Why classrooms in Periyar’s Tamil Nadu are still drenched in caste colours

PM-SHRI schools
For schools in Tamil Nadu's Tirunelveli, caste comes in various shades. Illustration: Manikandan R

On the outer wall of the Government Higher Secondary School at Pallakkal Pothukudi, in Tamil Nadu’s Ambasamudram town, there is a graffiti of a smiling APJ Abdul Kalam painted next to a signboard congratulating three of its students for cracking the coveted NEET. The calm and order surrounding the modest school building belie the storm that swept the campus recently.

The school made headlines after a Class XII student belonging to Thevar (OBC) community was killed in a fight with his schoolmates over wearing colour-coded wristband denoting one’s caste inside the school premises.

The victim had reportedly asked one of his juniors, a Dalit student, why he was wearing a caste band, which only ‘dominant caste’ students typically wear inside school premises. This led to an altercation between the two. The Class XI student and two of his classmates allegedly hit the 17-year-old on April 25 with a stone following which he succumbed to his injuries five days later on April 30.

While the death of the student came as a shock to the entire state, such fights among students on caste lines, residents say, are not so surprising.

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