Youth for Equality, Jawaharlal Nehru University

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

YFE Pamphlet 13.10.2008



Humankind cannot bear too
much reality’, T.S. Eliot observed in an immortal line. The
political establishments along with the elite intellectuals have
behaved as if their constituents and audiences cannot bear the
reality on atrocity and perpetrators of these atrocities on dalit.
Many in the political establishment and in the mainstream journalism
actively twisted the narrative so that the identity of the aggressors
remains in obscurity.

Yesterday’s communal
violence in Andhra Pradesh and Caste Violence in Patna were the
testimony of T.S. Eliot’s saying.

The so called ‘backward
class movements’ in Tamil Nadu had a narrow social base, and
was led by an elite organization of Rajas, zamindars, industrialists,
lawyers, and doctors
from families with generations of involvement in the government
services and the professions behind them

Since the 1990s, India has
witnessed a spurt in violence against dalits. This physical violence
is perpetrated largely by the ‘backward’ castes, who
claim victim hood under Brahmins but also turn oppressors of dalits.
Tamil Nadu, home to the non-Brahmin movement, has been projected by
the political class, social scientists and policy-makers as fertile
soil for social justice. However, the Dravidian movement’s
empowerment agenda left the dalits – nineteen percent of the
population – almost untouched. In fact, dalits have been
subjected to the worst forms of violence, from being forced to
consume human excreta to being murdered for contesting local body
elections. More than being a consequence of the accumulation of power
in the hands of the intermediary castes, such violence would be
better understood as an attempt by the ‘backward’ caste
Hindus to test their new found authority on those below them.

‘Backward’ castes that inflict violence against dalits –
especially physical violence – do not possess full-fledged
authority in Indian society. Since the parliamentary form of
democracy introduced in post-independence India favored the wielding
of power by those who are in a majority in society, these backward
castes have, over the years, come to control political power. The
constitution of 1950 and the introduction of the concept of
secularism curtailed the religious authority of the Brahmins,
Maulavis and other priestly class and the Backward Castes were no
longer bound to be subservient to these priestly class. It was only
subsequently that economic, administrative and political power
devolved to the Backward Castes.

If we examine the violence
against dalits in this context, we will have to come to a different
conclusion altogether. Rather than seeing it a consequence of such
accumulation of power among the Backward Castes, the violence against
dalits would be better understood as an attempt by Backward Caste
Hindus to test their newfound authority on those below them. This not
to say that the Dalits are not asserting their rights

Since Brahmins have been a
numerical minority in Hindu society, their violence has mostly been
symbolic; whereas the violence unleashed by the castes which are in a
numerical majority is physical in nature. Earlier, the authority to
decide whether a king could be bestowed with recognition and
legitimacy was vested with the Brahmins. The dilemma faced by
Shivaji, the Maratha ruler, in the face of such Brahmin authority is
recent in our collective memory. Today, the Brahmins wield no such
authority. The authority that has been concentrated in the hands of
the numerically strong castes has led to their power becoming
unlimited in scope.

The Vanniyar Sangam was
constituted in 1980 and evolved into the Paattali Makkal Katchi (PMK)
under the leadership of S. Ramadoss, a medical doctor. Today, the PMK
wields tremendous influence in the Vanniar belt – the northern
districts of Tamil Nadu. In 1987, they staged a weeklong roadblock to
demand 20 percent reservation for Vanniyars. During this struggle
they torched more than a thousand dalit homes. The agitation and its
success led to the subsequent political consolidation of the

October 4, 1998 was a black
Sunday for the people of the coastal Ramanathapuram district in
southern Tamil Nadu. Just two days after the nation celebrated the
129th birth anniversary of Mahata Gandhi, caste-related violence
rocked the villages and towns on either side of the national highway
that links this economically backward district with the city of
Madurai. Eleven persons were killed and several were injured in the
violence and the police action that followed. Six of the dead were
dalits; the five others belonged to the thevar community, a Most
Backward Class group. All the victims were from among the
economically weaker sections. Scores of houses were torched and
hundreds of people rendered homeless.

The immediate cause of the
violence was provided by a district-level rally at Ramanathapuram,
organized by the Thevarkula Kottamaippu (Thevar Federation).
According to a senior politician from a neighboring district, the
Koottamaippu is “a conglomeration of unorganized groups of
young thevar extremists who have joined the power struggle in the
Tamil Nadu Thevar Peravai”. The Thevar Peravai is said to have
been behind the many instances of violence involving thevars and
dalits that have racked the southern districts in the past five
years. Its leadership, perceived to be close to All India Anna
Dravida Mennetra Kazhagam general secretary and former Chief Minister
J. Jayalalitha, is now caught up in litigation and has been rendered

Backward Caste resistance to
dalit empowerment has manifested itself in various forms since
elections to local bodies were first held in 1996 under the revised
Tamil Nadu Panchayats Act, 1994. When civic elections were held in
1996 and 2001, in several places backward caste groups attempted to
get their village panchayats removed from the reserved category. When
such attempt failed, they tried to derail the electoral process
itself by preventing dalits from filing nominations. If dalits
managed to file their papers, they were not allowed to campaign in
non dalit areas. Nondalits also resorted to poll boycott and even
used force to scare away dalits from polling booths. Caste-Hindu
resistance continued after the elections. In several places,
nondalits refused to cooperate with the elected dalit presidents and
ward members and humiliated them with the tacit approval of
caste-Hindu government officials.

