pic- courtesy — The hindu
By Dr Anand Teltumbde (For the Fact Finding Committee)
06 December, 2012
On 7 November 2012 as the sun set to retreat from the Naikkankottai sky the world of Dalits symbolizing their toil of years, sacrifice, and aspirations was reduced to rubble and ashes by a marauding mob of the caste Hindus within hours. While caste atrocity was not unknown to Tamil Nadu, the state that has dubious distinction of having exemplified the new genre of atrocities stemming not from the ancient code of Manu but the modernist code of political economy unleashed in the name of Nehruvian socialism in the form of Kilvenmani in 1968 down to caste clashes in Paramkudi, what astonished the world was the locale of this gory incident and the manner in which it was executed. Naikkankottai was known for years as the hub of the naxalite movement in the state, with almost all its residents, Dalits as well as non-Dalits either directly participating as comrades or actively sympathetic to them. As the imposing memorial of Comrades Appu and Balan, who were encountered by the police in 1979 right at the entrance of the village seemed to assure, these people would not fall to their baser instincts to have caste conflicts like their counterparts elsewhere in the state. The apparent cause of an inter-caste marriage between a Dalit boy and Vanniyar girl that seemed to trigger the incident was not convincing in the face of the fact that there have been literally hundreds of such marriages in the Area in the past that continued even after the 7 November incident. What caused this ugly incident, which would rank among the worst caste atrocities in the country has been the main issue before the team.
Generally, the fact finding teams by the civil rights activists rush to the site of incidence immediately after the incident and bring forth the facts to the attention of public. We have deliberately resisted this temptation and delayed our visit for the reasons that the salient facts of the case were already published by the news papers and other fact finding teams. What we wanted to know was what the forces behind these facts were. This could be better known after some cooling off of the initial reactions. The responses of people are relatively more objective than immediately after the incident. Therefore we visited the area on 21 and 22 November 2012. The team comprised the following members:
· Adv. Murugan, Secretary, CPCL
· Prof. Kochadai
· K. Kesavan, CPCL
· Gopal Sundararajan, CPCL
· Adv. Sudhakar, CPCL, and
· Dr Anand Teltumbde, CPDR, Mumbai
The bare facts of the incident were as follows:
The girl named Divya, 20, belonged to Chellankottai near Naikankottai. She was studying for her B Sc (Nursing) in third year in a Dharamapuri college. The boy named Ilavarasan, 23, was from Natham. He had studied up to 10th standard and was reportedly just selected in the state police.
They had a love affair for some time but their parents feigned ignorance. When a proposal for Divya came from a boy of the same (Vanniyar) caste, who was employed with a salary of Rs 35,000 a month, Divya’s parents wanted to accept it but Divya did not. She declined it saying she would not get married till she finished her education. The boy was prepared to wait. However, soon thereafter she and Ilavarasan secretly married around 8 October. It slowly leaked to the village including the girl’s parents. Although girl’s parents were not happy with the marriage as reportedly the boy did not have a good reputation, was not educated enough to be a match to Divya, did not have sound economic background, and was in the neighboring locality (to be constant embarrassment), they did not have visible reaction. There were number of inter-caste marriages that happened in the village, both ways, which were accepted by both the sides.
However, there was a caste meeting that took place about a month before the marriage in which Kaduvetti J. Guru, a local MLA belonging to Paattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) gave a call that inter-caste marriages should not be accepted and whosoever dared to defy it should be done to death. Of late, the Vanniyars had been having this kind of campaign among them. This impelled them to call a Panchayat meeting on 3 November, which took place in the morning at the Appu-Balan’s memorial across the Dharamapuri-Thiruputur highroad that edged past the village. The meeting for the first time portended some ugly turn to the events. Some people vociferously gave an ultimatum to the Dalits that they should restore the girl to her parents within two days else they would face dire consequence. Dalits fearing some untoward occurrence requested police protection, which was granted by posting some 20 policemen at the village on 5 November.
