Read in : தமிழ்

Share the Article

Noted film director Pa Ranjith has been talked about a bit in the Tamil social media – context, his hosting a conference in Madurai recently to celebrate the Dalit identity. A few claimed that he was cutting across sectarian identities and hence could indeed provide a refreshingly new leadership to a long oppressed community.

Thol Thirumavalavan of the Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi, easily the most prominent Dalit leader of Tamil Nadu, seems to have chosen to ignore the meet, and the Neelam (Blue) organization founded by Ranjith too steered clear of him and his followers – not once Thirumavalavan or his party was mentioned even in passing.

No leader of the Pallars, a major Dalit grouping nor anyone from the Arundhatiyar sect – essentially of sanitation workers and cobblers – was spotted at the Madurai meet. In any case the social media frisson would evaporate before long, and unless Ranjith is willing to get down to the ground and work among the Dalits, little chance he would go anywhere.

As it happens, both Thirumavalavan and Ranjith hail from same sect of Pariars or Adi Dravidars. And it is that sect, with approximately 13 per cent of the total population and well dispersed all over the state, that has traditionally enjoyed the Dalit leadership role. And they are believed to have made the best of the concessions meant for the Scheduled Castes right from the time of the Britishers.

Christodas Gandhi, a noted former Dalit IAS official, has calculated that there are as many as 76 different sects falling under the rubric of the Scheduled Castes, but of them Pariars, Pallars and Arundhatiyars alone constitute around 95 per cent.

Not that the other sects have rallied behind them or even ceded the space to the Pariars. If anything there has always been a subterranean undercurrent of hostility among the various groupings, and if the Pariars’ right to speak for all the Dalits is tacitly acknowledged by the rest of the Tamil society it could be because of the numerical and other advantages enjoyed by them.

So then the indications are that Ranjith will not prove any different, and he himself doesn’t seem to care too very much – all that he seems to aim for is to emerge the most recognized face of the Pariar sect, more important than Thirumavalavan himself.

Christodas Gandhi, a noted former Dalit IAS official, has calculated that there are as many as 76 different sects falling under the rubric of the Scheduled Castes, but of them Pariars, Pallars and Arundhatiyars alone constitute around 95 per cent.

Pariars alone could be said to number around 63.5 per cent of the total SC population, Pallars 17.07 per cent and Arundhatiyars 14.89%, he says.

Gandhi, himself a Pallar, a no-nonsense officer, was denied plum postings except towards the fag end of his career – that he was a Pallar was a major reason, insiders will assert. Besides he was a tough guy and not easy to be pushed around by anyone.

This author used to know him well, and during their interactions, Gandhi would be quite strident, hitting out at the establishment, but also justifying the ways of the Dalit leadership, particularly of Dr Krishnasamy of the Pallar segment and who, at one point of time, was seen by many as a fiery rabble-rouser. Oppression calls for an appropriate response, Gandhi would say.

Krishnasamy has travelled in different directions since and has now landed in the lap of the BJP, as it were. He was the first Dalit leader to capture popular imagination, the candidates of his fledgling Pudhiya Thamizhakam causing  the defeat of several candidates of the powerful DMK-TMC combine in 1998.

Krishnasamy didn’t seem to realize his Pallar segment might be concentrated in some regions in the south, giving him heft, but the Pariars were spread all over the state and more numerous too, thus giving Thirumavalavan considerable advantage.  

Subsequently the Tamil Maanila Congress led by Karuppiah Moopanar sought to fashion a new front, leaning heavily on the Dalit votes. At the time Krishnasamy’s airs were quite off-putting.

It took a lot of efforts on the part of the well-wishers to persuade him not to rock the boat but be accommodative.

In contrast Thirumavalavan, mentioned above, seemed more amenable to reason. Krishnasamy would not even deign to make a call to the other Dalit leader, seeking to preen himself as the sole Dalit leader of any consequence.

The TMC-led front did not win any seat, but put up a relatively decent show in terms of votes, most of them coming from Dalit pockets. But the TMC itself came to grief in a short period of time, for reasons that need not be discussed here, and so did Pudhiya Thamizhakam.

Krishnasamy didn’t seem to realize his Pallar segment might be concentrated in some regions in the south, giving him heft, but the Pariars were spread all over the state and more numerous too, thus giving Thirumavalavan considerable advantage.

Besides, by his arrogance, he came to alienate even his own constituency – so slowly but steadily his base was eroded, and he chose to align himself with the BJP, something unthinkable for a leader who used to call himself a Marxist only a few years earlier.

  Pariars are considered relatively less militant than the Pallars who portray themselves as a landed caste, though not entirely accurately.

It was such a leader that IAS official Gandhi expressed solidarity with, glossing over all his weaknesses.

There was another Pallar IAS official, Ms Sivakami, who too came to prominence at the time – also knowledgeable and a good writer as well. She too was kept on the sidelines almost to the end, didn’t enjoy even the small period of prominence Gandhi was blessed with.

In an interview,  she observed bitterly,  “Bureaucracy has treated me like an untouchable”. No, not bureaucracy, it was always the political masters of the day, but she wouldn’t say so.

She eventually quit the Indian Administrative Service in 2008 after 29 years and joined politics a year later, contesting the Lok Sabha polls from Kanyakumari, as a candidate of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP). She lost, predictably.

She went on to found her own Samooka Samathuva Katchi (Party for Social Equality) and vowed to retrieve the panchami lands, assigned to the Dalits by the Britishers but gobbled by other castes over time – their retrieval has been a longstanding demand, but nothing ever happens.

Sivakami swore she meant business, but she too quietened down after making some noise. Interestingly, she too, in the footsteps of Dr Krishnasamy, is now part of the BJP-led front. Gandhi himself, to be said in his favour, has kept himself away from such unseemly jockeying for power. Anyway the Pallar voices that had gained heartening recognition could be said to have faded away, with none making it big.

Pariars are considered relatively less militant than the Pallars who portray themselves as a landed caste, though not entirely accurately. But the former seek to offset their disadvantages by greater education and their demographic distribution.

The Dalit middle class is still struggling to become a political force.  

But rarely did any Pariar leader from pre-Indpendence time onwards bothered to reach out to the Pallars or Arundhatiyars, for that matter, though the latter are far more submissive and willing to take what comes their way. A complicating factor is that Arundhatiyars mostly speak Telugu at home, a legacy of their migration from the Telugu regions of the neighbouring Andhra Pradesh.

Socially way down the ladder, financially of course a precarious existence and speaking an ‘alien’ language, the sanitation workers are triply oppressed, but other sects don’t seem to care – if anything they seem to look down upon them. Thirumavalavan’s Viduthalai Chiruthaigal have few non-Pariars at any level and seldom try to win over the most disadvantaged Arundhatiyars. You won’t see any VCK flag in their settlements, nor of course among the Pallars. Thirumavalavan, since his political success, he seems to be focusing more on consolidating his position through never-ending compromises with vested interests.

Senior journalist M C Rajan notes: Mass mobilisation commensurate with Dalit population has not been attempted by Dalit leadership of any shade till now. Besides the absence of ideological orientation of the cadre,  this is a primary handicap in Dalit politics which, in any case,  still remains on the fringes.

Moreover, the Dalit middle class is still struggling to become a political force. Aspirations and articulation alone are not enough. As such, this is the story behind the overflowing enthusiasm of Dalit intellectuals for anyone from among them winning some popular acceptance.

 

 


Share the Article

Read in : தமிழ்