August 12, 2002


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The Rediff Interview/R Thirumalvalavan

'POTA should be scrapped completely'

A well known supporter of the Liberation of Tamil Tigers Eelam, R Thirumalvalavan, leader of the Dalit Panthers of India, says the Tamil Nadu government's arrest of Vaiko and P Nedumaran is politically motivated.

He also states that like Dr Ramdoss -- founder of the Pattali Makkal Kachi, who has demanded a separate for the Vanniyars -- he too wants a separate state for Dalits.

Caste clashes between the Vanniyars and Dalits in the northern districts is a regular phenomenon, and Thirumalvalavan feels if Dr Ramdoss’s demand is accepted, it will spell great difficulty for the Dalits.

As per the 2001 census, Daits form the largest group in Tamil Nadu -- 22 per cent of the state’s population while the Vanniyars form 12.4 per cent.

In an interview to Shobha Warrier, he criticised Dr Ramdoss’ demand, and also clarified his moral support to the LTTE.

When Dr Ramdoss asked for a separate state in the Vanniyar belt, you said there should be a separate state for the Dalits too in the northern belt. How did this clamour for separate states on caste lines begin?

When Ramdoss found his base -- he has no political base, only a caste base -- had eroded, he had to do something. If you remember it, he declared during the last assembly election that his party, the PMK was a party for all the communities in the state but he failed in the attempt to make the PMK a political party. So, once again, he wants to rely on his caste, the Vanniyars. He wants to exploit caste sentiments to win their support and votes by projecting himself as the saviour of the Vanniyars. When some dissenting voices came up in the party, he wanted to divert the attention of the people, and that was the reason why he shouted this slogan for a separate state.

It is dangerous to the country, the state and the people to have a state based on caste lines. It is particularly dangerous for the Dalits. I will tell you why. When they agitated to change the status of Vanniyars from BC (Backward Caste) to MBC (Most Backward Caste), more than 25,000 Dalit huts were burnt.

When we had to bear such atrocities for their fight for reservation, what would the situation be when they fight for a separate state? Their fight will be against the Dalits.

Why did you say that if Ramdoss wanted a separate state for the Vanniyars, you too wanted a separate state for the Dalits?

We never demanded a separate state. What I said was, if Vanniyars needed a separate state, the need of the Dalits was a thousand times more! Do you know Dalits cannot even stand for elections? In some places, Dalits were forced to eat excreta because they stood for elections. How long will it take for us to be a political force?

If a party that has five MPs and 20 MLAs believes that it can have a chief minister only if there is a separate state, what about us, Dalits? What is wrong then if we also ask for a separate state? This is our stand.

If this trend continues, Reddys, Chettiars, Naidus, Thevars and Mudaliars also will ask for separate states, and it will lead to caste clashes. This in turn, will have a major impact at the national level too.

What Ramdoss quotes are the cases of Uttaranchal and Chhattisgarh but those are tribal states. So, we condemn his statement.

You must be happy to see all political leaders criticising Ramdoss for his demand..

Yes. I know nobody will support him. I condemn his act because he is asking for a separate state based on caste lines.

How do you think the people of Tamil Nadu will react to this?

I feel his motto has been fulfilled. He wanted the support of all Vanniyars, and he has got it now. He doesn’t want a separate state now. He is interested in only stimulating the caste sentiments of the Vanniyars. He could achieve it with that one statement. He wanted to consolidate the Vanniyars because his base had eroded, and he has achieved it.

But there are Vanniyars in other parties too like the DMK, AIADMK and the Congress. Do you think they also will support him?

Definitely. They will be happy to hear somebody fighting for their rights.

So you feel he will be successful.

Yes. His aim was to consolidate the Vanniyar vote bank and he has attained the goal. Initially, the Vanniyars might lend only moral support but slowly, all of them will start openly supporting him. This is dangerous to the country but he will do anything to gain political mileage.

What he does is 'communal terrorism.' I will say, his statement is more dangerous than Vaiko’s statement (supporting the LTTE) because it will lead to communal and caste violence in the state. It will affect the sovereignty and integrity of the country. While Vaiko was arrested under POTA, I do not know why the chief minister has not ordered Ramdoss' arrest. Vaiko spoke about something that is happening in another country. There are no Tigers in Tamil Nadu and there is no violence in the state because of the Tigers. But Vaiko was arrested saying his statement would affect the sovereignty and integrity of the country. But I would say, what Ramdoss said was unconstitutional, against the Dalits and downtrodden, and it will lead to violence.

Now, he is denying all that he had said at the Vanniyar conference. He says he did not ask for a separate state for his community, and all he wanted was bifurcation of the state for better administration. But he has cleverly conveyed the message to his community.

I feel it was only because the chief minister reacted to his statement that the whole thing got so much publicity.

Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa has said the state government may initiate action against you after going through video tapes of the World Tamil Federation Conference where you and P Nedumaran [Tamil Nationalist Movement leader arrested under POTA on August 1] spoke. Do you think you too will be arrested under POTA?

See, none of us provides any material support to the LTTE. We don’t support them by giving them shelter and food. We don’t give arms or ammunition to them. We don’t support them financially. We don’t distribute their pamphlets here. Our support is only moral. After all, they are Tamils; our brothers and sisters. Ours can be called a blood relationship or ethnic relationship. Without LTTE, there is no Tamil Eelam. Even the Sri Lankan government has accepted this fact. In a democracy, we have the freedom to express our views. It is a fundamental right that each and every individual has. Moral support is not a crime. To stop us from expressing our moral support is fascism.

Vaiko’s support also was moral. But he was arrested under POTA for supporting a terrorist organisation.

There is not even one percent necessity for the use of POTA in Tamil Nadu. The state is so peaceful. That is why we say that the law is being misused here. They are taking political vengeance by using POTA. So, we condemn what is happening here. We also oppose POTA totally. We do not want a law like POTA in our country. It has become a tool for the ruling party, the state government and the police to inflict vengeance on their opponents.

Do you know when TADA was in use, of all the people arrested under it, only 0.8 per cent were the real accused? 99 per cent of those who were arrested under TADA were innocent. TADA was misused. Now, POTA also is being misused. And, the victims turn out to be Dalits and the minorities.

Why do you say Dalits and minorities are its victims?

That is what is happening. It is because Dalits and minorities are scattered. They are not a political force. They do not have anyone to talk on their behalf in Parliament or anywhere else. So, it is easier for the government machinery to arrest them and put them behind bars.

The Goondas Act in Tamil Nadu is used mainly against Dalits. In one village alone in Kancheepuram district, 34 youth were arrested under the Goondas Act in the last two years. What does it show? With the help of POTA, the same thing can happen.

But Vaiko supported POTA in Parliament…

What he did was wrong. My question is something else: the same Vaiko was with the AIADMK in the 1998 Lok Sabha election. Then also, Vaiko was a strong supporter of the LTTE. Why didn’t she (Jayalalithaa) issue any statement asking the DMK to arrest Vaiko under TADA which was in force then? How come the AIADMK had Vaiko and the MDMK as its ally? That shows there was a political motive behind Vaiko’s arrest now.

Do you think there should be amendments to POTA?

No, we want POTA to be scrapped completely. It shouldn’t be there at all. Vaiko, Kalaignar Karunanidhi, MDMK and DMK should put pressure on the Centre by strongly opposing POTA.

Design: Dominic Xavier; Photographs: Sreeram Selvaraj

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