Clear and present danger: TN sits on caste tinderbox

http://www.dailypioneer.com/home/online-channel/360-todays-newspaper/113841-clear-and-present-danger-tn-sits-on-caste-tinderbox-.html

Tamil Nadu faces peril, a real peril of caste war. The Scheduled Castes and Tribes known by their generic name Dalits, supported by the Lefts and the Opposition DMK have come out against Vanniyar, Mudaliar, Thevar, Nadar and Gounders, the non-Dalits.

“We want amendment of the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act 1989 which is being misused to settle personal scores. We also want a thorough probe by a sitting judge of the high court into the inter caste marriages took place during the last two years in Tamil Nadu,” S Ramadoss, the PMK founder, told The Pioneer. The PMK represents the Vanniyar community, a major intermediate caste in the State.

The immediate provocation for these demands is the recent riots in Dharmapuri district following a marriage between a Vanniyar girl and a Dalit youth. The girl’s father committed suicide when she eloped with the youth. This led to a riot which resulted in the destruction of more than 200 houses in Dalit hamlets. The Dalits blame Vanniyars for attacks on their homes.

But the Vanniyars have a different story to tell. “We are against instigated inter-caste marriages in which girls belonging to non-Dalit castes end up as victims,” said Ramadoss. He said inter-caste marriages are love dramas being used as a weapon by the Dalit youth to settle personal scores with the non-Dalit castes.

Ramadoss, says more than 2,000 Vanniyar girls have fallen victims in Cuddalore district alone because of the love dramas. “The girls fall easy prey to the modern day Romeos who selectively target girls from upper middle class families. Certain Dalit leaders are encouraging such marriages,” he charged.

Interestingly, all these non-Dalit castes have been accorded the status of Most Backward Communities (MBC) by various Governments in Tamil Nadu. They enjoy the fruits of reservation. Though the line of separation is thin, the community leaders shudder at the thought of their daughters tying the knot with Dalit boys.

“We are not like Khap Panchayats which you see in north India. We are ready to accept natural love. But what we see in Tamil Nadu is instigated inter caste marriages targeting our communities,” said GK Nagarajan, general secretary of Kongunadu Munnetra Kazhakam, a party of the Gounder community.

Nagarajan has reasons to be upset. A survey by his team of youth in 11 districts in TN have found that out of the 955 inter-caste marriages registered in 2011, 712 ended in divorce. “The broken dreams led 12 girls to suicide . In addition to this, 37 parents committed suicide because they could not bear the sufferings of their daughters who were tortured and ditched by the husbands within months of the marriages,” said Nagaraj.

Both Nagaraj and Ramadoss demanded a thorough probe by a high court judge into all inter-caste marriages registered in Tamil Nadu during the last two years They also alleged that the SC/ST (prevention of atrocities) Act 1989 is being misused for blackmailing and harassing people belonging to the intermediate caste. The filing of a case based on the SC/ST protection act is a sure recipe to doomsday because the onus is on the accused to prove their innocence.

Arjun Sampath, general secretary, Hindu Makkal Katchi, said the Dalit youth were being instigated by the Missionaries and Church. “The Church is not directly involved in the operation. But there are certain Dalit leaders who are funded by the Missionaries and Evangelists. They instigate the youth to selectively love Hindu girls,” said Sampath. He said though both the State and Central intelligence agencies are aware of the modus operandi, they are maintaining silence over the issue.

Asha, a Madras High Court advocate and a social activist said there was some justification in the demand for amending the SC/ST Act 1989. “There are many instances where the law is misused. It could be one of the reasons for the poor rate of conviction under this category,’ she said.

But Thol Thirumavalavan, the leader of VCK, a Dalit outfit, charged that the poor conviction rate was because of the inadequacy of the present law.

“We want stronger law to deal with atrocities committed on the Dalits,” he said.

B Haran, political commentator said the issue of un-touchability could not be linked with inter-caste marriages. “Untouchability can be nullified only through talks between the respective communities initiated sincerely by top government officials and socio-cultural organizations,” he said. According to Haran, the recent massacre of seven Thevar youths in Madurai was a turning point in Tamil Nadu politics. “I did not find any human right activists or NGOs criticising the murder. There is nothing surprising in the coming together of the intermediate castes. This was expected earlier though I have a fear whether it would augur well for the society,” said Haran.

What is of interest is that Dr Ramadoss, who has been fighting for political survival, has got a lifeline with the coming together of the castes. It is too early to say what the intermediate castes would do in the next Lok Sabha election. They command nearly seven per cent of the total votes. “In a state like Tamil Nadu, a fluctuation of even five per cent votes could cause havoc,” said Haran.

Though Dr Ramadoss denied reports that he was preparing for a hard bargain for the 2014 Lok Sabha election, he claims that the 81 per cent of the non-Dalit groups in the state have expressed solidarity with him.

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