Casteism: Tamil Nadu

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This is a collection of articles archived for the excellence of their content.


A brief history

The Times of India, Aug 24 2015

M Kalyanaraman & Bosco Dominique

Why caste battle in TN never ends  In 2015, nearly every caste group in the state has political strength and this accounts for the endless cycle of violence not witnessed anywhere else in the South.

Violent clashes between dalits and OBCs have been a feature of the southern districts for many decades. But since the late 1980s, when PMK chief S Ramadoss, a vanniyar leader, started a powerful campaign demanding separate quotas for his caste group, violence has become common in the north too.

In the past it took egregious instances of untouchability to set off a conflict -serving tea to Dalits in separate tumblers or refusing to let them use footwear for in stance. But today , violence is sparked off by inter-caste marriages and dalit demands to worship in temples.

Typically , Dalits would ask for the right to pull the village temple car (rath) during festivals. But, at Seshasamudram village in Villupuram, the Mariamman temple was for dalits, and the district administration had brokered an agreement between the Vanniyars and the Dalits on the route the car would take.

On the night of August 15, a dozen Dalit villagers were decorating the car for next day's procession when there was a sudden blackout. A mob descended on the dalit colony , launching a brutal attack. As the 80-odd Dalit families fled the colony , the mob got to work, burning down houses and vehicles. The temple car was torched and petrol bombs were lobbed into homes.

It took the police four hours to bring the situation under control. Over 70 persons were taken into custody and charged under various sections including prevention of atrocities on SCST act. “We never expected violence on this scale especially after we reached a consensus.Most Vanniyars are not against taking our temple car in procession but a few influential people were against it. They said the presiding deity can be taken in a bullock cart through public roads, not the temple car,“ says a dalit representative.

The violence has raised the political temperature in the state. A week after, the Dalits have still not returned home.Ramadoss has alleged that the police and district administration are biased against Vanniyars. Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi, the party that represents the Dalit caste group in northern TN, has flayed the delay in providing compensation to those affected.

It is important to understand the tussle over the temple car. In Tamil Nadu, the temple is the centre of village -and community -life. Temple festivals are the most significant events in the village calendar and Dalits have been increasingly demanding that their right to worship and take part in common festivals be upheld.The dominant OBCs in the areas have often opposed this.

“This is the classic situation that Ambedkar described.The OBCs may be vociferous in their opposition to upper castes and brahmins, demanding quotas as under-privileged, but they need the Dalits under them so they feel superior,“ says C Lakshmanan, faculty at the Madras Institute of Development Studies.

“That we have so many caste outfits with political strength is the reason for the violence that we don't see in other southern states,“ says Dalit scholar and VCK member D Ravikumar.

Casteism in schools

As in 2019

Jaya Menon, Sep 3, 2019: The Times of India

After the new circular, students remove the bands before entering schools but the caste distinction still exists in classrooms
From: Jaya Menon, Sep 3, 2019: The Times of India
The circular issued by the director of school education S Kannappan saying action would be taken against schools allowing the discriminatory practice
From: Jaya Menon, Sep 3, 2019: The Times of India
Code of discrimination, in schools in Chennai
From: Jaya Menon, Sep 3, 2019: The Times of India

In a government high school located in a lush patch in Sambavar Vadagarai village, once part of Thiruvithankoor (Travancore) near Tenkasi, all appears well. Even the dash of colour among the drab grey or blue uniforms looks cool. But, the cheer is deceptive, say some school teachers. The region, a smouldering caste cauldron, is known for violent eruptions and over the years, schools have set off the trigger. In the dingy classrooms and open playgrounds, caste is a matter of pride. It is exhibited through wrist bands, hair ribbons, stone ear studs and nail polish — all caste markers. “It’s nothing new and there’s nothing wrong in wearing colours. Students have been doing this for at least a decade now. We are proud of our caste,” said Ramesh*, a Class X student of Gomathi Ambal Government Boys Higher Secondary School in Sanakarankoil in Tirunelveli district. Hitching his heavy rucksack higher on his shoulder at the school gate, he pulls out a woollen band, in red and orange, and ties it around his right wrist. Girls, who had stayed away from the colour divide, now take pride in wearing ribbons in caste colours. After the circular, students remove the bands before entering school. The students move around in groups on the school premises, huddle in classrooms and don’t mingle with those wearing bands of other colours during lunch hour. Despite the circular from Tamil Nadu director of school education S Kannappan on July 30 banning colourcoded wrist bands, rings and tilaks, caste colours continue to flash in schools in hotbeds like Tirunelveli and the newlycreated Tenkasi district. And not every school, management, teacher or student is cringing in fear against the stricture. The district education office, which monitors government educational institutions, is on the Gomathi Ambal school premises, where students, a majority of them thevars, flaunt their caste. “There is peer pressure and we can’t restrict students from wearing bands,” said a teacher from the school. A few metres away, inside a bustling bazaar near the Sanakarankoil bus stand, a shop does brisk business selling plastic, woollen and thread wrist bands in bright colours to students.

