Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Dalits in Tamil Nadu

Tamil Nadu is seen (probably next only to Kerala) as a 'progressive' state. It is known for, among much else:

  • a near-complete dominance of the 'Dravidian' political parties, accompanied by a decline of all the national ones
  • its universal Mid-Day Meal Scheme (introduced by M.G. Ramachandran by expanding an earlier, limited scheme initiated by K. Kamaraj); this program is now credited with keeping children (girls in particular) in school during the eighties, and the resulting surge in social indicators in the nineties and later.
  • a militant caste-based 'reservation' (or, affirmative action) policy that led to, at one point, reservation of almost 70 % of the seats in professional courses (50 % for Most Backward/Backward commnunities, and the rest for Scheduled Castes and Tribes); the state was a pioneer in reservation for 'backward communities', and a fore-runner to the 'Mandal' politics that exploded at the national level in the early nineties.

One area in which Tamil Nadu has an atrociously shameful record is in the lack of (or a very slow pace of) progress made by the Dalits of this state; to be fair, the other states, too, share in this shameful record. Two episodes stand out in Tamil Nadu: (a) many years ago, Dalits in the village of Meenakshipuram converted en masse to Islam, and (b) just about five years ago, there was a case of massive police brutality against Dalit workers in Manjolai (I will try to dig up the links for these news stories).

A more egregious example is the inability of the state government to organize the panchayat elections in four villages in south Tamil Nadu; these villages are 'reserved' for Dalits, who are prevented from contesting the elections; in one bizarre episode, a Dalit was allowed to contest and win, but resigned immediately after the result was announced.

Today's Hindu published K. Nagaraj's review of DALITS IN DRAVIDIAN LAND — Frontline Reports on Anti-Dalit Violence in Tamil Nadu 1995-2004, a collection of articles and news reports by S. Viswanathan published in the Hindu's sister publication, Frontline.

From the review:

The articles painstakingly document these deprivations and discriminations in terms of livelihood issues: Dalits are denied access to land; their legitimate and traditional fishing rights in ponds are taken away; they are denied access to roads and often their living space, the Cheri on the outer fringes of the village, is encroached upon by the `caste Hindus'; their access to clean drinking water is virtually non-existent and their wells are often poisoned during anti-Dalit riots; the majority of Dalits are agricultural labourers with low wages and long stretches of unemployment — the list appears to be unending.


  1. Anonymous said...

    May be u noticed it.. CPI's Raja had an article on dalits and panchayats..esp in Madurai dist. The article is here. He takes a dig at Mr.Aiyer (incharge of panchayati raj )direclty

    And on caste reservations, there is a case pending in the Madras High court agst the quotas adding upto more that 50% (there is a SC directive against this). For 6/7 years, the court has been passing interim orders to create more seats to 'compensate' for the those that would have otherwise been part of the OC quota.

    As it stands.. (atleast in my opinion) caste has become an integral part of TN politics, atleast in the southern districts.Though the two dravidian parties dominate, the smaller caste-based parties hold sufficient clout. This kinda makes any objective debate on the reservation issue impossible.

  2. Anonymous said...

    There are villages in south Tamil Nadu (for example Thurayur, not far from Tanjore) where Dalits get a differnt tea glass in the local tea stall. That said, when I was working in a PSU in India, I felt that dalits from Tamil Nadu were way better than dalits from almost all of the northern and western Indian states in terms of work performance. So, Tamil Nadu, inspite of its huge casteism issues, must be doing something right