Besides Paappapatti and
Keerippatti, elections to two more panchayats reserved for dalits,
Nattamanglalam in Madurai district and Kottakachiyendal in
Virudunagar district could not be held in 1996 and October 2001
because of opposition from the predominant caste-Hindu group in the
villages – piranmalaikkallars (a subcaste among thevars)

M.Puliangudi is a Village
situated in Cuddalore District in Tamilnadu. This village has a
population of around 3000 in which about 300 people are Dalits and
the remaining population belongs to Vanniyar community. Vanniyars are
the landed population and regarded as OBC in Tamil Nadu. The Dalits
have to come for everything to the Vanniyar area. The shops are all
owned by the Vanniyars. The double tumbler practice is still there
and other forms of untouchability are still in practice. All the
Dalits depend on the Vanniyars for livelihood. There have been
several incidents of conflicts within the village on account of
breaking the liquor brewing pots set up by Vanniars. The village
panchayat is held in the Vanniyars' living area. Even if there is any
dispute between the Dalits, it will be tried in the Vanniyars' area.
There were also incidents of Vanniyars raping Dalit women and
adolescent girls. Since Dalits were very few in numbers, they were
submissive to all these violent incidents.

The pillar in memory of the
people who gave their lives during the clashes between Dalits and
Vanniyars is a symbolic witness of the oppression by the Vanniyars
for the past several years. The pillar says it symbolically
represents the peace between both the communities. The Dalit leaders
claim that within the past two years in the district of cuddalore
itself there were 20 Dalits killed and in none of the cases proper
justice was done to the victims. Although there is clear evidence in
all the cases that, there is an involvement of arrack brewers from
the Vanniars side, rarely they are arrested. The killing of three
Dalits in the village of M.Puliangudi should be seen in this
background. On 25th May 2000 Karthik a Vanniyar boy went into the
house where a Dalit girl was alone and raped her. The Women Sangha
leader Vasantha and others caught him red handed and asked him why he
had done like this. Then they took him to the Vanniyar area, met the
leaders and asked them to marry him to the Dalit girl. The Vanniyar
leaders asked for three days time so that they can decide and tell
them about the issue. Mean while at midnight on 26th May 2000 three
Dalit youths were killed in a very mysterious way

In the late 1980s in
Chenaganambatti village in Madurai district, Tamil Nadu, 9.5 acres of
idle land belonging to a temple under the Hindu Religious Endowment
Act were auctioned and sold to villagers for cultivation. At the
time, some 500,000 acres of such idle land existed in Tamil Nadu.
Caste Hindus did not allow Dalits to take part in the auction. In
1989 Dalits began demanding participation and, in1992, finally
succeeded in entering the auction. Caste Hindus protested and
appealed to the commissioner of the Hindu Religious Endowment Act, a
central government official. The commissioner decreed that the lands,
once bought at auction, legally belonged to the Dalits. One month
later, and in broad daylight, one hundred members of the Kallar
community, an upper-caste group, invaded and destroyed nine acres of
paddy (rice) fields belonging to Dalits. In subsequent attacks, the
Kallars murdered two Dalit men and assaulted three Dalit women, who
sustained head injuries. As the leader of the Dalit Panthers movement
in Tamil Nadu recalled: They just cut their throat on the road even
though the land belongs to Dalits, they (the Dalit owners) cannot
plow it, even today. The accused were never punished. No trial took

Intellectuals living outside
Tamil Nadu imagine that the dalits and the Backward Castes here are
living in harmony. This is the image that has been created by
Dravidian intellectuals conversant with English. However the ground
reality is quite the opposite.

This has led to a more
fundamental question: why are Upper OBCs not adequately represented
in institutions of higher learning? Are they socially stigmatized? Do
they lack resources? Have they been prevented from entering better
schools? Even a frail mind would answer in the negative. Consider
the consequences. In the recent Mandal II agitation, India's two
leading news channels - NDTV and CNN-IBN, decided to do
pro-reservation stories. One way to showcase the value of reservation
was to profile achievers who had once used this privilege at the
entry point in education and jobs. Without any exception, all the
stories featured Dalit achievers, though Mandal II deals with Upper
OBCs alone. There is a history behind this. During upper OBCs
anti-Brahmin movement in Tamil Nadu, sufferings of Dalits were
highlighted to morally legitimize their voices. When the Upper OBC
movement in northern India begun replicating the Tamil experience,
here too Dalits' suffering were highlighted. How the Upper OBCs have
been treating Dalits in return?



Beteille, Andre, 1969, Castes Old and New: Essays in Social
Structure and Social Stratification, Bombay: Asia Publishing House,
pg. 176.

Washbrook, D.A., 1977, The Emergence of Provincial Politics: The
Madras Presidency, 1870-1920, New Delhi: Vikas Publishing House, pg.

S. Viswanathan, Dalit in Dravidland(2005) this book is compiled from
the reports of Human Right Watch and Frontline, Navayana Pub.,
Pundicherry, pg. xi-xii.

S. Viswanathan, Dalit in Dravidland(2005), this book is compiled
from the reports of Human Right Watch and Frontline, Navayana Pub.,
Pundicherry, pg. xxiii-xxxvii.

S. Viswanathan, Dalit in Dravidland(2005), this book is compiled
from the reports of Human Right Watch and Frontline, Navayana Pub.,
Pundicherry, pg. 101.

S. Viswanathan, Dalit in Dravidland(2005), this book is compiled
from the reports of Human Right Watch and Frontline, Navayana Pub.,
Pundicherry, pg.198-202,215-216.

As appeared in Human Rights Forum for Dalit Liberation, Villupuram,

The Context of Caste Violence, Broken People, Caste Violence Against
India’s Untouchables, Published by Human Right Watch,
Washington, 1999.


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