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The Hindu's Editorial

In an India that is fractured along caste lines, a marriage is never the simple establishment of a relationship between two independent, adult individuals. Instead, it can involve not only the two families, but whole communities as well. An inter-caste marriage without parental approval is, therefore, a potential trigger for violence in rural India. The caste group that is relatively higher in the social hierarchy sees any such marriage as a social affront, especially if the other caste group is Dalit. Wednesday’s attack on three Dalit colonies in Dharmapuri district of Tamil Nadu, which ended in the burning down of 268 houses, is another shocking instance of how social stigmas engendered by caste identities can provoke large-scale violence. The arson was the immediate fallout of the suicide of a caste Hindu man whose daughter had married a Dalit living in one of the colonies. Apparently unable to accept his daughter’s decision to marry a Dalit, the man opted to end his life. For a bride’s family, especially if it is higher in the caste ladder, the socially sanctioned stigma associated with an inter-caste marriage is greater. Women carry a far heavier responsibility of having to protect the “family honour”, which is a euphemism for the feudal notions of social status and acceptance held by the senior male members of the family. Indeed, the prevalence of such notions is an indicator of the secondary status accorded to women in these communities.

Worryingly, in rural Tamil Nadu where caste conflicts over marriages, religious rituals or access to public resources are common, the police were slow to sense the potential for trouble. A few days before the violence, the newly wedded couple had approached the police for protection fearing attacks by members of the bride’s community. Other than providing assurances and holding out promises, the police seem to have taken no preventive steps. A self-styled court in the village ordered the Dalit man to send his wife back to her parents, but the woman refused to leave her husband. This should have alerted the police to the possibility of trouble. Although the suicide, the immediate trigger for the attack, could not have been predicted or prevented, the police had adequate reason to apprehend the tensions and ample time to take precautionary steps. The only reason that none in the Dalit colonies suffered any bodily harm is that all the residents had left their homes and taken shelter in another village. Social stigmas and caste inequalities cannot be wiped out overnight, but surely the law enforcers can show greater anticipation and quicker reflexes in familiar situations that give rise to tensions between caste groups.
Posted on November 23, 2012 with thanks 10 NOV 2012


Dharmapuri violence not an isolated incident but planned attack: report

The November 7 attack on Dalit villages in Dharmapuri district was not an isolated incident but a planned attack against Dalits by intermediate castes in that region, observed a forum of Dalit activists, writers and intellectuals.
The Intellectual Circle for Dalit Actions (ICDA, Tamil Nadu - Puducherry) said the latest attack on Dalits required political attention because many observers and intellectuals attributed the attack to an allegedly inflammatory speech by Kaduvetti J. Guru of Pattali Makkal Katchi, who had said openly at a meeting in Mamallapuram in April 2012 that Vanniyars should prevent inter-caste marriages involving their girls. This speech gave the accused the stimulus to carry out such an attack, the ICDA said in a report.
In the State’s western region, the Kongu Vellala Gounder Peravai and other backward and intermediate caste organisations had spoken out against inter-caste marriages.
Their action was not only illegal but also against the Constitutional ideal of equality. This was never condemned either by the State Government or major political parties.
In a State with a century-old history of anti-caste movements, the backward and intermediate castes, often projected as victims of Brahminism, were the ones that inflicted violence against Dalits and the Dharmapuri incident is yet another example.
Moreover, these caste-based political movements, which function under the rubric of social justice, were the ones that continuously called for the annulment of SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989, the intellectuals said. The caste-majoritarian politics promoted by the Dravidian parties remained a protective shield for such organisations, the ICDA said.
The political bonhomie between Dalits and Vanniyars after a political alliance between PMK and VCK began in 2003 was seen then as a big change.
For, the castes were pitted against each other for long. Both the parties claimed that their coming together would herald a change in social relationships.
However, it was under the banner of Tamil nationalism and it was not a platform for annihilation of caste.
The Dharmapuri violence, according to the ICDA, showcases the failure of Dravidianism and Tamil nationalism.
The political discourse had failed to internalise changes in the caste hierarchy in which the intermediate castes had gained an upper hand which, in turn, saw a greater subjugation and oppression of Dalits, the ICDA said in its report.
The ICDA includes C. Lakshmanan of Madras Institute of Development Studies; Tamil writer Stalin Rajangam; J. Balasubramanian and A. Jegannathan of Madurai Kamaraj University and Anbu Selvam, writer from Puducherry.
Posted on November 23, 2012 with thanks


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