On 7 November, when Divya’s father, Nagaraj learnt of the girl’s resolve that she would not come back, he committed suicide in mysterious circumstances. Some people, led by those who shouted threats in the meeting, immediately used his dead body to mobilize Vanniyars to attack the three Dalit colonies, Natham, Anna Nagar and Konampatti. The attack was unique; in sense it spared people of any bodily harm and only targeted their property. In all 268 houses were looted and then set on fire. Valuable assets such as motorbikes, cycles, refrigerators, television sets, almirahs in most houses were damaged and burnt. All of their inmates were reduced to penury as all their savings were either looted or burnt to ashes. The government had set up sheds as temporary shelter for them and erected pandals for kitchen. Each family was given Rs 50,000 as compensation.
The Interviews with Activists
M. Chakkarai, Marwadi village, ex-Panchayat Board President, now a Councilor on the Union (body of many Panchayats), representing his Panchayat, was himself a Dalit and politically belonged to DMK. The Panchayat is reserved for Dalits. He had played a significant role as mediator between Dalits and the caste Hindus, who were seemingly agitated over the subject inter-caste marriage. He narrated his mediation as below:
Nagaraj had informed him to participate in the Panchayat meeting on 3 November morning near the Com. Appu-Balan’s memorial. When he went, there were about 40 people. Within minutes, the crowd swelled to around 200 people. Most belonged to the Vanniyar caste and about 15 were the Paraiyars, Dalits. At the Panchayat meeting, the passions ran high among the Vanniyars. They shouted to get the girl back. Chakkarai tried to pacify them saying that they had come there to settle the issue and hence they should exercise patience. He reasoned out that the whereabouts of the married couple was not known and they needed to find it out. They would consult the parents of the girl and boy, speak with the girl herself and decide the matter amicably. However, still the Panchayat decided to issue an ultimatum to Dalits to return the girl within two days.
The next day, Chakkarai went to Natham colony and met with some people. He recalled some names as Dorai, Chinnavan, Mariyan, Sankar, Shivraj. He proposed to speak with Elangovan, the boy’s father, to know the whereabouts of the couple. He met Mathialagan, ex-President of the Vellalapatti Panchayat who belonged to PMK, and asked him to meet with Nagaraj. Mathialagan declined saying that he was instructed by his party not to intervene in this matter. He said that Nandan of Vidhuthalai Chiruthalaigal Katchi (VCK) had spoken with Saravanan, State Dy General Secretary of the PMK and learnt that even he was (had) instructed not to intervene in the matter. Chakkarai said that when approached Mathialagan, his (Mathialagan’s) wife told him that Mathialagan was already involved in other cases and therefore he (Chakkarai) should himself talk to Nagraj and not involve Mathiialagan. Accordingly, Chakkarai spoke with Nagaraj.
On 7 November, it was decided to meet the girl, whose whereabouts were known to Elangovan, who worked in a Dharmapuri hospital. Nagaraj’s brothers – Jagannathan and Balan met with Elangovan who promised to arrange for their meeting with the girl. Nagaraj declined to come and instead sent the ladies. They all, along with Pota Palaniswamy, Pota Dorai, Shakthivel (village head of Natham), Shivragi, Chinnavan, Shankar, Elangovan, with girl’s family went in a single van to Toppur (near Kattamedu) close to Malayappan Nagar at around 1.30 PM. At Kottamedu (forest area), some 15 boys brought the girl on two wheelers. Dvya’s family spoke with her. Divya said that she had willingly married with Ilavarasan and would not go back. The family knew that they were in love for the last two years. Since her father wanted to marry her off to someone else, she had decided to marry the boy she loved. Jagannathan, Shankaran and Balan reacted saying that the girl’s parents should be punished with lashes. Chakkarai separately met the girl to reach the final conclusion. She reiterated her resolve not to return even to him. She clearly expressed her fear that if she returned, they would kill her. Chakkarai concluded and told the people that since the girl was firm, nothing could be done.
He sent back the girl’s family in an auto rickshaw at 3 pm. Before they reached home, Nagaraj was dead. At 3.30 pm Chakkarai got to know on his cell phone from his friend Chellan, who belonged to Vanniyar caste that Nagraj had hanged himself and there was a commotion there. Chellan asked him to come back. Accordingly Chakkarai started off to Chennamdkuppam, where Chellan stayed. He got another call informing him that a lot of people had gathered along with Nagraj’s body. At 3.40 pm, Shiva called him up informing him that Vanniyars have gone to Dalit colonies and began arson.
