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 0199088829, 9780199088829

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Panthers in Parliament: Dalits, Caste, and Political Power in South India Hugo Gorringe

Print publication date: 2017 Print ISBN-13: 9780199468157 Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: March 2017 DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199468157.001.0001

Title Pages Hugo Gorringe

(p.i) Panthers in Parliament (p.iii) Panthers in Parliament

(p.iv) Oxford University Press is a department of the University of Oxford. It furthers the University’s objective of excellence in research, scholarship, and education by publishing worldwide. Oxford is a registered trademark of Oxford University Press in the UK and in certain other countries. Published in India by Oxford University Press YMCA Library Building, 1 Jai Singh Road, New Delhi 110 001, India. © Oxford University Press 2017 The moral rights of the authors have been asserted. First Edition published in 2017 All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in

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Endorsement

Panthers in Parliament: Dalits, Caste, and Political Power in South India Hugo Gorringe

Print publication date: 2017 Print ISBN-13: 9780199468157 Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: March 2017 DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199468157.001.0001

Endorsement Hugo Gorringe

(p.ii) ‘This excellent book explores the effect institutionalization of the Liberation Panthers—both in terms of theory and on the ground—has had on the Dalit movement in Tamil Nadu. While studies of social movement transitions focus on formal institutional change, this commendable work provides rich ethnographic insights into the process of transformation. An underlying perceptive argument is that representation of one section of the marginalized does not change overall structures of caste discrimination. A well-researched study, it will be valuable for understanding Dalit movements facing similar dilemmas and changeovers elsewhere in India.’ —Sudha Pai Former Professor, Centre for Political Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, India ‘Rich and reflexive ethnography of the doing of democracy by that vibrant party of the under-castes, the Liberation Panthers (Viduthalai Chiruthaigal) of Tamil Nadu, this is an extremely readable account that captures the complex mix of intentions, acts, and anticipated outcomes of a politics of justice and its coming to terms with questions of power, rule, and governance.’ —V. Geetha Social historian and publisher from Tamil Nadu, India

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Endorsement

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Dedication

Panthers in Parliament: Dalits, Caste, and Political Power in South India Hugo Gorringe

Print publication date: 2017 Print ISBN-13: 9780199468157 Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: March 2017 DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199468157.001.0001

Dedication Hugo Gorringe

(p.v) Dedicated to the memory of my mum, whose quiet determination, willingness to see the best in people and question injustice demonstrated how everyday actions can change things: ‘The effect of her being on those around her was incalculably diffusive: for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life.’ (George Elliot, Middlemarch)

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Epigraph

Panthers in Parliament: Dalits, Caste, and Political Power in South India Hugo Gorringe

Print publication date: 2017 Print ISBN-13: 9780199468157 Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: March 2017 DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199468157.001.0001

Epigraph Hugo Gorringe

(p.vi) We feel that nobody can remove our grievances as well as we can, and we cannot remove them unless we get political power in our own hands. —(Ambedkar 1982: 505) It is a national shame that there are two villages in every area. One is the caste village and the other is the Dalit village. There are two habitations in every village. Without eradicating untouchability, we cannot develop democracy. —(Thirumavalavan MP, Maiden Speech in Lok Sabha, 2009)

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Foreword

Panthers in Parliament: Dalits, Caste, and Political Power in South India Hugo Gorringe

Print publication date: 2017 Print ISBN-13: 9780199468157 Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: March 2017 DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199468157.001.0001

(p.ix) Foreword Surinder S. Jodhka

THIS BOOK PROVIDES A FASCINATING account of the complex dynamics of Indian democracy: a story that focuses on political mobilizations of the exuntouchable castes, the Dalits, and the undercurrents of their participation and involvement with electoral political processes. Though the book has a microempirical focus on a rather small community of Tamil Nadu, a southern Indian state, its scope is quite extensive. Not only does the author invoke a range of theoretical literature from a variety of social, historical, and geographical contexts, the engagement with Dalit political mobilizations and their institutionalization through political party formation and electoral participation also has a critical nuance with many comparative implications. The Indian experience of the gradual spread of democratic politics and its irresistible appeal to those who have historically been on the margins of social, economic, and political life in a rigidly unequal society is by itself an extremely interesting case for a serious study of social and political change within a democratic framework. Barring a few exceptions, the founding leaders of Indian democracy, who framed its dominant social and economic vision during the initial years after Independence, had a rather simple and mostly non-political view of caste. The Nehruvian imaginations of the future of modern India did not see caste to have any place in a democratic (p.x) political system. It was to go away with the process of development and modernization of the Indian economy. Introduction and spread of democracy was to also work as an agency of social change that was to dissolve caste-based ascriptive identities into interest and ideology-based associational collectivities. Caste was to inevitably wither away with time.

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Foreword It did not take the students of Indian society very long to figure out the fallacy of such an anticipation. To the surprise of some, despite its western origins, democracy as a system of representative politics and governance was accepted rather easily in India. However, the reality of caste remained firm and grounded, only to become sharper with time. Contrary to the popular textbook view, caste was not simply a static tradition of the ancient past, which was to disintegrate and dissolve with the dawn of modernity unleashed by the twin processes of development and democracy. Over the years, while caste has come to be seen as an important variable in the democratic politics of India, popular journalistic narratives have increasingly appropriated discussions on the subject where the politics of caste-based identities is almost always carried out in generic terms. However, the experiences of politicization and participation vary significantly across the different strata of the system. Caste has always been a system of hierarchies, exclusions, and dominations. The experience of participation in democratic politics varies depending on the position of the group in these hierarchies. Everyone does not participate on an equal footing. Hugo Gorringe in this book extends his earlier work on Dalit mobilizations in Tamil Nadu. The book offers a vivid and surprisingly balanced account of what he describes as institutionalization of radical Dalit politics through their decision to participate in the electoral politics. As mentioned earlier, even though he focuses on a rather small political party, identified almost exclusively with the Dalits, he is able to explore many diverse dimensions of the process, ranging from theoretical issues raised in the literature on social movements, questions of changing realities of caste in contemporary times, and the intricacies of electoral politics to the aspirations, perceptions, and frustrations of those who actively identified with the radical Dalit movement, to the real successes of the movement which would have (p.xi) been hard to achieve without being part of the system and also its failures, the costs and compromises of the Panthers choosing to sit in the parliament over roaring for change from the outside. While much has changed in caste relations and political dynamics in relation to Dalits in the state of Tamil Nadu, Gorringe also shows us through his rich ethnographic interviews that the reality of caste-based inequalities and humiliations have not yet gone away. The Panthers sitting in the parliament also recognize this. It is this context that makes Gorringe conclude with a quote from one of his respondents that the process of their institutionalization has indeed been able to ‘tame’ them but they have not been ‘entirely domesticated as yet’. Surinder S. Jodhka Professor, Centre for the Study of Social Systems, School of Social Sciences, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. (p.xii)

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Foreword

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Preface

Panthers in Parliament: Dalits, Caste, and Political Power in South India Hugo Gorringe

Print publication date: 2017 Print ISBN-13: 9780199468157 Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: March 2017 DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199468157.001.0001

(p.xiii) Preface Hugo Gorringe

IT IS A WELL-ESTABLISHED TRUTH that power corrupts. When you combine this with the oft-repeated adage, attributed to Samuel Johnson, that ‘politics is the last resort of scoundrels’, then it is easy to see why so many radical challengers and inspiring protest leaders disappoint their followers on attaining office. So universal is this finding that there is a whole theory of ‘institutionalization’ explaining how movements tend to lose their radicalism and become more bureaucratic upon entering institutions. Back in 1999, as I completed my doctoral fieldwork, a radical and militant organization called the Liberation Panther Movement (Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi or VCK) took the momentous decision to abandon extra-institutional protests and contest elections. Activists at the time feared that the move into politics would result in compromise and a weakening of the fighting spirit that had helped the Panthers shake up social norms in south India. Given their trackrecord of speaking truth to power and the close ties between leaders and people at the grassroots, however, several cadre and commentators felt that the Viduthalai Chiruthaigal had the potential to render parliamentary institutions more democratic and accountable. The genesis of this book project, accordingly, was simple: to return to Tamil Nadu to chart what impact institutionalization had had on (p.xiv) the Panthers. Had they altered parliamentary institutions to better reflect the voices and concerns of the marginalized Dalits whom they represent, or had they followed in the footsteps of previous radicals in losing their radicalism? Had they changed society or adapted to it? Had they secured new gains and advantages for their

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Preface constituents, or had Dalits lost a powerful advocate to the machinations of ‘normal politics’? Whilst these are the questions that animate the book, the research had two further objectives. First, it aimed to probe into the reasons why so many wellintentioned and passionate actors are neutered by the process of institutionalization. Whilst disgruntled activists maintain that ‘politics is a sewer’, there is little explanatory value in such assertions. It fails to account for examples of integrity in office for a start, but it also says little about the process by which movements are diluted. There are many accounts of the structural changes accompanying professionalization in the literature, but there is less reflection on why organizations let themselves lose their radicalism or what they hope to gain in the process. A central aim of this book is to offer a detailed portrayal of a party in the throes of change and an insight into the social relationships and networks into which they are inducted. Eschewing a formal, institutional account of the process, the book seeks to capture the mundane and everyday ways in which transformative actors are themselves transformed and the changes they produce in others. This last point is important, since studies of social movement transitions to politics have frequently focused on the formal political or institutional outcomes of activism. The second goal of the book is to move beyond narrow examinations of politics and incorporate an analysis of the wider social norms and practices within which politics occurs. This is particularly important here, since the Panthers emerged not just as a citizenship movement seeking to expand representation, but as a movement of excluded and stigmatized castes in a hierarchical society. Social change in a context of social domination, as Civil Rights activists in the United States and liberation fighters in South Africa find, is not complete with the elevation of one of the marginalized groups to a position of power. (p.xv) If movements fail to represent those experiencing discrimination and facing ostracism, then the fact that one of their own is in power will be meaningless to the vast majority. As B. R. Ambedkar,1 the first law minister of India and visionary leader of the Dalit cause, put it: ‘So long as you do not achieve social liberty, whatever freedom is provided by the law is of no avail to you.’ In evaluating the performance of the Panthers, therefore, due attention must be paid to changes in caste structures and attitudes as well as political ones. (p.xvi) Notes:

(1) Ambedkar, B. 1936. ‘What Path to Salvation’, Speech delivered to the Bombay Presidency Mahar Conference, 31st May 1936, Bombay. Translated by Vasant

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Preface Moon (Accessed 16/11/2016): http://www.columbia.edu/itc/mealac/pritchett/ 00ambedkar/txt_ambedkar_salvation.html

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Acknowledgements

Panthers in Parliament: Dalits, Caste, and Political Power in South India Hugo Gorringe

Print publication date: 2017 Print ISBN-13: 9780199468157 Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: March 2017 DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199468157.001.0001

(p.xvii) Acknowledgements Hugo Gorringe

THIS BOOK HAS HAD A long gestation and the debts I have incurred to many people along the way are numerous as a result. Space and consideration for the readers prevents an exhaustive catalogue of all those who have shaped this volume over the years but the acknowledgements are lengthy nonetheless. I can only apologize in advance to those who are not personally mentioned in what follows: Please do not read my forgetfulness for ingratitude! The book is richer for the many conversations I have had, the comments I have received, and all that I have read even if they are not cited here. That said, the manuscript would not have been possible without the assistance of the following. I would like to acknowledge the generous funding of the Carnegie Trust for the Universities of Scotland which funded a pilot trip in 2010 and the Economic and Social Research Council whose grant (RES-062-23-3348) facilitated the extended period of fieldwork in 2012 on which this volume is based. The research would have been impossible without these awards. The data still needed to be turned into a publication, though, and here I am immensely grateful to the two anonymous reviewers and the team at OUP for their patience, encouragement, and editorial input. (p.xviii) I have gained a huge amount from the feedback of colleagues. Those based at the University of Edinburgh, in sociology, and the Centre for South Asian Studies have endured multiple presentations and discussions with supportive insights. Roger Jeffery, who was a co-investigator on the grant, has been a source of advice and encouragement from the outset and offered valuable comments on the final draft. Jacob Copeman, Tony Good, Radhika Govinda, Patricia Jeffery, Jeevan Sharma, Jonathan Spencer, Kanchana Ruwanpura, and Wilfried Swenden have offered interdisciplinary debate. Within sociology, Page 1 of 3

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Acknowledgements colleagues have been incredibly supportive and encouraging. Ross Bond, Claire Haggett, Michael Rosie, and Sue Renton have borne the brunt of moans, as has Julie Brownlie, who also read through and dissected the introduction. I must also thank all the enthusiastic graduate students I have worked with, especially in recent years: Supurna Banerjee, Shruti Chaudhry, Alex Hensby, Mor Kandlik, Margarita Kominou, Miriam Snellgrove, A. Vinnarasan (who helped with translation), and Suryakant Waghmore all of whose work intersects with mine. Further afield, a network of scholars working on caste and Tamil politics have sharpened my analysis (they cannot be blamed for residual bluntness) in workshops and seminars. Geert de Neve and Grace Carswell are doing amazing work in this area and offered invaluable and timely advice on researching with a family. Andrew Wyatt has been a constant source of encouragement and acted as a sounding board for key debates. Michael Collins, whose own work on the VCK promises to break new ground, met me in the field and has continued discussions away from it. S. Anandhi, Gajendran Ayyathurai, John Harriss, Judith Heyer, Craig Jeffery, Surinder Jodhka, Karin Kapadia, Jim Manor, David Mosse, Sudha Pai, Nitya Rao, Nate Roberts, Clarinda Still, K. C. Suri, M. Vijaybaskar, and Rupa Viswanath have all been particularly stimulating and insightful over the course of the research. A version of Chapter 2 was first conceived for a volume edited by Surinder S. Jodhka and Jim Manor. The chapter in this volume has been significantly altered, but benefitted from their comments and those from Judith Heyer and John Harriss. Chapters 3 and 4 cover themes similar to an article published in Studies in Indian Politics (p.xix) (March, 2016). Chapter 5 was presented several times but received detailed feedback at a workshop organized by Rupa Viswanath, and Gajendran Ayyathurai. Lisa Bjorkman, Michael Collins, Nicolas Jaoul, Nate Roberts, John Harriss, and the organizers offered valuable insights. Chapter 7 was presented at an event convened by Andrew Wyatt who offered detailed comments as did Judith Heyer, John Harriss, and Karthikeyan. They cannot be blamed for lingering problems and errors. The work itself rested on the willingness of participants to speak to me. Most not only gave up their precious time to share opinions and views, but were incredibly hospitable in the process. VCK leaders Thirumavalavan, Sannah, Ravikumar, and Pandiyammal all received me with warmth and facilitated the research. Meena Kandasamy offered a passionate account of Dalit politics and an example of how to write caste violence in The Gypsy Goddess (2014). Nandan Maniratnam was a fount of knowledge on the workings of Tamil politics. The Intellectual Circle for Dalit Actions (ICDA) including J. Balasubramaniam, A. Jegannathan, C. Lakshmanan, Stalin Rajangam, and Anbu Selvam were, and remain a source of intellectual stimulation. The Dalit Resource Centre remains a vital resource. Karuna Miryam, Shashank Kela, Mahil, and Lyra, as well as Thambu and Ojas, accommodated us on trips to Chennai. Inba, Prema, and Sam Page 2 of 3

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Acknowledgements hosted us in Bengaluru, and Rani and Lavanya looked after us in Kodi. In Madurai, Nesamani, Johnson, Golda, and Ida were a constant source of support as were Edwin, Rajathi, and Nico. Edwin and Inba are childhood friends and have been there since the dawn of my interest in these issues. Gabriele Dietrich and Bas Wielenga (who sadly passed away as the book was being finalized) always inspired critical thinking as well as friendship. Two people in particular deserve special mention: Karthikeyan was a journalist with The Hindu during my fieldwork and introduced me to many people. He discussed ideas and wrote opinion pieces with me before enrolling as a doctoral student at Edinburgh where he has offered news, feedback, and comments on the whole process. Tamizh Murasu, who stood alongside me in 1999 recording Thirumavalavan’s speeches, accompanied me on many trips around the state to interview people in 2012. His networks and ties helped (p.xx) gain access that would have been impossible otherwise, and he was an excellent companion too. Finally, the book required support from friends and family. My dad was completing yet another book of his own: however, he found time to read through a whole draft and comment on it; therefore, readers have fewer connectives to endure. Magdalen, Shivaji, Ishaan, and Kiran, Gill, Lou, Edu, Luca, and Mila, Simon, Donna, Shane, and Alexander, Mark, Kerstin, Iona, and Siri all deserve thanks. Iona, Alfy, and Carenza were with us in Tamil Nadu, where Kabir was born. They helped ease the difficulties of fieldwork that Mai, Jo, and Danny had to endure. They did so with great humour and fortitude and bore with my absences and the mosquitoes and heat to enable this research to happen. Mai has not only kept us all alive and afforded me the time and space to write, but read through drafts, and put up with me through the process. It could not have been written without her and I cannot thank her enough.

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Glossary

Panthers in Parliament: Dalits, Caste, and Political Power in South India Hugo Gorringe

Print publication date: 2017 Print ISBN-13: 9780199468157 Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: March 2017 DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199468157.001.0001

(p.xxi) Glossary Hugo Gorringe

AAP Aam Aadmi Party (Common People’s Party) grew out of the anticorruption protests and was registered as a party in 2012. It has gained power in Delhi and has fielded candidates across India. Adi-Dravida Original Dravidian, the term adopted by Dalits in Tamil Nadu to refer to themselves. It was adopted by the Tamil government and is the official term used today. Confusingly, in self-completion surveys, and everyday usage, Adi-Dravida is often coterminous with Paraiyar. ATP Adi-Tamilar Peravai (Original Tamilian Front). This is an Arunthathiyar movement founded in 1994 by Athiyamaan. It was launched in Coimbatore but is stronger in southern districts. AIADMK The All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, Tamil political party founded in 1972 by M.G. Ramachandran and now led by J. Jayalalithaa. (p.xxii) Ambedkar, Dr B. R. (1891–1956) Known as ‘Babasaheb’, he was a leader of India’s Dalits. As India’s first law minister, he chaired the Constitution’s drafting committee. Believing that Hinduism could not be reformed, he led his followers to convert to Buddhism in 1956 at a mass ceremony in Nagpur shortly before his death. ATVI Arun Tamilar Viduthalai Iyyakkam (Original Tamils’ Liberation Movement). This was established in the 2000s by Jakkaian, and was in the forefront in campaigning for a sub-quota for Arunthathiyars. In Page 1 of 5

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Glossary 2016 it transformed itself into the Adi-Tamilar Katchi (Original Tamilian Party) and sought a seat in the PWF. Arunthathiyar The most deprived of the three main Scheduled Castes in Tamil Nadu. Arunthathiyar is the name most people in the community use. They used to be termed Chakkiliyars but this terminology is rejected as demeaning now, and are variously known as Madaris, Adi-Andhras, or Thotis. BC See OBC or Other Backward Classes. BJP Bharatiya Janata Party, founded in 1980 as a successor to the Bharatiya Jana Sangh Party; the BJP-led coalition governments and provided the prime minister from 1998 to 2004. It gained a majority in the 2014 elections. Brahmin Highest of the four varnas, the priestly caste. BSP Bahujan Samaj Party (Majority People’s Party), a political party founded by Kanshi Ram in 1984. The BSP is a national party, but is strongest in Uttar Pradesh where it (p.xxiii) has secured state power under its leader Mayawati. cheri The Tamil name for the traditional Dalit settlements on the outskirts of a village. Dalit Modern, politically correct term for ex-Untouchables, the lowest category in the caste system, outside and below the four varnas; literally ‘the oppressed’. DK Dravida Kazhagam (Dravidian Federation) was founded by E. V. Ramaswamy or Periyar in 1944. It was a rationalist movement that called for a Dravidian nation and fought against the social evils of caste and religion. DMK Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam or DMK (Dravidian Progressive Federation) is an ethno-nationalist Tamil political party. It was founded in 1949 by C. Annadurai as a breakaway from Periyar’s DK. DMDK Desiya Morpokku Dravida Kazhagam (National Progressive Dravidian Federation) is a Tamil party that was founded in 2005 by filmstar Vijayakanth. DPI

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Glossary Dalit Panthers of India or Movement (Iyakkam, Tamil Nadu), originated in 1982 as the Tamil branch of the Dalit Panthers of India. It was initially led by Malaichamy but Thirumavalavan became leader in 1990 and renamed the movement the Liberation Panthers (Viduthalai Chiruthaigal). Since entering electoral competition in 1999, they have become known as the Liberation Panther Party (VCK). Gounder A dominant caste of landowners in the western regions of the state. Katta Panchayat Kangaroo court. Katta is Tamil for bad, and the phrase refers to illicit panchayats or gatherings that impose decisions by diktat. (p.xxiv) They are commonly associated with caste dominance and power, but have assumed new forms in a liberalizing economy. MBC Most Backward Classes; a less privileged set of castes and groups in the OBC category who are now entitled to targeted allocation of resources. MDMK Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (Renaissance DMK) was established by V. Gopalsamy (Vaiko) in 1994 after he was forced out of the DMK because he was seen as a threat to the popularity of Karunanidhi’s son Stalin. OBC Other Backward Classes (Indian official term for those low castes who are neither Dalits nor tribals but suffer from educational and economic backwardness). Pallar Pallars are the most developed of the three main SCs in Tamil Nadu. They are numerically predominant in southern districts. In recent years there have been campaigns to abandon the name Pallar and reclaim an ‘exalted past’ in which they were not Untouchables, but kingly ‘Mallars’. Panchayat (i) Literally and originally ‘rule of five [elders]’, that is, supposedly ‘traditional’ local or caste councils widely found across South Asia; hence the name was adopted for (ii) democratically elected local councils, the new institutions of local self-government in India after Independence. Paraiyar Paraiyars or Adi-Dravidas are the most numerically populous SC in Tamil Nadu. PMK

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Glossary Pattali Makkal Katchi or ‘Toiler’s Party’, supported predominantly by Vanniyars in Tamil Nadu. Founded by S. Ramadoss in (p.xxv) July 1989 as the political organization of the Vanniyar Union. PT Puthiya Tamizhagam or New Tamil Nadu Party, formed in 1998, and led by Dr K. Krishnasamy. Its supporters are largely from the Dalit Pallar caste and it grew out of the Devendra Kullar Vellalar (an honorific title for Pallars) Federation. PWF People’s Welfare Front (sometimes referred to as the People’s Welfare Association). A Third Front set up in advance of the 2016 State Elections consisting of the VCK, MDMK, and the two communist parties. They raised demands for an end to casteism, corruption, and alcoholism. They were joined late in the day by the DMDK and the TMC. SC Scheduled Castes, the official Indian term for those formerly untouchable castes placed ‘on the schedule’ for receipt of ‘reservations’, that is, positive discrimination. ST Scheduled Tribe, the official Indian bureaucratic term for those tribal groups placed on the ‘schedule’ for receipt of ‘reservations’, that is, positive discrimination. SMO social movement organization. TMC Tamil Maanila Congress (Tamil State Congress); A breakaway faction of the Congress party in Tamil Nadu. The TMC was initially formed by G. K. Moopanar in 1996 but it merged back into Congress following his death. The party was revived in 2014 by his son G. K. Vasan. TT Tamil Tigers (Tamil Puligal); an Arunthathiyar movement led by Nagai (p.xxvi) Thiruvallavan. Contested one seat on the MDMK symbol as the Tamil Tiger Party in 2016. Thevar Thevars are OBCs, but constitute a dominant caste cluster in southern Tamil Nadu. Historically, they have been landowners and have a strong self-perception as a martial caste. Vanniyar Vanniyars are MBC groups concentrated in the northern districts. They are dominant landholders in this regions though many are structurally similar to SC. VCK

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Glossary See DPI. The Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (Liberation Panther Party), which first contested elections in 1999.

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Introduction

Panthers in Parliament: Dalits, Caste, and Political Power in South India Hugo Gorringe

Print publication date: 2017 Print ISBN-13: 9780199468157 Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: March 2017 DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199468157.001.0001

Introduction An Elegy for a Lost Movement? Hugo Gorringe

DOI:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199468157.003.0001

Abstract and Keywords The introduction outlines who the Panthers are and offers an overview of the complex and shifting relation between caste and politics in Tamil Nadu. Whilst movement participants are often reluctant to criticize their own leaders or organisation, many members of the party harked back to a golden age of protest and caste politics as a sewer that tainted those who engaged with it. The chapter observes how such disillusionment characterizes processes of institutionalization, and places the VCK within its socio-political context. It also details the research on which the book is based. Keywords:   Institutionalization, de-radicalization, Tamil politics, caste, Dalits

Power will not come through labour alone. If you plough a field you will be paid, if you carry baggage you will be paid, but power will not come like this. We cannot get power simply through labour. Power will only come when we develop our bargaining capacity. So, how do we get that bargaining capacity? When we become an organized political force, when we become an open political force, only then will we get the strength to confront, bargain, or fight with an already established political force. Thus there is a need for political mobilization to get power, and we see and approach everything from this perspective. —(Thirumavalavan speech, April 2012)1

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Introduction The spirit that was there before has gone now that they have become parties. That consciousness has been lost. If you think about how things were before the mass mobilization by the movements; that is what we have returned to. Each party is concerned only about its own development, about building themselves up…. The consciousness that was there in 1999 has evaporated. Not a lot has been achieved due to their entry into politics, apart from the consolidation of the parties. —(Rani, Interview, March 2012)

(p.2) Seizing Power or Ceding It? Captured in the two quotes above are the divergent perspectives of a party leader—anxious to justify his engagement with political institutions and consolidate his followers to maximize his impact—and a social activist, frustrated by the slow pace of change and disillusioned by the seeming deradicalization of a vibrant movement. In the late 1990s a radical group representing marginalized lower castes—those previously known as untouchables—transformed itself into a political party in south India in a bid to effect social change. The Viduthalai Chiruthaigal (VC), or Liberation Panthers, had shaken up social and political norms and relations in the southern state of Tamil Nadu and directly challenged the inequities of caste discrimination. For over a decade they had boycotted elections, questioning the legitimacy of institutions that allowed casteism to persist and failed to implement the constitutional provisions that prohibited untouchability and instituted affirmative action for the lowest castes. Activists, as an increasingly disengaged Panther recalled, were instructed to spoil their ballots with slogans such as: ‘None of you are honest, so none shall have our votes’ (Tamizh Murasu interview, June 2012). Rather than focusing their energies on canvassing for votes, the Panthers engaged in a mass awareness raising campaign that took the message of Dalit liberation to urban slums and remote villages, instilling a sense of pride, confidence, and empowerment in a hitherto marginalized population. When state repression and the alienation of the public from those described as extremists pushed the VCs into electoral politics, the decision was highly contentious and hotly debated. On the one hand were those who saw politics as a ‘sewer’ that would taint anyone who entered it; on the other were those who were worn down by repression, eager for some reward for their activism, or determined to alter institutions that have the means to improve people’s lives. As Thirumavalavan, the inspirational leader of the Panthers, put it above: abstaining from the institutions of interest mediation diminished their power to bargain, negotiate, or demand change. Whilst activists were wary of institutionalization, there was a real sense that they might unsettle and radicalize Tamil politics. Indeed, when they first contested elections as the Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (VCK: (p.3) Liberation Panther Party) in 1999, some elderly rural Dalits voted for the first time as they finally felt that they had Page 2 of 28

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Introduction a party that would represent them (Gorringe 2005). When I interviewed Sakthidasan, a young Dalit inspired by the VCK in rural Chidambaram in 1999, he captured this sense of change: We do not have that much faith in democracy, but for the first time a Dalit has stood as a Dalit and we have done our duty by voting for him. Whether he does anything for us or not is the next question, but our votes are for ourselves. (Interview, September 1999, in Gorringe 2005: 327) In casting themselves as an autonomous alternative to parties that had bought Dalit votes or used patronage to secure them, the entry of the VCK into electoral politics, seemingly had the potential to redress the ‘crisis of representation’ (Chandhoke 2005; Harriss 2007) in the state. The contentious nature of the decision to enter formal politics, however, was seen in Thirumavalavan’s insistence that political participation marked a change in tactics not principle and his promise that they would not hesitate to abandon the parliamentary path if it did not yield results (Gorringe 2005). Fifteen years on from my initial research, this book revisits Tamil politics to ask what has become of the political Panthers and of the aspirations of those who ‘voted for themselves’. The VCK today are still engaged in parliamentary politics and have increasingly been integrated into political alliances and institutions. In the Indian elections of April–May 2009, they made a significant breakthrough when their leader became the first representative from an autonomous Dalit party in Tamil Nadu to be elected to the Lok Sabha (lower house of the national parliament) as a Member of the Parliament (MP).2 During fieldwork in 2012, therefore, I expected party members to be upbeat. Instead, time and again I encountered party activists, leaders, and non-aligned intellectuals who were (p.4) despondent about the state of the party. Such was the level of criticism and disappointment that I was led to wonder why some respondents remained in the party at all: Seated on the front of the bike (a TVS 50) Tamizh Murasu kept up a stream of criticisms directed at Thirumavalavan and the VCK more generally. ‘Annan does not let secondary leaders like Sindhanai Selvan grow,’ he said, noting that this was the ‘same problem as Karunanidhi had with M. G. Ramachandran (MGR)’. Following multiple critiques of the party’s failure to act, its move to Tamil nationalism, and decline in radicalism, I finally felt moved to ask: ‘Why are you still in the party?’ He replied with a line he had used in conversations with me before and clearly wheeled out on similar occasions: ‘Look, just because my father is a drunkard, it does not mean that he is not my father anymore’. I noted that the analogy wasn’t entirely apt to which he responded: ‘Show me a better party and I’ll join it.’ (Field notes 27 June 2012)

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Introduction For all the criticisms of the party and condemnation of their direction, tactics, and alliances, very few of those levelling charges against the VCK were ready to give up on it just yet. In part this speaks to the difficulties attending identity change, as Kunnath (2009) eloquently shows in his study of Maoist groups in Bihar. When you have been closely associated with a group that has fought on your behalf and secured significant changes to local relations, then it can be hard to come to terms with the dilution of radicalism. Those who grew up idolizing Thirumavalavan and fighting alongside him cannot easily conceive of starting anew. Encapsulated here, we see the limitations of more instrumental analyses of why people vote or choose to act. Such decisions, as the quote above illustrates, cannot be divorced from people’s identities, emotions, and sense of who they are. Even activists who are disillusioned by the process of change feel a sense of belonging and attachment to the party that is hard to dismiss (cf. Flam and King 2005). Indeed, their frustration arises in large part precisely because of their attachment to the party and the aspirations they constructed around it. The reluctance to leave also, Tamizh Murasu continued, reflects a lack of alternatives: ‘There is not a better party available. If you can show me one such party, then tomorrow itself I will print a large banner and make a public show of joining them.’ I pointed out that this meant that there must still (p.5) be some value in the VCK and asked him what it had achieved. ‘They raised awareness and consciousness,’ he responded. ‘They stood strong and campaigned on Pappapatti [a Panchayat or local council which was reserved for a Scheduled Caste president, but where no elections were held for ten years3] and so on. Now we can stand in police stations and get respect from them. Also, Thirumavalavan’s speeches are still powerful,’ he continued, ‘and he has created self-confidence with his accounts of Paraiyars. We Paraiyars are said to have no warrior-like qualities, but he spoke at length about their work with dead bodies. He has spoken about the bravery entailed in being in cremation grounds at night when the flaming bodies rear up and have to be knocked back down again. No other caste could endure those horrors, he said in one of his speeches. If any others can do that work, I will dissolve the party tomorrow—speeches like that cannot be forgotten. Basically the party has been good up to a point, but has stalled. You need to take things forward don’t you? That is my big disappointment’. (Field notes 27 June 2012) This excerpt from my field notes captures the sentiments of most Dalits I spoke to in Tamil Nadu. When asked to describe the successes of the party, respondents spoke of having a voice in parliament or gaining access to resources through patronage networks, but they invariably looked back to the phase of mass mobilization and offered misty-eyed reminiscences of stirring speeches, clashes with police, or radical protests. People had to be pressed for

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Introduction outcomes that could be attributed to the party and its engagement with formal politics. In her analysis of Uttar Pradesh, Ciotti (2010a: 174) notes the ‘wide temporal gap’ between Dalits’ declining dependence on landlords and their political mobilization. There follows a significant temporal lag between mobilization and political achievement. It may, thus, be somewhat premature to dissect the political fortunes of the VCK, but this book is an exploration of political institutionalization and accounts of declining radicalism. It takes the formation of the VCK as its point of departure and asks: What happens when a protest movement renowned for hitting back against oppressors and extra-institutional radicalism enters the political mainstream? What happens to its core objectives and ideals? How does this (p.6) change the self-perception and identity of participants? How does it alter relations between the new party and established political players? To what extent, if at all, can it reform the existing system of political representation so that it better represents the concerns of the marginalized? What changes must the movement undergo to fit into the corridors of power? These questions are not, of course, specific to the Liberation Panthers. Social movement research is replete with examples of activists bemoaning the loss of radicalism that attends processes of institutionalization. McCarthy and Zald (1973) see institutionalization as incorporating certain realist valuations that are quite different to—and often at odds with—those of idealist activists. The opening quote (in this chapter) from Rani, an educated Dalit working in a non-governmental organization (NGO), points to this dynamic. On the one hand she speaks of parties developing themselves and establishing themselves as institutions, but on the other she speaks of a loss of radicalism and consciousness that has set the cause of ex-untouchables or Dalits back by a generation. In this sense, the book is a case study of a much wider question about what happens to protest movements once they adopt the path of institutional engagement, and contributes to wider studies on the accommodation of marginal actors into political institutions. Jawahar, a Dalit activist and advocate who now works in an educational institution, summed up the issues confronting the Panthers: Now, a party by definition has to compromise, and they [the VCK] have turned into a party. Since developing from a movement into a party they have had to totally change their attitude and approach and had to compromise on many issues. If you ask why; a party—a political party— must contest the elections, they need to gain votes in order to get MP and Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) seats. Now you can’t get a single MLA on the back of just Dalit votes…. It is only if you gain the general vote that you gain recognition and become an MLA. So then if you ask what happened, whilst it was a movement it stood firm on Dalit issues Page 5 of 28

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Introduction and had no other agenda. When it became a political party and entered the Legislative Assembly they had to take certain steps to gain entry to the national party. To forge ties with other parties they had to abandon some things and it was Dalit problems that they let fall. (Jawahar, Interview, March 2012) (p.7) This quote offers some sense of the soul-searching debates that characterize the formalization of a protest movement. Party loyalists, like Dhanapal, argue that ‘now that we are a party, if we want to hold a protest we get a response from officials, our voices are heard; we have the opportunity to interact with alliance partners’ (Interview, March 2012). From this perspective, the gains of political engagement are writ large in the legitimacy and political recognition that it affords, but contesting elections requires a different approach to that used in protesting against abuses. One obvious point is the need to reach out to voters from other castes. The suggestion from Jawahar above is that this entails the dilution of specific issues and the adoption of a more common platform, which begs the question: H: If you let Dalit issues fall then how will Dalit people follow you?

J: That is precisely the problem at the moment. It is the key issue that Dalit movements or parties have to solve. (Jawahar, Interview, March 2012)

This quote introduces the second main strand of the research presented here: the particularities of caste politics in south India. Whilst activists endorsing any cause may decry the loss of radicalism entailed in political participation, those hailing from minorities are also wary of co-option and the dilution of their struggles that accompanies the selective accommodation of some members of their group. Affirmative action policies mean that certain constituencies are reserved for, and can only be contested by, Dalit candidates. The enduring concern of activists has been that such candidates only represent their parties and themselves rather than their community. Dalit movements arose from a sense that their concerns and interests were not being adequately represented by ‘political pawns’. If their champions, in turn, are neutralized, then—as Rani suggests earlier and Kunnath’s (2009) work shows—Dalits really are back to square one. Crucially, the caste dimension of Panther politics requires us to extend our horizons beyond formal institutions to capture the social relationships and norms of caste society. Dalits have habitually been excluded, marginalized, and ostracized. A key issue confronting a Dalit party, by this token, is what impact it has had on the social standing and status of Dalits.

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Introduction (p.8) If the core of the book addresses political institutionalization in a caste context, the underlying argument stresses the need for research and analysis that captures the feelings, attitudes, and perceptions of political actors. It seeks, in the tradition of political ethnography, to expand the narrow definitions of politics that limit our understanding of how institutions work (Schatz 2009). Were we to measure the success of the VCK in formal institutional terms, looking at seats won and vote-share in each election for example, we would conclude that they are a small party with negligible impact. To confine ourselves to an analysis of seats contested and won, however, would be misguided. Whilst such indicators are of obvious significance for a political party, political recognition in this context extends beyond electoral outcomes. A full analysis of the VCK needs to probe their interaction with, and possible effect on, other parties and changing social relations more generally since one of the aims of political participation was to reduce the levels of violence that Dalits faced and to challenge the persistent exclusion of Dalits from full citizenship (Gorringe 2005; Waghmore 2013). Herzog (1987) notes how often small or ‘minor’ parties receive scant attention since they are deemed to be insignificant. Drawing on Herzog’s research Suri (2016) has recently called for more research on small parties in India not only because they are interesting in their own right, but also because they shine a light on wider political processes and structures. Since becoming a party, the VCK has been championing the Tamil nationalist position as a means of growing beyond its core Dalit base, which has led it into unlikely alliances. Arun (2007) notes how the VCK emerged in part to contest the dominance of the Vanniyar focused Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK :Toiling People’s Party) in northern districts of the state. Vanniyars constitute a dominant caste in the region and resent the increasing independence and assertion of Dalits, yet the two organizations joined hands in the Tamil Protection Movement (TPM). For many Dalit activists this was an anathema, but Thirumavalavan (2009: 27) insisted that the coalition made sense: ‘Though we are in conflict over caste eradication we are one on Tamil nationalism. Joining together on this issue can build trust between us.’ The emphasis on Tamil identity may have made pragmatic political sense and had the potential to reduce caste violence, but it challenged Panther activists’ sense of who they (p.9) were and what they stood for. Kunnath (2009: 321) notes a similar sense of loss and confusion amongst his Dalit respondents when the organization they belonged to ‘sought to incorporate the interests of the middle peasants.’ Choice of tactics or strategy are often seen to be the preserve of political leaders, but these are rarely decisions about which grassroots members or protestors are indifferent. Actions and campaigns express the moral visions and political identities of protestors as well as ideologies (Benford and Hunt 1995: 95). ‘The identity of a protestor’, as Jasper puts it, ‘may be that of someone who attends rallies and marches, or somebody who sabotages corporate labs. … These are quite distinct identities, and there is no reason to think that it is easy Page 7 of 28

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Introduction to switch from one to another’ (1997: 246). The shift from protest to politics for VCK activists, this highlights, entails more than a simple change of strategy. It required those who saw themselves as radical Dalits—who vowed to ‘hit back’ against caste oppressors—to rethink how to define themselves and how to respond in any given situation. The shift in self-definition from Dalit to Tamil is not just a superficial change of label, but a process that can have a deep-seated impact on the activists involved. Consequently, there was a note of real regret in the reflections of activists, when I interviewed them about the party in 2012. As one local leader of the VCK in Madurai put it: Thirumavalavan lifted us up and gave us a voice and brought us out of the mire. He brought us out of the caste-entrenched villages and empowered us. No one can gainsay that, but if the party does not change its ways soon it will fade. (Karvanan, Interview, 2012) Encapsulated here is one of the major issues affecting new parties. They are faced by the dual need to keep past activists onside even as they seek to reach out beyond the activist core. In the process they can end up pleasing no one. The party cadre feel as though their ideals are being watered down, whilst others still view them with suspicion. The result can be a form of political paralysis. As one sympathetic Dalit activist and observer noted: Now their ideals, demands, and ideology have sedimented. We say this in Tamil—when you leave a glass of water and the mud and so on settles at the bottom of the water. Before, when they were active, they were driven (p.10) by ideology but now that is stagnant. It has been diluted. (Chezhian Interview, 2012) Mani, a young Dalit man working as an office assistant in Madurai, captured the sense of deflation, resignation, and disillusionment that often attends institutionalization: I was a bit engaged with stuff earlier on, but after a while I realized that all the leaders are the same. Once they became parties and got into politics then they behave just like the other politicians and parties. It is about power and money and less about the principles that got them there in the first place. You know how they got into politics—the upsurge of people that took them there—but they seem to have forgotten all that. (Interview, February 2012) In seeking to research a new political party, in other words, I was overwhelmed by nostalgia for a lost movement, but to base one’s analysis of a party on the musings of ageing or frustrated radicals does little justice to anyone; the movement is illustrated by what no longer happens and the party is castigated for what it is not rather than what it is. In what follows, therefore, I draw on intensive ethnographic fieldwork to offer a rounded analysis of the trials and Page 8 of 28

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Introduction tribulations of institutionalization as a process and, more specifically, of a Dalit party and a caste society in the throes of change. In so doing, I pay due attention both to the elegiac recollections of disillusioned cadres and to the more pragmatic considerations of party activists.

Assessing Allegations, Writing Up Rumours? Methods of Research In their introduction to an edited volume of political ethnographies, Auyero and Joseph (2007) lament the fact that political ethnography remains the exception rather than the norm given its ability to capture day-to-day politics and chart processes of signification and change. The need for ethnographic research in this context is compelling, since the numbers do not begin to tell the story of VCK participation. One significant difference between the late 1990s and the 2010s, for example, relates to the wider acceptance of Dalit leaders and their opinions. Dalit parties’ success is writ large in their increased visibility, in their higher profile, and in the airing of their (p.11) leaders’ opinions in the media. English translations of speeches by party leader Thirumavalavan (2003, 2004) and analysis by VCK Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA), Ravikumar (2009), indicate the extent to which they have been exposed to wider audiences. Both Roberts (2010) and Omvedt (2003) point to significant changes in terms of Dalits now having someone to speak up for them and place their concerns on the agenda. In a context characterized by caste conflict, this is no mean feat. Both these authors acknowledge the potential pitfalls of political institutionalization and that their analyses rely heavily on movement speeches and writings. This book, takes up these points and builds on such work by offering insights into the perceptions and actions of rank-and-file Dalit activists and voters about the VCK’s political integration. The need to get beyond the articulations of Dalit leaders and macro-analysts is exemplified by a recent study of Dalit politics in Uttar Pradesh. Contesting accounts of a ‘Dalit revolution’, Jeffrey et al. (2008: 1366) critique the tendency to focus on state- or national-level—impacts of political shifts at the expense of ‘people’s consciousness of political change’. Their work (Jeffrey et al. 2008: 1391) highlights a ‘marked disjuncture between formal political change and ground-level political realities’ (2008: 1392; cf. Jeffery et al. 2001), and demonstrates that many claims made about Dalit priorities and political views have ‘not been adequately field-tested’ (Jeffrey et al. 2008: 1391). Gorringe (2005) noted similar disparities between rhetoric on women’s rights and activists’ practices in Tamil Nadu, which cautions us against reading people’s actions from the utterances of their leaders. Indeed, there were some suggestions in 2012 that the actions of leaders might be antithetical to those of Dalits on the ground. As one prominent NGO activist put it: ‘Dalit parties have abandoned their objectives and demands and let down their people. When I take up cases, I now have three opponents: police, caste Hindus, and Dalit parties’ (Vimarcakar Interview, 2012).

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Introduction We cannot, thus, assume that Dalit parties represent the views of movement activists or that they are perceived as offering a political alternative. Omvedt (2003) notes how the Bahujan Samaj Party or BSP’s incorporation of non-Dalit members eroded its core support-base. Similarly, the VCK has recently tried to embrace other castes and campaign on general issues, but many Dalit members are (p.12) ambivalent at best about this and some even see it as betraying the anti-caste struggle. Electoral alliances, votes polled, and seats contested are useful indicators of political recognition but they say little about the microdynamics of caste politics. News reports in 2000, for example, suggested that members of established parties refused to campaign or vote for coalition partners if they were Dalit parties (Gorringe 2007). Likewise, Wyatt (2010a: 121) notes that non-Dalit cadres were reluctant to endorse autonomous Dalit candidates and chose to canvass in neighbouring constituencies or field independent candidates instead. Ethnographic research (Jeffrey et al. 2008; Gorringe 2005) demonstrates how vital it is to chart people’s perceptions of socio-political changes and to capture the local dynamics of political contestation. It can enhance understanding of two main barriers to Dalit political integration: their acceptance as political equals by other parties and how their supporters interpret the party’s performance. ‘Ethnography’, as Auyero (2006: 258) puts it, ‘is uniquely equipped to look microscopically at the foundations of political institutions and their attendant sets of practices, just as it is ideally suited to explain why political actors behave the way they do and to identify the causes, processes, and outcomes that are part and parcel of political life’. The research on which this volume is based was conducted over a period of ten months from January to October in 2012, with a short ten-day follow-up in late November/early December. During this period, I was based in Madurai—the temple city in south central Tamil Nadu. The decision to focus on Madurai district—rather than Chennai, the seat of political power in the state—was made for three inter-related reasons. First, the Madurai district is a stronghold of Dalit activism. The VCK emerged in the city and other Dalit parties and organizations (such as the Tamil Nadu Untouchability Eradication Front) and institutions (such as the Dalit Resource Centre) are based here. The district is also an area of high caste inequality, as highlighted by recent reports (Dorairaj 2010a and b). Second, the location enabled both rural and urban interviews and field visits to assess the consciousness and attitudes of Dalits towards the work of the VCK. While based here, trips were made to Delhi, Chennai, Bangalore, and other parts of the state to speak to key (p.13) respondents and visit key locations. Finally, the focus on Madurai allows for an element of longitudinal analysis, as I also carried out fieldwork here in 1998–9 and in 2010. This enabled me to use existing contacts built up over 30 years of living and working in Madurai and to reinterview activists I first spoke to before the VCK became a political party. I spent my childhood in the city of Madurai, meaning that I am not only fluent in Tamil, but also conversant with the intricacies of caste and politics in the region. Page 10 of 28

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Introduction Whilst clearly an ‘outsider’ in being a white, Western-educated researcher, I was able to draw on networks of friendship built up over decades in gaining access to respondents. The aim of the research was to chart the changes in Dalit politics that had occurred since the late 1990s, and build on my earlier research that charted the VCK’s transition from movement to political party (Gorringe 2012). As with the earlier fieldwork, research in 2012 was ethnographic and included interviews, participant observation, group discussions, and conversations in the urban enclaves of Madurai and its satellite villages. The intention here was to capture the diversity of individual and group experiences and chart the localized impact of political change. Participant observation at party events—usually in the crowd, but occasionally on the platform with party leaders—helped to contextualize interview findings and provided data on social interaction, caste discrimination, and everyday practices. I attended multiple events staged by the VCK and other Dalit movements in the state, observations from which were written up as field notes. I also made use of the archives housed in the Dalit Resource Centre and Social Analysis Centre in Madurai to collect media and NGO reports. Ethnography and archival work informed formal and informal interviews. In all, I conducted 62 formal and recorded interviews. The majority of these were with VCK activists or former activists, but there are also interviews with academics, Dalit intellectuals, and members of other organizations. Fifty-six of these interviews were with men and only six with women. This reflects the composition of my networks, but also speaks to the male dominance of postholders in the VCK. Twenty-seven of the interviews were conducted in rural areas and the rest in urban settings. A further 58 lengthy discussions (p.14) have been characterized as ‘informal interviews’. In these cases, respondents were happy to chat at length but either did not want to be recorded or be formally interviewed, or the interaction involved more than one person. In cases where naturally occurring groups were present, such as when I spoke to women in a village scarred by caste violence, I was happy to engage them in discussion and found that their internal interactions could be extremely informative (see also Gorringe 2005). In these instances, notes were taken as soon as possible thereafter. Of these, 15 were with women, though many more women than this were involved—in seven of these instances, I was engaging with a group of village women who were happier to talk to me in a group than one on one. Many of these interviews were with Dalits in villages that had experienced caste violence or tension. It was instructive to speak to people here about their interactions with the party and their perceptions of it. Additionally, I had innumerable conversations with people who were not affiliated to Dalit politics about what they thought of the party, their experiences of caste discrimination, and what (if anything) had changed in the intervening years. Several of these interviews were with non-Dalits who viewed the VCK in a very different light to Page 11 of 28

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Introduction others and offered insights into the caste context of VCK activism. All interviews were conducted in Tamil. While anonymity was important to some interviewees, many of those interviewed wanted to be named. As I found in 1998–9 (Gorringe 2005), participants who are also activists are keen to leave a trace in history and wanted to have their name in a book at least. There may have been ulterior motives here, since one middleranking leader credited his/her promotion within the party to an interview of mine. The situation was also complicated since several respondents were happy to be quoted on some things but wished to remain anonymous for others. The VCK remains a relatively small party and those voicing criticisms were less happy to put their name to confidences shared during the interview. In light of respondent views, I have named those who wished to be named, but have changed identities and details where the stated views might get people into trouble or where people did not wish to be named. I would, in this sense, echo Liamputtong (2008: 15) who argues that in cross-cultural research (p.15) more emphasis needs to be placed on ‘trust building, reciprocity and rapport than the mechanistic process of securing informed consent’. A side-effect of this ‘immersion’ (Schatz 2009) into the everyday life and discussions of VCK activists is a large number of interviewees. Those readers who are not familiar with the Tamil context may find the names and references to places bewildering and I apologize for that. I feel, though, that the personalized testimonies and accounts help to add depth and life to the analysis that would otherwise be lacking. By engaging with people and entering into open discussions about key issues and debates I was able to gain the trust and insights of participants to which I hope that I have done justice. The task of representing the views of respondents responsibly is not straightforward. In an interview with a Tamil magazine in 2012, Thirumavalavan was asked what he disliked most about politics. His response was instructive and to the point: ‘Baseless allegations and criticisms’ (Anandha Vikatan 2012a). This is a leader with an exhausting schedule, who often spends every waking hour travelling between events, perpetually besieged by followers, researchers, or those with problems to discuss. He is continually forced to defend decisions and explain them to people and is rarely in a position to please all of his audience. He also operates in a political situation in which he is marked out by his caste no matter what issues he takes up or campaigns he conducts. Despite all this, that he should isolate the circulation of rumours as the aspect of political life that he most detests is not surprising. Since their inception, the Dalit Panther Movement and later the VCK have been subject to countless accusations and allegations about things they have or have not done, about their caste constituency, about their focus on or abandonment of Dalits, and about their relationship to various other organizations and parties. In March 2015, The Deccan Chronicle carried an article by a respected academic to the effect that Thirumavalavan was campaigning against Dalit conversion.4 Given the VCK’s consistent critique of Page 12 of 28

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Introduction Hindutva, their vociferous argument that Dalits are not Hindus, their campaign against the forced-conversion Act in Tamil (p.16) Nadu, and close cooperation with Christian and Muslim groups, this is clearly a travesty. When contacted, however, Ravikumar, one of the general secretaries of the Party responded: ‘Thanks for the alert. Reacting to these kinds of half-baked stories is [a] waste of time. This week a Tamil bi-weekly [has ]published a gossip story stating that Thirumaa is going to convert to Islam’ (email communication, March 2015). The tired, seen-it-all-before response speaks volumes about the speculation that surrounds the party. Thirumavalavan’s abhorrence of ‘baseless allegations’ stems not only from the sheer number of rumours in circulation but to the way in which they can adversely affect the reputation and standing of the party. In 2013, Thirumavalavan was accused of reneging on a promise of marriage by a nonDalit woman in Coimbatore. Newspapers carried photos of Thirumavalavan in the lady’s house with her child on his knee to corroborate the story, heedless of the fact that innumerable members of the party could provide similar images (see Express News 2013). The leader’s accessibility and approachability—now beginning to decline— is one of the virtues that participants appreciated most about Thirumavalavan. I have lost count of the number of interviewees who spoke with warmth and pride about the fact that he had visited their house or locality. That such intimacy with party members should come to haunt him will have hurt him on a personal level more than even a professional one. It is perhaps telling that this accusation was made public after the lady in question alleged that VCK members had attempted to defraud her of her property. The majority of accusations levelled against Thirumavalavan or the party were less personal and, perhaps, more damaging as a consequence since they undermine trust and confidence in the organization as a whole. The recurrent refrain in 2012, was that the VCK were ‘the katta panchayat’ party and that office-bearers were using and abusing their positions to enrich themselves at the expense of others. Katta panchayats, or kangaroo courts, refer to informal processes of conflict mediation in which ‘justice’ tends to favour the wealthy. Typically, in the case of Dalits, a kangaroo court might settle a case of caste violence out of court by arranging for the perpetrator to pay compensation in return for the victim withdrawing any pending police cases. (p.17) Crucially, the brokers in these cases were said both to pressure victims into such agreements and to siphon off a hefty commission for their services. Several party postholders have done well for themselves, built houses, and now routinely travel in vehicles—thus allowing the rumours to gain ground. I put this to Thirumavalavan in his Delhi residence where he stayed whilst he was still an MP: A:

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Introduction I have heard lots of stories about compromise and katta panchayats. What do you make of them?

