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)

 

 

Half of India’s dalit population lives in 4 states- UP, West Bengal, Bihar and TN


 

B Sivakumar, TNN | May 2, 2013, 06.14 AM IST
CHENNAI: Four states account for nearly half of the country’s dalit population, reveals the 2011 census. Uttar Pradesh stands first with 20.5% of the total scheduled caste (SC) population, followed by West Bengal with 10.7%, says the data released by the Union census directorate on Tuesday. Bihar with 8.2% and Tamil Nadu with 7.2 % come third and fourth. Dalits form around 16.6% of India’s population.

The 2011 census recorded nearly 20.14 crore people belonging to various scheduled castes in the country. As per the 2001 census, the number was 16.66 crore. The dalit population showed a decadal growth of 20.8%, whereas India’s population grew 17.7% during the same period. “Though there is an increase in the population of dalits in the country, many states with a considerable number of dalits don’t have any legislation to protect the interests of the community. Dalit empowerment is very poor in many states,” said former Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (VCK) MLA D Ravikumar.

Many scheduled caste families don’t own land or any other property, said Ravikumar. “Many dalits are landless and efforts to empower them by giving free land have not been successful in Tamil Nadu. Unlike Punjab, which has a considerable number of dalits as industrialists, here there is hardly any industrialist from our community,” the leader of the dalit party said.

There are around 9.79 crore women among the total SC population, and the sex ratio works out to 946 females per 1000 males. Nagaland, Lakshwadeep and Andaman and Nicobar islands have no scheduled castes among their population. Though UP has the largest chunk of the total SC population, Punjab has the largest share of dalits in its population at 31.9%. Himachal Pradesh and West Bengal follow Punjab with 25.2% and 23.5%. In Tamil Nadu, dalits account for about 18% of the population.

The state budget should also allocate funds for creation of assets for dalits, said Ravikumar. “Instead of distributing freebies, the state governments can set aside a portion of the total allocation for dalits. In many cases, funds are being diverted and dalits lose whatever is due to them,” he said. The states with considerable number of dalits in their population must pass a separate legislation on the lines of Andhra Pradesh, which has passed the SC/ST Sub Plan Act, said a dalit activist.

 

# India-The murder of a Dalit girl and the silence over it #Vaw


 

Ravi Chandran, http://roundtableindia.co.in

(This article talks about the alleged murder of a Paraiyar girl, Gogila, by her family because of her love marriage with an Arunthathiyar boy, Karthikeyan, in a village in Villupuram district, Tamil Nadu. Apart from a small report in Junior Vikatan, the Tamil magazine, there has been absolute silence in the media over this tragic incident. Information for this article was primarily gleaned from conversations with Karthikeyan, the victim’s husband, his family, and the news report.)

paraiyan arunthathiyar marriage

Before going into the issue I want to discuss certain issues related to the discrimination and the tension prevailing among Dalit sub-castes in Tamil Nadu. These tensions can be found in all states in India. In Tamil Nadu, Paraiyars, Pallars and Arunthathiyars are the major sub-castes among Dalits. Paraiyars are advanced in education compared with other sub-castes, Pallars have a little land in some places, and Arunthathiyars are engaged in leather working and scavenging. Pallars and Paraiyars in Tamil Nadu look down upon Arunthathiyars. However it doesn’t mean that the way they look at the Arunthathiyars is similar to the way the Vanniyars or Gounders or Thevars see Arunthathiyars. In some pockets of Tamil Nadu, there are places where these sub-castes do have a mutual understanding and live together; but it does not mean that across Tamil Nadu they live with good understanding. Some of the educated Paraiyars have been doing enough damage to the relationship between the sub-castes. Take the example of the prominent intellectuals of Paraiyars in Tamil Nadu: none have said even a single line that all are Scheduled Castes. Let this be as it is. One point has to be made clear that across Tamil Nadu, any Arunthathiyar man marrying a Paraiyar or Pallar girl will never be accepted by the Paraiyar or Pallar communities.

Even before the odour of the burning homes in Dharmapuri has completely dissipated, some casteist Paraiyars in a Villupuram village have shown the same behavior as the Vanniyars. This incident took place in Pallinellinoor village near Kandamangalam in Villupuram district. The village comprises of 40 Paraiyar houses and 3 Arunthathiyar houses. On November 10th, Mr. Karthikeyan approached the local police station with the complaint that his wife was murdered by her own father and relatives.