Kamlesh whose sister is married to a brother of Thenmozhi, wife of Nagaraj told us that when they went to meet the girl, a call came from Nagaraj to his wife. Possibly she narrated what happened through the discussion with Divya. It was 2.52 pm, as seen by Kamlesh’s sister in Thenmozhi’s cell. The call was attended by Kalaiselvi, Thenmozhi’s sister and wife of Nagaraj’s elder brother. Kamlesh had suspicion about Nagaraj’s death on two reasons: one, As he learnt from Thenmozhi, when she reached home, the door was open and the inside was dark. She found that Nagaraj was standing below the wooden beam with a rope around his neck tied to the beam. Pachiappan (the DMK counselor, who most vociferous in the Panchayat meeting demanding the girl be brought back), had taken the body to the courtyard.
James, an activist of the Anti-Imperialist Movement informed that after the threatening voices in the Panchayat meeting, Dalits had given a written complaint and asked for police protection. Accordingly, some 20 odd policemen were posted at the colonies. But before the mob attacked the colonies these policemen went round warning the people of Natham colony of the imminent attack by Vanniyars and to vacate their houses. Accordingly, people had fled away from the scene.
On the inter-caste marriage, the activists collectively opined that it could not be the cause of such a huge incident. They said in chorus that there were over a hundred such marriages in the surrounding villages and over a thousand in the Dharmapuri district. Chinnatambi, a dalit had married a Vanniyar girl in 1987, when Vanniyar Sangham was at its peak but there was no problem just because there was a strong naxalite movement then.
Chakkarai and others named some people who were vehement in the Panchayat: Pachiappan (ex-counselor belonging to DMK), Lorry Madhu of Chengalmedu village belonging to PMK, Chellangottai Murugan, (who was once in Radical Youth League (RYL), a youth organization affiliated with the then PWG but now in AIADMK), Kaniyapatti Raja and Kathirrnayakhalli Vediyappan belonging to AIADMK.
Vanniyars and Paraiyars
Dharmapuri district, situated in the north western corner of Tamil Nadu is bounded by Thiruvannamalai and Villupuram Districts on the East, Salem District on the South, Krishnagiri District on the north and Kaveri river on the West. The District economy is mainly agrarian in nature; nearly 70% of the workforce being dependent on agriculture and allied activities. The district is one among most backward and drought prone area in the state. Naickenkottai came in the Krishnagiri district after the division of Dharmapuri district.
Based on the analysis of the available data on landholding [Size Class-wise Number and Area of Operational Holdings (in the then) Dharmapuri District of Tamil Nadu (2000-2001) provided in IndiaStat], the Dalits hold negligible, i.e., just 1.31% of the cultivable land. In terms of landholding, they preponderate in marginal class (0-1 ha) at the maximum of 6.4%. The percentage comes down as the holding size rises. In small holding class (1-2 ha), it is 5.66%; in semi-medium (2.4 ha), it is 3.2 %; in Medium (4-10 ha), it is 1.7 % and in Large (above 10 ha), it is 0.9 %. The respective percentage of landholding goes on rising with the landholding size for others. In their case, for the above classes of landholding, it is 92.27, 92.70; 95.53; 97.47 and 98.82 % respectively. In the subject villages, a few Dalits had land. While most Dalits had been working in Bengaluru and Coimbatore either as self employed with such jobs like scrap dealing or in construction industries, the womenfolk went for farm wages on Vanniyar farms.
The Vanniyars who concentrate in the districts of North Tamil Nadu, were agricultural labourers and from the second half of the nineteenth century promoted themselves as the Padayachis (soldiers) and in the second stage raised themselves as Vahannikula (fire race) Kshatriyas abbreviated to be Vanniyars. Their ancient history is rather connected with the great Buddhist society existed up to the tenth century in Tamil Nadu. Their absorption into the Brahmanic society is phased over a period of last 400 years. As per historian Sadasivan, Vanniyars are the only people who formulated an ideology and wrote a history of achieving their proversion. As early as 1870 they had brought out a book to prove that they were descendent of Agnikula Rajputs and that they were in the remotest past, the shepherd kings of Egypt. In 1891 to convince the census authority a Vanniyar by name T Aiyakkana Naicker had written another book entitled Vannikulavillakam (the light of the fire race) to establish that Vanniyars were Khatris. Another thesis Varna-Darpana (mirror of varna) published in 1907 sought to elevate the Pallis (another name of Vanniyars) as the descendent of the Pallavas of Kanchipuram. With the revival of Brahmanism, the Buddhist people were deprived of their land and forced to serfdom to cultivate the same land of which they themselves were peasant proprietors. The destiny of Vanniyars also changed in process. Their name Palli is Pali in origin, was associated with the Buddhist social life signifying the sanctified or the sacred. It was made derisive appellation in Tamil, largely by the anti-Buddhist forces.
