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Source:

Ronald. Y. 2013. Dalit Exclusion and Governance in Tamilnadu. Asian Journal of Research in Social Sciences & Humanities, III (IV ), 85-88. [ISSN 2250-

1665]

DALIT EXCLUSION AND GOVERNANCE IN TAMILNADU

Y.Ronald*

*PhD Candidate, School of Social Work, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai

INTRODUCTION

Social exclusion discourse in Europe has generally been concerned with social problems in the labor market thrown up by economic restructuring. But, social exclusion in India cannot be captured by this Euro-centric approach and its labor market framework. The exclusion discourse in Indian society has to be understood against the backdrop of the caste system.

In caste system, membership in a social group and status are determined by birth. There is a hierarchy of social precedence among the castes which lays restrictions on social and cultural intercourse between castes. Moreover, castes are segregated and stratified with regard to civil and religious privileges and occupations are determined according to the caste group. Above all, restrictions are made on marriage outside ones sub-caste so as to maintain the system (Ghurye 1979)

Caste exclusions have religious sanctions also. The amount and extend of exclusion to be practiced is written in the Manusmriti, the Laws of Manu, the fundamental work of Hindu law. It defines the duties and occupations ordained for the four chief castes. In its dos and donts, it describes the treatment of women, mixed-castes and castes of low origin, of which the most despised, are the Dalits.

Modernity and modern way of living has not challenged Indian mindset to the required extent. This can be understood from the modern forms of caste based exclusion and discrimination. According to Thorat (2005), caste-based exclusion is seen in the economic, civil, cultural, and political spheres. In the economic sphere, exclusion is practiced through denial of jobs, denial of access to capital, etc. In the civil and cultural spheres, dalits face discrimination and exclusion in the use of public services like roads, temples, water bodies, and institutions delivering services like education, health and other public services. In the political sphere, dalits face discrimination in the use of political rights, and inparticipation in the decision-making process (Thorat 2005).

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The first to protest against these exclusion practices were Buddhist and Jain monks, then came Bhakti movement and Veerasaivism. In modern India, Brahmo Samaj, Satya Shodak Samaj and Arya Samaj fought against caste system and social inequality. The later period also saw great leaders such as Sri Narayana Guru, Periyar and Dr. B.R. Ambedkar demandingly its outright annihilation.

In the recent times, social exclusion in India has assumed a wider connotation, more recently in the writings on women, dalits and other deprived groups. Exclusion discourse also gained new meaning in the 1990s with Prime Minister V. P. Singhs decision to implement the Mandal Commission report, which sought to increase affirmative action programs for the disadvantaged. The social exclusion discourse in India now covers a wide range including inclusive policies, emancipator politics, social engineering and the empowerment of women, Dalits, Adivasis and backward classes.

PANCHAYATS AS INCLUSIVE MEDIUMS

Though PRIs existed in India, they had many intrinsic and extrinsic problems. The major issues being absence of regular elections, insufficient representation and exclusion of scheduled caste, scheduled tribes and women along with the long standing issue of devolution of powers and lack of financial resources. In this context the 73rd amendment of the constitution was enacted in

1992.

The 73rd amendment is seen by many policy makers and political scientists as a watershed in the history of governance, as it provided the foundation for inclusive governance at the village, block and the district level. The 73rd constitutional amendment also opened up reservation to dalits to preside over the in panchayats. Article 243 (D) paves way for reservation and rotation of seats for scheduled castes, scheduled tribes and women in rural bodies.

In Tamilnadu, appropriate provisions were introduced in the Tamil Nadu Panchayat Act in 1994. The relevant sections in the TN Panchayat Act are 11, 20, 32 and 57 respectively. These were also supplemented by the Tamil Nadu Panchayats (Reservation of Seats and Rotation of Reserved Seat) Rules, 1995. The rules provided for the reservation of seats by adopting a list of wards and panchayats arranged in the descending order of the percentage of SCs, STs and Women and applying the cut off at a point where the number of reserve seats and offices is equal to the prescribed ratio. The periodicity of the rotation is also fixed under the rules.

