RUCKUS AGAINST BOOKS A DRAVIDIAN BLOWBACK
After Decades Of Political Empowerment, OBCs Hit Out Against Slurs On Caste Purity
Tamil Nadu is a deeply caste ridden society . A recent, nationwide study found that Tamil Nadu ranks very low in the prevalence of inter-caste marriages. Kerala and Karnataka and even the northern states, often considered to be regressive by Tamils, are ahead.
TN's rural and semi-urban economy is controlled by intermediate castes who dominate the society here. In the villages where feudal values still thrive, dalits continue to live in `colonies' away from the main settlement which is still largely the exclusive domain of caste Hindus. The practice of untouchability such as the two-tumbler system is common in many villages. Dalits mostly remain landless and are dependent on rural landlords for their survival. However, thanks to the governmental policy of taking education to everyone, the disadvantaged castes have made the most of the opportunities and have steadily got into government jobs. This upward mobility of some dalits has caused much tension, which time and again erupts into big clashes.A particularly infamous incident happened in 2013 in Dharmapuri district when Divya, a vanniar girl, married Ilavarasan, a dalit boy . Goaded by his relatives, Divya's father committed suicide. A mob ransacked dalit houses and set them on fire. Divya informed the courts that she would like to separate from Ilavarasan. Soon, Ilvarasan was found dead near railway tracks. The police called it suicide.
It is in this background that we need to look at two important events that have happened in the last three months. Writer Perumal Murugan's novel Madhorubagan (One Part Woman) talks of an archaic custom in Tiruchengode where women without children attempt to mix with men in a ritual held during a temple festival, in the hope that this may help them get pregnant. Organizations belonging to the dominant caste in the region, kongu goundars, went after the writer who, incidentally , belongs to the same caste.The writer was forced to withdraw the book in a meeting mediated by a local government official. The writer who works as a college professor has been transferred to the relatively safe environs of Chennai.
Whether the custom as described in the novel was prevalent or not is not the major issue here. Both in the story and in the real life agitation, the actual issue was caste purity . The temple ritual as narrated by the author allows for men of any caste to copulate with women. Caste purity would be marred if the custom had a historical basis.
A more sinister event happened last month. A dalit writer, Puliyur Murugesan, had published a short story collection, `Balachandran enroru perum enakkundu' (I am also known as Balachandran). One of the stories is quite morbid, narrating the tale of incest in a family and ending with the son, who is confused about his gender, taking revenge on his father.
The caste of the characters kongu goundar, same as the one in the Perumal Murugan episode is fairly explicit in the story. Some intellectuals have asked why the writer should identify deviant characters with a caste. One could argue and debate about this but what has happened is that a mob belonging to the caste went to Murugesan's house and beat him up. Now, a case of obscenity and defamation against a community has been slapped against the writer, who has sought anticipatory bail.
What we see from these two incidents is a continuation of the hardening of the stance of middle caste groups against dalits, as in the case of Dharmapuri. Despite claims that Tamil Nadu is Periyar's land and that a casteless and equitable society prevails here, the truth stares at us. The claims of Dravidian parties ring hollow because Periyar never intended to create a casteless society. His primary goal was to pull down the brahminical power structure and impose a non-brahminical, non-dalit, intermediate caste hold on political and administrative power in the state. He succeeded in this.
Though Dravidar Kazhagam talked about `saathi maruppu thirumanam' (intercaste marriage), the numbers were minuscule and made little impact on the state's demography . The Dravidian parties have only helped to maintain rigid caste structures and allocated MLA seats and ministries based on the caste calculus.
PMK was formed when vanniars felt that this political distribution was unfavourable to them. Dalits formed their own parties when they felt that they could never get their true share as long as they remained within the DMK and AIADMK fold. But forming separate political parties has also not helped them. Both Viduthalai Chiruththaikal and Puthiya Thamizhagam, the two big dalit parties, have been marginalized.
In Tamil Nadu, power is held by intermediate castes. The incidents involving the writers show that government officials only seem too willing to support their interests.Mobs belonging to caste groups can beat up a writer and also call upon the police to file cases against him.Constitutional guarantees on protecting the rights of individuals are given short shrift. It is left to the writer to run from one court to another to save himself. If the writer is a dalit, prospects of getting justice are minimal.
Only a different form of politics, one that does not depend on caste but probably class interests, will usher in a rule of law and uphold freedom of expression. Even if there are disputes, they should be settled in a court of law and not in kangaroo courts organized by bullies. But for that to happen Tamil Nadu's politics should move ahead and become truly progressive. Will it?
(A co-founder of cricinfo.com, the author is managing director of New Horizon Me dia Private Limited) Email your feedback with name and address to southpole.toi @timesgroup.com
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