Paramakudi: Caste conflicts in the land of ‘Social Justice’
Paramakudi in Ramnad district is the samadhi of late dalit Christian leader Immanuel Sekaran. On 11 Sept., Sekaran’s 54th death anniversary, the state police detained John Pandian, a self-proclaimed dalit Christian leader, when he tried to enter Paramukudi in defiance of ban orders. Pandian was detained as he planned to visit the family of Palanikumar, a higher secondary school student allegedly murdered by Thevar community people on 9 September, and police feared trouble. Media reports said the student was murdered as a result of posters denigrating Muthuramalinga Thevar, put up by dalits. Chief Minister Jayalalithaa gave the same information in the assembly. (1)
But, reliable police sources say the concerned student was involved in facilitating a marriage between a Thevar girl and a dalit boy, and paid the price for it.
We cannot rule out further deterioration in the situation due to the said posters which depicted Immanuel Sekaran as Theyva Thirumakan or ‘Divine Son’. This angered the Thevar community as Theyva Thirumakan was hitherto used only for the late leader Muthuramalinga Thevar. Thus, dalits certainly provoked the Thevar community by putting up such posters.
Previously, in the Dr Ambedkar Government Law College violence in Chennai in 2008, the Thevar students provoked the dalit students by putting up posters for ‘Thevar Day’ (Oct. 30) celebrations, and deliberately omitting ‘Dr Ambedkar’ from the designation of the college. (2)
At Paramakudi, when the followers of John Pandian came to know of the arrest of their leader, they obstructed traffic and forced other dalits to join their protest. Thus dalits from various districts, who were going to Paramakudi town to pay respects at Immanuel’s samadhi, were forced by John Pandian’s followers to get down from their vehicles and join their protest against the police. When the two groups clashed and police attempted to restore order, John Pandian’s men started pelting stones on public and private transports. The police resorted to lathi-charge and teargas shells, but in vain. The crowd dispersed in groups and on the way indulged in violence and arson, burning and destroying vehicles, including police vehicles. Some of them physically assaulted policemen and molested policewomen. As things went out of control, the police had to open fire, killing three people on the spot. (3)
Soon the violence spread to other parts of South Tamil Nadu and the final death tally was 7, including 4 who succumbed to injuries sustained during firing. A considerable number of police personnel including high-rank officials were seriously injured. The entire political spectrum blamed the police, and yielding to pressure, the state government constituted a Commission of Enquiry, headed by K. Sampath, a retired Judge of the Madras High Court, to probe the incident. (4)
Caste conflicts and resultant police action in Tamil Nadu are not uncommon. Some major incidents after independence include:
1. Mudukulathur Massacre of 1957
2. Kilvenmani Massacre of January1969
3. Kodiyankulam Incident of 31 August 1995
4. Melvalavu Massacre of 25 July 1997
5. Gundupatti Incident of 1998
6. Tambraparani River tragedy of 23 July 1999
7. Thinniyam Incident of 25 October 2002
The Mudukulathur incident of 1957 is significant as it involved both Muthuramalinga Thevar and Immanuel Sekaran. When the All India Forward Block candidate T.L. Sasivarna Thevar won the by-election for the Mudukulathur assembly constituency vacated by Muthuramalinga Thevar, in July1957, the pro-Congress dalits clashed with pro-AIFB Thevars, and the clashes spread throughout the constituency. A peace meeting was held on 10 September 1957, attended by Immanuel Sekaran, Muthuramalinga Thevar, Sasivarna Thevar, Nadar caste representative Veluchamy Nadar and Velu, a dalit MLA from AIFB. (5)
The next day, 11 Sept., Immanuel Sekaran was murdered. The murder led clashes over the next ten days, in which around 70 dalits and 23 Thevars died. Most of the Thevars lost their lives in police firing. Though police filed a case against Muthuramalinga Thevar for alleged involvement in the conspiracy to murder Immanuel Sekaran, he was finally acquitted. Since then both communities have been at loggerheads.
