Dalits live in fear in Tuticorin village


The Dalits of K. Velayudhapuram village near Kazhugumalai in Tuticorin district are living in fear of violence as they resisted the efforts of a dominant caste to marginalise them, according to A.Marx, writer and convenor of People’s Union for Democratic Rights (PUDR).

Mr.Marx said here on Thursday that after the removal of an “untouchability fence” that separated the residences of Arunthathiyars and Reddiars, a team of human rights activists visited the village to assess the situation. The murder of a Dalit and a statement by Pattali Makkal Katchi founder S.Ramadoss that 40 Dalits were issuing serious threats to the lives of 400 Reddiar families in the village forced them to visit the place, he noted.

What the team members found was just the opposite of what Dr.Ramadoss claimed, he said.

A 2-km-long barbed wire fence was erected in 2006 following a decision taken at a kangaroo court. The two shops run by the caste Hindus in the village refused to sell any thing to Dalits, he said.

Sometime after the removal of the fence, a 51-year-old Dalit, Karuppasamy, son of Muthuveeran of the village, was murdered, creating fear among Dalits. Dalits demanded the team members that they should be given adequate police protection to prevent any further attacks, the PUDR convenor said.

The team recommended a probe by the CBCID into the murder of Muthusamy as Dalits in the village had no confidence in the local police who, the said, acted in a biased manner in the past. The team also demanded a police outpost in the village.

Untouchability was practised in the village, and it had been widely reported in media, Mr.Marx said, and added that the village should be announced as “atrocity-prone” under the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe Prevention of Atrocities Act, 1989.

He also suggested that a monitoring committee should be formed by the district administration to prevent atrocities being committed against Dalits.

The team included Rajni, advocate, Konangi, prominent Tamil writer, and A.Mohammed Shafi of National Confederation Human Rights Organisations, Madurai.

 

When development triggers caste violence


The educational and economic development of Dalits is seen by the backward castes as a challenge to the social order, as recent incidents in Tamil Nadu show

On the evening of November 7, 2012, a crowd numbering over 1000 people burst into three Dalit settlements in Dharmapuri, north-western Tamil Nadu, and laid them waste. Over a period of several hours, they looted, smashed and burned. Trees had been felled on all approach routes to prevent police and fire-tenders from reaching the scene and those officers who were present decided that discretion was the better part of valour. Over 260 houses were razed to the ground, valuables worth millions of rupees stolen, and goods from televisions to motorbikes smashed and set on fire.

Status competition

The immediate motive for this sustained attack was said to be an inter-caste marriage between a Dalit man and a backward caste woman. Tamil Nadu, however, has a long history of anti-caste activism which encouraged cross-caste marriages. Even today, couples marrying across caste are entitled to various state benefits. This region, furthermore, has a history of communist inspired mobilisation that saw the poor of all castes uniting against landlords and industrialists. In the past 20 years, however, caste identities have been increasingly politicised and polarised by politicians seeking to make political capital out of community identities. It is caste politics and status competition that underpin such violence rather than domestic politics; a point emphasised in May 2013 when violence erupted once more around a Vanniyar (Most Backward Caste) caste conference.

Those at the forefront of the current upsurge in violence are those called the ‘backward’ or the ‘most backward’ castes. These are formal categorisations that entitle groups to affirmative action in recognition of the fact that they have historically lacked the privileges of education and social status. These castes are located just above Dalits in the caste hierarchy but tend to own land. These castes have increasingly mobilised politically to demand special provisions for their group.

In so doing they have reinforced the boundaries of caste and mobilised against perceived threats and injustices. One recurrent assertion of such groups is that Dalits receive favourable treatment from the state and misuse anti-caste legislation to get back at higher castes. Attempts by Dalits to assert themselves in the late 1990s, thus, were met by violent repression from backward castes anxious to defend their status and dominance.

The tragedy of the situation is that there have been systematic efforts to reduce caste tensions in this millennium. Thol. Thirumavalavan, Member of Parliament, Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (VCK-Liberation Panther Party) — the largest Dalit party in Tamil Nadu — came to prominence for his fiery rhetoric that promised to hit back against caste aggression and spoke of a counter-violence of the oppressed. Since gaining office, however, he joined hands with Dr. S. Ramadoss — leader of the Most Backward Caste Vanniyar party, Pattali Makkal Katchi — and campaigned on Tamil issues in the interests of social harmony. Indeed, as Gowthama Sannah — Dalit intellectual and VCK leader — put it in 2012:

“Back then when we spoke of hitting back, Mukkulathors and Vanniyars were vehemently and violently anti-Dalit. After Dalits started to counter-attack, their predatory instincts diminished. Now they do not engage in major riots, they do not tend to set light to cheris [Dalit settlements], they do not tend to muster people to attack Dalits. Though small-scale violence persists in many places, the will to engage in major clashes has declined. Then why should we stick to the same ‘hit back’ slogan and strategy? You can only say that when there is a need. Now, when they are being quiet — after the war, peace is the only way.”

