Dalits Media Watch – English News Updates 19.11.15

Right to decent burial still a dream – The Hindu


Midday meal: parents of children want all cooks to go – The Hindu


Educated caste Hindu youth campaign against inter-caste marriages – The Hindu


SC categorisation: State to approach Centre – The Hindu


Pride and Prejudice: How resurgent caste identities breed clashes and polarisation amongst youth of southern Tamil Nadu – First Post


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The Hindu

 Right to decent burial still a dream



No land earmarked for burial and cremation of Sanampatti Dalits

For around 100 Dalit families of Sanampatti, a village along Madurai-Dindigul highway near Vadipatti, the right to a decent burial is still a distant dream as no land has been earmarked for them to use for burial and cremation.

While the National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) asserted its ownership over a small patch of land outside the village along Vadipatti main road that was traditionally used by the Dalit families as burial ground, Madurai district administration is yet to provide an alternative land.

The Dalits, belonging to a particular sub-caste, are unwilling to use the common burial-cum-cremation ground inside the village, which is used by caste Hindus and a few Dalit families of other sub-castes.

“Caste Hindus say they have always used the burial ground outside the village and the tradition cannot be changed. The Dalits also do not want to use that place as it may affect the already fragile social harmony in the village,” said G. Seeni Raja, councillor of Vadipatti town panchayat representing Sanampatti (ward 15).

Though these Dalit families had been reportedly using the land along the Vadipatti main road as burial ground for generations, the issue started when Mr. Seeni Raja, a Dalit, prepared to provide some basic amenities at the place through the town panchayat a few months ago.

“We needed a hand pump to fetch water for performing the last rites for the dead and also a shelter. As soon as the work was started, a person owning an adjacent piece of land petitioned revenue officials and intimated the NHAI,” he said.

The NHAI authorities stopped the work claiming that the land belonged to them.

On October 7, when A. Sangiliammal (60) belonging to the Dalit community died, the Dalit families staged a protest demanding a permanent solution. Police and revenue officials pacified them and allowed the body to be buried at the same place.

Acknowledging the need for a separate burial ground, an official from the Vadipatti town panchayat said that even underground telephone cables were running through the present burial site as it was is located close to the main road. Vadipatti Tahsildar R. Thirumalai further added that the government had already identified a few places in consultation with the town panchayat and a site would soon be finalised and provided to the Dalits.

The Hindu

 Midday meal: parents of children want all cooks to go



A meeting to resolve the controversy ends in impasse

 In what is seen as another veiled attempt by parents of children in a government-run school in Kolar to prevent Dalits from cooking midday meals, they have now demanded that all cooks in the school be replaced if their children are to return to the school.

A meeting convened on Wednesday to resolve the controversy failed to come to a decisive conclusion as the villagers placed several demands before the authorities. In early November, parents of most of the students of a government higher primary school in Kagganahalli of Mulbagal taluk had withdrawn their wards after raising objections to Radhamma, a Dalit cook, being one of the cooks of the midday meal scheme at the school. Only 18 of the 118 students have been attending school since the controversy broke out. The Hindu had published a report on it in the November 10 issue. Bhaskar Rao, Additional Director-General of Police, Civil Rights Enforcement Directorate, visited the school recently, and instructed all concerned to solve the issue by November 18. Deputy Commissioner K.V. Thrilokchandra also sent a directive in this regard.

In this backdrop, a meeting with parents was convened and their demands that all cooks be changed has put the officials in a “fix” said Devaraj, Block Education Officer.

The villagers, however, refused to say anything specific to the question posed by officials in regard to Ms. Radhamma being engaged as the cook according to school guidelines, he added.

The villagers also demanded that the School Development and Management Committee be dissolved and a new committee selected. The Deputy Director of Public Instruction (DDPI) N. Anjanappa reacted to this saying it was up to the parents and villagers to select a new committee.

The villagers told the authorities that they would bring back their wards within a month if their demands are fulfilled.

The Hindu

 Educated caste Hindu youth campaign against inter-caste marriages



 “I have known girls (friends and relatives) of our community fall in love with boys from other communities and marry them. It not only affected them but also their families that were pushed to shame from which they were unable to recover even many years after the marriage”, says P. Karthik (22), an engineering professional.

