After 33 years, the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) has again taken to its age-old tactics to get 20 per cent separate reservation for Vanniyars — blocking roads and pelting stones at trains.
Images and visuals taken during the PMK’s agitation on December 2 at Chennai and its outskirts and circulating on social media remind the state of the party’s agitation held between September 17 and 23 in 1987, which also happened for reservation.
During the protests, the Vanniyar members fell trees across Tamil Nadu and blocked roads. The Vanniyars are richly populated in the northern districts of the state.
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The AIADMK was in power then, with a government headed by MGR, and 21 Vanniyar members died due to police firing. However, this time, the ruling AIADMK under Edappadi K Palaniswami has not resorted to such extreme step. It has instead announced to set up a committee to gather caste-wise quantifiable data in the state.
Interestingly, caste-wise survey was one of the 10 demands put forth by the PMK during the alliance talks that happened in the run-up to the Lok Sabha elections in 2019. The chief minister’s announcement is also seen as a knee-jerk reaction to pacify the PMK.
Impact on social justice
The British started taking census in India from 1881. Till 1931, the census included caste category, but after that caste was not included till 2011.
“Post Independence, in 1951, the upper caste leaders who were present in the government decided not to include caste in census because they feared it would make the people aware about their representation in the government and in general. So, only SC/STs are taken into account. When the discussions about reservation came up, the Mandal Commission prepared the report for reservation based on the 1931 census,” said G Karunanidhy, a reservation activist and general secretary of All India Federation of Other Backward Classes Employees Welfare Associations.
Whenever cases related to reservation come up in courts, the percentage of reservation given to each community is disputed. “So, from our federation, we gave a representation to the government demanding to include caste category in the 2011 census,” he said.
“The caste-wise census is needed not only for reservation but also to allocate budget. So in 2011, the government carried out a separate socio-economic survey and the report was submitted to the present government in 2016. That report has not been made public till now,” said Karunanidhy.
In 2017, the government constituted a committee headed by Justice S Rohini, to sub-categorise the Other Backward Classes (OBC). The committee recommended to the government to take up caste-wise census, since such data is lacking and the 1931 census data is considered incomplete.
In 2018, Rajnath Singh, the then Union home minister, said that the government will include caste in the 2021 census. But it has not been implemented and cases are being filed against the non-implementation. Courts have sent notices to the home ministry, which conducts the census, and it has not replied yet.
“It is in this backdrop that the Tamil Nadu government has announced that it will set up a committee. We don’t know whether this is a political stunt or if it will actually establish such a committee. Since census comes under the central government, the state has no separate department for statistics or census. Then, how will the committee gather data? What will be its responsibilities? We will know all that only when a gazette notification is made,” Karunanidhy said.
In 1920s, when the Justice Party was ruling the state, there was 100 per cent reservation and it was called ‘proportional representation’. There was no open category. Even the upper castes were given reservation. If there were 12 seats, one or two seats were given to the upper castes, he recalled.
“When caste-wise census is taken up, there must be demands from all castes asking for reservation. Today, Tamil Nadu is the only state which gives 50% reservation to BCs. Based on that experience, we can hope that there will be an equal representation given to all castes,” said Karunanidhy.
I Pandian, founder, Witness For Justice, an organisation working for Dalit rights, said the caste-wise census will lead to caste polarisation.
“On the one side, the BJP tries to polarise the people based on religion. Now, its allies like the AIADMK are paving the way for caste polarisation through caste-wise census. This will strengthen some of the existing dominant castes like Vanniyars in the north, Thevars in the south and Kongu Vellalars in the west. The census will help them in political bargaining. Then the remaining BCs will be oppressed,” he said.
PMK’s 20 per cent demand
When the Vanniyar protests were happening, the then chief minister MGR was in a hospital in the US. After he returned to India, he had discussions with the caste group but failed to arrive at a decision. Within a couple of days, MGR passed away.
In 1989, when DMK patriarch M Karunanidhi came to power, he created a separate section called ‘Most Backward Classes’ (MBC) with 108 castes, including Vanniyars. They were given 20 per cent reservation.
After the protests, Vanniyar Sangam grew into a political party, the PMK, in 1989 and Dr S Ramadoss became the leader of the Vanniyars. Their percentage in the state’s total population would be anywhere between 20 per cent and 25 per cent.
In honouring the members who died in the protests, the PMK observes September 17 every year as ‘Veera Vanakka Naal’.
Now, the party claims that the existing reservation is not sufficient and that commuinity needs 20 per cent reservation separately.
“We don’t know how much share has been given to the Vanniyars in the existing 20 per cent reservation for MBCs. The party must come out with a data about their representation from 1989 till date. Only then their struggle can be justified,” said Karunanidhy.