Monday, April 11, 2011

Thiruma and Ramadoss: Perils of Caste Politics.

This is a distasteful topic to write and will be even more distasteful to read. I ask the forbearance of the reader. As much as it might be disgusting to write in a certain vein using certain terms (caste based) I am convinced that anything less would be dishonest. Better to be disgusting than dishonest.

A month back when the Tamil Nadu election shenanigans started Tamils in USA started dividing along caste lines disguised under ideology. If somebody supported a party, his/her (usually 'his', Tamil women are silent on politics) caste would be cited as the reason by others who did not agree. Amongst friends charges of casteism flew thick and fast. One blogger tarnished another for the latter's support of DMK as thinly disguised Mudaliar casteism. The latter challenged the blogger to apply to Ramadoss the yard stick the blogger had applied to criticizing DMK. Needless  to say the blogger was Vanniyar. Amongst friends, most are now US citizens and well educated, knowledge of who belonged to what caste is common place. NJ has caste based organizations which draw quite a crowd.

It is a common trope that lack of education is the root cause of casteism. I am disappointed to say that nothing is further from truth. Education, exposure to wider world, being part of a mature democracy in USA/UK etc etc have done absolutely nothing to mitigate caste impulses of most Tamils. Some Tamils in UK, I hear, are very particular about marrying off their children on caste lines, social ostracism akin to what is practiced in villages is not unheard of in UK.

I am no sociologist, nor do I aspire to be one. Many might find what I say is unfair or skimming the surface. However I'd ask the reader to pause, digest and THEN criticize.

I ran a cursory glance on the list of DMK alliance. One fact struck me. DMK had practically ceded contesting in most reserved constituencies to VCK (Thiruma). VCK in turn cheerfully says that even if DMK falls short of absolute majority they (VCK) would support it unconditionally from outside without asking for any share in the ministry. Of course then down the line the same VCK would then decry how Dalits are not represented in the corridors of power and for good measure would concoct conspiracy theories spun around the usual suspects, Brahmins.

VCK, in its website, laments "காலமெல்லாம் காடு கழனிகளில் உழைப்பதற்காகவும் தேர்தல் காலத்தில் வரிசையில் காத்திருந்து வாக்களிப்பதற்காகவும் மட்டுமே பிறந்தவர்கள் என நெடுங்காலமாய் வஞ்சிக்கப்பட்ட மக்களை அமைப்பாக்கவும், அரசியல் சக்தியாகவும் வளர்த்தெடுக்க வேண்டும் என்கிற அடிப்படையில் விடுதலைச் சிறுத்தைகள் கட்சி இயங்கி வருகிறது". If something passes for sleight of hand that passage gets the prize. Since 1930's, the much debated Poona pact, reserved constituencies where ONLY Dalits could contest have been in existence for 82 years. Here is VCK claiming that Dalits were only used as vote banks and lacked political power. DMK, the party that endlessly calls itself pro-backward, has been in power on and off for 45 years, with brief interludes by its ideological twin ADMK. (Staunch DMK sympathizers might cringe at that characterization). Here is VCK's chance to stake a claim to some plum ministry and leverage it to further the interests of their community yet they choose to "enthrone Kalaignar", in the words of Thiruma.

Thiruma, as part of ADMK alliance in 2006, called MK as traitor to Tamil race and challenged MK to prove if he had done anything of consequence for Tamil. He then called forth his people to vote for ADMK. Today, 5 years later, in 2011 he is singing MK's praises and is calling forth his people to vote for DMK. For 2004 what does VCK list as Thirumaa's accomplishment, "நாடாளுமன்ற பொதுத் தேர்தலில் தி.மு.க அணியில் தாழ்தப்பட்ட சமுகத்தினருக்கு உரிய 'அரசியல் மதிப்பு' மறுககப்பட்டதாக சட்டமன்ற உறுப்பினர் பதவியிலிருந்து விலகல்.(3.2.2004)." ( Incidentally in 2006 VCK got 9 seats from ADMK, in 2011 they got 10 seats from DMK. Probably the one extra seat is what they refer as " உரிய 'அரசியல் மதிப்பு'".