Today they may be marginally different from Dalits, Vanniyars are classed under the MBCs (most backward classes) and are the largest community, accounting for about 53 per cent of their population, and probably the least backward among them. Unlike Thevars, the Vanniyars organized movement began much later when Dr S Ramdoss, their leader formed the Vanniyar Sangam in 1980. The continuous protests the Vanniyar Sangham launched in 1980s had forced the DMK government led by M. Karunanidhi to institute a 20 per cent reservation for the 107 communities including the Vanniyars as the ‘most backward classes’ in education and employment in 1989. During the movement 21 persons were killed in police firing. Thereafter, Ramdoss formed a political party styled as Paattali Makkal Katchi. There were violent clashes between Dalits and Vanniyars in Cuddalore and North Arcot and South Arcot districts. But soon Ramdoss tried to create a coalition of MBCs, Muslims and Dalits to win political power and hence projected himself as the friend of Dalits, speaking in Dalit functions and inaugurating Ambedkar statues at many places. Later, with the emergence of Thol Thirumavalavan as the leader of the Dalit Panthers, which changed its name to Vidhuthalai Chiruthalaigal Katchi, and match between the two leaders on some common ideological positions — on Tamil nationalism and reservation — and the personal chemistry between Dr Ramadoss and Mr. Thirumavalavan seemed to ensure a measure of amity. The two worked together on various platforms, even when they were not part of the same political alliance. The VCK conferred titles like ‘Tamil Kudithaangi’ and ‘Ambedkar Sudar’ on Dr. Ramadoss.
It is significant that for the first time Thirumavalavan has openly come out against the PMK as having instigated violence in Dharmapuri.
Visit to Dalit Hamlets
The first village right on the road from Dharmapuri to Thiruputtur, is Natham, where the orgy had begun. The people of Natham told us that a crowd of 1000 to 1500 had assembled at the picketing area on the main road immediately after the dead body of Nagaraj was brought there. While bringing the body from Chellankottai, the hamlet to which Nagaraj belonged, the crowd attacked and ransacked the house of Ilavarasan that fell on the way to the main road. The 15-20 policemen posted at Natham since two days on the request of Dalits just stood by. Earlier the village Panchayat had met thrice on the 17 and 18 October at the behest of Divya’s parents to know her whereabouts. The panchayat meeting was headed by Mathiazhagan of the Chellankottai Panchayat. Panchayat leaders from nearby 15 villages were also invited but only village heads from seven panchayats participated. Prominent among them was Pachiyappan of Pochampatti, who was most vocal and had threatened in abusive languages that Dalits would face serious consequence if the girl was not returned to her parents. There were also few others like Tasmac Siva and Sivaraj, Dharman, who also supported him. The attack was mounted on Natham by some 500 people who went in groups of 30- 40 people while looting and burning houses. They first entered the house looted the valuables and then destroyed the house.
In Natham 160 out of total 188 houses were looted, damaged and burnt. Natham had about 250 families, all Dalits, the Paraiyars. Most houses were pucca houses with cement concrete slabs or tiled roofs. Many had glazed tile flooring, some even with granite. Most were well furnished with sofa sets, steel almirahs, and had cycles and motor cycles which lay burnt in front of them. In a meeting with the residents collected in a pandal put up by the government, people provided general information about the hamlet. Twenty families had land ranging from half to three acres. Ninety percent of the menfolk worked in Bengaluru as construction workers and scrap dealers. Over the years, Dalits with their hard work accumulated money and built good houses and generally improved their living standard. There was significant spread of education too. Natham had more than 200 boys and girls who were past +12 and nearly 20 graduates. There were two teachers in government schools, two lady teachers in private schools, four policemen, four military men, an advocate, and some others in similar positions.
