Posted On May 3, 2023


In the past year, Dr Atchanna had sent multiple complaints to various authorities alleging caste bias and maladministration in the workplace. But no strong action was taken against his colleagues, one of whom ended up allegedly killing him.

Written by  E Bhavani, Edited by  Jahnavi Reddy              

Dr Atchanna, a Dalit veterinarian who worked for the Andhra Pradesh government, would probably have been alive today if he wasn’t a stickler for rules. The 58-year-old doctor from the Mala Scheduled Caste, a Deputy Director of the Animal Husbandry Department, was murdered in cold blood on March 12 this year, allegedly by B Subhash Chandra Bose, a subordinate in his clinic from the dominant Kapu community. Dr Atchanna, who was set to retire in about four years, was allegedly abducted by Bose and his accomplices, forced to drink alcohol and then pushed off a cliff to his death. Nearly two weeks after he was reported missing, the Kadapa police nabbed the accused, attributing the motive to a workplace dispute which started with Atchanna filing a Lokayukta case against Bose. Atchanna’s family, animal husbandry department colleagues, well-wishers and anti-caste activists in the state believe that the dispute with Bose was only one part of the larger institutional casteism the doctor faced as a Dalit government employee.

In the days before he was killed, Atchanna apparently started to lose faith in doing things by the book. In an interview to a local YouTube channel in February, Atchanna said, “The Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act is not being implemented properly in Andhra Pradesh, especially in Kadapa. The police and legal systems here are not functioning properly. Scheduled Caste and upper caste employees are being treated differently. I request authorities to uphold the ideals of Ambedkar and Phule, and ensure justice to Dalits and Adivasis.” He said that he had faced caste discrimination from his colleagues, and alleged that repeated complaints to his seniors in the department went unaddressed. Speaking to the media after his death, Atchanna’s son Clinton said that if the authorities had paid heed to his complaints, the workplace disputes wouldn’t have ended in his father’s murder.

Soon after Atchanna went missing, his wife Sobha filed a habeas corpus petition in the Andhra Pradesh High Court. The plea mentions that three days after Atchanna went missing, on March 15, an order from the animal husbandry department suspending him from service was pasted on the door to his Kadapa residence. Atchanna is likely to have died by then. Earlier in his interview, he had mentioned that he was facing pressure to leave his Kadapa post despite complaints pending with the police, district SC commission, and Lokayukta, as well as ongoing legal disputes.

Andhra Pradesh SC Commission chairperson M Victor Prasad has referred to Atchanna’s murder as an “unprecedented” incident in the state’s history. “Nowhere in the state has a district-level government employee been murdered in such a pre-planned manner. For a long time, Dr Atchanna has complained about a threat [to his life] to the police, to his department… We also received similar petitions… There has been some negligence in his matter.” Suggesting that he suspected the hidden role of certain individuals from the animal husbandry department in the murder, Prasad said that investigators must look into Atchanna’s complaint letters, and consider them as evidence.

In a slew of complaints to the police, the district administration, his supervisors in the animal husbandry department, and the Lokayukta, Atchanna had complained about multiple incidents of alleged caste-based harassment and maladministration. A self-identified Ambedkarite, Dr Atchanna’s colleagues said he often rejected their advice to ignore corruption in the department. In 33 years of service, he tried to resolve every problem through legal processes while exercising his constitutional rights, according to associates who have known him for years. And that’s what he tried to do till his last breath.

In one of his final video interviews, Atchanna talked about facing caste discrimination from his clinic colleagues. “As a Dalit employee, I’ve been running around for one year with my complaints… but neither [Kadapa] District Animal Husbandry Officer [Saradamma], nor the state department director [Amarendra Kumar] have responded. There’s favouritism and caste discrimination [in the department], they’re doing this because I’m a Dalit. The [state Animal Husbandry Department] director Amarendra Kumar favours only one particular community, he isn’t helping SCs, STs, and BCs,” Atchanna said. Amarendra Kumar belongs to the Kapu community, and so does Bose. 

Atchanna went missing on March 12, even as his complaint against his subordinate and alleged murderer B Subhash Chandra Bose was pending with the Lokayukta. The complaint alleged caste-based favouritism in Bose’s appointment and questioned his credentials.

Bose was one of the five suspects named by his family in a missing complaint filed on March 14. Ten days later, on March 24, Atchanna’s body was found in a highly decomposed state, in an isolated area on the outskirts of Kadapa. Three more days later, the police arrested Bose for Atchanna’s murder.