In January 1969, 42 agrarian labourers (all dalits) were locked inside a hut and burnt to ashes by the henchmen of landlords, for striking work and demanding increase in wages. This barbaric incident happened in Kilvenmani village in Thanjavur district. The labourers, instigated by the Communists, were demanding increase in wages every year. This led to the landlords opting for outside labourers, resulting in frequent clashes between the locals and outside labourers. Ultimately the landlords resorted to the dastardly act of physically eliminating the poor labourers. The Communists, who were the root cause of the problem, just marched in procession to Madras High Court when the HC acquitted all the landlords for want of concrete evidence. (6)
In the Kodiyankulam incident of 1995, the police were alleged to have committed excesses on dalits while on a combing operation. However the Gomathinayagam Commission of Enquiry constituted by the then AIADMK government gave a clean chit to the police, though the then DGP Vaikunth himself had a different opinion. Here again the cause of the clash between Thevars and dalits was a verbal altercation between a bus driver and a passenger and subsequent desecration of the statue of Muthuramalinga Thevar. (7)
The Melavalavu massacre of July 1997 saw the murder of 6 dalits by men of the Ambalakarar caste, who protested against the election of dalits as president and vice president after the declaration of Melavalavu as a ‘Reserved’ Panchayat. Around 17 persons were awarded life sentence and the SC upheld the sentence in October 2009. (8)
In February 1998, when the Gundupatti villagers illegally confined the Kodaikanal Panchayat Union chairman Vadivelu of DMK and 6 policemen, the police went to the village and ransacked two areas – Viduthalai Nagar and B-Colony – and allegedly tortured the villagers before rescuing the detained men. A four-member high-level team constituted by the then DMK government was divided over the issue. While three members gave a clean chit to the police, the fourth member R. Christdos Gandhi, Adi-Dravidar Welfare Secretary, put the blame on the police and “others” and recommended action against them. (9)
The Thamaraparani River Tragedy of 23 July 1999 was the death of 17 dalits, including two women and a two year old child, when they got into the river to escape police lathi-charge. The dalits were going in procession to Thirunelveli Collectorate to submit a memorandum demanding wage settlement for the tea plantation workers of Manjolai Estate. An altercation between the police and the marchers resulted in lathi-charge by police. When the marchers ran helter skelter, many fell into the river and drowned. Justice Mohan Commission, which probed the incident, recommended banning of political processions. (10)
On 25October 2002, in village Thinniyam in Thiruchi district, two dalits were forced “to feed each other” human excreta, by the local panchayat leader and her husband, who belonged to a Dravidian party. They were tortured when they went in support of another dalit who was cheated of Rs.2000/- by the panchayat president who had promised to get a land allotted to him through a government scheme. (11)
Dalits have been perennially facing discrimination in Tamil Nadu and the blame must be shared by
1. Dravidian & Communist politicians
2. Church & Christian NGOs and
3. Dalit leaders.
All of them exploit the dalits for self-aggrandizement.
Dravidian & Communist Politicians
The Dravidian parties in Tamil Nadu have been trumpeting for over five decades that they have achieved so-called Social Justice. Had this been true, the Paramakudi incident would not have happened. Social Justice cannot be achieved by mere freebies and reservation quotas. It can be truly achieved only by
1. affirmative action ensuring the social recognition of oppressed classes
2. taking so-called upper castes into confidence and acting as a bridge between them and the oppressed classes and
3. improvement of educational and other infrastructures
Instead of adopting these long term result oriented strategies, the Dravidian parties have been adopting methods like freebies and quotas for short term electoral benefits. They have bothered only for their own benefits, instead of benefits to the dalit community. In fact, the Dravidian parties in general and DMK and AIADMK (both ruling the state alternatively since 1967) in particular, have been treating dalits as mere vote-banks.