T: I have heard that too, but is there any proof? Also, all parties do this; why are we the ones who are singled out? This is the result of jealousy and an attempt to break party. Give me details of one instance where we have compromised. (Field notes, September 2012)

The difficulties of proving participation in such informal settlements are vast. The perpetrator and supposed broker only stand to lose if their participation comes to light and the victims tend to be vulnerable and unwilling to come forward. In 2008, when the VCK expelled sitting MLA, K. Selvam (also known as Selvaperunthagai) from the party, the candidate told reporters that ‘he was pained at allegations made against him by Mr. Thirumavalavan and others that he was indulging in katta panchayat and bringing disrepute to the party. “District secretaries of Cuddalore and Villupuram adopted resolutions demanding my expulsion from the party. Mr. Thirumavalavan never bothered to intervene to settle the issue within the party organisation. He could have asked me about the charges”’ (Kolappan 2008). Despite his expulsion from the party and these accusations, Selvaperunthagai went on to hold posts in the BSP and the Congress, highlighting the difficulties in proving such claims one way or the other. Indeed, Selvaperunthagai’s departure arguably owed more to his ambition for a more prominent role than anything else given that similar allegations have been made against numerous others who remain within the party. In like manner, when challenged to detail concrete cases of compromise, hardly any interviewees were willing or able to do so despite averring in general terms that such practices were rife. Faced with this barrage of innuendo and speculation, Thirumavalavan’s response earlier makes perfect sense. It also places the researcher of Dalit politics in a quandary. As Duffy (2002: 172) argues: ‘When research relies on (p.18) information that is passed through oral networks, it is always open to criticism that the stories people tell about people, places and events do no constitute “data” but are merely unsubstantiated rumours or gossip.’ It is certainly conceivable that respondents were using the interviews to score political points, send out particular messages, or put their side of the story. While some researchers consequently feel that there is no place for gossip and rumour in academic research, Gary Alan Fine argues that ‘it is through gossip and rumor that one can gain what is, in effect, a map of the social environment in which one lives and works’ (Sassatelli 2010: 82). Ellis (1989) likewise speaks of ‘pavement radio’ in discussing the circulation of news, gossip, rumour, and information in an oral culture, and notes its significance in shaping popular consciousness. In other words, the way that people talk about others shows how they perceive and construct the world within which they operate. In the following account, I have sought to Page 14 of 28

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Introduction substantiate the information obtained in interviews where possible, but also report persistent allegations, rumours, and gossip that may or may not be true. In this I follow Duffy’s contention that ‘the truth status of information passed through oral networks is often much less important than the various social and political effects of its passage’ (Duffy 2002: 173). Where necessary I have changed names and details to avoid spreading falsehoods about particular people, but I have reported popular narratives about the party even where their veracity is in question because of what this tells us about people’s impressions, perceptions, and opinions. Many of the most vehement criticisms of the party were articulated by party members, leaders, and activists. It is clear that some of these stories were motivated by a wider agenda—resentment at the influx of non-Dalits into leadership positions for example—or by personal disillusionment. Had such tales been isolated complaints then it may have made sense to disregard them, but the repeated narration of certain stories or allegations not only offers a window into activist worldviews, it also has wider socio-political effects. Some of the commentaries about the VCK, and some of the activist interviews, are impossible to understand without knowing about these stories. There is an ethical dilemma facing the researcher here, since repeating such allegations could be misconstrued as providing evidence for them. (p.19) Equally, however, studies of social movements and political parties in the past have suffered from an overemphasis on official accounts or ‘rehearsed narratives’ (Della Porta 1992) that privilege leaders and official spokespeople over the ordinary followers and activists without whom the party would not exist. Rather than silence such voices and systematically neglect a prevalent narrative, I have reported on such accounts while emphasizing where the truth of an account is uncertain. The analysis also does not focus on trying to prove or disprove allegations so much as asking what the narration of such tales tells us about both the narrator and the party they are describing. It is through such conversations, stories, and rumours that information spreads, as seen in the number of times certain stories cropped up in different forms or from different people. Neglecting such accounts would be to offer at best a partial picture of the VCK.5

A Note on Terminology It is important at this point to pause briefly and discuss the choice of terminology employed in this book. In the late 1990s, those at the foot of the caste hierarchy in Tamil Nadu—variously known as Untouchables, SCs (the constitutional category for those formerly untouchable castes entitled to affirmative action), Harijans (literally meaning ‘children of God’ and popularized by Gandhi) or Dalits (downtrodden)—mobilized in huge numbers to contest residual practices of untouchability, challenge caste discrimination, and demand the realization of the rights afforded to them in the Constitution of India. Many of the more active members of this group named themselves Dalits in a spirit of pride and militancy, and this term has gained currency across the world thanks Page 15 of 28

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Introduction to mobilizations at global events such as UN conferences (Bob 2007), World Social Fora (Hardtmann 2009), and in diasporic campaigns against caste discrimination (such as the attempts to amend the Equalities legislation in the UK) (Waughray 2009). (p.20) While such terminology implies a homogeneous cluster of people, Dalits are internally divided along multiple social fault-lines. For a start, not everyone encompassed by the category accepts it. X-Ray Manikam, a leading Dalit activist and intellectual who wrote for and published Dalit journals through the 1970s and 80s, for instance, rejects the term: The term that Ambedkar adopted for the whole community was Scheduled Caste, so why do we not accept this? If you say I am an SC I accept that, but if you call me Dalit I do not accept. Why should I call myself as a Dalit? I am a follower of Babasaheb Ambedkar. I have had arguments with Mahars about this. If you embrace Buddhism, then say: ‘I am a Buddhist’ or ‘I am a Christian’. Why, after embracing Buddhism are you saying that you are a Dalit? Even Christian Dalit; Buddhist Dalit; even Sikh Dalit? What are you doing? Can you be honest in this? If you are a Hindu, you say you are an SC …. If they have converted to Buddhism, they are Buddhists and that is what they should say …. If they also continue to call themselves Dalit then we are perpetuating and accepting our status as SCs like other Hindus. (Interview, April 2012) While he offers a spirited defence of the legal and constitutional term ‘Scheduled Caste’—referring to those castes eligible for affirmative action or reservations—his is an idealistic position that perhaps over-emphasizes the social significance of conversion. ‘Where Dalit refers to all those Indians, past and present, traditionally regarded as outcasts and untouchable’, as Viswanath (2012) spells out, ‘SC is a modern governmental category that explicitly excludes Christian and Muslim Dalits.’ In the Tamil context, Christian Dalits have been in the forefront of struggles against caste discrimination (Mosse 2009, 2012) and spearheaded the Dalit contingent at the UN Conference on Racism in Durban in 2001 (Benjamin 2002). Several Christian Dalits have joined the VCK, and the party organized a conference on the rights of Dalit Christians on 27 June 2008 at Villupuram amongst other actions. Others contended that the term Dalit was misleading as it encompassed different castes who were so internally divided that the label was meaningless. Ramesh, an Arunthathiyar activist, for example, pointed to intra-Dalit oppression: (p.21) R: Now in Madurai there is a Government law college and Government SC Hostel, but Arunthathiyars cannot get in. They are barred from entering. To an SC Page 16 of 28

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Introduction hostel! Even if we counter this and fight to get someone admitted they would not last a week in there, that’s the level of violence and discrimination.

Author (A): Who from?

R: Pallars.

A: So why is this?

R: Pallars have reached MBC standard. If they come to your place, they will think that they are like you and so you block them and will not let them in. (Interview, February 2012)

Indeed, some Dalits look down upon castes below them in the hierarchy in the manner of higher castes and refuse to inter-marry or live alongside them. There are three main Dalit castes in Tamil Nadu; each have their own leaders and movements and their contrasting fortunes emphasize how fragile the unitary category of Dalit is. I refer to these three castes as Pallars, Paraiyars, and Arunthathiyars though each of these clusters have multiple different names and some may be offended by the choice of title afforded to them here. Pallars, in particular, have mobilized to be recognized by the more honorific titles of Devendra Kula Vellalar or Mallar. In so doing, they lay claim to a kingly past and have occasionally stated that they should not be seen as Dalits. Pandian (2013c: 20) has recently argued that Dalit as a category is synonymous with Paraiyars in the state. In May 2015, an Indian Express news story spoke of ‘tripartite peace talks between the Dalits, the Arunthathiyar community and the intermediatecaste Hindus’6, thus excluding Arunthathiyars from the category in an implicit echo of Pandian’s analysis. Except where I am quoting others, I have chosen to employ the above terms since they are the ones most respondents used. The fact of caste-based mobilization, however, raises another objection to the use of the Dalit tag in that (p.22) not all those included under the umbrella category of Dalit mobilize on that basis. For the purposes of this book, though, I maintain that there are sufficient commonalities between them to justify the term. One further issue arises from the legacy of Tamil cultural nationalism. For all that ‘Dalit’ offers activists a pan-Indian or global recognition, the activists discussed here are first and foremost Tamilians. Many interviewees and most public speeches used the Tamil term thazhthapattor (translated as lower classes) rather than Dalit. Dravidian mobilization also gave rise to the term Adi-Dravida (original or indigenous Dravidian). Both terms speak to the continuing significance of Tamil language politics in the state and are, therefore, important. Dalit, however, is an appropriate translation of thazhthapattor and the AdiPage 17 of 28

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Introduction Dravida category is overwhelmingly associated with Paraiyars and so, despite the problems accompanying the choice of terminology I have decided to use the term Dalit. It is not only the least problematic term, but also has a number of inherent virtues: first, it is widely recognized, and used by respondents and others. Second, it reflects the fact that the VCK have always emphasized that they are not a caste-based organization. Finally, for all the issues with the label, Dalit is not regarded as offensive in the way that several other terms are, as Jakkaian, leader-founder of an Arunthathiyar movement, made clear: Author: Do you mean that the word ‘Dalit’ is false?

J: No, I didn’t mean that way. Of course, the word has its own meaning. There is a politics behind that word. It’s used mainly for political purpose. The word ‘Dalit’ denotes a common identity and we don’t oppose that notion. The word was first used by Ambedkar, who is the only common icon for Dalit people, so we do accept the word. There are so many names (equivalent to the word Dalit) and the difference remains only in names but not in reality. Gandhi called us Harijan [children of God] and we oppose that. The British called us Scheduled Castes. We can’t blame the British, because when the discussion arose on which caste(s) to be classified as weaker sections, erm, everybody wanted to include their castes, so the British identified a few castes as weaker sections in order to provide land, education, and other welfare measures…. So that was required at that particular context to classify who the Scheduled Castes are. We oppose the word Harijan but we don’t oppose the word Dalit. (Interview, March 2012)

(p.23) One unifying figure for all SCs, as seen in the quote above, is Ambedkar who is referenced to justify most decisions. While the first law minister of India and pre-eminent Dalit leader and thinker was initially associated with Paraiyars in the state, all castes now acknowledge their debt to him. Some Pallar outfits have started to omit Ambedkar from posters as they lay claim to non-SC status, but they constitute the minority. Finally, it is important to note that I was working with people who are actively engaged in political struggles. While Ciotti (2010b) in Uttar Pradesh and Kapadia (2010) in Chennai document people who no longer describe themselves as Dalit, none of my key respondents fell into this camp. Such trends were more noticeable amongst middle class, upwardly mobile members of the category rather than political activists.

The Social Geography of the Study Tamil politics can be a bewildering array of acronyms and groups to the uninitiated. In what follows, therefore, I will offer an overview of the demographic and geographic focus of the study. I travelled across the state during my fieldwork, but the vast majority of the research on which this book draws was conducted in and around the temple city of Madurai in south-central Tamil Nadu. This point is important because the political and caste make-up Page 18 of 28

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Introduction encountered here differs from that in the north of the state. While the VCK emerged and developed in Madurai, the demography of the south means that the party’s strongholds now lie predominantly in the northern districts of the state. Having interviewed people in Chennai and from in and around Cuddalore to the north of Tamil Nadu, I am confident that the findings presented here have wider resonance, but it is possible that the culture of caste and politics in Madurai has shaped some of the conclusions and that different dynamics inform the party elsewhere. It may also be helpful for non-specialists to get a brief introduction to the socio-political terrain. The first point to make is a general one. In Tamil Nadu, there are no representatives of the Kshatriya category of warrior or kingly castes (Washbrook 1976). Those that wield socio-economic power here, rather, are those categorized as Shudra—or serving—castes elsewhere. This fact has multiple implications for the study of Dalit (p.24) politics in the state. First, it explains how political parties that mainly drew on and represented the intermediate castes could present themselves as radical even when they abandoned the commitment to social justice that animated Dravidian politics in the 1940s. Second, the fact that dominant castes are just above Dalits in the hierarchy can accentuate status concerns and render markers of social standing more contentious than they might otherwise be. Finally, the absence of a warrior or kingly cluster of castes affords both intermediate and Dalit castes the opportunity to lay claim to a royal past (Karthikeyan 2016). In the Tamil context, as elsewhere, the most privileged castes are the Brahmins. Their position atop the social hierarchy owed more to their ownership of land rather than their ritual standing. This caste privilege was traded for positions of authority in a modernizing economy in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Brahmins moved to cities in large numbers and dominated professional and business positions, emerging as an upper middle-class elite (Fuller and Narasimhan 2014). Caste politics in Tamil Nadu took hold in attempts to unseat this elite and share out the rewards of new systems of political representation (Irschick 1969), and anti, or non-Brahminism remains a touchstone of Tamil politics. Despite their centrality to political rhetoric and the economy in the state, the Brahmins barely feature in this book. In moving from rural to urban areas and investing in finance and professional skills, the Brahmins effectively removed themselves from direct relationships with Dalits. Dalit politics in the state, as a result, arose as a challenge to the dominance of intermediate castes who were just above them in status terms. Washbrook (1989) further notes that social dominance in Tamil Nadu is fragmented, with various caste groups exerting dominance over sub-regions. This fragmentation is attributed in great part to the ecology of the state, with caste composition and dynamics closely related to settlement patterns and forms of agriculture (Subramanian 1999: 18). River valleys witnessed greater Page 19 of 28

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Introduction concentrations of people and division of labour, with Dalits comprising the vast bulk of landless agricultural labourers. The plains and hills, by contrast, witnessed different configurations of power and dominance in which control (p. 25) over irrigation tanks provided social capital and material resources to dominant castes (Mosse 1997). Given this, analysts in Tamil Nadu have to be sensitive to the regional specificities of caste relations across the state. For the purposes of this book, with its focus on Dalit politics, we can divide Tamil Nadu into three major regions. While these broad brush-strokes gloss over local specificities, they map onto the distribution of the three main Dalit castes in the state: the Pallars, Paraiyars, and Arunthathiyars. Paraiyars (or Adi-Dravidas) are the most populous Tamil SC and are to be found across the state, but are most heavily concentrated in northern districts (Jacob and Bandhu 2009). Paraiyars have a history of agrestic servitude and were compelled to perform menial castetasks, but they benefitted from missionary education and advocacy early on (Basu 2011; Viswanath 2014) and were at the forefront of political mobilization in the late nineteenth century. In areas where Paraiyars are most numerous, the Vanniyars form the dominant caste cluster. Vanniyars are little different from Paraiyars in terms of land ownership, education, or professionalization, but they are socially and politically strong and view themselves as superior to the Paraiyars (Arun 2007: 44). Vanniyars are ranked just above the Dalits in terms of ritual status and mobilized in the 1980s to be recognized as a deprived or ‘Most Backward Caste’ so as to receive greater state recognition and resources (Jacob and Bandhu 2009: 53). While Vanniyar political formations have sought to include Dalits at various times, the upward mobility of a section of Paraiyars has cast them as potential competitors and resulted in violence. It was, Arun (2007) argues, in large part as a response to Vanniyar dominance that the VCK took root in northern districts. In the south and around Madurai where this research is mainly based, the Thevar cluster of Kallar, Maravar, and Agamudaiyar castes are major landowners, though in central districts of the state they are small and marginal farmers or agricultural labourers themselves (Pandian 2000). As Pandian (2000: 503) attests, the Thevars ‘carry the self-image of a martial community’ and they never assimilated themselves into the non-Brahmin movement. This selfcharacterization as rulers of the land has been channelled into symbolic and (p. 26) electoral politics rather than educational or economic development as other groups such as the Nadars have done. The Thevars coexist with and dominate Paraiyars and Arunthathiyars in some pockets—as seen in the research presented here—but the main axis of caste antagonism in the south is between Thevars and Pallars. Pallars enjoy the highest status among and are the most developed of the Dalit castes in Tamil Nadu. There are high rates of education and large numbers have migrated to the Gulf for work, meaning that they have escaped agrarian dependency on higher castes (Lakshman 2011: 142). Partly due to this, and partly due to political entrepreneurs like Dr Krishnasamy, the Page 20 of 28

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Introduction leader of Puthiya Tamizhagam (New Tamil Nadu)—the Pallar-based party launched in 1996—Pallars are increasingly assertive and reject markers of dependence or inferiority. In the recent past, they have emulated the castebased celebrations of Thevars and laid claim to a kingly past (Karthikeyan 2016). Finally, the Arunthathiyars are concentrated in the western districts of the state, though they are represented across Tamil Nadu. They are the lowest of the three main Dalit castes and have lagged behind the other two Dalit communities in terms of education, economic development, and political mobilization. Historically they were leather workers and agricultural labourers but are also associated with the most degrading caste-based occupations, such as manual scavenging and cleaning. In 2009, emergent Arunthathiyar political groups secured priority access to 3 per cent of the reservations set aside for SCs in Tamil Nadu in view of their socio-economic deprivation (Pandian 2013c). The dominant landowning castes in the region are the Gounders, who have responded to the emergence of Arunthathiyar politics with assertive countermobilization (Vijayabaskar and Wyatt 2013). While there are other important caste clusters and groups who are absent from the brief review presented here, it is the fraught relations between the antagonistic pairs above that have fuelled lower-caste politics in Tamil Nadu. Much of the mobilization of the intermediate castes, as Carswell and De Neve (2015) illustrate, is driven by antipathy towards Dalit assertion. Towards 2010 and from then on, some intermediate-caste leaders sought to weave together a coalition that brought Thevars, Vanniyars, and Gounders together, primarily in (p.27) opposition to the emergence of Dalit politics and rising Dalit mobilization, as seen in the use of the Prevention of Atrocities Act, which is designed to curb casteist abuses (Raja 2014). A by-product of Dalit organization, thus, has been that ‘it consolidates politics along caste lines and further antagonizes caste groups that are strongly opposed to each other’ (Carswell and De Neve 2015: 1107). This book charts the contours, styles, and effects of Dalit activism and offers an analysis of the dominant political parties in the state. Chapter 1 charts the rise and role of the Dravidian parties that have dominated state politics since the 1960s, but one important question is raised by the review of caste relations provided above: given the structural similarities between Dalit and oppressor castes in Tamil Nadu, why has not the Communist Party had more of an impact? This question is especially salient given Barnett and Barnett’s (1974: 388) finding that militant Dalits perceived the economic basis of casteism, and since in the elections immediately after Independence, the Communists—who had still not committed to the parliamentary route—were seen as the main challengers to Congress in the state (Subramanian 1999). Gough (1987) notes how the Communists retained the support of agricultural labourers in Tamil Nadu through the 1960s thanks to sustained labour organization extending back to the Page 21 of 28

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Introduction 1930s. As Thirumavalavan (2003: 170) acknowledges: none can ‘hide the fact that when the farm labourers united against the dominance of the casteist feudalism’s atrocities, which included practices like forceful ingestion of cowdung solution, whipping etc., they were guided by the “Marxists” who stood in the forefront of the struggle’. Sivaraman (2013: 194) likewise notes that the Communist Party was ‘commonly known as the Paraiyan Katchi’ (the Paraiyar Party) in the mid-1940s. Three key factors explain the waning support of Dalits for the Communist parties. The first issue is that the Communist parties were outflanked and displaced by the cultural nationalism of the Dravidian movement. Faced by strong competition from the socially radical DMK, the Communists campaigned vehemently against secession and Tamil nationalism in a manner that seemed ‘insensitive to regional sentiment’ (Subramanian 1999: 156). The Dravidian movement built on this and the Communist focus on class to present (p.28) themselves as ‘Tamil Nadu’s authentic communists’ (Subramanian 1999: 155). Second, the privileging of class rather than caste conflict was an accusation levelled by Dalits as well as opposition parties. Finally, and relatedly, Barnett and Barnett (1974: 390) quote the militant Dalit they call Rajagopal to this effect: ‘The Untouchables are in poverty and misery, the Communists will not change that until they come to power. We ask the Communists: why do you want to take the leadership positions? Why do you not find the educated man in the AdiDravida community?’ The focus on class was encapsulated for many Dalits in the failure to elevate Dalit activists to positions of leadership. A defining moment in the Communist engagements with Dalits came on Christmas Day in 1968, when landlords responded to Communist and labour agitation for better pay by locking 44 Dalit labourers—mainly women and children—in a hut and burning them to death in Kilvenmani (Gough 1987). As Thirumavalavan (2003: 172) later noted: ‘The Marxists recorded this earth shattering brutal massacre in history as a “class struggle” alone! Why was the integrated “casteist supremacy” covered up?’ For all the structural similarities between dominant and Dalit castes, support for the Communist parties fell away in the 1960s (Wyatt 2002). The Dravidian parties briefly assumed the mantle of radicalism, but Dravidian class analysis was diminished by the focus on Brahmins and cultural oppression neglecting the ‘wealthy, elite non-Brahmin mirasdars’ who were ‘intransigent on economic issues’ (Barnett and Barnett 1974: 404). Mythili Sivaraman, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader, argued that Dalits had been sidelined by Dravidianism. ‘They are not even described as Tamilians’, she noted, ‘but as AdiDravidas’ (2013: 113). While some disillusioned Dalits were attracted by Communist activism, Sivaraman was also critical of her party which overestimated ‘the role of the middle and rich peasants’ (2013: 91). She saw this as failure to organize on ‘correct class lines’, but argued that Communist radicals had underplayed the importance of self-esteem and ‘human worth’ in Page 22 of 28

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Introduction projects of emancipation (2013:116). They had also under-estimated the strength of caste feeling. Devaraj, a veteran VCK activist, was one of many Dalit campaigners who cut his political teeth in Marxist–Leninist organizations. He recalled how the failure to unite (p.29) Vanniyars and Dalits near Villupuram in northern Tamil Nadu led to the failure of struggles there and compelled him to rethink his approach: D: If we were organizing on a class basis then we needed to unite Vanniyars and Dalits and bring them together on a shared platform. If we were not going to do that, or could not do that, then we should mobilize on a caste basis. What was preventing the workers form uniting?

A: Caste?

D: Exactly. At the end of the day the Vanniyar labourers stuck to their caste leaders. So why did we not organize on a caste basis? Dalits were in a minority here, but in the surrounding areas they were the majority. Had we mobilized on caste grounds then when the Dalits were attacked what would have happened? The Dalits from surrounding villages would have mustered to the spot. I put this to the central committee when we had a meeting. But they said, ‘no: caste is just part of the superstructure, if we address the base structures of economics and class divides then caste issues will be resolved’. I objected and pointed out that Marx had said that we needed to derive theory from our experience of the world. They had become too dogmatic and could not adjust to the ground reality. I said, in an Indian context economics and caste are interwoven to such an extent that they form the underlying structure of inequality. Unless we address that we can’t do anything, but they would not listen. In the end it was put to a vote in the committee. The leadership stood against it and everyone just voted for the leadership proposal. Had they accepted my demands back then, the [Communist Party of India Marxist–Leninist]CPI M-L could have become a major force in the state. It was at that time that I left the party. (Interview, June 2012)

This lengthy quotation captures the failure of Communist movements to adapt to changing circumstances and address Dalit concerns head on. The casteblindness of Dravidian politics and the inability of doctrinaire Communists to address caste differences, Racine and Racine (1998: 12) argue, led Dalits in the late 1980s and 1990s into a ‘renewed quest for the best political instrument: should the Dalits conduct political struggle in larger formations, or should they set up their own parties?’ It is the culmination of those debates that is the central concern of this book.

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Introduction (p.30) Key Arguments and Breakdown of Chapters This book, in sum, offers a case study of some of the understudied aspects of political institutionalization, charts the rise of Dalit political engagement in Tamil Nadu, and contributes to debates about caste and social change in India. Chapters 1 and 2 provide the background to the study both in terms of the debates surrounding institutionalization and in terms of the particular sociopolitical context that is the focus here. Chapter 1 offers insights into the interplay between caste and politics in Tamil Nadu. It offers a historical overview of political developments and ideological currents in the state and asks how the ‘land of Periyar’ has given rise to so many caste-based parties in recent years. Chapter 2 provides a background to the socio-political context of caste and untouchability in Tamil Nadu since, without a grasp of this issue, it is impossible to understand Dalit politics in the state. We see that despite significant changes, caste discrimination not only persists in Tamil Nadu but takes new forms. Chapters 1 and 2 are essential for those wanting a detailed understanding of caste and politics in Tamil Nadu, but those more interested in processes of institutionalization may wish to skim or skip the detailed accounts of regional politics. In Chapter 3, we turn to the emergence of the Dalit challenge and the process by which the Dalit Panther Iyyakkam (DPI) transformed itself into the VCK (Liberation Panther Party) and contested elections. We will review the argument that the VCK has been co-opted by established parties, consider their performance in institutional politics, and outline some of the key developments in Tamil politics over the past few decades. For all the optimism that surrounded the VCK’s entry to political competition (Gorringe 2005), there is a sense that the energy that characterized the movement has drained away (Karthikeyan, Rajangam, and Gorringe 2012) and that they remain marginal players in the corridors of power (Wyatt 2010a). Chapter 4 takes a different view of processes of institutionalization. Numerous studies from around the world have described the process of institutionalization as resulting in alienation (Kunnath 2009), bureaucratization (Dryzek et al. 2003), compromise (Piven and Cloward 1979; Pai 2002), de-radicalization (Offe 1990), and co-option (Coy and Hedeen 2005). The path from radical protest to political negotiation and compromise is well-trodden and analysed. What is less (p.31) often discussed is how this transformation occurs. There are excellent accounts of why movements might choose to professionalize and engage with political institutions, but this chapter focuses on the socio-political consequences of this decision and the more informal aspects of this process. We will look at how political participation expands the networks of former activists, requires them to articulate demands in different terms and adopt hegemonic ways of doing politics or playing the political game. In so doing, the chapter helps explain how it is that principled actors can end up agreeing to compromises and courses of action that they would previously have rejected out of hand.

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Introduction Chapter 5 looks in more detail at the style of VCK politics. One of the common criticisms of identity based mobilizations, and Dalit politics in particular, is that there is too much emphasis accorded to the symbols, rituals, and discourse of identity rather than to a more grounded and materialist politics. Dalit parties are closely associated with the installation of statues, memorials, and banners celebrating icons such as Dr Ambedkar, and with defending the honour and representation of such iconic figures (Rao 2009). A huge amount of time, effort, and money is spent on such symbolic assertions which should, critics argue, be spent more wisely or on more important and worthy issues or projects (Hindu 2009a). What we have instead, Teltumbde (2012a: 10) argues, is ‘a politics of empty symbolism’. While Teltumbde is referring to a particular case here, the accusation is one that is commonly bandied about. This chapter, by contrast, explores the materiality of symbolic politics. It looks at the processes by which symbols are installed or constructed, the meanings they have, and the consequences that flow from them. One key issue here is the fact that Dalits have habitually been denied access to common spaces. The insertion of Dalit icons into such arenas in this context renders those places contested and contentious. There is, as Rao (2009: 188) puts it: ‘no easy distinction between the symbolic and the real in Dalit politics’. The debates, interactions, and negotiations that ensue from symbolic action contribute towards the creation of public space in a caste context. The significance of such symbols is seen in the responses that they occasion. One place where VCK symbols occasioned a violent Backward Caste backlash was the small hamlet of Parali Puthur in central Tamil Nadu. This village forms one of the case studies for (p.32) Chapter 6. When I arrived in Tamil Nadu to do fieldwork in 2012, Parali Puthur was held up as an example of all that was wrong with the VCK in particular, and Dalit politics more generally. I was told repeatedly that the party had done nothing for the Dalits there after they had been attacked and that this betrayal was symptomatic of the VCK’s desire to appease the Backward Castes and unwillingness to rock the boat, but when I visited the site it transpired that party activists and leaders had been the first on the scene, had offered succour, food, and protection, and pressured police to file first information reports (FIRs). It became clear that the villagers’ grievance related to the fact that Thirumavalavan—the party leader—had not come to the village in person. Captured here, are issues of leadership and party organization that haunt the VCK. The sense of betrayal speaks at once to the longing for the Thirumavalavan of old who braved police prohibitions and roadblocks to visit the afflicted, and to the lack of developed and recognized secondary leaders within the party. The VCK, of course, are not alone in being structured around a dominant figure, and this chapter teases out the politics and practices of leadership in the Tamil context.

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Introduction The insistence that Thirumavalavan should have defied police advice to visit the village highlights the difficulties that beset radical activists once they decide to enter politics. The fact that Thirumavalavan is now behaving like any other political leader is little excuse since he is judged by different standards. When the cadres gathered to debate the move to politics, there was an abiding perspective that politics corrupts (Gorringe 2005). Any failure to live up to the ideals of party activists, thus, can be attributed to the corrosive influence of institutionalization. Stepping back from the emotional assessments of disillusioned activists, though, Chapter 7 considers the extent to which the VCK might be said to have been tainted by political participation. One prevalent assertion doing the rounds in 2012 was that the VCK were now profiting from kangaroo courts that settled disputes out of court and in ways that were beneficial to the arbitrator.7 Where a Backward Caste person beats up and insults a Dalit, for example, a katta panchayat would not register a police (p.33) case but might resolve the incident by arranging for the perpetrator to pay a sum of money to the victim. Crucially, the person or party brokering this exchange would profit from the process as well. Other forms of political corruption include accepting money for political influence: fast-tracking a transfer, distributing government jobs, arranging loans, or securing land deeds. The prevalence of such forms of brokerage in India have led authors such as Chandra (2004) to refer to it as a patronage democracy. The VCK, in other words, are not doing anything different to other parties. What is different is the fact that they are now in a position to engage in these forms of politics. Chapter 7 charts the debates around these issues and the concerns that they engender amongst Dalit activists. Entering party politics, it should by now be clear, is more than just the ‘change in tactics’ Thirumavalavan presented it as in 1999 (Gorringe 2005). Becoming a party has had a radical impact on the VCK in terms of the tactics they adopt, the issues they take up, the ways in which they do politics and, significantly, the audience they address, and the people they admit into the party. The initial position of the VCK was that only a Dalit could represent Dalit interests, but since becoming a political party, they have needed to reach out to others for votes and support and have emphasized commitment to Tamil nationalism in a bid to transcend the Dalit tag. The Velacherry (a suburb of Chennai housing the VCK head-quarters) Declaration in 2007 cemented this emphasis by allowing non-Dalits to hold office within the party. The upshot has been that a number of Backward Caste individuals have joined the party and taken up positions of responsibility. This coincided with an overwhelming focus on Tamil nationalist issues: the war in Sri Lanka, the water-sharing disputes between Tamil Nadu and neighbouring states, and campaigns to protect the Tamil language. It is in this contested terrain that questions of identity are most pronounced. On the one hand are those who deplore the loss of focus on Dalit issues, which was what attracted them to the Panthers in the first place. On the other are those Page 26 of 28

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Introduction who are keen to challenge their marginality by reinventing Tamil nationalism from below and re-infusing it with an anti-caste ethos that has been leached out of it by established parties. The advantages and disadvantages of embracing the Tamil cause are discussed in Chapter 8. (p.34) Finally, no analysis of the VCK would be complete without some evaluation of its impact. Chapter 9, therefore, concludes by drawing on the social movement literature to offer an account of the broader outcomes of VCK politics than can be captured in an analysis of their vote-share. While Dryzek et al. (2003) argue that the institutionalization of radical actors can impoverish the public sphere, this chapter charts the rise of a number of spin-off movements inspired by the VCK. It plots the emergence of numerous smaller organizations and charts the changes in attitudes and actions that result, in part at least, from the prior mobilization of the VCK. Even the party’s fiercest critics concede that it reshaped social relations in Tamil Nadu, so this should come as no surprise. The chapter goes on to consider the contested question of what outcomes the VCK has had in its political avatar, the degree to which Dalits feel represented by the party, and the wider effect that their entry to politics has had. The VCK may not have ‘turned the world upside down’, as their slogans of the 1990s promised, but they have helped to reshape and refashion society and politics in the state. In this concluding chapter, the book reflects on the key findings of the data and offers an informed overview of the VCK as a party. It notes the widespread sense of dissatisfaction and disillusionment and documents the enduring criticisms of the party that are merited and substantiated. It should be stressed, though, that activists have a fairly jaundiced view of politics to start with and many have had their prejudices reinforced as they have been overlooked for party posts or replaced by non-Dalits. To base one’s assessment of the party on the disgruntled utterances of the cadre would be both unfair and misguided. Chapter 9, thus, points towards significant changes that could be attributed to the VCK in offering a balanced and data-led account. For all that, the prevalent sense that the party has been co-opted and compromised is not just the fabrication of bitter and alienated cadre. The chapter also considers what the future might hold for the party and possible directions it might take. ‘Resist, revolt, rise up, hit back’ was the slogan that launched the party and transformed a generation of activists who still recall the power of the phrase in a context where caste dominance was the norm. The current demand for ‘a Tamil nation that is free of caste’ is not as inspiring or rousing a battle-cry, but neither is it devoid of radicalism. Notes:

(1) Unless otherwise stated, all speeches and interviews were conducted in Tamil and translated by me. I worked with native Tamil speakers to double-check for idiomatic turns of phrase to best capture meaning.

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Introduction (2) It is worth noting that he is not the first Dalit campaigner to enter Parliament from Tamil Nadu. N. Sivaraj, the Dalit activist, friend of Ambedkar, and President of the All India Scheduled Caste Federation (AISCF) was elected as MP for Chengalpattu as early as 1957, but he stood as an Independent candidate (Basu 2011). (3) See Viswananthan (2002) and Sumathi and Sudarsen (2005) for more details. (4) Available at http://www.deccanherald.com/content/466230/bringing-justiceback.html (accessed 28 May 2016). (5) For more details on methods and ethics see the note on methods here: http:// www.sociology.ed.ac.uk/research/grants_and_projects/current_projects/ dalit_politics2 (Accessed 28 May 2016). (6) Express News 2015: http://www.newindianexpress.com/states/tamil_nadu/ Communal-Tension-Soars-as-Talks-Fail/2015/05/21/article2824927.ece (accessed 28 May 2016). (7) Kunnath (2009) notes similar concerns and dynamics in his work.

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Institutionalizing Caste Politics in Tamil Nadu

Panthers in Parliament: Dalits, Caste, and Political Power in South India Hugo Gorringe

Print publication date: 2017 Print ISBN-13: 9780199468157 Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: March 2017 DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199468157.001.0001

Institutionalizing Caste Politics in Tamil Nadu Hugo Gorringe

DOI:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199468157.003.0002

Abstract and Keywords This chapter will introduce the regional context of the study. It will chart the rich history of anti-caste mobilization in the state from the early Dalit pioneers, through Periyar’s agitations to the Dravidian parties. It has become common to express surprise at the rise of caste-parties in Periyar’s land, but this chapter will argue that caste considerations have been institutionalized into Tamil politics from the outset. Whilst Dravidian parties are notionally universal, the rest upon caste calculations and constituencies that circumscribe their radicalism. Dalit parties, thus, are not introducing caste but highlighting the persistence of caste values and discrimination. Keywords:   Tamil politics, Dravidian Parties, Dalit assertion, Caste, Periyar, Iyothee Dass, AIADMK, DMK, PMK

There is one viewpoint that casts this as the land of Periyar … as far as Dalits are concerned their mobilizational history stretches back more than 150 years. In 1877 in Chennai there was a major protest which Rettamalai Srinivasan has written about in his autobiography. There was an inquiry held in Chennai’s St George Fort concerning a Dalit murder, and there was a serious riot at that point. Linked to that conflict there was a rise in Dalit consciousness and mobilization. Since then there has been continuous struggle, but there was a lack of organization at that time that hindered the opportunity for greater change. —(Sannah Interview, September 2012).

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Institutionalizing Caste Politics in Tamil Nadu As far as I am concerned, I view Periyar in the same light as I view Ambedkar. —(Thirumavalavan, in Malar 2012) PROTEST MOVEMENTS EMERGE IN PARTICULAR times and places and respond to their socio-political environment as well as seeking to change it. The structure of political systems and their openness or closure to political challengers can shape the form that extra-institutional action takes and the impact it is able to have (Kitschelt 1986). For all the radicalism and fervour of political insurgents, (p.38) they do not discover or invent protest anew with each uprising but draw upon established and recognized modes of making claims or demands. In so doing, Tilly (1986) argues, they adopt and adapt culturally determined repertoires of action. ‘No less than in the case of religious rituals or civic celebrations, contentious politics is not born in the organizer’s heads but is culturally inscribed and socially communicated. The learned conventions of contention are a part of society’s public culture’ (Tarrow 1998: 20). Auyero and Joseph (2007: 3–4) make the important point that such repertoires are both political and cultural. Political in the sense that they relate to state institutions and respond to political systems and government repression, and cultural in that they foreground ‘people’s habits of contention, on the form that collective action takes as a result of shared expectations and learned improvizations. The repertoire, then, is not merely a set of means for making claims but also an array of meanings that arise relationally’ (Auyero and Joseph 2007: 4). Understanding the contours of particular cases of political contention, it follows, requires a firm grasp of the socio-political context within which it occurs. This chapter describes and analyses the dynamic interplay between caste, politics and radicalism in Tamil Nadu, and Chapter 2 details continuity and change in caste relations, in order to situate the research within this context. It is intended to help readers understand the precursors to the Dalit uprising of the 1990s. Whilst I hope that the excursion into Tamil politics and society will prove interesting and informative, those less interested in Tamil Nadu may choose to skip this background and cut straight to the more data-led chapters.

Non-Brahminism and the Dalits Caste and politics have been entangled since the dawn of representative politics in Tamil Nadu. Well before political institutions were established, groups mobilized to articulate demands on the basis of caste constituencies (Ahuja 2001; Balachandran 2008) and the emergence of representational politics has merely served to cement the close connection between the two. Despite the proud history of anti-caste radicalism in the state, therefore, one can make a strong case that Tamil politics has always been shaped by caste. Partly due to this, autonomous Dalit mobilization faded into relative obscurity between (p.39) Independence and the late 1980s as Dalits were subsumed under the broader categories of non-Brahmin and Tamil, only emerging to stake a claim for political Page 2 of 20

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Institutionalizing Caste Politics in Tamil Nadu parity in the 1990s. This poses two inter-related puzzles for those studying Tamil Dalit politics: first, why was the insight, assertion, and mobilization of the early Dalit pioneers not sustained through the mid-twentieth century? Second, given the emergence of a Dravidian movement, which saw the eradication of untouchability as central, campaigned for samadharma (equality), and forged a ‘deep horizontal comradeship’ between members of different castes (Geetha and Rajadurai 2011), how do we explain the subsequent emergence of caste parties and autonomous Dalit movements? One response has been to view Dravidian politics as purely a vehicle for Backward Caste mobility. Geetha and Rajadurai note how: Since the last quarter of the twentieth century, dalit leaders and intellectuals have questioned the very relevance of the non-Brahmin movement. Some have even wondered if Periyar had been a leader of all the oppressed castes or if he had been partial to his shudra (rather than panchama) constituency. (2011: xiii) Vaasanthi’s engaging and vivid account of caste, cinema, and politics in Tamil Nadu, for instance, quotes Dr Krishnaswamy’s—leader of Puthiya Tamizhagam (New Tamil Nadu), a Pallar-dominated party—deep scepticism about Dravidian politics: If the Dravidian movement was a sincere one, the Dalits would have benefitted by it…. The Dravidian movement was essentially a movement of the Backward Class. The Backward Class in Tamil Nadu would rather kill than let a Dalit rise. (2006: 199) Similarly, Ravikumar (2006), General Secretary of the VCK, insisted that in ‘matters relating to untouchables … his [Periyar’s] attempts remained at the level of rhetoric’. Ravikumar has since recanted his fiercest criticisms and, as seen at the head of the chapter, Thirumavalavan remains a fervent admirer of Periyar, but these dissenting voices and the emergence of the Dalit parties themselves, raise questions about Dalits and their relationship to Tamil politics. This chapter explains the socio-political background without which it is impossible to understand the emergence, forms, and import of (p.40) Dalit politics in the state. It starts by charting the proto-politics of Dalit pioneers who articulated an anti-caste vision of Tamil society and anticipated Ambedkar’s turn to Buddhism. Figures like Iyothee Thass (1845–1914)1, not only petitioned British officials to ameliorate the conditions faced by Dalits, but called for communal representation and outlined a radical critique of Brahminism. Whilst such leaders proved an inspiration to a generation of activists, their work was largely neglected until relatively recently because the emergence of nonBrahmin politics in all its guises displaced them from the political landscape. The articulation of first non-Brahmin and then Tamil identity offered the Page 3 of 20

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Institutionalizing Caste Politics in Tamil Nadu possibility of a cross-caste struggle against inequality and Brahminism. The cultural norms and discourses of the Dravidian movement continue to inform politics in the state and so the chapter offers a brief introduction to them before turning to post-Independence politics in the state.

The Dalit Pioneers? The year 2012 was celebrated as marking the centenary of the Dravidian Movement in Tamil Nadu and events were held across the state to mark this anniversary. Almost immediately, Dalit activists raised objections to this claim and pointed to the selective and partial nature of the festivities: Thirumavalavan felt the contribution of Dalit leaders was being neglected. The idea of a Dravidian identity was conceived in 1886 when Rev. John Rathinam (a Dalit) of the Wesleyan Mission founded ‘the Dravidar Kazhagam’. Likewise, The Dravida Mahajana Sabha was formed in 1891 under the leadership of Iyothee Thass in Ootacamund in the Madras Presidency. However, the Madras United League, an organization of nonBrahmins, was formed in 1912 under the leadership of C. Natesa Mudaliar. It was later renamed the ‘Dravidian Association’. ‘So, they call this the centenary but history shows that the conceptualization of ‘Dravidian’ emerged long back in the 1880s, spearheaded by (p.41) Dalit intellectuals, which has been suppressed in the popular discourse.’ (Karthikeyan 2012) Aloysius (1997, 1998) was one of the first academics to focus on the ideas and activities of Dalit intellectuals and activists of the late 1800s. He observes that Iyothee Dass’ writings and actions ‘were far ahead of his time and appear strikingly modern even today’ (1997: 58). Following Aloysius’ important work in this regard there has been an explosion of interest and research on Iyothee Dass2 and others in a bid to reconstruct the forgotten history of Dalit mobilization in the state. If a coherent, ideological critique of caste and demand for equality only emerged with the educated Dalit campaigners of the late nineteenth century, their analysis was pre-figured by more localized challenges to discrimination. In his analysis of the ‘Paraiyar Insurrection’ of 1785, Irschick (1994) describes how dependent labouring castes were mobilized by land-owning elites, but notes that the Paraiyars were not simply passive players in the confrontation. Any emergent consciousness was limited, though, since the ‘spatial orientations’ of Paraiyars were very constrained at this point in time (Irschick 1994: 56). Disputes, thus, tended to be localized, and arose in response to specific issues or grievances. Ahuja’s work on disputes over land and labour documents several clashes between British authorities and Paraiyars over land and demonstrates how the British came to deny land rights to the lower castes, thus provoking both ‘riotous’ resistance to evictions and a series of petitions to those in power Page 4 of 20

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Institutionalizing Caste Politics in Tamil Nadu in the 1770s (Ahuja 2001: 89–94). Mukund’s (2005: 23) analysis of these petitions ‘shows that even the lowest castes were able to resist what they considered to be infringements on their rights.’ Kamalanathan (1985) has performed a valuable service in collating a series of documents pertaining to Dalit mobilization. In 1810, a group of ‘Pariahs’ submitted a petition to the East India Company that echoed the petitions of the 1770s and drew the (p.42) company’s attention to the loyalty and poverty of those residing in the ‘Parachery’ (Paraiyar settlement) in calling for exemption from a municipal tax. Whilst the demands were only met in part by the British and were, in any case, rather limited, already we can trace the contours of a century of struggle in which Dalit groups appealed to the British to ameliorate their poverty and provide opportunities for advancement (Kamalanathan 1985: 1–6). As often as not, as Viswanath (2014: 4) illustrates, the Dalits found that the East India Company was opposed to the advancement of the labouring masses, since their system of production depended upon agrarian labour. Indeed, the Company sought to exempt India from the abolition of slavery in 1833 to protect their profit margins (Basu 2011). More generally, Ahuja (2001: 99) argues, the overriding priority to increase land-revenues, led to policies that amounted to the ‘expropriation of the poor’. The Dalits, did, however, find willing allies in a number of Christian missionaries and sympathetic officials. Whilst authorities took refuge behind the norm of noninterference in religious matters, concerned pastors wrote ethnographic accounts of agrarian servitude and poverty in a bid to compel British officials into action (Geetha and Rajadurai 2011; Viswanath 2014). Indeed, by the midnineteenth century, almost all Protestant missions had come to the conclusion that ‘caste was a great evil that must be ruthlessly uprooted from the Christian Church’ (Manickam 1988: 53). The formation of Dalit organizations to press for further change and the beginnings of official recognition and response gathered pace in the final two decades of the nineteenth century. The early 1890s marked the establishment of organizations like the Dravida Mahajana Sangha (Dravidian People’s Association)—founded by Iyothee Dass in 1891,3 at the same time as ‘the Pariah Question’ took centre stage. Caste had forcibly intruded itself into the missionary agenda with the mass conversion of Untouchables to Christianity through the 1870s (Viswanath 2014: 40). In this context, there was a heated debate (p.43) about their condition and the means by which to address it. The debate was set in train by Reverend Goudie’s paper entitled ‘The Disabilities of the Pariah’, and official attention was further focused by Tremenheere’s ‘Note on the Pariahs of Chingleput,’ which saw the issue debated not only in India, but also in the British press and Parliament (Manickam 1995: 16; Irschick 1994). Despite strenuous efforts to refute Tremenheere’s account (Irschick 1994), Moses (2003: 123) notes how this combination of missionary, media, and political pressure, compelled the Government to act on behalf of the lowest castes. Page 5 of 20

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Institutionalizing Caste Politics in Tamil Nadu Government orders passed in 1892 and 1893 (relating to Revenue and Education respectively) allocated land to panchamas (Untouchables) in perpetuity; the land, in other words, was supposed to be inalienable to any non-Dalit. Viswanath (2014) details the contortions and compromises engaged in by British officials working tacitly with landlords to secure control of the labour force. Both the failure to fulfil the terms of the orders and the importance of such grants of land are seen in continued struggles by Dalit movements to retrieve lands that have fallen into non-Dalit hands. In 2013, an old photograph of Tremenheere was unearthed and circulated by Dalits affiliated to the VCK. Given the strong visual emphasis of Tamil politics, the image was immediately transposed onto multiple posters and flex banners and became the centre-piece of renewed struggles over land. Such interventions by Dalit activists are not new, and it is important to counter suggestions of a proselytizing or civilizing crusade by ‘enlightened’ missionaries and officials on behalf of the ‘benighted’ Untouchables. On the one hand, as Viswanath (2014) demonstrates, the motives of the British campaigners were complex and often contradictory. On the other, it is surely no accident that official recognition and action coincided with the emergence of an articulate Dalit presence in the public sphere. Between 1869 and 1916, as Manickam (1995: 19) points out, Dalit intellectuals and leading figures launched about a dozen magazines. Suriyodam (Sun Rise) has the distinction of being the first Dalit journal and was launched in 1869, but more prominent publications include the Dravidian (initially Dravida Pandian) in 1885, Paraiyan in 1893, and Oru Paisa Tamilan (One Penny Tamilian, later amended to just Tamilan) in 1907. Whilst (p.44) not all of these publications were devoted to Dalit issues, many were actively engaged with the concerns of the day. On 17 December 1892, for example, shortly after the passing of the Government orders, Vikata Dutan (Comedy Messenger) quoted Tremenheere’s report and called on the government to implement the distribution of land and help educate the Pariahs and protect them from mirasidars (landlords) (Balasubramaniam 2012: 66). Likewise, on 5 October 1895 the Paraiayan demanded education and lands for Paraiyars in accordance with Tremenheere’s report (Balasubramaniam 2012:132). The demands of the first Dravida Mahajana Sangha Conference in 1891 show firstly that the concerns articulated in the press mapped onto wider forms of mobilization and secondly that even at this early stage, Dalit movements anticipated demands that resonate today. First, the conference called for ‘punishment of those who address the depressed classes as ‘Pariyah’ so as to ridicule them’, in a clear indication of the central significance of dignity and self-respect (Kamalanathan 1985: 7). The objections to the term also map onto a concern by Dalit intellectuals to revisit history and retrieve a more honourable past for themselves. Well before Ambedkar, Iyothee Dass argued that Paraiyars were indigenous Tamils who were originally Page 6 of 20

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Institutionalizing Caste Politics in Tamil Nadu Buddhists, but who had been degraded and stigmatized by Aryan invaders (Geetha and Rajadurai 1993). He called for Dalits to be recorded as Buddhists in the 1911 census and also referred to them as original (adi) or casteless Tamilians (Jeyaharan 2009a). This desire to shed a demeaning past and escape current stigma informs the remaining demands too, which pre-figure the system of reservations. The conference called for separate schools with concessionary fees to be established for the depressed classes and demanded that matriculated students should receive government jobs and be represented on panchayats and municipal councils where they should be treated with ‘equal respect’ (Kamalanathan 1985: 7–8). Significantly, these demands were addressed to the British but were also sent to the Indian National Congress. The latter failed to respond, which confirmed for Iyothee Dass and others that there would be no emancipation for the downtrodden in Brahmanical nationalism (Geetha and Rajadurai 1993). Instead, he used the pages of Tamilan to call for a form of proportional representation to (p.45) prevent the dominance of higher castes and the ‘Brahmin Congress’. Iconic publications such as Paraiyan and Tamilan frequently pointed towards the duplicity and double-standards of so-called nationalists and asked what place there was for Untouchables in an independent India dominated by Brahmins. When the nationalist press denounced police action against swadeshi prisoners who were up in arms because they were compelled to clean their own excreta, Iyothee Dass in Tamilan noted how upper castes were happy to impose such scavenging work on Paraiyars (Balasubramaniam 2012: 170). Whilst I have focused here on the writing and work of Iyothee Dass, it is important to stress that Dalit mobilization at this time, as noted by Sannah above, was not just the educated outpouring of a few lone intellectuals. Rather there was a network of organizations, individuals, and journals that drew correspondence, subscriptions, and followers amongst the diaspora in Malaysia, South Africa, and Burma, as well as within the country (Ayyathurai 2011). As Aloysius (1997: 59) argues, these journals and pamphlets, ‘were circulated widely among Tamils everywhere and carried the message of social emancipation, Buddhism, rationalism, anti-Brahminism, and the emergence of the new egalitarian Tamil-Dravidian identity’. Given this, it is no surprise that Geetha and Rajadurai (1993: 2098) conclude their research on this muchneglected period of Tamil history by asserting that ‘we consider panchamas as a very significant but neglected flank of the non-Brahmin movement’. The fact that the undoubted contributions of Dalit leaders in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century have so often been overlooked, in part underpins contemporary Dalit activists’ scepticism about the sincerity of the non-Brahmin movement. It is to the various strands of this movement and its relationship with caste that we turn next.