He was among other educated youth who were busy distributing pamphlets at the launch of the ‘Campaign Against Inter-Caste Marriage Movement’ – organised by the Kongu Velala Goundergal Peravai in Namakkal on Sunday. He claimed that boys from downtrodden communities targeted wealthy girls from their community.

His fellow campaigner N. Saravanan (20), a third year B.Tech student, told The Hindu that inter-caste marriages cannot be accepted even if the boy is from a well-off family among Forward (FC), Backward (BC) or other caste Hindu communities.

“India is known for its rich tradition that is preserved by communities in the country over the years. Inter-caste marriages will put an end to this tradition”, he added. However, they denied that they opposed inter-caste marriages due to shortage of brides for grooms of that community.

Their friend R. Muthukumar (25), an MBA from Sankari said they were united by the movement. “We are talking to girls in love with youth from other communities and have emphasised the need to protect our tradition. But many girls are deeply infatuated,” he lamented.

State president of the Peravai Pongalur R. Manikandan who presided over the inauguration told The Hindu that they launched the movement in April this year after closely observing nearly 900 inter-caste marriages involving girls of their community in the 10 districts in Kongu region in about a year.

He alleged that some political parties and organisations supported inter-caste marriages to gain votes.

“We want to save girls from the sufferings that they would undergo after such marriages. Many girls regret their marriage after experiencing cultural differences in the boy’s house. Sadly, the girl’s family also does not accept them,” he observed.

Mr. Manikandan made it clear that they would not resort to forcible means to prevent inter-caste marriages. “We will campaign in the district headquarters in Kongu region and then focus on village-level campaigns and other awareness programmes among adolescent girls and boys in colleges and schools,” he added.

“Other caste Hindus have also extended their support for our movement and we are planning to jointly organise a mass ‘Anti Inter-Caste Marriage Conference’ in 2014 in Coimbatore,” he added.

While the Government is taking steps to promote inter-caste marriages by providing financial assistance and extending other benefits for those couples, the event that was organised with publicity through newspaper advertisements and wall posters shocked quite a number of people of this town.

Superintendent of Police M. Sathiya Priya said that it was an indoor meeting for people of that community to avoid inter-caste marriages. “Stern legal action will be initiated against persons who try to stop inter-caste marriages as it is an offence”, the SP warned.

The Hindu

 SC categorisation: State to approach Centre



The TRS government will send a delegation to Delhi seeking the Centre’s help in categorisation of SCs, said Deputy Chief Minister Kadiam Srihari.

The State government had passed a unanimous resolution in favour of categorisation of SCs into A,B,C and D groups long ago. However, it was pending with the Centre. The government will send a delegation shortly before the next Parliament session and impress upon the Centre to implement the same at the earliest, he said.

‘BJP promised MSP for cotton’

Meanwhile, Irrigation Minister T. Harish Rao refuted the allegations of Union Minister Bandaru Dattatreya that the State government was unnecessarily blaming the Centre on farm crisis.

It was the BJP and Narendra Modi who promised to enhance the minimum support price for cotton and they failed to deliver it. The farmers were forced to commit suicide across the country, not just in Telangana State, because of BJP’s failure to deliver its promise, he said.

“Mr. Modi during elections promised to enhance the MSP for cotton by 50 per cent. We are asking the same now. We have taken up the issue with Central Ministers on several occasions,” he pointed out.

Mr. Harish Rao explained that the Centre allocated just Rs 10,000 crore for cotton procurement which was not enough even for a single state like Telangana where cotton is grown extensively. In addition, the Centre did not heed the request for opening up more CCI procurement centres.

“In all, the CCI purchased only just 13 per cent of total cotton produce in Telangana. We wanted it to increase the procurement and open more centres, but in vain,” he said.

Mr. Harish Rao said apart from free power supply and other sops to farmers, the Telangana government gave Rs 70,000 crore input subsidy.

State government had passed a unanimous resolution in favour of categorisation of SCs into A,B,C and D groups long ago. However, it was pending with the Centre

First Post

 Pride and Prejudice: How resurgent caste identities breed clashes and polarisation amongst youth of southern Tamil Nadu


by Sandhya Ravishankar  Nov 18, 2015 19:15 IST

The Muthalamman temple stands grand and tall in the main square of Uthapuram village, around 55 kilometres from Madurai in southern Tamil Nadu. The deity’s gates have been shut for the past two weeks and a posse of police personnel guards the ornate wooden doors. A recurring battle for equal rights between the Scheduled Caste Pallars, known as Devendrakula Vellalars, and the Backward Class Pillais, called Vellalars, in Uthapuram since the late 1980s continues to be fought in Goddess Muthalamman’s name.