In the page that lists Thirumaa's achievements what struck me was how few issues were Dalit centric. Let's take two very recent issues that really affected Dalit community. First, the Ambedkar law college incident where one group of students (Dalits) beat another student (Thevar) mercilessly. The fracas had a larger background of Thevar students pointedly refusing to add the name of "Ambedkar" to a college function notice. One can guess why and easily trace the arc of hatred. Thiruma was missing. More recently tens of Adi-Dravida students blocked Mount Road in Chennai causing a gridlock. THe issue was the deplorable condition of Adi-Dravida hostels. Frontline (as DK/DMK people endlessly point out, 'Brahmin' owned) ran a detailed story that laid bare the gross decrepit state of those hostels. The food served was such that no human being could eat, rooms were no better than toilets, gangs controlled occupancy of the rooms and much more. Thiruma's voice was conspicuously absent. His beloved Kalaignar was the CM, hundreds of crores were being spent on these hostels. Needless to say who ran the mafia that controlled room occupancies. The achievements page has ZERO mention of any struggle to uplift access to quality education, access to hospitals in Dalit villages, no agitation for ending two-tumbler systems, no policy paper by educated Dalits on challenges faced by Dalit graduates, one could go on. Thirumaa as MP has posed only six questions in 2+ years since he became MP, not one of them pertained  to any burning issue of Dalitsonly six times in the parliament, only 3 of those speeches have anything to do with Dalits and even then they were not of any substance. 

Reservation quota is a pet topic of Ramadoss and Thiruma. Quota are presented as cure-all panacea for any ills that may plague their societies. Its not out of place to note that nearly 50% of PMK candidates are crorepathis, as  per their own election affidavit, including a history sheeter, Guru. Nearly 50% of all candidates are crorepathis (not one of them is Forward Community, all are BC/MBC). 

Whether its Ramadoss or Thirumaa or any caste leader they all do serve a constructive purpose when they start out. Ramadoss made it possible for many in his community get ahead thanks to his tree-felling agitation that garnered a seperate quota for MBC's. The bane of reservation is that the first few years or a decade only benefits the applicants there after the creamy layer corner all the seats. Today if one analyzed the so called backwardness of many students admitted, especially in MBBS, it would be difficult to point to any student and say "he is a true beneficiary as intended". Put simply Ramadoss' grandchildren, studying in premium convents in Delhi, are eligible for quota just like any dispossessed Vanniyar. It is anybody's guess as to which child would ace the +2 exams and really enjoy the fruits of that quota. 

Ramadoss and Thirumaa have done gross injustice by treating their communities as voting blocks. Its sad that the  people too, by giving their loyalty, do injustice to themselves. Does it matter to a Dalit or Vanniyar that KamalHassan named his picture as "Mumbai Express" or that Khushbu advocated safe sex? Yet both Thirumaa and Ramadoss, aided by their goons, caused havoc to both Kamal and Khushbu.Khusbu ironically is campaigning for Thiruma's alliance. (Another irony is a North Indian girls with a HIndi tattoo campaigning for DMK, a party that once tarred any Hindi hoarding in TN)

Ramadoss sets the standard for unscrupulous politics. The man who vowed that neither he nor his family will seek power shamelessly barters for his son's Rajya Sabha seat. This man, who Thirumaa exults as "thamizh kudi thaaangi", sent his son to Montfort school. My cousin, a die hard admirer of Ayya Ramadoss, was transfixed by how eloquently Anbumani spoke at Johns Hopkins University. The same cousin, like other Ayya followers, then cheers Ayya for fighting for Tamil medium education. 

Both Thiruma and Ramadoss cheer the "heroine" of the election, DMK's manifesto. Veeramani, enthused that the DMK manifesto for 2011 is a heroine just as 2006 manifesto (promising color TV's) was a hero. Veeramani then proceeded to sternly tell tamils that voting for DMK is the only way to stave off Arya rule that is waiting to take over and spoil Tamils. While Kalaignar TV and Tasmac spoiled Tamils Veeramani went missing. The DMK manifesto is totally silent on funding better schools, providing good teachers, more schools, student accessories etc. Ramadoss, now wants exclusive quota and Karunanidhi cheerfully says "I've never said no to him, I'll gladly concede this". A friend commented, with no compassion, "now FC students will have to study even harder, this is good". Today FC's need to score 99.5% to get MBBS or Anna University. I don't know what that friend meant by "study harder". Hitler treated the Jews no worse. 

Thirumaa would shriek every now and then on Eelam. He met Prabakaran and started thinking he was one himself after all did not his party's logo sport a tiger too. Incidentally a descendant of a member who was murdered in Keezhvenmani, the most notorious caste conflagration, is contesting the election. There is no support for her from any so-called Dalit enthusiasts. DMK government, supposedly friends of Dalits, was then blamed for in its inaction leading to Keezhvenmani. If Rajaji had been CM, Veeramani and his ilk would be croaking till today ad nauseum about Aryan conspiracy. Even today this conflict is not spoken of in bold unvarnished terms without raising the shackles of many 'caste' hindus (euphemism for non-brahmins who practice casteism).

