A group of people from the Irular community in Villupuram district of Tamil Nadu are unable to pursue higher education as the caste Hindus in the region have been objecting to the issuance of community certificates to them.
The issue came to light only after a 17-year-old girl from the Irular community, a Scheduled Tribe (ST), approached the district collector, seeking a community certificate. M Dhanalakshmi had recently cleared her Class 12 exams and wanted to pursue BSc mathematics from a nearby college.
“However, only if I submit my Scheduled Tribe community certificate, I will be able to get a scholarship for my studies. Else, my parents will have to shell out a huge amount of money for my education. Due to this reason only, two of my elder sisters couldn’t pursuing higher education and they were married off soon after completing Class 12,” she told The Federal.
A day after Dhanalakshmi petitioned the collector, revenue officials visited the village and inquired about her caste. According to her father, they have submitted as many as 14 supporting documents to show that they are from the Irular tribes. The officials had also sought the presence of the girl and her family members for an inquiry at the village office.
At the time of the inquiry, a group of caste Hindus, belonging to the Vanniyar community (Most Backward Community), thronged the village office and filed a petition, demanding the officials not to provide ST community certificate to those claiming themselves Irulars.
According to sources in the know, Dhanalakshmi, her family members and relatives who claim to be from the Irular tribes have been entitled to first respects, such as ‘Mudhal Mariyadhai’ in the village Draupathi temple. The caste Hindus demanded that the Irulars have to either give away the first respect in the village temple or they should not get the ST community certificate.
A revenue official, who did not want to be named, told The Federal that as many as seven people from the Irular community have got the ST certificate. “The last time someone from the Irular community received community certificate was in 2018 and for the last two years, we have not issued ST certificate for the Irulars in the locality due to the caste clash,” the revenue official said.
Dhanalakshmi’s father Muniyandi too said that only seven people from their community have got the ST certificate so far. “My elder brother’s son got the ST certificate in 2017, and people in my in-law’s family too have got the certificate,” he said.
The main occupation of the Irular tribes had been catching snakes, rats and rabbits apart from trading snake skins and forest products. “However, after the government banned the snake skin trade and hunting of rabbits, we settled here and engaged in farming. We still have the equipment used for catching rabbits, snakes and rats,” said a relative of Muniyandi.
A caste Hindu man, who did not want to be identified, said that they cannot let a tribal get first respect in the village. “We do not have any issues if they get community certificate as Scheduled Tribes. The only problem we have is in giving first respect to tribals,” said the man who hails from T Parangani village.
Speaking about the issue, the Pazhangudi Irular Paathukappu Sangam’s founder, Professor Prabha Kalvimani, said that it was not just the temple issue that is making the caste Hindus stop tribals from getting community certificate, but also other political and social reasons.
“Though the Irulars are a small group of people in the village, they have economically developed over a period of time and they too own farmlands and houses there. But the caste Hindus cannot accept that Irulars are also developing. If the Irulars get community certificate, they would also receive education and economically become equal to the caste Hindus in the locality, which they don’t want to encourage,” said Kalvimani.
Speaking about the political reasons, he said, “Since the candidate, who contested on a PMK (a political party backed by the Vanniyars) ticket, was defeated in the last Lok Sabha election in Villupuram constituency, there has been tension in the village. The situation aggravated after the candidate, backed by caste Hindus, lost the village panchayat election as well. So, assuming that the tribals are empowered economically and politically, they are now being targeted.”
Asked about it, District Revenue Officer K Rajendren said that they are inquiring into the matter and would issue the certificate on completion of the inquiry. “The first phase of the inquiry is over and we will conduct the second phase by this week. If we fail to arrive at a conclusion, we would seek the help of an anthropologist, and based on his recommendation, a community certificate would be issued,” he said.