In the social matrix of India, there are two opposite forces at work, one that seek to abolish the caste system, and 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 leaders.
"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 love.
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 seen.
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