ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Caste in Tamil Nadu - II

Slipping Hegemony of Intermediate Castes

The case of violence against the dalits by the Vanniyars in Dharmapuri recently is not a sign of resurgent casteism as the media and others are claiming. The state has definitely benefited from the anti-caste movements in the past and the dalits are experiencing upward mobility. The violence is a desperate acknowledgement of the dalit reality and the inability of the intermediate castes to exercise caste power over them as in the past.

I am thankful to Anandhi S, A Kalaiarasan, and M Vijaybaskar for their comments on an earlier draft of this article.This is the second in a three-part series on caste in Tamil Nadu. The first part was published last week.

On 9 November 2012, in a premeditated act of violence, a mob of over a thousand Vanniyars (an intermediate caste), including women, ransacked three dalit settlements in the Dharmapuri district of western Tamil Nadu. While houses and vehicles, including four-wheelers, were set ablaze in the Natham, Anna Nagar and Kondampatti colonies, cash, gold jewels, and household appliances belonging to the dalit families were looted. The ration cards, school and college certificates, and property documents in these homes were reduced to ashes. In a few hours, the Vanniyars who are by no means wealthy had destroyed an estimated Rs 7 crore worth of dalit property. The immediate reason attributed to the incendiary rage of the Vanniyars was a case of inter-caste love and marriage that later led to a suicide. Twenty-year-old Divya, a Vanniyar pursuing a course in nursing, got married to a 23-year-old Illavarsan, a dalit from Natham colony and a recent recruit to the state police force. The couple sought police protection which was, predictably, not forthcoming. Unable to bear the pressure from his fellow caste members, Divya’s father Nagarajan, a genial and composed man by all accounts, hanged himself. As the Natham colony was ransacked, Nagarajan’s body was put on public display.

‘Protecting’ Vanniyar Women

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