Sidelined, Dalits struggle for political survival
April 07, 2011 7:13:15 PM
Swati Das | Chennai
To save former Telecom Minister A Raja and the DMK, party president M
Karunanidhi has been playing the Dalit card, but the scene here in
Tamil Nadu is different. In a society where the Dalit issues have lost
focus essentially because of the Dalit leaders' individual political
agendas, Karunanidhi's game plan is hardly a sell-out.
Dalits in Tamil Nadu form the largest community in the State,
comprising 20 per cent of the population, and yet they are unable to
consolidate their numbers into a single party. They still need
alliances with other groups to find the political space necessary for
freeing themselves from their socio-economic situation. Dalits here
have now become just an instrument to garner votes by other parties
during elections. Even in alliance, despite being the largest
community, they get far too few seats.
Of course, one of the reasons is that there are caste divisions among
Dalits, based on both hierarchy and geography. Some of the sub-groups
are more disadvantaged than others, and for this reason, on issues
such as separate reservation quotas, different groups take different
The discrimination against the Dalits in this State goes beyond the
upper and lower caste divide. Even backward communities like the
Vanniyars in the north and Thevars in the south are perpetrators of
discriminating practices like untouchability and social exclusion.
Even to this day there are roads that are walled to deny the Dalits
access to certain areas in the villages. They are not allowed to walk
wearing their footwear in front of a Thevar. They cannot draw water
from the same well and in tea shops they are not allowed to have
tea/coffee from the same steel cups as the others. They are often
relegated to a cluster in one corner of the village called colony.
The Dravidian parties – DMK and AIADMK – and the Congress before them
have used the Dalits for their vote bank policies. Recently, while
Karunanidhi cried hoarse over A Raja's indictment in the 2G spectrum
scam saying that he has been a victim of upper caste politics as Raja
is a Dalit, it was the Communist parties that took the initiative, a
year ago, to break a walls put up by Thevars in Madurai district to
stop the Dalits from using the road in their area. In reserved
Panchayats the Dalit presidents are hardly allowed to function or
Panchayat polls are boycotted by the Thevars. There have been cases
were a Dalit Panchayat president has been beaten up for daring to
hoist the national flag in the village on Republic Day.
Under such circumstances, the DMK or the AIADMK are reluctant to take
action as neither parties want to antagonise the Thevar community and
lose the vote bank.
Both DMK and AIADMK have alliance with Dalit parties – DMK has the
Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (VCK) led by Thol Thirumavalavan, while
the AIADMK alliance has the Puthiya Tamizhagam (PT) of K Krishnaswamy.
Though these leaders fought the social issues to achieve the position
they have, they are now hardly seen when such issues crop now. The
suffering Dalits now have no option but to depend on social activist
to sort out their issues.
Unfortunately for the Dalit community lack of unity has prevented them
from emerging as a force. VCK represents the Parayars of the north.
Until recently this community was known one of the more advanced of
the Dalit sub sects. They had the pre-Independent British support to
be more educated, and found Government jobs easier to get.
PT led the Pallars of the south against social injustices and
discrimination by Thevars in the south. Yet again as a political party
PT was lured by political ambitions and thus exploited by the
Arundhathiyars are called the Dalits among Dalits – the most oppressed
of the Dalits. They mostly live in the western districts of Tamil Nadu
and in Madurai in the south. They are mostly scavengers and bonded
labourers. Sometimes, even other Dalits treat them as untouchables. No
clear leader has emerged among this sect.
The Dalit organisations enter political arena in the hope that the
social issues and the needs of their lot would get the attention. But
in most cases the issues get hijacked by the dominating political
parties and finally diluted. The Dalit political parties get absorbed
into the mainstream, without the issues being sorted out. Though the
key Dravidian parties claim to be champions of the Dalits, they do
little to help in crisis, especially when it comes to opposing the
Thevars or Vanniyar for fear of losing their votes.
For the April 13 Tamil Nadu Assembly elections VCK was given 10 seats
by the DMK, while the PMK representing the Vanniyar community was
offered 31 seats. The PT in alliance with AIADMK got just two seats.
This will only ensure that the party workers of the Dalit parties work
for the alliance partners to garner the Dalit votes.
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