Dravidian parties maintain stoic silence as MBCs demand caste census in TN
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Dravidian parties maintain stoic silence as MBCs demand caste census in TN

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While several states have amplified their demand for a caste-based census in front of the Centre, the Dravidian parties in Tamil Nadu have come under fire for maintaining a stoic silence on the issue. Caste groups, especially sub-castes argue that a caste-based census would help in determining the right percentage of quota for reservation for a particular caste or sub-caste and ensure that the same is based on social backwardness and literacy rates rather than population or economic condition.

No clarity in quota, rue sub-castes   

The Piramalai Kallars, a dominant caste group in Madurai, for instance have demanded that the Vanniyars, who come under the Most Backward Classes (MBC) be given the 10.5 per cent sub-quota (recently allocated to them by the state government) only after a caste-based census is conducted. The Piramalai Kallars, a part of the De-notified Community (DNC) under the MBC have also questioned the justification of giving away a lion’s share of the 20 per cent quota meant for the entire MBC community to the Vanniyars alone, just on the basis of their population size.

Members of Piramalai Kallars on October 2 raised black flags against Chief Minister MK Stalin and put up banners of ‘Go Back Stalin’ during his visit to Pappapatti village in Madurai to protest against the state government’s silence on demanding a caste-based census and ensuring the rights of minorities communities like theirs.

Incidentally, Pappapatti village had a history of Caste Hindus preventing Dalits from heading panchayats for almost a decade until the trend was reversed by T Udhayachandran, the then district collector of Madurai, in 2007.

The Piramalai Kallars, however, rue that their condition is worse than the Dalits in the region and only a caste census will give them justice.

“There are 116 castes under MBC, out of which 68 are DNC, 47 are MBC and one Vanniyars. The PMK says since the Vanniyars are large in population, they should be given sub-quota reservation. But, reservation should not be based on population or economic conditions, but on social and education backwardness. Providing reservation just to one community and that too on the basis of population is against social justice,” said Selva Preetha, founder, Perungamanallur Veeramangai Mayakkal Magalir Nalasangam, Madurai, an organisation working for the rights of Piramalai Kallars.

She said while the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment wrote a letter (dated August 18, 2020) to all states to conduct a separate survey on DNC, the PMK opposed the survey by stating that it would create law and order problem.

“We are not against reservation given to any community. However, it is important that the reservation is provided only after the caste-wise census. When most of the states are for caste-wise census, keeping mum on this issue shows the irresponsibility of the state government,” Preetha said.

Fate of Kulasekaran Commission uncertain

The AIADMK government in December 2020 appointed the A Kulasekaran Commission, entrusting it with the collection of quantifiable data on castes, communities and tribes of Tamil Nadu. While the commission was given six months’ time to submit its report, the same is yet to come and the DMK government is yet to extend its tenure.

So far, Chief Minister Stalin too has not spoken if he is in favour or against a caste-based census even though many in his party have supported it.

Talking to The Federal, RS Bharathi, DMK Rajya Sabha MP said that the party has always supported a caste-based census.

“Either providing the extension for Justice A Kulasekaran Commission or appointing a new commission is a government policy. Only the chief minister can decide on it,” he said.

The AIADMK, which formed the commission in the first place, has passed the buck to the ruling government.

“The commission’s term ended in June this year. But the DMK government has not extended its tenure. That itself shows that the current disposition is not interested in conducting the census. Let it extend the commission’s time and seek the report. We can be able to comment more only after the report is submitted,” former AIADMK minister D Jayakumar told The Federal.

Can state conduct independent caste census?

G Karunanidhy, a reservation activist said that the reason why Dravidian parties in Tamil Nadu seem non-committal on the caste-based census issue is because the state already provides 69 per cent reservation. It is also not implementing the 10 per cent reservation for economically weaker sections (EWS).

“The AIADMK appointed a commission just to pacify the people over 10.5 per cent reservation (to Vanniyars) issue. This is purely a local adjustment. A state cannot conduct the census on its own. It doesn’t have the powers to do it. Only the Union government should conduct the census. And moreover, a caste-wise census is being demanded only to assess whether the reservation for OBCs can be increased or decreased and the reservation for EWS is needed or not,” he said.

Local body polls could also be a reason why political parties here are not giving the issue much importance, Karunanidhy added.

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