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India: Caste and Honor

by Vidya Bhushan Rawat, 12 November 2012

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The violence against Dalits in the Dharmapuri district of Tamilnadu is a shocking reminder of social prejudices prevalent in our society and how honor is closely linked to our caste identity. Dharmpuri district in Tamilnadu witnessed violence against the Dalits by the Vanniyar community on November 7th in which over 300 huts, tiled roof or concrete houses of the Dalits belonging to Adidravida community were burnt in village Naikkankottai .

According to newspapers report, Divya, a nursing student, hailing from a Vanniyar community (backward community) had actually family married to Illavarasan, 23, a boy from Aadidravida community in the Natham Colony. The village has seen constant cases of tension between the two communities of Vanniyars and Adidravidas. It is reported that the newly married couple sought the protection of the police just a week back as a local ‘Kangaroo Court’ had directed the girl to return to her parents. After the marriage the girl was living with her husband and it was not possible for her to go back. She refused to leave her husband. The tension was gripping as the girl’s family belonging to Vanniyar community felt a slap on their face. Vanniyar have often been in the violent clashes with Dalits and are a land owning community and consider themselves as much higher than the Dalits.

It was after this that girl’s father Mr R. Nagarajan of village Sellankottai, who was said to have been distraught over his daughter marrying a Dalit boy from Natham Colony, committed suicide. He felt it was an insult to his social prestige and therefore was forced to take the drastic decision to eliminate his life. As soon as this news spread in the village they came on the street and went on rampage at Natham. The couple and their family had already escaped from the village along with other members. The police have so far arrested 90 members for rioting while 500 unknown people have also been charge sheeted. The Tamilnadu government has asked the district officials to take strong action against the culprits while a senior official from National Commission for Scheduled Castes too visited the village and met the victims. On the other hand the Vanniyar Sangam has also called out a meeting to discuss the issue. Political parties have conspicuously remained silent so far.

This issue has again raised many questions about the status of Dalits in Tamilnadu, a land which the parties and groups always claim to be an enlightened one. There is no doubt that the non-Brahmin movement of EVR Periyar was a very progressive struggle against caste system and for the rights of shudra community, the fact is that the non-Brahmin is a big block and cannot be put in one basket. It means that while political unity should be sought among various oppressed communities but desired results cannot be obtained if we fight against the Brahmins without demolishing our own caste hierarchies. Actually, nothing would be obtained with such symbolic struggles unless anti caste movement is launched and revived with a clear thought of either dismantling it or coming out of it.

Tamilnadu state is an example for others on many fronts but it has failed to protect the Dalits. The newspapers have not reported the entire incident and completely ignore as who are the people who have attacked. It is important to identify the communities. It is open and unambiguous that the biggest violence against the Dalits in Tamiladu is inflicted by Thevars and Vanniyars, two major shudra communities lead by different political parties.

The land of Periyar’s revolutionary ideas is becoming dangerous for Dalit assertion as the backward classes are equally violent in their repression. Political parties do not take these issues powerfully as they should unlike the issue in Srilanaka where Tamilnadu burnt and you can call a bandh any time. Tamil intellectuals remain conspicuous in their silence so far. That is why, I have maintained many time, it is easier to call a Taminadu Bandh to seek action against Sri-Lanka but the same political parties have no strength and moral capacity to condemn and demand action when violence against Dalits happen there.

Therefore, it is important to understand whether these issues can be resolved when our political parties are based on identities and promoting their caste identities. Violence against Dalits cannot evaporate with simple rule of law. In our society, the caste forces are powerful and they are law unto themselves. We have seen the example of Haryana which has not been able to take action against the Jats. In UP, the Dalits face violence and no action is taken against the culprit since they take shelter in their caste identities. All the crimes are being condoned and deliberately politicized and linked to community identity so that justice is not done. It is an important question to ask as what has happened to Tamilnadu and its ‘self-respect movement’. Was the self-respect only meant for powerful OBCs who then would use their self-respect to crush the self-respect of the Dalits? It is shameful that political parties have kept quiet and are silence. PMK is part of the current regime. It was part of DMK lead front too and Ambumani Ramdas as health minister faced problems with students in AIIMS with his reservation policy. The OBC reservation was fought by the Dalit students most of the time even during the prime time of anti Mandal agitation. Tamilandu leaders always feel proud of speaking of their great anti Brahmin legacy but the fact is that Dalits have not been accepted by the OBCs too in Tamilnadu.

It is important to analyze the entire Non Brahmin movement and our social struggle. A mere anti Brahmin rhetoric will never help at the ultimate goal as anti-Brahmanism does not necessarily convert into anti caste-ism. It is important to demolish caste system. In the name of anti brahminism, the other powerful communities hijacked the agenda and Dalits had to suffer because the same castes were more atrocious and violence and used political power to suppress any form of dissent and assertion. That is the reason why Dalits face violence in UP, Haryana, Andhra Pradesh, Bihar and Maharastra. In most the places, the perpetrators of violence against Dalits happens to be mostly the upwardly mobile OBCs. Writing this does not mean that I am trying to exonerate the Brahmins and the system they created but we need to move ahead. It is important that an all-out assault need to be made on Brahmanism and brahmanical caste system of which the shudras are becoming the biggest foot soldiers. It is ironical while we speak aloud over Dalit Bahujan issues yet not much is done at the grassroots to bring them together where the real battles has to be fought. The Dalit OBC students can come together in JNU and elsewhere at the academic institutions where they are common victim of brahmanical system and its corrupt practices all over yet at the villages, the OBCs become worst then the Brahmins and the entire framework of the unity is therefore jeopardized. How can you expect the unity if such things continue to happen?

