At a time when debates are raging about the misuse of the SC/ST Act and whether the inclusion of a caste group in the SC list is a deterrent against their uplift, Kachanatham came as one of the worst cases of caste-based atrocities in recent times. In a violent outburst based almost entirely on caste notions of superiority, on May 28, Devendra Kula Vellalars were attacked by a few residents of Kachanatham belonging to the agamudiar caste group, leaving three dead and five injured.Among the dead was Shanmuganathan, an MBA graduate, who owned land in the village. Shanmuganathan’s parents are teachers. “Shanmuganathan was an educated boy. He was our favourite. He raised his voice against ganja trade and usury carried on by members of the agamudiar community. They got their revenge on him that day,” says Shantha, a relative of Shanmuganathan.
This is not something that happened one day but an outcome of the anger that has built up over time, says Shantha. “Two days after the temple festival, Devendran and Prabhakaran were sitting and drinking tea. Suman (the main accused) came over to them and asked them why agamudiar families were not given due respect during the temple festival. That the two were sitting and drinking tea in front of him was a sign of arrogance to Suman,” she said.
In Kachanatham, Devendra Kula Vellalars are an overwhelming majority. There are some 45 Devendra Kula Vellalar families and only five agamudiar families in Kachanatham but all around are villages dominated by agamudiars. Devendra Kula Vellalars complain that while they too own lands they have to work in farms owned by upper caste groups – a sign of caste dominance. “Many in our community are well educated and prosperous. The attack was due to jealousy,” says Shantha.
To residents of Kachanatham, the thesis proposed by Dr. Krishnaswamy of Pudhiya Tamilagam — Devendra Kula Vellalars should ask to be removed from the Scheduled Caste list since it has stigmatized and triggered atrocities on them – is disconnected from reality. Activists of the local caste association say that the situation is such that if the Devendra Kula Vellalars try to come up in society, they are violently attacked. They wonder how and why they would want to come out of a categorisation that offers protection.
Based on the SC/ST Act, FIRs have been filed and families of the victims have been given compensation of up to Rs. 15 lakh, as well as police protection for Devendra Kula Vellalar families. Two police officials have been suspended for negligence in taking action. The Kachanatham attack is a clear cut case of atrocity under the SC/ST Act, says retired IAS officer, Christudas Gandhi. “
“The Kachanatham attack is a clear cut case of atrocity under the SC/ST Act,”– Christudas Gandhi.
“The May 28 attack was only the most recent. There were at least two incidents in the recent past in Kachanatham. In one, a law student’s hands were cut off,” says Bala Bharathi, former CPM MLA who participated in the protests against the atrocities. The residents of Kachanatham too complain that police officials did not take action in past cases. Bala Bharathi wonders whether the Supreme Court’s insistence on a tighter procedure before the filing of FIR will hamper sympathetic handling of complaints in future.
Dr. Krishnaswamy did not visit Kachanatham although his party functionaries did. “Krishnaswamy’s opinion is that of a small minority. If he had initiated a discussion with the people and created a consensus that would have been a different issue, but he has not done it,” says Gandhi.
While there are various shades of opinion among Devendra Kula Vellalars regarding Dr. Krishnaswamy’s demand, many say the demand to club pallar sub-castes and use the term Devendra Kulam to describe themselves is enough to endow a sense of self-respect. But they don’t believe that removing themselves from the SC list will help.