Tamil Nadu ‘Dalit Party’ spearheads demand for de-listing 6 castes from SC list
The Puthiya Tamilagam (PT), a ‘Dalit party’ in Tamil Nadu, has been spearheading the demand to delist six communities from the list of Scheduled Castes, saying their removal is necessary for upward mobility.
The PT’s founder president, Dr K Krishnasamy, also quit the ruling AIADMK-led alliance charging the Edappadi K Palaniswami (EPS) government of dragging its feet on the commitment to club the six communities and rechristen them as Devendra Kula Vellalar and delist them from the SC list.
“Remaining in the SC list is a stain. It is akin to being in the River Cooum (a once-pristine river which has turned into the drainage of Chennai),” Dr Krishnasamy said.
“Only after the British included them in the SC list, these communities have been subjected to caste oppression and discrimination. We were agriculturists and inhabitants of the wetlands – ‘Marutha Nilam’, one of the five landscapes of the Tamil country in the Sangam era,” he added.
The six communities – Pallar, Kudumbar, Devendrakulathar, Pannadi, Moopar and Kaalaadi - are sub-sects of the predominantly agrarian Pallar caste, which is mostly concentrated in the southern districts of Tamil Nadu.
In Tamil literature, ‘Pallu’ is a genre of poetry describing the life and culture of the people of the wetlands and ‘Mukoodal Pallu’ is an example of that. The community too has significant landholdings and is known for its militancy and retaliating whenever violence is inflicted by the dominant castes.
In February this year, the state government had constituted a committee headed by an Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer to study the demand of rechristening the communities. It has received several petitions for and against but is yet to submit the report.
According to Krishnasamy, the community facing untouchability was the result of the inclusion in the SC list and its removal of the SC tag is necessary for its upward mobility.
“We are agriculturists and not manual scavengers. As such, it is a chain which prevents the community’s social and economic mobility,” he reasons.
This is an unusual development that runs counter to the non-Brahmin Dravidian ideology and the political discourse that distinguished the state for well over a century.
Tamil Nadu had witnessed violent agitations by communities to reclassify and enable them to avail the benefits of reservations. And the most recent one was that of the dominant OBC Vanniyar community in the 80s, which was then reclassified under a new category of the Most Backward Class (MBC).
While the issue of de-listing had been on the agenda of the PT, Krishnasamy placed the demand before the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP’s) national president Amit Shah at a rally in 2015.
Later during the campaign for the Lok Sabha elections, Prime Minister Narendra Modi assured of justice to the community.
“I am fully sensitive to their demands... There is significant progress with regard to it. I assure the community that justice will be done. This is a subject about social harmony,” Modi had said mentioning the community as Devendra Kula Vellalar.
And the PT is a party espousing the interests of this section, though its appeal and clout have waned as of now.
Also, the six communities are not on the same table in backing the de-listing demand as a large section is apprehensive of losing the reservation benefits.
Retired IAS officer R Chritodoss Gandhi questioned the legitimacy of Krishnasamy taking a stand for the entire community.
“The issue should be left to the communities themselves. Krishnasamy cannot arrogate to himself the right of the communities,” said the former principal secretary to state government.
“Clubbing all the six and rechristening all of them as ‘Devendra Kula Vellalar’ is one thing but, de-listing them is another, which does not have widespread support. We should rather fight for more political space and ensure social justice to these communities,” Gandhi said.
Analysts are not in agreement with the PT’s prescription for upward mobility and erasing the stain of untouchability.
Samuel Asir Raj, who teaches at Manonmanian Sundarana University in Tirunelveli, the PT’s campaign does not have popular support among the six communities which are still lagging behind in many of the social indicators.
“It is a desperate move of Krishnasamy to please the RSS and BJP with which he has associated to make him politically relevant. Gone are the days when the PT was a force to reckon with in southern Tamil Nadu. The party has lost its support base,” Raj said.
“Further, the Pallar community is still facing caste discrimination. That de-listing from the SC list would earn the community social acceptability is mere utopian thinking. See the plight of Dalit Christians, including the Pallars, who are included in the OBC list. They too are treated like any other Dalits,” he added.