Dalit boy's death: A Vanniyar group that is fighting against casteism

Last Updated: Sun, Jul 14, 2013 07:45 hrs

There is no closure as yet for the family of Ilavarasan, the late husband of Divya whose inter caste marriage created a huge uproar and forced the state to confront the demon of caste. 

The whole issue has only kept the embers of caste stoking, says Sasikumar, a US-based Vanniyar, who along with three other Vanniyars living in Chennai and elsewhere launched a Facebook page: "vanniyaragainstcasteism".

In their page description it reads: “We are the liberal voices from the Vanniyar community who have decided to standup against the Talibanism of PMK and Vanniyar Sangam”.

Here are excerpts taken from an interview with the group:

Q: You formed the Facebook community on July 7. Is this a quick fix thing?

A: We have been discussing about caste issues for a while now and we decided to get onto the social media because there is a need for such a forum. We are not activists, but concerned community people. There is an overwhelming feeling that all  Vanniyars are communal, which is not true. The social media initiative is aimed at providing articles and opinion pieces. Although I say not all Vanniyars are casteists, we, all of us, as a society are predominantly casteist. We are not on the progressive path but are in fact regressing.

Q: Social media is the home page to the youth, but not necessarily to the older generation. How do you plan to reach the older generation via this platform?

A: It is a myth if you think all youngsters are flexible in their outlook and that only the older generation has a mindset. Most of them are aware of the problems between the PMK and VCK (the two political parties floated with their community in mind, Vanniyars and Dalits respectively) and tread carefully. The real problem today is that our youth do not have a young Periyar or a young Karunanidhi among them, both of whom batted for self respect. The fact of the matter is that the youth in rural India—not just Tamil Nadu—is not shy of being casteist. So, that is a huge problem out there, whereas the youth who move to urban areas are able to develop a different social outlook.

Q: What has been the response to your postings on 'vanniyarsagainstcasteism'?

A: Oh, we have had plenty of nasty comments, and yes, it is the younger generation posting out there. The older generation was never like this, many were, and many still are very progressive. But our aim is to offer a platform for the young to air their views. They should not be suppressed by the influential and powerful lobby of Vanniyars with an agenda. We suspect some of the people in the forum are PMK functionaries and their tone is quite threatening. That is because they do not want an alternative voice from the community.

The youth of India has no proper forum to voice its opinions. Even the media is sweeping everyone with the same brush of communalism. You cannot brand all Vanniyars as communal and all Dalits as being casteist. Because you run the risk of hurting the liberal minds...and some among them might be tempted to say, ‘anyway they say this about us, so let us be that only’ and go join the extreme voices.

Q: You say the youth need a forum. Why? What do the youth of Tamil Nadu need?

A: Look, we are all living in modern times, one different from the one we grew up in. As a child growing up in rural Tamil Nadu I was aware of the caste dynamics, and if you go there, you will find that it is a different, difficult world. Many of us wonder if we can get rid of caste. But it is a complex issue. All our old ideas –such as reservation—has to change. Reservation for Backward Classes and Scheduled Castes have not worked out. We have only created a creamy layer. And by pursuing reservation, we are creating another hierarchy within the same community. We cannot have reservation running for hundreds of years you know. We need to switch to the  economic model of reservation. We need newer ideas for the newer generation, if we want to counter balance casteists.

Q: Do you think there will be a day when a Dalit will enter the living room of a Vanniyar?

A: Sadly, the reality in Rural Tamilnadu is such that if a Dalit comes as a labourer then he won't be allowed into the room. But if he is highly educated, well employed or even an entrepreneur with a business proposal then it could happen.

Q: What was the reaction of you and your friends, when you heard about Ilavarasan’s death?

A: We were stunned. Taken aback. It is not like how it is in movies where there is a happy ending. The reality is extremely difficult for all civil society members, and that includes us.

Q: Why is your forum not coming out in the open more boldly? Are you worried about Dr Ramadoss (PMK Founder)?

A:  Not at all. Why should we be? We have just begun and we have a long way to go. Whenever you start something there will always be some who doubt you. We are trying to be positive in both our actions and our attitude. Our immediate goal is to raise awareness. We are planning a number of ground level initiatives as well, and we would be glad to take on volunteers. Just get on to our Facebook page and post.

Q: You do not have any women on your forum.

A: Yes, as of now we are only a group of men. But we are looking forward to the day when women will also be active on our forum.

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