A 22-year old Dalit engineer was hacked to death in Tamil Nadu over caste differences. This was followed by a section of Tamils celebrating it on social media. Political interests have kept authorities from taking action so far. DMK Treasurer MK Stalin spoke out against the incident on his Facebook account.
But this is not an isolated incident.
Shortly after news broke of the brutal hacking of a 22-year-old Dalit engineer in Tamil Nadu’s Tirupur district, a section of Tamils began to celebrate his death on social media. Chilling Facebook posts appeared thick and fast.
The daylight attack on V Sankar and his wife Kausalya in Udumalaipet, Tirupur, on 13 March was precipitated by their marriage. Nineteen-year-old Kausalya, an “upper” caste Thevar, fell in love with and married Sankar, who belonged to the Scheduled Caste Pallar community, against her family’s wishes.
Despite the daring murder, voices of protest against this atrocity are muted. Political analysts say that while the powerful OBCs have gained political recognition, the Dalit community, comprising almost 26 percent of the population, is yet to find a leader of the stature of Mayawati in UP.
“Once the non-Brahmin Dravidian parties took centre stage, politics became explicitly anti-Brahmin and implicitly anti-Dalit,” said C Lakshmanan, political analyst and Associate Professor, Madras Institute of Development Studies.
“Social justice was reduced to mere caste-based quota. Why is there no Dalit leader of Mayawati’s stature in Tamil Nadu? There were strong Dalit leaders once like Sathyavani Muthu prominent during the DMK’s formation.”
But Dravidian parties have systemically annihilated the rise of Dalit leaders within and outside their parties. Current Dalit political leaders are unable to gain the confidence of the entire Dalit electorate,” he said.
Vested Political Interests Behind the Chilling Silence of Authorities:
It is due to the consolidation of OBC castes, a powerful vote bank, that political parties in the state remain silent on the issue of this caste-related murder. DMK leader M Karunanidhi has thought it just to remain silent.
In his Facebook account, MK Stalin, Karunanidhi’s heir apparent, has chosen to refer to this murder as an instance of the failure of law and order in the five-year AIADMK rule. He has carefully and conveniently circumvented the issue of honour killing.
Two days after the murder, a statement from DMDK leader Vijaykanth, with his facsimile signature, was issued condemning the murder and adding, “The AIADMK government must own moral responsibility.”
The Left parties have called for amendments to various laws, rather than look at the deep-rooted caste motivation behind the murder. PMK’s S Ramadoss, a self-proclaimed representative of the dominant Vanniyar caste, refused to answer questions on the subject.
Caste Conflicts Not Unheard of in the State
Caste conflicts are not new to Tamil Nadu. Since the late 1990s, south Tamil Nadu has witnessed caste upheaval, leading to the creation and deployment of special reserve police units in Sivakasi and Kamuthi, simply to control caste violence.
As per National Crime Records Bureau data, Tamil Nadu stood second to Maharashtra in caste-related violence with 211 recorded cases. Activists say that 81 honour killings have in fact taken place over inter-caste marriages in the past three years but official records do not reflect the same.
Thevars in the south, Vanniyars in the north and Gounders in the west are the dominant as well as assertive backward class (BC or OBC) or most backward class groups.
The BCs and the MBCs came together in 2012, on Ramadoss’ call. He formed an Anaithu Samudaya Periyakkam (Federation of All Communities), bringing together dominant non-Dalit castes across the state.
In a conference organised in 2012 by Ramadoss’ Vanniyar Sangam (Association of Vanniyars), leaders of Thevars and Gounders participated.
An accusation was voiced that stylish Dalit youngsters were luring away gullible non-Dalit girls, only to abandon them after making them pregnant.
This is Not an Isolated Incident:
Since the accusation, a series of high profile and copycat murders and suspicious deaths of young Dalits have taken place across the state.
In 2014, a young Dalit boy Ilavarasan was found dead on the railway tracks, following arson and rioting in Dharmapuri district, over his inter-caste marriage to a Vanniyar girl. In June 2015, another young Dalit engineer Gokulraj was murdered in Tiruchengode by a caste-fanatic for the crime of speaking to a Gounder girl.
Thol Thirumavalavan, leader of Dalit party Viduthalai Siruthaigal Katchi (VCK) lamented:
Earlier politicians would not speak openly about caste affiliations but now they are speaking on stage, especially since the PMK has come into existence. Ramadoss, who incited riots in the 1980s, has been hailed as a leader when he should have been punished – this is a bad precedent. Whenever his vote base erodes, Ramadoss picks up a rabid caste hatred agendaThol Thirumavalavan
As elections inch closer, it is not just political parties but also myriad small outfits claiming to represent a particular caste, which are inciting dangerous sentiments.
Mutthaiya Thevar, leader of the Tamil Nadu Thevar Peravai, an apolitical organisation started in 1989 warns:
This is not kaadhal (love), it is kaamam (lust). If they touch our jaadhi (caste) girl, we will hack. There is no doubt about it.Mutthaiya Thevar
Dalit outfits too are hitting back with inciting sloganeering like “Goundana vettu, Goundacchiya kattu” (Hack the Gounder men and marry the Gounder woman). “Penn ketkum Poraattam” (protest asking for the hand of the “upper” caste girl) too, is being held by small groups like the Adi Tamilar Peravai, a Dalit outfit in the western belt.
As caste rivalries deepen and harden, conflict is brewing in every corner of the state. It is time for politicians to step in and stem the tide.