The state stillhas scores of worshipping places refusing entry to dalits, hundreds of manualscavengers, scores of caste walls separating dalits and OBCs/BCs/MBCs,two-tumbler system in hundreds of tea shops, separate burial grounds for dalitsand refusal of entry even in saloons! In certain villages, the dalits are not allowed towalk on the public road, wear chappals, ride bicycles, wear dhotis folded, weartowels on shoulders, use common wells and get clothes washed or ironed. (12)
The irresponsible caste politics played by the Dravidian parties since the 1960s quite often triggered caste conflicts. The Dravidian governments have been covering up for more than five decades the various types of social discriminations against dalits across the state and in South Tamil Nadu in particular, mainly perpetrated by “Other Backward Classes”. The mainstream media played a conniving role by not reporting them with due prominence. The few incidents reported were projected as perpetrated by “Upper Castes” or ““Caste Hindus” with a motive of alienating dalits from the Hindu fold.
Communists have their own way of playing caste politics. They always register their protest against Dravidian governments in the guise of fighting for oppressed people (scheduled castes). Ultimately they always end up making matters worse for the dalit community and spoiling the prevailing peace and harmony. For example, the Kilvenmani massacre of 42 poor dalits was a result of communist play. Similarly, the Uthapuram caste-wall (separating SCs and OBCs) was unnecessarily taken up by the Communists. While both communities were living without any problems despite the presence of the wall separating them, the communists entered the scene and spoilt the harmony by instigating the dalits. (13)
In Tamil Nadu, dalits have been having problems with Vanniyars in the north and Thevars in the south and rarely with other communities such as Reddiars, etc. All those who discriminate against dalits are either BCs or OBCs or MBCs, and it is an irony that they claim to have achieved “Social Justice”!
The Dalit “Leaders”
The Dravidian party leaders gave recognition to rogue and rowdy elements and history sheeters who masqueraded as “leaders” of the dalit communities, and allowed them to grow by having alliance with their outfits during elections. All these so-called dalit leaders have done nothing notable for the progress of their community, but have been misleading them through the path of violence. Most second rung leaders and functionaries of these parties literally thrive by extortion, land grabbing, abusing ‘Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act’ and other illegal methods. The innocent dalit masses get hooked by these worthless leaders and blindly follow them as herds of sheep.
The man behind the Paramakudi violence, John Pandian, has 41 criminal cases against him including murder, attempt to murder, extortion, etc. He literally thrived by flaring up caste conflicts, particularly in the south, and soon started his own political outfit – Thamizhaga Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam. He was involved in huge poll related violence with former DMK minister Parithi Ilam Vazhuthi in 2001, when both contested the Egmore constituency. He was in prison for sometime as the trial court convicted him for involvement in a 1993 murder case, which was upheld by the High Court; but he was acquitted by the Supreme Court in December 2010. (14 & 15)
Another dalit ‘leader,’ Thirumavalavan, started a political outfit, the Viduthalai Chiruththaikal Katchi (Dalit Panthers of India) with the motto of “refuse (to submit), transgress; rise (from shackles), return (the blow)” (Adanga Maru; Aththu Meeru; Thimiri Ezhu, Thiruppi Adi), which is nothing but a direct and blatant call for violence. The party functionaries act according to the motto. (16)
Dr. Krishnaswamy, president of a dalit party, Puthiya Thamizhagam (New Tamil Nadu), was the man behind the Thamaraparani River Tragedy. He does nothing for the community. Though he doesn’t have as much a following as Thirumavalavan, he too functions in a similar way, hobnobbing with Dravidian parties and flirting with minority leaders. (17)
Yet another dalit ‘leader’, Poovai Moorthy, of suburban Chennai, came up the rogue way and started a political party, ‘Puratchi Bharatam’ (Revolutionary Bharat). He was making money by literally threatening businessmen, traders, educational institutions and factories in the suburban areas of Poonamallee, Thiruvallur, Sriperumbudur, etc. When he met an untimely death, the relief for those extorted was short-lived as his younger brother Jagan Moorthy took over the ‘family business’. (18)
How are these “leaders” able to run their shows and maintain their parties? Here we must examine the role of minority organizations.
