Politics or lack of educational choices behind murder of two Dalit youths?

Though Thol Thirumavalavan, VCK chief received an avalanche of support from educated BC/OBCs members on Twitter, the truth is educational opportunities remain elusive for Dalits

The Dalits have struggled to educate themselves and have used the reservation well, while the Vanniyar youths sunk in their caste pride have missed the bus, said a Dalit rights activist. Pic: @thirumaofficial

The war of words between political leaders over the recent murder of two Dalit youths in Arakkonam eventually led to thousands of social media users to storm Twitter to express their solidarity with Thol Thirumavalavan, Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (VCK) chief and share their educational qualifications with him.

This tweet storm was triggered by a comment made by Anbumani Ramadoss, founder of the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) in a video. In this video, he had said that Thirumavalavan was politicising the murder of these two youths which had no caste angle to it. 

“The youths who support VCK have many opportunities like reservations and they can use it in a proper way. But they are unable to get education and employment because they have many cases filed against them. Thirumavalavan is instigating them to indulge in violence,” he had said in his video. And, Anbumani had added that ‘Educated youth of today have no faith in Thirumavalavan. They have lost faith in him’.

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Interestingly, this statement by Anbumani led to an avalanche of tweets in support of  Thirumavalavan. Thousands of Twitter users posted messages in favour  of him. Adding Anbumani’s allegation that ‘Educated have lost faith in Thirumavalavan and no one is standing by him’ , supporters put in their name along with their educational credentials to the hashtags ‘#IStandWithThiruma’, ‘#WeStandWithThiruma’, etc. For example:

“Dear Ramadas, I have done M.E, in anna university main campus(CEG). ITIL Expert, ISO 9001-2015 auditor #istandwiththiruma for social justice and Equality and I accept #MyLeaderThiruma Note: I am from BC/OBC community.”

According to one source, the first post of this kind was made by sitting Madurai MLA PTR Thiaga Rajan. After which, it went viral and many followed suit. 

People who posted in support of Thirumavalavan hailed from all walks of life such as politics, media, medicine, law and films. The supporters were also from all the communities – Brahmins, Dalits, and other castes. 

To another debate that arose from these posts as to whether the uneducated were not behind Thirumavalavan, he immediately tweeted stating ‘to differentiate people as educated and uneducated is the consequence of Sanatanist ideology’. 

“To use the word uneducated is an expression of arrogance. They are those denied the chance to be educated. That doesn’t make them lowly,” he tweeted. Thanking all the people who supported him, he added that the best education is one which equips people with humanity and equality.  

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Discrimination of Dalits in education

While the posts show that nearly 30 years after launching his party, Thirumavalavan is now a popular leader across all the castes, educational opportunities still remain elusive to most Dalits. 

Their presence in premier educational institutions such as IIT and IIMs is very minimal. The students who complete Class 10 are often advised by their teachers to choose vocational or the arts groups. This is because it is widely believed among educators that Dalits wouldn’t be competent enough to study science and maths. In medical institutions, they are subjected to various atrocities.

“It is unfortunate that such issues are not discussed. When the BJP entered Tamil Nadu by appropriating Tamil identity, the state has been gradually losing its rights. Issues like NEET get prominence. But other forms of discriminations faced by Dalits in education are not noticed,” observed K Ragupathi, assistant professor, department of History, A Govindasamy Government Arts College, Villuppuram.

According to a study, which Ragupathi has conducted, there are more Dalits who have a doctorate in social sciences than in pure science or computer science or maths.

“As Ambedkar rightly said, while the social sciences help Dalits to get social liberation, the science and technology courses will provide them economic freedom. He insisted that the Dalit students should be given scholarships to study science courses. But joining these courses is difficult. In many aided schools and colleges in the southern districts, Dalits are still not given their choice in courses,” he said. 

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Choosing violence over education 

In its initial years, the VCK has been accused for allegedly adopting a militant approach towards caste discrimination. However, over the years particularly in the 90s, Thirumavalavan, who also held a doctorate started to stress the importance of education among Dalits. Interestingly, in the same period many Vanniyar youths engaged in violence. There were videos that went viral on social media such as TikTok, in which machete-wielding Vanniyar youths boasted about their caste pride. But, when did the Dalits start to give priority to education? 

“The Dalits basically have a thirst for education. We have many stalwarts from this community who were well educated such as Rettaimalai Srinivasan, Meenambal, MC Raja, etc. So Dalits have had this passion for education even before the emergence of VCK,” said I Pandian, founder, Witness for Justice, an organisation working towards Dalit rights.

Initially, the VCK conducted many night schools through its student and youth wing. The conferences it conducted on education amplified the thirst for education among Dalits as well, he pointed out.

“Dalits were socially and economically backward. Though the Vanniyars were equally in a financially weak condition, they enjoyed the privilege of being born in their caste. The Dalits used this gap. They struggled to move from marginal to mainstream and have used the reservation well. Whereas, the Vanniyar youths sunk in their caste pride have missed the bus,” Pandian added.

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Tragic death of two youths

Meanwhile, a pall of gloom has descended over two Dalit families in Tamil Nadu even as April is celebrated as a Dalit History Month. 

On April 7, two Dalit youths named Arjunan (26) from Shoghanur village and Surya (26) from Sembedu village were allegedly murdered by cadres belonging to AIADMK’s election partner, PMK at Arakkonam in Ranipet district. It is alleged that the youths were beaten up by the PMK cadres for seeking support from locals to vote for a VCK candidate. The friends of the deceased Madhan, Vallarasu and Soundararajan have been seriously injured.

Of the two, Arjunan was a father to a four-month old child and Surya was married just 15 days earlier. 

Though the police and the PMK have maintained that the youths were killed from a fallout between two groups when they were in inebriated state, the VCK is skeptical. 

The police have arrested four members from the Vanniyar community in connection with the murder and investigations are underway. Meanwhile, VCK chief Thol Thirumavalavan visited the bereaved families and paid his condolences. The party has also organised a state-wide demonstration condemning the PMK for its alleged role in the murder. 

“Dalits have been attacked in several places in Tamil Nadu after voting concluded. The fear of losing the elections has caused some of the AIADMK- BJP-PMK to indulge in violence. Violence against Dalits has also taken place in Kattumannarkoil, Vaanur, Thiruporur, Krishnagiri and Ariyalur constituencies,” alleged Thirumavalavan in a statement.

He also added that TN Chief Minister Edappadi Palanisamy encouraged caste-fanatics for his own personal political gains and failed to take notice of the attacks against Dalits.

“These attacks and murders are a consequence of such an approach,” he said. However, it seems that this tragic end to two young lives has to do with more than politics.