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Institutionalizing Caste Politics in Tamil Nadu Elite Coup or Caste Critique? The Emergence of Non-Brahminism The themes of self-respect and anti-Brahminism that animated the Dalit pioneers were also to the fore in the non-Brahmin movement. Both strands were inspired by new histories counter-posing an ancient and egalitarian Dravidian past to the divisions created by Aryan invaders (Bergunder 2004). Early Christian scholars and (p.46) missionaries, such as Ziegenbalg and Caldwell, furthermore, added fuel to the Dravidian fire in observing that Tamil was as ancient a language and culture as Sanskrit (Geetha and Rajadurai 2011: 105–8). This enabled those seeking to unseat Brahmins from their position of dominance in society and the administrative service, to point to a rich and ancient past that had been subjugated by ‘northern’ invaders. Whilst the common thread of antiBrahminism enables us to speak of the non-Brahmin movement in the singular, there were in fact several strands. The initial impetus was provided by the Justice Party, which mobilized a regional elite of non-Brahmin professionals, merchants, and landlords to demand admission into the British administration and representation in incipient forms of representative politics. In 1925, E.V Ramasami (Periyar)—an iconoclastic and radical thinker, agitator and reformer— launched the Self-Respect Association (SRA), which offered a much more radical critique of social relations and norms than the Justicites, and sought to implement social and personal practices that would undermine traditional social structures and ways of life (Hodges 2005). With the Justice Party failing, Periyar assumed leadership and merged it with the SRA in 1944 to form the Dravidian Federation (Dravida Kazhagam), which focused on the Dravidian nation and campaigned vociferously against the imposition of Hindi as a national language. Both the Self-Respect Movement and the DK sought to present a vision of an egalitarian Tamil or Dravidian past that had been corrupted by Aryan customs. The Justice Party leader, Soundrapandian, for example, argued that ‘untouchability, unapproachability, unseeability and other monstrous customs were unknown to our ancients’ (cited in Barnett 1976: 44). This imagined community of a suppressed Dravidian minority was to be crucial to the emergence of the catch-all category of non-Brahmins. From the very outset of the non-Brahmin movement, thus, Ramarayaningar—president—elect of the first non-Brahmin movement conference—argued that they had specific ‘ideas about Indian nation-building and about national regeneration’ (Geetha and Rajadurai 2011: 121). Pointing towards the deep-seated divisions of caste and the disproportionate power of the Brahmin minority, Ramarayaningar went on to articulate the core principle of non-Brahminism that: ‘without political power in (p.47) proportion to its importance and stake in the country no community can advance’ (Geetha and Rajadurai 2011: 122). This focus on political power has led some to see the non-Brahmin movement as the product of the intersection between the colonial state and a group of elite collaborators (Pandian 1995). The ‘non-Brahmin’ movement, according to Baker (1976: 322), banded 98 per cent of the population together solely because they Page 8 of 20

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Institutionalizing Caste Politics in Tamil Nadu were not Brahmins. This represented a category of people that was so diverse as to have no sustainable social basis, but it ‘gratified British expectations’. In such accounts, the movement is presented as an elite protest that by no means represented or mobilized the majority of non-Brahmins. The main objective, rather, is said to have been the prestige and patronage that was conferred by assuming government office. Indeed, Washbrook (1976: 273) maintained that ‘the conversion of the Madras Government to the policies of active communal discrimination, was the prime factor in the development of communal politics’. The introduction of a limited franchise in the second and third decades of the twentieth century certainly created new channels to power and influence and animated the politics of caste categories. In his overview of scholarship on this period, Pandian (1995) rightly critiques the denial of agency in such accounts and, as we have seen, Dalit leaders were demanding quotas based on communal categories well in advance of the British adoption of such modes of governance. The non-Brahmin movement expertly exploited British unease over the preponderance of Brahmins in office (Rajendran 1994: 53), but they also drew on more widespread resentment of Brahmins as articulated by the Dalit pioneers and others. Pandian (1995: 388) argues that ‘it was indeed the inferiorized sudra identity which constituted the basis for the mobilization of the non-Brahmin by the Dravidian movement(s).’ Even if we accept that the movement was established as an elite platform for socio-politically mobile castes, the gradual widening of the franchise compelled leaders to pay more attention to the mobilization of potential support. Additionally, the symbolic significance of shared linguistic and low-caste heritage in bolstering the ‘imagined fraternity’ of non-Brahminhood cannot be over-stated (Geetha and Rajadurai 2011: 124). (p.48) It is also clear that in the process of mapping and producing knowledge about Indian society, colonial powers unwittingly assumed the royal prerogative of deciding the hierarchical position of castes within their jurisdiction (Dirks 1987: 8). In the process, they served to produce new forms and understandings of caste. Iyothee Dass’ (failed) efforts to have Paraiyars registered as Buddhists rather than Hindus were part of this dialectic, as were the attempts by other castes to lobby census officials for recognition as higher castes. The impact of British rule, in other words, was keenly felt in social relations. State-wide caste associations, Tamil language nationalism and the non-Brahmin movement are examples of social expression that were enabled by the new forms of knowledge emerging in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. By challenging the immutability of the established social order and providing opportunities for social mobility, a variety of possible self-definitions were made available. The non-Brahmin movement is instructive of the gradual process by which the ‘British administrators and the Indians who interacted with them began to

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Institutionalizing Caste Politics in Tamil Nadu develop what was in effect a common understanding about appropriate techniques for political expression’ (Irschick 1986: 115). Communal representation came to be accepted as one of the foremost means by which people could have their voices heard and the recognition and appreciation of the fruits of office has remained central to Tamil politics (Price 1996). Regardless of the strength, or otherwise, of communal sentiment, communal categories were established as an effective means of mobilization. The increasing prominence of government in the everyday lives of its citizens also rendered government office an attractive and meaningful object of such movements. The significance of the Justice Party victory in the 1920 Legislative Assembly polls in Madras lies less in the replacement of one clique by another, than in the manner of this reorganization. ‘After 1920’, as Washbrook observes, ‘channels of political communication were joined and largely replaced by those of election’ (1976: 326). Henceforth, political demands were arguably formulated as much to influence official policy as to attract a following. The nonBrahmin movement exemplified the increasingly secular orientation of the new organizational forms of caste and religious groups. Confronted by a state with increasing powers of patronage, the new (p.49) organizational forms of social categories were directed towards securing economic benefits, jobs, or special concessions (Rudolph and Rudolph 1967). The appeal to communal sentiment was a powerful mobilizing tool for what Ramaswami Mudaliar, of the All India Non-Brahmin Congress, defined as a ‘jobocracy’ (Irschick 1969: 262). Overly instrumental analyses of the movement, however, can obscure the fact that the clamour for jobs and political positions reflected a marked rejection of Sanskritization (the emulation of higher castes) as a path to mobility. As Periyar put it in 1929: Some persons are discoursing to you that by getting yourselves educated, earning money, bathing, abstaining from drinking (alcohol) and by not eating meat your lowness will go. I will not accept these. If these are the reasons for your low status, then why do the others who are also having the same ill qualities, instead of reaching your low position remain as Brahmins? The only reason for your humiliation and low condition is absence of dignity and self-respect. (cited in Kandasamy et al 2005: 151) Similarly, whilst the main objective of elite leaders appears to have been the prestige and patronage that was conferred by assuming government office (Irschick 1969), the movement simultaneously saw widening political participation as a means of combatting caste-based exclusion. As Periyar observed in 1925: ‘India will never get complete freedom until there are equal rights for every sect of people. If everyone has to get equal rights, the only medicine is communal representation’ (cited in Kandasamy et al 2005: 119).

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Institutionalizing Caste Politics in Tamil Nadu From the very outset, Dalit leaders expressed reservations about the nonBrahmin category. Iyothee Dass, for example, argued that those who continued to practice Hindu rituals could hardly be called ‘non’ Brahmin and coined the term Vesha Brahmana (pseudo-Brahmin) to describe them (Balasubramaniam 2012: 149). Similarly, the Dalit leader Rettamalai Srinivasan’s Pariah Mahajana Sabha also rejected the Justice Party’s call for unity pointing out that casteHindu Raj would be no better than Brahmin Raj for the Dalits (Irschick 1969: 71–2). Shortly after the Justice Party gained electoral success, Kandasamy Chetty and M. C. Rajah used the first Adi-Dravida Congress (Original Dravidian Congress) in 1922 to condemn the ‘Justicite’s “breach of compact” with the AdiDravidas’ (Geetha and Rajadurai 2011: 189). Likewise, in 1923, ‘M. C. Rajah, the most (p.50) prominent untouchable in the Justice Party withdrew, taking a number of untouchable leaders with him’, because they felt that they were denied due representation and the benefits of office (Barnett and Barnett 1974: 400). Despite the radical rhetoric and campaigns for temple entry and reforms by the Self-Respect Movement and the Justice Party, furthermore, the lowercaste members of the category felt neglected. In the 1930s, therefore, the nonBrahmin movement split into Forward and Backward Classes. The Backward Classes League, formed in 1935, noted that privileged and dominant castes monopolized leadership positions and rewards and demanded a more equitable distribution of resources. Non-Brahminism, which united disparate castes against Brahmin dominance, consequently, foundered upon internal caste inequalities (Wyatt 2010a: 23). Whilst the non-Brahminism of the Justice Party may have been the preserve of a narrow caste-elite, it would be mistaken to dismiss the genuine radicalism of Dravidian thought. Periyar’s robust condemnation of Gandhi and Congress demonstrates the counter-hegemonic nature of his thought. When, Gandhi went on a fast unto death following the Round Table Conference award of separate electorates to the Depressed Classes, for instance, Self-Respecters and Justicites held meetings in support of Ambedkar and Srinivasan and against Gandhi. They also implemented reserved seats for Adi-Dravidas in 1932 (Geetha and Rajadurai 2011: 233). Periyar was scathing in his assessment of Gandhi’s efforts to uplift those he called Harijans (children of God–Dalits): What do these people do for the removal of untouchability? They give them oil and soap and peanuts and rice and peppermint. Is this service for the Harijans? This costs one rupee a week. The person who distributes this material has a salary of Rs. 36 per month (cited in Kandasamy et al 2005: 178). He was equally derisive when Adi-Dravidas were excluded from the Congress Conference inter-dining event in south Tanjore in 1938.

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Institutionalizing Caste Politics in Tamil Nadu It is being advertised that the ‘Harijan’ Minister, Honourable Munusamy Pillai and the ‘Harijan’ Mayor, comrade J. Sivashanmugam Pillai, are doing community dining with caste Hindus. But the right of ‘community dining’— is it only for the ‘Harijan’ minister and Mayor, is it not for (p.51) the Harijan society? Is it just and fair when they accept the respect for themselves, a respect that their society does not have? (Kandasamy et al 2005: 187) The Self-Respect movement held firm to the view that the eradication of untouchability was central to self-rule. Copies of the Annihilation of Caste— Ambedkar’s classic analysis of the caste system—were serialized in the party journals and later issued as a book (Geetha and Rajadurai 2011: 350). The ties between Periyar and Ambedkar and various Adi-Dravida leaders lends credence to the claim that the movement fostered a ‘deep horizontal comradeship’. The fact remains, however, that caste atrocities continue in contemporary Tamil Nadu and the imagined fraternity of Tamil or Dravidian identity has never curbed casteist excesses. Indeed, following caste violence in 1928, Periyar bemoaned the fact that ‘the caste oppression we [non-Brahmins] perpetrate is greater than that practised by Brahmins’ (Geetha and Rajadurai 2011: 354). Similarly, in 1930, he echoed Rettamalai Srinivasan’s concerns in cautioning of the dangers of caste hatred: Before the British quit India, i.e. in the rule of the British itself, we should ask them to make rules that will annihilate all caste differences. Instead, if we ask them to leave our land, it is just like drinking poison for our own deaths because 999 out of 1000 Indians are not interested in abolishing caste differences. … Each caste strives to make itself superior, which is done by making some caste to be lower to them. If the rule is in the hand of casteist people, caste cruelties will never be banished! (cited in Kandasamy et al 2005: 154) Given the radicalism of the viewpoints expressed above and the sustained backing for Ambedkar and other Dalit activists, it is no surprise that current Dalit leaders, such as Thirumavalavan above, continue to view Periyar as an inspiration. It also explains why commentators frequently voice their disbelief ‘that such a large number of caste parties should sprout in Tamil Nadu, the cradle of the Dravidian movement’ (Subramanian 2001). Since all political parties in the state claim to follow in Periyar’s footsteps, such incredulity seems valid. Why then does caste retain so prominent a place in the land of Periyar?

(p.52) Caste Competition and Conflict: The Template of Tamil Politics? In her sharp critique of responses to the ‘Pariah Problem’, Viswanath (2014: 256) argues that part of the problem is that for all his iconoclasm, Periyar echoed Gandhi in ‘valorizing the social as the appropriate venue for aspirations for change, to the exclusion of legislative politics, and revolved around symbolic Page 12 of 20

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Institutionalizing Caste Politics in Tamil Nadu attacks on caste and consciousness raising rather than structural measures.’ Even in their more sympathetic reading of the movement, Geetha and Rajadurai (2011: 423) note that ‘the Self-Respecters’ economic agenda was limited in its objectives’ and the privileging of the anti-Brahmin struggle hindered analysis of the class contradictions within non-Brahminism. Whilst Periyar called for the Untouchables to be ‘given land, food, clothing, and books, good and free education’ in 1929 (cited in Kandasamy et al. 2005: 152), therefore, the overdetermination of the Brahmin–non-Brahmin (and later Hindi-Tamil) divide served to foreclose a radical redistribution of lands held by non-Brahmin landowners. ‘Dravida Kazhagam ideology’, as Barnett and Barnett (1974: 403) argue, ‘lacked sufficient class analysis.’ They note how the DK gained Dalit support in areas of Tanjore where many of the landlords were Brahmin, but they haemorrhaged such backing after Independence as Dalits experienced ‘non-Brahmin landlord economic exploitation’ (Barnett and Barnett 1974: 404). For all his critique of religion, Subramanian (1999: 318) concludes, ‘a section of Hindus (BCs) occupied the core of Periyar’s vision of the Dravidian community’. Barnett and Barnett argue that the social radicalism of the Self-Respect movement was diluted by the focus on linguistic nationalism: ‘Cultural nationalism watered down the economic content of its ideology; it blunted political organization along class lines, stressing unity amongst caste Tamilians and further isolating Adi-Dravidas’ (1974: 407). They view the move to politics by the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK—Dravidian Progressive Federation), which split from the DK in 1949, as further eroding the programme of social reform, since the Backward Castes soon emerged as an important vote base. Rudolph and Rudolph (1967) detail the ways in which caste was structured into Tamil politics from the outset with their case studies of Nadar and Vanniyar mobilization (p.53) and political bargaining. They demonstrate how Vanniyar political mobilization in the late 1940s and early 1950s, under the banner of the Toiler’s Party and the Commonweal Party, demonstrated their political strength. Both parties were only dissolved once the Congress (and later DMK) made concessions to Vanniyar groups and key politicians from the caste were placed in cabinet posts. Whilst Nadars did not enter politics as a community in like manner, ‘community representativeness and interest’ remained central in terms of the nomination of Nadar candidates and focus on caste interests (Rudolph and Rudolph 1967: 95). In accommodating the demands of such groups the DMK effectively abandoned the goal of structural change, as Barnett and Barnett (1974: 401) observed: ‘Backward Castes viewed their own advancement (not destruction of the caste system) as the central problem, since they hoped to maintain superiority over Untouchables.’ In an indictment of Dravidian politics, this summation holds as true today as it did in the 1970s. Two legacies of the non-Brahmin movement significantly shaped the subsequent contours of Tamil politics and help explicate this institutionalization of caste. The first legacy was the early institution of affirmative action programmes and the Page 13 of 20

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Institutionalizing Caste Politics in Tamil Nadu advocacy of communal representation on the understanding that social and ritual hierarchies could be challenged and renegotiated through political mobilization and electoral competition. Periyar campaigned vigorously for the extension of reservations to the Backward and Scheduled Castes in the belief that this would undermine caste. Instead, successive caste groups have mobilized in Tamil Nadu to demand their share. The second enduring legacy that I wish to highlight here, is the emphasis on respect for non-Brahmin castes. ‘Every community’, Periyar wrote in 1927, ‘must develop self-respect, equality, and self-esteem’ (Kandasamy et al 2005: 133). There is an abiding theme in selfrespect writings urging Dalits to reject inferiority complexes and see themselves as human beings. Yet Periyar simultaneously came close to absolving oppressor castes in placing the blame for their violent cruelty on their faith (Kandasamy et al. 2005: 155). Whilst he recognized the propensity of all castes to dominate those beneath them and expressed anguish at the Mukkulathor riots between Thevars and Pallars in 1957, he was quick to blame Brahmins for playing different (p.54) castes off against each other. He was also happy to address individual caste conferences in his attempts to foster self-respect and anti-caste sentiments and brushed off those who saw this as hypocritical. Self-respect, in other words, was framed in communal rather than individual terms, thus reinforcing caste-based assertion. Rudolph and Rudolph (1967: 62–3) note how ‘the caste association enables middle and lower castes to establish the basis of self-esteem.’ I would contend that self-esteem articulated in communal terms is not dissimilar to caste pride, which has underpinned forceful mobilization by intermediate-caste groups who feel that they have not enjoyed Government support in proportion to their population and resent the rise of Dalits who they see as utilizing benefits to enhance their status (Wyatt 2010a). Vanniyar mobilization occurred despite the fact, as we have seen, that Vanniyar concerns were central to post-Independence politics. ‘Self-esteem’, in such politics, is clearly a relational concept in which the relative positions of different castes are crucial. The injunctions to contest oppression through assertion of dignity and independence also finds an expression in contemporary Dalit politics. Dr Krishnasamy, founder leader of Puthiya Tamilagam for instance, felt that Dalits lacked the caste feelings displayed by others. ‘An important aspect in the struggle for Dalit liberty’, he told a conference in 1999, ‘is the fostering of caste consciousness’ (Speech, November 1999). His position was that each Dalit caste should mobilize and develop itself. Dalit politicians maintain that their advocacy of self-respect and assertion is designed to offset socio-political marginalization and ensure that the fruits of democracy reach the most excluded of citizens. Indeed, whilst many members of the intermediate castes are indistinguishable from Dalits in socio-economic indicators (Wyatt 2010a), in broader terms Heyer (2014: 168) finds that ‘Dalits were lagging behind other groups in every respect.’ Harriss, Jeyaranjan, and Nagaraj (2010: 60) similarly conclude that ‘old power structures remain deeply Page 14 of 20

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Institutionalizing Caste Politics in Tamil Nadu entrenched’, but both papers chart a wholesale shift in Dalit aspirations, attitudes, body language, and attire. Few Dalits now quietly accept abuse, and their willingness to look further afield for labour or to demand more has seen wages rise. Accordingly, the rise of intermediate-caste politics, as De Neve and Carswell (2011: (p.55) 207) note in their study of Western Tamil Nadu, relates to ‘more general anxieties about losing control over a once docile rural Dalit workforce.’ Of particular interest to us here, is that Gounder farmers and industrialists in 2009, responded to what they saw as state neglect of their interests in favour of labour, by launching a caste-based political party. In so doing, they echo previous mobilization by Thevars (Pandian 2000) and Vanniyars (Arun 2007) both of whom also resented the upward social mobility of Dalits. Caste-based self-esteem, here, is the antithesis of caste eradication. Such intermediate-caste mobilization, rather, offers an example of defensive mobilization and ‘reverse-casteism’ (Maniratnam, Personal Communication, April 2012); the assertion by socially dominant groups that those below them in the caste hierarchy are abusing state provisions, such as the 1989 SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act, to get one over their ‘betters’. The difficulties in getting such cases registered let alone prosecuted suggests that claims of misuse are exaggerated at best (Gorringe and Karthikeyan 2014a; Jaffrelot 2016), but also emphasizes the continuing salience of caste attitudes and feelings. Rather than seeing such emotive appeals as a novel aspect of Tamil politics, the grounds for such contortions around caste may be traced back to the politics of Self-Respect itself. Back in 1929, for instance, Periyar urged Dalits to assert themselves: They address you as Paraiyars and Pallars. Yet, the words Paraiyar and Pallar only signify your work/occupation and the place that you inhabit. Because of these names, Paraiyars and Pallars are independent and not fit of humiliation. Whereas, the name with which we are addressed, Sudran causes disgrace on our very birth, marks us a birth-slave to one, as a son of a whore by birth and it carries with it only disgraceful facts. (in Kandasamy et al. 2005: 149) The mutation of such sentiments into celebrations of caste pride is a perversion of Periyarist thought, and yet the rhetoric of demeaned Sudra-hood contains the seeds of Backward Caste resentment. It is telling that whilst they were initially attracted to the radicalism of the Self-Respect Movement and the DK, Dalit leaders and activists became increasingly disillusioned by their continued exclusion from positions of leadership (Barnett 1976: 41), and the failure of these movements to address deep-seated social inequalities and forms of (p.56) stigmatization (Geetha and Rajadurai 2011). Satyamurthy (1997: 3) argues that Dravidian politics ‘represents a political phenomenon in which the culture along a horizontal social continuum temporarily masks the fundamental antagonistic vertical social contradictions’. Perhaps the biggest failing of the Dravidian Page 15 of 20

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Institutionalizing Caste Politics in Tamil Nadu movement from this perspective, was the failure to fully extend the critique of Brahmin domination to non-Brahmin castes. The rise of Tamil language nationalism led both the Justice Party and the DK to voice secessionist demands and the anti-caste elements of the Dravidian and non-Brahmin movements have gradually been superseded by this emphasis on language, region, and—particularly following violence in Sri Lanka—ethnic identity (Subramanian 1999). ‘The dominant caste groups’, as Dalit intellectual and activist Stalin Rajangam put it, ‘used Tamil to conceal their caste identity’ (Interview, March 2012). Institutionalization here, as for other movements, has led to a loss of radicalism. The principal political parties in the state all grew out of the non-Brahmin movement, particularly the organizations launched by Periyar. The most enduring of these organizations are the Dravida Kazhagam and its two off-shoots, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) and All India Anna DMK (AIADMK).4 It is these offspring that have dominated Tamil Governments since 1967. Dravidian mobilization placed caste and ‘race’ divides at the centre of Tamil politics, portraying Independence as the replacement of one elite (British) by another (upper-caste, Hindi-speaking, ‘Aryans’). The strength of this Dravidian rhetoric is reflected in the changing composition of Congress candidates. In 1954, when the Nadar Kamaraj replaced a Brahmin as Chief Minister, only 5 per cent of Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs) were Brahmins, as opposed to 17 per cent in 1937 (Jaffrelot 2003: 177). Even at this stage, as we have seen, caste concerns about representation informed politics in the state. Racine (2009) notes how caste continues to dominate political calculations surrounding which candidates to field and which constituencies to address. This is one reason why the proportion of reserved jobs for ‘Backward’ and ‘Scheduled’ Castes is (p.57) so high in the state, exceeding the Supreme Court ceiling of 50 per cent by a considerable margin at 69 per cent (Racine 2009; Ziegfeld 2013). The political mobilization of lower castes in Tamil Nadu has, to this extent, succeeded, but this benchmark means that there is limited scope for emerging parties to lobby for further concessions. There is, as Racine puts it, ‘a gap between successful agitations by a caste association and their political dividends’ (2009: 470). In part this is because of the absolute dominance of the two Dravidian parties who have not gained less than 67 per cent of seats in the Legislative Assembly in the ten elections since 1971 (Racine 2009: 454) in a pattern that continues till this day. Despite initial optimism, the contradictory articulation of anti-caste rhetoric by parties based on (and protective of) Backward Caste interests has encouraged caste-based resentment amongst excluded groups. These sentiments, as Wyatt (2010a) notes, have been used by political entrepreneurs seeking to mobilize followers and have rendered caste-based mobilization the definitive mode of political organization for challenging groups in the state. The emotive language of caste has an intuitive appeal (Chandra 2004) that is widely recognized and Page 16 of 20

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Institutionalizing Caste Politics in Tamil Nadu can be legitimized by reference to Periyar’s emphasis on communal self-respect. In the 1980s, thus, the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) mobilized Vanniyars on the grounds that they lacked political recognition proportionate to their size and importance despite their early accommodation into post-Independence Tamil politics. PMK mobilization helped to shape the subsequent repertoire of Tamil politics in a number of ways: first, it forced its way into the political mainstream by employing aggressive, sometimes violent, agitation. These tactics have subsequently been emulated by successive political challengers. Second, the PMK evaporated residual appeals to non-Brahmin unity by flagging up the issue of relative caste deprivation. Third, they secured a sub-division of reservations aimed at Backward Castes for the new administrative category of Most Backward Classes (MBC). This not only reinforced the merits of caste-based mobilization but paved the way for other marginalized and excluded groups to voice similar demands. Such concerns have animated intra-Dalit debates about reservations that resulted in the provision of a 3 per cent sub-quota for Arunthathiyars (Teltumbde (p.58) 2011a). Finally, the political rise of this MBC group highlighted the continuing exclusion of Dalits, both by comparison and because the politically mobile Vanniyars increasingly countered Dalit assertion with violence, further illustrating the failure of Dravidian politics to erode caste sentiment (Arun 2007). The emergence of non-Dravidian challengers, as Wyatt (2010a) notes, has not displaced the Dravidian duopoly but forced these parties into a range of alliances (until the AIADMK’s stunning success in the 2014 Lok Sabha election). Political recognition in Tamil Nadu takes the form of an alliance with one or other of the main parties rather than an ability to stand alone. The run-up to each election, thus, habitually witnesses tense negotiations over alliance formation and seat-sharing in which the Dravidian giants hold most of the cards. Roberts (2010) argues that the Dalit parties have successfully weaned Dalit votes away from the main parties, but given that they have done so by forging alliances with those parties, the gains are marginal (Gorringe 2011). Although the fractured nature of caste dominance in the state, where no one caste cluster is socially, numerically, or politically pre-eminent, has obscured the interlinking of social and political power (Lakshman 2011), Thevars, Gounders, Naickers, Nadars, and Vanniyars all have pockets of dominance across the state and have been assiduously wooed by Dravidian parties. Caste majoritarianism is writ large in the prominence accorded to these castes in terms of Parliamentary candidates, in government posts, ministerial berths, and the public recognition afforded to leaders (Manikandan and Wyatt 2014). Muthuramalinga Thevar’s anniversary, for instance, is marked as a state occasion, whilst his opponent, Dalit leader Immanuel Sekaran’s anniversary, is marked by tension and high security and has yet to be granted state approval (Karthikeyan, Rajangam, and Gorringe 2012). Dalit MLAs in Dravidian parties have tended to attain distinction within Adi-Dravida Welfare or minor Page 17 of 20

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Institutionalizing Caste Politics in Tamil Nadu departments. In a state governed by the non-Brahmin parties we can have a Brahmin chief minister but it is still almost unthinkable that a Dalit could attain that position—as dramatized early in 2016 when a Facebook post by VCK General Secretary Ravikumar sparked an intense and heated debate on the subject (Naig 2016a).

(p.59) From Non-Brahmin to Non-Dalit? In the short history of caste and politics in Tamil Nadu presented here, we have seen how Dalit activists were mobilized at an early stage in the state and articulated alternative histories, chose less demeaning nomenclatures, and mobilized to wrest concessions from the British. Geetha and Rajadurai (1993) have identified these Dalit pioneers as a key branch of the Dravidian movement in the state even though they are not widely accepted as such. Such a position is justified by the continuities between Dalit and Dravidian thought, in the centrality of struggles against caste for Periyar and in the sustained and insightful critique of Brahminism that he expressed. The radicalism and sincerity of Periyar’s ideology is apparent in the quotes offered above, which is why he remains an inspiration to anti-caste campaigners today. In trying to address caste inequalities, however, the Dravidian movement established communal categories as effective bases of mobilization to secure recognition, jobs, and economic benefits. The movement also failed to wed its analysis of social inequalities to a programme of structural reform. As such, as Washbrook (1976) notes, it failed to breach the ‘untouchability line’ separating Dalits from their peers. This persistent separation of Dalits was epitomized in 2012, marked as the centenary of Dravidianism, by the creation, and— more significantly—official registration of a Non-Dalit Common People’s Association (Dalit Alladhu Podhu Makkal Peravai). That egalitarian rhetoric and perceptive condemnations of discrimination has yet to penetrate caste society is writ large in the officials’ willingness to formalize a body premised on caste-based exclusion (Gorringe 2012). For Geetha and Rajadurai (2011) the demise of Dravidian idealism accompanied the turn to politics. Interviewed by Vaasanthi (2006: 211), Geetha elucidated her position: What I would like to ask is what happened to the anti-caste legacy once it became part of the political establishment? What role do electoral politics have to play in all this? Electoral politics demands that you represent a particular constituency. You may or may not choose a constituency for being caste-specific but in reality you tend to represent a caste group that is predominant. (p.60) Dalit parties, in other words, mobilized in the 1980s and 1990s to reclaim a place in the Dravidian pantheon from which they had been frozen out. They emerged in a polity suffused by caste outfits and concerns, to press the Page 18 of 20

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Institutionalizing Caste Politics in Tamil Nadu claims of those still side-lined and unrepresented by existing parties. In so doing they drew on the legacy of past movements in the state: they echoed the tactics of the PMK and recovered the more radical writings and ideas of Periyar. This means that any analysis of Dalit institutionalization requires ‘a nuanced analysis of the party and of the situation within which they are operating’ (Geetha, Personal Communication, March 2012). We need, furthermore, to be sensitive to the social as well as political facets of mobilization (Jaoul 2006) given that institutionalization occurs on multiple levels and in various registers. Chapter 3 focuses on the wider processes through which the VCK has been institutionalized into Tamil ways of doing politics. Institutionalization, it is argued, cannot be measured in purely political terms or in the language of gains and advantages. Entering electoral politics, as Aminzade (1995) observes, can co-exist with an informal and decentralized organizational structure and need not (initially at least) lead to formalization and professionalization. The PMK, as Wyatt (2010a: 100) notes, continues to deploy a range of protest tactics despite cementing its place in Tamil politics. The Dalit parties, furthermore, emerged in a political context already moulded by the incorporation of intermediate castes who are so entrenched, as Pandian (2013a) notes, that they are seeking to erase their own histories in a bid to validate their current status. These attempts to censor the past, now witnessed in Pallar mobilization, speak to the persistence of hierarchical values (Harriss 2012), the rise of Hindutva ideologies in the South (Pandian 2013a), and the affirmation of caste identities in the land of Periyar. This is not necessarily a critique of Periyar so much as an indication of his continuing relevance and a sad commentary on post-Independence political practice in Tamil Nadu. It is into this cauldron of caste politics that the VCK entered in 1999. Whilst caste has been deeply politicized, to limit analysis to its political manifestations would be to neglect its centrality to social relations and norms. Caste, as Jodhka (2014) demonstrates, continues to create and perpetuate stark material disparities in terms of where people live, what jobs they can do, (p.61) and what access they have to key services. It was these inequalities that the Panthers arose to address and challenge, and the next chapter details continuing debates around untouchability and caste discrimination in Tamil Nadu before returning to the politics of caste today. Notes:

(1) This is the spelling used in English translations and writings of the time. His name has also been transliterated as: Iyothi Das, Iyothee Thoss, Ayodhya Dasa, Ayothidasar, Ayotheethassar, and Ayothidas. (2) Paari Chelian, who has himself written books in Tamil on Iyothee Dass, charts some of the work on the Dalit ideologue here: http://

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Institutionalizing Caste Politics in Tamil Nadu ayyothidhasapandithar.blogspot.co.uk/2010_10_01_archive.html (Accessed on 3 June 2016). (3) Geetha and Rajadurai (1993) give 1881 as the founding date, but Kamalanathan (1985) and others suggest that the first conference was held in 1891. (4) Anna, here refers to the founder leader of the DMK, C. N. Annadurai.

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Twenty-First Century Casteism?

Panthers in Parliament: Dalits, Caste, and Political Power in South India Hugo Gorringe

Print publication date: 2017 Print ISBN-13: 9780199468157 Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: March 2017 DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199468157.001.0001

Twenty-First Century Casteism? Discrimination, Hierarchy, and Politics in Contemporary Tamil Nadu Hugo Gorringe

DOI:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199468157.003.0003

Abstract and Keywords Tamil Nadu witnessed a radical movement against brahminical oppression and has been dominated by political parties committed to eradicating caste inequalities since the mid-1960s. Despite this, Tamil Nadu continues to witness outbreaks of caste violence; couples who choose to marry across caste are harassed, intimidated or killed; and forms of caste discrimination persist. This chapter offers an overview of untouchability and caste discrimination in contemporary Tamil Nadu. We see that despite significant changes, caste discrimination not only persists, but takes new forms. Keywords:   Untouchability, caste, discrimination, social change, social structures

We enlighten our children that untouchability is a sin. We take oath in government offices not to practice untouchability. We demonstrate in protests against untouchability. Cases are registered in courts against the individuals or groups who practice untouchability. In spite of all this, untouchability still exists. On one side, democratic measures are taken to end the practice of untouchability. On the other side, untouchability is practised unabated. —(Evidence Report, 2011) If you want to do good work then go and work with higher castes and educate them about the Prevention of Atrocities Act. Educate them about

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Twenty-First Century Casteism? the evils of casteism. But what happens. Where do all these organizations go? To the slums and cheris. What about organizations concerned with economic development? They go to the higher castes. Then what happens, people are set in their respective places. The upper castes keep growing, whereas this lot gain some knowledge but no economic advancement. With what little they have taught him he starts asking questions of the movements. —(Jawahar, Interview March 2012)

(p.63) Untouchability Unlimited? In December 2015, torrential rain caused flooding and destruction in Chennai and along the Tamil coastline. Natural disasters know no boundaries and people across class and caste lines were badly affected by the floods, but the relief efforts to alleviate people’s suffering were not immune to social divisions. A factfinding report by the Intellectual Circle for Dalit Actions (ICDA 2015), for instance, observed discrimination in the distribution of relief materials: ‘couldn’t find a single relief camp where both Dalits and non-Dalits were given shelter’ and alleged that ‘dominant caste villagers pillaged all the materials.’ Other reports painted a similar picture (cf. Senthalir 2015; Bhalla and Ravishankar 2015). Following similar discrimination in the wake of the Boxing Day Tsunami, the Chairman of the All India Confederation of SC/ST Organizations asked: ‘Is this the spirit of the Constitution which says that the state will not practice any kind of discrimination on the basis of caste, creed, sex, and race?’ (Raj 2005). Nor is such exclusion confined to exceptional moments or events or inflicted on the vulnerable. In May 2015, L. Periasamy, an MLA from the ruling AIADMK, was reportedly prevented from taking part in a temple festival in Puducherry. Speaking to The Hindu newspaper he said: ‘being a member of Scheduled Caste, I was humiliated and prevented from pulling the car in the presence of a public gathering’ (Sivaraman 2015). In January 2011, CPI(M) MLA A. Lazar joined protests in the village of Thatchur village where dominant caste Reddiars had murdered Rajendran, a grave-digger, for preparing to inter a Dalit in a ‘common’ graveyard. When protestors reached the scene, they found the gates closed against them. ‘If the high castes can shut the gates to the graveyard in the face of an MLA like me and other officials’ Lazar noted to CPI(M) organ Theekathir (2011), ‘then how great must the suffering of Dalit families here be?’ As Lazar, vice-president of the Tamil Nadu Untouchability Eradication Front, indicates, the experiences of such elite Dalits confirm the continuance of practices of stigmatization and exclusion customarily associated with untouchability, but they are only the tip of the iceberg. Whilst there have been significant changes in Tamil Nadu over the past few decades and old ties of patronage and caste are being eroded, (p.64) casteism and discrimination based on it continue to mar the lives and livelihoods of those Page 2 of 36

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Twenty-First Century Casteism? at the foot of the caste hierarchy (Jodhka 2015). As The Hindu (2015b) put it in an editorial: ‘Discrimination against Dalits is widespread and ingrained in the psyche across India, in rural settings in particular. In some places it takes the form of violent oppression, in others it is disguised yet omnipresent.’ Highprofile examples of violence and marginalization during my fieldwork offered a stark reminder of the strength and depth of caste feeling in Tamil Nadu; I saw Dalit houses ransacked and burned in Dharmapuri in the north of the state, and statues of Dr Ambedkar destroyed in Madurai further south. Such incidents are common enough for some respondents—such as Karthik, a young Dalit man working for an NGO in Madurai—to insist that: ‘nothing has really changed, because the caste consciousness and mentality remain intact especially in rural areas’ (Personal Communication, March 2012). Karthik is not alone; ‘nothing has changed’ was a frequent refrain amongst respondents. To take such assertions at face value, however, would be misleading. Indeed the cases mentioned above indicate social change as well as stasis. If the attack on the Ambedkar statue demonstrates the reluctance to accept the Dalit occupation of public space, its installation speaks to processes of Dalit assertion and empowerment. Likewise, arson in Dharmapuri reveals the underlying threat of violence against those transgressing caste norms, even as it points to processes of social transformation in that Vanniyars were partly reacting to Dalit prosperity and independence. Elsewhere, Rao (2009: 211) notes how ‘changes to village structure … produced resentment’ and how ‘symbols of economic accumulation and social advancement were also targets of violence.’ The events in Dharmapuri vividly illustrate the multiple, sometimes contradictory, processes of development and transformation and their effect on localized caste relations. In November 2012, MBC Vanniyar villagers stormed into several Dalit settlements near Dharmapuri in north-western Tamil Nadu and looted, destroyed, and burned houses. Around 285 huts were set ablaze and gutted; trees had been felled across roads to prevent fire tenders from coming to the rescue. Police officers on the scene were outnumbered and looked on as mute spectators. The immediate trigger for the violence was a cross-caste marriage between a Vanniyar (p.65) woman and a Dalit man, which irked the dominant Vanniyars. When Divya’s father was unable to persuade her to break off the marriage he reportedly committed suicide from shame, and the perpetrators claimed that their violence was an emotional outburst in response.1 The violence here was notable on a number of counts: firstly, as seen in Chapter 1, the Dravidian movement, to which all the main parties in the state lay claim, practised inter-caste marriages without Brahmin priests and campaigned for social justice (e.g. Rawat 2012, Senthalir 2012, Pandian 2013b). The villages concerned had seen several inter-caste weddings in the past that had not invited such a response. This suggests a different impetus for the attack than the safeguarding of group boundaries.

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Twenty-First Century Casteism? This brings us to the final point; the socio-political context in 2012 was coloured by a virulent campaign by the Vanniyar-dominated PMK against inter-caste unions, which accused young Dalit men of deliberately seeking to entrap Vanniyar women. Faced by a decline in their authority, intermediate castes across the State have resorted to counter-mobilization built on a narrative of ‘reverse-casteism’. The extent to which such campaigns have filtered into the ‘common-sense’ of intermediate-caste people was brought home to me in a discussion with a friend who insisted that Dalits were using reservations to get ahead and get government jobs and benefits at the expense of others (Field notes, May 2012). Reference to survey evidence here could not dent the firm belief that Backward Castes were being left behind due to state favouritism towards Dalits. Such sentiments both fuel and derive from dominant caste outfits such as the Vanniyar Sangam and PMK, which have begun rallying members by accusing Dalits of misusing the Prevention of Atrocities Act, receiving preferential treatment, and instigating cross-caste marriages. This resentment feeds into a sense of insecurity that is captured in Backward Caste slogans that say: ‘First our jobs and now our women.’ This last slogan raises a further issue that lies at the heart of caste discrimination. For all the campaigns against cross-caste marriages, (p.66) it is when Dalit men marry Vanniyar women that issues arise. The voices and choices of the women concerned are lost in the claims and counter-claims of male politicians, revealing the central importance of patriarchal codes of honour and status in contemporary caste relations (Still 2014; Rege 2013; Gorringe, forthcoming). No study of Dalit politics would be complete without understanding this context and so this chapter is focused on the changing forms of caste in the state. We begin with an account of continuing forms of exclusion in social, political, and economic spheres; examine emergent forms of discrimination and conclude with an analysis of untouchability today. This presupposes, of course, that it still makes sense to speak of untouchability, but this assumption has been challenged on several counts and so we begin by interrogating the concept before proceeding to the data.

Untouchability in Question Deliege (2002: 13) argues that discrimination against Dalits today is so different from that of the past that it makes little sense to describe it as untouchability. In his view: Untouchability is largely a problem of the past. As such it remains interesting to the sociologist or the historian, but it retains little real practical existence. The whole issue has been transformed by recent historical developments, and today’s ‘Untouchables’ are very different from their forefathers. To a large extent, they can no longer be considered as ‘untouchable’ in the strict sense of the term. (2002: 11)

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Twenty-First Century Casteism? As far as Deliege is concerned: Untouchable castes lie at the bottom of Indian society. Their lowness is ritually explained by their permanent impurity which derives from their association with death and organic pollution. They thus fulfil an essential ritual function within Indian society: they remove impurity from the social world. (Deliege 1992: 156) The reference to permanent impurity is important, since everyone is impure at some point in their lives. While most forms of impurity can be removed through bathing or observing rituals, those considered to be untouchable cannot escape their condition. ‘Clean caste’ Hindus may be polluted through physical contact with an untouchable, by (p.67) touching vessels or objects they have used, or by consuming food or drink from them (Parry 1979; Deliege 1992). In more extreme versions, the footprints, shadow, or sight of an untouchable were seen as polluting (Joshi 1980). For this reason they were relegated to inferior settlements outside—and down-stream and/or down-wind from—the main villages. The cheris (Dalit settlements) tend to be removed from the oor (main village) and lack amenities and services, including proper roads. Untouchability, in other words, resulted in the exclusion and separation of Untouchables from others. They were denied access to public space, water sources, services (such as barbers), and amenities to preserve the status of those above them in the hierarchy (Thorat and Kumar 2008: 75–6). Such spatial separation points to the materiality of untouchability and problematizes Deliege’s emphasis on the ‘ritual function’ of Untouchables. Although Deliege critiques Dumont’s work on caste, he comes close here to echoing the ideological and ‘holistic’ account of caste offered by the latter. Ritual discrimination, as Viswanath (2016: 261) observes, ‘is but one component of a much more extensive structure of domination’. Segregation, in other words, is not just an expression of ritual impurity, but an important marker of low-caste status in and of itself. Mosse, likewise, concludes that Dalit ‘identity is itself principally defined by dependence and service’ (1994: 73, original emphasis; cf. Waghmore 2013). One of the key manifestations of untouchability was the requirement for untouchable castes to perform ‘slave tasks’ (adimai thozhil), such as drumming at funerals, removing carcasses, and digging graves. The link between untouchability and status is underscored by McGilvray’s (1983: 112) observation that Paraiyar drummers were prohibited from performing at their own caste funerals. Caste work was intended to ‘give public validation to highcaste status’. The decline in Dalit dependence upon other castes has led to transformations in such practices over time. Drummers, for instance, increasingly withdraw services from funerals or only perform for cash, which is deemed to be less polluting (Mosse 1994: 86), and certainly less undignified. The term Page 5 of 36

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Twenty-First Century Casteism? ‘untouchability’, therefore, is imprecisely defined at best and its parameters vary according to the observer. Tamizh Murasu, for instance, felt that parts of Tamil Nadu around Melur were now ‘liberated’. When I asked what he meant, he said: (p.68) T: People still can’t tender for the produce of quarries and fisheries department, but untouchability has gone. Now they [Higher Castes] can’t say to us, ‘don’t wear dhoti [formal waistcloth worn by important villagers as opposed to the coloured an informal lungi], don’t wear slippers, you have to beat parai for us’— all these things have changed.

H: But, these things are still prevalent in Usilampatti …

T: Yes, they are prevalent, because the movement didn’t do intense work there. (Interview, June 2012)

Captured here are ambiguities surrounding what the term untouchability does and does not cover—Tamizh Murasu here excludes the exclusion of Dalits from the proceeds of common lands—and the localized and variegated nature of caste relations on the ground. Whilst it may seem surprising that a Dalit activist can offer such an ambivalent and vague definition of untouchability, it is important to note that such confusion and indeterminacy are built into legislative instruments too. Rao (2009: 173) quotes an early law case which opined that ‘this omission would appear to be deliberate as the intention presumably was to leave no room or scope for the continuance of the practice in any shape or form’ (emphasis in Rao). Captured here is a sense of the malleability of caste and the prospect of new ‘shapes and forms’ of untouchability emerging. Whilst allowing for courts to act against novel practices, however, Rao demonstrates how the absence of a concrete definition gave state officials discretion to interpret the law and each individual case as they saw fit. The key to determining whether a crime is to be treated as untouchability or not, in effect, lies in the identity of the victim and the perpetrator rather than the nature of the crime per se (Rao 2009: 178). The focus is on what have become known as caste ‘atrocities’ ‘as a law and order problem, divorcing them from the larger strategy for social justice’ (Chakraborty, Babu, and Chakravorty 2006: 2480). If Deliege’s focus on the ritual dimensions of untouchability is blind to its material and political aspects, current legislation runs the risk of obscuring the socio-cultural contexts and idioms of caste discrimination. In what follows we will chart the continuing forms of caste discrimination in Tamil Nadu before returning to an analysis of the concept towards the end of the chapter.

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Twenty-First Century Casteism? (p.69) Continuing Casteism: Social Exclusion Article 15 of The Constitution of India relates to the prohibition of discrimination on grounds including caste. It states that no citizen shall ‘be subject to any disability, liability, restriction, or condition with regard to (a) access to shops, public restaurants, hotels, and palaces of public entertainment; or (b) the use of wells, tanks, bathing ghats, roads, and places of public resort maintained wholly or partly out of State funds or dedicated to the use of the general public’ (Government of India 2014: 11). Given this stress on equality of access to, and use of, public space and services, we begin our review by examining these issues. At the outset, we should note that there have been significant changes in relation to access and occupation of public space. We have seen that the separation between cheri and village remains in most places, but access to services and amenities in the former have improved (cf. Harriss, Jeyaranjan, and Nagaraj 2010; Gorringe 2016). Whilst Neethi Rajan (below) and Evidence (2009a) point to the continuing prevalence of the ‘two-tumbler’ system in Tamil Nadu, and barely a week passes without concerns being raised in the newspapers (e.g. Express News 2015a), such overt forms of discrimination are declining. Where tea-shops in 1999 openly employed the system (Gorringe 2005), in 2012 those shops where Dalits were served in separate glasses tended to be more discreet. Where I witnessed the practice, Dalits no longer had to wash their glasses themselves. They were served either in similar glasses to others, which were marked out in some way (a small dot of paint for instance) or in different types of vessel (stainless steel as opposed to glass) (Field notes, June 2012). Much more common was the use of plastic ‘use-and-throw’ cups, which invited a mixed reaction from Dalits. Tamizh Murasu, for example, saw ‘no issues if they use a disposable tumbler’ (Interview, July 2012), whereas Kathir was less sanguine: ‘Yesterday there was a two-glass system; today they have disposable glasses’, he said, ‘this is not untouchability eradication’ (Interview, March 2012). His point was that the underlying impetus was to avoid contact. This was emphasized by my friend Raja who recounted his experiences in college: At college I experienced subtle forms of caste feeling. It was a largely Thevar college and when I got called forward to receive my scholarship (p. 70) it affected how some of them saw me. After that some of them would refuse to share cigarettes with me—puff from the same cigarette—they talked about yecchi (saliva) but would drag on others cigarettes. I had no need for such ‘friends’. Some while later, when I met up with this guy a group of us were drinking and he picked up my glass and finished off the drink in it. ‘Does yecchi matter less when you are drinking?’ I asked; and he got all tense, but some other friends swiftly moved the conversation on. (Personal Communication, February 2012)

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Twenty-First Century Casteism? This evocative depiction of the contours of acceptance and status-positioning points towards the fraught nature of relationships in urban India. Sharma’s (2016) rich ethnographic study of domestic workers in Delhi offers further insights into the complex processes by which caste identity and status are identified and acted out on a day-to-day basis. Sharma notes how class considerations compel workers to navigate and re-draw ‘boundaries of social difference’. Upper-caste employees, for example, might respond to disgust or uncertainty about their employer’s low caste by never eating or drinking in their place of work (2016: 58). Non-Dalit workers also assert their superiority to others and resist ‘degrading work’ in terms that reinforce and ‘legitimize untouchability’; ‘I am not a Bhangi’ being a classic articulation of such a strategy (2016: 56). The continuity despite change in modes and expressions of casteism seen here, captures the contested and complex nature of social change. In many instances, similar issues persisted in slightly changed form. Dalit concerns in 1999 revolved around access to village shops, bus-stops, and schools. In 2012, such issues still remained. Dalits from the hamlet of Parali Puthur—the scene of caste violence in 2011—for instance, reported that There was an issue with buses. The bus would leave the village and when it got to the colony all seats would be taken or reserved for Muthuraiyars getting on at the next stop. There is now a bus that starts at the colony and goes once in the morning and once in the evening. The one to the village goes three times a day. Members of each community will occasionally travel on the others’ bus without any incident. (Field notes, June 2012) It is important to note the localization of caste relations. Interactions between castes are negotiated at the local level and can (p.71) vary from one village to the next depending on the relative strength of the castes concerned. In some cases, discrimination entails negotiations spanning across several castes. In a village on the outskirts of Madurai, Mukkamma, a VCK activist, noted how: M: Even today SCs cannot get their hair cut in the saloon. They go to Melur [town some 20 minutes away by bus].

Husband: You need to go and get permission from the Ambalar [Caste Headman from the Thevar community]. He will decide whether they can cut hair or not. (Interview, August 2012)

The Evidence Report (2011) found that in 142 of the 213 villages they studied across the state, Dalits were denied hair-cuts. The barbers are caught between the demands of assertive Dalits and the wrath of locally dominant castes. Page 8 of 36

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Twenty-First Century Casteism? Similarly, Dalits may be denied the services of washer men and women who are anxious to retain the patronage of the dominant castes. Despite over a century of agitation around the issue, access to temples is routinely denied, or is granted on a limited basis. Numerous disputes arose relating to Dalits’ role in temple festivals (cf. Evidence 2009b). One notorious clash surrounded access to the Muthulamman temple in Uthapuram, Madurai district. Sustained campaigns by media, local officials, Communist and Dalit parties and local Dalits finally saw the temple open its doors to Dalits (Karthikeyan 2011). The process was neither smooth nor trouble-free, and the animosity created by demands for temple entry over two decades, led to police firing in which one Dalit was killed in 1989 and to the construction of a ‘caste wall’ that prevented Dalits from accessing the main village street from their homes (Jeyaharan 2009b). Even after the intervention of national politicians from the Communist Party politburo and under the scrutiny of media observers, the transformation was incomplete. Though the media celebrated caste harmony in Uthapuram, activist-lawyer Bhagat Singh noted that Dalits had entered the temple for the photo-shoot but were subsequently persuaded to worship from outside and the caste wall was only partially demolished (Interview, July 2012; Karthikeyan, Personal Communication July 2012). Even where ground is conceded, thus, dominant groups seek to retain markers of esteem. This is particularly apparent in new forms of segregation in urban India. (p.72) Neethi Rajan of the Tamil Nadu Untouchability Eradication Front (TNUEF) spoke of emerging caste clusters in Chennai: N: North Chennai becomes the habitation of so-called upper middle-class and Brahmins whereas south Chennai has more of Dalit and working class population. There are differences in the settlement itself. No one can, even a Dalit official can’t get a house in this street—‘only for vegetarians, only for Brahmins’, and like that. There are organizations which construct flats exclusively for Brahmins.

H: They can’t do it openly surely?

N: Yes, they can’t do openly, but they use alternative words such as vegetarians and so on.

(Interview, March 2012) The prevalence of discrimination can obscure the fact that the constant theme in the cases above is of Dalits contesting exclusion, campaigning for access and equality, and securing concessions, if only marginal ones. In the village of Kodankipatti, for example, caste violence following Dalit demands for equal access to the village square in 1999 led to Dalits fleeing their homes (Gorringe Page 9 of 36

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Twenty-First Century Casteism? 2005: 350). In 2012, Ambedkar—a Dalit who fled back then— had managed to set up a small shop on the main road to which Dalits had previously been denied access to. He said that ‘no non-Dalit would come to his shop. Furthermore, they still were not allowed into the temple or to sit on the platform in the village square. The changes, he maintained, are superficial rather than deep’ (Field notes, June 2012), yet the mere fact that he had fought for and won a place on the road was a victory that speaks to Dalits’ increasing reluctance to accept the old order. Indeed, most accounts about caste discrimination in 2012 related to such attempts to gain a foothold in public space. Evidence of the changing nature of untouchability abounds. In recent decades Dalit enrolment and performance in school has entailed a significant improvement in SC/ST literacy rates in Tamil Nadu rising from 52 per cent in 1993–4 to 75 per cent in 2011–12 (Kalaiyarasan 2014: 60). Whilst this lags behind the 81 per cent figure for the state as a whole, the gap between SC/STs and others has narrowed considerably. Perhaps irritated by this, subtle and notso-subtle forms of discrimination crop up to teach Dalit children their (p.73) position. There are numerous cases of Dalit pupils being asked to do menial tasks. In April 2015, for example, in Kalakkad, Tirunelveli District: Children studying in class VI to VIII were reportedly forced to clean the toilets after school hours. The students were allegedly threatened by teachers of severe punishment if they failed to clean toilets. (Express News 2015b) Evidence (2011) similarly report ongoing discrimination in schools including making Dalit children sit on the last bench in class and referring to them as ‘minus’ students whilst caste Hindus are ‘plusses’. Nor are such forms of discrimination confined to children. Tamizhvanen, District Secretary of the VCK in Periyakulam, insisted that such practices were ubiquitous: T: Atrocities against SC/ST are prevalent all over TN. Atrocities against SC/STs occur even within the building of the TN Chief Secretariat.

H: How?

T: A person from SC/ST can’t be free, can’t get his rights even in the TN Chief Secretariat. The higher officials over there make the employee or personal assistant clean toilet for example, which is beyond his duty. Such abuses are still happening. We can’t deny that they are happening. They are happening at all levels in all places; caste-based discrimination and caste-based vengeance happens at all levels. So, this society, the high caste society does not have the mentality to accept people from the margins of the society. (Interview, July 2012) Page 10 of 36

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Twenty-First Century Casteism? This reluctance to accept Dalits as equals is seen in the persistence of conflicts over access to water. Prem, a VCK sympathizer, noted how Dalits were still denied access to water from the local tank in his village in the outskirts of Madurai despite several petitions and protests (Personal Communication, July 2012). Vikraman, Madurai secretary for the CPI(M) likewise noted that ‘Dalits cannot take water from the well, cannot use the public pond, and cannot enter the temple in several villages’ (Interview, March 2012). The prohibitions on Dalits accessing water relate to the argument that their touch will pollute it for others. This rhetoric has been harnessed to new expressions of untouchability. In Killukottai village Pudhukottai district there had been a clash between Dalit and Udayar Christians (Roman (p.74) Catholic) over rights to fish in the common pond. In neighbouring Sathiyamangalam village I spoke to Dalit women: They were vociferous in their accounts of continuing caste discrimination. Not only could they still not serve out food at the temple festival—‘we can’t even lay out leaves or distribute sealed packets of water! Are we not humans?’—they also spoke of not being able to go and sit in the common square, and of young upper-caste men groping them and making sexually abusive comments and they made their way through the oor to the colony. (Field notes, July 2012) Such segregation and exclusion of Dalits, as seen at the outset of the chapter, continues even in death as Dalits are denied access to common graveyards and face obstacles reaching the cremation grounds set aside for them. Sheila, a Dalit college student in Madurai, spoke of the conditions in her village in Thanjavur: To get to the graveyard we have to walk from our colony down a Konar [a Backward Caste] street. There have periodically been disputes about this and they have denied us access, but we have had talks and sorted them out, but of late they do not let us go down that street so we have to go a long way round through fields and over the river—there is a river in our village—and over rough bumpy routes to get there. (Personal Communication, February 2012) Sheila said that there were no Dalit movements or parties active in her village, but such discrimination occurs even in activist heartlands. Melavalavu, scene of the notorious murder of a Panchayat president in 1997—becomes the centre of the Dalit political world once a year on the anniversary of the massacre when leaders, institutions, and activists descend on the village. Despite this, Pandian spoke of continuing problems: P: For all the caste issues we share the same cremation ground, but we have not been able to lay a road to it. They have a path from the village to the site, but the road from the colony goes so far before it runs into some of their patta [land Page 11 of 36

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Twenty-First Century Casteism? deeds] land and they will not let us lay the road. You should come here when that happens – we have to carry the body through fields and across ditches.

