Devendrakula Vellalar (Dalits) demand removal from SC list
It was a little late when I reached the Mandi House roundabout where the march was supposed to be to Parliament Street yesterday, To my surprise, I did not find many of the Delhi’s usual participants but mostly from Tamilnadu. Interestingly, the slogans and the placards were in Hindi. Later, I realise that it was a group of protesters from Tamilnadu and they were being led by Dr Krishna Swamy, leader of Puthia Tamilgam, his political outfit in southern Tamilnadu.
I was quite surprised when I saw the banner for demanding exclusion of Devendrakula Vellalar from the Scheduled Caste list because most of the time the communities have been demanding their name for SC list which they think better because the huge number of communities in the BC list. I have not only travelled Tamilnadu but also seen work of Dr Krishnaswamy in the early 1990s.
The community is basically an agriculturist community particularly in the southern part of Tamilnadu. I asked many of the participants what they want and their answer was remove us from the Scheduled Castes list in Tamilnadu as it is responsible for our isolation and humiliation. That left me quite puzzled. I felt that the community is gathered here under Dr Krishnaswamy to pay tribute to Baba Saheb Ambedkar or protesting the demolition of Babri Masjid but what I am seeing an assertion of the community that ‘we are not Dalits’ and don’t want to be associated with them. More intriguing was the factor that Dr Krishnaswamy, himself a Dalit leader, supporting it.
I decided to leave them in the mid way and thought that once they would be at the Parliament Street, I would be in there meeting and trying to speak to some of them.
At the Parliament street leaders were speaking. Suddenly, a young man, fluent in Hindi came to me and asked as what do I want to know. I told them why do you want to get out of the scheduled castes list. ‘ We are not SC’. It has hurt us. We dont get respect. We are placed along with Chamars and others. Our social credits are down. People dont buy fruits and vegetables from us because they consider us untouchables which we are not.’ I asked,’ do you think that once you are removed from SCs and put in OBC list, the issues will resolved and people will not discriminate against you’. He says, yes, we have been demanding it for years as we dont want to get associated with Dalits.
Frankly speaking, at the time when communities are aspiring to be in particular list, I dont think any community can claim in India that they are humiliated or isolated just because they have been placed in that list. I know in Uttar Pradesh, many of those who are claiming to be the most backwards actually were placed under SC lists but their leaders were coopted and told that you will have to be clubbed with Chamars, Pasis and Valmikis resulting in their demand from withdrawal of the SC list. Many are now asking for inclusion in the SC list. I asked this Tamilnadu friend as what will you gain in getting into OBC list which may be already too big ? The OBC reservation in Tamilnadu is higher but the SC list is shorter and they would have gained in SC list.
It seems that the Dravidian polity in Tamilnadu actually isolated Dalits not just politically but also socially. The communities are disturbed with this isolation in the villages. The other thing is that OBC leadership might be further wanting to divide the Dalit polity to build their bigger coalition. Almost all the political parties except DMK and AIDMK has supported their demand, they claim. I asked about PMK and they say, Vanniyars are our brothers and support us. We have same occupation. Some of the community people have been placed under OBCs while a number other under SCs. I pointed to this person whether Amit Shah is showing extra interest in their community getting out of the SC list. He got irritated but accepted the fact that BJP is supporting their demand of exclusion from SC list.
It was shocking for me to listen to this but the way Tamilnadu polity is, this was not surprising. Their pain is not that they have not got jobs or reservation but want to dissociate with the Dalits. I asked this man, why is Dr Krishnaswamy supporting you. He says, we are not bothered about it but we are not SCs and this demand is for years.
Enough has been written about the Dravidian movement of Tamilnadu. I was always fascinated by Periyar and his radical ideology but then if we look to Tamilnadu today, situation at the ground, in the village level is quite contrast to district politically. The political mobilisation of Jaatis has actually killed the broader Dravidian identity movement. After Periyar, there is nothing but entry of the brahmanical jaati based identities is converting Tamilnadu a hotbed for Hindutva politics. Their idea is clear to Confuse people, use contradictions and pump money and religion to get socio political power and political mavericks are experts in it.
We talk about political unity among communities but the fact is that now attempt are being made to make them feel that you are different. It is shocking to hear that a community feel that it has been marginalised because of being part of the SC list. I dont understand if they dont need reservation or anything, reject that but how can an inclusion in a particular list because of their socio economic status make them marginalised. But I am afraid the Hindutva might be at work at different level in Tamilnadu instilling false sense of ‘pride’ among communities. Dravidian parties have failed to carry forward Periyar’s agenda and socio-culturally marginalised Dalits and made them politically isolated.
I am not here to judge whether the demand by the Devendra Kulla Vellalar community is right or wrong as I am not the right person and public meetings are not the right form to judge yet the things are moving in very superficial ways look political mischiefs are at work in Tamilnadu at different level and it is sign of alarm for all the right thinking people. The polarization of communities and mobilisation based on Jaatis playing identity card would be dangerous in the greater unity of the Dravidian movement but then the movement has to be inclusive. If we are inclusive and provided space to all segments then Hindutva’s politics of using contradictions among jaatis will fail in Tamilnadu.