Seven years after the caste violence that rocked the Natham colony of Dharmapuri district, the tremors of the November 2012 catastrophe still seem to be continuing in various forms, though not in the most violent manner.
“Be it be a temple function or a funeral, police are the first uninvited guest to the village. We cannot live here without the permission of the police. Irrespective of the kind of festivity, only police would fix the duration to celebrate it. They give us one or two hours to celebrate and we should finish it within the stipulated time. If not our youths would face false cases,” said M Kanaka, a resident of the Natham colony, who constantly checked for the police while speaking to this reporter.
The restrictions apply not only to life but to death as well. Dalit villagers say they are prevented from playing the molam. “The most recent one was on April 1. After a person died of heart attack in the night, we informed the relatives and were playing molam in front of the house. Even before the relatives could arrive, the police reached the spot and asked us to stop playing the molam as we don’t have permission to do so,” said Mukkamma, another resident of the village.
When The Federal spoke to the local police, they said that restrictions are in place to prevent tension between vanniyars and dalits as that could lead to a repeat of the 2012 riots. But, according to Mukkamma, until the 2012 clashes, there wasn’t any caste discrimination by the vanniyars in the village. “We worked in their farms and used to remove the carcasses of cows and buffaloes from their houses. We would cook meat and the vanniyar people would visit our houses to have it. But, after the 2012 violence, we not only stopped working in their farms but also stopped visiting them. Similarly, they too stopped visiting our houses,” Mukkamma added.
Rivalry cuts across generations
Caste feelings are not limited to the elderly people in the village. Even school students belonging to the upper caste, who once openly visited their dalit friends’ houses and partook food there, are now doing so discreetly.
“One of my friends from the vanniyar community would travel to her house only after crossing our village. She used to interact but would not come to my house if she was in the company of other vanniyar girls,” said M Indira, a woman who is married to a resident of Natham Colony.
It all started after the village witnessed the worst caste violence in 2012, after a dalit youth E Ilavarasan married a vanniyar girl, Divya of the neighbouring hamlet. In November of that year, more than 200 houses of dalit families were allegedly set ablaze by vanniyars after Divya’s father Nagaraj committed suicide unable to bear the humiliation of his daughter tying the knot with a dalit.
In the aftermath of the mayhem, the livelihood of the 200 dalit families were at stake. However, with the compensation of about ₹2.5 lakh, people managed to rebuild their houses. But, they were not deployed in any of the farms of upper caste people including vanniyars or in the private companies in Salem, Dharmapuri and Krishnagiri.
The menfolk moved to Bengaluru to become daily wagers or took up jobs on a contract basis in the construction industry to eke out a living. But the women of the village stayed back. “We are helping our family by working only in our village as we are not offered jobs elsewhere in the district,” says Kanaka.
Chandrika, who had studied till Class 10, was not given a job in Dharmapuri town, as she was from Natham colony. “I attended the interview in a textile factory and scored well. They asked me to submit photocopies of my address and identity proofs within two days to confirm my appointment. I too obliged. But after a week, I was told over the phone that I cannot be offered the job since I hailed from Natham colony,” said Chandrika. She added that a similar situation prevailed in most of the companies in Dharmapuri and neighbouring districts.
As the election season is on, people in the village are most likely to choose the DMK as dalit party Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (VCK) is its ally. Residents say that when vanniyar-based party PMK candidate Anbumani Ramadoss’s campaign van passes, its speakers are turned off.