H: Do they create an obstacle? (p.75)

P: No they do not interfere, but they will not let us build across their lands. We have spent a long time fighting for this. (Personal Communication, June 2012)

Other forms of social exclusion include Dalits being asked to play drums at funerals, facing discrimination in temple festivals and being treated as second class citizens in some Public Distribution System (Ration) shops.2 Jakkaian— leader-founder of the Arun Tamilar Viduthalai Iyakkam (Original Tamils’ Liberation Movement) —noted how one of his supporters was beaten by his employer because his mobile phone ring tone, popular MGR number Naan Annaiyittal (If I Ruled), was deemed ‘too commanding’ for a Dalit (Interview, March 2012). In the village festival at Periya Oorcheri, Dalits were not allowed to bear the image of the God: Though this is the village god, those bearing the God are all Pillaimars [elite BC community] and the God is a martial one with upturned moustachios, an aruval [sickle] in one hand and a gun in the other. The God is paraded in procession around the village—or half the village to be precise since it does not go down to the large decorated entrances marking the main Paraiyar Streets … This time round there was a minor dispute. Pillaimar youth apparently literally made a song and dance about the fact that they had the honour of carrying the god around. Youth wearing caste T-shirts had clustered round when the God appeared whistling, dancing, and making a show. This incensed the local Paraiyars. The Paraiyar Panchayat president had gone and asked them what they thought they were playing at: ‘Whose God is this? Is this the village god or your caste god? If you go on like this you’ll be wiped out. This is a village festival not a caste festival’. … Last year in nearby in Kumaram, Tamizh Murasu noted, caste Hindus had refused to let Dalits boil up special rice (pongal) during the festival. This had become an issue. Then Superintendent of Police Asra Garg had come to the village and issued an ultimatum: ‘include the Dalits or I’ll obtain a stay order and cancel the festival.’ The speakers and scaffolding with illuminated Gods had been erected around the village, but the caste Hindus there said that (p.76) they could not countenance giving the Dalits respect. They did not back down and so Asra Garg cancelled the festival—they had to take the speakers and lights and scaffolding all down. H: They chose to do that rather than let the Dalits participate? Page 12 of 36

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Twenty-First Century Casteism? TM: Yes. (Field notes, August 2012)

That caste Hindus were prepared to cancel a village festival at the last minute rather than include Dalits as equals speaks to the continuing strength of caste feeling.3 It is such sentiments and their adherence to hierarchical values in everyday life that help explain the sporadic explosions of violence in Dharmapuri and elsewhere and the rise in so-called ‘honour killings’ in reprisal against crosscaste marriages (Viswanathan 2010; Gorringe 2013). As Chakraborty, Babu, and Chakravorty (2006: 2478) insist, ‘by atrocities one must assume not only physical violence but also the social setting that encourages and condones violence on the community’. Whilst Dalit movements are quick to condemn the violence of dominant castes in such case, Ambedkar (2011: 29) astutely noted that caste is a relational system of ‘graded inequalities’. Alarmingly, the caste pride and boundary marking that characterizes such violence has filtered down into some inter-Dalit marriages. Even allowing for the fact that the ‘Dalit’ tag has never described a united or homogenous group, the murder of an Arunthathiyar woman by the parents of a Paraiyar man who objected to their marriage indicates the persistence of the graded inequalities of caste (Chandran 2012). Adlin from Penurimai Iyyakkam (Women’s Rights Movement) spoke of a village near Madurai where the elopement of an Arunthathiyar boy and a Paraiyar girl had led to conflict, and other intra-Dalit couples spoke of familial opposition or of keeping quiet about their caste (in the case of a Christian couple) for fear of reprisals. Dietrich (2009: 13) points to a re-alignment ‘with Brahminism as a dominant culture’ amongst Dalit organizations across India. VCK demands for stringent legislation against ‘honour’ crimes, therefore, must (p.77) be matched by sustained attempts to root out the culture of honour amongst Dalits as well. It remains the case, though, that Dalits continue to be on the receiving end of most such violence. Evidence (2012) found that 44 Dalits had been murdered in 2011 in cases registered as atrocities. A further ten had died in police custody or firing and another 24 Dalit deaths were listed as suspicious and may have been murder, suicide, or accidental. The Report concluded that ‘most of the Dalits are murdered due to reason of untouchability and discrimination’, but that only 3.9 per cent of cases led to a conviction. Viswanath (2015) insightfully observes that it is the routine and routinized reproduction of casteism in daily lives, social relations, and government responses that underpins such violence. Accounts of violence against Dalits often emphasize ‘the extraordinary character of [violent] events, obscuring the reality of a context in which violence against Dalits was an undeniably everyday occurrence’ (Viswanath 2015). Failure to appreciate that untouchability extends along a continuum from denial of access through to rape and murder, hinders efforts to address caste violence. In speaking of this Page 13 of 36

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Twenty-First Century Casteism? continuum, it is important to follow Kelly (1988) in noting that this is not scale moving from ‘least’ to ‘most’ severe since all are serious forms of casteism. The outbreaks of physical violence are umbilically tied to more common, everyday aspects of behaviour in caste society (Chakraborty, Babu, and Chakravorty 2006). Socialization into caste norms, to borrow from other work on sexual violence, prepares Dalits to be ‘legitimate victims’ and caste Hindus to be potential perpetrators (Scully and Marolla 1985). If intra-Dalit violence is occasionally sparked by adoption of Brahmanical norms and honour codes, inter-caste violence is often a response to the erosion of caste hierarchies and a refusal to accept subordination that the protests described above reveal. Indeed, as Sharma (2015) demonstrates, much of the violence visited against Dalits today is a response to their assertion of equality. Social norms and relationships are slowly changing, but they need to be negotiated and navigated from place to place. Dalit activists are to the fore here, but are constrained by the circumstances in which they find themselves. In a village near Themmayur where forms of discrimination persisted, for example, the Dalit colony had no running water. (p.78) Following a VCK poster and petition, activists recalled, a tap was installed ‘within three days.’ In Themmayur itself, local Dalits took me to a tea-stall that was said to practice the two-tumbler system. Regional VCK leader Alagu held back: ‘You go ahead’, he said, ‘but do you think they don’t know me? If they served me with a separate glass, I’d pull the place down. These things tend to be for locals.’ Borrowing from Kandiyotti (1988), we can see Alagu as engaged in an uneasy and fragile ‘bargain with casteism.’ He is aware of continuing discrimination but is wary of acting for fear of worsening the situation for local Dalits who might be subject to social boycott or violence, but is also concerned not to alienate potential non-Dalit supporters of his party. Stalin, also a regional VCK leader, summed things up: ‘People in these villages are still struggling for liberation, but we are struggling for power’ (Field notes, July 2012). The concept of political power as a ‘master key’ (see Gundimeda 2016: 117) can lead to strategic choices of this nature with the hope of wider change. So, whilst forms of exclusion prevail in the social sphere, Dalit parties have been seeking to make their way in politics.

Continuing Casteism: Political Exclusion The emergence of recognized, established, and popular Dalit parties has altered the socio-political landscape of Tamil Nadu in several ways: not least in the presence of party flags, flex banners, and posters in public squares and on walls (see Chapter 5). The political culture in the state revolves around such symbolism and no hamlet is too small to have public markers of political affiliation in the form of party flags. The public assertion of Dalit politics, however, remains a source of friction and frequently culminates in tensions. VCK activists in Melachinanampatti in Madurai district, for instance, had banners torn down by locally dominant Gounders in an altercation that ended in violence (Field notes, July 2012). In Andukulam, Pudhukottai district, the flag posts of Page 14 of 36

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Twenty-First Century Casteism? Dalit parties had been installed alongside those of other parties in the main village square, only to be cut down and thrown into a nearby pond by locally dominant castes (Field notes, August 2012). Reflecting on similar occurrences in Maharashtra, Rao (2009: 205) interprets efforts by ‘state and casteist forces’ to destroy or desecrate Dalit symbols as ‘forms of symbolic (p.79) annihilation that would be experienced by Dalits as forms of social death and invisibility’. In contrast to these denials of a Dalit ‘politics of presence’ (Rao 2009), the Tamil state sponsorship of the Guru Puja (Leader Worship—annual anniversary celebration) for Thevar caste leader Muthuramalinga Thevar, whilst denying recognition to Dalit heroes, serves to inscribe caste-standing into public space.4 In an editorial for his party organ, Arunthathiyar leader Athiyamaan (2012: 3) stressed that ‘Dalit politics is not just for Dalits to take up, we are keen for Periyarists and Communists, Tribals, minorities, and women to join us—this coalition is not for the next election but for the next generation.’ The primary impetus behind Dalit political mobilization has been that, despite a commonality of interests at the rhetorical and ideological levels, caste considerations have conspired to freeze Dalits out of decision-making positions and institutions. Fear of alienating better organized and resourced caste clusters combined with a belief that Dalit votes are more dispersed and easier to buy off has meant that Dalit parties are not prized as allies and Dalit politicians rarely hold positions of real authority and power in other parties. ‘Just as casteists exclude Dalit leaders’, one VCK commentator put it, ‘so too political party leaders, humiliate and exclude them and the underlying cause for this too is caste’ (Talaiyari 2011: 46). Thirumavalavan highlighted that Dalits and Tribals ought to be at the centre of political institutions: ‘SCs and STs make up 20 per cent, but the Congress and Dravidian parties simply use us once every five years. This is a deliberate exclusion of Dalits’ (Thirumavalavan 2011: 40).5 (p.80) Dalits in politics suffer the same ‘paradoxical marginality’ that Deliege (1997: 104) views as characterizing their standing in society: Dalits, he points out are ‘economically indispensable’ to the caste order but are systematically excluded. In like manner, Dalits are structured into political arrangements due to reservations as well as voters, but ‘none offer us recognition or ask us into coalitions. We have to go and negotiate and bargain with them. It is only in reserved seats for the downtrodden that they stand their pet candidates. Such political parties do nothing for the downtrodden’ (Thirumavalavan 2009: 65). In 2015, frustrated at the lack of respect and recognition, the VCK raised a demand for coalition governance and for small parties to be given a share of power in return for political support (Ravikumar, Personal communication, June 2015). Whilst it is not just Dalits who are marginalized in Tamil politics, as seen in the Tamil State Congress’ enthusiastic support for the VCK position (Yamunan 2015), the need for adequate representation of Dalit concerns is pressing given the imbrication of caste, dominance, and politics in the state (Teltumbde 2011b). At the heart of Dalit politics, thus, lies the demand for political inclusion and Page 15 of 36

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Twenty-First Century Casteism? recognition as seen in more detail in later chapters. In mobilizing on the basis of caste, parties like the VCK have revealed the lack of Dalits in key leadership positions in other parties, the routine silence on caste atrocities and the reluctance to view them as equals. As well as beginning to change the composition of the political field, the emergence of assertive Dalit parties has altered the look of social space and the emotional dynamics of interactions at local festivals and events too. Mukkamma and her husband echoed Jakkaian (above) in indicating that this had resulted in the creation of new aural hierarchies: Husb: They play Thevar songs in their area so we decided to play Annan [Thirumavalavan, leader of the VCK] songs in ours.

M: They came and said, ‘What songs are you playing?’ and smashed up the speakers and stereo with stones.

H: So you will have registered a complaint about this.

M: Yes, but they [police] refused to accept the complaint (Mukkamma Interview, August 2012).

(p.81) Other villages reported similar disputes as local hierarchies and practices were subject to challenge. Challenging discrimination, in other words, entails altering the look, sound, and feel of public events. The resistance of locally dominant castes to such changes indicates the way in which such symbols are bound up with caste power and status. Dalit parties are increasingly imbricated in village politics both through disputes of this kind, but also due to local political institutions. One of the arenas in which Dalits stand to gain most from political participation is in Panchayati Raj institutions to which reservation was extended in the 1990s. This means that a Dalit president would have a say over local decisions and interact with state officials. In her study in Western Tamil Nadu, Heyer (2010: 239) found that the new ‘Panchayat president and Union Councillor were key figures in relation to infrastructure projects benefitting people from all caste groups in the villages. This meant that caste Hindus had to deal with them and show them some respect.’ Certainly it was the potential for such posts to alter local relations of power and the status implications of having a Dalit president that animated a severe caste Hindu backlash in the late 1990s. Most notoriously, the president of the panchayat in Melavalavu in central Tamil Nadu was beheaded in broad daylight by a Thevar gang who could not countenance a Dalit Page 16 of 36

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Twenty-First Century Casteism? leader in what they saw as their fiefdom (Gorringe 2005). Local objections to reserved panchayats also characterized the long battle to hold panchayat elections in the reserved constituencies of Pappapatti and Keeripatti, in the heart of Thevar dominated Usilampatti district, as we shall see in Chapter 4. The radical possibilities opened up by the posts was captured by Sellamma in Melavalavu. Following the death of Murugesan, Raja presided over the panchayat for a term, but was too scared to use the panchayat office that often. His successor Sellamma, however, was an advertisement for the merits of the scheme: H: Were you able to use the panchayat office in the village?

S: Yes. I went there. Raja used to work from here, but I went there. There was some police protection and all that but I am not scared of anyone.

H: Could you sit down alongside them? (p.82)

S: Oh yes. I sat down together with them all and they gave me respect. Even if I stood to greet some elders they would say: ‘Sit down ma’ after they greeted me.

H: Could you make decisions?

S: Yes. All of that was fine—there were no issues.

H: Were you able to do anything for the colony during your time?

S: Lots of things. It was in my time that all the improvements round here have happened. I got us the primary school and ration shop and the water tank here in the village. I got bore wells dug and the roads here improved … I also did stuff in their area.

(Interview, June 2012) In Pappapatti, where elections were prevented from happening for 10 years, similarly, the Dalit president Murganandan held a university degree and had assumed office with a desire to effect social change. One of his first actions was to lay a proper road to the Dalit cremation grounds. Thevar landlords had complained that the road encroached on their land and prevented Dalits from using it after the first occasion but he had set a precedent and was confident of Page 17 of 36

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Twenty-First Century Casteism? securing full access in time.6 Though he was not able to carry out his work in peace, Muruganandan noted that many in the village had accepted him as president and invited him to social functions as befitted his position (Interview, July 2012). His experience, nonetheless, points to continuing issues with the devolution of power. In neighbouring Keeripatti, the sitting president had no say over local decisions and was seen as a pawn of dominant castes by other Dalit villagers (Field notes, July 2012). Likewise, ‘the Dalit panchayat president of Chottathatti village in Tamil Nadu’s Sivaganga district was assaulted and humiliated in public because he “dared” to unfurl the national flag at the panchayat’s Independence day function’ (Viswanathan 2003). Since backward castes are numerically predominant in most Panchayat constituencies, they are frequently able to decide electoral outcomes. Furthermore, the vice-president is almost invariably a non-Dalit and (p.83) is often the one who calls the shots. Evidence (2011) detail the cases of 45 Dalit presidents who faced discrimination in their roles and were unable to carry out the duties of their office in full. Looking back over the past decade, it is clear that progress has been made and that Dalits are better able to wield power at the local level than they were in the past, but it is also important to recognize ongoing challenges and ‘create enabling conditions for Dalits to overcome dependency-conditions’ (Sumathi and Sudarsen 2005: 3756). The VCK’s demand for both president and vice-president in reserved panchayats to be Dalit offers one response to such asymmetries of power. Exclusion and discrimination, in short, persist in multiple places and in myriad forms. As Parry noted in his work: ‘The only escape from this vicious circle lies in the laborious and formidable task of establishing a new interactional pattern’ (1979: 112). Panchayat institutions offer one means of establishing such patterns, another sphere in which Dalits have benefitted from new interactional patterns is that of economics. The bedrock of caste remains an unequal distribution of, and access to, resources, but there have been bold claims about the emancipatory potential of capitalism recently (Kapur 2014; cf. Naudet 2014) and so it is to an examination of the economics of caste that we now turn.

Economic Exclusion Tamil Nadu is often held up as a model of economic reform and growth. The state has enthusiastically embraced neo-liberal policies and sought to woo the corporate sector with tax breaks and subsidies and registered impressive improvements in GDP between 1991 and 2012 (Kalaiyarasan 2014). Certainly, the difference between my fieldwork in 1999 and 2012 was palpable. More Dalits lived in concrete or ‘pucca’ houses; more cheris had access to better facilities and amenities; many more Dalits had secured jobs that were not tied to caste and were educating their children and consuming better-quality food than in the late 1990s. Kapur et al. (2010: 48) found similar transformations in Dalit lives in Uttar Pradesh and point towards ‘very substantial shifts in Dalits’ lives, consistent with a growing sense of empowerment and opportunity and declining Page 18 of 36

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Twenty-First Century Casteism? ability of others to impose social inequalities’. There are clear parallels between their (p.84) findings and changes taking place across Tamil Nadu (cf. Harriss, Jeyaranjan, and Nagaraj 2010; Heyer 2014). For some scholars and activists, Dalits are being emancipated by economic growth. Where Kapur et al. (2010) offer a nuanced account of gradual change that steers clear of causal arguments, in an article for the Financial Times, Kapur (2014) argues that Dalits have benefitted from neo-liberal growth and that ‘Capitalism’s role in erasing this stain on Indian society is comparable to the contribution it made to curtailing slavery, serfdom, feudalism, and patriarchy in the west’. Chandra Bhan Prasad similarly feels that capitalism has liberated Dalits from caste and maintains that ‘the market humanizes’ (in Anand 2008). In the open market, according to such analyses, merit and worthiness are the primary currencies. In contrast to academics who offer reluctant and qualified acknowledgements of change, Kapur et al. (2010: 48) argue that ‘the description of the market reform era should come with an “and”, not a “but”. Prosperity raised the standard of living and the social and cultural fabric of the village has changed, much for the better’. The obvious changes that have occurred across Tamil Nadu in the past decades renders such analysis attractive. Numerous studies and interactions with people on the ground, however, suggest that both the ‘and’ and the ‘but’ are justified. Whilst one cannot ignore the real changes that have occurred, it is important to temper celebrations of liberatory capitalism. Recent research by Jodhka (2015) and Thorat and Newman (2010) demonstrate that being ‘caste blind’ does not mean that industries or private employers are in any sense ‘caste neutral’. The repeated claim that caste does not matter in the global workplace is at odds with practices of recruitment that hinge on family background and social capital (Prakash 2010). Chatting with an educated Dalit Christian following a job interview I asked how she got on: ‘I did not get the job because I lacked the most important qualification’ she told me. When asked what that was, she replied: ‘I am not a Nadar’ (Personal Communication, June 2012). Even if we accept that questions about family are not just thinly veiled proxies for caste, the consequence of privileging those with educated and English speaking families is that certain social demographics are advantaged at the expense of others. Furthermore, as both studies (p.85) show, even where they succeed in gaining work, Dalit employees still encounter what we might term a ‘caste ceiling’ when it comes to promotion or entrepreneurship: lacking the networks and resources that would result in jobs, loans, and bank guarantees, Dalits find that the growing economy is more open to some than others (Jodhka 2010, 2015; HarrissWhite and Vidyarthee 2010). Karthikeyan, a journalist at the time, recounted his experiences of job hunting:

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Twenty-First Century Casteism? I went for interviews in three or four leading Tamil newspapers and they were open about asking about my caste. In one, they were especially blatant, they said if you get a letter of reference from a certain group then you will get a job. Now you have to be Nadar to get such a recommendation, so what was I supposed to do? If you look across Tamil papers there are very, very few Dalit journalists. Even in the English language newspapers there are not that many. (Personal Communication, March 2012) Dhanapal, a contractor with his own construction business detailed the difficulties he faced in trying to set up his enterprise and the obstacles he faced along the way: D: People who know what caste I am, do not give me loans. I have bank accounts and savings of over 3 lakhs, my father said he would stand surety. We have assets of over 6 lakhs and were only asking for a loan of 4 lakhs but they would not give it to me. They keep dragging things out. Two years they kept me waiting —dragging things out.

H: Is this caste?

D: Only caste. He is looking at what community we are from. There is no other reason! The bank should only be looking at what surety we can put down and what earnings I have. … Have spent 10,000 just trying to get the money. Costs are rising too. It is withstanding this heart-break and withstanding this humiliation that we in this community must press on. It is only by steeling our hearts that we can continue. (Interview, March 2012)7

Numerous other interviewees pointed towards subtle forms of discrimination, of having to hide their caste in interviews to get jobs, (p.86) and of being passed over for promotion without adequate explanation. The rise of Dalit parties has increased the access and leverage that can result in government jobs, but such posts are no longer the cherished ideal they used to be. For a start, the number of such jobs is rapidly declining (cf. Pai 2013: 128–9). Athiyamaan, founderleader of the Adi Tamilar Peravai (Original Tamilian Front) spoke of the decline of the state sector and its impact on Dalits. Now, he said, ‘you get big factories funded with government money and subsidies, but there is no work for Arunthathiyars there, only Gounders. This is why we need reservations in the private sector!’ (Speech, August 2012). Samuel Raj, of the Untouchability Eradication Front, similarly pointed to the problems of neo-liberalism for Dalits:

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Twenty-First Century Casteism? We found in the 2011 census that there was no increase of the Dalit population in Chennai as compared to other districts. There was an increase but not in proportion when compared with other communities. We recruited a special team to investigate this issue and the finding shows that people from the slums were evacuated out of the city. Those (slum) lands are prime lands and the lands are taken back either by the government or given to private companies … After evacuation government gave those places for lease. For example, the biggest shopping mall in Chennai is City Centre, that place was a slum earlier. (Samuel Raj Interview, April 2012) Second, where they get such jobs, Dalits continue to predominate in the lowest rungs of the public sector— as cleaners, sweepers, and corporation workers. Although the Government has banned the humiliating practice of manual scavenging, the sight of workers ‘taking out muck from a manhole with his bare hands’ (Chandrababu 2015) remains common. In 2012, such sights were not uncommon in Madurai, but workers were sensitive to adverse coverage and hostile to those seeking to photograph what was going on. Furthermore, for all the rhetorical commitment to ending the practice, as Thirumavalavan told a wedding crowd in Muduvarpatti, it is structured into the government-run railways: When the railway budget was discussed I was the only person to raise the issue of an abiding national shame. Ours is the only country in the world where people still clear faeces with their hands. Unlike in any other country, here the waste from the toilets goes straight onto the track. If (p. 87) this happens at stations you know nothing while the train is stationary, but after the train has gone, the waste has to be cleared away by hand. I raised this issue forcefully for consideration and, when I got no satisfactory response, I was the only MP to walk out in protest. (Speech, May 2012) For most politicians, as Thirumavalavan implies, the issue is neither pressing nor remarkable, but an ongoing fact of life. This raises a concern over reservations that was to the fore during my fieldwork. Many respondents pointed out that the majority of those engaged in manual scavenging in Tamil Nadu were Arunthathiyars. Frustrated at the slow pace of change for the ‘Dalits among Dalits’, Arunthathiyar movements had campaigned for and secured a sub-quota of 3 per cent within SC reservations in which preference was to be accorded to an Arunthathiyar candidate. Seeni Sankar, a PhD student working on caste and livelihood, explained the logic to me: We need to do something for the lowest of the low and help them to develop to some degree don’t we? The three per cent has been set aside within the 18 per cent Dalit quota and if it is not filled up then other Dalits will get the reservations so we are not taking anything from anyone. At Page 21 of 36

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Twenty-First Century Casteism? present what we have is two communities dominating the quota completely. If you get on a train and there are no seats but someone is lying down across three seats then what should they do? They should get up and make room shouldn’t they? Well two people are lying down and refusing to make room and forcing the third person to stand all the way. Thanks to the efforts of the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) we now have this three per cent which may help us to advance to some degree … When our lot who have studied up to 8th or 9th approach the government for jobs, the officials fill out the form for manual scavenging work. They do not bother to ask: ‘Arunthathiyar eh? Manual scavenging’. So we have to challenge the government itself to get ahead. Paraiyars and Pallars have colonized the reservations so far. Both have had the support of Christian missionaries too, but if you look at the number of Arunthathiyar pastors in the Church you will hardly find any. So when a Paraiyar (PR) or Pallar (PL) goes to get a job, then they know people in posts and have connections who can help them out and give recommendations and so on, but we do not have anyone like that. (Interview, March 2012) Seeni inadvertently echoes the findings of Prakash that ‘the market functions with the help of networks, conventions and relationships (p.88) created through social and personal ties’ (Prakash 2010: 296). Caste, thus, may be either an opportunity or a hindrance depending on one’s social standing helping to explain differential development amongst Dalits and between them and other castes. Prakash appreciates the opportunities opened up for Dalits by the market, but notes how such accommodation mostly occurs ‘on adverse terms’ (2010: 303) meaning that successful Dalits need to be not just good at business but ‘social and political entrepreneurs’ too (Jodhka 2010: 48). Bhagat sums up shifts in the condition of SC and ST communities between 2001 and 2011 by noting that their ‘financial inclusion has been rapid’, ‘but the benefits have extended faster among non-SC/ST communities during the decade of rapid economic growth’ (2013: 65). This helps explain Heyer’s (2014: 168) finding that ‘Dalits were lagging behind other groups in every respect’. Surjit (2014) similarly points out that Dalits may be disadvantaged by lack of land ownership or access to wider networks as the need to pay rent for the land and machine hire increases their expenditure. In terms of diversifying income, Surjit (2014: 185) notes that ‘total household incomes were more than four times higher for non-Dalit households’. Elsewhere, Carswell and De Neve (2014a) document new forms of tied labour emerging around debt.

Land and Labour: Exclusion from Ownership ‘The key issue’, as a Dalit activist noted, ‘is land. This is the main demand’ (Ramesh, Interview, February 2015). ‘Land’, as Thangaraj (2003: 137) argues, ‘is closely associated with the caste system’ and land ownership maps onto social dominance. He notes how SCs comprise 19.18 per cent of the population but control only 7.1 per cent of the land. As the leader of the Social Page 22 of 36

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Twenty-First Century Casteism? Equality Front (Samuga Samuthuva Padai) put it: ‘Land politics is caste politics … land is caste and caste is land’ (Sivakami Speech, June 2012). The significance of land ownership is illustrated in the case of the Uthapuram conflict discussed above. Jeyaharan, an academic, pastor and activist in Madurai argued that the Pillaimar caste were unable to respond violently because the local Dalits own land. This means that they are not at the mercy of landlords or needing to work every day (Personal Communication, February 2012). Activist-advocate Lajapathy Roy has written on these issues: (p.89) A: Do you think that land is still really important for the upliftment of the SCs?

L: I feel so, because in many cases the members of SC community they are working as farm workers, agricultural coolies, agricultural labourers. So in many cases they are the real persons who are cultivating the land, but they don’t have any land. (Interview, July 2012; cf. Roy 2005)

He insisted that various land reform acts had failed and, further, that land initially granted to the Dalits by the British had been encroached by other castes (cf. Thangaraj 2003). In his study of property accumulation in Western Tamil Nadu, De Neve (2015: 347) notes how the state is complicit in violent accumulation or dispossession ‘either actively by changing legislation or forcing evictions, or passively by allowing elites to grab land … or failing to implement land reforms’. Unsurprisingly, the demand for land remains central to Dalit movements, but distribution is further complicated today because of the spiralling value of land as a result of real estate speculation (Devaraj, Interview, June 2012; Vijayabaskar and Menon, forthcoming) and the accelerated alienation of land caused by the passing of the Special Economic Zone (SEZ) Act in 2005 in a bid to attract private investment (Dietrich 2009; Vijayabaskar 2010). Dalit responses to these trends have been mixed, and Vijayabaskar (2010: 42) cites Ravikumar who was an MLA at the time as saying: ‘If agriculture needs to be saved, agricultural labour has to be saved from agriculture.’ The implication here is that Dalits are rarely numbered amongst the landholders and have been exploited as landless labourers for too long. Simultaneously, VCK activists have led protests against SEZ developments where local livelihoods are at stake (Caleb 2009). Alongside calls for investment in the non-farm economy to provide employment for Dalits, Dalit organizations have focused on trying to secure land for their constituents. The VCK held a huge Land Rights Conference in 2007 to which then Chief Minister and political ally Karunanidhi was invited as a guest of honour. One of the cornerstones of the DMK’s manifesto the year before had been a promise to distribute land to the landless. Whilst the impact of this scheme is contested, Vijayabaskar (2010: 40) notes that the DMK Government Page 23 of 36

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Twenty-First Century Casteism? claimed ‘to have distributed 2.174 lakh (p.90) acres of lands to 1.75 lakh poor agricultural families since it came to power in May 2006.’ Subramanian (2010) argues that much of the land was distributed on paper alone and never reached the landless labourers they were intended for. Given the difficulties of pressing claims to land, efforts often concentrate on panchami land—ceded to Dalits by the British that was supposed to be inalienable, but even efforts to redeem these lands can take years. Sasi, of the VCK’s Land Reclamation Front, highlighted this: I used to work in Revenue and know how the system works so have gone through them and through collectors and Tahsildars and so on. I got the old British records, verified them, transferred them into readable format, and at each step got my findings validated by officials. [He showed me huge files full of the documents at this stage.] Now they cannot wriggle out of this. Now they know it is Panchami land many people [those encroaching it] have abandoned it: know they cannot sell it and that it will be reclaimed at some point. (Personal Communication, July 2012) Other activists spoke of campaigns to realize election promises of small plots of land, or of lengthy court cases to evict encroachers. As Harriss, Jeyaranjan, and Nagaraj (2010) found, Dalits are still disproportionately poor, but actions such as those above have seen small plots of land transferred to them. Crucially, land deeds can render Dalits increasingly independent of local landlords, but this in turn can render landlords reluctant to lease lands to assertive Dalits (Vijayabaskar and Menon, forthcoming).8 Heyer’s (2014) longitudinal studies of villages in Tamil Nadu point to a rise in Dalit housing and a decline in their reliance on agriculture. Vijayabaskar and Menon (forthcoming) likewise observe that whilst many Dalits remained as agricultural labourers, their increasing autonomy and non-agricultural options pushed up incomes and meant that they were treated with more respect than in the past. The rise of non-farm employment has been important in this process, but more significant still have been a range of government interventions. (p.91) A compelling critique of uncritical celebrations of market forces is offered by Kalaiyarasan’s (2014: 63) comparison of Tamil Nadu and Gujarat. Dalits have done better in the former state, thanks to ‘certain “universalist” social policies such as the public distribution system (PDS), mid-day meals, and a public health infrastructure’. As Heyer (2012: 106) points out: State social welfare policy developed over this period from playing a very limited role in 1981–2, to a significant role in 1996, and a very much expanded role in 2008-9. By 2008–9 it was clear that it was making a major contribution to labourers’ standards of living … Labourers were still working hard for long hours for low pay in 2008–9. There were still very

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Twenty-First Century Casteism? few opportunities to move into employment other than low-skilled manual labour. The availability of the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS), and the withdrawal of intermediate castes from agricultural labour has improved Dalits’ bargaining power and further weakened caste dependence (Heyer 2014; De Neve and Carswell 2011), but Dalits still lag behind other castes. Indeed, Harriss-White and Vidyarthee (2010: 335) suggest that in relative terms, ‘SC disadvantage has intensified in South India.’ Certainly, respondents around Madurai suggested that their experiences with the government schemes listed above were mixed. Rani, a Dalit NGO worker, pointed to structural issues in the administration of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA): Firstly, who administers the scheme? Who is in control of resources? It is all in the hands of the higher castes. Even when the panchayat president is Dalit, they will be subordinate to the vice-president. Then, the work. In seven days they will maybe get three days’ work. Also the 100 day act is for all castes. Then when we go to work in the fields they allocate the fields with the driest, hardest soil, or the fields used by villagers as a common toilet—covered in shit—and get Dalits to work there whilst the upper-caste teams get a cushier option. (Interview, March 2012) Others also noted caste concerns, but preferred it to working directly for dominant castes. Whilst the range of employment options has widened, Evidence Director Kathir highlighted their limitations: The National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) and other policies are palliatives. They may help in small ways but they do not (p.92) address underlying issues. See, we cannot look at the improvement of Dalits over the years in isolation. Need to look at it in comparison to the current standing of non-Dalits…. Give me shares in all the companies – Airtel, Aircel [both mobile phone companies], Reliance [large Indian conglomerate] and all. Give me fruit and land too. In Tamil Nadu 18 per cent of land should be in our hands in proportion to our population but it is not. (Interview, March 2012) Underlying the continued marginalization of Dalits, Kathir suggests, is a skewed resource base that still reflects caste privilege. Recognition of continued disadvantage has fuelled demands for ‘alternative preferential policies’ that are better suited to the contemporary economy (Pai 2014: 65). In January 2002, Dalit intellectuals and activists produced the Bhopal Document, which called on ‘both the state and the private sector [to] practice diversity policies such as giving dealerships and contracts to Dalits together with other supportive measures such as the provision of credit’ (Pai 2013: 137). The document has Page 25 of 36

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Twenty-First Century Casteism? been criticized for neglecting the vast mass of unorganized workers (Dietrich 2009: 18), but there was great optimism when elements of the document were adopted by the Government of Madhya Pradesh in 2002. Initial analysis suggests that the gains are limited to a small stratum of middle-class SCs and STs and that state commitment is essential, meaning that the schemes are susceptible to changes in government (Pai 2014). Even where Dalits advance, Nigam (2006) charts the process by which dominant castes adopt new guises and approaches that help them retain power. The Brahmin abandonment of agriculture to embrace finance and industry is a case in point. Just as attempts to retain privilege have been inventive, so too have modes of discrimination and exclusion. When I asked Sannah, the VCK’s propaganda secretary, about untouchability he was adamant: So long as you have the oor and cheri, it means that untouchability continues to exist. It is clearly visible; no other country has such blatant and openly visible segregation like this. While the situation remains like this in Tamil Nadu, or anywhere across India, how can we say that (p.93) untouchability has been eradicated? Untouchability persists 100 per cent in all its manifestations today.9 (Interview September 2012) The fact that residential segregation continues in most villages across Tamil Nadu underscores the continuing importance of caste in shaping everyday lives and relationships. Not only does it persist, it takes new forms as well.

Dalit Cooks Spoil the Broth? Contemporary Untouchability and Casteism During my research, there were a number of cases where backward caste Hindus withdrew their children from the mid-day noon meal—one of the government interventions celebrated above. For all the changes that have swept the state, the rationale for this move was that the meals were being prepared by ‘Dalit women cooks, [and] … it is “a sin to eat food cooked by them”’ (Ilangovan 2012). In a searing indictment of the Dravidian project of social reform, the administrative response was to transfer the cooks: ‘An official in Kadayampatti Union said that to prevent any untoward incident, she [the cook] was shifted from Rasipurathan village. “It is a sensitive issue. This village of Vanniyars strongly opposed her”’ (Ilangovan 2012). The example demonstrates how practices of untouchability continue to be expressed in the idiom of pollution and by means of segregation. In 2005, the CPI(M) launched the TNUEF—an umbrella organization bringing numerous smaller groups, fronts, and outfits together on a common platform. The TNUEF began with a survey of practices of untouchability across Tamil Nadu, which Neethi Rajan stressed, showed that untouchability endured and was finding new modes of expression: N: Page 26 of 36

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Twenty-First Century Casteism? It is not easy to clearly define the forms of untouchability, 80 or 90 forms are recorded so far but it still comes up in different ways. It works in odd ways in villages. You have heard about the two-glass system, but do you know about the three tumbler system? (laughs). (p.94)

H: Why three?

N: Backward Castes, Dalits, and Arunthathiyars. Two tumbler system is popular. When we enter, then it becomes three tumbler system. Two Almirah (cupboard or wardrobe) system.

H: What is that?

N: The washer man will keep Dalit’s clothes separately (laugh).

H: They have done everything systematically, haven’t they?

N: It (untouchability) gains new forms in line with changing conditions. Because they don’t wipe out the concept (ideas/practices). All ideas have life. Unless you completely cut off the root of this toxic idea, then they will branch out in different forms. Now Dalits are not supposed to keep male dogs in their habitation. Do you know why not?

H: Why?

N: The dog could fall in love/mate with high caste people’s dogs (laugh). So they should not keep male dogs in Dalit habitations. Because, the dog could roam around in their habitation and socialize with their dogs … Sixty years back there was a protest against women being forced to go topless. Dalit women used to live with bare breasts.10 This is a matter of dignity. Wearing a jacket is a luxury, but covering your top with a sari is a basic thing. Dalit women were beaten by high caste people for covering their top, erm, 60, 70 years back. Now, it is not possible. We will fight back. Things have changed. So, untouchability has acquired new forms in accordance with changing times. (Interview with Neethi Rajan, March 2012; cf Ramachandran (2014: 8–9) for details of the survey)

Caste discrimination and inequality, we see, are actively and creatively reproduced. Indeed, a different survey in 2014, found that ‘more than a fourth of Indians say they continue to practise [untouchability] in some form in their homes’ (Chishti 2014). Rather than echoing the line that ‘nothing has changed’, Neethi Rajan opines that ‘things have changed, so, untouchability has acquired Page 27 of 36

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Twenty-First Century Casteism? new forms in accordance with changing times’. Jakkaian offered a similar analysis: In the past, people were not allowed to wear sandals, had to hang an earthen pot round their neck for spitting in, couldn’t walk in the streets (p.95) of high caste people, could only go out [to the toilet in the fields] at nights, erm, it was like that in those days. Now untouchability exists in modern forms. You are allowed to walk in the streets of high caste people but, for example, in a village near Coimbatore one Arunthathiyar boy was thrashed for using his cell phone while walking in the streets of high caste people. At one stage, we were not allowed to walk in the street, then not allowed to walk with sandals, then not allowed to ride a bike, and now we are not allowed to use cell phones—so, the system is still there but it takes different forms. (Interview, March 2012) Veerammal, a case worker for a Dalit NGO, offered an illustration of the subtler expressions of casteism today: V: Recently I went to a panchayat on fieldwork. I was met by the big man there. He assured me that no one acted on a caste basis in the village. Then we went to his house. It was a big house, very plush. The two people who accompanied me sat down on the threshold.

H: Were they from the village?

V: Yes, they were from the village. A 70-year-old grandfather and a 60-year old grandma. I asked why they were not coming in and the big man called out to them to come in but they said ‘no, no it is Ok, we are happy here’. So we were talking and he asked me where I was from and what I was there for and he asked if I wanted some coffee. So I said OK. He said ‘there is no caste here’, but he brought us tea in four paper cups. He has a big house and is a wealthy man—are you telling me he does not have four cups at home? Later on I asked the others why they did not come in and they replied that they had never entered his house. That is caste. (Personal Communication, March 2012)

This is a powerful example on multiple levels: for a start it shows processes of change in that Veerammal—a Dalit herself—can enter the homes of ‘big men’ and confront them with questions. The landlord in question is prepared to entertain her and invite local Dalits in whilst she is there. At the same time, he is reluctant to let her use his vessels and the local Dalits know better than to trust to his enforced hospitality for fear of repercussions after the outsider has left. Finally, it once again speaks to the way in which localized relations of dominance

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Twenty-First Century Casteism? shape the performance and experience of caste. Puliyammal, a VCK women’s wing leader in Madurai, gave another example: (p.96) Some women came and asked me to go to a village in Usilampatti —one granny, two more grannies, two teenagers, and I. So six of us went there, there were six of us, so we went by auto. .. When we got to the village—there is a temple. The auto driver stopped and said that we had to get out. I said—‘take us to the street’ and he replied ‘No akka. Dalits are not allowed to sit in autos here. From here on I have to wheel the auto to my home. Whether there is petrol or not, I have to wheel it to my home’ …. One granny invited us in as she did not want to speak to us in the open. She said—‘look no one will marry women from here or give girls in marriage because you cannot walk with shoes on. The auto will not come to your house—it has to be wheeled along. If grooms-to-be come here they have to take their shoes off and walk. Now you ask us to join the party. You will put up a flag here and push off. They will hang us from the trees on the hill. We will be left to hang’. (Interview, August 2012) Caste relations and manifestations, as we have seen, vary from place to place depending on landholdings, numbers, connections to others, and education among other factors. As untouchability has changed with the times and assumed new forms, so too have responses to it.

Caste Continuity and Change ‘To speak of a “social revolution” as having taken place is certainly to overstate the case’, Harriss, Jeyaranjan, and Nagaraj (2010: 59) conclude, ‘but some historically profound changes have come about’. They argue that that there has been ‘no great social transformation’ and that ‘old power structures remain deeply entrenched, and the disabilities of “untouchability” remarkably persistent’ (Harriss, Jeyaranjan, and Nagaraj 2010: 60). Caste inequalities, as the data above make clear, remain pronounced. In social, political, and economic spheres, equality remains a distant dream for most, though not all, Dalits. Simultaneously, it is clear that there has been a social transformation of sorts. Though they lag behind other castes, Heyer (2014) notes that there has been a wholesale shift in Dalit aspirations, attitudes, body language, and attire. All children, she notes, now go to school, few Dalits quietly accept abuse, and their willingness to look further afield for labour or to demand more has seen wages rise. (p.97) Even in the cases discussed above, there are indications of change and efforts to renegotiate caste relations. Deepa, for example, spoke of the VCK’s work with Dalit women in Usilampatti: D:

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Twenty-First Century Casteism? If you take Usilampatti … In this area none knew what party membership or what a party meant, they wouldn’t even go near the police station, they would not walk on common streets—there are still many villages where they do not wear shoes—we are researching such villages. … In tea-shops they will have two tumblers, we are researching all of that. We rally the women from villages with the two-tumbler system and take them to the collector and get them to present a petition. Otherwise we get them to give a complaint to the inspector. We call them and speak to them like this. We tell them we are trying to eradicate the two-glass system, we say that we should collectively walk on common streets, we should walk down them with shoes on. Problems that affect or relate to women and instances of oppression should be reported to authorities. We teach them that they need to speak to authorities to get a solution to oppression. Today many women are post-holders. There are ward secretaries and district secretaries and town secretaries. (Deepa Interview, August 2012)

The sense of empowerment and capability is overwhelming here and means that forms of exclusion are often challenged. Deepa spoke of one struggle to get a barber to cut Dalits’ hair in a village near Melur: D: We toiled for a month regarding that hair-cutting problem. ‘You won’t cut hair for our lot, only for the dominant caste? Then you can’t have a shop here. The shop itself should not be here in that case’. We went and spoke to that effect at the station. They said, ‘well then, you install a man for your lot ma [colloquial mode of address]’.

H: At the station?

D: Yes: ‘Well why don’t you just get a man to serve all your lot?’ Where are we supposed to search out someone? If he cuts hair he should cut everyone’s hair!

H: Either that or shut it?

D: Yes. … He alone should cut hair for us. If he does not there should be no shop. We kicked up a huge fuss at the station till they called him in and said ‘hey you, they are all heads aren’t they? No matter who, just cut their heads, and get on with it.’ ‘Not heads, sir, we asked him to cut (p.98) hair’—we said. ‘Don’t cut heads!’ After that he behaved himself to some degree. (Deepa Interview, August 2012)

In these accounts, we see evidence of an alteration in social relations. Where Dalits are excluded from public spaces (denied access to temples, barred from barber shops, prevented from installing banners) they increasingly resist and challenge caste norms. Contestation of caste dominance extends beyond past Page 30 of 36

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Twenty-First Century Casteism? prohibitions too, as seen in new demands to be treated with respect, to play radical songs at festivals, and to build roads to cremation grounds. Each new demand reveals the limits to existing citizenship and signals increasing intolerance of exclusion. Kathir is typical in celebrating these changes whilst bemoaning enduring practices of separation in private life: You can hide some things in full view… Annan-thambi [elder-younger brother] they say—annan-thambi. I do not want annan-thambi relations I want mama-machan [brother-in-law] relationships: will you give your daughters in marriage to me? Will you give your sons? Can this happen? It can’t. This is what untouchability is. Only if you can give-and-take daughters can we speak of untouchability eradication. (Interview, March 2012) Dalit activists, this reveals, have raised their sights. In a state which provides incentives for inter-caste marriages and has experimented with multi-caste ‘equality villages’ (Samuthuvarpuram), rates of cross-caste unions remain exceedingly low (Subramanian 2013). This has not prevented the Vanniyardominated PMK crusading against them as seen in the introduction to this chapter. ‘In modern India’, Deliege concludes (2002: 15), ‘it is not relative purity that lies at the basis of caste struggles. Castes now fight because they have to compete for limited economic and political resources.’ Gupta (2005) similarly argues that caste now functions like ethnicity and is a basis for identity assertion rather than resting on ritual hierarchy. Against such accounts Chakraborty, Babu, and Chakravorty (2006) point to the persistent discrimination against Dalits and Natrajan (2012: 169) urges that: It is important to remember that separation (or keeping entities in place) is always accompanied by a judgement, an ordering, and a stigma which was captured by Ambedkar famously as an ‘ascending scale of hatred and a descending scale of contempt’. (p.99) Harriss (2012: 21) also cautions against underestimating the continuing influence and importance of ‘hierarchical values’ in the ‘reproduction of class differentiation and in terms of how the state works on an “everyday” basis’. Most of the caste conflicts above revolve around status and use idioms of untouchability and pollution. It is true, as Heyer (2014) and De Neve and Carswell (2011) note, that dominant castes (who, in Tamil Nadu, are the intermediate BCs) are not doing so well economically due to the decline in agriculture, a rise in wages, and a fall in state support. Their work is based in western districts of the state, but the patterns described have wider relevance and help explain why BCs experience Dalit’s socio-economic development, no matter how marginal, as ‘an eyesore’ (cf. Vijayabaskar 2010). When combined

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Twenty-First Century Casteism? with an increasingly politicized and assertive Dalit population, this resentment can result in violence to ‘keep them in their place’ (Vincentnathan 1996). As Rudolph and Rudolph (1967: 132) note, ‘the distinction between ‘clean’ and ‘unclean’ castes is not so definitive as is often assumed’, and the increasing withdrawal of Dalits from caste duties blurs the boundaries still further. Paradoxically, they note, the legal and administrative term ‘Scheduled Caste’ ‘lends the category “untouchable” a spurious social definitiveness and homogeneity’ which it never possessed (1967: 134). Parry’s (1979: 112) work lends weight to this observation: Though purity considerations do provide a justification for the literal untouchability of the lowest castes … the only reason, it seems, for the untouchability of the others [who are not impure on touch] is that they are defined as untouchables by their interactions with the clean castes. Discrimination becomes ‘proof’ of the inferiority of its victims. This conclusion is most clearly illustrated in the pervasive nature of sexual violence perpetrated against Dalit women by caste men (Thapar-Bjokert 2006).11 ‘Rape, the stripping and parading of women, and other forms of gendered humiliation’, Rao (2009: 222) shows, ‘reproduce upper-caste male privilege’. Sharma (2015: 220) (p.100) notes how relative standards of living between lower and upper castes map onto violence. In a ‘perverse consequence of intercaste equality,’ the narrower the gap, the more likely higher castes are to engage in violence, which helps to explain the particular animosity reserved for cross-caste unions between Dalit men and intermediate-caste women. In the absence of other indicators, physical violence stands as a proxy for superiority (Parry 1979). In light of this analysis we can understand the rise of what Mendelsohn and Vicziany (1998) refer to as a ‘new’ form of violence against Dalits that emerges in response to challenges to caste norms and seeks to reinforce status and position through coercion. What this emphasizes is that whilst few, if any, members of the dominant castes would justify their actions by reference to Hindu texts, the imposition of sanctions against those who transgress caste norms is legitimized by reference to social norms. In 2014, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) home minister in Madhya Pradesh pointed to these processes when he responded to the rape and murder of two lower-caste women by saying: ‘This is a social crime which depends on men and women. Sometimes it is right, sometimes it is wrong’ (Gottipatti 2014). When activists speak of untouchability today, they are not primarily speaking of the ritual impurity that Deliege focuses on, but of the denial of access to public spaces and provision of public goods and the violence against those who challenge such norms or those associated with them. To argue that this means it is no longer ‘untouchability’, however, underplays the violent sanctions and material dimensions that have always been central to the practice (Rafanell and Page 32 of 36

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Twenty-First Century Casteism? Gorringe 2010; Viswanath 2016). What has changed is the institutional legitimacy accorded to such violence. The state now condemns such practices but the social legitimacy practices of untouchability have is testified to in the increasingly stringent legislative attempts to curb atrocities. The Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 was introduced following the failure of earlier attempts to mitigate casteist excesses. Given that untouchability was rendered illegal by the Constitution, and that the Act applies to STs as well as SCs, the term ‘untouchability’ ‘no longer appears in the wording’ (Charsley and Karanth 1998: 28). The abuse it is intended to stem, however, is clearly informed by caste. Such atrocities include, ‘forcing a member of an SC or an ST (p.101) to drink or eat any inedible or obnoxious substance; causing injury, insult or annoyance to SC/ ST individuals by dumping excreta, waste matter, carcasses, or any other obnoxious substance in his premises; using a position of dominance to exploit SC/ST women sexually; and corrupting or fouling the water of any spring, reservoir or any other source ordinarily used by members of the SC/ STs’ (extracted from Human Rights Watch 1999: 218–30). Whilst cases filed under the Act are non-bailable and carry stringent punishments, ‘sincerity in implementing the Act has been conspicuously absent’ (Viswanathan 2009; Jaffrelot 2016). Jawahar’s quote at the head of the chapter echoes this point. Whilst Geetha and Rajadurai (2011: 503) point to the amendment of the ‘Hindu Religious Endowment Act in 2007 to allow men from all castes to become priests in Hindu temples’ as evidence of Dravidian radicalism, the fact that untouchability is not merely related to ritual pollution is seen in their conclusion that Dravidian parties ‘have not been able to end reprehensible practices against Dalits—-even when the offenders are easily identifiable and the offences grim enough to exact the harshest penalties’. Other critics are less forgiving of the ruling parties in the state, arguing that it is not inability, but caste prejudice that underpins atrocities against Dalits and state inaction against the perpetrators (Ravikumar 2006; Teltumbde 2011b). Despite the law opening up priesthood to all, for example, several media reports in 2012 noted how Dalit priests faced discrimination or ostracism in their new roles and struggled to be accepted. The appearance of change is also more impressive than the substance with regard to state responses to caste violence. Whilst atrocities reported to police have been on the rise, prosecutions and convictions have not kept pace (Ramaiah 2011; Senthalir 2012). Furthermore, if the emergence of Dalit movements and their campaigns might lead us to attribute the rise in atrocities to increased reporting of crimes, Sharma’s (2015: 220) detailed analysis of survey results illustrate that ‘what we are observing is a case of incidence rather than reporting of crime’. Sharma’s conclusions make for depressing reading, and highlight the persistence of ‘old’ forms of untouchability alongside more novel ones.

