DMK eyes dalit votes with freebies
TNN | Apr 1, 2011, 12.52am IST
CHENNAI: Ramayi, a dalit daily wage earner of Thandarai village in
Cheyyur assembly constituency in Kanchipuram, is excited that her
ramshackle hut will soon become a brick-and-cement house. The
government has promised Rs 75,000 worth of construction materials to
her, and she has a certificate to prove it. Ramayi is thankful for the
Re 1 rice scheme, too, and soon hopes to own land. "We dalits have
never owned any land in our lives; it's always been the Vanniars who
have had the right. That will all change," she says.
Through its welfare shemes, the DMK front has made a determined pitch
for dalit votes, and hopes to win a significant majority of the 44
constituencies reserved for SCs in the state. The party is contesting
24 of the reserved constituencies, and sharing the rest with VCK (8),
Congress (10) and PMK (2). Karunanidhi himself is contesting from
Tiruvarur, which was a reserved constituency until recently and has a
Dalit population of over 30%.
Needhirajan, convenor of Tamil Nadu Untouchability Eradication Front,
however, says that many of the promises are just propaganda and the
benefits haven't really reached Dalits. "Little or no land has been
given to dalits by the DMK government, as promised under the panchami
land scheme," says Needhirajan.
In the 2010-2011 budget, the DMK government allocated Rs 3,800 crores
(19%) of total state expenditure for SC/ST schemes - equivalent to the
share of the SC population in the state. But critics say this is just
an accounting ruse, as the figure includes money spent in general
But Tamil Nadu Dalits were not always known for voting on issues.
They, as fans of a heroic MGR in movies, were once considered a
reliable votebank of AIADMK.
Old loyalties still survive to some extent. Yazhan Aathi, a school
teacher in Ambur, recalls that worshipping heroes - especially from
movies - is still common among Dalits, and has helped Vijayakanth get
dalit support. But Aathi says that dalits haven't been given
responsibilities in the DMDK organization. "Dalits are no more
satisfied with just token representation," he says.
Seeking economic and social progress, Dalits had started looking
beyond traditional parties in the late 1990s. At that time, many Tamil
Nadu villages turned into battle grounds of caste conflict as young
and educated dalits started confronting upper castes. Pallars,
concentrated in the southern districts, such as Namakkal,
Rajayapalayam, Madurai and Sivaganga, tangled with the Thevars, while
Paraiyars had conflicts with Vanniars in the northern districts, such
as Vellore, Cuddalore, Kanchipuram and Chennai.
Leveraging the conflicts, Krishnaswamy emerged as a leader of the
pallars, and Thirumavalavan became a leader of the paraiyars. Pallars
are mostly small farmers or landless labourers, while Paraiyars are
mostly daily wage earners.
Arundhatiyars, the third dalit caste in the state that accounts for 3%
of the state population, are the most marginalized even among the
Dalits. Living in western Tamil Nadu, such as in Coimbatore and
Dharmapuri, Arundhatiyars are oppressed by Kongu Vellalars, says TSS
Mani, an observer of Dalit politics. "They are upset that the DMK
front includes Kongu Vellalar Party," says Mani.
The two main dalit forces that have emerged in the state are now in
alliance with parties representing their principal adversaries. The
dalit VCK is now in the same boat as the vanniar PMK in the DMK front,
and Krishnaswamy's Pudhiya Thamizhagam has been bargaining for seats
with the AIADMK -- once seen as representing thevars. Activists defend
these alliances and say they would help dalits make progress without
conflicts. "The PMK-VCK alliance will promote social harmoney," says
Vanni Arasu, a VCK leader.
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