But the events preceding the murder, the alleged indifference of the police and the animal husbandry department authorities to Atchanna’s multiple complaints of caste discrimination, the police’s response to the missing person complaint, and the circumstances in which the body was found — all of these have marred the faith of Atchanna’s department colleagues and activists in the police probe. While his grieving family has decided to place their faith in the judicial system, as they believe Achanna would have done, many of his former classmates and colleagues, and anti-caste organisations, have decided to lead the fight for justice. Recently on April 22, many of them convened in Vijayawada in the name of ‘Dr Atchanna Nyaya Porata Sadhana Samithi’ (Committee for Dr Atchanna’s Legal Battle). Remembering Atchanna’s life and struggles, the committee has sought a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) probe into his murder.

Before the murder

Achanna is remembered by his friends and former classmates as a quiet and idealistic college student. Having worked as a government veterinarian for nearly 33 years, he was posted as the Deputy Director of Animal Husbandry, to the Kadapa veterinary polyclinic in June 2021. The clinic also had two Assistant Directors, — Sridhar Linga Reddy and Sudheer Nadh Banerjee (both from the Reddy community) — murder accused Bose who worked as a veterinary assistant surgeon, and around five other staff members. 

In a complaint to the National Commission for Scheduled Castes following Atchanna’s death, his family mentioned that ever since he joined the Kadapa clinic, he had complained of caste discrimination from his coworkers and subordinates. The complaint also mentioned that Atchanna spoke about being verbally abused by Bose. The habeas corpus plea filed by Atchanna’s wife also mentions that he had complained about harassment from his clinic colleagues with mention of his caste name.

This workplace hostility allegedly worsened as Atchanna acted against alleged corrupt activities and mismanagement at the clinic. One of the employees at the Kadapa clinic told TNM that Atchanna had complained about alleged misuse of funds allocated to the clinic towards building construction work. He had pointed fingers at Assistant Director Sridhar Linga Reddy who was in-charge of the clinic before Atchanna, and also department director Amarendra. In the video interview, Atchanna alluded to this and said that after failing to obtain answers through Right to Information queries, he had complained to the anti-corruption bureau.

According to his family’s letter to the National SC Commission, Atchanna had also raised a complaint with the Lokayukta against Bose’s appointment as veterinary assistant surgeon, on the grounds that he was underqualified. The complaint also alleged caste-based favouritism on the part of state Director of Animal Husbandry Department Amarendra Kumar, as well as maladministration by the District Animal Husbandry Officer Saradamma and the Assistant Directors at his clinic. 

In the interviews, Atchanna admitted to withholding the salaries of the employees at his clinic for allegedly not performing their duties properly. “No work, no pay. They’re not following the job chart or showing any discipline. They’re not signing in the attendance registers. They locked me out of my office for three days,” Atchanna said. As a deputy director, Atchanna was responsible for both administrative and clinical duties, which meant that he had to get his staff to do all the necessary work, a senior employee from his clinic explained. He alleged that Bose frequently disobeyed Atchanna’s orders, along with Banerjee and Reddy, which added to the work pressure on Achanna and in turn led him to disciplinary action against his clinic colleagues. Atchanna said that when he surrendered Bose and other employees’ services, they continued to hang around the office and insult Atchanna in front of farmers visiting the clinic. 

He said that his clinic colleagues complained about this to the department director, who sent a three-member committee to investigate. The committee visited the clinic on February 14, and Atchanna alleged that the members concluded their inquiry in a hasty manner.

The habeas corpus plea filed by his wife also mentions that Atchanna had written a letter to the Lokayukta on March 11, and sent it on a few department-related Whatsapp groups the next day. That was the day he went missing. It was a Sunday morning, and as Atchanna walked out of a church located near his clinic around 11.30 am, he was allegedly abducted by Bose’s associates — his relative Chennakrishna and a business associate named Balaji Naik. According to Kadapa Superintendent of Police (SP) KKN Anburajan, Bose had planned to murder Atchanna as he was financially and mentally affected by his salary being withheld.

“As Atchanna came out of the church, Balaji shoved him into their car. When Atchanna resisted, Balaji and Chennakrishna pointed to Bose standing at a distance. Bose then got into the car, and as they talked, Atchanna agreed to withdraw the disciplinary action and take him back into the clinic… They then got him drunk, took him to Guvvalacheruvu ghat road, seated him on the safety wall of the ghat road and kicked him. He fell from a height (of about 15 feet, according to the panchnama report). They discarded his phone a few kilometres away. Based on the location of his cell phone, and Bose’s location in Rayachoty, the case was cracked. The three accused have confessed to the crime,” the SP told the media on March 27, announcing their arrest three days after Atchanna’s body was found. Incidentally, Atchanna had planned to stage a protest in front of the district Collector’s office on that day, seeking action against his clinic colleagues and department head.