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Twenty-First Century Casteism? Despite this, and whilst Dalits disproportionately comprise the victims of caste violence, it would, as Pandian (2013b: 14) argues, be a ‘mistake not to acknowledge the slow but perceptible mobility’ (p.102) amongst them. Dalit politics and attendant mobilization has led caste hierarchies to lose much of their potency. Manor (2012) and Waghmore (2013) note how old elites tend to grudgingly accept their loss of influence and resort to an uneasy political correctness whilst seeking to concede as little as possible. Mosse (2012) likewise notes an increase in processes of negotiation that seek to avoid caste conflagration. Certainly, one of the most significant changes that I noticed between periods of fieldwork in 1999 and 2012 was that Dalit parties were now in a position to negotiate deals and compromises with upper castes, many of whom were desperate to avoid lengthy and costly court cases (Carswell and De Neve 2015). This does not mean that much of what passes for casteism reflects the politicization of other disputes. The data presented above speaks to the continuing exclusion of Dalits from spaces, services, and relations by virtue of their caste. Natarajan (2012: 11) speaks of the persistence of ‘casteism without traditional legitimacy,’ but intermediate castes in Tamil Nadu are happy to assert their superiority in time-honoured fashion and read state support and inaction as legitimizing their endeavours. ‘The absence of timely punishment of the culprits’, as Chakraborty, Babu, and Chakravorty (2006: 2480) conclude, ‘creates a permissive environment for similar cases’. At the other end of the social scale, Bairy (2012: 35) notes that the ‘invisibilization of caste’ by Brahmins has not prevented it from remaining the basis of their self-making and social capital. For all the celebration of a lowercaste political upsurge, forms of institutionalized casteism and the effects of caste networking and capital shape the everyday structures of Tamil villages and state responses to Dalit demands. Both social and material resources are still stacked against Dalits as seen in the difficulties of getting cases registered by the police, in the differential recognition of caste leaders, in the lack of a level playing field in local elections (cf. Sumathi and Sudarsen 2005: 3756), and in the continuing prevalence of landlessness. Whilst we can dismiss activist assertions that ‘nothing has changed’ it would be remiss to neglect how caste gradations continue to inform aspects of life in contemporary Tamil Nadu. The disabilities of untouchability may no longer be anchored to notions of ritual pollution if they ever were, but they are wedded to hierarchical values that remain significant despite being subject to continuous contestation. (p.103) These tenets also continue to inform politics and political alliances in the state, meaning that it is difficult for Dalit parties to fully establish themselves as political equals. In September 2015, for example, a senior DMK politician responded to the VCK’s decision to campaign alongside Communist parties by stating that they ‘were not keen to tie up with the PMK or the VCK owing to their caste-based approach’ (Times of India 2015b). The equation of the anti-caste VCK with the caste-based PMK, and the way in which this masks the Page 34 of 36

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Twenty-First Century Casteism? implicit caste calculations of the Dravidian parties themselves, highlights the subtle ways in which the Panthers can be marginalized and discredited. Despite their rhetoric of social radicalism, neither Dravidian party is prepared to field SC candidates in general constituencies and Dalits remain absent from the upper levels of Communist leadership in a political echo of the spatial segregation of Dalits in Tamil villages. The VCK’s political struggles, thus, extend beyond the appeal to voters and constituents and are shaped by their interactions with other parties and the dominant political culture of the state. It is the VCK’s negotiation of the processes of institutionalization that concerns the next chapter. Notes:

(1) This account of the violence in Dharmapuri is derived from Stalin Rajangam, who was part of a fact-finding team who visited the village, as well as published reports by Teltumbde (2012b), Sethalir (2012), and Pandian (2013b). (2) As I revised this chapter, The Hindu (2016) reported on Dalit demands for a separate ration shop in Sholavandan, Madurai district, following caste clashes and discrimination in the village of Kuruvithurai. (3) On the ‘psychological-behavioural dynamics’ of caste, or ‘the inner minds of caste’, see Jadhav, Mosse, and Dostaler’s (2016: 1–2) editorial for Anthropology Today. (4) In 2012, several statues of Ambedkar and Immanuel Sekaran were vandalized in Madurai. In response, one state proposal was to place Ambedkar statues in cages. For an analysis of such debates see D. Karthikeyan and H. Gorringe, 2012. ‘Rescuing Ambedkar’, Frontline 29(19): (accessed 5 June 2016): http:// www.hindu.com/thehindu/thscrip/print.pl? file=20121005291913600.htm&date=fl2919/&prd=fline& (5) Such exclusion has a corollary in the sparse attention paid to Dalit parties in media outlets. The rise of Thirumavalavan and Dr Krishnasamy to prominence has served to offset this a bit, but there are still concerns raised by activists about coverage bias (cf. Cody 2015; Ratnamala 2012). This is why the VCK determined to launch its own TV channel in 2012, which was finally launched in April 2016. (6) See Sumathi and Sudarsen (2005) for an account of Thevar perspectives in Pappapatti. (7) See Guérin et al. (2013: 1165) for a detailed analysis on how Dalits are disadvantaged when it comes to securing loans, and Prakash (2010) and Jodhka (2010) for a wider analysis of how caste networks disadvantage Dalit entrepreneurs.

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Twenty-First Century Casteism? (8) See Ramakrishnan’s (2014) account of communist mobilization in rural Tamil Nadu. He notes how Dalits who gained freedom from bonded labour were often evicted from their huts. Vijayabaskar and Menon (forthcoming) note how VCK mobilization has eroded caste hegemony, meaning that landlords are increasingly reluctant to lease lands to them. (9) A full transcript of this interview may be found here: http:// www.southasianist.ed.ac.uk/article/view/147 (accessed on 6 June 2016). (10) For more details on the ‘breast-cloth controversy’, see Hardgrave (1968). (11) Within Tamil Nadu, a People’s Tribunal organised by the NGO Evidence (Evidence Forum 2011) detailed a harrowing range of attacks on Dalit women often following mobilization by Dalits in the area.

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From Protest to Politics

Panthers in Parliament: Dalits, Caste, and Political Power in South India Hugo Gorringe

Print publication date: 2017 Print ISBN-13: 9780199468157 Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: March 2017 DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199468157.001.0001

From Protest to Politics The Institutionalization of the Panthers Hugo Gorringe

DOI:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199468157.003.0004

Abstract and Keywords This chapter engages with the literature on social movement institutionalisation and charts the transition of the Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (VCK) from radical movement to political party. It highlights the processes involved and reflects on the changes that have occurred both within the party and in wider political institutions. It argues that the VCK remains a ‘protest party’ rather than a party of power and considers the implications of this. Keywords:   Institutionalization, professionalization, movement parties, Viduthalai Chiruthaigal, Tamil politics

When insurgency wells up, apparently uncontrollable, elites respond. And one of their responses is to cultivate those lower-class organizations which begin to emerge in such periods, for they have little to fear from organizations, especially from organizations which come to depend on them for support. Thus, however unwittingly, leaders and organizers of the lower classes act in the end to facilitate the efforts of elites to channel the insurgent masses into normal politics, believing all the while that they are taking the long and arduous but certain path to power. —(Piven and Cloward 1979: xxii) What will the MP do? He is divorced from the people and away from the villages—they do not have the time or will to go to the ground so much anymore. Even if he hears about it he will be forced to compromise by Page 1 of 35

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From Protest to Politics political pressure. They do not want to alienate the government who may be their alliance partner today or tomorrow. There is no other way in politics. —(Karthik Interview, March 2012) THE PATH FROM PROTEST MOVEMENT to political party is well trodden. Since mass protest is difficult to sustain and requires resources, Tarrow (1998) argues that movements tend to become more bureaucratic (p.105) and formally organized in their attempt to keep an issue alive. Offe (1990) goes further still in outlining a three-stage model of institutional transformation in which the enthusiasm and mass appeal of the ‘take-off’ phase of movement life gives way to ‘stagnation’—when eagerness and numbers dwindle due to frustration or political concessions—followed by a process of ‘institutionalization’. This refers to the process whereby movements ‘develop internal organization, become more moderate, adopt a more institutional repertoire of action and integrate into the system of interest representation’ (Della Porta and Diani 1999: 148). In the Indian context, processes of institutionalization are enmeshed in the social divisions and relations of caste. Movements usually seek to broaden their membership and appeal beyond the initial caste or class constituency in ways that temper the initial demands of the group and may be interpreted as diluting the struggle (Kunnath 2006, 2009; Pai 2002). Of course, the process is neither straightforward or, necessarily, linear. The focus of this book is on the gradual process by which a radical social movement organization enters the institutions and relationships that characterize formal politics. While Chapter 2 details the socio-cultural processes that accompany the shift from protest to politics, here we focus on the more formal and procedural aspects that dominate the literature. The central contention of work on institutionalization is that social mobilization and protest is time-consuming, risky, and costly. To flourish, Offe (1990) argues, movements require rights to protest, a range of high-profile public events, and an engaged and active group of supporters. None of these resources is guaranteed and they may be withdrawn at any point. At the height of their radical mobilizational phase, for instance, the VCK found their ability to protest severely constrained by measures designed to curb their militancy. Permission for protests was routinely denied, preventative arrests attended each major event, and numerous movement leaders and followers were subject to arrests under repressive legislation such as the National Security Act, anti-terrorism laws, or the Goondas Act, each of which carries significant jail terms (Gorringe 2005). As the rights to protest were curtailed in this manner, the number of events the party was able to stage dwindled, and less committed supporters became increasingly wary of participation. In such situations, Offe (p.106)

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From Protest to Politics (1990: 239) notes, movements tend to restructure themselves and create formal organizations with membership and dues. The virtues of such formalization include the ability to garner extra resources, an opening up of wider coalitions, and the opportunity to reach out to supporters who are disinclined to protest (Offe 1990; Staggenborg 1988; Suri 2013). On one hand, such formalization can result in the formation of what Jordan and Maloney (1997) somewhat disparagingly call ‘protest businesses.’ They speak of social movement organizations (SMOs) that are primarily concerned with the generation of income and membership to fund the activities of ‘protest professionals’. Dalton (1994: 56) argues that SMOs ‘adopt a hierarchical and highly routinized structure to maximize their efficiency in collecting money, activating members, and achieving policy success’. Where social movements have porous boundaries allowing for people to dip in and out of participation, SMOs seek to systematize membership and develop structures that enable the group to maximize their resources and impact. Where movements have to demonstrate their impact by mustering crowds and staging demonstrations, SMOs claim to represent large memberships. In the process, Jordan and Maloney (1997) point to the rise of ‘surrogate’ or passive membership and increasing competition between SMOs. The upshot can be overly bureaucratic and professional organizations that are divorced both from their own members and the wider movement that inspired them in the first instance. In Jeff St Clair’s scathing dismissal of institutionalized environmentalism: Somewhere along the line the environmental movement disconnected with the people. Rejected its political roots, pulled the plug on its vibrant tradition. It packed its bags, it starched its shirts and jetted to DC where it became what it once despised: a risk aversive, depersonalized, overly analytical, humourless, access-driven, intolerant, statistical, centralized, technocratic, deal-making, passionless, sterilized, direct-mailing, jockstrapped, lawyer-laden monolith to mediocrity. (cited in Dryzek et al. 2003: 96) Institutionalization, in other words, is perceived to carry its own costs and risks. The foremost amongst these is that movements may become ‘bureaucratized and technique centred’, resulting in a dilution of movement critiques and tactics (Coy and Hedeen 2005: 407; (p.107) Suri 2013: 247). It can also, as Piven and Cloward (1979) show, result in demobilization, or co-option. As Putnam (2000: 160) concludes: It may be more efficient technically for us to hire other people to act for us politically. However, such organizations provide neither connectedness amongst members nor direct engagement in civic give-and-take, and they certainly do not represent participatory democracy.

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From Protest to Politics Activist critiques of NGOs in the Tamil context resonated with these accounts, often portraying them as out to feather their own nests. Although becoming a professional campaigning organization allows one to remain outside political institutions and put pressure on political parties and legislatures from without, many movements opt to enter such institutions instead. As Dryzek et al. put it (2003: 81): [T]he state is society’s primary collective decision making body, and walking the corridors of its power surely means that a movement’s interests are being taken seriously. Access to the state means enhanced credibility and legitimacy for movement groups, perhaps even direct influence on public policy. For Dalits, furthermore, the state remains an important provider of resources and opportunities even where it is a target of critique (Waghmore 2013). Since the political ascendance of the BSP, seizing political power has been the ultimate aspiration for Dalit groups (Gundimeda 2016). Whilst capturing state power on its own is a distant dream for the VCK at present, in politics unlike the market, as Offe (1990: 242) points out, one can ‘win’ even if the opposition imitate ‘your product’. Rather than having to defend one’s territory, there are more opportunities to advance the goals of the organization. Scholars like Tarrow (1998) and Jenkins and Klandermans (1995), accordingly, regard political participation as a core objective of protest groups. From this perspective, what Dryzek (1996: 484) calls ‘inclusion in, or entry into, the state’ is a logical progression for, if not original aim of, extra-institutional movements. Conversely, as the quotes from Karthik (Interview, March 2012) and Piven and Cloward (1979) highlight, institutionalization can render emergent politicians dependent on alliance partners and reliant on the votes of others. Both processes can distance the party leadership from the core supporters. The challenge of institutionalization, thus, is to retain the (p.108) trust and commitment of activists whilst adapting to the processes and rules of formal politics.

Radicalism and Recognition In The Strategy of Social Protest, Gamson (1990: 28–9) argues that social movements aim at two basic outcomes: acceptance as political players and the securing of new advantages for participants. Certainly, a range of studies illustrate the benefits of institutionalization in terms of obtaining vital resources (McCarthy and Zald 1973), influencing policy changes (Kriesi 2004), or creating further opportunities for mobilization (Pettinichio 2012). Each of these studies also points to obstacles and recognizes that not all challenger groups are able to secure such gains. Given the uncertainties attending institutionalization, Gamson (1990: 29) devises a fourfold categorization of movement outcomes: groups gaining full acceptance and many new advantages are seen as successful and are said to have attained a ‘full response’; those that are fully accepted but secure no advantages are subject to ‘co-optation’; where movements gain many Page 4 of 35

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From Protest to Politics advantages but no recognition they are described as being ‘pre-empted’; and finally, those that gain neither acceptance nor advantages, ‘collapse’. Although he is one of the foremost theorists of social movements, Gamson (1990) operates within a broader political process approach that privileges the workings of institutional politics and neglects socio-cultural discrimination and recognition (see Chapter 4). He also neglects the emergence of hybrid organizations that seek the benefits of political participation without abandoning street politics (McMillan 2014). Kitschelt (2006) refers to such outfits as ‘movement parties’. Mitchell’s (2014) concept of ‘political arrival’ which marks the recognition of, and response to, a group’s actions by state representatives, is felicitous here. Like Gamson (1990), she charts the strategies and tactics adopted by challenger groups to gain recognition (Mitchell 2014). This evokes Chatterjee’s recognition that the strategic use of violence by members of what he terms ‘political society’—more lumpen elements who operate outside ‘civil society’ proper—may be followed by their ‘inclusion into the ambit of governmentality’ (2004: 76). Chatterjee (2004) argues that subaltern (p.109) groups lacking the knowledge, legitimacy, and access to law, which characterizes members of ‘civil society’, may resort to extra-legal collective action to secure rights and recognition. Whilst the distinction has some heuristic value, it neglects both the systematic use of extra-legal mechanisms by established political players and overstates the divide between civil and political modes of action. Waghmore (2013), for example, argues that Dalit politics seeks to correct the incivilities of caste-based society. Mitchell’s (2014: 521) concept of ‘political arrival’, in this schema, marks the point at which a challenger group enters formal institutions and receives state recognition, but is also attuned to the ways in which ‘state responsiveness reflects broader societal ideologies and consensus’. Institutionalization, it follows, is not as linear as portrayed in some of the accounts above, since new parties must negotiate with both formal political actors and wider social norms and groups. Engagement in state institutions, instead, often coexists with extra-institutional mobilization (Tarrow 1998). Furthermore, as Watts (2006: 140) notes, ‘ethnopolitical activists’ entry into formal politics does not necessarily signal a democratic victory or official intent to ‘open up’ the system but may occur through a more fractured and contested process.’ Movements, as Giugni’s work on the outcomes of social mobilization makes clear, may be incorporated into existing institutions ‘without transforming the basic rules of the game’ (1998: xv). Rather than institutionalizing the concerns of marginal actors, in other words, they may institutionalize marginalization (Jeffery and Gorringe, 2016). As Mosse (2007: 27) puts it: ‘Empowerment depends upon political representation, but such political capacity is gained only at the cost of conceding power to a political system’.

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From Protest to Politics A Conspiracy to Co-Opt? For this reason, Coy and Hedeen (2005: 409) rightly view ‘co-optation as a process’ that is deepened over time as activists become more embedded into the norms, relationships, and institutions of formal politics. As Offe (1990) notes, movements are usually divided into pragmatists and idealists. The former perceive the formation of formal organizations with fee-paying members and clear structures of leadership as a means of sustaining activist concerns. By contrast, the (p.110) idealists—‘fundis’ in Offe’s terms—‘refuse to join the institutional learning process’ and bemoan the loss of autonomy, spontaneity, and specificity that accompanies increasing formalization (1990: 249–50). For the fundis, it is easy to discern conspiracy theories and to be cynical about the motives of political entrepreneurs. Punitha Pandian, editor of the long-running and independent Dalit magazine Dalit Murasu held such a position. In an echo of Piven and Cloward’s assertion above he argued that: It is a conspiracy. If any revolutionary type figure, any element who seems like they might destroy the varnashrama [hierarchical division of society], Brahminical order, then they try, and inveigle them into politics. That is what the Director General of Police [ DGP] himself said: ‘Why don’t you start a party Thirumavalavan? … Come and speak in the Assembly, it will be in the papers. Now no one pays attention. In the house Karunanidhi [then Chief Minister] will have to respond. Why do you remain outside, speaking like a Naxalite? Come to the system.’ This did not happen over one or two days, but was a long process of brain-washing. … What I am trying to say, is that if you disturb the Brahminical social order, you will be identified, and brought into politics. Once you enter you will speak nothing [against the system]. (Interview, April 2012) Petras and Veltmeyer (2006: 91), in a Latin American context, describe ‘electoral politics as a trap’ designed to clip the wings of political opponents. They argue that entry into the party system invariably results in de-radicalization. Tarrow (1998: 208) likewise observes that movements which adopt ‘institutional routines, can become imbued with their logic and values’. Coy and Hedeen (2005) take the middle ground in this debate. Rather than seeing co-option as a deliberate conspiracy, they echo Tarrow’s analysis in arguing that de-radicalization occurs over time through the appropriation by new parties of the language and techniques of formal politics. Additionally, ‘movement’ or ‘protest parties’ experience similar compulsions to businesses: they need to expand beyond the core constituency to have an impact, they need to secure resources to wage electoral campaigns and they need to attract the votes of significant numbers of people to stand any chance of winning (Poguntke 1993). As Pandian notes in the Tamil context:

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From Protest to Politics Dalit parties can never gain power through electoral politics. In every constituency in Tamil Nadu Dalits are in a minority. All the Dalits in (p. 111) Tamil Nadu—1 and a half crore [a crore is 10 million] —even if all of them voted for Thirumavalavan he cannot win. (Interview, April 2012) The need to secure the votes of a wider constituency further constrains radical parties. If the aim is to gain political power then this may require the dilution or neglect of key movement demands in favour of broader or more general appeals, or it may result in pragmatic electoral alliances with other parties with all the negotiations, compromises, and possible decline in mobilization entailed (Shah 1994). A stress on collective action and consciousness raising can, as Oommen (1995: 168) notes, give way to a politics of interest articulation at this stage. The emphasis here shifts to bargaining and lobbying rather than mass protest. Once that occurs, Kunnath’s (2009: 321–2) work with Maoist groups in Bihar suggests, dominant caste groups hold the upper hand and can neutralize protest. Despite this, radical parties seldom reverse the process of institutionalization and abandon politics having entered the system. Coy and Hedeen (2005: 417) refer to this as the ‘paradox of collaboration’, noting that ‘continued participation may become a goal in and of itself’.

Adverse Incorporation? Given the association between party politics and de-radicalization, movements need to think through how they will retain support during the process of transition. The most common means of doing this is to point to gains made from political participation. The VCK, as we shall see, were keen to emphasize the advantages of electoral engagement, but Dryzek et al. (2003: 78) caution movements that inclusion in the state will only be effective when movement interests are aligned with the ‘imperatives that define the core of the state’. Where this does not occur, inclusion will result in co-option at best. On the surface, the demands of Dalit parties are in alignment with the ‘core of the state’ in that many of them revolve around the implementation of the Constitution. This, though, is to take an overly narrow and legalistic view of the state. Gupta (1995: 376) focuses on the ways in which the state and other institutions ‘come to be imagined’ and discursively constructed. The multiplicity of institutions within the state, he argues, means that it cannot be viewed as a unitary entity even though it is portrayed as such. Furthermore, (p.112) as Hansen and Stepputat (2001: 9) argue, ‘everyday forms of state power … are always suffused with and mediated by politics’. Rather than viewing the state as distinct from wider social relations, we need to recognize the ways in which the institutions of the state are permeable to the influence of dominant groups in society.1 Challenging groups enter a defined set of relationships and way of doing things that places them at a distinct disadvantage to others. Whereas Gamson and similar scholars can suggest that social exclusion is the key problem to be addressed, thus, authors like Du Toit Page 7 of 35

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From Protest to Politics (2004) point to how groups may be incorporated on prejudicial terms. Against this backdrop, Hansen and Stepputat (2001: 22) raise the question of how political practitioners ‘control or transform the state on behalf of specific economic and social groups’. The objective for emergent parties is to wrest new advantages from the state to justify their engagement with institutional politics. How they go about the process of effecting change, however, has a bearing on what they are able to achieve. Hasan, for instance, points to the dangers of incorporation: Foregrounding group claims can result in bypassing equality in a more fundamental sense. It has the important effect of preventing fundamental change, such as land reform, because the new elite now has a stake in the existing system. (Hasan 2006: 65) Instead of assuming that integration into formal institutions is unproblematic or always beneficial, we need to interrogate the terms on which people or groups are included. Small parties, for instance, may be tied to larger ones due to the resource flows required to fight electoral contests (Suri 2013). Challenger groups are also, invariably, constrained by the party system in which they operate (Wyatt 2010a), meaning that inclusion may come at a price. Dryzek et al. (2003: 103) caution that ‘inclusive states are capable of undermining democracy in society as a whole by depleting civil society’. They urge social movements to consider whether their institutionalization would ‘leave behind a flourishing civil society’. (p.113) The implication here, as in Hasan’s work (2006), is that institutionalization diminishes the capacity of marginal actors to challenge and question power holders because they now have a stake in the system. Incorporation of this nature is clearly a possibility and a threat to a vibrant civil society, but it is not, as Manor (2013) reminds us, inevitable. The terms on which groups are integrated into institutional arrangements are crucial. Where such groups receive what Gamson terms a ‘full response’, there can be many benefits to participation. Even short of this ideal state, activists may be empowered to negotiate with power holders, gain access to key state institutions and sources of patronage and give hitherto neglected constituents a voice. To attain such goals, emergent political actors need to surmount a number of potential hurdles. First, challenger groups may be incorporated into the peripheries of an institution in ways that perpetuate their marginality. More subtly, Guru (2009) points to the humiliation entailed in the use of prefixes to mark particular posts or practices as bracketed off from the norm. The creation of Ministers for Women or the reference to Dalit Presidents, relegates aspirant citizens to those marked as much by their difference as their inclusion (Puwar 2004). The recognition entailed in such bounded expansions of the political sphere reinforces the secondary status of new entrants. Even where a state, as in the Page 8 of 35

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From Protest to Politics Indian context, seeks to offset socio-political exclusion through affirmative action the recipients may be denigrated as ‘target groups or the card holders/ certificate holders’ (Guru 2009: 223). The perception that certain groups are receiving preferential treatment, furthermore, can generate a backlash by dominant groups who resent any reallocation or distribution of resources and feel threatened by them (Fraser 2003). Given the very real risks linked to processes of institutionalization, it is easy to see why the move to politics generated such fierce discussions and divisions within the VCK (Gorringe 2005). Simultaneously, it is important to highlight Pushpendra’s (2001: 337) finding that for all their scepticism, ‘SCs discern no clear alternative to the multi-party Parliamentary democracy.’ He notes that Dalit turn-out in elections has risen markedly since the 1970s, which is ‘indicative of the strong political aspiration on the part of Dalits and their effort to assert in a democratic polity by utilizing the electoral (p.114) process’ (Pushpendra 2001: 317). Entry into the state, this suggests, may be forced upon movements or presented as a ‘pragmatic necessity’ (Suri 2013: 231). The VCK felt that they had little option but to affirm their commitment to democratic processes in the face of state and non-state repression and the continued attachment of Dalits to electoral democracy (Gorringe 2005; Waghmore 2013). In such situations the question is less why they chose to institutionalize (Dryzek et al 2003: 84) and more what they have or have not achieved, and how they have been transformed in the process.

Professionalizing the Panthers? In 1999 the VCK ended a decade-long boycott of elections and entered formal politics, contesting the national, Lok Sabha, elections from the Chidambaram constituency as part of a Third Front. That election showcased the movement character of the nascent party and highlighted that entry into institutional politics does not automatically result in recognition. On the one hand, the cadre flooded the constituency with flags, banners, and wall paintings in a display of voluntaristic enthusiasm that spilled over into election day, when some overzealous supporters declared that they had ‘voted multiple times for annan’. On the other, the campaign and election were marred by severe and widespread violence against Dalits. The genesis for this was apparent on posters where Thirumavalavan’s face was smeared with cow-dung in a symbolic rejection of Dalit assertion (Gorringe 2005). Forging the radical movement that promised to fight back into a disciplined organization and securing the acceptance and recognition of the wider society were clearly set to be long-drawn out processes. Eschewing Gamson’s contrast between ‘full response’ and ‘co-option’, Kitschelt (2006) argues that movement parties may ‘make little investment in a formal organizational party structure’ (2006: 280) and seek instead to ‘mix up the legislative agenda and to get issues discussed and decided that otherwise might be swept under the carpet by established parties for fear of dividing their own Page 9 of 35

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From Protest to Politics electorates’ (2006: 282). Following Kitschelt, the focus here is on the incomplete process of professionalization undertaken by the VCK. Whilst the party is seeking to become better structured and organized by (p.115) introducing membership and delineating leadership positions for example, it remains a protest party rather than a bureaucratic or professional one. Thirumavalavan’s interventions in Parliament, as a result, involved raising and seconding motions and joining committees and parliamentary debates, but also featured disrupting the chamber with slogans and placards and protesting by the Gandhi statue outside. There is, as Wyatt (2010a: 128) notes, ‘an important performative aspect to the politics’ of the VCK. This is perhaps part cause and part consequence of their imperfect integration into the formal political institutions of Tamil Nadu. The VCK’s failure to consolidate and deliver Dalit votes in every election and a lack of resources with which to bankroll campaigns means that coalition partners have viewed them as junior allies. In turn, the limited number of seats that the VCK have been able to contest and the inability or reluctance of alliance parties to transfer votes to them has denied the party formal recognition (see below), and confined them to the margins of Tamil politics. The VCK still cannot determine the constituencies they will contest or always decide which candidates to nominate. If the formal and structural aspects of institutionalization are incomplete, other facets of the process are well advanced. During the movement phase, it was never clear how popular or widespread the Panthers were, but in a context where they are seeking to appeal to coalition partners and claiming to represent a constituency, the party has been compelled to introduce membership and restructure their organization. Indeed, much of the focus of the VCK in 2012, was on consolidating, and restructuring the party. In the wake of the 2011 State elections in which the Panthers had drawn a blank, all party postholders were relieved of their responsibilities and nomination meetings for replacements were held across Tamil Nadu. Addressing the applicants gathered together from northern districts in a marriage hall in Marai Malar Nagar on the outskirts of Chennai, Thirumavalavan illustrated this process of professionalization and summed up the current priorities of the party in a speech worth quoting at length: We declared 2011 as the year of the ‘Chiruthaigal’. In 2011 we sought to win the recognition of the Election Commission; at the same time, before December 2011 we aimed to build a state party head office, (p.116) district party head office in every district, our own TV channel, intensify the process of (party) membership enrolment, enrol members from other political parties, provide identity cards, enrol non-Dalits into the party, offer them (non-Dalits) responsibility—all these activities we announced as our plan of action for the year 2011. How much we succeeded and how much we achieved our targets is another debate. … However we can say that we accomplished two or three notable things in that period. As a Page 10 of 35

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From Protest to Politics result of announcing 2011 as the year of the “Chiruthaigal”, and as a result of intensified membership enrolment, we were able to achieve 45 lakh membership (claps from the crowd). Otherwise, we wouldn’t have achieved that. As some of the comrades say, even if the enrolment was not done properly, even if some criticize the process, if at least half of the enrolment was proper, then, we have now got at least 22.5 lakh membership across the country under a simple Dalit-based movement, and it is not a mean achievement. Approximately 17.5 lakh members have paid at least 10 rupees (as membership fee). … For the first time, we have generated 1.75 crore rupees as party fund (claps from the crowd). If we had not done that work, we could not have achieved this; we have to think about that. If we had worked more whole-heartedly we would have collected even more money. This is a milestone. Secondly, no, thirdly, we have been constructing our own office building in Chennai 100 feet road though it is only 1700 square feet. Now we are going to get our own office (claps from the crowd)—2-storey office building. Although the space wouldn’t be enough for all our state-level administrative work, we are able to raise at least our own office building in Chennai. … Though we faced defeat in the Assembly election, we have succeeded to some extent in strengthening and expanding our party. (Thirumavalavan Speech, April 2012) Captured in this peroration are a number of key issues. The first relates to the whole tenor of the speech. In a meeting of postholders and applications for party posts we get an insight into the organizational emphasis of the party. Conspicuously absent are the polemical and passionate tirades that characterized the politics of protest. Instead, we have a pragmatic discussion devoted to the reconstruction and organization of the VCK. The primary objectives are to create a material infrastructure of party offices, recruit new members, launch a television channel, and raise money. Of these, the perceived need for the party’s own TV channel stands out, but this reflects the political culture of Tamil Nadu in which all parties control and depend (p.117) upon media outlets (Cody 2015). Lacking their own broadcast channel, the VCK felt that they were unable to reach out to potential supporters and were subject to a news agenda imposed by others. This aside, the objectives articulated here are entirely consistent with those of SMOs elsewhere. The VCK, we see, are attempting to restructure the party, bolster its infrastructure, and raise resources. The membership drives illustrate the dual focus of political parties as compared to other organizations, both to raise money and to secure the support of potential voters. In keeping with the literature on professionalization (cf. Jordan and Maloney 1997), the dissolution of party posts and opening of nominations simultaneously sought to widen the representative nature of the Panthers and to raise resources. A disillusioned former member of the party noted how this had increasingly become a priority:

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From Protest to Politics If you ask what a bigger problem is, it is that we need to amass money like the Dravida Munnetra Kazagham (DMK) and the Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazagham (ADMK). You cannot contest elections without money. So what he [Thirumavalavan] did first was to dismiss the administration of the party and create a new one and he asked for demand drafts (DDs or money orders) of Rs 1,000 for the party and Rs 1,500 for Tamil Mann (first it was Thaai Mann—Mother Earth, now Tamizh Mann—Tamil Land). Then for his birthday each District Secretary provides over 1 lakh which they collect from all owners. (Ramesh Interview, February 2012) Those applying for a State or District-level post had to pay Rs 3000 for the privilege of applying, with a concessionary rate of Rs 1000 to encourage more women to apply. In the run-up to the 2016 Legislative Assembly elections, it was reported that the party asked for Rs 2 lakh (200,000) from applicants and Rs 10 lakh from those selected as party candidates (NT Bureau 2016). Setting the bar so high immediately narrowed the pool of possible candidates to those with deep pockets. As evidenced elsewhere, professionalization and the formalization of posts was not universally popular. Not only were finances important, but the fact that anyone with means could apply grated with long-term activists from the movement days: As a party we need to be with the people. Anyone can pay Rs 3,000 for a party post—including me, but that does not mean you deserve the (p.118) post. How many are there who cannot afford that? Do posts have to be bestowed from the top? If you work hard and are true to the people then they will look after you—give you expenses and food and so on—and lift you up. (Kalimuthu, July 2012) The tensions between movement and party are evident here, with the need for resources serving to marginalize older members. Yet even these flows of income are not nearly enough to run a party. Electoral alliances help in this regard and Thirumavalavan has benefitted from his increased profile since becoming an MP by touring the globe speaking to diaspora groups and raising funds. In 2012, the focus on resources reached a peak. As assistant general secretary Vanni Arasu put it: ‘The new “we are for ourselves policy” (Namukku Namey Thittum) is collecting gold for Thirumavalavan’ (Vanni Arasu Speech, June 2012). This refers to the Golden Jubilee that marked Thirumavalavan’s 50th birthday. As he told the crowd in Melavalavu: I turn 50 this year. I was dejected at the thought and did not think of celebrating, but the party committee decided to hold a Pon Vizha (Golden Jubilee) for the occasion. I said if you wish to do that make it a real Golden Jubilee and collect gold. I must stress here that none of this is for me. I have not acquired a taste for wealth and jewels. I worked for 14 years in a Government job; had I wished to I could have amassed a small fortune Page 12 of 35

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From Protest to Politics then, but I used my salary to build this movement. … Now I am an MP and get a good salary, but I do not see any of it. 10,000 to the party, 10,000 to Thai Mann, 10,000 to the Tholkappian Trust it all goes. Now the party needs resources and the Golden Jubilee needs gold. I am not exempt here and will be contributing some gold. … It will all be accounted for and used by the party. So even though I have no desire for wealth, I do wish for gold —for the party. 87.5 pounds collected already. … This is a historical first. No other party in TN has celebrated such a jubilee though they have the resources to do so time and again. Jayalalithaa could get herself a golden toilet should she so desire—she has the resources and wealthy connections; the DMK could collect this much and more with a few phone calls, but do we have such wealthy industrialists and landlords in our ranks? … For me, you are my only bosses. We are for ourselves; you for me and me for you. (Speech, June 2012) Thirumavalavan’s speeches in Melavalavu in the late 1990s helped to build the movement. They whipped crowds into a frenzy with fiery (p.119) rhetoric and castigated the ruling parties whilst instilling a sense of pride and empowerment in the listeners. The emotive utterances seen then tend to give way to more measured and considered speeches focused on consolidating the party rather than mobilizing a mass movement. Throughout 2012, party speeches emphasized the collection of gold. The idea was that gold could be banked and was less easy to spend or misuse, so it would form the deposit and finances required to launch a TV channel for the party. Whilst many grumbled about the collection, Stalin Rajangam pointed out that no other channel has been funded so transparently (Personal communication, September 2012). If the Golden Jubilee showcased the changing priorities and resources of the party, however, it also highlighted how the VCK remain a poor relation in comparison to established institutions. The party’s rhetoric of professionalization also runs ahead of their progress in this direction as seen in the failure to deliver membership cards or TV on schedule. Indeed, in 2015, the party launched a ‘Silver Jubilee’ marking 25 years of the VCK and asking for contributions of silver since they had yet to amass sufficient funds to launch the TV station promised in 2012. If income streams have increased, so has expenditure. Where party spokesman Firebrand Murugan used to borrow money to travel by bus, all party leaders now have their own vehicles and dress like politicians. Part of this, Madurai District Secretary Pandiyammal, pointed out to me, is to match people’s expectations: There is a lot of expense involved in the job. You need people who can hold their own with others. If you are District Secretary you have to have a vehicle—you cannot turn up by auto—you would not get respect. But now

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From Protest to Politics when we go round canvassing for money many people say: ‘You are a big party now’ and refuse to contribute. (Personal Communication, May 2012) The norms governing the public performance of politics affect the party in other ways too. The patronage based nature of Tamil politics (Wyatt 2013a) means that the VCK as a party encounter expectations that did not apply to the movement. Where the DPI was expected to honour and remember the dead, for instance, now the VCK is approached for material assistance. Paari Chelian noted this new role in relation to the police firing in Paramakudi: (p.120) H: What was the VCK response to the Paramakudi shootings?

PC: Thirumavalavan went to hospital and met the injured; he visited the families of the dead and handed out Rs. 25,000 to each. He condemned the attacks and led protests on the issue.

H: So being a party has improved the material might of the party. If Thirumavalavan loses his seat in the next MP election will it survive?

PC: Oh yes, the party machine is strong now and will survive. There are branches and flows of money and so on (Personal Communication, February 2012).

Though the quote here indicates the structural and economic strength of the party, and Thirumavalavan’s speech to prospective postholders above indicated the ideal that the party is working towards, it is also evident that they are far from realizing these goals. The party had been contesting elections for 13 years at this point, and yet the drive for members, head-quarters, offices, and a television channel was ongoing. Even here, we can see traces of the informal nature of the organization in the admission that the enrolment may not have been ‘done properly.’ At the time of speaking, members signed up in recruitment drives had been waiting three years for the membership cards they had been promised upon joining. Others had been signed up by enthusiastic cadre who failed to collect the required details. The recruitment drive, thus, simultaneously highlighted the desire for professionalism and its current absence. Likewise, the party nomination meets in both Chennai and Madurai demonstrated the continued lack of the internal structures of the organization. Not all had paid or applied in advance, others were clearly there to meet the leaders rather than because they really wanted such a post, and some seemed to have been sponsored by others. Nor was there any agreement about the process by which leaders should be chosen. Thirumavalavan’s suggestion of internal elections was shouted down by voices asking him to decide. The impression was Page 14 of 35

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From Protest to Politics of a party riven by factions in which the leader constituted the only unifying force.2 There were heated debates about how to restructure the organization and who should be given posts as captured in (p.121) field notes from the Madurai meeting. Applicants were divided into small groups by district and preliminary discussions were facilitated by secondary leaders in a bid to save time: The Madurai leaders huddled round Sannah [the Propaganda secretary] to discuss boundary issues and raise key points at an early stage. There were heated debates about whether Madurai could be split into four regions or not, with people standing up and shouting down others. Sannah had to intervene to restore calm at several points, but seemed perfectly comfortable to facilitate the heated debate rather than coordinate it. … One person piped up and said: ‘Give hard-workers the opportunity to work hard. There are too many people who do nothing.’ Sannah smiled and replied that ‘only the leader will decide’. (Field notes, May 2012) Time and again, attempts to formalize and professionalize the structure of the party foundered on the reluctance of the party faithful to accept the decision of anyone but Thirumavalavan. The upshot, as a disgruntled local leader from the outskirts of Madurai noted, was that the whole process took far too long: In truth, there is no internal democracy in the party. I mean, how can you leave leadership posts unfilled for a whole year? How can a party function without such office-bearers? Who is there to give direction? This is essential work and I do not understand why it keeps being put off. Weddings and ear-piercings are not such big work that they should divert the leader from this task. Local leaders are the ones who keep the party going. (Kalimuthu,3 Interview July 2012)

Hyper-masculinity and Empty Leader Worship? Indeed, for all the emphasis on formalization, the party frequently seemed less professional than it did as a movement. In the late 1990s the best local branches of the VCK organized regular ward meetings, had active women’s wings, and were tied into communities and networks. In 2012, the party was more outward facing: flagpoles were erected in village squares, posters were plastered across the city for each visit by the leader, connections were forged with local politicians, membership drives took place, but the day-to-day activities of (p. 122) the movement were often neglected. When asked what the women’s wing did in Periyakulam, for example, women reported that they ensured that people attended party events. Dalit women were more likely to point to Governmentsponsored Self-Help Groups when asked about forms of support in the locality. Indeed, the Panther’s uncertain path towards professionalization is encapsulated by women’s relationship to the party. On the one hand, the VCK have made determined efforts to gain more female leaders. Significantly, in 2012, there Page 15 of 35

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From Protest to Politics were three women who were district secretaries of the party, not the women’s wing. As Revathi, Madurai leader of the Young Panthers Mobilizing Front, insisted: ‘in my party rather than side-lining women, they determined that women should be in all wings and it is on that basis that I hold this responsibility’ (Interview, August 2012). On the other hand, fewer women were in evidence at movement events than in the past. Noting this at the nomination meet in Marai Malar Nagar, Thirumavalavan, urged those present to reach out to atypical members: ‘even for this meeting only two or three women have come, there is an impression that our party is only for youth, if that is the case, when youth becomes old then there won’t be a party’ (Speech, April 2012). This reference to ‘youth’ is telling. Most movement events I attended in 2012 were dominated by young, passionate, and often inebriated men. They would ride in convoy behind Thirumavalavan’s vehicle, waving flags, whistling, and cheering. As the leader disembarked, there would be a surge of people around him seeking to get as close as possible and often barging their way onto the stage. Madurai District Secretary Pandiyammal noted how this transformed party events into male spaces: H: As far as I can see, the number of women in demonstrations has diminished.

P: Now the reason for that, I’ll address your second point first about the declining number of women. As the party grows many women are joining. Even today they are joining in droves, but male dominance is such that when the leader comes they themselves block him off and make a song and dance around him and the existing office-bearers—apart from the leader—do nothing to correct that. They do not create a situation where women can feel at ease. They themselves create the crowd and they (p.123) themselves push forward and in that situation women can’t get close. They will be squashed or felt up in the crowd and so they hold back, and the elderly too are wary of the crush. (Interview, July 2012)

Field notes from a wedding in Muduvarpatti that Thirumavalavan was speaking at, capture the impetuosity of the party faithful: Even as he was winding up people were beginning to move— Thirumavalavan made a couple of desperate pleas to people not to ride too fast or too dangerously. Once the speech was finished there was a rush of people wishing to garland the leader, hand him babies to be named, and get close to him. Whilst this was going on, there was a simultaneous rush to waiting vehicles by those anxious to join in the next event too. Autos, bikes, share taxis, and a bus set off straightaway till we reached a fork in the road. … [Here] people waited until Thirumaa’s vehicle flashed by with three of four people clutching onto the roof rack with their feet resting on the sidebars. No sooner had it headed down one of the forks than we were Page 16 of 35

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From Protest to Politics off in hot pursuit. I was one of a threesome on the back of a motorbike as the Panthers set off pell-mell in pursuit of their leader. One vehicle which was part of the convoy came up close behind us beeping its horn and shouting at us to get out of the way before trying to overtake on a narrow stretch forcing us right onto the side of the road. Our driver—for his part— was anxious to keep on the tail of the leading vehicle. The sports utility vehicle (SUV) whizzed past with whistles, shouts, and flags on staves being waved out of the window in a potentially hazardous fashion. A couple of times my companions shook their heads and commented on the dangerous driving of those around us. I have heard of deaths of cadres going to and from meetings and you can see why. (Field notes, May 2012) Rogers (2008: 80) shows how Dalit men resort to a form of hyper-masculinity (in response to their marginality) which valorizes male physical strength and control over women. Whilst the scenes above clearly illustrate the masculine incursion into and domination of public space (at least temporarily), the actions and attitudes fostered in such occasions serve to exclude or constrain women. In the event above, for instance, women were to the fore lighting lamps in a show of deference and welcome in anticipation of Thirumavalavan’s arrival, but they were overwhelmed and pushed aside by the crush of bodies once he emerged from his vehicle. They were also left behind in the mad dash to the next location. (p.124) For all the VCK’s rhetorical emphasis on gender equality and prohibition, the choreography of party meetings deters and side-lines female participants (cf. Gorringe forthcoming). More widely, Anandhi, Jeyaranjan, and Krishnan (2002) point towards a rise in drinking and conspicuous consumption amongst assertive young Dalit men, and note how teasing, taunting, or wooing women from higher castes is celebrated in this new identity. The changing masculinity of Dalit males, Still (2011: 1144) argues, rests on ‘controlling Dalit women in the name of honour as well as attempting to dishonour upper-caste women.’ This entails a significant shift for the VCK. In much of the literature Dalits are seen as exempt from concerns around honour and the policing of caste boundaries, since they lack the power to enforce compliance from others and lack the means to withdraw women from work (Irudayam, Mangubhai, and Lee 2011; Geetha 2009). Abraham (2014: 63) takes issue with these arguments pointing to change over time to suggest that ‘shifts in the assertion of endogamy vary according to a caste’s consciousness and its aspirations at a particular historical moment.’ Still (2011: 1128) likewise argues that ‘when economic circumstances allow it, Dalits adopt/and/or enforce a gender ideology similar to that of higher status groups.’ This dynamic is a deeply problematic one for Dalit movements. On the one hand they see endogamy as central to caste and critique it accordingly (Ambedkar 2011; Thirumavalavan 2004), on the other the actions of assertive Dalit males may serve to reinforce patriarchy (Anandhi, Jeyarajan, and Krishnan 2002).

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From Protest to Politics Two of the ideological inspirations behind the Panthers-Ambedkar and Periyaroffered compelling critiques of patriarchy. Ambedkar, as Rege’s (2013: 55) analysis highlights, revealed ‘gendered violence as a mode of organizing the caste system.’ The Hindu Code Bill, which Ambedkar championed, ‘promised to give all women greater space to negotiate, transact, defy, and rework the norms of Brahminical patriarchy’ (Rege 2013: 200). Ambedkar viewed the Bill as an important driver of social reform, and he resigned from the cabinet when it was delayed and diluted by political intransigence. In a powerful speech Ambedkar argued that to leave ‘inequality between sex and sex, which is the soul of Hindu society, and to go on passing legislation relating to economic problems is to make a farce of our Constitution and to build a palace on a dung heap’ (Ambedkar 1951: (p.125) 1326). Periyar similarly insisted on the need for social reform, maintaining that ‘the codes of coercive chastity must yield place to the concept of chastity that gives equal status to both the sexes’ (2007: 35). The VCK, as Dietrich (2009: 14) observes, ‘ridiculed the concept of Karpu [chastity] as an expression of upper-caste values’ and has ‘genuinely tried to build up women’s leadership’. Here, however, competing impulses of institutionalization came into conflict. The desire to integrate and formalize the participation of women clashed with the need to reach out to others and build alliances. The VCK, as part of the ‘Tamil Protection Movement’ (TPM) with the PMK, were to the fore in protests against film-actress Khushboo’s remarks on pre-marital sex. She was accused of denigrating Tamil women and impugning their morality in a campaign that ran counter to earlier positions. ‘Thirumavalavan’s defence of chastity of Tamil women’, Anandhi writes (2005: 4877), ‘has to be seen as part of the transformation of the DPI [now VCK] from being an anti-caste movement to a defender of Tamil identity.’ Anandhi suggests a shift from social radicalism to political accommodation. Significantly, the Liberation Panthers have continued to act as a moral community outside of this alliance. One senior leader in 2012, for instance, bemoaned the way that women leaders were characterized and argued that they had to be of unimpeachable character. When I argued that what they did in their private lives was immaterial he was appalled: ‘That’s wrong isn’t it? We need to look at issue of morality too don’t we?’ (Devaraj, 27 June 2012). Dietrich (2009: 14) argues that the turn to Tamil nationalism and the patriarchal policing of Tamil women ‘is in tune with a masculinist hero-worship’. The glorification and desire to get close to Thirumavalavan, clearly, did not extend to renouncing dowry or alcohol or critiquing the concept of chastity. Women in the party, as Dietrich (2009: 14) concludes, ‘should either be militants or conform to the traditional concept of karpu, preferably both.’ In this, as with other developments, the VCK echo the gradual dilution of Dravidian radicalism and accommodation of prevailing social norms. The ‘electoral successes of the DMK’, Hodges (2005: 275) claims, ‘point to the potency of a conservative politics of the Page 18 of 35

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From Protest to Politics family that was critical to their mobilizing mass support.’ The Panthers have clearly absorbed such lessons, but in breaking with the Dravidian parties in 2016, the (p.126) VCK were afforded more space to chart their own course. This was illustrated in the choice of Vasanthi Devi—a former Chairperson of the State Commission for Women and leading feminist campaigner and voice against ‘honour’ crimes—as their candidate for the R. K. Nagar constituency in which Jayalalithaa was standing. If this move demonstrated the VCK’s continued ability to reach out to human rights and women’s activists, it also illustrated the topdown nature of candidate selection. Commenting on the candidature, S. Anandhi made a similar point and emphasized that a ‘grassroots Dalit woman’ would have offered a stronger message (Kannan 2016).4 Vasanthi Devi is an inspiring figure with impeccable credentials as a civic activist, but she has little standing in the party and appears to have been chosen by the leadership to make a statement. This leader-centric nature of the party mirrors the Dravidian norm rather than envisaging a more participatory and democratic mode of organization. The one striking difference is that cadres feel closer, and have greater access, to Thirumavalavan than other established leaders. There is a deep emotional attachment that transcends politics. At a tea-stall outside the Madurai nomination meeting for VCK posts: One drunk participant pulled me aside and said earnestly: Thirumavalavan is like a God (Devan) to us. H: Come off it, he is only human … Yes, he is human. No one says otherwise, but he is like a God to us. He raised us up and taught us to fight back. He gave us belief. He is still showing us the way and has given up his life for us, so that is why we say he is like a deity. (Field notes, May 2012)

This attachment to the leader translates into the scenes described above, but there has been a subtle shift in relations here. Where Thirumavalavan fulfilled the role of sage or guru in the movement phase—educating followers and challenging taken-for-granted ways of doing things—as a party leader he has become more of an icon to (p.127) be glorified, seen, and touched rather than listened to (see Chapter 6). My pointing out that the party was committed to prohibition routinely met with laughter. Instead, intoxicated young men swarm around Thirumavalavan much as fans mob film stars. In the process they create an uncomfortable and intimidating atmosphere that deters women from participating. Several women I interviewed spoke of being jostled or harassed at events or of avoiding meetings that stretched into the evening hours. What passes for fervent support in some accounts, thus, is seen as indiscipline by others. Kalimuthu, the Madurai-based leader cited earlier, was forthright:

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From Protest to Politics K: Recently I held a training camp for 200 VCK cadres. I organized it and got people to talk to them about ideology, objectives, Ambedkar, and practicalities like filing FIRs.

H: Did you do this on behalf of the party?

K: No—more as an individual. I felt that party cadre needed direction. Too many have not taken on board the ideology or objectives of the movement. They simply idolize Thirumavalavan and get drunk and try to be captured on camera next to him. Some of them are embarrassing. There was a meeting at which Thirumaa and Vaiko and another leader spoke and some of our lads barged onto stage and pushed the leaders out of the way to be photographed next to Thirumaa.

H: Is it true that Thirumavalavan used a stick to beat lads back in Nellai? [Multiple people told me of a large party conference in Nellai, where Thirumavalavan’s exhortations for calm and for people to sit down fell on deaf ears to the point where he physically sought to impose order].

K: It is appalling—there is no discipline, no consideration. No proper leaders to bring youth to heel. (Interview, July 2012)

Nor is this lack of discipline confined to exuberant displays of loyalty and affection. In the same Muduvarpatti wedding described above, Thirumavalavan raised the issue of political indiscipline in his speech: ‘The problem is that Dalit votes are too easily bought. We need to recruit and discipline Dalits—our relatives, neighbours, and friends—and reach out to non-Dalits if we are to succeed’ (Speech, May 2012). Whilst this is a widely made point, interlocutors noted that it had particular resonance and meaning here. In 2011, the Panthers were in an alliance with the Vanniyar-dominated PMK as (p.128) well as the DMK and it was the PMK who were contesting from Sholavandan constituency in which Muduvarpatti lies. VCK activists in the locality had openly campaigned for the opposing ADMK candidate here. Given the historic enmity between the VCK and PMK, I was not surprised but respondents insisted that there was a different logic at work here. As Manimozhiyan, an ardent admirer of Thirumavalavan, explained: M: I asked for the seat for the VCK, but middle-rung leaders persuaded Thirumavalavan otherwise [This suggests that the party had an option, which does not fit other data].

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From Protest to Politics Why?

M: If they campaign for me they get nothing, if they campaign for him [the coalition partner] they get Rs 2000 a day!

H: Money talks! Even so, if you are in alliance you have to vote for them don’t you?

M: In this constituency, this was the first opportunity in the South since Kakkanji [Dalit Home Minister in 1960s Tamil Nadu] to elect a Paraiyar. The nearby constituency is Pallar and we wanted to provide an opportunity to a group that lacks that opportunity that is all. I have asked for forgiveness and apologized and it will not happen again. (Interview, August 2012)

Illustrated here are two examples of the lack of political discipline that characterizes some adherents of the VCK: firstly, there is the suggestion that some local level leaders are more interested in the pay-day associated with working for allies than in fighting for their own party. Where the party does stand the levels of voluntarism in campaigns remains high so this could just be an excuse from Manimozhiyan, but several people welcomed political alliances for the monetary rewards entailed. Of more concern to party leaders, will be the residual attachment to ties of caste indicated in the second argument. When I asked Mani if he would have voted for a VCK Pallar candidate he laughed: ‘Now you are trying to tie me in knots. If it was a VCK candidate, then no matter what community I would have had to support them.’ In probing the root causes for political (p.129) preferences here it emerged that Karuppaiah, the ADMK MLA, was a local resident who was related to several VCK workers, which fuelled hopes that he would do something for the area. A kabaddi match was also said to have sparked tensions between caste groups in the run-up to elections. The incident, in other words, is less testimony to the claim that people ‘vote their caste’, and more an indication of the multiple factors—local, regional, and national—that induce voters to back particular candidates at different times (cf. Carswell and De Neve 2014b). More pertinently for us, it illustrates that even activists do not blindly vote for VCK allies. Whilst several interviewees pointed to this as evidence that the party had failed to conscientize and train its cadres sufficiently, state-level leader Devaraj offered a more sanguine analysis: D: At least they are thinking about who to vote for rather than blindly voting for who they are told to vote for.

H:

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From Protest to Politics So they used to vote for money before?

D: Not even money. They would vote because the landlord told them who[m] to vote for and that was enough. It is only now that they are starting to think for themselves and consider who to support. (Interview, June 2012)

From his perspective, the Panthers had broken the shackles of caste and politicized a generation to think for themselves. The ‘next step’ he insisted, was to forge them into an organized political force. Though Devaraj was speaking of individual voters within the party, the analysis is arguably equally applicable to the party as a whole. It is to an analysis of the political institutionalization of the Panthers that we now turn.