Barely a month after this statement, caste ‘wars’ erupted again. Following on from the arson in Dharmapuri there have been similar incidents elsewhere. One question that has been raised is whether this violence can be understood as a form of untouchability or whether it reflects the more recent politicisation of identity. Certainly Dalits have been hitting back across India, but to equate this to the eradication of hierarchy would be premature. Dalits — or Scheduled Castes as they are known in official documents — are still disproportionately represented amongst the poor and landless and still struggle to realise the promises of the Constitution.

While activists are fond of insisting that nothing changes, caste is clearly changing across India and Dalits are developing economically and educationally just as others are. Indeed, it is arguably because of this development that the current conflicts arise. Quietly and gradually, Dalits are escaping forms of dependence and, in so doing, are posing a challenge to the caste order that those just above them in the caste hierarchy find hard to stomach. In Dharmapuri in 2012 and Marakkanam in 2013, mobs deliberately targeted the economic assets of their victims. One factor fuelling their animosity is that Dalits no longer act as submissive agricultural labourers in the fields of the dominant castes. This resentment feeds into a sense of insecurity that is captured in backward caste slogans that say: “first our jobs and now our women.” Women’s bodies, here, serve as the embodied markers of caste purity and so it is when Dalit men marry Vanniyar women that issues arise. The voices and choices of the women concerned are lost in the claims and counter-claims of male politicians.

For all Sannah’s talk of peace, the violence in Dharmapuri was not completely unexpected. Earlier in the year, a Vanniyar Member of the Legislative Assembly had threatened violence against any non-Vanniyar who dared to marry a Vanniyar girl. Though this hate speech was made on an open stage, no action was taken against him for inciting violence. Such speeches are extremely popular within the party because they counter-pose valorous sons-of-the-soil against uppity Dalits who ought to know their place. This construction of an exclusive identity helps create internal solidarity that may help the party in elections, but commentators are increasingly questioning the social costs of such a strategy. Finally, in May 2013, senior members of the PMK were arrested and charged with inciting violence; a move which prompted widespread disruption across the State and party members smashed and burned vehicles, blocked roads and took to the streets.

Vociferous forms

It is tempting to dismiss this violence as indicating the continuing significance of age-old caste identities and relations. To do so, however, ignores the fact that the caste system is clearly changing and the structures underpinning it are starting to shift. Old certainties are being eroded and caste identities are assuming new — often more vociferous — forms. Aspects of caste and untouchability, however, continue to be embedded in the make-up of Indian society. Much as institutions in the U.K. had to confront issues of institutionalised racism, those in India need to recognise and address institutionalised casteism throughout society.

The road towards a casteless and egalitarian society will be long and tortuous, and the divisions between Dalits and ‘caste Hindus’ will prove hardest of all to bridge. Standing by while politicians spew casteist venom renders the authorities partly culpable for caste polarisation and any ensuing violence. If the belated arrest of politicians responsible for ‘hate-speech’ signals a new and more proactive approach to caste politics, then perhaps some good may arise from the ashes of Dalit homes in Dharmapuri.

(Hugo Gorringe is Senior Lecturer in Sociology, University of Edinburgh. Email:Hgorring@staffmail.ed.ac.uk)

 

 

Woman who married dalit knocks on HC door for cover


By A Subramani, TNN | Dec 6, 2012, 04.56 AM IST

CHENNAI: At a time when Tamil Nadu is gripped by debates on inter-caste marriages, a non-dalit girl who had married a dalit man against her family’s wishes has come knocking on the doors of the Madras high court saying she faced harassment by police and threats from her father.Kiruthika, hailing from Salem district, said in her petition she met D Vallal, a dalit, in college and fell in love. They were in love for about a year when her father came to know about the relationship. Meanwhile, Vallal completed his BBA course and joined a private company in Chennai as a sales executive. When her father kept her in confinement and made arrangements for marriage with someone else, Kiruthika fled her home and got married to Vallal on December 12, 2011. It was duly registered in Salem on December 19, 2011.

Kiruthika said her father Panneerselvam had disapproved of her marriage and even lodged a complaint with the all-woman police in Athur claiming that she was being harassed for dowry by Vallal and his father. She denied any harassment by her husband’s family and claimed that personnel from Yethapur and Ammapettai police stations harassed and threatened her. She wanted the court to direct the authorities not to harass her.

When the matter came up for hearing before Justice D Hariparanthaman, the special government pleader, however, denied any harassment from police and offered an undertaking that police would not interfere with Kiruthika or her husband.

Justice Hariparanthaman, recording the categorical undertaking by the government pleader, cited the Supreme Court rulings which noted that any form of harassment and threats issued to couples of inter-caste weddings a serious offence. Decrying brutal, feudal-minded persons perpetrating campaign against inter-caste marriages, the apex court had said such barbaric practice should be ruthlessly stamped out.

Noting that the judgment would squarely apply to Kiruthika’s case, the judge said no direction was required because the special government pleader had made a statement before the court that there would not be any interference by police in the married life of the young woman.