Tensions began in 1987, when Scheduled Caste Pallars began to demand equal rights to worship in the temple, which was until then closed to them. In 1989, riots broke out with the ‘upper caste’ Pillais turning on the Dalits. 40 villages surrounding Uthapuram joined hands and approved the construction of a wall cutting off entry to the Pillai side of Uthapuram from Devendra Nagar, the Pallar part of the village. “The trigger was eve-teasing of our Pillai girls,” said SP Murugesan, a chartered accountant in Uthapuram belonging to the Pillai community. “There were terrible clashes and many of our homes got looted too. That is why we decided to construct the wall. It is on patta land. Don’t I have the right to build a wall on my own land and protect my home from unwelcome visitors? Is this not allowed in a democracy?” he asked.

 The Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court turned battleground in the early 2000s, as political parties jumped headlong into the issue of the ‘Untouchability Wall’ in Uthapuram. Protests by Left parties forced Pillais to bring a portion of the wall down in 2008. By 2010, a peace agreement was negotiated between the Pallars and Pillais, which was endorsed by the court. The ownership, administration and maintenance of the Muthalamman would be by the Pillais, as it has traditionally been. Pillais agreed that they would not refuse any Pallar from worshipping in the temple. Peace reined briefly. Until the third week of October this year when the temple became a talking point once again, ahead of the Muthalamman festival. Negotiations and a court case later, the festival took place in the midst of inordinately heavy police protection.

This second part of the Caste Chronicles series focusses on southern Tamil Nadu. Sandhya Ravishankar/Firstpost

“Our main demand has always been that we be allowed to worship the Arasa maram (Peepul tree) which is inside the temple compound,” said K Ponnaiah, a resident of the Dalit colony of Devendra Nagar in Uthapuram. “When we went to the tree and began to pray, Pillais came up and started abusing us using our caste names. We retaliated and told them that we will not allow the ‘saami’ (deity) to be taken out as per the ritual. This led to anger again,” he said.

Police arrested 35 people under the Protection of Civil Rights Act for degrading the Dalit community. The Pillais say these were all false, foisted cases.

Caste affiliated tensions spread to neighbouring Elumalai, a few kilometers from Uthapuram. Another Muthalamman temple here was the battleground for clashes between Scheduled Caste Pallars and the Thevars, a Backward Class. Dalits from another neighbouring village, Athankaraipatti joined in the melee. Vehicles were burnt by both castes and stones were pelted. ‘Upper caste’ Naickers and Chettiars too joined hands with the Thevars against the Dalits, pitting both sides equally in terms of numbers in this village of 30,000 residents.

“Some Thevars and Pillais in the village created this issue for their own interests,” said Muthaiah Karuppaiah Thevar, better known as ‘Onriya’ Muthaiah, a local functionary of the ruling All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) and a former Panchayat Union president of Elumalai. “They got the SCs drunk and instigated them to cause trouble. We have never stopped SCs from worshipping in the temple,” he said.

The Pallars of Elumalai though say that they are insulted and abused often by the ‘upper castes’. Pallars here are not allowed to pay their share towards the maintenance of the Muthalamman temple, a prerogative of the ‘upper castes’. A common cremation ground has become solely for the ‘upper castes’ – Pallars have no place to cremate their dead and they say they use a vacant plot of land for this. “During Kamaraj’s (former Chief Minister) time we stopped tying our towels around our waists in from of the ‘upper castes’,” said Gurusamy Perumal, a resident of the Pallar area of Elumalai. “Now it looks like we will have to go back to that or worse. When we demand rights to the Goddess, these people ask us – what God does a Pallar have?” he fumed.

An uneasy calm prevails now over these villages, as police vans stand guard against further clashes.

The resurgent Dalit

Dalits of the southern districts of Tamil Nadu – Madurai, Tirunelveli, Tuticorin, Theni, Ramanathapuram, Dindigul and Kanyakumari – are predominantly of the Pallar sub-caste. Many of the Pallars own small plots of land and subsist on agriculture.

