TN backward classes plan front
to oppose dalit militancy
N Sathiya Moorthy in Madras
Backward-class groups in Tamil Nadu are planning to form a socio-political front to safeguard their interests against the rising dalit militancy.
A preliminary round of talks was held in Madras earlier this week, where participants stressed the need to involve all non-dalit groups in the front. But "we are not anti-dalit, only non-dalit," a participant clarified.
For starters, the participants mooted the idea of projecting a common viewpoint on the recurring caste clashes in the state at the all-party meeting convened by Chief Minister Muthuvel Karunanidhi in Madras today. But that 'common viewpoint' could not be concretised.
The BC meeting was attended by representatives of the Thevars, the Kongu Vellalars (Gounders), and the Vanniars, the three dominant BC groups in Tamil Nadu. Representatives of other backward-class groups like the Nadars, and forward classes like the Mudaliars and the Vellalars attended as 'observers'.
Indications are that the front, when it is formed, will demand withdrawal of the Protection of Civil Rights Act, the Prevention of Atrocities to the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes Act, and the Bonded Labour Act. "The very nomenclature of the PCR Act gives the impression that only the dalits have 'civil rights', and some of them seem to feel that way," said the participant quoted earlier.
He argued, "These laws have been rendered redundant by the socio-economic changes since Independence. Now they are being used mainly by individuals bent upon harassing other individuals or groups."
More importantly, the non-dalit groups want the reservation of seats for the scheduled castes and tribes in Parliament and the state assemblies withdrawn. "We will oppose any further extension of the facility when it lapses in 2001," said the participant. "We are in touch with BC leaders from other parts of the country, and want to launch a unified action."
But how far backward-class politicians are willing to go on this issue is unclear. For instance, while organisers of the non-dalit meeting said Pattali Makkal Katchi leader S Ramadoss had conveyed his sympathies privately, it is not known if the Vanniar party will be willing to take a political position on such potentially explosive issues.
Moreover, as a source close to the Puthiya Tamizhagam, a party of dalits, pointed out confidently, "No such non-dalit consolidation is possible. First, the dalits are uniformly spread across the state whereas the others, the BC groups in particular, are localised. Secondly, even within these groups there are so many factions and sects that unifying them all politically will be a pipe-dream."
In this context, he referred to the formation of two new Thevar groups in recent weeks, when the community was supposed to be consolidating itself after the caste clashes in Ramanathapuram. "They now have four organisations, and god help them if the number goes up," he said.
Against this, the Puthiya Tamizhagam source was confident that similar differences of sect and region would not hamper dalit consolidation under the leadership of Dr K Krishnaswamy, the party's founder. "We are united in the southern districts, and are ready to spread our wings in the other regions," he said.
Dr Krishnaswamy belongs to the Devendra Kula Vellalar sect, the dominant dalit group in the south and south-central districts. The community provides the farm labour there. But other dalit sects like the Adi Dravidars and Arundadiyars dominate the northern and north-central districts.
"The Adi Dravidars constitute the majority dalit group in the state," said the BC source. "They will not agree to be led by Krishnaswamy."
Some Adi Dravidar leaders have already started taking up the dalit cause on their own. The PMK's Ramadoss issued a statement recently, condemning the activities of the 'Black Panther' militant group of Adi Dravidars in the 'Vanniar belt'.
The BC source conceded the difficulties in uniting the backward classes. "But we will overcome the problems, and push our personal and sectarian agendas to the background for the common good. Unlike the dalits, among whom the Adi Dravidars will never accept the leadership of the Devendra Kula Vellalars, we are ready to accept a common leader if it comes to that."
But he was hazy at best on how they intend to proceed from their present position.
Tell us what you think of this report