“Before they learn to walk or talk, they learn about caste pride and identity through songs hailing caste leaders,” said Melapalayam-based social worker N Karthikeyan. The school, besides a few others in the region, is notorious for caste brawls. Every evening, around 4.30, when the last bell rings and students rush home, a police jeep patrols the school road. But, the divide also runs deep in the buses playing songs glorifying leaders of a particular caste. To check this, the transport department, in collaboration with the school education department, installed cameras inside buses on some ‘sensitive’ routes.

The assertion of dalits and the demand for social parity is a prime reason for the caste churning in the region. A 40km drive down Ayikudi in Tenkasi district to Sankarankoil is an eye-opener. The pastoral landscape is dominated by windmills on land assigned to dalits by the government. “After selling their land, they now have money that has dramatically changed their lives,” said Western Ghats and Water Bodies’ Protection Movement activist Y Durai. The CPM’s Students’ Federation of India too has wrought changes by initiating dalit school and college students into its rebellious ideology. While the wrist band issue has been simmering for a while and erupted into violence in rural schools, the 2018 batch of IAS trainees recently brought it up at a brainstorming session during their training in Mussoorie. A trainee officer, who was part of a team that visited about 50 schools in Tirunelveli district said the experience was disturbing. After speaking to students, parents and teachers, the team found that the wrist bands guided teachers to pick ‘caste’ favourites for sports events, segregate students during breaks and sort out brawls. Based on these findings, the team put out a petition, enclosing it with newspaper clippings of stories of caste discrimination in schools, and handed it over to the school education director. The issue was discussed at length among the 180 IAS trainees, who suggested ‘concrete action’ for ‘path-breaking results’.

“We can’t remove caste pride, but we can teach youngsters caste tolerance,” said Tirunelveli collector Shilpa Prabhakar, who is spearheading an initiative to counsel youngsters and provide them career options by bringing industries to the caste-sensitive region. (Names changed to protect identity)

Murdered for marrying an SC

The Times of India, Mar 21, 2016

Padmini Sivarajah

No one killed Tamil Nadu's caste-crossed couples

According to a 2010 Tehelka report, 1,971 women in the age-group 18 to 30 had committed suicide between January 2008 and June 2010 in Tamil Nadu. Many of these could have been honour killings, the magazine noted. Advocate and social activist Nirmala Rani claims that it is because of the absence of dedicated legislature on honour killings that many cases are registered under Section 174 of CrPC for suicide. She has submitted an academic paper on the subject. Kathir recalls the first case he encountered. It was in 2006 and a young non-dalit girl from Nilakottai in Dindigul district, who had eloped with a dalit boy, was tortured by her family and then burnt to death. The case was closed as a suicide. "In such cases, the entire community in a village tends to unanimously condone the murder. There are no police complaints. So the government is forced to take up the case, which eventually dies a slow death, he says. On average 1,000 women are murdered in Tamil Nadu every year: 17% can be attributed to out-of-caste marriage. And of the 5,000-odd female suicides annually, 28% are due to similar reasons, say activists. The NGO Evidence has been pursuing 120 honour killing cases in the high court since 2006 and not one of them has reached the stage of conviction. In 10 cases the witnesses turned hostile, and charge-sheets have been filed only in 60% of cases. Rojanivathi, 58, a dalit from Thiruvarur is yet to recover from the brutal killing of her physically disabled daughter Amirthavalli, 25. She was allegedly murdered by members of the local Vanniar community because she married one of their men. "They even threw my daughter's 40-day-old baby into the scrub, the mother recalls in helpless rage. Her son-in-law Palaniappan was also murdered on the same day by his family . The dalits from her village work in the fields belonging to the family of the alleged killers. "We struggle to eat one square meal a day, and the murderer's wife passes my house and taunts, `You cannot touch a hair on our head,' because her husband was released on bail within days of the killing," she recounts. Sometimes it's activist pressure that converts lesser charges levelled at the victim's family -cremating the body without informing the police, for example -to graver ones of murder. In the Vimaladevi case from Madurai, the CBI was eventually roped in. The police allegedly helped local politicians drag the girl back home after she had eloped. She was dead a month later and her dalit lover's family now lives in Theni in self-exile. Senior journalist B Thirumalai points out it's not caste alone that's always responsible for honour killings. "There are cases where the woman is killed for marrying a man from her own caste, but has a lower economic status," he says.

A UN report says 5,000 honour killings took place across the world in 2010, most of them reported from South East Asian countries. Pakistan tops this list. Responding to a query from the apex court, 22 states in India, including Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, have acknowledged that honour killings take place within their precincts. Former TN Chief Minister, O Panneerselvam, however declared in the Assembly last year that honour killing did not occur in his state. As far as political intervention goes, former Congress ministers P Chidam baram and Veerappa Moily have been the only ones to have battled for separate legislation on honour killings.

The so called caste Hindus do not touch the so called dalits, or allow them to take their death through the roads or streets, or allow them to wear chappals, or drink tea/coffee from common glass. Bu... Read They maintained that this would help bring perpetrators of the crime to book. They also called for activists to be al lowed to implead in cases where they suspected foul play.

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