Source:http://www.tnrd.gov.in/panchayatraj_inst/TNon73r dConstitutionalAmendment.html The Tamil Nadu government amended 1

Source:http://www.tnrd.gov.in/panchayatraj_inst/TNon73r

dConstitutionalAmendment.html

The Tamil Nadu government amended1 rule 7 of the Tamil Nadu Panchayats (Reservation of Seats and Rotation of Reserved Seat) Rules, 1995 thereby allowing the post of presidents of village panchayats and chairpersons of panchayat unions and district panchayat reserved for SCs, STs and women to be rotated-after 10 years. The affirmative action for Dalits in local governance has resulted in social identities and political awareness among them and created an urge to become part of mainstream political, economic and social life. It has also provided new hopes of realizing long felt aspirations of the subjugated and marginalized groups.

CHALLENGES TO INCLUSION

Dalits in Tamilnadu have been subjected to social, economic and political extrication from all the relevant spheres of life (Viswanathan 2005). However, since the late 1990s there have been notable changes in the economic relations between the Dalits and the other backward castes.

The Dalits [Pallars in particular] have benefitted from the statepolicy of reservation in education and have become less dependent on the other backward castes for livelihood. This has resulted in assertion for socio- political equity, thanks to the 73rd amendment. The other backward castes [Thevars in particular] have reacted to the assertion of Dalits as challenge to their hegemony by committing atrocities against Dalits.

In 1996, the government of Tamilnadu announced Panchayat Presidencies of Pappapati, Keeripatti and Nattarmangalam in Madurai district and Kottakatchiyenal in Virudunagar district of Tamilandu to be reserved for Dalits and had ten announcements of election. Nine times out of ten, no Dalit could file his paper for nomination due to the decree of Piramalai Kallars [a subsect of Thevars] that any Dalit who dares to file his/her paper shall be killed (Sumathi et al 2005). The Dalits took up the issue to the President, Prime Minister and the Leader of Opposition.

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The government intervened and subsequently Subban and Poonkodiyan filed their nomination for Pappapatti and Keeripatti panchayats respectively in March 2002. This caused the Piramalai Kallars to put two dummy candidates [Thanikodi in Papapatti and Karutha Kannan in Keeripatti] from Dalit community.

On the day of election, the Dalits of both the villages fled to save their lives (Sumathi et al 2005). In the end the dummy candidates won the election. But within an hour of swearing in, both the dummy candidates resigned their post (Sumathi et.al,

2005).

The core objective of the 73rd amendment is to establish democratically elected local self- government to ensure development and social justice [Article 243G and 243 W]. However, the major challenges in realizing this avowed ambition and institutionalizing local self government are the existing social structures in the villages, state apathy and the failure of Dalit party politics.

a. VILLAGE SOCIAL STRUCTURE

As far as Pappapatti and Keeripatti in concerned, every Thevar family has one family of Dalit [either from Pallar caste or from or Parayar caste) as servants, which are commonly referred to as a slave family. In the public sphere, dalit woman cannot wear a good blouse or a new loincloth. If the Thevar women see such good blouse, they would give offensive comments. Moreover the Dalits face discrimination and exclusion as they travel by bus, fetch water and go to market place (Sumathi et.al, 2005). Thus the Dalits face discrimination and exclusion every single day.

In the political sphere, the Thevers had always led the village. During the old panchayats [prior to 1994] the panchayat president would be from the Thevar community and a vice-president from the Dalits. The Thevers feel that the system was working well, till the advent of the new panchayat [post 1994]. Pappapatti is in fact the birth place of Mookiah Thevar, a leader of Thevar political party called Forward Block. The move to reserve Pappapati village became an issue of pride to the Thevars, who fumed at the government (Devakumar, 2007).

Nevertheless, DPI [a dalit party] fielded a Dalit candidate. The village committee of Kallars [Thevars] unanimously fielded a puppet candidate [Dalit] of their choice and elected him with thumping majority. As expected the puppet resigned immediately after taking charge. Now the Dalits have been driven to the extent that they themselves accept the legitimacy of Thevarspower in the social, economic and political spheres.