The first house we visited had completely burnt interior. Jayraman, the owner of the house was inside at the time of attack. He narrated generally what transpired. A mob of some 300-400 people apparently from distant villages had come to his house and they drove him out. They took away their gold jewelry worth 15 sovereigns (sovereign is eight grams). His wife Suguna showed us a plastic bag supposedly containing the remains of their Rs 2 lakhs in 500-rupee denomination. She explained that it was the amount to be distributed to contract labourers, engaged by Jayaraman. Jayaraman had accumulated money to build new house through small contracts but it was all ruined within minutes. Besides the cash, they lost gold jewelry worth over Rs 3.5 lakh, contract material worth 12 lakhs and complete damage to the house running into another couple of lakhs. In return, he just received a cheque for Rs 50,000. They lived since in a small space in their courtyard.
We met with Ramakka with her two children. She also told that more than 500 strong mob had attacked them while the policemen watched from the road that ran right in front of her home. The next house was built under the group housing scheme of the government in which the people received some grant from the government. They put in additional money of their own and had changes of their choice. One girl K Parmala, who studied in I BBA in the Government Arts College, Dharamapuri spoke with us. She said, the arsonists had locked her younger brother studying in seventh standard inside the room and asked her to go away. They looted the house and set it on fire. She returned and freed her brother and then doused the fire. The house had marks of half burnt things.
Next we met with Com Palaniswamy at his house. He was arrested under POTA in 2006 for his radical activism. Now he is with VCK as their district secretary. He said it was a premeditated attack and named Pachhepan, Medical Shiva, Krishnamurthy, the counselor; Tennarasu Chellamkottai, and Dharman. The adjacent house belonging to Tamilarasn, a collie, was not damaged, revealing the method in madness of the marauders that they wanted to inflict damage on the better off Dalits, who they believed did not deserve good life. Indeed, many residents told us that the attackers abused them saying “do you deserve such good houses such wealth and our girls?”
The next house belonged to Madialagan, the brother of Palanisawamy. He also dealt in old paper and scrap. His house was very good and hence badly burnt in its interior. Another person we met also dealt in old papers and scraps. He was Mao alias Socrates alias Santraj. He claimed he lost Rs 2 Lakh and 10 sovereign gold. The adjacent house belonged to Mao’s brother Murthy. He was a village headman. All the houses had their interiors completely burnt and exterior blacked and bearing marks of damage. A narrow lane past these houses took us to the road that connected Natham to Chellankottai, Divya’s village. This was the road by which the mob had carried Nagaraj’s dead body and attacked Elagovan’s house. Next we landed into a big house that belonged to Ravi, a carpenter and brother of Chinnatambi. He had Tata Ace, Bottle Cooler, a big dog housed in a special house, a well kept garden and such other paraphernalia, unbecoming of a typical Dalit in Natham like village. We strayed into many other houses and noted varied kinds of damages. Nowhere had we heard anybody being hit by the mob. It had clearly targeted property of Dalits, particularly the symbols of their prosperity like motorbike, cycles, refrigerator, almirahs, and furniture. Lastly, we saw the Ilarasan’s house which was relatively Spartan. It was desolated, there being no one around to speak with us.
At Anna Nagar also same pattern of devastation was observed. Even after a fortnight, the things were almost intact as the houses were utterly unusable. Anna Nagar had a big house belonging to Joseph, a maternal uncle of Ilarasan. It attracted particular ire of the mob. It was blasted with the gas cylinders. Its solid walls and slabs had deep crack and everything within the house in ashes. Many small houses built under the government scheme also were not spared.
At Chellamkottai, we mainly met with Divya’s mother. There were few more of her relations, who showed us where Nagaraj had hanged himself and narrated whatever transpired. She said that they were not happy with Divya marrying Illarasan as he was not educated and economically well off. There was a better proposal for Divya from a boy from their own caste who earned about Rs 35000 a month, who was also prepared to wait until she completed her studies. Now that she has lost her husband whose death sparked off such violence resulting in many of her people being taken into custody, she would face villager’s scorn if the girl lived in neighboring Natham. She wanted the cases foisted on people be taken back and all arrested be released.
