Why a three-decade-old incident of atrocity against Dalits threatens to impact polls in Andhra

YSRCP leader Thota Trimurthulu and his supporters have been accused of tonsuring two Dalit youths for supporting BSP's poll agents.

ByRaj Rayasam

Published Apr 12, 2024 | 6:33 PMUpdatedApr 12, 2024 | 11:23 PM

File photo of Thota Trimurthulu

A special court in Andhra Pradesh is likely to pronounce its verdict in a 28-year-old sensational case of atrocity against Dalits on 16 April.

The verdict was expected on Friday, 12 April, but was adjourned since the judge concerned of the court handling SC/ST atrocities cases was on leave.

YSRCP leader Thota Trimurthulu and his supporters have been arraigned as accused in the case. They allegedly forcefully tonsured two Dalit youths at Venkatayapalem village in the East Godavari district on 29 December 1996.

The YSRCP has been anxiously awaiting the verdict ahead of the 13 May Lok Sabha polls in the state. The ruling party has a lot at stake since the accused in the case, Trimurthulu, is now a YSRCP MLC.

Dalit organisations and the Human Rights Forum have been seeking justice for the victims.

The alleged incident that occurred almost three decades ago continues to singe the Dalit psyche, though society at large, has relegated it to the backyard of memories.

The Dalits, tormented by the henchmen of Thota Trimurthulu, then the Ramachandrapuram MLA, have not forgotten the day on which their heads were forcefully tonsured.

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Delay annoys high court 

Years later, they are still seeking justice. The High Court of Andhra Pradesh in February directed the special court handling SC/ST atrocities cases in Visakhapatnam to expedite the hearing in the case.

The Daksharamam police registered an FIR in connection with the incident at Venkatayapalem, about 30 km from Kakinada, on 4 January 1997.

The high court expressed unhappiness over the inordinate delay in providing justice for the victims. It also expressed annoyance over the special court for not taking the caste certificates of the victims and recording their statements.

The court said that it violated Section 311 of CrPC and the SC and ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act.

The charge against Trimurthulu and others was that they had the heads of Koti Chinna Raju and Dandala Venkataratnam, tonsured. The victims were daily-wage labourers in the state electricity department at that time.

The legislators’ supporters allegedly manhandled three others as well.

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Political vendetta

Witnesses testified that the attack took place since the assailants bore a grudge against the Dalits for working for the poll agents of the BSP candidate for the election for the Ramachandrapuram Assembly seat in 1994.

Trrimurthulu was an independent candidate and he won the election. Witnesses said that the Dalit youths, working for the BSP candidates’ agents, had tried to stop Trimurthulu’s supporters from rigging the polls.

The police registered a case, but not before the Dalit organisations raised a hue and cry. They then arrested Trimuruthlu and nine others and sent them to the central prison in Rajahmundry. They were later granted bail.

Trimurthulu is a powerful Kapu leader in the Ramachandrapuram Assembly segment. After winning as an independent in 1994, he joined the TDP and won the election again in 1999.

When Chiranjeevi floated his Praja Rajyam Party, he left the TDP and joined the actor’s outfit but lost the election in 2009.

Later, after the Praja Rajyam merged with the Congress, he became a Congress leader. He was elected an MLA in a by-election in 2012 but he returned to the TDP in 2014 and won the election.

In the 2019 elections, he contested on a TDP ticket but lost to YSRCP nominee Ch Srinivasa Venugopala Krishna, now the BC welfare minister. Later Trimurthulu joined the YSRCP and acted as in-charge for Mandapet.

Chief Minister YS Jagan Mohan Reddy, releasing the influence he wielded as a Kapu leader, sent him to the legislative council.

(Edited by Majnu Babu).