Print edition : December 14, 2012

A memorial for the naxalite movement in Naikkankottai.-E. LAKSHMI NARAYANAN

THE Dalits of Naikkankottai village in Dharmapuri district are not strangers to conflict and violence. They were targeted by the state for some two decades from the 1980s when the naxalite movement was active in the region.

Being a native of Naikkankottai is a curse. And if you happen to be a Dalit, you are doubly doomed. We suffer collectively for the path we took in the past and are now prevented from leading a dignified life, said Sasikala, wife of P. Palanisamy, a former naxalite activist and a Dalit resident of Natham colony.

Between the early 1980s and late the 1990s, Naikkankottai was under regular police surveillance. Palanisamy, who is called POTA Palanisamy since he served a prison term of five years under the now-defunct Prevention of Terrorism Act, said the police would knock on our doors at any time and whisk away our youths to an undisclosed destination under the ruse of interrogation. Sustained monitoring, pre-dawn raids and constant intimidation became integral parts of our lives and forced men, especially Dalits, to migrate to far-off places such as Bangalore and Coimbatore to escape harassment and, of course, to earn a livelihood, he said.

After the police shoot-out at Uthankarai on September 24, 2002, the radical movement was wiped out from Tamil Nadu, particularly from the then composite Dharmapuri district. (Uthankarai is now in Krishnagiri district, which was carved out of Dharmapuri in 2004.)

The state started its intervention programmes with the primary objective of mainstreaming the villagers through a series of confidence-building exercises besides earmarking special funds under socio-economic schemes for their overall development.

The woes of Dalits in the three colonies of Natham, Anna Nagar and Kondampatti in Naikkankottai are, however, far from over. The four-hour arson and looting by rampaging mobs on November 7 left them without any resources to earn a livelihood. The valuables they had accumulated over a decade of hard labour have been destroyed.

The Dalits had enjoyed a sort of immunity to caste-based discrimination until 2000, since naxalite leaders had tuned the poor, mostly Dalits, to the ideology of fighting feudal establishments in the rural pockets. The Natham Dalit colony alone has seven former Marxist-Leninist activists, of whom two, including Palanisamy, served prison terms.

We faced neither overt nor covert discrimination in those days. Even caste Hindus, who were allegedly behind the recent violence, were with us then. We were able to abolish the pannai adimai system [slaves on farmlands] after a series of struggles, said Palanisamy. Naxalite sympathisers M. Durai and A. Mathaiyan pointed out that extreme poverty and discrimination had drawn them towards the radical movement though we were against their gospel of annihilation of class enemies to bridge the gap between the landed and the landless.

In the 1980s, Dharmapuri was a fertile ground for breeding extremists as it was one of the most backward districts in the State. Charu Majumdar, who formed the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) in 1969, held a secret meeting in 1970 in Hogenekkal in the district after making a discreet visit to the nearby Puliampatti village. Appu and Balan, who were killed in police encounters, had worked among the poor working-class people in Naikkankottai and its many surrounding villages.

Seventy-year-old Chinnathambi, a naxalite sympathiser, said Dalits were subjected to hardships and were paid a paltry sum of Rs.40 as monthly wages. The naxalite movement helped them get better wages. Chinnathambis wife belongs to the Vanniyar caste.

Their inter-caste marriage, which took place some 30 years ago in Naikkankottai, never created any disturbance, unlike the latest Dalit-Vanniyar marriage. We are living happily with grandchildren, he said.

The exit of radical elements, according to social scientists, created a void in the rural society, which has been usurped by the caste-based outfits. Since 2005, the Vanniyar Sangam and other caste organisations have been infiltrating the villages in and around Naikkankottai trying to erase the very concept of working class on which the people remained united and promoting a dangerous form of casteism that is fragmenting society.

The delay on the part of the Left parties such as the Communist Party of India (CPI) and the Communist Party of India (Marxist) to fill the vacuum has further worsened the situation. Admitting that an ideological vacuum had existed in Naikkankottai, the CPI(M)s State secretary, G. Ramakrishnan, said his party had decided to expand its organisational base to all pockets in order to address the issues.

It is unfortunate that caste outfits of Vanniyars and Kongu Vellalars have started campaigning against inter-caste marriages, which is against the tenets of the Constitution. The Dharmapuri incident is the fallout of the hate speech made by Vanniyar Sangam president Kaduvetti J. Guru alias Gurunathan in Mammalapuram against inter-caste marriages. It was sad that the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK), a political party born out of the Vanniyar Sangam, failed to rein in the Sangam leadership, he said.

The CPI(M)s senior leader K. Balakrishnan said the party would organise a felicitation function for inter-caste couples in Dharmapuri soon in order to send the message across to the caste-based outfits that the CPI(M) stood solidly behind these couples. P. Dilli Babu, the partys Member of the Legislative Assembly representing Harur, said the party had decided to organise youths in Naikkankottai through the Democratic Youth Federation of India (DYFI).

The CPIs Dharmapuri district joint secretary, J. Prathaban, agreed that the Left parties should actively engage in activities aimed at keeping caste-based outfits at bay.

A. Marx, a Chennai-based rights activist, pointed out that identity and hate politics, especially after the decline of far-Left movements, had gained momentum in the State. Polarisation on caste lines is complete today. Rebuilding lives from ruins will be an uphill task for the disadvantaged Dalits, he said.

R. Ilangovan
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