The SP said that the investigation would continue, and they were yet to determine if more people were involved in the murder. The accused were booked under section 302 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and relevant sections of the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act. The probe is currently being led by a DySP (Deputy Superintendent of Police).

After the murder

When Atchanna went missing, his family members feared for his life, and for good reason. On March 14, they lodged a missing person complaint at the Kadapa One Town police station. A day later, they also wrote to the SP. In their complaint, the family mentioned caste-based harassment, and named his clinic employees Bose, Banerjee and Reddy, as well as Kadapa District Animal Husbandry Officer Saradamma and department director Amarendra Kumar, as Atchanna’s tormentors. Their fears were vindicated when police nabbed Bose. However, the family has raised concerns over the police investigation so far, and their failure to find Atchanna in time, or even his body in an undecomposed state so that more clues or evidence would’ve been available. One of his department colleagues noted that despite the family naming Bose as a suspect, the police failed to trace Atchanna for ten days.

In one of his TV interviews, Atchanna had alleged that the local Sub-Inspector and Circle Inspector had failed to act on his complaints against his colleagues. He said he would complain against them to the SP for neglecting their duties under the SC/ST (PoA) Act. In the complaint to the National SC Commission, his family alleged that when they lodged the missing person complaint, the Kadapa I Town CI Nagaraju forced them to remove Amarendra Kumar’s name as a suspect. In the ten days before Atchanna’s body was found, the family alleged that they went to the police station several times, only to be told repeatedly that call data was being verified but no clues were found. While announcing the arrest, however, the SP said that the case was cracked based on call data and tracing Bose and Atchanna’s phone locations.

Atchanna’s family, friends and anti-caste organisations have raised concerns over the quality of investigation in the case so far, and the delay in finding Atchanna’s body. They have also alleged that the postmortem was done in a hurried manner without informing them or waiting for their arrival, and have sought a re-postmortem.

“In the past ten months, if director Amarendra had paid heed to his complaints and taken some action against the others, the disputes wouldn’t have led to murder. His negligence led to my father’s death,” Atchanna’s son Clinton told the media, demanding that those whose negligence led to his death should also be punished, soon after Madiga Reservation Porata Samithi (MRPS) leader Manda Krishna Madiga met the family. Manda Krishna also demanded a re-postmortem and a separate probe led by a sitting judge, alleging negligence by a few police officers and the department head Amarendra.

A wider problem

Atchanna’s story isn’t an isolated case. In April, Dr Sudhakar, another Dalit government doctor from Andhra Pradesh, was in the news when a video of him complaining about the lack of COVID-19 protective equipment at his hospital went viral. The state government suspended him as a result. A month later, the doctor was arrested by the Visakhapatnam police for creating a nuisance on the road. He was seen on the road shirtless, stopping passing vehicles and creating a commotion while using abusive words against Chief Minister YS Jagan Mohan Reddy. The police were criticised for the way they detained him, by physically assaulting him and tying his arms. A case was registered against the doctor, whom authorities then declared “mentally ill” and admitted to a government mental health care institution until the High Court ordered his release. The court later directed the CBI to probe the alleged police excess.

Dr Sudhakar died due to cardiac arrest in May 2021 at the age of 52. Leader of the Opposition Chandrababu Naidu alleged that harassment by the Jagan government, both physically and mentally, led to Sudhakar’s death.

A Dalit government doctor who attended the meeting of the ‘Dr Atchanna Nyaya Porata Sadhana Samithi’ told TNM, “Even in the role of a district-level officer, we often experience similar threats just for performing our duties in the office. Caste prejudice exists in our workplace. We did not want to remain silent about it even after a murder.” 

In the habeas corpus petition, Atchanna’s wife Sobha also mentioned that he had faced caste discrimination when he visited the district Collector’s residence to check on his pets and livestock, as his clinic employees often did. Atchanna had even written to the CM, Governor, state SC Commission and district officials, alleging that the Collector Vijay Rama Raju’s father Prasad Raju (who is from the dominant Raju community) had abused him in the name of his caste and asked him not to enter their house.

The Nyaya Porata Sadhana Samithi insists that a CBI probe is necessary so that Atchanna’s murder case isn’t botched like many other caste crimes in the state, such as the 2007 Vakapalli gangrape case and the 2017 Kurnool teen’s rape and murder case. While a few opposition parties and civil society organisations, and several individuals have voiced their support for the demand, Communist Party of India (CPI) state secretary K Ramakrishna expressed surprise over CM Jagan’s silence on the brutal murder of a Dalit government official in his own district.

Courtesy : TNM