Politics makes strange bed-fellows. VCK being part of ADMK, a Thevar dominated party, was an irony given the number of fatal clashes between both communities going back all the way to 1957 Immanuel murder. ADMK enshrined Muthuramalinga Thevar as a demi-god, renamed Chamiers Road in Chennai as 'MuthuRamalinga Thevar road'. "Guru Poojai', celebrating Muthuramalingam, became a huge affair during Jaya's first tenure, Madurai would be tense and paramilitary forces would be needed to keep the peace. When MK named a bus corporation after a Dalit, Madurai burned. Journalist Vasanthi who went to Madurai recorded how even 10 year olds swore death to anybody who boarded those buses. Whether its a ten year old or Facebook group moderator casteism is alive and kicking. Education, age etc are nothing when it comes to such animal instincts.

Today VCK and PMK are bed-fellows. Vanniyars are instrumental in preventing Dalits entry into temples, notably the Draupadi temple. Burial grounds are still separate for Dalits. Pappapatti and keeripatti panchayat elections are bywords for anti-Dalit violence. Only the communist party fights for desegrating Dalits who live behind walls in some towns. No wonder Thirumaa is not vocal on any of that. Instead he is vocal on Tamil, Eelam, Babri Masjid etc that are of no concern to a Dalit villager. He claims that his friendship with Ramadoss has prevented caste clashes in the south. Is this is how one has to maintain peace one wonders?

Thiruma's politics has been counter productive, misleading, and of no use to Dalits. His failure to speak out on issue owing to political compulsions is inexcusable and questions the very need of his party's existence. Ramadoss's politics while yielding fruits in the short run has proved to be inimical and again, of no use, to vanniyars. 

Politicians focus on short term gains and even by that standard both of these leaders, especially Ramadoss, have torn into the fabric of the state. Today TN stands divided along caste lines as never before. While it was a practice of political parties to field candidates along caste lines today that is the first criteria. Every election analysis by individual or vernacular magazine starts without mentioning what caste is dominant in a constituency. Only then does the analysis go into the needs of the constituents. Reservation quota politics is largely to blame for this state of affairs. India has enshrined casteism in an iron framework. 

DMK which came to power having as its main cause the upending of Brahminical hold on power (a questionable trope by itself) has much to answer for why caste parties exist despite having had access to untrammeled brute power for 50 years. That each caste, every one of them listed as backward or 'most-backward', feels they need to have their own political outfit despite the fact that the dominant political parties paid homage to uplifting each supposedly backward community. What is the rationale for PMK's existence? Why did DMK fail  to address that community's need within its political framework? Why VCK? Where did DMK and ADMK fail to give expression to the aspirations of Dalits? That castes felt the need to organize exclusive political outfits to further their interests show cases the failure of the polity. 

Another dimension I see to the rise of caste parties is that such exclusive organizations nurture a confrontational attitude. When Vanniyar, Thevar, Dalit, Chettiar etc all jostle within one political outfit there would be a tendency to be more accommodative. The diversity of a political party brings an ideological sheen that passes purely sectarian concerns. Caste parties take sectarianism to a level that tarnishes its members and creates schisms that are more permanent.

The election results on May 14th will hold the key to the future of TN.


Theradiyan Daveedu said...

Amazing observation, thought provoking comments and serious issues that shake up the very foundation of the fabric of Indian politics and depicts the irony and parody of the caste based politics and self centered politicians of South India. Good writing Athenaeum!

Anonymous said...

*good analysis ...
but there are some things i agree and disagree

i agree with:
*thirumavalavan is a faker .he is not focused,when ones own house is in fire,would anyone try to act as if he is helping to get fire off of another persons house???
this is what thiruma is doing.why is Thiruma silent on "education for all dalits"and other serious issues ???

*castes like MBC which claim that they are MOST backward are the ONLY ones who indulge in caste violence against dalits.they play 2 rules as kshyatriyas to maintain their caste pride(to make dalits as labours in their field for extremely low wages and attrocities continue ...) and shudras( to fool the uppercaste and obtain reservation)

*only the communist parties voice for the dalits.And what is worse is some persons like 'Mr.Pasupathi Pandiyan' call themselves as dalit leaders and use the caste name to do kangaroo panchayats and rowdism.

i disagree :

*the dmk ,admk represent the dalits .when did dmk ,admk voice for the dalits???pls specify one instance atleast.

my view on reservations:
*the sc/st and mbc/obc must enjoy reservaions for 2 generations(1st generation :those who are first to obtain UG degree,2nd gen:his sons and daughters )for the 3rd generation creamy layer must strictly be excluded

remedies for anniliation of caste:
*In 10th std a subject 'human rights' must be added to make students aware of the importance of human rights(they should be made to think rather than rote writing esssays and publishing their views on notice board ,school magazines etc)
example: they should read what Hitler done to humanity etc.

expecting a new Earth for Humans to live...