 

Inter-caste marriage sparks riot in Tamil Nadu, 148 dalit houses torched


K A Shaji, V Senthil Kumaran & Karthick S, TNN | Nov 9, 2012

Inter-caste marriage sparks riot in Tamil Nadu district, 148 dalit houses torched
Though 300 policemen were present, they failed to control the mob after being grossly outnumbered. The arson and looting continued till 9.30pm when additional police forces arrived on the scene.
DHARMAPURI: Outraged by the suicide of a man who felt humiliated after his daughter married a dalit boy in secret, a mob of non-dalits went on the rampage in three villages of Dharmapuri district, looting and burning houses of dalits late on Wednesday, police said.

The 2,500-strong mob set ablaze 148 houses in Natham, Anna Nagar and Kondampatti villages. They claimed that the “humiliation” caused by the marriage and the refusal of the dalits to send the woman back home had resulted in the suicide of G Nagarajan (48). The mob looted valuables before setting the houses on fire.

Though 300 policemen were present, they failed to control the mob after being grossly outnumbered. The arson and looting continued till 9.30pm when additional police forces arrived on the scene.

Talking to TOI on Thursday, IG (west zone) T P Sundaramoorthy said the situation was brought under control after an additional 1,000 personnel were deployed and more than 90 people arrested. Cases had been registered against 210 others, he said.

Nagarajan ended his life at his residence in Sellankottai, not far from the Natham dalit colony, on Wednesday evening. The autopsy was delayed because of frequent power cuts, and the body was handed over to his relatives only on Thursday evening. Later, police said, a group of dalits set fire to two houses belonging to non-dalits in Natham.

Govt announces compensation 

Announcing compensation of 50,000 to each family that lost its house and belongings, chief minister J Jayalalithaa said on Thursday that severe action would be taken against those responsible for the violence. In a statement, she said police had rushed to the spot and were taking necessary measures. She instructed the district authorities to extend all help to the affected in the violence.

Police said Nagarajan’s daughter Divya, 20, eloped with dalit youth Ilavarasan, 23, about a month ago, and they got married in a temple. As the non-dalits threatened them against entering Ilavarasan’s house in the Natham dalit colony, the couple approached the Salem police, seeking protection.

Meanwhile, the non-dalits conducted a ‘kangaroo’ court and directed the dalit family to return the woman on Wednesday. But Divya refused to obey them and made it clear that she would continue to live with Ilavarasan. Dharmapuri SP Asra Garg said the kangaroo court was held at Nayakkankottai village last week and the police were searching for those who took part in it and orchestrated the violence.

Fire tenders were not able to reach the villages in time because huge trees had been cut down on the roads to block them. Services of the Rapid Action Force had been requested to maintain law and order, he said.Dharmapuri collector R Lilly said the homeless had been put up in three government schools.

Politics stoking caste fire

In a state that boasts of being progressive, caste divide is rearing its ugly head once again. The violence that rocked Natham in Dharmapuri district on Wednesday has reversed a recent positive trend in the northern districts of Tamil Nadu, once a hotbed of simmering caste tension between Vanniyars and dalits.

Activists point out that this is the first big caste violence in the last two decades in Dharmapuri. The last decade had seen leaders of the dominant communities in the region, the Vanniyars and the dalits, campaigning together for communal harmony.

“Tamil Nadu is a land of reformation. Usually, political and social leaders of the state advocate inter-caste marriages and successive state governments have encouraged progressive development. But in recent months, this positive trend has changed and a few caste leaders have been openly campaigning against inter-caste marriages,” said writer-politician D Ravikumar, state secertary of the Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi, a dalit party with a presence in the north. “They have indirectly encouraged killings in the name of honour and even ignited violence. This should be stopped through progressive initiatives,” he said.

Caste leaders have gone one regressive step further to warn activists against encouraging the union between couples of different castes and even issuing diktats against love marriages. PMK MLA J Guru, who heads the Vanniyar Sangam, the first avatar of the PMK, shocked progressive groups when he issued an open threat at a community meeting, forbidding inter-caste unions. Similarly, the Kongu Vellala Goundergal Peravai, which claims to represent the community, issued advertisements in newspapers calling a meeting of community members to oppose inter-caste marriages and launched a campaign against it.

Activists point out that the violence in Dhamrapuri had occurred in a hamlet which used to have a strong presence of the left movement. “The district was once the headquarters of the ‘naxalbari’ movement. Hence caste violence in such a place has come as a surprise,” said a police officer.

Well-known Tamil writer Manushaputhiran pointed out that political parties have been using caste as a tool to improve their prospects. “Caste feeling is not only a cultural issue now. Caste parties have been using it as a powerful political tool as well,” he said.

While there is a lack of cooperation between dalit and non-dalit leaders in southern Tamil Nadu to end the divide, PMK leader S Ramadoss and Dalit leader Thol Tirumavalavan made some efforts for communal amity in the northern belt. Ramadoss unveiled dalit leader Ambedkar’s statue in many places and the VCK in turn honoured him by awarding him the Ambedkar Award.

The caste tension between Vanniyars and dalits was seen to have ended in the early 2000 because of this truce between the two leaders, who came together under the umbrella of Tamil Protection Movement. But the bonhomie did not last and Ramadoss recently declared that his party would align only with caste parties for elections in the future.

 

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