Politicizing the Panthers? In 2015, the VCK celebrated their ‘silver jubilee’ marking 25 years of mobilization. For 16 of these years they have participated in electoral politics and contested elections in alliances with several different parties. We might, therefore, expect them to be fully institutionalized into Tamil political structures. In that they now constitute an established and recognizable part of the political furniture in the (p.130) state, and have forged alliances, and pacts with most main parties, this expectation has been realized, yet they have still to secure formal political recognition. The Electoral Commission rules state that: A political party shall be treated as a recognized political party in a State, if and only if either the conditions specified in Clause (A) are, or the condition specified in Clause (B) is, fulfilled by that party and not otherwise, that is to say— (A) that such party— • has been engaged in political activity for a continuous period of five years; and • has, at the last general election in that State to the House of the People, or, as the case may be, to the Legislative Assembly of the State, returned— either (i) at least one member to the House of the People for every 25 members of that House or any fraction of that number from that State; or (ii) at least one member to the Legislative Assembly of that State for every 30 members of that Assembly or any fraction of that number; (B) that the total number of valid votes polled by all the contesting candidates set up by such party at the last general election in the State to the House of the People, or as the case may be, to the Legislative Assembly of the State, is not less than six per cent of the total number of valid votes

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From Protest to Politics polled by all the contesting candidates at such general election in the State.5 What this means in the Tamil context is that the VCK would require two MPs or seven MLAs since there are 39 parliamentary and 234 assembly constituencies in the state. The party’s best political returns came in 2006 when they secured two victories in state elections and in 2009 when Thirumavalavan was elected as an MP from Chidambaram and Swamidurai narrowly missed out, losing by 2,797 votes in Villupuram. Securing representation in the houses of Parliament remains the best means for the VCK to secure recognition, since they lack the resources to field sufficient candidates to meet the 6 per cent threshold. In the 2011 elections, when the VCK fielded (p.131) 10 candidates, they secured around 1.5 per cent of the popular vote. It is impossible to gauge how many votes they cast for allies, but this suggests that they would have a fairly substantial vote-share were they able to contest from all 234 constituencies as Vijayakant did in 2006 (Wyatt 2010a). Whilst contesting elections as part of a coalition increases chances for victory in each constituency and enables the VCK to finance campaigns, it means that the state-wide support of a party is impossible to assess. If the 2016 elections are a good indicator, their support hovers around 1 per cent with few leaders other than Thirumavalavan capable of securing significant backing. Electoral Commission recognition carries certain advantages, such as rights to broadcasts on Doordarshan (the national TV channel). Most significantly, recognition entitles a party to its own political symbol.6 Lacking formal recognition, VCK candidates are forced to accept different electoral symbols for each election. Given the visual culture of the state and continuing illiteracy, having an established and recognized party symbol is a huge advantage. Voters across Tamil Nadu refer to the Dravidian parties by reference to their symbols as ‘two leaves’ (ADMK) or ‘rising sun’ (DMK). The VCK, by contrast have had to campaign for the cycle, two candles, hurricane light, bell, and ring symbols in different elections at different levels. These symbols are often allocated late in the day, fail to strike a chord with voters, and compel candidates to work extra hard to associate the symbol with the party.7 The lack of an official electoral symbol is problematic in several respects. For a start, it means that the symbol assigned to the VCK lacks voter recognition. This is compounded by the fact that coalition partners often flood a constituency with their own insignia and with calls to vote for their party’s ally (Collins 2015). On occasion VCK candidates have stood on the symbol of their coalition (p.132) partner meaning that their political identity was obscured. Secondly, it requires a last minute dash across the constituency, sticking the symbol onto party posters and seeking to raise its profile. In 1999, when Thirumavalavan first contested from Chidambaram, the area was covered in cycle symbols, songs were written, and performed about it and volunteers fanned out across the Page 23 of 35

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From Protest to Politics constituency to canvass for votes. With a rise of professionalism, some of that initial enthusiasm has waned. Large crowds still turn out to campaign, but several respondents insisted that there had been a decline in voluntarism. One district-level leader in Madurai noted that he had to employ people to paste posters around the city. He said that there was a group of people who did this for all parties: ‘Rs 300 for 100 3-bit posters in and around Madurai. If you want them to go further afield then they would demand costs for a vehicle’ (Personal Communication, July 2012). Whilst the costs are not huge, the scale would be grander for an election and add to candidate’s concerns about their expenditure as determined by Election Commission rules. Finally, a recognized symbol would resolve disputes between party candidates. In local council elections in Madurai, for instance, there were a couple of wards where two members of the VCK competed against each other. Both had different symbols and both had the backing of different district-level functionaries. The difficulties voters face in determining who to back are compounded here. Again, here, we see a lack of political discipline in the party. It is worth noting that Madurai at the time was witnessing the spectacular implosion of the DMK due to sibling rivalry,8 so such indiscipline is not confined to new parties, but the lack of a symbol meant that rival candidates could both claim to represent the Panthers. VCK Madurai Mayoral candidate in 2011, Thiruma Mu Pasumpon, was frustrated by this: As a party man I wanted to bring discipline into the party. 14 rebel candidates from our party. What is this? Do we have an approved symbol? The party is not at all—it is just a registered party. We do not have a recognized symbol so all of us are standing on different symbols so it is going to be a crack show. I am going on record here. I said: Annan (p.133) [Thirumavalavan] you need to come on stage and read out the names of all official candidates. (Interview, August 2012) In other words, the political institutionalization of the party remains a work-inprogress. This is reflected in the marginal electoral performance to date, and in the fact that only two out of the four representatives elected on a VCK ticket have lasted their full terms in office and none have managed to secure reelection. Thirumavalavan, who won the Mangalore constituency in 2001, resigned in 2004 after a falling out with the DMK over Karunanidhi’s characterization of the party as a caste outfit. In 2006, Selvaperunthagai once again secured the Mangalore constituency for the party only to be expelled from the party in 2008. He switched to the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and later the Congress but continued to serve as an MLA to the frustration of many party activists. Rajangam pointed to this as one reason for the electoral defeat in 2011:

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From Protest to Politics [Selvaperunthagai] later joined the Congress party, but Thirumavalavan seemed not to be interested in disqualifying his MLA post on ground of defection. He completed his five year term but he didn’t do anything in the constituency. So they lost the election. (Interview, March 2012) A key reason for this is that the VCK remain dependent on other parties when it comes to elections. The party does not determine where they will stand; cannot always decide who they will ally with, since they require the dominant partner to agree; have no say over who else is part of the coalition; and cannot always dictate who they will nominate as candidates. As novelist and activist Meena Kandasamy noted: In 2009, they [the DMK] awarded two seats to the VCK but are then alleged to have foisted one of the two candidates onto the VCK. This import alienated cadre because he did not even wear a VCK shawl but sported the DMK one. (Personal Communication, April 2012) Collins (2015) notes how Swamidurai—a DMK supporter—represented the VCK as a condition for the DMK bankrolling the VCK’s campaign. Artral Arasu, statelevel leader of the VCK noted the limitations that such dependency generated: A: At least if we have some money, let’s say 50 crores, then we can demand some seats from our alliance partners. We can boldly ask 20 seats and say that we would bear our electoral expenses on our own. (p.134)

H: Now, are they giving you money?

A: Yes, they do. They think giving more seats means they have to spend more money. You asked about seats—why didn’t we demand more seats. I wanted to tell this but I didn’t. They feel giving more seats to us is a burden because on top of everything they have to spend more money. (Interview, July 2012)

VCK attempts to represent the people, in other words, are mediated through the funds and goodwill of better resourced and established parties, but the party are not only financially dependent on others. As Ravikumar (2009: 206) notes, ‘in the present system of reserved constituencies, it is difficult for Dalits to elect representatives of their choice.’ He points to the fact that Dalit votes are scattered, that dominant castes unite behind pliant candidates, and the fact that there are insufficient Dalit votes in each constituency to secure victory in a twohorse race. The VCK have championed the cause of electoral reform as a result. In the meantime, they are compelled to reach out to non-Dalits.

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From Protest to Politics In a bid to grow beyond the Dalit tag, the VCK voted in 2007 to allow non-Dalits to assume leadership positions in the party. Allowing non-Dalits into leadership positions over the heads of long-serving and hard-working Dalits has not been a popular measure and has not always met with success either. In the 2011 mayoral elections in Madurai, for instance, the VCK fielded the son of Forward Block leader Mookaiah Thevar. Thiruma Mu Pasumpon, it was hoped, would attract the votes of the dominant Thevars in the region. On the eve of the election, however, he withdrew his candidacy. Speculation and rumours were rife about the reasons for this. Some said he faced unbearable family pressure, others that he was threatened by Thevar hoodlums. Within the VCK, sympathizers like Muslim leader Mohammed Rafique said that he felt isolated by the party, whilst others insisted that he was upset by VCK activist comments about Muthuramalinga Thevar in the aftermath of the Paramakudi firing or that he was only interested in himself. Thiruma Pasumpon himself was hurt by the speculation and insisted to me that factional infighting and indiscipline in the campaign as noted above prevented him from campaigning properly. Asked if his withdrawal was a betrayal, he said: ‘You can say that, yes. I myself have said that my political (p.135) life was obliterated but I had to take that risk. Had I stayed and been humiliated it would have been worse.’ Non-Dalit leaders, in others words, struggle to gain recognition and backing within the party. This is compounded by the fact that many such leaders are said to have joined merely for the rewards of party office. As Artral Arasu put it: A: The only gain is that we can say that we have people in our party from all sections, we can say that in the public meetings or to the media, and that would prevent other tearing our posters. The gain is 1 per cent but the loss is 99 per cent.

Q: So, with the 99 per cent loss, how can you win elections?

A: We have to convert this 1 per cent into 99 per cent to join mainstream politics (Interview, July 2012).

This is easily said, but the journey to the mainstream remains fraught with obstacles. Numerous respondents noted that non-Dalits are reluctant to vote for Dalit parties or to campaign wholeheartedly for them. Collins (2015) notes how Dalit candidates can end up as ‘mute spectators’ when canvassing in non-Dalit areas. The imbalance in power between the VCK and its coalition partners is captured by Madurai leader Mani Arasu:

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From Protest to Politics The respect that they [local VCK functionaries] give to Azhagiri [Karunanidhi’s son and DMK strongman at the time], they do not now give to our leader. Azhagiri is the main man for them today in Madurai, as far as they are concerned. For us [loyal party workers] Azhagiri is not a big man. For us the leader alone is the big man, no one else counts for us. They have earned money from him. There were elections: one or two elections and Azhagiri disbursed heaps of money that is why they laud him (Interview, March 2012). Thiruma Pasumpon pointed to similar processes at play: TP: There is one other problem with the politicization of the VCK. If you ask what that is, then here whenever the election comes, the local party which comes to the alliance with us just reaches out and pays a huge amount to these people. So, there is now a new layer of leaders here in the party. There are many guys who go in for purchasing huge vehicles. They build up houses. You would not believe it, someone in a position of District Secretary gets not less than 6–7 lakhs, 8 lakhs, or something like that. (p.136)

H: From who?

TP: From the coalition parties. (Interview, August 2012)

The VCK are simply not able to compete with such largesse, but any hopes of doing so require a degree of internal institutionalization that is still lacking. As Kalimuthu (2012) observed: The party lacks infrastructure—office and so on—and secondary leadership. We need spokespeople, and people to lead in Thiruma’s absence. A year or so back he was away on a foreign tour for 10 days and there wasn’t even someone to ask for quotes. If you had contacted people they would have all shied away from speaking out for fear of annoying the leader. Look, even a real estate business needs an office and a secretary so that when clients want to get in touch they know where to go, there is someone to speak to, and somewhere to get advice. How much more important is this infrastructure for a party? Though the party is yet to fully establish itself, this has not prevented it from gaining political recognition in an informal sense. Whilst electoral victories have been negligible, Thirumavalavan told party workers in Madurai that ‘the VCK had now joined the political mainstream and emerged as the third largest cadrebased party, next only to the AIADMK and DMK’ (The Hindu 2015a). The evidence for this assertion is unclear and appears to rest on disputed Page 27 of 35

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From Protest to Politics membership figures, but the party has clearly gained in terms of public profile and is now seen as an important electoral ally. Murugaiah from Batlagundu captures this in the following: M: Politics is a sewer, but what option did we have but to enter it? We were being cast as extremists. We faced terrible police ‘torture’ [in English] and were widely seen as terrorists. When I organized a DPI flag-raising ceremony in my home, my own family were concerned that I was mixed up with militants. My own community were appalled by my actions and feared that they would be tarred as dangerous.

H: So what has the VCK achieved?

M: We have gained social acceptance and recognition. People know who we are. Ok, we may not win many seats, but the fact that we fielded candidates impressed my family and gave me credibility. They began to appreciate what I was doing. We fielded 10 candidates in our district. None won, but we didn’t lose our deposits. (Murugaiah Interview, January 2012)

(p.137) Indeed, if instead of counting their success in seats won, we turn our gaze to other measures of political recognition then the VCK’s performance has been more impressive. In 2009, many party activists were upset when the VCK— which had been campaigning vociferously on behalf of Sri Lankan Tamils—joined hands with the Congress party. What this obscured was that Congress workers were equally if not more annoyed by the alliance (Murthi 2009; Muruganandham 2009) and several party MLAs lined up to condemn the move. Despite this, the Congress leadership did not feel able to disregard the party. Likewise, Artral Arasu pointed towards non-Dalit antipathy towards their seat-sharing arrangements: Kalaignar has given ten seats to VCK. But the intermediate castes didn’t like it. A number of Dalit organizations contested elections before, from Balasundaram to Murthy, but they only got one seat. So the intermediate castes have the feeling that he is elevating the position of a Dalit party unnecessarily by giving ten seats. (Artral Arasu Interview, July 2012) The VCK in other words are now seen as a reliable electoral ally, but little more than that. Thirumavalavan’s efforts to forge a Third Front in 2009 on the issue of Tamil nationalism foundered when no other party would accept his invitation even though he offered to work under another leader (Velusamy Interview, August 2012). Similarly, when the VCK idea of an alternative front crystallized for the state elections in 2016 there was no question of him being projected as the chief ministerial candidate even before Vijayakant joined the alliance. A Page 28 of 35

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From Protest to Politics posting on VCK General Secretary Ravikumar’s Facebook page led to a heated debate about why no Dalit had ever attained such prominence in Tamil Nadu. They are, in other words, accepted as dependent allies, but not as autonomous actors. Many VCK activists, therefore, view electoral participation as a snare: We have faced 2–3 Parliament elections, 3–4 Assembly elections, and 2–3 local body elections, but since we compromise in electoral politics, since the movement aims to get votes from all sections in the society, we just superficially address or ignore the violence that still happens today against SC people. (Tamilvaanan Interview, July 2012) This sense of compromise and betrayal raises the question of what gains the VCK have secured since becoming a party. It is to this issue that we now turn.

(p.138) The Panthers and Political Influence? Gamson (1990: 28–9), as we have seen, argues that institutionalizing movements seek acceptance and new advantages. The Panthers have secured a degree of acceptance, but to retain the support of the electorate they need to be able to demonstrate gains as well. The rewards of office can be great since, as Wyatt (2013a: 31) notes, ‘the ways in which public resources are distributed in Tamil Nadu provide many opportunities for patronage.’ Political power entails access to a range of benefits that can be disbursed to supporters. As the distribution channels are often informal, however, new political parties must first learn how best to tap into them. As Gowthama Sannah noted, when asked whether the VCK had been able to access key resources, such as housing, land, and jobs: When we were in the ruling party alliance we were only able to do that to a limited extent, because as far as the VCK was concerned this was the first ever time for us to be in the ruling coalition. It was new and so we were uncertain about how to best use the ruling party. Not knowing, we protested and fought to get the necessary work done, but I am not sure that we were totally successful in this as both the DMK and ADMK have been in government for 50 years and grown accustomed to government. Extracting resources from them and taking them to the people was a serious undertaking and we did not fully succeed in doing so. This is for the future. We need to learn how to do this, we too are still learning aren’t we? We have created an understanding of the processes to some extent though. (Interview, September 2012) Being in alliance with the DMK here may also have been a hindrance to some extent. Wyatt notes how the DMK’s structure devolved autonomy to local level leaders meaning that patronage tended to flow through dense networks. ‘Those closest to the party,’ Wyatt (2013a: 44) concludes, ‘were most likely to benefit and this gave the very many who were excluded a reason to distrust the DMK.’ This also meant that relations had to be forged with local level leaders on a case

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From Protest to Politics by case basis. Unjai Arasan, state-level leader and Assembly candidate pointed towards the implications of this in his interview: U: When we were part of the DMK alliance they provided some jobs in the transport department, one, or two jobs in the police department, teacher postings. Transport is the main thing–driver and conductor–they (p.139) allotted a certain number of posts for the VCK and it was up to us to fill the post either for money or free. Then they gave us some quota in educational institutions–we were able to do things like this. As regards transfer and promotion, we were able to influence some ministers for transfer but not for promotion. This was all based on the relationship between DMK and VCK. But, we didn’t get much from the Government; the DMK Government. Karunanidhi is the representative of the Government. The benefit that we get from Karunanidhi is different from the benefit that we get from the Government–do you understand? So, we didn’t gain much from the DMK Government. They should have implemented reservation, erm, Special Component Plan (SCP), for example, but it never exists in practice.

H: You were part of the alliance. Wouldn’t you be able to put pressure on DMK?

U: Yes, we created pressure but we couldn’t succeed. See, what happens, when the fund comes, the planning commission simply diverted that fund to something else. You can pass resolution, you can speak about that, but you can’t do anything. (Unjai Arasan Interview, August 2012)

Unjai, here, makes a crucial point. The VCK were able to gain access to clientelist schemes and to benefits with which they could begin to build patronage networks of their own, but these benefits were afforded as a ‘gift’ of the DMK. What they were unable to do was to have any say over the programmatic aspects of State policy or influence large-scale decisions about how reservations or the SCP (in which funds are earmarked for the development of Scheduled Castes and Tribes) were implemented (cf. Berg 2014). The VCK, in other words, became a conduit for the distribution of resources rather than a significant political player. As Ramesh, a former youth wing worker in the VCK noted: If [VCK] have five policies, then they are probably for people’s rights. Now what happens is that these can only be realized through protest. What the governing parties and allies offer instead is freebies: ‘We’ll give you a TV, we’ll give rice, we’ll give this, and that.’ Now what the people do is desire the freebies and abandon the demands for rights. (Interview, February 2012)

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From Protest to Politics To single Dalit parties out here would be unfair. As the above makes clear, they operate within and adapt to a wider socio-political (p.140) context. C. Lakshmanan from the Madras Institute of Development Studies placed the VCK in a wider frame: Tamil politics de-politicizes the masses. It does not allow them or encourage them to think. It is based on patron–client relationships. On one hand there are the freebies, handing things out, and on the other the collapse of ideology. Who asked for 1 rupee rice or for free laptops? You get one rupee rice but you have to pay 2 rupees to use the toilet anywhere and the cost of everything is rising … At one stage there were hopes that the VCK would be different—they did create great awareness and introduce some ideas, but that has now come to nothing. They have become another party—another middle man. (Personal Communication, March 2012) Dalit writer and cultural activist Raj Gowthaman captured this succinctly in summing up the predicament of the VCK in 2012: You know what Tamil politics is like–you need connections to get things done. The Dalit parties do not have much clout on their own, which is why they need coalition partners. Now the DMK is in opposition—they will have to sit quiet for five years. That is what it is like. (Personal Communication, April 2012) This is not to say that the VCK are merely puppets. Many respondents pointed to the intangible gain of having someone to raise a voice for them in Parliament. Such advantages are hard to measure, but even these were tempered by two concerns: firstly, the interventions of MLAs, or the MP were not routinely communicated to party members. Only after leaving office did Ravikumar issue a book detailing his Parliamentary speeches and a volume of Thirumavalavan’s interventions in the Lok Sabha is also being produced. Thaai Mann, the party magazine, did not routinely report on these speeches whilst they were in office. The lack of intra-party infrastructure here is problematic and creates a gap between leaders and followers. I was told on several occasions that the party had not spoken up about panchami land, the SCP, or about the treatment of Dalit Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer Umar Shankar, only to discover that they had done so. Likewise I was assured that the VCK were vehemently opposed to the sub-quota for Arunthathiyars only to find support for it in Thirumavalavan’s book Thaai Sol (Mother Says). In 2012 the party launched a new website E-VCK with a view to collating and (p.141) circulating information about party activities, but the party magazine and text messages could be better used to this effect to reach supporters in the way that the BSP did in 2007 (Jeffrey and Doron 2012).

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From Protest to Politics The second issue related to where and how the VCK representatives raised their voices. Whilst Pandiyammal—a poorly educated Dalit woman who became District Secretary of the VCK and MLA candidate in 2016 due to grassroots work —noted the symbolic power of her sharing a dais with leading figures of the DMK, others were dismissive. Simply sharing a platform is not enough for representatives of an autonomous Dalit party from their perspective. Dalit intellectual and activist Stalin Rajangam argued: I don’t think it is a big thing to talk about Dalit issues among Dalit people. Instead, you (Thirumavalavan) have to intensely register Dalit issues when Karunanidhi or Jayalalithaa is on stage. Speaking about Dalit issues in my function is not a big thing. Currently, this is what happening here. He speaks one thing on a Dalit stage and another thing on a non-Dalit stage. (Interview, March 2012) VCK leaders themselves note how they shoulder an extra burden since they hold protests about the plight of Tamils in Sri Lanka alongside other Tamil nationalist parties, and then find themselves protesting alone or with other Dalit outfits on caste atrocities closer to home. Their silence on coalition stages, however, reinforces the implicit distinction between ‘common’ concerns and those affecting Dalits. The VCK is desperate to grow beyond its caste origins and be recognized as a party for all, but if Dalit concerns are silenced in the process then its core constituents will turn against it. It is all the more important, therefore, that the VCK should have ‘something to show’ for their electoral alliances. The People’s Welfare Front alliance that brought Communist Parties, Vaiko, and the VCK–belatedly joined by Vijayakant—together for the 2016 elections is interesting here. Irrespective of how they perform, there was an important shift when alliance parties united to condemn caste abuses and called for specific legislation against so-called ‘honour crimes’, though the Dravidian parties remained silent in the face of horrific atrocities (Aravind 2016). Ravikumar says something interesting in this context. Speaking at a workshop on caste and politics in December 2013, he stressed (p.142) that he had little faith in the efficacy of Parliamentary politics before entering politics. Having served as an MLA, he averred, he had come to realize that ‘persuasion is also a form of struggle in Dalit politics.’ Although small parties operate within the constraints imposed by allies and the wider party system, he insisted that it was possible to carve out spaces for change within institutional politics as seen in the willingness of the People’s Welfare Alliance (PWA) to unite against casteism. When asked what he had been able to achieve, Ravikumar noted that ‘One member cannot make an impact on the Assembly but because of my persuasion, Karunanidhi used to listen to me.’ He listed his efforts to transform mud huts into concrete houses; his creation of welfare boards for marginal communities like Narikuravas, Puthirai Vannars, transgenders, and folk artists; his championing of legislation for vulnerable communities, and the enforcement of Page 32 of 35

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From Protest to Politics the provision of 22.5 per cent of funds for SC/STs in the Constituency Development Scheme as achievements that would not have been possible without electoral engagement.9 Jawahar, Dalit academic and legal adviser, insisted that: ‘in all state constituencies if you ask which MLA spent the money for the sake of the people it was Ravikumar. … He spent for the needs of the people’ (Interview, March 2012). Despite this, and Ravikumar highlighting his work on behalf of both Dalits as well as others, many Dalit activists and voters were not persuaded. One senior party leader who did not wish to be named captured the diversity of opinions: What he (Ravikumar) has done as a single MLA in the Assembly for whole TN is great. On the surface it would appear as if he has done nothing. If you go and ask people in Kattumannarkoil [his constituency] they would say he is an utter waste. That is what you would get. We heard more voices from people opposing his re-nomination from that constituency, very few people supported him … Yet, the benefit the whole society got from a single MLA is so much. (Interview, August 2012) There were reports of constituents petitioning Thirumavalavan not to renominate Ravikumar and venting their anger against him (p.143) during campaigning in 2011. When he stood for the Lok Sabha elections in 2014, activists attributed his nomination to his close relations to the DMK rather than his political performance. What then explains the polarization of opinion? Rajangam offers an insight here: Since he (Ravikumar) is an intellectual, he spoke whatever he liked just to show his intellectual capacity–a welfare board for Eunuchs, a welfare board for Puthirai Vannars–I am not saying that this is bad, but this is what Karunanidhi can do as a duty of Government. If you demand these issues, erm, no other community will get upset. But, if you ask anything for Dalits then other communities might get upset…. The thing is: ‘you have done a number of things for others, but have you raised any Dalit issue concretely?’ He raised the issue of panchami land only in the last Assembly session, in his final Assembly speech. What you had been doing in five years? (Interview, March 2012) Rajangam suggests that Ravikumar was somewhat divorced from the party members here and this was echoed by others. During my fieldwork in 2012, Ravikumar was not at any of the party events I attended though he frequently appeared on the stages of cultural events. One senior VCK leader suggested that he had not got out and about enough in Kattumannarkoil to meet the voters. More practically, or cynically, one party member insisted that the key point was

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From Protest to Politics his failure to pass on a large enough cut of the commissions that an MLA habitually receives.

Incomplete Institutionalization What this demonstrates is that Dalit politicians are constrained to act within particular contexts that impose constraints on what they can do and how they can act. The centrality of patronage to Tamil politics means that an intellectual or ideological politician is a rarity and is judged by different standards to others. Communist administrator N. Varadarajan was one who bucked this trend, but he could do so only because his visible poverty and simplicity precluded accusations of venality as made clear in condolence meetings held by Dalit groups following his death in 2012. Where politicians seem to be doing well from their posts, the expectation is that a portion of this will be passed on to the electorate or to party members at least. It is indicative of the VCK’s uneven professionalization that this aspect of (p.144) their politicization remains informal and there are no guidelines on what representatives should do or how they should act. Indeed, it is clear that the internal institutionalization of the party remains a work-in-progress. Structures of leadership have been put in place, and incomegeneration schemes have been systematized, but there are so far few clear gains from the process for ordinary members. Membership fees and the collection of gold, for instance, took years to translate into membership cards and a party channel. Whilst the party can now distribute largesse in the form of compensation, freebies, and jobs, they are dependent upon coalition allies to do so. Likewise, whilst VCK politicians receive greater coverage and raise their voices on key issues, communication between party leaders and activists could be improved and Dalit issues rather than just Tamil ones could be raised on alliance stages. For all the ambition of the Golden Jubilee, some simple steps towards organization have been neglected. Most districts still lack party offices; there are few formal channels by which the media can contact the party for statements; secondary leaders lack authority and standing (see Chapter 6); and there are no formal mechanisms to train cadre or discipline transgressions. Politically speaking, furthermore, with few if any representatives the party still rely on extra-institutional protest to raise key demands. Thirumavalavan’s fasts and demonstrations by the Gandhi statue in Delhi became a common sight during his tenure as an MP, since his opportunities to speak in Parliament were limited. In this sense, then, the VCK remain a protest party on the margins of the political establishment. Despite remaining a minor and peripheral player, ‘procedural inclusion in policy formation entangles a party in many decisions on issues that are far removed from its original core objectives’ (Kitschelt 2006: 284). Merely entering political institutions has altered the VCK in significant ways in terms of the issues they campaign on, the way they organize, and the impact they can have. Against the work of scholars like Gamson (1990) as argued above, institutionalization cannot merely be understood as a Page 34 of 35

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From Protest to Politics bureaucratic or political process. The constraints imposed on VCK representatives by the prevailing political culture, point to parallel processes of informal or cultural institutionalization that are perhaps more significant in shaping the party than the processes of professionalization discussed (p.145) here. Political institutionalization, this reminds us, entails entering institutions that have their own cultures and ways of doing things. For all that radical parties enter politics with the goal of disrupting ‘normal politics’, these informal ‘rules of the game’ exercise a powerful influence. It is to the informal aspects of VCK politics that the next chapter is devoted. (p.146) Notes:

(1) See Jeffrey (2000: 1019) for an excellent ethnography of upper-caste influence and domination. (2) The VCK, of course, are not alone in this as Suri (2013) notes. (3) Name changed to protect identity. (4) It is important to note here that the VCK’s other female candidates do have a track-record of grassroots engagement and the Sholavandan representative Pandiyammal represents precisely the sort of grassroots figure that Anandhi is talking about (see Gorringe 2005: Chapter 6). (5) EC regulations accessed on 15 June 2016: http://eci.nic.in/eci_main1/ RegisterationPoliticalParties.aspx (6) In 2016, Thol. Thirumavalavan lost by a slender margin of 86 votes. Several reports suggested that the lack of a recognized symbol cost him dear, because a candidate named T. Thirumavalavan secured 289 votes in the same constituency. (7) Michael Collins captures this aspect admirably in his blog on the 2014 elections, accessed on 15 June 2016: https://democracyinfocus.wordpress.com/ 2014/04/05/symbolic-capital/ (8) See Subramanian (2014) for an account of the rivalry between Karunanidhi’s two sons which threatened to split the DMK. (9) Seminar talks were recorded and transcribed by Supurna Banerjee. A report of the workshop may be found here: http://www.india-seminar.com/ 2014/657/657_comment.htm (accessed on 15 June 2016).

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Doing Tamil Politics

Panthers in Parliament: Dalits, Caste, and Political Power in South India Hugo Gorringe

Print publication date: 2017 Print ISBN-13: 9780199468157 Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: March 2017 DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199468157.001.0001

Doing Tamil Politics Informal Institutionalization Hugo Gorringe

DOI:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199468157.003.0005

Abstract and Keywords This chapter expands our understanding of institutionalization by looking beyond formal politics at the political culture of Tamil Nadu and the relationships and networks through which politics is conducted. The chapter chart how the VCK, as a new party, has been integrated into these informal ways of doing politics. The chapter draws on interviews and fieldnotes from events to reflect on what it means to do Tamil politics and on the gendered nature of this performance. It argues that processes of institutionalisation are ‘vernacularized’ and shaped by the prevailing political culture. Keywords:   Vernacularization, Political culture, Tamil politics, Dalits, institutionalization

We’ve been in the DMK Front and the ADMK Front and so can speak to District Convenors and officials in each district or area. Now the VCK District Convenor and the DMK District Convenor and ADMK convenor have links. So what happens with these connections is that we can deploy them in the interests of the people. If someone comes to us, we can contact the district convenor by phone and they say ‘Right, I’ll look into it’ and they facilitate things. —(Dhanapal Interview, March 2012) Now that they are a party they are in contact with other party leaders. Many of the accused [in discrimination or atrocity cases] will have party

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Doing Tamil Politics connections and so pressure is put on this lot to drop cases or come to some agreement. —(Vakil Interview, July 2012)

Vernacularized Institutionalization Much of the literature on the institutionalization of social movements assumes integration into a Western, liberal polity. Michelutti (2007), however, details the multiple ways in which democratic politics is shaped and influenced by sociocultural practices, idioms, (p.150) beliefs and norms in a process that she calls ‘vernacularization’. This being the case, we should expect processes of institutionalization to be inflected by local or regional socio-cultural practices too. Indeed, writing in 1955, Ambedkar pointed out that ‘the social structure has a profound effect on the political structure. It may modify it in its working. It may nullify it or may even make a mockery of it’ (Thorat and Kumar 2008: 368). Kunnath’s (2009) account of what happens when a Dalit-focused Maoist group expands to incorporate members of the locally dominant castes shows how this can occur. Political organizations do not emerge or operate in a vacuum, and comprehending the forms that contemporary Dalit institutions take must examine the existing ‘rules of the game’ in both formal politics and political culture. As seen in Chapter 1, Dravidian parties have shaped the political culture of the state and continue to influence the modes of mobilization, political styles, and approaches to caste and social radicalism that emerging parties adopt. In Tilly’s (1986) terms, they have established a ‘repertoire of contention’ that serves both as an opportunity—in that it offers new entrants to Tamil politics a model and legitimizing narrative to draw on—and as a constraint—in that deviations from the norm are delegitimized. The concept of a repertoire has been applied to political protest and helps explain why some forms of expression, such as burning buses or blocking trains, predominate in certain societies and not others; it has less frequently been drawn on in analysis of political institutions. It is clear, though, that the way in which a political system is structured generates certain forms and modalities of political expression. The last chapter detailed how movements are inducted into particular ways of doing things and a political culture. This more social aspect of the process is often neglected by analysts even though it not only influences the types of politics new parties can engage in, but shapes their political style as well. The quotes at the head of the chapter, for example, suggest that the VCK have been fully incorporated into the socio-political networks and relationships that characterize the political sphere. This integration effects how the party acts, what it can do, and how it is perceived. This chapter seeks to expand our narrow understandings of institutionalization by focusing on the social consequences of becoming a party. We begin by charting the transformation of the VCK from outsiders (p.151) to politicians, before analysing how the political relationships they have forged since becoming a party have shaped both what they can do and Page 2 of 24

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Doing Tamil Politics how they act. Studies on social movement institutionalization, it is suggested, need to be more attuned to these less formal aspects of the process.

Refined Politics and Vulgar Radicals? Whilst the last chapter focused on political institutions and the mechanisms by which the VCK have been integrated and their actions routinized, it is not just that the party’s platform has been blunted by political participation, but that its mode of operation, style of protest, and political rationale have all been recalibrated. In his book on Tamil oratory and politics, Bate elucidates the sociocultural significance of the distinction between pure or refined (cenmai) and vulgar (kochai) Tamil (Bate 2009: 5–6). This distinction maps onto a blueprint for political performance in which the former is perceived and portrayed as the ‘proper’ way of doing politics. Leaders are valorized for their ability to deliver lyrical speeches in pure Tamil (Bate 2009, Gorringe 2010). Drawing on Bourdieu, Bate notes how this hierarchical schema assumes a doxic (or, taken for granted) quality that makes the cultural forms of certain status groups seem natural. As a consequence, ‘judgements about language often correspond to judgements about entire classes of people’ (Bate 2009: 9). Bate does not elaborate on this process, but it encapsulates the paradox of institutionalization for Dalit parties in a Tamil context. In adhering to the established Dravidian aesthetic and adopting the refined modes of political engagement, the VCK unwittingly reinforces a hierarchy that casts Dalits as lesser beings. Given that most Dalits communicate in kochai (vulgar) Tamil language and practice folk arts and games that are perceived as being premodern (Ravikumar 2009), the institutionalization of a grassroots Dalit movement can sever the links between leaders and led. Chatterjee (2004: 64) argues that a ‘viable and persuasive politics of the governed’ requires ‘a considerable act of mediation’. Whilst the VCK’s entry into politics suggested that it could fulfil the role of mediator, its assimilation into hegemonic modes of doing politics has complicated its ability to do so. (p.152) Take, for example, the manner in which party leaders communicate with activists. In 1999, ‘Firebrand’ Murugan’s speeches were nearly as popular as Thirumavalavan’s. What they lacked in gravitas and authority, they gained in the use of local idiom and a disregard for the formal conventions of politics. He was a party spokesman who spoke in the everyday language of the people. Other parties still have such figures, notably J. Guru of the PMK, whose earthy perorations have the demotic touch. When I addressed a VCK event in 2012, I apologized for speaking in kochai Tamil, but Thirumavalavan corrected and applauded me for speaking in ‘people’s Tamil.’ This recognition of the value and resonance of the vernacular, however, is largely absent from VCK stages since the sad demise of Murugan, but also since the move into party politics.

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Doing Tamil Politics Speakers on stage now aspire to appear on the platforms of alliance partners and temper their language and amend the tenor of their speeches accordingly. The passionate diatribes of Murugan, thus, are replaced by speeches in lyrical Tamil that many ordinary people struggle to follow. The fearless castigation of Karunanidhi and Jayalalithaa has largely gone, to be replaced by honorific forms of reference even when criticizing them. Countless respondents noted that VCK speeches had lost their spark. Tamizh Murasu, whom I met in 1999 when both of us stood by loudspeakers recording party speeches sat with me helping to translate speeches and interviews in magazines and capture idiomatic nuances. At one point he sighed: ‘I find it difficult to read all this,’ he stated in exasperation, ‘he [Thirumavalavan] lacks the guts and fire he showed in 1999. Has to bend and twist with different currents’. Thirumavalavan’s fiery speech to the PWA mass meeting in Madurai in 2016 illustrated these trends. He enthralled and enthused supporters and fellow leaders with a passionate diatribe that appeared to liken DMK patriarchs to snakes.1 Following an outcry and tirade of abuse on social media, Thirumavalavan rushed to clarify that: ‘I am a person who will never make personal attacks on any political leader, be it Kaliagnar (DMK chief M Karunanidhi), for whom I have high regard or AIADMK leader Jayalalithaa’, he said. ‘I was just (p.153) making a point about alternative politics in layman’s language so that cadres would understand it’ (Times of India 2016). A disaffected, and anonymized, former member of the party was more scathing about changes in VCK oratory since entering politics: Since then his actions, conduct, and speech have all changed. They have all changed. You will have heard his speeches in Chidambaram constituency now, he speaks like a siddha [an ascetic or herbal practitioner], like a siddha. Now what would an ashram leader or a religious leader speak like? That is what he sounds like today. Soul, spirit, body—like this. He speaks like a vignani [scientist]; no one understands him but they think he is a genius. (Interview, February 2012) An academic sympathizer similarly bemoaned the loss of radicalism: ‘Thirumavalavan increasingly talks about himself in speeches these days’, they noted. ‘How busy he is and how everyone keeps asking him to do things.’ Certainly this characterization was borne out in speeches I witnessed. Most opened with apologies for not visiting frequently, with an account of his travels, travails, and interventions in Parliament and then moved on to more locally specific concerns. This is not to say that there were no flashes of spirit or fire in party speeches. In August 2012, Thirumavalavan delivered a rousing address condemning the destruction of Ambedkar and Immanuel Sekaran statues in Madurai. As I noted at the time:

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Doing Tamil Politics He whipped the crowd into a frenzy of cheering at points with attacks on the police, other parties, and casteist fanatics before appeasing potential allies and followers later on. … Towards the end of the speech he noted that he was always on good terms with coalition partners and had even left Selvi Jayalalithaa’s alliance on reasonable terms. Not anyone’s slave, but get along with all. … Afterwards there was a buzz reminiscent of speeches in the late 1990s. Dalit activists in particular were thrilled by the fervour and vehemence of his speech which felt like a return to the rhetoric of old. People clustered round in knots and thronged the tea-stalls discussing the speech. Party stalwarts took great delight in pointing out how often sceptics like Tamizh Murasu had been drawn into applause. (Field notes, August 2012) The nod towards allies in the speech, was echoed in actions on the ground where strenuous efforts were made to stay on the right side of authorities: (p.154) If police expectations were for the worst, as suggested by the bus-loads of uniformed officers on standby, then the VCK seemed keen to ensure that they gave a good account of themselves. Within an hour of the demo finishing all flex banners, the stage, bunting, and everything had been taken down, packed up, and taken away. Nothing remained to suggest that a protest had been held there a short while beforehand. (Field notes, August 2012) Even when demonstrating, in other words, the VCK felt constrained to abide by the rules of the game and demonstrate that they were fitting coalition partners. Thirumavalavan conceded as much when we met in Delhi: H: Do you need to go and stand before politicians with your hands bowed?

T: No compulsion at all. It is up to us. We can refuse to go and see them and maintain a miniscule party, 500 or so strong.

H: But if you want to be a meaningful party?

T: Then we need to observe certain protocols. Go and see Kalaignar Karunanidhi on his birthday and my birthday that is all. Need to watch our language to some extent, things like that (Personal Communication, September 2012)

As implied here, the accommodation to the sensitivities of other parties extends beyond rhetoric to encompass the rituals and formalities that mark Tamil politics. One can see this in the more informal documents marking social Page 5 of 24

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Doing Tamil Politics occasions within the party, such as invitations to weddings, house-warming ceremonies, or ear-piercing rituals. The norm in Tamil socio-political culture is to produce guest lists that note the importance and affiliation of each invitee. Up front in larger font—and often in an image too—are the names of the chief guest or guests who will preside over the event. In VCK circles this figure is almost invariably Thirumvalavan. In bold but slightly smaller font come the names of important personages, before we get down to close relatives, friends, and other characters. From the late 2000s the widespread availability and diminished cost of laser printing meant that most such invitations were printed in colour on glossy cards. What the colour printing allowed for was the symbolic identification of party affiliations: members of the VCK had names (p.155) printed in red, white, and blue; DMK affiliates were marked by red and black; and the AIADMK invitees had names inscribed in black, white, and red. The net result was a visual summary of a host’s social and political network and the importance assigned to members of it. Nor does such recognition stop with the invites. For the grander occasions, notable guests also feature on flex banners and posters advertising the event in advance. Indeed, the prominence given to key figures can mean that the wedding couple, for instance, are relegated to secondary significance on their ‘special day’. Field notes from one such wedding describe this dynamic: The mahal [wedding hall] itself was festooned with flags and posters. Above the entrance, the coconut matting archway was decorated with a picture of a rather young looking Thirumvalavan designed so that it could be lit up with fairy lights. To the left was a large banner sporting a photo of Thiruma in full flow ‘looking like a panther himself’ as one of the guests put it. On the other side, a vast screen-printed sign focused on the wedding and hailed the happy couple, the local leader Ayyankali [father of the groom] and sported a huge picture of Thiruma. This was sponsored by the Madurai Branch of the VCK TASMAC [Tamil Nadu State Marketing Corporation] Workers Union. TASMAC, as one guest noted, being the state run liquor and alcohol shops which the VCK are campaigning to shut down. Across the road, the largest of the banners sported large pictures of Thirumavalavan and Prabhakaran, the latter with a panther cub in his arms. … We went for a bite to eat next door and bumped into the bride’s relatives doing the same and having coffee. My friend—a close relative of the bride—introduced me to them. None were that excited by the prospect of Thiruma coming to speak. It was very much seen as what the groom’s family had wanted. We returned to the mahal, chatted with various people, and waited. Tamil film music blared out of the speakers. At one point a short excerpt of a Thiruma speech was relayed over the speakers; it spoke of the downtrodden being the dispossessed sons of the soil and of the VCK as the party of the oppressed. Nobody paid much attention and soon pop songs resumed. Very gradually the hall began to fill up. My attention was Page 6 of 24

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Doing Tamil Politics drawn towards the veshtis (dhotis -waistcloths) that the men were wearing. Several sported red, white, and blue lines printed down the edges identifying them as VCK supporters. Others wore their affiliations literally on their sleeves as well. One attendee sported the black shirt and veshti with black border of the DK, others had DMK, and AIADMK (p.156) colours and later on, when Thiruma arrived, several of the youngsters wore specially made sports-shirts adorned with pictures of Panthers and Thirumavalavan. … Then the mic was ramped up a notch and everyone was asked to get to their feet and put their hands together to welcome the MP and leader Thirumavalavan. The crowd all rose in applause, again more enthusiastically to the fore. There was a flurry of activity as Thiruma was welcomed and had a towel put over his shoulders and was photographed with the bride and groom and the groom’s father and then the leading office-bearers were called forward onto the stage so that it resembled a platform for a party meeting. … One late comer was ushered in to sit pride of place on the stage behind Thiruma. When he got up to talk, I was told that he was a big shot in the AIADMK locally. … When I commented on the different party affiliations I was told that the VCK had gone beyond the stage of being purely oppositional and had become a ‘proper party’ now with recognition from all the others. They all had to work together to get things done and so they would make such visits and shows of respect. En route home this was emphasized by posters with M. K. Azhagiri [Karunanidhi’s son and DMK strongman at the time] to the fore and Thiruma and Pandiyammal [District Secretary whose house-warming it advertised] in the background. (Field notes, February 2012) I have quoted these at length here for the impressions gained and what they tell us about the VCK. It is immediately apparent that Thirumavalavan remains the epicentre of the party (a theme that we return to in Chapter 6), and that VCK events echo those of the Dravidian parties. Whilst this makes them widely recognizable and acceptable, this culture also imposes limits on the party. For one thing, the choreography of Dravidian events, as mimicked by the VCK, reinforce the significance of the leader. Whilst many Dalit respondents bemoaned the failure to create an alternate political culture, the perception was widespread. Popular magazine Anandha Vikatan, for example, carried reader’s questions for Thirumavalavan: Q: Your birthday celebrations remind me of the glorification sessions for Karunanidhi. Have Dalit leaders fallen prey to the desire for hagiography?

The criticism clearly grated for Thirumavalavan and he shot back: A:

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Doing Tamil Politics Why focus on Karunanidhi? People also celebrate the birthdays of common leaders like Ambedkar and Periyar? Why not think of them too? (Anandha Vikatan 2012b: 40)

(p.157) Events at which the leader presided were invariably better attended and advertised, helped cement the bond between leader and led, and offered the opportunity to communicate to members and raise much needed resources. The paeans of praise recited to Thirumavalavan on stages in 2012 were particularly laudatory given the year-long celebration of his 50th birthday, but cadres used to impassioned polemic were disgruntled by what they saw as vacuous eulogies. As Stalin Rajangam commented: They should have created an alternative identity in politics and culture to the Dravidian movement and national movement. That is what we expected. He had all the potential to do that. But, they missed that opportunity. They have been doing the same things like others, erm, singing songs like DMK. (Interview, March 2012) Celebrations for Ambedkar’s birthday show how deeply embedded Dalit parties are in the wider political culture of the state. There is the obligatory procession to the statue to garland it with flowers and milk is poured over it in homage, in an echo of both religious and political rituals in the state (cf. Karthikeyan 2016). More tellingly, the VCK now routinely holds localized events in which pens and notepads are distributed to children and free saris and veshtis are handed out to the poor in a mirror-image of mainstream party celebrations of festivals like Deepavali (Diwali). Whilst the focus on Ambedkar makes a symbolically important point as we shall see in the next chapter, the adoption of the politics of patronage ties the VCK into populist programmes and creates expenditure that can be best met through lucrative alliances with other parties. In trying to grasp why this has occurred, another aspect of the lengthy note above assumes significance: the VCK now routinely share platforms and stages with non-Dalits and members of other parties. Even in party weddings and house-warming ceremonies, we see, pride of place is given to such guests. Whilst their mere presence may be construed as a victory of sorts, it tempers the tenor and content of speeches. The ‘vulgar’ radicals who excoriated the establishment as a movement, have been refined to the point where the Golden Jubilee featured poetry readings (all eulogies about Thirumavalavan) in one of the largest halls in Madurai. If this transition has made them more acceptable allies, it has also made (p.158) them more amenable ones. It is to the consequences of such social networks that we now turn.

Political Relations The growing ties between VCK leaders and those in other parties was brought home to me in April on a visit to Pandiyammal’s house. She is the District

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Doing Tamil Politics Secretary of the party but otherwise, as a self-educated, active, and feisty Dalit woman, would have nothing to do with leading figures in other parties. The Scorpio car with her name on it, a party flag, and VCK City Convenor written on it came to pick us up. Clearly the car is not well known in SS Colony as people came to the doors to stare especially as we got in. The windscreen had a large crack down one side; thinking back to 1999, I asked if someone had thrown a stone at the vehicle, only to be informed that it was a small stone off the road that had done the damage. Pasted over the crack was a VIP Pass sticker. I asked the driver what that was for and was informed that it was for Karunanidhi’s grandson’s wedding—M. K. Azhagiri’s child. Obviously the VCK have been sufficiently integrated to be invited to coalition social events. The invite for the event in the back of the car was the same style and cut as the ones printed for the VCK wedding and house-warming. (Field notes, April 2012) Crucially, what we see here is that the social networks forged through politics are mutual rather than unidirectional. If VCK activists invite Dravidian figures to grace their events, then the favour is returned. In a society marked by fault-lines of caste and class in which markers of honour and esteem are rigorously policed, the extension of such courtesies by others is significant. ‘The concessions of politeness’, as Bourdieu states, ‘always contain political concessions’ (cited in Scott 1985: 283). The VIP pass, from this perspective, is as much a sign of political arrival as entry into electoral coalitions. Unlike purely political ties, which can be dismissed as merely ‘strategic’, integration into social networks is more pervasive and compelling. Interaction with Pandiyammal’s family highlighted this: One of her nieces pointed to a picture of Thirumavalavan and Karunanidhi and said: ‘He [T] is my mama [uncle], and he [K] is my Thatha [K]’. Stalin was in the picture too, so I asked if he was a mama as (p.159) well and she said ‘I don’t know about that’. The aunt intervened to say: ‘Karunanidhi is an elder statesman so we can call him Thatha, but Stalin is younger and in that generation there is only one mama’. (Field notes, April 2012) The creation of fictive kinship is commonplace in Tamil Nadu, but for members of a Dalit party once seen as extremists to claim such affinity to the leader of the DMK is staggering. It suggests an affinity and emotional connection that is harder to break than a mere electoral alliance. The pride she feels in these new found relations in evident in Pandiyammal’s assertion that: Now I stand on a par with them. I invite them for events and there is no function today without my name. That is the level to which our leader has

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Doing Tamil Politics brought us, the path he has led us down through his speeches. (Pandiyammal Interview, July 2012) Following the electoral defeat in 2011, there was much hand-wringing and discontent with party strategy. Many held that pursuing an alliance with the AIADMK would have enabled the VCK to gain formal recognition. Rumours abounded that Jayalalithaa was prepared to offer the VCK multiple seats and that feelers had been sent out to Thirumavalavan. Whilst such accounts are probably day-dreams—the AIADMK is unlikely to have granted more than two or three seats—what the endless speculation and analysis demonstrates is the sense that the VCK are now too close to the DMK. The ties locking the VCK into social functions and events were illustrated on Thirumavalavan’s birthday when he met with Karunanidhi and Stalin and garlanded a statue of DMK stalwart Murasoli Maran as well as those of Ambedkar and Kamaraj. Other leaders are now referred to with respect in a manner that immediately diminishes the spirit of any speech, and sometimes the VCK go further still. Kalimuthu, a party leader and councillor in Madurai, noted the tendency in 2012 for Thirumavalavan to look up to the DMK patriarch: Now he calls Karunanidhi ‘Thalaivar’. Then who is he? If he calls someone else ‘leader’, then what is he? A henchman? Lots of people have asked this. We see him as above and beyond Karunanidhi and Jayalalithaa or Sonia and others. We see him as a messiah for his people; then how can we accept him calling someone else his leader? (Interview, July 2012) (p.160) Activists like Kalimuthu feared the loss of autonomy and the ability to critique established parties that could arise from overly close relations. When this was put to the party leaders, they stressed the need to adapt their political style to the changed circumstances. The writer and propaganda secretary Sannah explained: If we want to gain political power, then we have to become a political party. One cannot take political power as a movement. Till now we had a lot of freedom. We could oppose who we wanted, condemn who we wanted, and depended on no one who we might criticize. We condemned anyone we wanted on the basis of our principles. Having become a party, however, we must abide by the norms set down by the Indian Electoral Commission and abide by their regulations. This imposes a certain discipline and we need to be disciplined about who we condemn and how we do so. We need to work within these limits and familiarize ourselves with the political culture. (Interview, September 2012) Respondents repeatedly asserted that they did not want to be seen as complete political opportunists jumping from one side to the other as the PMK had done. When I noted that the PMK had been successful in this regard and routinely got Page 10 of 24

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Doing Tamil Politics more seats than they did, they stressed the importance of image and standing with the people. What really irked the party members was the extra-political accommodation towards other parties. One point of contention that was repeatedly raised was the presentation of ‘Ambedkar’ and ‘Tamil Champion’ awards to rival party leaders. Indeed, this was one of the questions posed to Thirumavalavan by readers: Q: Why did you give an Ambedkar prize to Ramadoss who said: ‘The PoA Act only works in northern states; it has been badly misused down South’?

