Back in the mid-1990s, a young and restless Satheesh Kumar found himself thrown into the vortex of a rising Dalit movement in Tamil Nadu amid growing caste-related violence. For Satheesh and many other Dalit youths like him, it appeared that the time had finally come when Dalit politics wouldn’t be overshadowed by the ‘non-inclusive’ Dravidian ideology that failed to mainstream the subalterns.
By the end of the decade, their hopes rose high with the two largest Dalit movements—Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (led by Thol Thirumavalavan) and the K Krishnasamy-led Puthiya Tamilagam—entering electoral politics with the promise of creating a platform which would include the Dalits and their issues in mainstream Tamil politics.
More than two decades later, Satheesh is no longer young nor hopeful. While the caste divides have inevitably deepened, atrocities against Dalits continue with absolute impunity in the state.
“The dreams that we saw in those heady days have remained just that—dreams,” says Satheesh. He, however, refuses to put all blame on either Thirumavalavan or Krishnasamy. He rather calls Thirumavalavan’s entry into the landscape of Dravidian politics as a watershed moment for Dalit politics. “Along with. Krishnasamy, Thirumavalavan succeeded in creating a Dalit voice for the first time in post-independent Tamil politics.”
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