Karthikeyan worked for daily wages and he says:

“Eight years ago, Ms. Gogila and I studied together in the Kandamangalam Vallalar high school. Since then we are in love. We both belong to Scheduled Castes, but different sub-castes. She is a Paraiyar and I belong to the Arunthathiyar sub-caste. Since her parents would not agree to the marriage, we got secretly married, which was registered on 1.12.2010 in Kadallur. However we both agreed to live separately till we get our parents to agree to our marriage. Ms. Gogila was working with a company related to medicine, and we both used to meet often.

Her parents came to know about the marriage recently. Immediately they planned to marry her off to someone and were looking for a groom. Ms. Gogila strongly opposed the move, therefore she was sent to her uncle’s house. In her uncle’s house, she was brutally attacked and was asked to agree to another marriage, but she disagreed. Suddenly on 8th Nov 2012, they told her that we will unite you and your husband and brought her back to her house. For three days they kept her in an isolated room, and demanded that she commit suicide. All these conversations were conveyed by Ms. Gogila to me and I have also evidence of the same (that these incidents did happen).

On the evening of 9th November, I called Ms. Gogila. Her mobile was switched off. In the morning I was told that Ms. Gogila had died.

Ms. Gogila was murdered by her parents. Therefore I immediately approached the police station and gave a complaint. The station Inspector came to the village and wanted to collect the body but they (her family) strongly resisted and the Inspector failed to collect the body. The parents burnt the body. Now their parents and others are constantly calling me to take the complaint back from the police station or else I would meet the same fate as Ms. Gogila.”

The Junior Vikatan report (translated) says:

When I (the reporter) spoke to Ms. Gogila’s friends, they said: “It is true that Gogila was in love with Karthikeyan and they got married. Mr. Karthikeyan used to take her to her workplace on his bike every now and then. She also used to say that we got married and our parents don’t know about that. If they come to know there would be a serious problem. However in recent times, she used to say that she is going to tell her father about her marriage. But she never told him. If we asked her about it, she would reply ‘that my father lives proudly and my marriage might hurt his pride. Therefore I do not want my father or parents to face any problem because of me‘. She was a strong woman full of courage and she would say that she will live with him.”

The village has a strong presence of Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (VCK) cadres and they are keeping silent on this issue. What does that mean?

I am so surprised that no one is speaking about it. The internet is flooded with news on the horrific tragedy of Dharmapuri, but there is very little on this issue. This is not the first such case in Tamil Nadu where Arunthathiyars faced discrimination from fellow Dalits from the Paraiyar community. The above incident, in my view, is not only about caste violence but it is about both gender and caste violence, resulting from the caste prejudice which dictates that a well-off Paraiyar woman should not marry a sweeping community boy. So many fact finding missions have gone to Dharmapuri, but this issue has attracted none. Why?

Dalit movement and intellectuals keep on saying that Dharmapuri is an example of caste violence, but they fail to see the gender violence behind the tragedy which had transformed into caste violence. Certainly every community seems to want to control its population numbers and they see women (marrying outside the community) as a threat and also as easy targets for their male chauvinism.

There are many such incidents where Arunthathiyar men marrying Paraiyar women were murdered or their sisters were sexually assaulted. We are all talking about the ‘love marriage’ that was supposedly the cause of the Dharmapuri violence, but its my view that it was not love marriage (that caused the incident) but the entrenched prejudice that marriages between women from dominant communities and men from lower communities should not be allowed that caused the violence. In Tamil Nadu, Vanniyars are opposing their women marrying Paraiyar men but the Vanniyars have never said that Vanniyar men should not marry Paraiyar women. Basically it is an argument founded on male chauvinism and gender bias, which is the core agenda of every caste organization, may it be of the Paraiyars, Pallars, or even Vanniyars. The present violence would also show that the caste Paraiyars killed their daughter for marrying a lower caste Dalit male.

