Did a Decade-Long Caste Conflict Lead to Double Murder in TN?

There have been several instances of clashes between Vanniyars and Dalits over the last decade.

Updated
India
5 min read
The wives of the two young men are inconsolable as they had only gone to settle the dispute.
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The brutal murder of two young men – Surya and Arjunan – near Tamil Nadu’s Arakkonam on 7 April has opened old wounds. For Dalit families living in the area, caste discrimination has been an everyday reality for at least a decade, they allege.

“I don’t know why they are discriminating on the basis of caste. We are all humans after all. If either of us get hurt we shed blood, right? If you want to be superior, show that through education or jobs and not by hurting us.”
Deepa* (name changed on request), Surya’s close relative

The incident took place at a pani puri stall in Guruvarajapet, which was frequented by members of both communities.  The nearby villages of Soghanur and Sembedu are populated by the Dalits and just a few kilometers away is the town of Perumalrajpettai, a Vanniyar community settlement.

While 26-year-old Surya got married just a month back and was expecting a child, Arjunan is survived by his wife and six-month-old child.
While 26-year-old Surya got married just a month back and was expecting a child, Arjunan is survived by his wife and six-month-old child.
(Photo Courtesy: Sathya Tamilzharasan)

The Vanniyars fall under the Most Backward Caste (MBC) category while the Dalits, belonging to the sub-caste Paraiyar, fall under the Scheduled Caste category.

Double Murder That Terrified the Villages

Friends of the victims and political parties including the Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (VCK) have alleged that at least 20 men of the Vanniyar community were involved in the attack.

Ranipet district Superintendent of police Sivakumar however told The Quint that the murders were the result of a petty quarrel and that there was no caste conflict. 

This double murder has left an eerie silence in the villages and residents say they now fear walking past the Vanniyar area, which is the only route to go to the city and their workplaces.

The police have arrested six persons in connection with the murders. This includes - Sathya, Karthi Sounder, Nandakumar, Ajith and Madan.

The police have arrested six persons in connection with the murders. This includes - Sathya, Karthi Sounder, Nandakumar, Ajith and Madan.
The police have arrested six persons in connection with the murders. This includes - Sathya, Karthi Sounder, Nandakumar, Ajith and Madan.
(Photo: The Quint)

Surya and Arjunan were known to be the area’s favourites, always “standing up” for their brothers who faced discrimination.

Deepa told The Quint that the two groups have had several altercations in the past, and even when they go to the police station they are often urged to come to an amicable agreement for “the future of the young boys”.

Surya and his brother have been targeted many times for owning their own venture, Deepa recollected. “Surya’s brother has a lighting and sound system unit. There have been many incidents when people from the other community have asked him, ‘Who are you to do work for these events?’. They strongly dislike Dalits having their own business. He had faced threats.”

Surya and his brother (seen in the photo) were inseparable. ‘If he wanted to fight he would’ve taken a gang along. He went to settle the dispute and look what happened,” he said. 
Surya and his brother (seen in the photo) were inseparable. ‘If he wanted to fight he would’ve taken a gang along. He went to settle the dispute and look what happened,” he said. 
(Photo Courtesy: Sathya Tamilzharasan)

Several villagers said that discrimination they face has been “normalised”.

“Once I went to someone’s house and asked for water and they gave it to me in a mug from the bathroom. They will definitely not let us inside their homes. And we don’t take that seriously as we accept this as our reality.”
Deepa, Surya’s Relative

“These people pour water into the hands of Dalits because they don’t want them to touch their utensils. When well dressed Dalits walk by their area, they discourage it,” said a regional reporter.

The Dalit Tag Never Leaves You

The two communities have schools and graveyards of their own.

“Casual casteism is the order of life here. Separate burial grounds and schools for Dalits and Vanniyars show how no matter what we achieve, we die where we are born. We are still put in the same category and there is no escaping it.”
Arivu, Rapper and Lyricist
The wives of the two young men are inconsolable as they had only gone to settle the dispute.
The wives of the two young men are inconsolable as they had only gone to settle the dispute.
(Photo Courtesy: Sabaritha Ernavoor)

Das, a Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) leader said that he had helped many students get admission in schools and colleges . “Despite their growth, the Dalit caste tag always follows them,” he said.

“So many Dalit students have dropped out of colleges in the locality as they prefer to go to Chennai to escape caste discrimination. We have seen that the other communities don’t really appreciate a Dalit getting an education and having a job,” he told The Quint.

Recalling his campaign days he said, “When I went to distribute election notices to the Vanniyars, many of them didn’t take it from me. When I fell at an old man’s feet to seek his blessings he said, ‘I am Vanniyar. I will never support someone who follows Ambedkar.’ This shows that they favour their caste and don’t even want to hear out a candidate.”

After continuous protests, the funeral of Surya and Arjunan was held on Sunday.
After continuous protests, the funeral of Surya and Arjunan was held on Sunday.
(Photo Courtesy: Sathya Tamilzharasan)

‘We Don’t Want Caste’

The Quint reached out to several regional reporters who said that those from the Vanniyar community have refused to comment on the issue and even blocked their entry into the area.

This story will be updated if and when we receive a response.

While this is the first murder in the area, there have been several instances of clashes between the two communities.
While this is the first murder in the area, there have been several instances of clashes between the two communities.
(Photo Courtesy: Sabaritha Ernavoor)
Arjunan’s grandmother said that he was the breadwinner of the family. Now they are worried about the family’s future, she said.
Arjunan’s grandmother said that he was the breadwinner of the family. Now they are worried about the family’s future, she said.
(Photo Courtesy: Sathya Tamilzharasan)
“God gave us this life as a gift and six senses to think life through and not behave like animals. We don’t want caste. We don’t want violence. Let us be there for each other. Let my brother be the last.”
Deepa, Surya’s Relative

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