Church and the Christian NGOs
The dubious role of the Church and Christian NGOs in most caste conflicts must be investigated. Evangelism and conversion activities are rampant in the state and conversion strategies vary from village to village depending upon the community-wise population percentage. The dominant community becomes the focus of conversion, leading to harassment or discrimination of the other community which has lesser numbers. While Dravidian and dalit politicians create and maintain caste wars for sustaining their votebanks, the Church and Christian NGOs utilize those incidents to reap a rich harvest.
Most Dalit leaders act as ‘paid agents’ of missionaries and NGOs, as evidenced by their hatred towards anything Hindu and their espousing minority causes more than causes of their own communities. Christian NGOs are very active, particularly in areas prone to caste clashes. In the aftermath of any caste conflict, a Christian NGO will send a so-called fact finding team and organise a press conference to spread a motivated report (containing rules and principles from “UN Conventions”) which is always against the other caste and state police force, and which sometimes gives a clarion call for UN intervention. They motivate leaders to organize violence and follow it up with their fact finding, press meets, legal courses, etc. If one section is converted by the strategy of ‘Motivation by Allurements’, the other section is converted by a strategy of ‘Motivation by Fear’.
Running a political party is not easy; huge resources are needed. This is where minority organizations, particularly the Church and Christian NGOs, play a vital role. As their target community is dalits, they take care of all the requirements of self styled dalit leaders and utilize them fully to harvest a maximum number of souls. In turn, these so-called dalit leaders fight for the causes of Muslims and Christians even at the cost of Dalit causes. For example, when Hindu dalits were persecuted by Christian Vanniars in Dindukkal, Thirumavalavan was fighting for Muslims in Vellore district!
In January 2010, a Hindu dalit, Sadaiyandi, was attacked and human excreta thrust inside his mouth by Christian Vanniars in Meikovilpatti village near Dindukkal. Thirumavalavan didn’t even bother to visit the village, but went to Vellore on January 20, 2010 and fought for Muslims’ entry into an unused mosque inside the fort, which is under the control of ASI. Neither Krishnaswamy, the other dalit leader, nor Vanniar leader Dr. Ramadoss visited the village.(19 & 20)
In Eraiyur in Villupuram district, Christian Vanniars were discriminating against Dalit converts for years. Here again, dalit leaders didn’t act in support of their community, but maintain good relations with Christian clergy and Church leaders. (21)
Similarly, in Kanthampatty village near Omalur, Salem district, Hindu Vanniars have been refusing entry for Hindu dalits inside the Draupathi Amman Temple for years. Thirumavalavan despite being closely acquainted with Vanniar leader and PMK (Pattali Makkal Katchi) founder Dr Ramadoss (they jointly run an organization called Tamil Protection Movement) didn’t bother to solve the problem. Both kept the issue alive with the aim of securing their votebanks. Finally public pressure forced Thirumavalavan to approach the High Court, which allowed entry for dalits. (22)
Dalit leaders make a killing by both ways, that is, by joining Dravidian parties as allies and by serving minority organizations as slaves.
Hindu dalits – Victims of Circumstances
Immanuel Sekaran, a born Christian, served in the Army for a few years before taking to social activism, focusing on Scheduled Castes. (23) Pon Muthuramalinga Thevar served in Netaji’s INA. He was a nationalist and considered Hindu Nationalism and Hindu Spiritualism as his two eyes, which earned him the title Theyva Thirumakan (Divine Son). He had also served dalit causes. An example of his pan-community appeal was his joining the Dalits’ Temple Entry movement. He ably supported Vaidyanatha Iyer in his efforts to take dalits inside Madurai Meenakshi Amman Temple, and was respected by all communities. (24)
Sadly, the Thevar community hijacked this freedom fighter and statesman, and reduced him to the level of a caste leader. When they started organizing so-called Guru Pujas, the Dravidian politicians started appeasing this community by making it a State affair.
Instigated by anti-Hindu forces and other politicians, the dalit community also started observing Immanuel Sekaran’s anniversary as Guru Puja. Instead of nipping these farcical Guru Pujas in the bud, successive Dravidian governments started encouraging them by joining them for votebank purposes, making these rituals very sensitive affairs, causing law& order and security concerns, and leading to unnecessary expenditure for the government.
