citing the convicted’s “respectable statuses as mirasdars” and this was confirmed by the Supreme Court. Justice denied by the law was in a grotesque way delivered by the brutal murder of P Gopalkrishna Naidu, the leader of the landlord association, when he was killed 12 years after the incident.

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