B. STATE APATHY

The abysmal failure of the state to take any effective steps to elect the Dalits triggered some debates in the state Assembly. But the response from the state government was awful. The local administration minister argued that the Dalits do not contest elections simply because they do not wish to and not because they face a threat to their lives from the upper caste people. The MLAs from dominant castes added chorus with the minister that Dalits did not wish to contest because they do have no funds.

The State Election Commission in its own defense argued that if people do not come forward to contest there is nothing that State Election Commission can do (Sivagnanam, 2003). All those defensive arguments are not convincing in the light of the fact that the state has ultimately failed to conduct elections peacefully.

The National Commission for SC/STs had also expressed its dismay at the states failure to take concrete action to ensure the participation and representation of dalits in these reserved seats. The chairman of the commission warned that such discrimination should not be allowed to continue in this modern age.

All similar efforts delivered nothing. On the contrary the dominant caste in these villages has successfully managed to resist the process and gained some legitimacy for its demand for de- reservation and rotation in lieu of the completion of the ten-year tenure.

C. FAILURE OF DALIT PARTY POLITICS?

Modern Political parties are the key political institutions in representative regime, expected to nominate candidates for public offices, formulate policies and set agenda for general public and mobilizing support for candidates in an election (Hasan 2002). Some of these functions are performed by other institutions too. The important factor that distinguishes parties is their emphasis on linkage. Political parties are the key link between individuals, the state and the society. They provide the crucial connection between social process and policymakers and influence debates and policies on issues affecting the interests of various social groups in the political system. Hence party politics is vital for emancipation of marginalized groups.

In Tamil Nadu, major parties have not come forward to address the Dalit issues seriously due to the compulsions of the competitive electoral equations. In 1999, the Tamil Manila Congress initiated a third front inviting a large number of Dalit and Muslim parties in 1999 assembly elections, but failed to win even a single seat. The Vanniyar caste [PMK] literally won against the Thirumavalavan [the leader of Dalit Panthers Party]

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in Chidambaram constituency [where 35 % of the population is Dalit] which raised questions on what happens to dalits when they asserts their political rights (Hugo Gorringe 2005).

Hugo Gorringe (2005) finds that the dalit parties are driven by factionalism, personalism, contradictions and particularism. To elucidate, he draws in the intra-dalit violence which took place in Puthupatti due to the difference of opinion between Pallars and Paraiyars, which led to bloodshed in the southcentral district of Viruthunagar in 1999.

Gorringe insists the necessity of collective Dalit identity to bring forth meaningful change in the dalit conditions through electoral politics. On the contrary, he finds Dalit people split into different sub groups, each working for its own group and thereby increasing hatred and suspicion in the minds of people.

CONCLUSION

While the 73rd amendment (political inclusion/ representation of dalits) is progressive, the country is still firmly under the grip of traditional system of caste and social relations. There comes the contradiction which Dr. Ambedkar talks about. On January 26, 1950, we are going to enter into a life of contradictions. In politics we will have equality and in social and economic life we will have inequality. In politics, we will be recognizing the principle of one man-one vote and one vote-one value. In our social and economic life, we shall by reason of our social and economic structure, continue to deny the principle of one man-one value(Chandrapal: 2).

Thus it is clear that the country has not prepared for any changes in the economic and social relations while planning for political equality. Perhaps, the 73rd amendment reflects the governments good intention of inclusion in governance and 'planning from below. However, to break the resistance of the dominant communities is a vexatious issue. Hence, as Dreze and Sen (2002) rightly point out the practice of local democracy is also a form of wider political education. In the context of the village politics, social activists should help people to organise, to question established patrons of authority, and help them in demanding their right. If not, the whole inclusive agenda will callously fail.

Endnote G.OMs.No.105, RD & PR (C4), Ministry of Rural Development and Panchayat Raj, Government of Tamilnadu

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