Harassed by the dominant castes and neglected by successive Dravidian governments, the Hindu dalits have no choice but to follow their community leaders who are under the control of minority organizations. This enables the minority organizations, particularly the churches, to enjoy a great harvest.
The indifference, inaction and inability of Hindu leaders, political, cultural, religious, et al, to rise to the occasion is behind the plight of Hindu dalits. Leaders who came out openly in support of dalits were persecuted by the state in connivance with conspiring alien forces. The lack of unity among Hindus is taking a heavy toll on Hindu dalits, who have become extremely vulnerable to conversions.
Paramakudi is a classic case: ‘Guru Puja’ for Immanuel Sekaran; ‘Organised’ violence by John Pandian and his henchmen; Fact finding Committee’s Report and Press briefing by Henri Tiphagne of Christian NGO “People’s Watch”. And the victims mostly Hindu Dalits!
The state government must take tough measures to prevent caste conflicts, such as
1. Ban the so-called Guru Pujas
2. Legislate a strong law against conversions
3. Screen NGOs, subject them to annual audits and stop flow of foreign funds
4. Persons with criminal background must not be allowed to start or run political parties and caste outfits
5. Revamp the police force and implement police reforms which are long overdue
The government must focus on improving educational infrastructure in rural areas, while reducing reservation quotas. The affluent castes, particularly the OBCs, must be removed from the reservation-list. Affirmative action must be taken by diverting funds marked for farcical expenditure (freebies) and social recognition of dalits ensured. There must be a check on print & electronic media, film industry and other mass media to ensure that they do not misuse the freedom of expression enshrined in the Constitution.
The leaders of Hindu organizations, particularly religious ones, have a great responsibility to reach out to dalits and assure them of recognition and protection. They must lay emphasis on “unity” within Hindus, and create awareness amongst their followers about the importance of caring for dalits and taking them along. Hindu social and cultural leaders must meet people and create awareness about threats posed by alien forces from all directions. The Hindu Samaj has not yet realized the danger looming over it.
Tail Piece: On the issue of death sentence for Rajiv Gandhi’s killers, Jayalalithaa changed her mind overnight and brought a resolution in the Assembly recommending clemency for them. On the issue of Kudankulam Nuclear Power plant, she changed her mind within a week and appealed to the Prime Minister for suspension of the plant. Both issues were pushed by padris and Christian NGOs. Jayalalithaa has met Christian clerics three times after forming the government.
Tail Tip: Sonia Gandhi returned from the US on 8 September; NIC discussed Sonia-NAC’s Communal Violence Bill on 10 September; Paramakudi violence happened on 11September. Communal Violence Bill includes Scheduled Castes in the “Group” which it mentions in its draft. Such riots tacitly instigated by minorities involving SCs may erupt across the state in coming days, based on which the Sonia-led UPA will attempt to pass the bill in Parliament.
1. “Firing, bid to suppressDalit assertion”
2. Violence in Law College, two groups clash
3. Three killed in police firing in caste-sensitive southTamil Nadu
4. Paramakudi policefiring: toll rises to seven; Jayalalithaa orders judicial probe
5. Mudukulathur Massacre of 1957.
6.Gentlemen killers of Kilvenmani
7. Kodiyankulam Incident of 31 August, 1995
8. Melvalavu Massacre of July25,1997
9. Gundupatti Incident of 1998
10. Tambraparani River Tragedy of July 23, 1999
11. Thinniyam Incident of October 25, 2002
12. Experiencesof Struggles Against Untouchability in Tamilnadu
13.The fall of a wall
14. John Pandian released
15. John Pandian, nine others get life term
16. ViduthalaiChiruththaikal Katchi
18. Puratchi Bharatham
19. Upper caste youthsforce Dalit to eat excreta in Tamil Nadu
20. VCK members try toenter mosque in Vellore fort
21. Eraiyur echo: Churches inCuddalore, Villupuram locked
22. HC allows SCs to entertemple
24. Pasumpon Muthuramalinga thevar
The author is a freelancer
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