2020, year of the pandemic: TN family of farmers accuse govt official of abusive and violent behaviour
Semaliyappan, Samiyatha and Shanti have submitted multiple petitions to the police and district administration demanding that action be taken for the casteism, verbal violence and public humiliation to which they were subjected
Editor's note: In 2020, the COVID-19 outbreak upended lives and livelihoods of people in Tamil Nadu in myriad ways. The novel coronavirus threw up new and unprecedented challenges, especially for people from marginalised sections of society. In a multi-part series, Firstpost explores how individuals from different walks of life lived through the year of the pandemic.
This reporter made multiple attempts — at her Tirrupur office, and by way of phone calls — to obtain T Sasikala's response to the allegations, but she refused to comment
When Semaliyappan (78) and Samiyatha (75) decided to slaughter one of their cattle in April 2020, they did what everybody in Soriyankinathupalayam, a village in Tiruppur district, Tamil Nadu, does on such an occasion.
First, they discussed with the village elders the reason for the slaughter, this being that the cow had suffered injuries to its foot and had since been immobile.
Semaliyappan and Samiyatha, both farmers, couldn’t do much with the cattle after that, nor could any of their relatives. Second, they decided proportions for distribution. Finally, they fixed a time and went ahead with it.
Little did they know that this would be used by a government official to subject them to two hours of abusive, violent behaviour.
T Sasikala, Vellakovil Municipality Commissioner, barging into the residence of Semaliyappan on 11 April, demanded that they turn over all the beef in his home.
Her staff rounded up whatever they could find and collected them in a few vessels.
To the shock of everyone present, T Sasikala then proceeded to pour black phenyl into all the vessels, rendering all the meat inedible. Images of her doing so were then circulated, creating fear and furore across the district.
Despite repeated pleas from Samiyatha and her daughter Shanti, Sasikala used casteist language and threatened to whisk them away to a COVID-19 ward if they were found in the possession of beef again.
Sasikala's threat, of declaring the entire village a containment zone inspite of zero COVID-19 cases being reported there, didn’t go down well with the village ward officials, who pressed for action against her.
Firstpost visited Soriyankinathupalayam village to speak to the family about what transpired the night of 11 April. Edited excerpts of the interview with Semaliyappan, Samiyatha and Shanti follow:
What happened that day?
Semalaiyyapan: Our cattle injured its feet after which we knew we wouldn't be able to rear it. After discussing it with people in the village, we decided to distribute its meat. At that time, all forms of meat, be it chicken or mutton, everything was available publicly. This lockdown wasn’t too strict. Everything was open. So I slaughtered it, and distributed it to 30 surrounding villages. I was to send it to four or five more villages, some parts were still left to be distributed. On that day, that amma (refereeing to Sasikala) arrived around 11.
At 11 am?
Shanti: No, 11 in the night, 11 pm.
See, the animal was on its deathbed anyway, nothing could be done about it. We had finished everything by 9 pm itself, individuals had also taken whatever they wanted by then. Somebody from our village informed her [Sasikala].
First, they came and left since all the lights were off. We were all sleeping, actually. She came here and went back, after which she called her informer. On saying that she couldn’t find any meat, her informer told her to travel back further south and gave her landmarks. Then, that madam parked her jeep ahead, and walked towards our home. Her manner was terrible. Her language was horrible. Can you behave and speak like that with people from marginalised castes? Do you know how she tortured us? Me, my mother, none of us came out.
She drove everybody, all the neighbours away. She asked us why we are present there, she told everybody to leave. My father is also old, he was scared they would hit him, so he hid.
Semalaiyyapan: Yes, I was standing in that corner.
How many of them came?
Shanti: There were four or five people from the municipality, maybe a couple of police officers.
So what did they do once they were here? What did they say?
Semalaiyyapan: They asked us if we’ve slaughtered for meat. The blood was there, so it was understood anyway. Some of the parts, like the head, were lying there. They collected all the remaining left over meat inside the house, and poured black phenyl on it.
Shanti: Officers from the municipality started pointing to parts of the animal lying here and said, “Will these Chakaliyar (referring to the scheduled caste community of Arunthathiyars) community dogs die if they don’t eat beef?” They left first and then returned, using such casteist words, and creating such a commotion.
Samiyatha: They barged into our home without even taking their slippers off.
Shanti: They asked for our identity cards, Aadhaar card. We didn’t know why they were asking for these documents, but we still showed it to them.
Semalaiyyapan: Okay, they came here. They could have told us not to slaughter for meat now, or they could’ve registered a case against us, called us to the police station or fined us. All this they could’ve done, I would have been okay with it. But instead, barging into our house [sic] and scaring us like that, behaving that aggressively with the women.