Tamilnadu always take pride in its anti-Brahmin movement and strong Dravidian legacy where the domination of two Dravidian parties did not allow space to any other nationalist party. We all talk about political power the ‘master key’ and yet this master key has remained with other powerful communities and never really goes to the lowest of the low. The strange thing is that the Dravidian legacy has not been embraced by the groups we take so much pride. In the last sixty years Tamilnadu, we should have seen broader movement against caste but it has never happened. Anti-Brahmanism was a tool to replace Brahmins and created a new violent class who never felt that Dalits too should have a stake in power structure.

That is why it is more than shocking that caste is still an honor in the Dravidian land also. It has actually beaten Haryana that way where the entire village is burnt. The term Kangaroo court is being used which decided that the girl should return to her parents but the fact is all this is ‘Khap Panchayat; of Tamilnadu belonging to Vanniyar community.

It brings us back to the basic question which Dr Ambedkar emphasized. He mentioned Indian society never respect individual and individual identity will always be subservient to caste identities. A complete battle against caste system is the need of the hour. Strengthening caste identities mean weakening of individual identity and therefore denying two individuals their right to live life according to their own choice. Caste identities are ruthless as they kill individual choices and brutally suppress any dissentions. Though PMK has come out against violence now and claimed that it is always friendly with Dalits in their common struggle yet the fact is Vanniyar’s Dalit tension in this region are well known as Vanniyars are landowning community. There are reports too that a Vanniyar leader of PMK actually had spoken some days back against inter caste marriages and had told his community to violently resist any such attempt.

It is important as why the political leaders speak against such thing and why this has resulted in violence.

The marriage happened about a month back and the couple was living in the village. Newspapers are also suggesting that there are about 10 inter-caste marriages between Vanniyars and Dalits in this village which means that the violence against Dalits was not only incited for political purposes but happened with a threat of growing incidents of such cases. The Kangaroo Courts which newspapers are reporting are nothing but Khap Panchayats and caste based identities will always hamper any love marriage as they are based on our individual choices. It is true that inter caste marriages will not happen through arranged way as no parents will ever go to look for their children a partner from other community. The inter caste marriages will only happen when there is a love between two youngsters and the more it happen the lesser would be the control of these caste groups who dominate in the name of caste identities and want to control the community.

Dharmpuri was once part of Salem district prior to independence and had strong Naxal influence. It has influence over the Dalits as well as the Vanniayars also. The political vacuum and the issue of political participation resulted in totally identity based party like PMK which rooted for Vanniyars.

There is no problem in issues of identities but in that one cannot forget the issues of social justice and human rights. Unfortunately, parties are ignoring that thing and identity based mobilizations are normally meant to strengthen the hands of the politicians who are fast becoming symbols of their community. Rather than they are being worried for the community and its welfare, it is community which is worried over politicians and their future. And that is anti-democratic and resulted in the political class taking their people for granted and using community identity for their own promotional exercise. It has failed further.

How sad and ironical it is that such vandalism of brahmanical variety is happening in Tamilnadu who take pride in Periyar’s revolutionary ideas who much before anyone could do, identified with women and supported women’s right over her body and promoted the ideas of love marriages. The self-respect marriages that Periyar promoted during his life time to encourage young couples for simple marriages yet with participation and acknowledgements of the society was the real challenge to brahmanical system but alas, what we see today in Tamilnadu is the very antithesis of Periyar’s revolutionary ideals. He was much ahead of his time but it looks that his focus on anti-Brahmanism somewhere reduced the anti-caste struggle in his state. It is not just demolishing the Brahmins but caste hierarchies at all level must be dismantled in all forms. While brahminism is casteism but it has reached much beyond Brahmins and hence it has become more important that we call for a complete annihilation of caste system.

The writ of the constitution must run but at the same point of time, it is important that political parties should come out unambiguously against such murder in the name of honor. Caste and false identities are the biggest problem in India and need the biggest assault. As long as caste identities survive, brahmanical system will work unquestionably to the benefits of the powerful communities. The caste based identity mobilizations are good but they must also adhere to democratic values, social justice and human rights and in reality it is not possible as long as these mobilization harps on ‘great’ legacy of caste. India’s future lie not in strengthening of castes but its complete demolition as Ambedkar had visualized and called for a complete restructuring of Indian society.

India is waiting for its cultural renaissance and it is only possible when our constitutional values become part of our social habits and not just a rule book to use conveniently according to our suitability of ideas and political interest. India may have a secular democratic constitution and we might have various governments claiming to work for social justice but at the far end of the day if values of social justice and constitutions are unacceptable to our people in their personal life and culturally then nobody can save India. It is bound to follow the Manu-Samriti and its racist laws which we all love to decry and condemn publically and politically yet follow silently in our personal lives.

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