Jeans, T-shirts and sunglasses have been declared to be the chief reasons behind the increasing caste violence in Tamil Nadu. The comment could have been passed off as a bad joke had it not come from one of the seniormost politicians in the state and leader of a party, the Pattali Makkal Katchi, whose members have held cabinet positions at the Centre. S. Ramadoss is, however, convinced that the attire is the basic instrument that facilitates the phenomenal success of the Dalit programme of luring Vanniyar girls into marriage. Logically speaking then, it is also responsible for the invariable caste violence that ensues. Far from discouraging the mindless bloodletting that tears newlyweds apart, destroys their lives, homes, families and even villages in order to uphold obscurantist caste prescriptions — as it has done recently in Dharmapuri, the PMK’s bastion — Mr Ramadoss has ordered a ban on intercaste marriages. Mr Ramadoss’s alarm is understandable. These marriages are not only undermining the iron grip of patriarchy, but also diluting caste identities. For a caste-based party that draws its sustenance from such identities, the threat is real, particularly because the PMK has seen what this could amount to. From its towering influence over the Vanniyars in the 1990s that gave it a say in government formation, the PMK has been reduced to a bit player in state politics. In the two successive elections in 2009 and 2011, the PMK has seen its political space being eroded by the steady incursion of the Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam with its own distinct appeal for young people. Instead of turning its attention towards its own failings, especially its politics of opportunism that has promoted the party’s interests without any concomitant improvement in the life and livelihoods of the most backward communities the party represents, the PMK is fanning caste hatred in order to stay politically relevant.
For a major part of Tamil Nadu’s recent social and political history, such hatred has specifically targeted the Dalits, who are seen as the chief beneficiaries of policies such as that of reservations. In spite of their progress, Dalits continue to be subjected to humiliations such as restricted rights in the use of water, in access to temples and roads or in marriage alliances. The disparate economic growth of regions has further fuelled this trend. Mr Ramadoss is reaffirming a blinkered vision of society that will widen caste polarization and increase women’s vulnerability.