Within a few weeks of the DMK coming to power, two Dalit youth were killed in Arakkonam, Ranipet district. In Tiruvannamalia district’s Kallaraipadi panchayat, the elected president Ezumalai was publicly humiliated by the secretary for his caste. In Tindivanam district, Dalits are not allowed to use water from the village tank.
Fifteen such discriminatory incidents against Dalits were reported within a month of Stalin taking oath. Now, two years later, the atrocities are proportionately going up across the state.
Even the converts are not spared. Recently an incident was reported from Mannakaria panchayat of Toothukudi district. A converted family (who belonged to the Scheduled Caste earlier) had to carry a coffin through muddy paddy fields as they were denied access to the burial ground through the main road – as per the diktat of local chieftains belonging to the ruling DMK. When these visuals went viral, concerned citizens questioned the continuing discriminatory practices in Tamil Nadu. The government headed by M.K. Stalin, however, had nothing much to say except for shedding a few crocodile tears through some customary tweets.
Similar reports from Sivaganga district indicate that the converts (from erstwhile Dalit families) are not allowed to share the entry gate of the burial ground with the common public.
These are not one-off incidents. Dalit atrocities are a regular practice in over 10 districts in the state. Here caste leaders affiliated to Dravidian parties are reportedly controlling the social life of Scheduled Castes (Dalits) and the successive governments are not initiating any punitive action. Ironically, these atrocities are happening in a state where the DMK came into existence with the proclaimed objective of achieving social equality, and despite many laws enacted to protect and empower the Dalits.
The Union Home Ministry data identifies Tamil Nadu as the “state where most of the Dalits and Scheduled Tribes are subjected to various kinds of violence”. In 2020, 37 villages were identified as ‘atrocity prone’ villages. This definition is attributed to those villages where the Dalit communities live in vulnerable social atmosphere, are threatened and discriminated against and their safety is suspect
Another incident that shocked the Governor of the state, but not the CM, is the dumping of human feces in a water source used by the Dalits – resulting in the hospitalization of young girls who drank the contaminated water. Such shocking incidents happen in Tamil Nadu almost on a daily basis.
In the words of Tamil Nadu Governor R.N. Ravi, “There is much talk of social justice in Tamil Nadu and yet atrocities against Dalits are prevalent in Tamil Nadu with some atrocity against a Dalit every day. Dalits are publicly humiliated, assaulted or not allowed to enter the temples or anganwadi schools. The name of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar is being used for political mobilisation.”
Anti-Dalit incidents are reported elsewhere also in the country, but what differentiates Tamil Nadu from other states is that those states, ruled by other parties, initiate suitable action to curb recurrence of such incidents. In Tamil Nadu, ground reports suggest that in most cases of Dalit atrocities the perpetrators are cadres from the ruling party itself. Though Chief Minister M.K. Stalin tries to project himself as a rationalist and socialist representing the Dravidian legacy of egalitarian society, the news emerging from the ground is totally contrary.
The DMK government, irrespective of who is the CM, has the knack of not registering and investigating such complaints on the excuse of verification of the complainant’s caste. This attitude has resulted in huge pendency of cases in the courts and police stations. The official statistics show almost 6,000 cases are pending in the Tamil Nadu courts under the SC/ST Atrocities Prevention Act. One such case is pending since 1992.
As per information obtained through RTI, “the number of villages per state practicing untouchability is highest in Tamil Nadu”. Even Bihar is better than Tamil Nadu in controlling discrimination against the Dalits. The reason for this abysmal social disorder in Tamil Nadu is “the awful response of the law enforcement and criminal justice system of the state”, according to Governor R.N. Ravi.
Instead of taking action on the facts presented by the Governor, the DMK ministers and other functionaries choose to target the governor through political statements, attributing motives to the governor.
The Tamil Nadu Untouchability Eradication Front (TNUEF) has complained that the Stalin government is not implementing the provisions of SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Amendment Act 2015 effectively. The lack of concern for Dalit sufferings is reflected in the non-convening of the mandated bi-annual meeting of the state-level vigilance monitoring committee chaired by the CM. Such committees should have met 56 times since the Prevention of Atrocities Against the SC/ST Act came into force in 1992. But in Tamil Nadu, the CM has chaired only four meetings till now, as per TNUEF.
The Union Home Ministry data identifies Tamil Nadu as the “state where most of the Dalits and Scheduled Tribes are subjected to various kinds of violence”. In 2020, 37 villages were identified as ‘atrocity prone’ villages. This definition is attributed to those villages where the Dalit communities live in vulnerable social atmosphere, are threatened and discriminated against and their safety is suspect. Despite such specific input from the Union Home Ministry, the DMK government has failed to act.
VOTE BANK CONCERNS
As per Lok Niti, the DMK’s vote percentage has gone down among the Dalits. In the 2021 state assembly elections, the BJP got nearly 14 per cent of SC vote share, though it won only 4 seats. Earlier the SC vote used to go to Dravidian parties, never to the BJP. The shift in vote pattern has the DMK worried. Now, with new state BJP president Annamalai focussing on the Dalit issues, political observers expect a more visible shift. This concern is what is making the DMK cadre pressurise the Dalits in the countryside.
As the political analysts from Tamil Nadu always point out, the DMK used the Dalits to build a ‘anti-Brahmin’ platform, which it inherited from the Justice Party, and capture political power. After gaining power, the DMK is now exhibiting its anti-Dalit mindset through the suppressive, discriminative activities of its party cadre.
Across the state the atrocities perpetuated by the DMK cadre are recorded in the media periodically but neither the party nor the government, both headed by M.K. Stalin, initiate action against the perpetuators. In fact, the yesteryear’s infamous incidents of Meenakshipuram happened in Tamil Nadu when the Dravid party was ruling.