At Kondampatti village the team saw similar devastation in each house as in Natham or Annanagar. There were 195 households here. The houses in general were brick houses. There were at least few government employees. The educated youth numbered around 70 to 80, most of them having completed graduations and some with post-graduate degrees. Many were studying engineering, nursing and in ITI. The village definitely reflected better spread of education than the district as a whole. The people told us that mob had come in a lorry laced with sticks, crowbars, petrol, petrol bombs, etc. They had run away for their lives into the adjacent fields as the mob looted and burnt their homes.
In a make shift meeting with Natham people, we were told that there were 20 policemen who were posted after the acrimonious meeting on 3 November. Around 4.30 pm, they started doing rounds, asking people to run for their lives as a mob of Vanniyars was on its way to attack them. Most houses had only women and children and they fled to fields out of scare. Soon thereafter a mob of 300-400 people from surrounding villages attacked the hamlet with petrol bombs and iron rods. They first broke open the lockers in almirahs and looted the valuables and set them on fire with the help of petrol bombs. Every house that we visited indeed revealed the lockers broke opened and then they were burnt. The orgy went for nearly three hours and only after 9 pm about 500 policemen reached the site, which was less than 10 KM away from the district headquarters and less than 4 KM away from the nearest Krishnapuram police station. Next day, some government officials came at 7 pm and went to some houses and made notes. On 9 November, minister Palaniappan came and distributed cheques. In all, 145 families were given the relief cheques of Rs 50,000 although there were 160 eligible families. DMK people had visited thrice including their fact finding team who had gone from house to house. Likewise, CPM MLA, Dilli Babu visited 10 times till then. Thol Thrumavalavan of VCK visited on 12 November and he had a demonstration on 21 November at Dharmapuri. No one had visited from PMK side so far to the Dalit hamlets.
Based on the analysis of the above facts we reach following salient inferences:
The Attack was preplanned
No one who is conversant with the facts about the incident, including police, doubts that the incident was preplanned. The Panchayat meeting of 3 November wherein a threat was issued by some Vanniyar people if the girl was not restored to her parents within two days, was just a precursor. The suicide of Nagaraj might create an impression that the mob fury was just a spontaneous reaction, but it was not. The mobilization within minutes of such large number, the police forewarning Dalits in the three hamlets, the blocking of road by felling trees so that police do not easily reach the site of attack, the pattern in attack that no bodily harm to the inmates of the colonies would be done but their property would be destroyed, all proved that it was not a spontaneous act. The attacking mobs moreover did not have people from the neighboring hamlet. Many of the Dalit victims had specifically told us that they could not recognize people in the mob, which meant that the people from distant villages were commissioned to attack.
Reason for the Attack
It is commonly understood that the incident was triggered off by the inter-caste marriage between a Dalit boy and a Vanniyar girl. But it does not gel well with the history of this district where such inter-caste marriages were not uncommon. Every hamlet had such inter-caste marriages with normalized relations between the families. Inter-caste marriage could germinate discomfort still but could not be the cause of such organized fury. There had to be some other reason. That reason is to be traced to the disintegration of the PMK, the party of Vanniyars founded by Dr S Ramdoss in 1989. He had earlier founded the Vanniyar Sangham in 1980. PMK, based as it is amongst the high class ‘Vanniyakula Kshatriya’ community, had reared high political ambition so much so that it had one time sought the bifurcation of the state of Tamil Nadu into South and North, such that it could emerge as the ruling community in the north where it commands 50% of the vote bank namely the Vanniyars. It however failed to attract sufficient Vanniyar votes, Vanniyars being scattered among all the mainstream parties. Ramdoss had tried a new inclusive strategy, adopting the North Indian concept of ‘bahujan’ and presenting itself as the party of OBCs, Muslims and Dalits. However, it could not overcome the fact that in the field, the Vanniyars have been violent adversaries of Dalits. Over the years, the drifting of Vanniyars away from PMK went on increasing. Today Vanniyars are strewn around in all political parties, including DMK, AIADMK, Congress and DMDK. In the last assembly polls, the PMK lost Vanur and Tindivanam constituencies, which they claimed as their bastions, to the AIADMK. Recently, The PMK split between Velmurugan and Ramdoss, signaling the further weakening of the Ramdoss party. Velumurugan was expelled from the PMK last year after which he founded Thamizagha Vazvurimai Katchi (TVK). There have been violent clashes between the TVK and PCK (PMK). Recently Ramdoss had revived his demand for a separate reservation for Vanniyars to consolidate them back within his fold. Even our findings revealed that the Vanniyars reflected political heterogeneity. It was imperative therefore for the PMK to consolidate the Vanniyars.
