The consequences of the recent violence against three Dalit colonies in Dharmapuri in western Tamil Nadu, over an inter-caste marriage, is threatening to escalate communal hatred in the state.
Ever since the violence on 7 November, a prominent political party, the PMK, which is alleged to be the mastermind behind the attack, has queered the peace processes by colouring the caste-dynamics of the state with incendiary elements.
Interestingly, they resemble the anti-minority projects of communal forces in other states.
The most bizarre of the anti-Dalit schemes is the PMK’s desire to discourage inter-caste marriages, which is evidently an euphemism for the marriage of people from backwards castes (OBCs and MBCs) with Dalits. On Sunday, the PMK founder S Ramadoss reportedly spoke openly against such marriages and said they were not out of love, but of caste design.
“They wear jeans, T-shirts and fancy sunglasses to lure girls from other communities,” The Hindu quoted him.
Ramadoss’ directly racial insinuation that Dalit boys are on the prowl to “lure” girls from other communities is strikingly similar to the “love jihad” theory that Hindu fundamentalists use against Muslims in states such as Kerala and Karnataka. According to the “love jihad” theory, Muslim boys lure girls from other communities, mostly Hindus, and convert them into their religion through the allegedly diabolical plan of love-marriage.
Although unsubstantiated and unproved, “love-jihad” is a major propaganda plank for right wing Hindu leaders in both the states, which has vitiated inter-personal relationships in campuses and workplaces.
Seemingly, for Ramadoss, it doesn’t matter if his exhortation, that obviously fuels caste-paranoia, sounds too direct given that the Dharmapuri violence was sparked by the marriage of a Vanniyar girl to a Dalit boy. Even while vehemently ruling out any role in the violence, the PMK has justified its opposition to marital relationships with the Dalits.
The PMK sounds nothing but racially puristic, when it asks its followers not to inter-marry, that too in a state where the doyen of the social reformist movement, the late Periyar EV Ramasamy, had encouraged people to inter-marry. The present day Dravidian leaders, such as Karunanidhi, often speak about the virtues of inter-caste marriages, even citing examples from their families.
Ramadoss is an avowed opponent of Dravidian ideology although political opportunism takes him to one of the Dravidian party camps at the time of every election. With a 7-8 per cent vote-share, mainly in the Vanniyar belt, he needs either the DMK or the AIADMK to get to the parliament and the state assembly, and plum ministries. According to him, the Dravidian parties haven’t achieved anything in the last 45 years, but destroyed Tamil culture and civilisation.
In his diatribes against the Dalits, the PMK leader hasn’t stopped with this love-marriage theory. He also wants the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act in the state to be amended because the Dalits are allegedly misusing it.
According to him, there is no need for such a law because untouchability has been eradicated in the state. He even said that the misuse of the Act by the Dalits was the main reason for the communal disharmony. The party is now planning to hold statewide agitations against the Act.
The latest demonstration of intolerance by Ramadoss has certainly vitiated the communal atmosphere in the state, or more precisely the tension between the Dalits and caste-Hindus. According to New Indian Express, A Dalit activist has asked the state police to arrest Ramadoss for his speech in which he has allegedly said that it was unsafe for girls from caste-Hindu communities to walk through Dalit colonies
Funnily enough, according to Ramadoss, all is well on the Dalit front in the state although the reality is exactly the opposite. Dalits, including school children, are frequent targets of violent crimes and communal exclusion across the state, particularly in the belts where they are targetted by the two politically powerful caste-Hindus. Incidents such as Villupram (1978), Kodiyankulam (1995), Melavalavu (1997), Gundupatti (1998) and Thamiraparnai (1999) are serious blots to the state’s communal record. Despite an Act to protect them, very few have been punished for anti-Dalit offences.
There is a sliver lining to the PMK’s anti Dalit-polemic though - it has galvanised considerable support for the Dalits and their principal political party, the VCK. Following the non-Dalit all-community meeting organised by Ramadoss to mobilise the support of caste-Hindus on Sunday, the VCK oraganised a demonstration in the city on Monday with the support of the Left parties and Periyar Dravida Kazhagam, known more for its support to the Sri Lankan Tamil cause. Even the DMK leader Karunanidhi has decried the PMK leader’s hate-speech.
It remains to be seen if the VCK and Dalit activists can use Ramadoss’s anit-Dalit project to self-catalyse its much-needed political consolidation. The compulsions of political expediency will certainly demand its alliance with one of the Dravidian parties, but a clever strategy should be able to generate a solid electoral block out of the Dalits who constitute nearly 20 per cent of the population in the state. Almost the same share of the population in Uttar Pradesh, where a smart Mayavati had been able to convert it into a Dalit-rule.