A: It is with the idea that non-Dalits need to work towards a Dalit uprising that the VCK gave the award. PMK leader Dr Ramadoss is someone who took on board Ambedkar’s teaching and helped identify him. Furthermore, in an attempt to create social harmony between Dalits and Vanniyars he staged an Oru Thaai Makkal (People of One Mother) Conference. In northern districts he has installed countless Ambedkar statues. He has sought out and praised and encouraged practices and means towards Dalit liberation. Those who care about society cannot repeatedly stir up enmity and creating situations for conflict. He could (p.161) have said that in order to mobilize BCs, but it was in the fervent belief that he desires solidarity between Dalits and non-Dalits that we gave him the award. (Anandha Vikatan 2012c: 94)

State-leader and intellectual Unjai Arasan was more concise—not to say blunt— in making a similar point. The awards, he said, were a ‘requirement for parliamentary politics, not based on policy or ideology’ (Interview, August 2012). The gains of such approbation, however, are hard to discern and appear to go beyond the requirements of political alliances. In seeking to understand the sustained and close ties with the DMK, many interviewees pointed towards Ravikumar’s close links to Karunanidhi’s daughter Kanimozhi due to her cultural and literary work, and suggested he had lobbied for the alliance. Ravikumar contested this interpretation, but the rumours reinforce the fact that loyalty and friendship constrain political decisions. One informed sympathizer and political commentator was exasperated by the VCK’s decision to stand by the DMK and participate in its Tamil nationalist conferences despite their lack of credibility on the issue. ‘I can’t understand why Thiruma has been so slavish towards DMK. I even wondered if they were blackmailing him at one point. Funding is an issue, but can it explain this?’ (Anon, Personal Communication, April 2012). Tamizh Murasu—the ‘last and least member of the party’—similarly questioned the relationship: Since he has been in the alliance, he has been emotionally attached with the alliance. He has hesitated to comment on our [Dalit] peoples’ issues where it was required. He should speak about issues confronting the people. Recently, someone submitted a question to Junior Vikatan. Stalin Page 11 of 24

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Doing Tamil Politics [one of Karunanidhi’s sons] was announced as the heir apparent to DMK by Karunanidhi and Thirumavalavan said Stalin should become the next leader. Someone posted a comment asking whether Thirumavalavan is in the DMK alliance or in the DMK (laugh). (Interview, June 2012) In a scathing appraisal of the party, Kathir articulated the worst fears of many supporters: It’s great too; going in a car, or erecting huge cut-outs or staying in classy places or publishing high-end books, creating songs, and so on, all this is great. I’m happy for them, but you will never ever get freedom …. Today they have become an SC/ST Wing of the Dravidian parties. (Interview, March 2012) (p.162) That those who mobilized because existing Dalit politicians were characterized as stooges can be described in this way is a searing indictment of ‘autonomous’ Dalit politics. It is important, though, not to judge a party on the analysis of its critics. The expectations raised by a decade of radical uprising, mean that the VCK were never going to please everyone, and they are operating in a political setting in which few others succeed in maintaining their independence. The Communist parties are a prime example. Though they are frequently held up as national parties with an ideological emphasis, they are just as guilty of opportunistic alliances with Dravidian parties. Unjai Arasan made this point forcefully: They should be ready to fight without thinking about victory but at the moment they seem to be content with 5 or 7 seats. Recently Pandian [General Secretary of CPI in Tamil Nadu] eulogized Jayalalithaa, saying that she is equivalent to 100 Karunanidhis. They are criticizing us heavily. I don’t know. People like you should ask them. (Interview, August 2012) Evaluations of the small parties like the VCK and their impact often fail to place them within this wider context. When Ravikumar pointed towards his role in passing and implementing the law to replace mud huts with concrete ones (Jayakumar 2010), one critic poured scorn on his efforts: When your hero is Malcolm X … and you assert this with your ferociously scribbling pen, is it enough to be in government and draft a few plans and politicize about huts? This is administration politics! It’s not as if they do not know this. Just one thing: if you are a movement party then people will stand behind you; if it is normal politics then you stand alone. (Anon, Interview, March 2012) What is immediately apparent here is that the VCK is being measured according to a different yardstick to everyone else. Whilst NGOs can achieve a great deal, they are far more limited in reach and scope than the VCK. This critique also Page 12 of 24

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Doing Tamil Politics ignores the fact that Tamil politics works through patronage and so what many ordinary Dalits crave is an intermediary or broker who is accessible to them. As Witsoe (2012: 48) argues: ‘Political mediation is not just about “looting the state”, about patronage for its own sake …but also about struggles over dominance and subordination with in local sites.’ (p.163) Political participation by the VCK has opened channels to government resources and provisions that Dalits previously lacked. Thirumavalavan’s office is routinely mobbed by people seeking his intervention to secure a Government job, transfer or certificate as one party affiliate and beneficiary noted (Sankar interview, 2012). The government is a major employer and Dravidian parties have routinely distributed posts through patronage networks. Whilst the VCK was part of the ruling coalition it had access to such largesse and in most villages I visited in 2012 there were one or two people who had benefitted in this manner—even if they paid party intermediaries to do so. Being a coalition partner also means that Dalit leaders, who are more accessible to Dalits, have direct access to leading politicians and officials. Whilst the numbers entailed are small, the impact of one job extends beyond the individual in terms of families and wider aspirations. Many of the criticisms, it is worth noting, are voiced by middle-class Dalits for whom ideology and vision are more important than everyday bread and butter issues. For them, the fact that VCK leaders do not raise Dalit issues on alliance stages is a heinous failing. Politics, of course, is a balancing act. In 2015, following two elections in which DMK alliances had not yielded any seats and in the context of renewed caste polarization by the PMK, the VCK broke ties with the DMK and joined a coalition of like-minded parties fighting against casteism, corruption, and alcoholism. This move pleases those demanding a politics of principle, but it diminishes the prospect of electoral success and may alienate those Dalits for whom patronage and access are pivotal. Irrespective of the electoral fortunes of the People’s Welfare Front, it illustrates how political success cannot be measured by votes alone. The creation of an alternative alliance in a context where the candidates and party faithful of the Communist parties, Vaiko’s MDMK (Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam) and particularly Vijayakant’s DMDK were desperate for a Dravidian ally to boost their chances (Kolappan 2016) speaks to the ability of small parties, such as the VCK, to carve out spaces for political engagement and debate. Crucially, VCK cadres were delighted that the Communists and Vaiko at least stood united with their leaders in condemning caste abuses. Decisions about whether to prioritize electoral success in a small number of seats alongside a dominant partner, or to risk poll defeat in pursuit of change, are those that leaders of (p.164) small parties perpetually face. The late inclusion of Vijayakant into the Front, and the concession of the post of Chief Minister and the vast bulk of seats to the DMDK, marked an attempt to retain electoral credibility whilst offering an alternative. Standing alone without one of the established parties in Tamil politics, this reminds us, is tantamount to Page 13 of 24

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Doing Tamil Politics an act of protest rather than electoral competition. Having tasted some of the gains of political power, the PWF were keen to retain ties to bigger players in the state.

Caste Context and Political Connections Indeed, Dhanapal, quoted at the beginning of this chapter, a VCK post-holder in Madurai, points towards the virtues of political relationships, noting that newforged connections can be drawn upon to get things done. Many spoke of increased respect—if not a better response—from police officers. Selva Arasu’s answer, as State Secretary of the VCK’s Engineer Wing, was typical: We no longer hit back or respond violently but the police accept us to some extent and respond. Due to this acceptance also, such atrocities rarely happen anymore. They do not happen on a big level now. The police give us respect. … There are some places where casteists and caste fanatics are in the force, but even this has declined …..Now we can file FIRs and press them to take action. We act with the people in a democratic manner. (Interview, March 2012) Others mentioned securing caste certificates, getting jobs, and negotiating transfers through the mediation of VCK office-bearers. More tellingly, Jeyaharan (2009b: 95), writing for the Dalit Resource Centre in Madurai, spoke of the VCK’s newfound ability to negotiate with power holders and secure concessions. The VCK, thus, may appear to be subservient allies, but this does not mean that they are silent at the ground level. The party were usually to the fore campaigning against caste abuses. Crucially, the continued commitment to the Dalit cause meant that the party endured a ‘double burden’. Time and again they would take to the streets alongside other parties to protest against violence in Sri Lanka, petrol price hikes, nuclear power, and other issues, and then find themselves protesting alone, or at best with the CPI(M) affiliated-TNUEF, on caste issues. As Sannah put it: (p.165) In Seshasamudram2 there was a dispute between the cheri and oor over pulling the temple car. When the argument arose 44 Dalits were imprisoned, but not a single Vanniyar was arrested or imprisoned. Those creating the problem are the Vanniyars and the victims are the Dalits. When that problem is occurring who is it who takes up the issue? The VCK is the only party to address the issue ….There are so many villages which have not come to public attention, what can we say about them? Now we in the VCK need to tackle court cases, protest, lead struggles, stand against caste Hindus, stand against exploiters, stand against the police, address the concerns, and doubts of party comrades, address the concerns of nonDalits in the party—it is within this multitude of concerns that we have to address any problem. … It takes years of sustained protests [to achieve a result]. If the VCK back-off from such protests then you can condemn us. If Page 14 of 24

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Doing Tamil Politics they accuse us of selling out even when protests are ongoing then it is our job to help them understand the ground realities. (Sannah Interview, September 2012) Vandiyur Theerthakadu is a small piece of land in the suburbs of Madurai and it exemplifies the point Sannah is making above. The land had been gifted to the Dalits by the Adi-Dravida Welfare Association in 1979 but was subsequently occupied by non-Dalits and successive court cases directing the encroachers to leave had failed to shift them.3 In interactions with residents there many stood by Thirumavalavan and the VCK who spoke and protested on the issue repeatedly, but others were not impressed: He speaks well! He speaks brilliantly, but what is the use if there is no follow through. He speaks for an hour or longer, could he not find three minutes when he was in alliance with the ruling DMK to bring up this issue? Could he not have mentioned this in one of the weekly meetings? Is the issue that he would have lost out on three minutes spent discussing more remunerative transfers or deals or so on? (Vandiyur, July 2012) On the face of it, this is a compelling criticism. Given that multiple court cases had found in favour of Dalits, surely a quiet word to the state government would have speeded things along and secured (p.166) the land before it was eventually retrieved in 2014? In response, VCK leaders noted the asymmetrical nature of their relationships with other parties. I raised one heart-rending and oft mentioned case with Thirumavalavan. Melavalavu Murugesan was the panchayat president who was brutally murdered along with six others in 1997. He was pulled off a bus in the middle of the day and butchered on the road. In 1999 Thirumavalavan addressed those gathered to commemorate the deaths in Melavalavu and spoke movingly about the fact that his wife was compelled to work as a government employee on the very road where her husband had been hacked to death. Thirteen years on, she remains in the same post. Could the VCK, I wondered, not have achieved anything on this issue? H: You spoke powerfully about her working on road. Could you not get her a government job elsewhere?

T: No. Kalaignar would not listen. We submitted so many petitions and requests, but they felt that even granting her this job was a big issue in itself. They maintained that she lacked the qualifications for any other post.

Shortly before we met, Ambedkar statues had been destroyed in Madurai but the perpetrators had not been apprehended: H: Page 15 of 24

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Doing Tamil Politics Were DMK in power would the Ambedkar statue have been replaced by now?

T: No. They would not intervene in things like that. (Personal Communication, September 2012)

Unjai Arasan made a similar point in the last chapter, noting how concessions remained at the level of patronage and resources. They may not raise these issues on common platforms, but that does not mean that they do not raise them at all. Ravikumar and Thirumavalavan both released books detailing their parliamentary speeches and actions which highlight their interventions on numerous issues that critics accused them of ignoring—such as panchami land.4 Alphonse (2012: 5) suggests that Thirumavalavan was (p.167) instrumental in compelling the Tamil government to acknowledge the existence of the SCP for Scheduled Castes in 2001 and finally fulfil ‘the mandate of SCP, by allocating Rs. 3828 crores for Dalit welfare, proportionate to their population share in the State’ in 2010. This conclusion was disputed, and even VCK leaders pointed to the diversion of SCP funds to political ‘freebies’ aimed at all sections of the electorate at various points. VCK representatives were, however, able to apply pressure to State governments on this issue. In 2003, for instance, Thirumavalavan and five other MLAs lobbied on behalf of the ‘Tamil Nadu Dalit Legislator’s Forum’ for better implementation of the Plan (Social Watch 2004) and the demand was central to the party’s manifesto in 2006. Despite raising issues, the party usually had little to show for their intercessions with Dravidian allies, which proved galling for members. One of the few real gains that they could point towards was the ability to hold elections in the reserved panchayats of Pappapatti, Keeripatti, and Nattarmangalam. For nearly a decade between 1996 and 2002, following their designation as reserved panchayats, locally dominant Thevar castes prevented elections from being held, compelled Dalit candidates to withdraw nominations, or forced them to resign from their posts immediately afterwards.5 Sustained protests and representations to state and national leaders by the VCK kept the issue alive. The case is an important one in highlighting the caste context within which the party operates. Thirumavalavan noted how no other leaders wanted to touch the issue: Over the past nine years, in exactly this manner, neither Kalaignar Karunanidhi nor Selvi Jayalalithaa opened their mouths on this matter. They do not want to lose the backing of the dominant castes; that is what is at play here. Regarding the problems of the downtrodden it is clear that both have the same position and same stand. (Thirumavalavan 2009: 56) (p.168) Finally, two VCK affiliated Dalits—Poongudian and Suppan—had the courage to stand against the dominant castes rather than on their behalf. In so doing, both encountered threats and violence that compelled them to live Page 16 of 24

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Doing Tamil Politics elsewhere. District officials, such as the Collector and Superintendent of Police (SP), were not immune to caste sentiments and had stones thrown at them as they sought to give protection to the Dalit candidates. Deepa and Puliyamma, VCK activists and women’s leaders in Madurai, spoke of canvassing for votes in the villages: We decided that if we did not go to canvass none would. On the bus what they were talking about: ‘That wretch who is in Thiruma’s party— Poongudian—apparently he is standing the election again!’ This is women talking. ‘He is standing here they say. He is from that village, he is a Dalit.’ We kept listening, just listening to their speech we kept quiet and listened in and nodded. Had we spoken up that day we would have died! They noted how no one knew what symbol Poongudian was contesting on and so they found out and went round the Dalit houses urging them all to vote for the ‘Hurricane Lamp’. They called Thirumavalavan from the polling booth to let him know about their work: ‘Why did you go there? Problems will arise’—our leader says that— problems will arise. We are here traipsing about for votes and he says: ‘That’s enough. You have canvassed enough now come away from there’— this is the village where they even beat the Collector with chappals, where they threw chappals at the SP himself, and went after him with brooms —‘You need not stay there, pa, get a lift off someone or other and come away’. That is what he says and so we come away having spoken to the villagers. Many Dalit houses are occupied by dominant castes. They borrow money and end up indebted and losing their land—6 or 7 people told us this problem. (Deepa Interview, August 2012) What this quote perfectly captures is the impact of the VCK and the limits within which they operate. Here are two feisty and independent Dalit women campaigning to secure democratic rights in a constituency still marked by caste dominance. That the elections were happening and that Deepa and Puliyamma would even contemplate canvassing testify to the changes wrought by Dalit mobilization (p.169) in emboldening Dalit activists and changing caste dynamics. The intervention of authorities was prompted by VCK action and the candidates were encouraged to contest due to the party. Despite all this, the Dalit Panchayat presidential candidates found themselves subject to social boycott and threats of violence that compelled them to leave the locality. It was the DMK government in 2006 that finally oversaw elections in which the Dalit president could not only stand but exercise power. Balusamy was elected unopposed in Keeripatti, but he noted that it was far from straightforward. B:

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Doing Tamil Politics I met Collector Udhayachandran. I explained my situation, erm, not only me the whole village was affected. I asked him to give security to the villagers in all possible ways. He said: ‘you just contest in the election, I will look after other matters.’

H: He gave you the assurance?

B: Yes, he gave me the assurance. They collected my address and sent police security to my house right away in the night. They put police security for my house and the police also regularly visited the village … I stayed in the party office that night and they gave me a new dhoti and a shirt to get ready in the morning. I carried only my ration card with me. I don’t know whether Collector Udhayachandran gave money or the [Communist] party …. but they immediately bought me the clothes and a mobile phone. They gave me Collector Udhyachandran and MP Mohan’s numbers. Mohan was Madurai MP then from the Communist Party…. I got ready and they sent me immediately to Chennai. We met Kalaignar over there. I said the same thing about the situation in the village and he said ‘you contest, we all are there for you’. As he said, they passed the order and put police security to all these four panchayat leaders, erm, Pappapatti, Keeripatti, Natarmangalam, and Kottakatchiyenthal in Virudhunagar district. (Interview, July 2012)

Though the Communists and the DMK were heavily involved in the final stages, Balusamy and his successor insisted that ‘Thirumavalavan alone is the one who toiled to ensure that elections were held here’ (Mokkakalai Interview, July 2012). He also noted that M.K. Stalin and Mohan attended his swearing in ceremony and that without such high-profile and meaningful support he could not have stood strong there. Here, at least, are some rewards of political participation and networking for the VCK, yet even here there are (p.170) limits to their influence. Having been compelled to hold elections it seems that the Thevars adopted a different approach. In subsequent polls, Balusamy noted, they ensured that a more pliant Dalit candidate was elected who: never goes to the office. Whenever, there is an official visit, erm, he goes and sits in his chair, otherwise he never goes. He never organized Gram Sabha meeting or passed resolution on his own. The vice-president and the clerk manage everything. (Interview, July 2012) The current incumbent insisted that he was able to function as president and that he was on very good terms with the Thevars in the village, but his demeanour, his clothes, and his small concrete and coconut matting dwelling (as opposed to Balusamy’s ‘pucca’ house) all indicate his lack of power. When asked what he had done for the village he said that ‘no funds have been released.’ Down the road in Pappapatti, the president Muruganandam is a Dalit of independent means with an MA in Political Science. Unlike the Keeripatti Page 18 of 24

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Doing Tamil Politics president he had secured funds and sought to do something for Dalits in the area. He had laid a road to the Dalit cremation ground but said that dominant castes were now disputing the land and so they could not use it. He was open about his ability to function as an independent president: I am flexible otherwise can’t survive. I will stand up and receive some people when they come (to the office), erm, it is all because of ego. The lives of SC people in Usilampatti block are like a sapling under a big tree. How would a sapling grow under a tree, it won’t, it has to grow on his own —the lives of SC people are like that. (Muruganandam Interview, July 2012). The VCK could lean on allies and others to ensure that the elections were held, but were unable to ensure that they were meaningful. The formal nature of the victory in these elections was emphasized by Thiruma Pasumpon who is a native of Pappapatti and the son of Mookaiah Thevar the Forward Bloc leader. He pointed to the interplay between caste and gender in noting that: when the Bill was passed they insisted that elections should not be held on casteist grounds, but even as this was occurring, in panchayats reserved for Dalit women elections were permitted to be held. This is an issue that (p.171) was not raised by Dalit leaders whether they noticed it or not. This is the sad part …. What I thought at the time was that there is still a belief that Dalit women can be taken for granted. (Interview, August 2012) Not only does this underscore the interplay between caste and patriarchy, it reinforces the limits to VCK ambition at this point in their political development. Thirumavalavan’s advice to activists above, and the inability to ensure more meaningful panchayat politics shows that the VCK operate within a field of caste power. Sumathi and Sudarsen (2005) in their research on Pappapatti note how little has been done to help Dalits overcome conditions of dependency. This was vividly illustrated in the success of the social boycott imposed against earlier Dalit candidates in the area, and is exploited by locally dominant castes. Rani, an educated Dalit working for an NGO, noted how decisions in the Panchayat where she was a ward member were taken by the vice-president not the titular Dalit head. R: The panchayats are totally run by caste Hindus and they have connections with the police and with the ruling party and so there is very little that I can do. They will tell me to be calm and stop creating problems.

H: But is this caste or politics?

R: Page 19 of 24

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Doing Tamil Politics Both. Caste first and then politics second. Caste government. The panchayats are unaccountable. In my place they do not do any work in the Dalit areas. We spent a year asking for a sewer to be cleaned and gained no response. Then at the time of the village festival when lots of people will come we made a big fuss and so they released some funds—though not as much as is set aside for such work—and of course they asked our lot to clean out the sewage.

H: What if you refuse?

R: They can’t refuse; they haven’t developed sufficiently in economic terms. Many are still dependent on them for work and also they need to live in the villages.

H: They haven’t been infused with courage by the movements?

R: What courage? If you are economically dependent then you have to make ends meet. (Interview, March 2012)

As recently as September 2015, a Dalit couple were ostracized for ‘presuming’ to ask questions of Panchayat authorities in Theni (p.172) district (Hindu 2015c). It is for this reason that the VCK have endorsed demands for Panchayat Vice-Presidents to be Dalits too, to guard against them acting as proxy presidents. VCK leaders also point towards their embrace of non-Dalits as giving them a foothold in places that they were previously not able to enter. Usilampatti district—in which the panchayats of Pappapatti and Keeripatti are located—is a stronghold of the Thevar caste. When Thirumavalavan addressed a rally there in 1999 as part of Moopanar’s alliance, he was met by a shower of stones. Now, they have not only entered, but ensured that elections are held. Building crossparty and cross-caste alliances, many party members maintained, had paid dividends in terms of social harmony: Relatively, the occurrence of gang murder and gang violence [against Dalits] has reduced over time. The forms of oppression have reduced to some extent. Here and there, some incidents take place, but in comparison it is reduced. According to Government data, it seems to be a continuing act; they never maintained or showed genuine data. Even other political parties condemn such activities now since they need our assistance …. There is a state of conciliation everywhere now. Now, they (non-Dalits) automatically come for compromise once you file a case on SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act—whether they come with full involvement or not, it doesn’t manner, but they come for compromise. (Unjai Arasan Interview, August 2012)

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Doing Tamil Politics Captured here is the thorniest question relating to the informal aspects of institutionalization. Anti-Dalit violence has reduced, Unjai avers, no matter what the data tell us. What others contend is that it is not violence that has diminished, but the VCK response to it.

Costly Connections? The quote from Vakil, one of the Melavalavu case lawyers, at the head of the chapter captures the argument that the VCK have become so enmeshed in sociopolitical relations that they are under pressure to compromise and are well rewarded for doing so. If someone came to him [Dalit leader] with a problem, then he looked to the local MLA for help as they were in alliance. If an issue arose they did not stand here [where the problem was], they went straight to those (p. 173) in power, councillors, and governors and—whilst their allies were in power—they would effect a compromise and finish it. Securing compromises and getting money is what they are about just now—it has become a weapon for them. (Ramesh Interview, February 2012) Whilst Ramesh has left the party, even those who remained felt frustrated by the close ties between their leaders and those in other parties. Respondents from Vandiyur Theerthukadu (anonymized here), as we have seen, felt that land could have been retrieved much earlier had they stood firm on the issue: Don’t talk to me about the party, you will infuriate me. What is the use of demonstrations and speeches if there is no action? What is the good of hunger fasts when those who go into the Collectorate to speak up for you are more interested in lining their own pockets? Several members of the party have taken me aside and offered to ‘sort the issue out’. They say: ‘come with me to see Annan—meaning Azhagiri—or ‘leave it with me and we’ll see you do well out of it’. What they want is to settle the case by giving me money and losing the land. (Vandiyur Interview, July 2015) This quote best captures the perceived strength of new-formed ties. ‘Annan’ (big brother) within the VCK can only mean Thirumavalavan, so to suggest that Azhagiri has been afforded that epithet speaks to the shifting constellations of attachment and power that attend informal institutionalization. Much politics in Tamil Nadu works through networks and connections, as we shall see in Chapter 7. It should come as no surprise, therefore, that responses to social problems follow a similar pattern. The crucial point about the quotes above, as we saw with Unjai above, is that VCK actions could be interpreted positively. In 2015, a Right to Information request lodged by the Madurai-based NGO Evidence found that:

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Doing Tamil Politics 40% of the cases filed under SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act and 35% of women harassment cases were closed by police themselves citing mistake of facts. In some cases, the complainants themselves withdrew the cases, reportedly due to pressure and harassment from the people they accuse. Moreover, 40% of the cases rule in favour of perpetrators of the crime and the accused is punished in just 20 to 25% of the cases. In cases of atrocities against dalits, the conviction rate is just 5–7%. (Times of India 2015a; cf. Carswell and De Neve 2015) (p.174) In this context, the ability to get perpetrators to acknowledge their abuse and pay compensation could be read as progress. Carswell and De Neve (2015) certainly demonstrate how angered, threatened, and humiliated dominant caste members feel by the need to negotiate with Dalits, but numerous people insisted that the need to reach out to other castes for votes and the ties forged with other parties had diluted the VCK response. As we shall see, such allegations and assertions are hard to substantiate. I did, however, interview a member of the VCK who had managed to secure victory as a panchayat president in a general constituency. Such a feat is more or less unheard of and so I asked how he had managed to do so. He began by saying that he campaigned on common issues and worked hard to raise his profile. When I asked how people accepted him when they knew he was a member of the VCK he laughed: That is hard to say, but I befriend everyone. I have befriended many people from other castes and I help everyone when I can. That is it. Otherwise, wherever there is a problem then I seek to mediate and sort things out, without the intervention of the police. For example if there is a fight between a Konar and a Paraiyar the first thing I do is prevent a Protection of Civil Rights (PCR) case being filed. I say, we should not use the PC act. Both of us are locals now, so we should not do this. I get them to speak to each other and reach a compromise. Due to this some 50 per cent of the Konars have accepted me. … The downtrodden also tend to accept what I say too. TM: But there has been no major clash here has there?

V: … Some 10 years ago there was … In these cases our Paraiyar community sought to impose the PCR case but I steadfastly stood against that and resolved things through dialogue. (Veeranan Interview, July 2012)

Though he speaks of the PCR Act here, this is the colloquial term for the SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act. Tamizh Murasu, a disaffected member of the party, who was with me during the interview was irate:

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Doing Tamil Politics What do Dalits gain from this? Nothing, they only stand to lose. Caste Hindus gain most and, if news of this spreads, then atrocities could increase as they know they can get away with things. The president may do well out of it and take money to get cases excused, but the people lose out. The law is one of their key safeguards. (Field notes, July 2012) (p.175) It is important to stress that Veeranan did not stand on a VCK ticket, and had disengaged from the party since becoming president, but offering to compromise was clearly an effective means of reaching out to non-Dalit voters. This echoes work in Uttar Pradesh (UP), where similar concerns, as Pai (2002) shows, led to the BSP being seen as an anti-Dalit party by some activists. Pai notes how Dalits came to rely on alternate forms of collective mobilization for protection against caste atrocities. Jaffrelot (2003: 294) portrays the incremental transfer of power to lower castes in India as a ‘silent revolution’, but notes that mobilization from below may ‘not be able to dislodge the elite for several decades’. In the Tamil context, more than in UP, the bipolar nature of elections and the forms of populism espoused by the two main parties means that the elite are not only entrenched but are able to cast themselves as the champions of the poor. When Dalit parties ally with each Dravidian party in turn in this context, they reinforce these claims. For that reason, as already seen, the formation of a Third Front that speaks out on caste issues in itself constitutes a telling victory for the VCK.

Informal Institutionalization What we have seen in this chapter is that the formal process of institutionalization and professionalization, which attends entry into politics, only tells half the story. Whilst much work has focused on the need to secure political recognition (Gamson 1990) or arrival (Mitchell 2014), we simultaneously need an analysis of the socio-political consequences of the move to politics. If democracy, in Michelutti’s (2007) terms, may be ‘vernacularized’, we should expect institutionalizing movements to enter and be shaped by different political cultures. As far as activists on the ground are concerned, new relationships forged with existing parties, changed rhetoric, and adapting to different repertoires of action are every bit as significant as the party system and political institutions. Whilst the latter determine how many seats can be won and what policy decisions can be made, the former influence the feel and identity of the new party and how it functions on the ground. Kunnath’s work on the Maoists in Bihar captures this process admirably. ‘From a Dalit perspective’, he argues (2009: 323), ‘… the real debate is not one of mass mobilization (p. 176) versus armed action, but one about the Maoist movement representing the experiences and aspirations of Dalit communities.’ Analysis of new advantages and gains secured by emerging parties, often neglect how these are experienced by long-term activists. For the VCK, it would seem that the virtues of institutionalization have yet to be properly communicated to key cadre, many of whom continue to see themselves as radical Dalit rather than Tamil actors. In Page 23 of 24

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Doing Tamil Politics terms of their sense of self and identity, how politics is done is as important as what is achieved, but institutionalization means that movements are inducted into particular ways of doing politics to which they must adapt. In the next chapter we explore these themes further still in focusing on the style of Panther politics and engaging with debates around identity and symbolic politics. Notes:

(1) For those who speak Tamil, a clip of the speech may be found here (Accessed on 16 June 2016): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZhR6MmxaE18 (2) Available at http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-national/tp-tamilnadu/ article3876412.ece (Accessed on 17 June 2016). (3) The caste Hindus were finally evicted from the land and shifted to alternate accommodation in 2014 (Rohith 2014). (4) See Gorringe and Karthikeyan (2014a) for a short account of Ravikumar’s time in office: http://www.india-seminar.com/2014/657/657_comment.htm (accessed on 16 June 2016). (5) For full details on these cases see Thirumavalavan (2004: 29–33), the report of the National Public Hearing on Pappapatti, Keeripatti, Nattarmangalam, and Kottakachiyenthal (SOCO Trust 2005), and also Paari Chelian’s documentary film on the issue that can be accessed here: https://www.youtube.com/watch? v=3aPztB1dZLo (Accessed on 17 June 2016).

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Symbolism Over Substance?

Panthers in Parliament: Dalits, Caste, and Political Power in South India Hugo Gorringe

Print publication date: 2017 Print ISBN-13: 9780199468157 Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: March 2017 DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199468157.001.0001

Symbolism Over Substance? Symbols, Space, and Power Hugo Gorringe

DOI:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199468157.003.0006

Abstract and Keywords One of the key criticisms of Dalit politics across India is that it is too focused on a politics of symbols and identity rather than issues like redistribution. Ambedkar images and statues—or his portrayal in school text-books—exercise as much time as campaigns against atrocities and for land rights. This chapter will chart the VCK’s politics in relation to these issues and engage with the debates over the primacy of symbolic politics. It will be argued that the distinction between ‘symbolic’ and ‘substantive’ politics is often blurred in a situation where Dalits can still be attacked for raising a flag or unveiling a statue. Keywords:   Symbolic politics, simulation, identity politics, caste violence, empowerment, Ambedkar

They are in the party and carry our flag around but are not engaged. —(Chidambaram Kalam Interview, July 2012) He [Thirumavalavan] entered the cine field. The cine field in the sense of commercial cinema, masala cinema. Instead of changing the face of cinema he also danced like the other heroes of masala cinema. People around him began to make money by bargaining with film producers using his support base as a selling point. This is all evidence of backward thinking in their cultural movement. —(Rajangam Interview, March 2012)

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Symbolism Over Substance? ‘Only Identity Politics’? In July 2012, I visited Melur to interview a state-level leader of the VCK. Melur and its surrounding villages were notorious in the late 1980s and 1990s for caste violence and a number of gruesome murders of Dalit activists. It was in the nearby hamlet of Melavalavu that Murugesan, a Dalit panchayat president, and six others were hauled off a bus in broad daylight and butchered by a Thevar mob. Whilst interviewing Dalits in the hamlet in 1999, there was still a palpable sense of fear born of continued dependence on the upper castes. Given this history, I was somewhat startled when the first (p.178) sight to meet me on alighting from the bus at the Melur bus-stand was an auto-rickshaw resplendent in the colours and symbols of the VCK and adorned with a picture of Thirumavalavan. I turned to my friend Tamizh Murasu—author of a book providing the details of 27 Dalit victims in the area—who was accompanying me on the visit and noted how things had changed. Tamizh Murasu, a disaffected member of the VCK, just shrugged. That, he said, ‘is only adhiyaala arasaiyil’ (identity politics, or the politics of identification). This dismissive retort echoed the scepticism voiced by many during my fieldwork in 2012, who felt that ‘putting up posters and flex banners’ (large, laser-printed vinyl banners that have become the norm in Tamil politics) is the prime occupation of party members. Always implicit, and often explicit, in such statements is the suggestion that this emphasis on symbols and identification is a lesser form of politics in which the facade is more impressive than the substance. It is, of course, not just those disillusioned by Dalit politics in Tamil Nadu who hold such views. One widespread critique of identity politics posits that it neglects redistribution (Fraser 2003), and an emerging body of work presents Dalit politics across India as preoccupied with symbolism and identification rather than with sustained struggles against the inequities of caste (e.g. Teltumbde 2012a). Such debates were inescapable during my fieldwork; whether in comments about the poster culture of Tamil politics, high-profile rows about a cartoon of Ambedkar, or the destruction of Dalit statues in Madurai. On the one hand, symbolic assertion challenges hegemonic powers whose symbols are already inscribed on the socio-political landscape. It can infuse hitherto marginalized communities with self-esteem and pride in a past that is often written out of history books. The intrusion of the symbols of subordinate groups into public space helps expand the realm of the political and fosters group cohesion and security. Conversely, detractors argue that an emphasis on identity and symbolism can become an end in itself. As Tamizh Murasu put it: ‘Identity politics: There is lots of that about: giving names like this, changing names and so on.1 There is much less action to redress (p.179) issues’ (Interview, April 2012). In the quote above, Chidambaram Kalam, a VCK postholder in Madurai, likewise bemoaned how many youngsters lack consciousness. ‘Identity’ or ‘symbolic’ politics here stands as a proxy for Page 2 of 28

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Symbolism Over Substance? superficiality. The dichotomy between ‘real’ and ‘symbolic’ politics was a recurrent refrain, but some commentators went further still. After Thirumavalavan’s speech at a land rights conference organized by the AdiTamilar Peravai in August 2012, for example, one Dalit intellectual asked: ‘Did he say: “We have already held such a conference?” Yes? That is precisely why they hold such events. So when you ask him he can say: “Done that.” All politics!’ The suggestion is that some leaders engage in calculated attempts to seem more engaged and active than they actually are. It is to an analysis of the complex and contested debates over symbols and symbolic politics that this chapter is devoted. We start with a brief overview of debates in the field before turning to the specificities of the case study.

Symbolic or ‘Substitute’ Politics? It is important firstly to map out a number of overlapping concepts that define the field: the notions of identity politics, symbolic politics, and substitute politics have been developed to capture aspects of this shifting terrain of political engagement. Dalit politics is often seen as based upon identity. Identity politics describes the mobilization of social categories ‘based upon group identity, as opposed to interest, reform, or ideology’ (Kenny 2004: vii), often because they are oppressed or excluded as a direct consequence of their social position. Such politics revolves around representation and challenges the impartiality of the state by highlighting the implicit biases on which it operates. It is engaged in on the basis of who you are, rather than what you believe in or an adherence to universal ideals. Importantly, politicized identity can trump self-identification, since all members of a category are lumped together. Critics argue that politics based on essentialized understandings of identity are problematic since they preclude coalitions (Gitlin 1994) and fail to produce meaningful social change due to a focus on political rights for specific minorities (Vaid 1995). The strategy can also be somewhat self-defeating if activists’ concerns are cast as sectional interests that are subsidiary to ‘wider issues’. Guru (2009), as we have seen, deplores the humiliation (p.180) entailed in the use of prefixes to mark particular posts or practices as exceptions to the norm and relegate aspirant citizens to differentiated and subordinate status. Identity politics, thus, arguably secures ‘virtual equality’ rather than actual transformation (Vaid 1995). As Bernstein (2002) observes, practitioners of identity-based politics are caught in a double bind. Attempts to enter mainstream political institutions and create new policies lead to accusations of co-option or selling out. Staying on the outside and pressing for a wholesale alteration of socio-cultural norms, conversely, sees them ‘charged with mistaking symbolic concessions for real change’ (Bernstein 2002: 533). In a powerful critique of Dalit politics in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, an editorial in Economic and Political Weekly conceded that ‘the visual imagery of dalit icons in the fight for social justice and equality helps demolish the myth of caste superiority’. It went on, nevertheless, to argue that ‘the primacy given to symbolism while utterly neglecting the real Page 3 of 28

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Symbolism Over Substance? tasks of bringing about progressive social and economic change can only imply commitment to the status quo’ (EPW 2009: 7, emphasis added). What such accounts neglect is the fact that Dalit politics does not emerge in a vacuum. While commentators lament the lack of ‘progressive economic programmes’, movements of the marginalized emerge in contexts that are marked by constellations of power. Where university places are dominated by upper-caste Hindus (Deshpande 2006), for example, the Dalit movements’ vigorous defence of reservations as a means of widening participation is progressive, yet it is dismissed as a sectional, identity-related demand. Dalits still lag behind other castes in terms of social, economic, and political development, as we saw in Chapter 2, and addressing such structural inequalities takes time and requires unpopular measures. The failure of land reforms in post-Independence Tamil Nadu highlights the multiple obstacles and vested interests that impede significant reforms (Thangaraj 2003; De Neve 2015). Furthermore, as Calhoun (1993: 387) argues, ‘states are institutionally organized in ways that provide recognition for some identities and arenas for some conflicts and freeze out others’. The provision of affirmative action and other legislation for SCs shapes the political possibilities and aspirations of challengers from the foot of the caste hierarchy. Powerholders can impose identities on subordinate others by these means. In rural Tamil Nadu and to some extent (p.181) in cities, thus, whether one identifies as a Dalit or not is immaterial whilst others view you through a caste lens. Brysk notes that one of the primary aims of symbolic politics is ‘agenda change. This is important because invisibility or marginalization of issues and activists is the first barrier to change’ (1995: 581). Dalit identities, this reminds us, are marked by stigma and exclusion: they live outside the main village, are forced to perform menial and humiliating tasks, and are systematically excluded from the social life of the village. In this context: When Dalit movements raise their flags above the entrance to an urban housing block or unveil a painted board in the heart of a Dalit village, they are raising fundamental questions about the nature of public space and social interaction. (Karthikeyan and Gorringe 2012) ‘Symbolic politics,’ Bluhdorn (2007: 255) explains, entails ‘the condensation or compression of complex and remote issues into readily understandable, preferably visual, symbols’. As such, they are an essential and powerful aspect of political communication that can alter how we construct and represent political reality. Despite this, as Sarcinelli notes and the quote from Tamizh Murasu above exemplifies, ‘in habitual language, symbolic politics means a publicly displayed deception or surrogate action that is used to detract from actual political reality’ (2011: 2578). In an attempt to distinguish between ‘merely symbolic’ politics and ‘symbolic politics’, Bluhdorn (2007: 256) introduces the concept of Page 4 of 28

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Symbolism Over Substance? ‘simulative’ or ‘surrogate’ politics to capture the former. Activists, he notes, may resort to simulation either because they lack viable alternatives, or as ‘a strategic choice that consciously avoids alternative forms of action …’ and deceives ‘the public into believing that its concerns are being heard and addressed, whilst elites are secretly pursuing their own interests’ (Bluhdorn 2007: 256). In his detailed and sympathetic account of symbolic action, Jaoul points to the potential for such simulation in Dalit politics: While symbolic politics have played a significant part in democratization, today this seems a convenient motive for the Dalit middle-class leadership to push issues of class under the carpet and talk exclusively about issues of dignity. The question remains as to how long a movement that emphasizes the dignity of the oppressed can escape material questions. (Jaoul 2006: 204, emphasis added) (p.182) As with the quip about the land rights conference above, the implication is that much symbolic politics is ‘simply for show’. Worse still, Bluhdorn suggests that such simulative politics ‘actually helps to sustain what it apparently criticises’ (2007: 269) because the show of critique forestalls action that may be more effective. In what follows, we chart how Dalit leaders and activists engage in symbolic action and consider how best to conceptualize their practices and the impact it has. A brief word on the socio-political context within which these actions occur sets the stage for the discussion to follow.

Caste, Cut-Outs, and Cinema Visitors to Tamil Nadu are immediately struck by the visual culture of the state. From outsize cinema hoardings, through posters announcing social events or occasions, to the murals and banners dedicated to political parties, public space in Tamil Nadu is replete with images. References to ‘merely symbolic’ politics without an understanding of this background provide a partial picture at best. To single out Dalit activists for their preoccupation with symbolism obscures the fact that this is a central plank of Tamil political culture. As Gerritsen (2013: 2) argues, ‘images are as much part of political practice as they are a representation of it’. Comparing VCK posters from the 1990s with those today is revealing; party advertisements these days are professional, multicolour affairs that invariably centre on Thirumavalavan, in contrast to the cheap and Spartan announcements of the past in which Ambedkar and a panther featured as often as the leader. The rise of printed banners partially explains this (Jacob 2009), since they are far easier to produce than the laborious murals. Entering politics has also shifted focus to Thirumavalavan in an echo of Dravidian modes of politics. Bate (2009) notes the centrality of laudatory, even sycophantic, hoardings in Tamil politics as one mode of political participation. It is worth recalling that the Dravidian parties gained popular appeal and reach through Page 5 of 28

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Symbolism Over Substance? their adept use of cinema in which they created ‘a rich subtext of visual and verbal signs to link the screenplay to party symbolism’ (Jacob 2009: 163). Political battles, thus, are not only fought out in manifestos and elections but through film-scripts and the occupation of public space by posters, (p.183) banners, and flags. As Palanithurai (1994:82) observes in his analysis of ethnopolitics in Tamil Nadu: For politics one has to invest a huge sum just like a business. … A new brokerage politics has been introduced. It needs heavy advertisement, cutouts, big wall posters, serial lights, attractive arches, drama, folk dances, political songs in cine style, life-sized garlands, procession, rallies with festive decorations to popularize the party in the society despite acute poverty. The Tamil blockbuster Madras (Pa Ranjith 2014), one of the first films to foreground Dalit political culture, further illustrates the style of Tamil politics.2 The film revolves around a disputed stretch of wall that political parties compete over for advertising space in an intense power struggle, which takes both spatial and political forms. Gerritsen (2013) notes how protagonists use posters to score political points, advertise events, and show their dedication to party leaders. This aids them to rise through the ranks and demonstrate that they are politically active. Disputes over wall space are common and group clashes may be sparked by competition or the despoilment of party posters.3 ‘Defacement is forceful’, Gerritsen (2013: 12) writes, ‘as it symbolically destroys what your opponent cherishes most’. Symbolic politics, in other words, are central to political practice and boundary marking and help cement reputation and status. They are, in this sense, a central pillar of what Bate (2009) calls the ‘Dravidian aesthetic’. Failure to engage in such practices suggests that an organization is inactive or lacks support, yet many viewed the VCK’s emulation of Dravidian culture as a cause for regret. (p.184) Adding fuel to the fire, as far as Stalin Rajangam was concerned, was Thirumavalavan’s foray into cinema as described at the head of the paper. Whilst an alternative way of doing politics would reinforce the difference between incumbents and challengers, the difficulty of conceiving of, or practising, a different type of politics became clear on Ambedkar’s birthday and during the memorial for the Melavalavu massacre. One Dalit academic who had castigated Dalit parties for duplicating Dravidian norms, joined a vanload of people from their institution attending the Melavalavu event to pay their respects. When asked why they were going, they conceded that ‘it is a ritual’. As if to reinforce the importance of being seen to be doing the right thing, the principal had a brief panic about whether the photographer was in attendance to record the visit. As I noted at the time: ‘when even institutions are dragged into the politics of symbolism it must be very difficult to resist’ (Field notes, June 2012). Athiyamaan, founder-leader of the Adi Tamilar Peravai (Original Tamilian Front), Page 6 of 28

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Symbolism Over Substance? an Arunthathiyar movement popular in southern Tamil Nadu, insisted that we should not ‘view the politics practiced by the Dalit people, who are affected and humiliated by caste, towards liberation as identity politics’. In his usage, identity politics referred to those clinging onto caste identities whilst dressing their politics up in the language of Tamil nationalism. He argued that Dalit movements, by contrast, are seeking to erase divisive identities: We cannot collect water at your taps; we cannot use the wells you do; we cannot walk on the paths you tread; we cannot wear shoes like you do, cannot cycle down streets like you, cannot have moustaches like you; we cannot keep the male dogs that you keep; we cannot drink tea from the same cups as you; we cannot live in the same streets as you; we cannot get married in the wedding halls you use; above all, we cannot be cremated in the cremation grounds you use. Despite all of this we have never thought of splitting away from you; we wish to live in the same soil, country, village, street as you. We do not take pride in our identity as Dalits. … When the country’s dust is steeped in caste and caste determines our life we need to stand against it. It is on that basis that we take up Dalit politics. It is for social change not identity politics. (Athiyamaan 2012: 3) The symbolic assertion of a marginalized and ostracized group, Athiyamaan highlights, differs from that of privileged communities whose interests and identities are already socially accepted if not (p.185) valorised. It is to the symbolic politics of the downtrodden that we now turn.

Poster Boys and Political Routines Speaking to an activist who left the VCK to form his own movement, I asked why he abandoned the party. ‘I felt that many of their actions were not properly directed,’ Ramesh responded. ‘If you ask what my main tasks in there were, then it was preparing cut-outs and sticking posters. That was my work!’ (laughs) (Interview, February 2012). Neither was he alone in his analysis, which several party members conceded had a grain of truth to it. Punitha Pandian, editor of long-running journal Dalit Murasu (Dalit Drum) mourned the centrality of rituals and symbols in contemporary Dalit politics: ‘they celebrate Ambedkar’s birthday from 14 April till December and his memorial from 6 December till April. That is just about it’ (Interview, April 2012). Tamizh Murasu was similarly dismissive when I asked about the new VCK-affiliated unions. Whilst others felt that they effectively represented Dalit workers, he maintained that they collected union dues in order to pay for the posters and cut-outs that herald the leader’s visits. The centrality of such visual media was evident during Thirumavalavan’s visit to Alanganallur and Muduvarpatti for a wedding and auto-stand inauguration: The flags, banners and posters started in Madurai with huge flex banners outside wedding venues [in the city] and did not stop. Each village en route had VCK bunting across the roads and flags along the sides of the road. Page 7 of 28

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Symbolism Over Substance? Each party board or flagpole was festooned with flags. Alanganallur, when we got there, was turned into a VCK stage set — outsize flex banners ringed the auto-stand turning it into an arena. About 1 mile of road either side of the town was lined with flags on staves of wood. Heading out from Alanganallur to Muduvarpatti there were three or four arches across the road bearing pictures of Thirumavalavan and the colours of the party as well as bunting. The route was dressed in red, white, and blue. Periya Oorcheri, where Thirumavalavan was to unveil an Ambedkar statue, was decked out in bunting and had a mini-stage set up for him to garland the statue and address the crowd. Reaching Muduvarpatti I had to double check I was in the right place. The bus-stand cum market square had been transformed into an arena. Across the road and one quarter of the square a large coconut matting (p.186) pandal [awning] had been erected to shield the wedding guests from the elements. All around the other side of the square, enormous [10 by 15 foot] flex banners (each costing about Rs 1,500 according to Kamaraj) had been erected side by side and towered over the open space. (Field notes, May 2012) Nor was this display unusual. Each VCK occasion saw a locality transformed in an echo of Dravidian party events (cf. Bate 2009), but as Athiyamaan insisted above, there is a difference between the colonization of public space by dominant castes and such shows of force by Dalit parties: where the flags and images of Dravidian parties occasion little comment, the intrusion of Dalit party symbols into the common spaces of village Tamil Nadu remained contentious.

The Meaning of Political Symbols ‘To fully appreciate the exclusionary practices encoded in spatial forms’, Loynd (2009: 476) argues, ‘we must look at the way in which Dalits experience Indian society and social interaction as a group that is socially, ritually, and economically marginalized.’ The power of Dalit occupations of space is seen less in the imagery itself than in how it is perceived. Respondents recurrently mentioned dominant caste aversion to their occupation of space. The contemptuous reference to ‘mere symbolism’ fails to resonate in this context where Dalits may be attacked, ostracized, or subject to social boycott for such recalibrations of public space. In 2011, for instance, BC Muthuraiyars burst into the hamlet of Parali Puthur, set fire to consumer goods and houses and reduced the flagpole and board of the VCK to rubble in a conflict that originated over the overt display of party affiliation. Speaking to both Dalits and Muthuraiyars in the village there was agreement that the: [i]mmediate issue started with a wedding in the colony. Dalits printed a big flex banner with Thirumavalavan on it, strung up party flags, and tied a VCK flag to the top of the colony water tank, which overlooks the main Page 8 of 28

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Symbolism Over Substance? road into the oor. The Muthuraiyars asked for this to be removed a couple of times. The wedding was over and the Dalits, according to them, were thinking of removing the flag when one of the Muthuraiyars tied their own caste flag onto the water tank. When this was garlanded with chappals they mustered and stormed into the cheri. (Field notes, June 2012) (p.187) Muthuraiyars are a marginalized caste themselves and, in an indication of the significance of symbols, were mustering in large numbers to install a statue of one of their caste leaders in a nearby town when this issue cropped up. The emotive significance of such symbolism and its role in boundary marking is evident in how Muthuraiyars saw the public display of banners as an affront and reviled the insult to their flag, whilst Dalits objected to Muthuraiyar encroachment onto their turf. Where status distinctions are less indistinct, dominant castes resent the temerity of those Dalits who ‘presume’ to paste posters in public spaces. In the small village of Melchinnanampatti, for example, Dalits recounted how: Thirumavalavan was campaigning on the Mullaiperiyar dam and touring the area. They, therefore, put up a flex banner by the bus-stop ahead of a visit by him. This was promptly ripped down and dominant caste Gounders stormed into the cheri with stones causing injuries and damaging homes. … The irony, Dalits bitterly noted, is that Dalits here own no land—the main beneficiaries of the dam issue are the Gounders but they will not recognize Thiruma as a Tamil leader. (Field notes, July 2012) Similar examples are legion in a state where caste is heavily politicized. Opponents frequently attack the symbols of assertion to reassert their control. In so doing, they seek to reinforce the absence of lower-caste symbols from the public sphere and delegitimize their attempts to reconfigure public space. Rao (2009: 205) notes how in Maharashtra, ‘as Dalits stage a politics of presence, state and casteist forces attempted to desymbolize sites of meaning by enacting forms of symbolic annihilation.’ Such attempts to silence Dalit assertion have prompted novel modes of defiance and protest in their turn. A telling example of such contestations over public visibility was offered by Pudhukottai-based activist and VCK sympathizer Soundarajan Paraiyar. For a start, his name inverts the tendency to hide ones’ lower-caste status and emulates the upper-caste norm of using your caste as a surname. This points to subtle ways in which social relations and norms are infused with casteism. Dalits who raise issues of discrimination are accused of focusing on caste identity by spokespeople with names like Yadav or Roy who see no issue (p.188) in their own titles.4 Soundarajan was stretching boundaries in other ways too: His motorbike is adorned with his name and a picture of Ambedkar on the front bonnet and the rear number plate likewise has a colour picture of Ambedkar in a library and his own name alongside the registration Page 9 of 28

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Symbolism Over Substance? number. It is reasonably common for number-plates to mark party or caste allegiance—often using distinctive caste colours—but his number plate has been smashed repeatedly, most recently whilst parked opposite a police station: ‘They all have their caste colours on the number plates, but cannot bear the picture of Ambedkar or the Paraiyar name.’ Nothing daunted he went out and got 5 colour number plate stickers printed off. ‘Let them break it’, he says, ‘I am ready for them and will keep replacing it’. (Field notes, July 2012) In challenging caste codes, Soundarajan’s actions reveal how ‘power operates through the languages and codes which organize the flow of information’ (Melucci 1996: 9). The habitual exclusion of Dalits from public space denies them the right to make their voice heard. Similar attempts to frustrate the representation of Dalit concerns were seen in Aandukulam in Pudhukottai district: Here the main village square is cut off from the colony [Dalit settlement] by the main road and then a large water tank so it is a fair way away. 6 party flags fly at the head of the pond in the square. One flag-pole has been taken down to be repainted and two flag-poles have been broken or cut off at the base: those of the VCK and PT. The poles were torn down and disposed of—carried away or cast into the pond by casteist fanatics according to local VCK activists. ‘Why not plant your flag here, on the road by the colony?’, Tamizh Murasu asked. Alagu the local leader was affronted by the suggestion: ‘That would seem like we were scared or backing down. All other parties have their flags in the main square. Already they do not accept us as a common party or they present us as a caste party. Placing our flag here would suggest we are just for Dalits or Paraiyars, but we are a mainstream party too!’ (Field notes, July 2012) (p.189) This exchange encapsulates the difficulties that Dalit parties face in their efforts to secure socio-political recognition. Whilst raising a flag above the colony would indicate their association, it would perpetuate the marginalization of such parties and implicitly confirm their standing as caste organizations. Symbolic politics in this sense extends beyond mere spectacle and performance and involves a challenge to the status quo. Symbolic politics in such settings, says Rao (2009: 195) ‘is genuinely consequential’. The attempt to reconfigure public space is seen in the endeavours to secure the right to display images in public spaces. Following the clash in Melchinnanampatti, for example: Dalit villagers were told that they could not have a VCK flag on the road by the local Highways Department. The party took this up with the main authority and there was an argument. In the end, Adiveerapandian said, the party people went to the main office and said ‘If we are not allowed our flagpole on the road then you will have to remove all other flagpoles from Page 10 of 28

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Symbolism Over Substance? the main road too’. After that the central authorities contacted the local officials and berated them. Consequently, a newly painted flagpole atop some steps—the base of which was adorned with a picture of Thirumavalavan and a panther—awaited us when we alighted from the bus. (Field notes, July 2012) In making public spaces more representative and open to previously excluded groups, Dalit use of symbolic politics is transforming the built environment and the composition of Tamil politics. Echoing Rao (2009: 188) we might argue that there is ‘no easy distinction between the symbolic and the real in Dalit politics’. Whilst this is important and the struggles over social space and forms of (re)presentation are crucial facets of the Dalit struggle, VCK ideologues aspire to more than just altering the scenery.