Samiyatha: They didn’t let anybody from the village come to our rescue. Nobody came to help us, from their side at least 10 were there.
Semalaiyyapan: What they did for two hours, we couldn’t tolerate at all.
Shanti: She told us that she’ll take us to the government hospital and admit us at the COVID-19 ward. I told her that my husband has passed away and that my father will come. I pleaded with her to let us go this one time. How much I begged her, this Sasikala madam.
What did they do after pouring black phenyl over the meat?
Shanti: They carried it away.
Did they say why they poured phenyl over the meat?
Shanti: That’s what, she was saying that we shouldn’t slaughter and eat beef. She kept asking why we did this.
Semalaiyyapan: She went into the kitchen and did all this. All our cooked food was kept there. She stood there and poured the phenyl over the meat. It sprayed on all the cooked food kept there. Everything went to waste. My granddaughter was so scared. None of us ate that day.
She told you not to eat beef?
Shanti: Yes, she did.
Samiyatha: She stood inside the house and took photos. My daughter was in tears. She (Sasikala) told us to get into the jeep. I even went till there. My daughter started crying...
Shanti: I tried to tell her that I live separately...
Samiyatha: I told her (Sasikala) that there was no connection between this and my daughter, and that she lives in another house up ahead. I told her that we only distributed beef, not her, I said there is no connection between the incident and her. She told me to shut up.
Samiyatha: Yes, to me.
Without taking into consideration that you are much older?
Samiyatha: What age? She barged in here and kicked the door with her feet, with her slippers on. She said, " Coronavirus is there, you shouldn’t eat all this." She was saying we’ll get coronavirus if we eat this.
Shanti: Everybody is eating chicken curry, mutton curry, but only if we eat this, we’ll get coronavirus , it seems. She kept saying that she is doing this to prevent coronavirus , and that we’ll get coronavirus if we eat this.
Did you ask her who gave her this information?
Shanti: I asked, but she didn’t give us the number. But we still want to know who complained. Somebody from this village has done this, that inspite of coronavirus , these people are eating beef, and that she should come investigate.
If only I happen to be face to face with that lady, she’ll have to answer the questions I pose to her, that is how it is for me when I think about the incident. I was pleading with folded palms, even my aged mother was.
So she (Sasikala) told you that by eating this meat, you’ll get coronavirus ?
Semalaiyyapan: We weren’t informed before, only when she came here, she told us. If we were informed about this before, we wouldn’t have done it.
Did you ask if the government has issued such an order?
Samiyatha: No, but she wasn’t listening to anything we said. She was just doing her own thing.
Nither the TN government nor the Central Government has issued any such order...
Samiyatha: But this lady said there is an order like that.
Shanti: She returned the next day to distribute biscuits. I asked her why she dragged my name into this though I have nothing to do with this. My name was published in the paper.
Shanti: Yes, my name, Shanti, that I was involved in this meat issue, it came in the DinaThanthi paper. I asked why she had used my name, I told her to reply. She said, ‘I haven’t come here to talk about that, I’ve only come here to distribute biscuits.’ All the people here said we won’t take biscuits from her. We said that she had poured phenyl into our food, who knows what is in the biscuits. They didn’t come out in the night but maybe they felt a little braver, so everybody assembled here and refused to take the biscuits. She just left after that.
That lady is saying she did this as part of coronavirus protection. How do we accept this? That is what she is saying everywhere.
Okay, so now what, are you going to eat beef?
Shanti: Yes, we will eat. Can’t be without eating beef [sic] and all. We will eat.
Shanti and Samiyatha: Apparently this is what the government is telling her to do, to come at odd hours and do all this. Is that what the government is telling them to do? You only tell us.
After news of the incident went viral, an inquiry was ordered into the actions of T Sasikala by District Collector K Vijaya Karthikeyan. The inquiry was carried out by a tehsildar, the report of which is yet to be released. The Dalit Liberation Movement has tried multiple times to access this report but their requests have been denied.
Semaliyappan, Samiyatha and Shanti have submitted multiple petitions to the police and district administration demanding that action be taken against Sasikala for the casteism, verbal violence and public humiliation that they were subjected to.
No FIR under the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 has been registered against Sasikala nor has any form of disciplinary action been taken.
Semaliyappan, Samiyatha and Shanti were summoned by Sasikala for settlement talks in October, but they refused to be a part of it.
“We want action to be taken against her for what she did. That is all we want,” says Shanti.
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