“The Pallars will hit back at discrimination against them,” said A Kathir, Executive Director of Evidence, a Madurai-based NGO working for Dalit rights. “They have a strong economic base since they own land and they have political power in the area,” he said. Other Dalit sub-castes like the Paraiyars of the northern districts and the Arundhatiyars of the western belt are not as vocal as the Pallars, perhaps due to the complex matrix of socio-economics, say experts. These two communities are dependent on the ‘upper castes’ in their areas as they work in their fields as agricultural labourers, reducing chances of opposition against discrimination.

The Pallars of the south are in a much better position now than they were 15 years ago, say Dalit experts. “Today Dalits are able to compete in government tenders and able to run successful businesses,” said M Bharathan, Director of Human Rights Council, an NGO that works with Dalits in Tirunelveli. “They are still unable to open restaurants or tea stalls since people stop frequenting those when they find out the caste of the owner, but discrimination is much less now and what there is, is subtle,” he said.

Bharathan says that education and awareness has helped the Pallar community stand up and win battles against discrimination. “Now Pallars are saying we don’t want free goats,” he continued. “They say if you help us study, we will be able to buy a hundred goats. We don’t want a single room house from the government. They say help us study, we will build bungalows on our own,” he explained.

Dalit political leaders agree that education has played a key role in strengthening the Pallar community. “SCs began talking back around 15 years ago,” said John Pandian, leader of Dalit political party Tamilaga Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam (TMMK or Tamil People’s Progressive Party). Pandian himself hails from a Pallar family that owned over 25 acres of land in the 1960s. “If anyone indulges in caste slurs, Pallars now ask them how they dare do so. This is all due to education,” he said.

This resurgent caste identity of not just the Pallars, but also ‘upper castes’ like Thevars, Nadars and Naickers, resonate in the use of symbolic motifs. Pride in caste identity can be seen from a young age. Pallar parents tie green and red threads around the wrists of their children before sending them off to school. Thevar parents prefer yellow and red. The wealthy business community of Nadars, which rules over the printing, fireworks, seafood and beach sand mining industries of the south, wear baniyans and lockets with pictures of former Chief Minister Kamaraj, who too was a Nadar. Different coloured ‘pottu’ – the designs of vermilion, sandalwood or holy ash on the forehead are prominent displays of pride in caste identity.

“People of the same caste wear threads to show a sense of unity,” explained Bharathan of Human Rights Council. “It is a show of identity and pride in being a member of that particular caste,” he said.

Politics over caste

As Tamil Nadu heads into state elections in 2016, severe polarisation is evident on the basis of caste. Parties for Thevars, for Nadars and for Dalits are vying with each other to find issues to publicise. ‘Gouravam’ or honour, is the key word amongst all of these players. “How can a Thevar bear it if someone working in his house wants to marry his daughter?” asked 32-year-old Bhavani Velmurugan, founder of a small Thevar outfit called the Akila India Mukkalathor Marumalarchi Kazhagam (All India Mukkalathor Revival Party) in Tirunelveli. “It is a question of Gouravam. If a Thevar man cannot protect his women, what kind of a man is he?” he said. Velmurugan laughingly admits the volatile nature of the natives of the southern districts. “Most fights begin with a mere glance or a single utterance. It quickly degenerates into a caste clash or murder. It is in our blood, what can we say? For the ‘upper castes’ “maanam” (honour) is more important than anything else,” he said.

Gouravam is a running concept amongst the Pallar community as well. “We are fighting for the dignity and honour of the Dalits of Tamil Nadu,” said John Pandian of the TMMK. Rousing cries of ‘veeram’ (bravery) and ‘maanam’ (honour) are heard from Dalit parties across the state.

Dravidian parties in the state have traditionally had candidates from the dominant caste in the region as important party functionaries or candidates. The AIADMK is often referred to as a Thevar party due to a large number of leaders of that caste. In the south, most leaders of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) are either Nadars or Thevars.

As political voices ring more stridently in the run up to elections 2016, polarisation of people on the basis of caste has hit strident levels. The youth, especially, appear to be lured to the deep rooted biases against caste in villages of the south. “They (Pallars) started it and we simply hit back,” shrugs 28-year-old Deepan Chakravarthy, an autorickshaw driver in tense Elumalai. His friend, 18-year-old Raja Deepan, a daily wage labourer who dropped out of school a few years ago, agrees. “They (Pallars) should stay in their area. What are they doing coming to our part of the village?” he asked aggressively as he whiled away time near the Muthuramalinga Thevar statue at the centre of Elumalai.

News monitored by AMRESH & AJEET 


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