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Kongu region, a hotbed of casteism? B. KOLAPPAN

Kongu region, a hotbed of casteism?

Writer Perumal Murugan, who was forced to leave his hometown after his novel Mathorubhagan evoked protests from some caste groups.
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Writer Perumal Murugan, who was forced to leave his hometown after his novel Mathorubhagan evoked protests from some caste groups.

Recent murder of Dalit youth and social boycott of writer Perumal Murugan provide ample evidence of the western belt in Tamil Nadu being more casteist than southern districts.

Caste conflicts, it is generally believed, are confined to the State’s southern districts, where caste Hindus and Dalits have often locked horns.
Even the late 1990s witnessed widespread riots, forcing the DMK government to remove the names of all leaders from transport corporations, roads, government buildings and streets, even though many of these leaders did not identify themselves with their caste. However, aggressive casteist tendencies emerging from the western belt of Tamil Nadu seem to overshadow the southern districts.
What happened to writer Perumal Murugan – who was forced to leave his hometown after his novel Mathorubhagan evoked protests from some caste groups – and the killing of Dalit youth Gokulraj exemplify this trend. Caste elements effectively use social media to spread their sectarian message and, often, the contents are unprintable.
“It is a fallacy to think that the Kongu region is progressive. It has always practised silent and violent oppressive methods against Dalits. The social boycott of Perumal Murugan and the murder of Gokulraj have brought to focus the mindset of the dominant caste,” said writer S.V. Rajadurai. While other parts of Tamil Nadu are populated by Parayars and Pallars, the two major sub-sects of Dalits, Arundathiyars live in large numbers in the Kongu belt and work as landless agricultural labourers. If landholding and education gave an edge to Pallars, traditional Dalit leadership emerged from the Parayar community in the Northern region, giving these two communities a political identity. But political mobilisation has eluded Arundathiyars. Proverbs insulting Arundathiyar are very common in the Kongu region.
“The active role played by the Viduthalai Chiruthaikal Katchi (VCK) drew the State’s attention to Gokulraj’s murder. But I am not sure an Arundathiyar boy would have got similar support, even though there are honour killings in this region,” Mr. Rajadurai said.
Stressing that the Kongu region cold not be compared to the southern districts, senior CPI leader K. Subbarayan attributed the new trend in the Kongu region to the consistent efforts made by casteist elements to build their caste identity.
“I have seen Brahmins and Dalits, affiliated to the AITUC, working together as shift leaders in textile mills and dining side by side after the shift is over. As the unity among the working class is not in the interest of the corporate houses, MNCs and other business-houses encourage division among workers,” he said. Mr. Subbarayan said it was Communist leaders who worked for the welfare of Manjolai and Valparai tea estate workers, unmindful of the dangers. “But identity politics has forced them to become part of the unions run by casteist parties,” he alleged.

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