About two months before the incident, the Kaduvetti Jayankondam Guru, the PMK MLA, who heads the Vanniyar Sangam, had publicly announced that the inter-caste marriages of Vanniyar girls would not be accepted. In our analysis, this had direct bearing on the incident. As a responsible public figure Guru or Ramdoss are not expected to make a blatantly anti-constitutional statement that they would not accept inter-caste marriages. Many people spoke suspiciously about Nagraj’s death in view of the fact that he did not evince such extreme reactions over a month. The family, as revealed by his wife had discomfort in accepting the marraige. Such discomfort is usual. Even she did not imagine that Nagaraj would take an extreme step of hanging himself over the issue. Notwithstanding the conspiracy theories shrouding the incident, the PMK plan to exploit the issue for consolidating Vanniyars comes out clear.
It is interesting to observe the role of the PMK strongman S Ramdoss vis-à-vis the vile campaign against the inter-caste marriages. He said, “First give love letters to girls. Then they gift mobile phones to them. This is how young girls get trapped”. It reminds one of the Khap Panchayats in Harayana that are worried over maintaining their caste purity. It was intriguing that Ramadoss kept silence over this incident for almost a fortnight. When he broke it, he came out against inter-caste marriages. “Keeping a vigil on girls and ensuring that they do not fall prey to love is the duty of parents and elders in the family as well as community”, was his advice at a party fora. He falsified the facts claiming that over 95 per cent of love marriages ended up in divorce. He called for enhancing the marital age for women to 21 years, saying only then they would be physically and mentally prepared to lead family life. There was no hiding that he was employing a casteist strategy to consolidate Vanniyars!
New Approach to Atrocities
Tamil Nadu is infamous for gory atrocities on Dalits, having had a dubious distinction of inaugurating a new genre of atrocities in Kilvenmani way back in 1968. While atrocities on Dalits were integral with Dalit lives, they were committed mostly at the individual level for perceived defiance of the caste code. The political economy of the development followed by the Nehruvian regime that produced a class of rich farmers from among the shudra (BC/OBC) castes and inundated the rural India with capitalist relations that denuded Dalits of their traditional security provided by the jajmani system making them rural proletariat, accentuated the caste relations in rural areas. This gave rise to the new kind of atrocities which were committed by a shudra collective on a Dalit collective. Kilvenmani, in which 44 Dalits, mostly women and children were burnt alive by the goons, happened as a reaction of the landlord to the demands of Dalits, led by Communists, for a better farm wages. A spate of such atrocities followed thereafter all over the country which had assumed the form of virtual caste war in Bihar among the landlord armies and the Dalit armies organized under the naxalite banner. The subject atrocity, surely preceded by Gahana and such stray incidents elsewhere, reflects a new trend where Dalits are spared bodily harm but their property is destroyed.
Killings always have a gory association. In the sixties and seventies when Dalits did not have any property or assets, killing was the only means to teach them a ‘lesson’. But over the decades, there has been significant cultural advancement among Dalits with the spread of education. They have striven hard to better their living standards. Today a Dalit homestead is not a dilapidated thatched hut sans any asset. The three hamlets in the subject case had all pucca houses. Although most of them were built under the state government scheme, many had significant modification such as Italian or granite tiles. A significant numbers had assets like television, cycle, motorbike, modern kitchen and such like. Dalits still may be the farm labourers but they do not look the same as their parents. The physical distinguishing marks between them and the caste Hindus have almost disappeared. Their property and not the bodies therefore become a more effective target for ‘teaching the lesson’. It represents their accumulated labour for years, almost objectification of their lives. Killing may not necessarily devastate the entire family (unless the person killed is the only earning member) but property surely devastates the family. There is no insurance culture among Dalits to aim at partial compensation. No amount of compensation by anyone is going to restore their lives. It is therefore the property becomes the most effective target, which singularly comes out in the subject case. This cannot happen spontaneously. It reflected a conscious decision not to touch a person and only loot the valuables and destroy the rest.
