In the social matrix of India, there
are two opposite forces at work. One that seeks to abolish the
caste system, and the other that reinforces the primordial
loyalties. This seesaw battle is being well articulated in Tamil
Nadu where the backward and most backward castes; Vanniyars,
Thevars, Udayars, Yadavas, Naidus, Nadars, Reddys, Mudaliyars,
have come together in an assertion of their superior identity
against the Dalit community of the state.
The trigger is Dharmapuri inter caste marriage incident between a
Dalit youth and a Vanniyar girl in early November 2012. This led
to the suicide of the girl’s father which, led to a clash between
caste Hindus and the Dalits where as many as 268 houses and huts
in three Dalit colonies were destroyed by the caste Hindus.
This incident has left a deep impact on the social and political
scene of the state. The assertion of caste identity has left every
one flabbergasted. Tamil Nadu, which happens to be the flag bearer
in creating a casteless society, seems to be in the receiving end
and all its lofty ideals has gone into hibernation.
The Dharmapuri caste clash took a new turn when a political party
Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK), representing Vanniyar community
described most marriages between Dalit men and women of “higher”
castes as “fraudulent alliances” planned at the behest of Dalit
"They wear jeans, T-shirts and fancy sunglasses to lure girls from
other communities,” PMK founder S Ramadoss said citing statistics
of broken marriages to claim that inter-caste marriages ended in
failure because they were unions born out of caste design and not
He cited the case of Namakkal district that had seen 955 love
marriages last year, of which 712 allegedly had “failed.”
According to him 32 girls committed suicide, 37 parents ended
their lives. The affected girls were from non-Dalit communities,
while the culprits were Dalits.
The PMK leader marking the formal emergence of a socio-political
movement against Dalit assertion in Tamil Nadu demanded a probe
into inter-caste marriages by a retired high court judge.
The PMK leader went step ahead and demanded amendments to prevent
the misuse of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes
(Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989. He accused Dalit youth of
fomenting social tension by filing false complaints under the law
and enticing girls from other castes pursuing the bogus vocation
of love. He also demanded that the minimum permissible age of
marriage to be raised to 21 for girls and 23 for boys.
Interestingly, Ramadoss’ insinuation that Dalit boys are on the
prowl to “lure” girls from caste Hindu communities resemble the
“love jihad” theory that Hindu fundamentalists used against
Muslims in some states of the country.
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, which vitiated
inter-personal relationships in campuses and workplaces.
Incidentally, the so called national press gave wide publicity to
the anti-minority projects of the communal forces, and instead of
projecting the positive shades were culpable of keeping the
community in perpetual back foot.
The rants of the intermediate castes in Tamil Nadu against the
Dalit community are laced with same tone and tenure. Intellectuals
see the emergence of a caste bloc against Dalits as a sign of
opposition to their economic prosperity. The VCK, the party that
represents Dalits is busy to counter this trend combining with the
Left and other parties.
The CPI (M) has opposed the intermediate castes coming together
against inter-caste marriage and urged the Government to pass a
separate law to curb the proliferating incidences of honor
killings and clashes over inter-caste marriages in Tamil Nadu.
CPI (M) State Secretary G. Ramakrishnan has said, in our country
there is right to education and right to employment and similarly
there must also be right to marry the partners of one’s choice.
Former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister and DMK leader M. Karunanidhi has
disapproved the PMK’s intermediate caste politics. Calling it a
dangerous trend, the DMK patriarch said, pursuing caste issues
would be like entering the fire pit.
The emergence of a caste bloc against Dalits does not augur well
for inter-caste relations in Tamil Nadu. PMK’s anti Dalit-polemic
has galvanized a solid electoral block out of the Dalits who
constitute nearly 20 per cent of the population in the state. The
compulsions of politics may certainly demand its alliance with one
of the Dravidian parties.
On the other hand, with a 7-8 per cent vote-share, mainly in the
Vanniyar belt, the PMK also needs either the DMK or the AIADMK to
get to the plum ministries in Parliament and the state assembly.
After Dharmapuri incident, which Dravidian party will align with
the PMK and at what consequence is something that remains to be
The emerging trend from Tamil Nadu suggests that the caste Hindus
still consider Dalits as their subordinates and cannot tolerate
their growing economic clout. Other religious minorities are
considered rank outsider. In the name of preventing inter-caste
inter religious marriages enmity is being spurred between
communities that in turn spawned serious consequences.
The latest development in Tamil Nadu underscores the point that
for peaceful evolution of a harmonious society the trend of
inter-caste, inter-religious marriages should not be discouraged.
In order to do so the rights of minorities and the SC/ST should to
be strengthened to curb any such diabolic trends.
Syed Ali Mujtaba is a journalist based in Chennai. He can be
contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org