Finally, why is it that the problems of Arunthathiyars have never gained any public attention in the past or in the present? I strongly feel the Dalit leaders and intellectuals have never tried to take any positive steps towards resolving different sub-caste problems. And thus, they also become silent supporters of violence on Arunthathiyars like in the case of the Villupuram couple.

~~~

 

“Extensive damage caused to Dalits’ property”


R. ARIVANANTHAM, DHARMAPURI, November 11, 2012

D. Venkatesan, Director of National Commission for Scheduled Castes, listening to the grandmother of the Dalit boy, who married a caste Hindu girl in Natham Colony, on Saturday. Photo: N. Bashkaran
The HinduD. Venkatesan, Director of National Commission for Scheduled Castes, listening to the grandmother of the Dalit boy, who married a caste Hindu girl in Natham Colony, on Saturday. Photo: N. Bashkaran

National Commission for Scheduled Castes will submit report tomorrow, says Director who visited Naikkankottai

Extensive damage has been caused to the property of Dalits in the November 7 attack on their colonies here by caste Hindus, according to Director of National Commission for Scheduled Castes D. Venkatesan.

After inspecting the houses that were torched at Natham Colony, Anna Nagar and Kondampatti new and old colonies in Naikkankottai village on Saturday, he told The Hindu here that the Commission’s report and recommendations would be submitted to the Central and State governments on Monday.

Based on the recommendations, the governments would initiate rehabilitation measures, he added.

Women, especially the elderly, broke down on seeing the official and narrated their harrowing experiences. Petitions were also given to Mr. Venkatesan.

At Natham Colony, he spoke to T. Palaniammal, 80-year-old grandmother of E. Ilavarasan, the Dalit, who married caste Hindu girl N. Divya.

There were tense moments during the official’s visit to the village. Some members of the Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi sought to block the way of Mr. Venkatesan and shouted slogans to disband the Commission, contending that it should have visited the place immediately after the incident.

They demanded that the Collector, the DIG and the SP camp in the colonies and arrange basic necessities for the affected persons. They also wanted a medical camp to be organised.

Prior to Mr Venkatesan’s three-hour visit of the colonies along with police and revenue officials, he held a review meeting with District Collector R. Lilly and Superintendent of Police Asra Garg at the Collectorate.

Three more arrested

Three more persons allegedly involved in the attack on the colonies were arrested and remanded in judicial custody, taking the total number of arrested persons to 95.

The body of Nagaraj was still in the mortuary at the Government Hospital after post-mortem as his community was divided over receiving it. Though the Vanniyar Sangam called for a meeting in Dharmapuri for Saturday to discuss the future course of action, only 12 members turned up at the meeting, as against the expected 500. The group dispersed without holding the meeting.

 

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.

 

Anti- KKNPP Activists administered saline on Day 6 of fast


TIRUNELVELI (TN), PTI : The anti-nuclear activists observing an indefinite fast demanding scrapping of Koodankulam nuclear power plant were administered saline solution intravenously as their stir entered the sixth day today.

The medical intervention was made at the fast venue in Idinthakarai after a team of doctors from Tirunelveli Medical College Hospital examined the 15 agitators, including People’s Movement Against Nuclear Energy coordinator S P Udayakumar, spearheading the protest against the project, officials said.

Doctors had yesterday said the protesters might have to be shifted to hospital if their condition deteriorated.

The core group of agitators are on the fast since Tamil Nadu Government on March 19 gave its go ahead for the commissioning of the Indo-Russian project, work on which had remained stalled since September last following protests by the locals citing safety concerns.

Meanwhile,, ADGP (Law and Order) S George today reviewed the security arrangements in and around Koodankulam.

Speaking to reporters at Koodankulam, he said police had been deployed in the area only to instill confidence in the minds of public and maintain law and order and they would never harass or cause inconvenience to the villagers.

“We will not arrest any public. Only those facing cases will be arrested. We will not harass public. Once law and order becomes normal, police will be withdrawn,” he said.

To a question when Udayakumar, slapped with charges including sedition and waging war against the country, would be arrested, George said he “cannot say when it will happen.”

Meanwhile, the state “Q” Branch police, which deals with extremist elements, last evening arrested Tamil Nadu Youth Resurgent Forum leader Satish when he was present at a marriage hall where MDMK chief Vaiko and others were lodged after their arrest for attempting to proceed to Idinthakarai to express solidarity with anti-nuclear activists.Police said Satish had links to Naxalite groups and more than 15 cases were pending against him.

Q Branch police also arrested Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi spokesperson Vanni Arasu at Rajapalayam in Virudhunagar district for bid to proceed to Idinthakarai, where ban orders are in force, to support the anti-KKNPP protest.

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