Impact of the Radical Movement
Dharmapuri generally had a distinction of being the centre of the naxalite movement. The Naickenkottai particularly was the hub of naxalite activity as symbolized by the imposing memorial people have erected in the memory of Com. Balan, who hailed from the village. The movement was so widespread that none could remain unaffected by it. Both Vanniyars and Dalits were part of the movement in seventies through nineties. It may be reckoned as the impact of the movement that Dharmapuri, despite being one of the most backward districts of Tamil Nadu, did not see any significant caste atrocity. It is repeatedly observed wherever people are involved in any radical movement, their primordial identities and consequently their manifestations get suppressed. But when they recede, there is a kind of upsurge in them. This is seen right at the level of country down to a village. When the Soviet regime collapsed, the religious identities resurged with vengeance all over. The orthodox churches in Russia overflowed with people amazing the outsiders who hoped that eight decades of the socialist regime would have erased the irrationalities in the conscience of its people; it would have shaped up a new man as Lenin imagined. The same phenomenon is observed in relation to caste in India. There is a lesson to be learnt for the communist movement that relied on mechanics of ‘base and superstructure’ to do the job, devoid of its dialectics. They should rethink this metaphor and recognize that what they consider superstructure is potent enough to distort the base and therefore warrants their conscious revolutionary efforts to erase it.
Partisan Role of Police
The area is under high police surveillance because of the naxalite activities that detects a minutest development. It is unbelievable that the development of communal tension in the area since Guru’s public utterances were not known to the Police. The Panchayat meeting on 3 November was a direct signal that communal clash was imminent. The fact that police protection was arranged for these hamlets confirms that police knew of these developments. What was warranted was close monitoring of the area. However, when the attack actually materialized, the police instead of resisting it went on canvassing to Dalits on behalf of marauders to escape from their homes and vanished from the scene. There is no evidence that they tried to dissuade the mob from committing crime, leave apart resisting, which was supposed to be their job. As the attack begun, the additional mobilization of police, which in view of the distances involved could be accomplished within a matter of less than an hour, could have contained the damage. But the additional police force arrived there after some four hours, when everything was done. It is rumoured that the Vanniyars in Police force directly or indirectly helped the marauders. While we would hate to take such conspiracy theory in face value, it is a stark reality that the police failure has been primarily responsible for the incidence. It cannot be interpreted as mere ‘dereliction of duty’ by some petty policemen. It points at the failure of the police administration and needs to be squarely owned up by the Police Superintendent (SP) himself. The Police Chief instead of owning up the failure has suspended a police inspector (Perumal) and a Deputy Superintendent (Gopi) and some constables. May be, they deserve punishment. But it is not enough to restrict the action to these minions; and it should reach the top where the rot begins. The SP of the district incidentally is the same person who headed Madurai Police when Paramkudi killings had taken place last year. The Fact Finding Report on the incident had faulted his role and remarked his haughty behavior even then.
1. The root cause for this incident needs to be located in the statements of Kudavatti J Guru and subsequent endorsements of PMK Supremo Ramdoss against the inter-caste marriages. These statements being unconstitutional, these persons should be charged for whipping inter-caste hatred and disharmony; instigating violence and criminal conspiracy under appropriate articles.
2. Several people named Pachiappan, Siva, Sivaraj, Dharaman who threatened Dalits in the meeting of 3 November of dire consequences and subsequently led the violent mobs to execute it. They should be arrested and charged for violence against the Dalits under the Atrocity Act.
3. The police negligence in ignoring the signals of imminent communal conflict and taking preventive action is clear. It cannot be camouflaged by suspension of a few low level policemen. An independent enquiry into this aspect needs to be conducted so as to locate the fault and the responsible officials should be punished for the same.
4. A detailed survey of the Dalit hamlets to assess the actual loss the people suffered should be conducted and the government should compensate them in full. In addition, the victims are liable for compensation for the mental agony they suffered from the government as the root cause of it is its failure.
5. The incident has created a acrimonious divide between the Vanniyars and Dalits, which means that Dalits would not get farm jobs on Vanniyar farms anymore. The government should create self employment opportunities and arrange for training of Dalits in these and surrounding hamlets most expeditiously.
Dr Anand Teltumbde is writer and a civil rights activist with CPDR, Mumbai