R. V. Pillai
Secretary General
National Human Rights Commission
Sardar Patel Bhawan
Samsad Marg
New Delhi 110 001

By Fax: 91-11-3340016

Dear Secretary Pillai:

I am writing to alert you to the killings of at least eight and perhaps as many as thirty or more low-caste villagers in Vempenta, a village in Pamulapadu Mandal, Kurnool District, Andhra Pradesh. The incident took place in the early morning hours of July 16, 1998. To our knowledge, no one has yet been arrested in connection with the massacre.

Several hours before the killings began, a former village official and member of the high caste community named Sivaiah was murdered in his home, apparently by members of the People's War Group (PWG), a radical Marxist-Leninist organization that has advocated the use of violence to achieve land reform. According to a report prepared by a local human rights organization that visited the site on July 20, there were rivalries between the PWG and another leftist organization to which Mr. Sivaiah belonged, which may have provided the motive for the murder. As some members of the scheduled caste (Dalit or "untouchable") Madriga community are believed to be sympathetic to the PWG, the murder apparently provided the high caste landlord community a pretext for attacking the Madriga colony in the village. Between 1:30 a.m. and 5:30 a.m. a mob rampaged through the colony hacking to death at least eight people and throwing their bodies into a house that was then set on fire. Some reports estimate the number killed to be thirty or more. At least 100 houses were burned to the ground. Most of those killed were Madrigas, although some also belonged to the Dalit Mala community and some to a another low caste community known as the Backward caste.

Local police did not appear on the scene for more than ten hours. As all of the Madriga families had fled out of fear, the police reportedly spoke only with members of the landlord community. The police have filed some forty cases against Madrigas suspected in the killing of Mr. Sivaiah. As of July 20, no charges had been filed against any of the villagers who participated in the attack on the Madriga colony. Madriga villagers interviewed by the human rights team stated that many of their attackers were still present in the village and appeared to have police protection.

The current tensions between the high-caste land holding villagers and low caste villagers emerged two years ago when Madrigas staked a claim to local temple lands that the high caste villagers had arrogated to themselves and began to cultivate them. Human rights activists who have investigated the incident believe that the land dispute was the real reason for the massacre.

As you are aware, attacks of this kind on Dalit communities in India are frequent and those responsible are seldom prosecuted. We urge you to send a team to investigate the incident as soon as possible and ensure that a case is registered under the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act and those responsible for the attack arrested and charged. The affected community should be provided protection and compensation, as provided under the law. The behavior of local police should also be investigated, and any found to have conspired with the attackers or to have failed to intervened promptly appropriately punished.

We look forward to hearing from you soon.

Sincerely,

Sidney Jones
Asia Director of Human Rights Watch