Slogans and Self-Promotion In an echo of those who chastize the VCK for mimicking Dravidian culture, Sindhanai Selvan, General Secretary of the VCK, used a speech at a party nomination meeting in Marai Malar Nagar to question the focus on graphic images devoid of meaningful content: We need to revisit and rethink how we do things. We cannot just have posters with the leader on them and then our name as well to distinguish (p.190) ourselves. We are the only ones to look at such posters. We should think what the posters are for and try and get a little message or slogan across in them. I first encountered this party through a slogan on a poster that said ‘Adangu Maru, Athu Meeru’ (Refuse to submit, Fight back). When I first read this my whole body tingled. ‘Resist’, ‘Fight back’? Can anyone have posters saying this on them? At school we are told to be quiet and sit still, at work we are told to behave, in families we are disciplined, and here was an invocation to ask questions and talk back! That is why I first joined the movement. A picture on a poster is fine to identify ourselves but it achieves little. (Speech, April 2012) Sindhanai, here, aims at changing attitudes and values rather than simply occupying space and implicitly (at least) differentiates between symbols that are consequential and others that are mundane. Many respondents similarly harked back to the movement phase of the VCK, when posters carried powerful slogans that inverted the common-sense of caste life. Though the occasional banner or poster in 2012 carried demands for the eradication of caste, most were vehicles of hero-worship and self-promotion. Ever more imaginative images of Thirumavalavan—as a warrior, with a panther, in full oratorical flow, or next to Prabhakaran, or Ambedkar—invariably took centre stage, but each banner also featured snapshots and/or names of the sponsors. A politics of identification was in process here as activists sought to be noticed and, thus, gain prominence (cf. Gerritsen 2013). On a journey with TamizhMurasu we passed two outsized Page 11 of 28

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Symbolism Over Substance? banners in quick succession: one bearing the image of film-star Ajith and the other of Thirumavalavan. I asked if Thirumavalavan would be attending the latter’s wedding. No, they are just doing this for show. Did you see the earlier Ajith poster— the actor? Author: Yes There is no difference between this and that. Just fans displaying their hero; nothing more. (Field notes, June 2012)

In moving away from the rousing messages of the past, the visual culture of the VCK increasingly resembles that of the Dravidian parties and contains the three characteristics of ‘praise of superiority, devotedness, and participation’ that Bate (2009: 121) identifies as (p.191) ‘integral aspects of Tamil political practice.’ He compares such homage to ‘devotional love, or bhakti’, elements of which are obviously present. There is still an instrumental attempt to be noticed at play here, but this is for internal party consumption rather than social transformation and suggests a shift in the emphasis of Dalit politics from challenging codes to reproducing them. This was clearly seen on the death anniversary of Thirumavalavan’s father, when local VCK leaders printed large posters of condolence and gratitude to Tholkappian, the father of ‘our golden leader,’ and pasted them along the route that Thirumavalavan was due to traverse. One party member was irate: ‘what connection is there between Thiruma’s dad and the party? Why stick up posters—such big ones too—for this but not for martyrs? They are just trying to get themselves noticed and get promotion within the party.’ Adiveerapandian, the one responsible for the images was unfazed by the criticism: ‘Look, if something happens to me there are my family and party secretaries and so on to do things for me, but who is there to do these things for Thirumavalavan other than us?’ He went on to note that a number of local functionaries had called him up to ask where he got them printed so that they could emulate his actions (Field notes, July 2012). If there is an admixture of affection and self-publicity at work in this instance, the move from powerful slogans inspiring action to empty platitudes that do little other than secure attention for the poster-makers stands out. Such textless images can still be intensely contentious, but there is less of a challenge to hierarchy or caste power in evidence here. Three powerful and evocative images which sparked debate during my fieldwork, for instance, point to ongoing fissures and tensions within the VCK. The first poster to provoke debate advertised a local event in Othakadai in the suburbs of Madurai. It was fairly insignificant in size and reach, but touched a fault-line within the party by depicting Thirumavalavan and Prabhakaran alongside those responsible for the notice. Whilst unremarkable in itself, several activists seized on the poster and Page 12 of 28

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Symbolism Over Substance? questioned the direction the party was taking if Ambedkar could be omitted or displaced by Prabhakaran. The image showed how much of the support for Tamil nationalism is uncritical and spoke to turbulent debates about whether the VCK is abandoning Dalits in efforts to become (p.192) a mainstream Tamil party. Thirumavalavan repeatedly insists that the VCK is open to all and the 2007 Velacherry declaration opened positions of authority within the party to nonDalits. In the process, some long-term activists feel that the initial focus of the movement has suffered. The second issue relates to the caste composition of the party. The VCK has never portrayed itself as caste-based and has, since its inception, been open to all Dalits. The DPI from which the VCK emerged, was founded by the Pallar Malaichami and Dr Krishnasamy of PT worked alongside him at the outset. It was adopted and popularized by Arunthathiyars in Madurai, many of whom remain active and hold positions of responsibility. Despite this, the bulk of VCK cadre are Paraiyars and it is portrayed by others as a Paraiyar party. Sensitive to these issues, the VCK have exercised care over who appears on their posters. In his MP residence in Delhi, Thirumavalavan was clear: T: VCK posters generally should have: Ambedkar, Periyar, Kamaraj, Khaider Millat

A: What has Kamaraj done?

T: He took schools into all villages. It is because of him that I could go to school and am where I am now. No other Chief Minister did that and so we recognize his contributions.

A: I have seen many posters now that have Prabhakaran rather than Ambedkar. What is your view on that?

T: No, that will not happen. Maybe on one or two marriage posters but not party ones.

H: Yes, even on party ones I have seen.

T: This is one or two people showing their affection for Prabhakaran and his struggle that is all. He is a warrior who fought for liberation. (Personal Communication, September 2012).

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Symbolism Over Substance? I then asked him about the propensity for party images to celebrate (the Paraiyar) Iyothee Thass Pandithar and Rettamalai Srinivasan rather than including figures from all Dalit castes. Several respondents had pointed out the Paraiyar emphasis to me and noted how Ambedkar is now seen as Paraiyar by association (cf. Pandian 2013): (p.193) No, you cannot see it like that. Ambedkar is a figure who is common to all. Secondly, we rarely have images of Iyothee Thass and Srinivasan but they are intellectuals. Iyothee Thass was an inspiration for Ambedkar after all. They are not like these figures who are just about physical valour and courage without an understanding or programme to change society. (Personal Communication, September 2012) In keeping with this, Thirumavalavan’s speeches and writings consistently reject casteism. In Melavalavu in 2012, he quoted an old saying about Brahmins and Paraiyars but immediately assured his audience that he was merely making a point and not prioritizing a caste (Field notes, June 2012). The visual culture of the party, however, does emphasize certain figures. As Inkulab, a Pallar district leader of the VCK in Madurai, said: There are still aspects of casteism in the party. In southern districts we now have Immanuel Sekaran [Pallar freedom fighter and Dalit leader] on our posters, and we need to have Gurusamy [Educationalist and founder of the Arunthathiyar Maha Sabha] too. For all our talk [of being casteless] when you see a poster only with Srinivasan, Iyothee Thass Pandithar and Thirumavalavan then people think: ‘so this is a PR [Paraiyar] party after all’. (Interview, August 2012) He called for a greater effort to project the inclusivity of the party to others; nowhere is the need for this clearer than in the habitual absence of women from party imagery. Meenambal Sivaraj, Dalit activist and head of the south Indian Scheduled Caste Federation in the late 1930s, was a close associate of Dr Ambedkar and was the chosen female icon on VCK posters on the few occasions when there was one. Her image was frequently missing though, in a symbolic affirmation of the VCK’s failure to address gender inequality head on. Key party documents such as the 2011 election manifesto pictured lots of women in subordinate roles but failed to portray the inspirational Meenambal.5 Iconographic inclusivity can also extend too far. My third example relates to a poster by a Thevar member of the VCK, which went viral on the Facebook pages of Dalit (p.194) activists in 2012. It portrayed Thirumavalavan paying homage to Muthuramalinga Thevar. Whilst the party now welcomes Backward Castes into the fold and celebrates how this offers them a foothold in villages, the image was hugely controversial. Thiruma Pasumpon assured me that Thevar was poorly understood and that caste-based politics had ‘tarnished and damaged’ his reputation (Interview, August 2012), but he was implicated in the death of Page 14 of 28

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Symbolism Over Substance? Immanuel Sekaran and the celebration of his anniversary on 30 October showcases a politics of caste pride and dominance (Karthikeyan 2016). In recent years, animosity between Thevars and Pallars has crystallized around the Guru Pujas for Sekharan and Thevar, and these events have been marred by caste violence. In 2011, police opened fire and lathi-charged those marking Immanuel Sekaran’s anniversary, killing six Dalits in a naked display of state violence. The chief minister exonerated police of all blame almost before the blood had dried, sending a clear message to Dalit activists about the limits to their political recognition. Muthuramalinga Thevar’s anniversary, by contrast, is a state sponsored event. For Thirumavalavan to be shown adulating Thevar in the year after the Paramakudi firing was hard for Dalit members to stomach. The rousing summons to fight back that characterized early posters, thus, has given way to more ornate and elaborate reproductions. Their capacity to shock remains intact and the occupation of caste space remained fraught, but most of the reverberations from the images discussed here occurred within the party or the wider Dalit movement. Dalit activists though are not content with temporary incursions into space and are engaged in numerous struggles to refashion it in more significant ways.

Monumental Ambitions In her study of the Bahujan Samaj Party’s (BSP) monuments to Dalit heroes in Uttar Pradesh, Loynd (2009: 470) observes that they reveal ‘how space is intricately implicated in the cultural politics of subordinate groups in India’. She notes how such constructions challenge hegemonic power relations that continue to marginalize Dalits. Mayawati’s construction of memorials and statues has, as seen above, proved divisive. An EPW editorial accused her of ‘misplaced symbolism’ in 2009, but a subsequent piece offered a different take: (p.195) The point is not how much money it has cost, rather the fact, which has been underscored by almost all Dalit activists and intellectuals, that it memorializes an alternate pantheon of intellectual and political leaders…. This Dalit Prerna Sthal, like the numerous other statues and memorials built by Mayawati, is thus both a site for archiving Dalit memory and history as well as establishing, in cold physical form, the actuality of Dalit presence in the national imagination. The towering statues are meant to be weapons of shock and awe in the Dalit armoury. The media and public reaction from non-Dalit sections appear to underline their polemical effectiveness. (EPW 2011: 7) The point of such memorials, in sum, is not simply to celebrate neglected figures, but to alter wider social perceptions. The proliferation of Ambedkar statues, certainly, has been accompanied by increased—albeit basic—knowledge about him. In their account of commemoration in South Africa, Stanley and Dampier (2005: 99) argue that:

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Symbolism Over Substance? ‘Facts’ not fitting this [the nationalist narrative] were ‘forgotten’, and particular, and mythologized facts were elevated into general ones. The result was … an account of the past apparently founded on referential memory but actually orchestrated and shaped to serve present-time political purposes. Indian historiography similarly revolves around particular ‘facts’ and figures to the exclusion of others. In this context, Thirumavalavan described the VCK’s construction of a memorial to the Melavalavu martyrs as ‘an important milestone in the history of Tamil Nadu’ (2004: 45). It signalled an end to the neglect of anti-caste activists and a public affirmation of their struggle. The emotive impact of such commemorations was grasped by Jakkaian, leader of the ArunTamilar Viduthalai Peravai (Arunthathiyar Tamils Liberation Front). He spoke movingly of reactions to the release of: a new image of Madurai Veeran [a legendary folk hero who has been claimed as an Arunthathiyar] and it looked really good. He is depicted like a well-built man who has all the qualities of a brave soldier in that new image. When people looked at his image in villages, someone cried looking at the difference of Arunthathiyar’s physique then and now. … A: So, what Mayawati did in UP, the installation of statues, is correct then? (p.196)

J: Yes, definitely.

A: Some people said that she could have used that money for the welfare of poor people. I felt the same. You need some statues and monuments but not too much. What do you think?

J: These things are going to remain strongly in history. If we take Madurai Meenakshi Amman temple for example, there are so many temples in the city, yet people come from outside only to visit Meenakshi Amman temple. We may question why such a big temple to worship god? Just imagine, how many people might have lost their lives during construction, how many people might have slaved to construct it, were they paid fairly? … If you look at those issues you feel it is unnecessary, but now it becomes history, isn’t it? … [Dalit leaders] should do some work to find a place in history. But if you do too much then it will become an aversion for people. You can’t do only this as your main agenda. (Interview, March 2012)

To construct monuments and offer new accounts of the past, Jakkaian suggests, is to claim a place in history. Loynd (2009) and Jaoul (2006) additionally note how Dalits experience both the actual statues and the process by which they are Page 16 of 28

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Symbolism Over Substance? installed as empowering. There were countless examples of individuals or villagers installing Ambedkar statues with or without permission and rallying around them. One of the most prominent examples came from Periyakulam in Western Tamil Nadu. Dalit youth here procured a cement statue of Ambedkar in 1992 but, pending permission, kept it in storage. Finally in 1996, VCK activists installed it in the centre of Periyakulam and defied other castes or the police to remove it. As District Secretary and party veteran, Tamizhvanan, recalls: They removed, the government removed it. The government prevailed over Dalit people in the area. When they did so, violence spread all over Tamil Nadu. When the statue was removed violence erupted on a massive scale. Violence occurred in Madurai city and suburbs when the statue was removed, there was violence in Trichy, violence in Cuddalore, violence Perambalur, violence in Ariyalur. Ultimately, the then Chief Minister Karunanidhi condemned the violence but officially passed the order to install the statue. After that, people in this area, the Dalit landlords in this area collected tax among themselves to prepare a bronze statue of Ambedkar. (Interview, July 2012) (p.197) Respondents suggest that the DMK Government calculated that the concession was immaterial since Dalits could not afford to replace the cement statue that cost around eight thousand rupees in 1998, with a bronze replica stretching to Rs. 1.75 lakh (175,000). ‘The government and other community leaders thought that Dalits didn’t have the capacity to install a bronze statue’, Tamizhvanan noted, ‘and that is why the government insisted that it must be a bronze statue, but people in Periyakulam defeated their strategy’. Muthulakshmi, an elderly Dalit woman and VCK supporter from Periyakulam, captured the sense of ownership and achievement she felt when the statue was unveiled in 2000: The statue here was not erected by the government. There was a collection from the people. Whether people put in one rupee or whatever it was that tax-collection (vari panam) that enabled us to meet the government insistence that we have a bronze statue. That day, when it was unveiled, there was joy beyond measure. Our leader came and Moopanar [leader of the Tamil State Congress, then in alliance with the VCK] came. Then masses of people from districts across Tamil Nadu rallied to see our leader. (Group Interview, July 2012) The monument in the centre of town defies characterization as mere symbolism. The process of installing the statue brought the community together and posed a challenge to caste space. As Jaoul (2006: 195) observed in Uttar Pradesh: ‘The inaugurations, mimicking official unveiling ceremonies, highlighted their authority. The symbolic control of the village’s public space was a daring assertion.’ Such actions, Jaoul noted, often provoked confrontations and there Page 17 of 28

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Symbolism Over Substance? were numerous accounts of such conflicts in Tamil Nadu. Subramaniapuram—a suburb of Madurai—experienced a dominant caste backlash in 1997 when it was one of the Dalit areas targeted in riots that swept the city. Residents here incurred the ire of higher castes by installing an Ambedkar statue which the rioters reduced to rubble. Almost 15 years on, the painted plinth remains in place with a mangled lump of concrete on top: If you ask why we have left the desecrated statue like that—we are poor, this whole community—and the broken statue stands as a symbol of our community. Every time we see that statue it renews our resolve. If (p.198) that stump was not there, nor would we be. (Chidambaram Kalam, Interview, July 2012) Plans are afoot to replace the statue, but the reference to community spirit testifies to the real power of symbols. Chidambaram Kalam, a Madurai-based VCK leader, was one of the masons involved in constructing the memorial in Melavalavu. His account of the process is informative: There was huge resistance to the memorial within the community. Our [Dalit] community tried to stop it. ‘You will build this up now and then go away’, they said; ‘what are we to do? Do you not want us to have a livelihood or to have a life here?’ They campaigned not to have a martyr’s memorial there. The day we first went they said this. So for six months we not only built the memorial, but did movement work, and converted those people into activists. … I understood why they were scared but tried to build them into a movement. You can build a liberation monument, but that is nothing, you need to build a spirit amongst the people too. (Interview, July 2012) Creating such ‘we-feeling’, Melucci (1996) notes, is important but can result in the exclusion of others. The investment of the VCK in the Melavalavu memorial, sure enough, has given them a sense of exclusive ownership. The 2012 anniversary, thus, witnessed a political pantomime as CPI (M) speakers were directed to wind up by an advance guard of Panthers, because Thirumavalavan was on the approach. ‘The police got into the act too suggesting that they were perhaps overrunning their allotted time. Emboldened by this, VCK cadre moved onto the stage and took down the CPM banner leaving the final speakers to conclude their perorations in front of a backdrop sporting a vast image of Thirumavalavan’ (Field notes, June 2012). The rivalry displayed here, was sharpened by the Communist parties’ reluctance to allow Thirumavalavan to speak at the Kilvenmani memorial.6 (p.199) Such frictions aside, it is clear that without community support, many of the statues, banners, and flags erected by activists would not endure. The aversion they create amongst other castes speaks to their importance but also to Page 18 of 28

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Symbolism Over Substance? the continuing marginalization of Dalit figures. Moves to memorialize Dalit icons have, accordingly, been accompanied by efforts to ensure that they receive public recognition and respect. Tamizh Murasu applauded the VCK for securing such appreciation for Ambedkar: Thirumavalavan spoke about one issue vehemently in his initial days: Karunanidhi and Jayalalithaa never garlanded Ambedkar’s statue even though both ran the government based on the constitution written by Ambedkar. He noted that they sent their son, or district secretary, or Anbazhagan, or second level leaders to garland Ambedkar’s statue. After he spoke about this issue, Karunanidhi garlanded Ambedkar’s statue, and then Jayalalithaa followed suit. (Interview, June 2012) Despite such changes, there was a widespread concern amongst Dalits on the ground that Ambedkar in particular, a leader who transcended caste and etched his place in history, was too often pigeonholed by caste and denied due respect.

A Textbook Case of Simulation? Incursions into public space, this emphasizes, are merely one step in a lengthy process. Altering the landscape has limited value if the new monuments are described as those of a particular caste. This is why Dalit organizations have lobbied to make Immanuel Sekaran’s anniversary a state-sanctioned occasion and Puthiya Tamizhagam have called for Madurai airport to be named after him. The government issued a postage stamp bearing his likeness in 2011 as a concession to such demands, but Dalit activists are no longer prepared to countenance the neglect of key figures. These are the circumstances within which the controversy over the Ambedkar cartoon must be understood. In 2012 a row erupted over the use of an old caricature in a National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) textbook. The image depicted Ambedkar—whip in hand—sitting astride a snail representing the Constitution of India, whilst Nehru stands behind them with a raised whip. Dalit activists interpreted (p.200) this as Nehru whipping or belittling Ambedkar, and launched protests across the country demanding its removal. Thirumavalavan was an MP at the time and brought Parliament to a standstill with an impassioned condemnation, whilst disgruntled Dalit activists in Mumbai ransacked the office of Suhas Palshikar—one of the leading academics on the NCERT board. Many commentators questioned the merits of the argument. They noted that the cartoon had been published during Ambedkar’s lifetime and invited no protests; that Ambedkar had asked not to be treated as a deity; that the textbook had been in circulation for several years; and that the text asked students to consider why the Constitution took so long to write rather than attacking Ambedkar. The textbooks, furthermore, were carefully designed to encourage debate and retain student interest, but as far as Dalit respondents were Page 19 of 28

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Symbolism Over Substance? concerned the affair had to be placed within a wider context in which Ambedkar is routinely sidelined and Dalit leaders are not accorded a place in the pantheon of national leaders. They noted that the textbook was due to be re-issued when the cartoon came to light, and pointed to the VCK leader’s intervention as proof that the party were still committed to Dalits. During the Melavalavu memorial, Inkulab touched on the dispute: ‘This is the Dalit leader who brought Parliament to a halt for the dishonour inflicted on Ambedkar [greeted with huge cheers]. This one act is enough to justify his five-year term!’ (Speech, June 2012). Nor were such comments confined to the party faithful. At the AdiTamizhar Peravai land rights conference in Nellai, Athiyamaan was fulsome in his praise of Thirumavalavan: It is not easy for a Dalit politician to be in coalition. Till now, Dalit politicians in government have held post with a plaster taped over their mouths. There are so many obstacles: the government, Hindutva forces, political parties—all bar us from talking, but he has spoken up. In Parliament recently he spoke up about the humiliating cartoon. Yes, it is an old cartoon; yes, Ambedkar saw it; yet what is it doing in a text book? His is a lone voice in parliament and we cannot forget his contribution. (Speech, August 2012) Many respondents questioned what place the cartoon had in a school text and what sort of impression it gave children about Ambedkar. Feelings were running so high that even CPM figures (p.201) condemned the cartoon, on Dalit stages at least, saying that it demonstrated the continued grip of caste. Ranged against the Dalit voices defending and applauding Thirumavalavan, was the assertion that the cartoon issue ‘misrepresents the pressing concerns which should have entered public discourse’ (Wankhede 2012: 31). ‘Why’, Teltumbde (2012a: 10) asked, ‘are they [Dalits] moved only by emotional issues and keep ignoring the material issues that impinge on their existence?’ In this article Teltumbde critiqued Dalit leaders for the tamasha around an ancient drawing whilst those convicted for their part in the massacre of 21 Dalits in Bathani Tola had been acquitted by the Patna High Court. Teltumbde and others rage against the narrow focus of Dalit leaders on forms of symbolic politics that overwhelm their revolutionary ideologies. Worse still, he argues (2012a: 11), many of those rallying round such issues are only ‘feigning deep devotion to the Ambedkar icon to claim the support of dalits’ rather than agitating against miscarriages of justice or the lack of accountability in the legal process. Teltumbde was not alone in such views, but his piece invited much comment and was widely circulated on the net, and his impassioned diatribe captures the sense that Dalit politics is failing. Kathir, the Director of an NGO in Madurai, echoed his wider analysis:

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Symbolism Over Substance? As movements they did not properly enhance the understanding or knowledge of the people. They were more geared towards sensation, show of force and attention seeking [in English] rather than real power. This is my personal opinion. They did not have that. The attention seeking impulse was driven by emotions but was not sustainable. The steps needed to secure social justice were not there. The uprising was born of centuries of exclusion, suffering, and pain so that when people felt that someone was addressing their issues they took heart. It was totally and utterly an emotional response. (Interview, March 2012) In keeping with Teltumbde’s argument above, one of the leading lawyers in the team that prosecuted the perpetrators of the Melavalavu massacre insisted that the VCK had focused on the memorial rather than the actual case. Advocate Rathinam recounted an incident concerning a bus-shelter wall outside the High Court in Madurai. In his account the wall space was rotated democratically amongst people wishing to get a message across. When twenty of the (p.202) twenty-eight accused in the murder of two Dalits in Chennagarampatti in 1982 were released, he decided to write a message of protest. There was a picture of Thirumavalavan and a panther in the spot which he started to whitewash: ‘A bike came past and stopped. It had Thirumavalavan stickers on it and the two men asked what we were doing. Had the High Court ordered the wall to be cleaned? We said; “No, we are writing about the Chennagarampatti case–you lot should be joining in too”. They said, “yes, yes”, and went off but returned with 10–20 others’. In the altercation that followed, Rathinam and his helper were roughed up and senior VCK leaders in Madurai demanded that an ‘SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act was registered against me, because the VCK were in alliance with the DMK at the time. Most people recognize it as a false case and so little has been done, but it is still pending’ (Rathinam Interview, July 2012). Encapsulated here is the emphasis on image over issues and the shift from holding power to account, to playing the political game. Rathinam and others noted how senior VCK leaders had impeded the Melavalavu case too, signing up to give witness and then changing their stories. If Rathinam’s analysis may have been swayed by the incident above, others also felt that institutionalization had blunted the Panthers and altered their focus. Punitha Pandian offered a typical critique of the move away from mass mobilization: Changing the society is different from electoral politics. You need a social revolution to change society. That will not occur in Parliament or the Assembly. You can only pay lip service to it there. You can create some statues, you can create some Ambedkar parks, you can build some schools or something else, but you cannot change society. (Interview, April 2012)

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Symbolism Over Substance? Going further still, Sivakami, a former IAS official who left her government job to enter Dalit politics, was scathing about her predecessors in Tamil Nadu. In an interview with Kumudam Reporter (Vetrivel, 2010) she is reported to have said: ‘Thirumavalavan and Krishnasamy and other leaders have done nothing for Dalits. Since they started their movements, Dalit problems have got worse. They have to go around saying what they have done.’ Even allowing for the rhetoric of an aspirant politician this is a damning verdict which (p.203) contributes to the accusation that Dalit politics is ‘just for show’.7 In Bluhdorn’s (2007: 253) account of the politics of simulation, he speaks of ‘the performance of seriousness’ (emphasis in original) by which political simulators persuade people that they are committed and active whilst having no real intention to effect significant social change. The question he then poses is whether leaders engage in such performances for want of better options or for more cynical and selfinterested motives. This question emphasizes the fact that marginal players in a political system may not have the means or resources to do much more than raise their voices. In the village of Kodankipatti, from which Dalits twice fled caste violence in the 1990s, Munniamma responded spiritedly when asked what the party had achieved: ‘Not much—they are a small outfit with just one MP; what do you expect them to do? They need to give us a voice and raise our issues and try and get political power —this is what they are doing’ (Field notes, June 2012). Others, as we saw in previous chapters, point to small victories secured in the face of stiff opposition or improved access to the fruits of politics, but sceptics remained unimpressed. As one fierce critic put it: When you are a movement party then you will not have a Tata Sumo, a car, an AC house; you will not have contracts, you will not do katta panchayats (kangaroo courts) or deals with the police … BUT you’ll have rights for the people, there would be meaningful efforts to tackle untouchability, governments would be under pressure. (Interview, March 2012) Implicit here is the assertion that Dalit politicians have betrayed people by engaging in the normal politics that they condemned as movement outsiders, and are settling for symbolic concessions rather than meaningful change. The reference to katta panchayats (kangaroo courts—which we return to in Chapter 7) is particularly telling and goes to the heart of concerns about the genuineness of Dalit political endeavours. Countless respondents, as seen in Chapter 4, suggested that some (p.204) Dalit office-bearers were seeking to profit from their new-found connections. At one level this relates to the compulsions of electoral politics. As Rajangam argued: Caste violence occurred in some places when Thirumavalavan and Ramadoss were together in a coalition. What happened then? They were Page 22 of 28

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Symbolism Over Substance? silent because of the alliance. The situation becomes worse then. At least, if he had been alone he would have fought. (Interview, March 2012) Dalit politicians, according to this line of argument, gained political alliances as self-proclaimed representatives of the Dalit votebank, only to neglect their core constituents once they secured a remunerative political settlement (cf. Dietrich 2009: 14). The logic of such alliances, furthermore, was said to have percolated through the party such that many activists were primarily concerned with negotiating compromises between victim and perpetrator to secure a pay-off. A Dalit academic and activist sardonically noted that Mahindra—manufacturers of vehicles—would be opening a Scorpio (make of car) showroom in Madurai simply to cater for VCK demand. As detailed more fully in Chapter 7, the narrative presented was one of party activists using their position and posts to enrich themselves. The ‘performance of sincerity’ and the politics of identification on stages, billboards, flags, and villages, from this account, were designed to establish the façade required to act as credible intermediaries. As Stalin Rajangam concluded: They did a lot of work when they were a movement and I don’t deny that, and I fully understand their need to change into a political party as well. But if you look back at the past 25 years you will find only identity politics. They haven’t done anything significantly. I don’t know how to say this and I feel sad to say it. (Interview, March 2012) The move from radical movement to political party, from this perspective, has been attended by a loss of spirit, a decline of voluntarism, and an emphasis on symbols over substance. In sum, the movement that inspired a generation of Dalits to fight back and resist caste-based oppression stands accused of cashing in on its reputation and profiting from continuing casteism and the apathy of state officials, to become ‘just another party’. Such allegations, as we will see in Chapter 8, are most forcefully levelled against those (p.205) non-Dalits who have recently been attracted to the party and been fast-tracked to positions of authority. Many people—both in and out of the party—subscribed to such analysis in 2012, but is this really a fair summation of Panther politics? I contend that this interpretation has grains of truth, but is unfair and misleading in extrapolating from the actions of a few to the party as a whole. We have seen how VCK engagement with politics cannot simply be described as empty symbolism and I will reflect on its wider impact in concluding the chapter.

The Materiality of Symbolic Politics? Rising to prominence on the back of anti-caste rhetoric and mobilization and setting oneself up as an heir of Ambedkar only to become ‘another politician’ or to become a broker mediating between perpetrators and victims, seems like the very definition of politics as simulation. For all the criticisms that were levelled against Dalit politics during fieldwork in 2012, it is essential to place such Page 23 of 28

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Symbolism Over Substance? denunciations in context. First, as Bate (2009) demonstrates, the political culture of the state revolves around issues of symbolism and imagery. Social standing and stature are marked and measured in symbolic concessions by Dravidian parties, such as the naming of a district after Muthuramalinga Thevar—that are consequential in their own right as well as deflecting attention from more substantive demands.8 Whilst most concessions gained by the VCK echo this trend—such as the DMK commitment to provide land to the landless that primarily benefitted non-Dalits (Ravikumar, email communication 11 December 2013), other gains, such as compelling the Dravidian parties to acknowledge and spend the SCP funds for Dalits are more substantive (Alphonse 2012). Second, many of those voicing such concerns remain VCK members and continue the work they started as a movement. If some are flying the flag to feather their nests, many continue to work with the people towards a more equal society. One vital contextual point raised throughout this book, furthermore, is that Dalit politicians mobilize and act within a social context that (p.206) is suffused by caste considerations. Puliyamma, Madurai district leader of the VCK Women’s Wing illustrated this by reference to the destruction of an Ambedkar statue in Madurai: They cut the throat of a downtrodden man’s statue. Had the reverse been the case what would have happened? How many buses would have burned by now? If they destroyed a Kamaraj statue what would happen? Was Ambedkar just an ordinary leader? Can you touch him? (Interview, August 2012) Puliyamma simultaneously highlights the marginalization of Dalit icons and the continued hold that dominant castes have upon Tamil politics and society. As if to reinforce her account, as I headed home after the demonstration to condemn the desecration of Ambedkar and Immanuel Sekaran statues I passed the statue of Muthuramalinga Thevar in the heart of Madurai. Stationed beside it as a precautionary measure was a water cannon and a posse of police officers. When I mentioned this to a local journalist he nodded: ‘They have that whenever VCK organise a demonstration in Madurai.’ What this encapsulates is the asymmetrical power of different political groups and the imbalance between Dalits and others in this regard (cf. Pandian 2000). Where Thevars and others have state approval for their Guru Pujas and chief ministers go out of their way to salute their icons, Dalits have had to struggle to secure the most minimal recognition for national leaders like Ambedkar let alone more local ones. This was graphically illustrated in March 2016, when a young Dalit man who had married a Thevar woman was brutally attacked in broad daylight. Though the horrific murder was captured on CCTV, the ruling AIADMK remained silent on the issue, and the DMK spoke only of ‘law and order’ problems in the state. In his analysis of the case, Kumar (2016) points to the elections due later in 2016 and observes: ‘Jayalalithaa’s AIADMK and Karunanidhi’s DMK depend largely on the majority Thevar votebank, the caste of Sankar’s wife Kausalya, in the Page 24 of 28

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Symbolism Over Substance? southern districts. To antagonize them now would be to commit political suicide.’ Following Rao (2009: 185), it is clear how Dalit symbolic politics in this context seeks to place issues on the agenda and ‘expand the categories of who or what could be a political subject’. Commenting on the wider absence of Dalits from representations and accounts of the state, the leader of the Arun Tamilar Viduthalai (p.207) Iyyakam noted the importance of symbols. ‘Illiterate people can’t write history’, as Jakkaian pithily observed, ‘so history itself is a scam’ (Interview, March 2012). He describes the import of a politics of identity that can retrieve a hidden past or lend substance to group narratives as a means of fostering pride and belief amongst those who have long been denied a voice. Time and again people spoke of the sense of self-respect that they felt as a consequence of Dalit mobilization in the state. Even the harshest Dalit critics felt that the VCK was better and did more for Dalits, at least symbolically, than other parties. Crucially, this last point belies the denigration of ‘mere symbols’. Dalit symbolic politics, as we have seen, acts to democratize public space and render it more representative of marginalized groups; it has also altered the agenda; forcing all parties to recognize Ambedkar, compelling the CPI(M) to directly confront caste issues and untouchability, and ensuring that elections are held in reserved panchayats despite the opposition of dominant caste groups. The installation of statues, flags, and banners also compels engagement with people at the grassroots and has material effects. Such politics can help strengthen social ties and foster selfbelief, changing people’s identities and perceptions in the process. At the least, it alters the look and feel of Tamil politics and places Dalit figures on posters and pedestals that they have not—hitherto—occupied. The antipathy that such symbolic assertion generates and the forceful backlash that it sometimes invites, testifies to the real concerns that dominant castes have over symbolic concessions. Such symbols are meaningful to people and occasionally point towards alternative possibilities. In the village of Vanjinagram, near Melur, the scene of a brutal caste murder in 1986, Dalits have installed a small monument painted on stone at the entrance to the Dalit colony. The mural depicts Kandan, the young man who was killed for defying dominant castes and fighting untouchability (Tamizh Murasu 2008). Local villagers today refer to him as a Kula Sami (lineage God) or as the ‘justice man’. In so doing, they are not only rejecting the religion and rituals that condemned them to untouchability, they are envisaging an explicitly egalitarian ideology. To echo Mines (2002: 72), such actions ‘defined their space in part as a new kind of space for the constitution of alternative understandings of social and political relations in a village of their own (p.208) making’. To paraphrase Melucci (1996), it renders caste power visible and transforms public space into a conflictual arena. The fact that a VCK flag now flutters in the colony in Keeripatti where dominant castes prevented panchayat elections for over a decade; that Backward Castes near Othakadai were forced Page 25 of 28

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Symbolism Over Substance? to apologize and replace a vinyl banner they ripped down; and that Pandiyammal as VCK District Secretary oversaw police officers cleaning a party mural that had been defaced, speaks to the significance and materiality of symbolic politics. Through the Dalit occupation of space, as Mines (2002: 70) noted in relation to processions, activists assert their inclusion and affect ‘at least a temporary, public social symmetry’. In her overview of Dalit struggles against untouchability, Rao (2005) counterposes Ambedkar’s idealism to the symbolism of the BSP in an article that grapples with the questions under discussion here. Like Mines (2002), Rao points towards significant changes in caste dynamics and social relations and yet she points to the persistence of structural inequalities: [T]hat blatant, ill-concealed discrimination, at least in urban centres, is on the wane cannot be denied. All these gains, though highly symbolic have undoubtedly electrified the social standing of some Dalits today. The operative word in the previous sentence, however, is ‘some’. The economic and social subjugation of untouchables, particularly in the rural areas, persists. Political power to Dalit leaders, as has been amply seen in the BSP case, has not guaranteed that the elected representatives of the untouchables can or will exert themselves to alter existing ground realities. (Rao 2005: 66) The parallels with the VCK are striking. None would dispute the argument that symbolic politics are consequential and remain important to the self-esteem, selfimage, and empowerment of Dalits across Tamil Nadu. Concerns arise when Dalit political parties seem to be content with symbolic gains and concessions. Activists were dismayed that the VCK bestowed their Dr Ambedkar Award on DMK leader and then Chief Minister Karunanidhi for granting the 3 per cent sub-quota reservation to Arunthathiyars. Whilst this can be seen as reemphasizing the party’s commitment to Arunthathiyars, Lakshmanan (2015) notes how ‘instead of fulfilling the mandatory amount of reserved quota, the state resorted to dividing the Scheduled (p.209) Caste on sub-caste lines’. The concession to Arunthathiyars, in other words, does nothing to address the persistent backlog of vacancies and the pitiful representation of SCs in the highest ranking government jobs. Likewise, Karunanidhi was feted at the VCK land rights conference, whilst panchami lands granted to Dalits in perpetuity continue to be occupied by other castes. The VCK’s use of symbols and rituals does occasionally resemble a performance or slip into simulation, but the contentious nature of such politics reveals how ingrained certain norms and symbols are and contests prevalent and accepted cultural codes. We may, thus, echo Bluhdorn (2007) in calling for a clear distinction between ‘empty symbolism’, and the symbolic politics which is a potent mode of political communication in Tamil politics. Jakkaian is surely right Page 26 of 28

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Symbolism Over Substance? in asserting that, ‘You can’t do only this as your main agenda’ and concerted action on key issues is essential. One of the most common state responses to social movement mobilization is to offer symbolic concessions that do not address underlying issues. The Tamil Nadu Untouchability Front (TNUF) leader Sampath (2010) illustrates this by reference to the case of Uthapuram. Lengthy struggles were required for Dalits to gain entry to the temple and to break the ‘caste wall’ that had been built to deny Dalits public access. These victories, however, remain largely symbolic since ‘Dalits have not been allowed to use the passage freely’ and their ability to worship in the temple has been heavily circumscribed (Sampath 2010: 46). Yet Jakkaian is equally correct to celebrate the enduring legacy that symbols can impart on multiple registers. In the case of Uthapuram, even these small concessions angered the dominant castes and altered the self-belief and self-worth of local Dalits. In such settings Rao (2009: 188) is right to question the ‘distinction between the symbolic and the real in Dalit politics’. As Sindhanai Selvan intimated above, though, one key difference between the symbolism of the movement and that of the party has been the increasing use of images devoid of significant meaning. Insisting on the rights to participate in village festivals and to raise flags in village squares are ‘symbolic’, but in a way that reshapes local caste and social dynamics. Party politics, by contrast, has entailed an increased focus upon the leader and near-deification of Thirumavalavan without (p.210) the critical content that characterized the symbolic expressions of the past. Whilst this clearly echoes the forms of what Bate calls the ‘Dravidian aesthetic’, it also speaks to a shift in emphasis attending the centralization of the party and the lack of prominence accorded to secondary leaders. It is these questions of leadership that are the focus of the next chapter. Notes:

(1) In 2002, the party launched a symbolic campaign in which the cadre rid themselves of Sanskritized names in favour of ‘pure Tamil’ monikers. Since he had a Tamil name already, Thirumavalavan inverted custom and altered his father’s name from Ramasamy to Tholkappian. (2) I am indebted to Karthikeyan for bringing this to my attention. (3) In December 2010, for example, the Tamil paper Thinakaran reported on a clash between VCK and Vijayakant’s DMDK party when both had tried to book the same venue. Cadre white-washed the others’ posters leading to a clash in which 45 people were charged. In September 2013, caste clashes in northern Tamil Nadu arose after Vanniyars tore down a VCK poster. Passions ran so high that a court order prohibited ‘hoisting flags, erecting banners and posters in the area until further notice’ (The Hindu 25 September 2013: http://

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Symbolism Over Substance? www.thehindu.com/news/national/tamil-nadu/caste-clashes-in-village-nearpuducherry/article5165194.ece, accessed on 20 June 2016). (4) In debates over the cartoon issue (see later), respondents pointed to Yogendra Yadav’s surname as an indication of possible casteism. Likewise, in the furore surrounding the Navayana version of Annihilation of Caste (Ambedkar 2015) with a lengthy introduction by Arundhati Roy, some commentators pointed to her unselfconsciousness in flaunting a caste name as a contradiction. (5) See a copy of the manifesto here (Accessed 21 June 2016): https:// docs.google.com/file/d/ 0B0PmbWHjUOJyOWM1NGIzNDctYWNmOS00Y2FmLTg3NTItMjViNjliNDA5OTIy/ edit?hl=en&pli=1 (6) Kilvenmani is the site where 44 Dalit agricultural workers were locked into a hut and set ablaze in 1969 following agitation for better pay and conditions. For more details, see EPW Correspondent (1973), Gough (1974), or Meena Kandasamy’s (2014) vivid retelling of the event in the form of a novel. (7) Sivakami’s criticisms need to be contextualized here. Having sought to change politics from the outside, she allied with the DMK to contest the 2016 elections on the Rising Sun symbol of the Dravidian party. (8) I am indebted to one of the reviewers for this point.

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The Paradox of Parali Puthur

Panthers in Parliament: Dalits, Caste, and Political Power in South India Hugo Gorringe

Print publication date: 2017 Print ISBN-13: 9780199468157 Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: March 2017 DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199468157.001.0001

The Paradox of Parali Puthur Leadership in Question Hugo Gorringe

DOI:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199468157.003.0007

Abstract and Keywords Parali Puthur is a small hamlet in mid-Tamil Nadu. In 2011, the Dalit settlement was attacked by caste-Hindus who burned and demolished houses and goods and uprooted the VCK flagpole. I was initially told that the event was a stain on the VCK’s credibility because they failed to stand up for, or stand by, oppressed Dalits. Parali Puthur, I was told, had led many to lose faith in the movement. Subsequent research and visits to the village revealed that VCK cadre had been the first on the scene and had offered protection and food to the victims. The key issue, it transpired, was that Thirumavalavan had not visited. The centrality of the leader—and the failure to nurture any secondary leaders of stature—is discussed here. The chapter offers an analysis of leadership styles and structures in the state and in the VCK in particular. Keywords:   Leadership, leader-centric parties, Tamil politics, centralization, Thirumavalavan

I’ll give you an example: there was a caste atrocity in Parali Puthur that was even worse than Kodiyankulam.1 Houses were burnt and the village was ransacked by a 500 strong mob. They even threatened to kill a newborn baby. They picked up a baby and said: ‘If this was a male we would have killed it. No Paraiyar men should live here.’ Fortunately, no one was killed, but in other respects it was the most awful atrocity. The VCK did not print a single notice about it, nor did Thirumavalavan ever visit the place. When he came to Madurai shortly after he did not even visit. Various Dalit intellectuals and a Dalit MP from another party took the case up; Page 1 of 27

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The Paradox of Parali Puthur them and the local VCK cadres—locally the VCK got involved and worked hard, but there was nothing from above. You see, when you get into vote politics then you start to think, ‘if we raise this as an issue then no one will vote for us’. The most upsetting thing for me was that one of the elderly women had tears in her eyes when she told Stalin Rajangam who had gone there to condemn the incident and (p.214) raise awareness: ‘I am less concerned about them burning the house than the fact that they have destroyed the photo of Annan’. You know which annan they were talking about? Thirumavalavan. What is the price of those tears and that trust? That needs to be repaid does it not? But nothing. So the other MP and others took up the issue and registered cases and got compensation paid out, but the VCK as a party did nothing. Look it would be fine if Dravidian parties did this, or the Congress party did it, but can he who is their only hope do this to them? —(Tamizh Murasu Interview, April 2012) RETURNING TO MADURAI IN 2012, I found many stalwart members of the DPI who had moved away from the party, often claiming that the party were no longer committed to Dalit issues and had neglected victims in their efforts to attract ‘mainstream’ voters and allies. Several times during the initial phase of fieldwork, people raised the case of Parali Puthur—a small hamlet in Dindugal district—that had experienced caste violence in 2011.2 I was told that the VCK ‘did nothing’ for the people there and that the people who had experienced violence due to their affiliation to the party had now forsworn it. As noted at the outset, it is important to subject rumours to question and even in the passionate diatribe from Tamizh Murasu above there is a concession that the VCK worked hard ‘locally’. In visits to the hamlet and subsequent interviews it became clear that the party had been heavily involved in the case and that local, regional, and state-level leaders had been to the spot and met the victims and that Thirumavalavan had interacted with them in Madurai. The more I got to know about the case, the more it seemed to encapsulate central issues in the party relating to leadership, structure, and communication. Until recently, social movement leadership was understudied. Attention focused on reasons for rebellion or the logistics of mobilization, but the emphasis was largely structural (Barker et al. 2001: 2). Paradoxically, where analysts highlighted the significance of key leaders (Martin Luther King and Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi for example) they relegated movement members to the role of devotees or (p.215) ‘followers’ (Morris and Staggenborg 2004). If we accept Morris and Staggenborg’s (2004: 171) definition of ‘leaders as strategic decision-makers who inspire and organize others to participate in social movements’, then neither approach is able to capture the fact that leadership is relational. It also follows that effective movements require multiple levels of leadership to carry out such tasks, leading Robnett (1997) to differentiate Page 2 of 27

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The Paradox of Parali Puthur between formal (titular), secondary, and bridge leaders (1997: 22). She argues that formal leadership in the Civil Rights Movement tended to be the preserve of men with social, cultural, and educational capital and connections to central institutions like the Church. Secondary leaders were part of the inner circle and were vested with authority through their association with the formal leadership. Robnett notes that these tiers of leadership were often torn by the conflicting requirements of negotiation with the state apparatus (requiring rational, measured, and calculated interventions) and mobilization/inspiration of the masses (1997: 28). Institutionalization, she suggests, requires the rabble-rousers to become politicians. Gusfield (1966) likewise argued that leaders must act simultaneously within the movement to mobilize participants and as a link to the wider society to whom issues and grievances must be articulated. Fulfilling both roles can be problematic and, as a result of such constraints, Robnett (1997: 22) shows that responsibility for ‘mobilizing and sustaining the movement’ often falls to bridge leaders who operate at the grassroots. This highlights the critical importance of maintaining trust, interest, and support through sustained engagement and interaction, all of which can atrophy when an organization becomes overly centralized. In the context of Tamil Nadu, the proliferation of ‘leadercentred’ (Mines 1994: 41) organizations renders the nebulous concept of charisma attractive. Charismatic individuals are frequently seen as ‘inspired’ or ‘superhuman’, but in focusing on such qualities, Melucci notes, ‘the nature of the social relationship of leadership tends to become blurred, because one of the terms of the relation, the masses, is annulled as an actor’ (1996: 336). As chapters in this book have amply demonstrated, VCK activists refuse to be silenced. They are active in their membership of the party and creative in their appreciation (and sometimes criticism) of the leader, and it follows that we must look beyond charisma to explain leadership in Dalit politics. (p.216) If aspects of leadership are universal, there are others that speak to the specificities of leadership in India. Rather than using the concept of charisma, Arora (1967: 648–50) introduces the particular cultural variants that recur in Indian literature: the concepts of the guru (religious teacher), and the darshan-seeker (supplicant seeking blessing). She notes that guru/disciple relations are typified by the latter’s surrender to the formers’ instruction. Darshan-seeking entails followers seeking the blessing or presence of a deified figure. What the example of Parali Puthur demonstrates is that the party remains heavily centralized around the unifying and exceptional figure of Thirumavalavan, and that secondary leaders still lack grassroots acceptance and recognition. In part this reflects the wider political culture (Bate 2009; Suri 2013), but it also points to a lack of intra-party democracy and discipline. In addressing these wider questions of leadership the chapter begins by teasing out the lessons to be drawn from Parali Puthur.

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The Paradox of Parali Puthur Waiting for Thiruma When I visited the hamlet of Parali Puthur in June 2012, a year on from the attack, two mounds of rubble still lay where the VCK flag and board once stood. The symbols themselves, and the brick and concrete plinths in which they were embedded, had been utterly destroyed. Most of the homes had been rebuilt, but the charred remains of goods and partially damaged buildings still bore witness to the arson that engulfed the Dalit residences. As with caste violence elsewhere in Tamil Nadu, the Muthuraiyar mob had targeted consumer goods, vehicles, and savings. Indeed, Raja, a local VCK sympathizer, felt that this was one main impetus for the attack: R: Since this party was started we were well off here. … They [BCs] did not like our development. ‘What is this? They are travelling by bike or by car. He is wearing trousers and shirt. He has got a chain on’. They became jealous. That is why they had an attack of this sort in mind for a while and made use of that mob. (Personal Communication, June 2012)

In socio-economic terms, the Backward Caste (BC) Muthuraiyars are not much better off than Dalits and, in villages I visited in Pudhukottai district, they were served in separate glasses in tea-shops (p.217) and looked down on by the locally dominant castes. The rise in Dalit living standards aroused animosity and jealousy as a result. When the upwardly mobile Dalits publicly demonstrated their affiliation to an assertive Dalit-led party, this proved to be the last straw. Given that VCK symbols triggered the violence, one would have expected the party to rally round in support of the victimized Dalits, but the failure to replace the VCK emblems in the hamlet indicates local dissatisfaction. Raja, a resident who still has a VCK song as his ringtone and attended party events insisted that ‘we have not rebuilt the flagpole and board. We did not have the will because they paid little attention to us.’ For him, there was a sense of betrayal: The whole issue blew up because of support for the movement and so he [Thirumavalavan] could have come to console us. We had reached out and even got women and grannies on side. Many are now so angered by his failure to come to the village in the aftermath of the violence that they have switched to other parties. (Personal Communication, June 2012) His account is part of a wider narrative that depicts the VCK as growing apart from its core constituents and the Dalit focus around which its mass mobilization occurred. Several respondents questioned the point of a Dalit-led party if it would not intervene and raise its voice in such instances. As indicated in the quote at the head of the chapter and in the introduction, however, this narrative did not go unchallenged. The non-Dalit VCK district secretary, Villavan Kothai, for instance, noted that he had rushed to Parali Puthur on hearing the news:

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The Paradox of Parali Puthur I was first there. At night—12.30—I went there, to the spot. Others hesitated somewhat but I was the first person because I felt that I had to save them. I felt that as a leader I had to be there at the outset. In politics one mustn’t be scared. If you think ‘there will be a riot, I might be stabbed or beaten’ then you can’t achieve anything. I went straight there. (Interview, September 2012) In Parali Puthur I spoke to a group of Dalit women and asked them about their experiences. Having heard various accounts, I asked them about the VCK response. The gendered nature of the replies is instructive: H: Did the VCK lot – Thiruma’s party—not pay any attention? (p.218)

Raja: They did not give us protection.

Selvi: No they came. When the men were away they were the ones that came and stayed here for protection and gave us food. They were the only ones.

H [To Raja]: But you say they did nothing?

Lakshmi: The men know nothing – they all fled. Until they returned it was just the women and it was them [VCK] who came and stood by us. They came that morning itself.

H: Did they stay 2 or 3 days?

S: Not 2 or 3 days they were here for 10 or 20 days!

R: They were here till we returned.

S: Till they returned. It was only with the food they brought that we could eat. They brought rice and everything. They were cooking for us. (Group Discussion, June 2012)

Following the immediate response of the VCK, other groups and the CPM got involved and worked to secure compensation for the Dalits. Given this, I wondered whether the notion that the VCK had done nothing owed more to the fact that they now acted like an established political party rather than hitting back. TamizhMurasu, whose quote features above, was with me for the group

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The Paradox of Parali Puthur interview and was surprised to hear the women speak so positively about the party. Having had his version of events challenged he intervened: TM: I will ask you something. There are countless parties in Tamil Nadu, none of whom came to express their sympathy and solidarity. Thirumavalavan’s party did, but you have not replaced their flag and board. Did you not think to do so?

L: We did, but we went and cried to him and he refused to come didn’t he? Why did he not come here?

TM: Who did not come? Did Thirumvalavan not come here?

Chorus of voices: No he did not. He never came. He came to Madurai, but not here.

Gnanapoo: We went to Madurai and saw him and cried in front of him but he never came here to see how his people were. (Group Discussion, June 2012)

(p.219) In sum, the key failing of the VCK in this instance was that the leader had not visited the hamlet in person. Tamizh Murasu suggested that it was a clear case of the party’s misplaced priorities, noting how Thirumavalavan had been to several villages nearby for weddings and other events but had yet to meet and console the victims in Parali Puthur. Wyatt (2015a: 171) notes how important it is for leaders to demonstrate sympathy towards their followers, and suggests that ‘this empathy helps create a bond between party members’. Certainly, the contrast with Dalit accounts in the nearby village of Kodankipatti is explicative. Dalits here were overwhelmingly positive about the leader and the party because he had visited them several times following similar caste-based violence there in the 1990s (see Gorringe 2005). The failure of the leader to visit the stricken village, flouts established norms. When confronted with this, Thirumavalavan pointed to the responsibilities that come with being a party: In Parali Puthur they are cross because I did not go, I know. But had I gone at that time, then things would have escalated. There is no discipline in the party—we would have had young men hanging from cars, crowding round, and so on. The Backward Castes would accept that from DMK or ADMK or even PMK but not from us. I will go when called for low key event like a wedding or ear-piercing etc. Had I gone at that time, then a law and order problem would have ensued and our people would have suffered. (Personal Communication, September 2012)

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The Paradox of Parali Puthur This reasoned explanation sums up what I have termed the paradox of Parali Puthur: the VCK responded to an anti-Dalit atrocity by rushing to the scene; consoling, protecting, and feeding the afflicted; helping to ensure that compensation was expedited; and by making sure that they did not inflame an already incendiary situation. They performed the roles that they might have been expected to by those placing trust in them, and yet they stood accused both by villagers and observers of ‘doing nothing’. The one thing that the party did not do, is arrange a visit by the leader. It is apparent that the cultural norms of leadership prescribe how they ought to respond in such cases, and deviating from the norm can incur displeasure. I discussed the implications of this with party leader Gowthamma Sannah and he flagged the problems besetting a leader-centred group: (p.220) H: They said: ‘No leaders came’. ‘Did no-one come’ I asked. It turned out that Pandiyammal had come, Ellallan had come, ArtralArasu had visited. In the end what it boiled down to was the fact that Thirumavalavan had not been. ArtralArasu is a state leader [S: Yes], Pandiyammal and Ellallan are city and regional leaders [Regional leaders yes]. For the sole reason that Thiruma had not visited they maintained that the VCK had done nothing and have yet to replace their board.

S: Yes, people have not yet got the mind-set to accept secondary leaders and we need to change that bit by bit. That is a drawback in the party and we have to accept that. The problem is that everyone expects the leader. (Interview, September 2012)

The VCK are not alone in this. Suri’s account (2013: 244) of party politics in India points to the absence of internal democracy and the ‘concentration of power in one leader at the top’. As Robnett’s (1997) research demonstrates, this can lead to a disconnection between leaders and followers.

From Dedication to Devotion? The VCK now has a number of widely recognized characters. At the least they have had two elected MLAs besides Thirumavalavan—one of whom is still in the party—and multiple electoral candidates whose profile has been raised by an electoral campaign. The leader-centrism that characterized the movement nevertheless remains an issue today. Indeed, if anything, it has been exacerbated. Again it is important to understand the wider context from which Dalit parties emerge and into which they are embedded. Tamil political culture values heroism. Demagogues and film-script endings place an emphasis on lyrical speech-making, a commitment to the poor and needy, and the defence of ones’ honour and social standing (Pandian 1992). As Mageli, in her study of women’s organizations in Chennai, put it:

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The Paradox of Parali Puthur Indian political institutions are marked by factionalism, dividing but not necessarily breaking up an organization; personality focus, with the leader assuming a powerful position; and clearly defined hierarchical and authoritarian structures, with little internal democratic functioning, expressed within a framework of patron-client relationships. (1997: 26, emphasis in original) (p.221) The result is a brand of populist politics that subsumes ‘politics in rhetoric, concrete concerns in symbolic ones’ (Rajadurai and Geetha 2002: 119). The lofty rhetoric of the hero or firebrand, however, founders on the rocks of structural inequality and social inertia. Unable to significantly shift social norms and structures, most parties in the state focus on image and style and foster a perception of leaders as heroes or semi-deities (also see Bate 2009, Wyatt 2010a). All Tamil leaders are deferred to, asked to name children, and bless marriages; their speeches and likenesses are treasured. In the movement phase, when Thirumavalavan was ill for a period, much of the social and political life of the VCK came to a standstill, and still in 2012 everything revolved around him. As noted in earlier chapters, Thirumavalavan blamed the constant desire for his presence for delaying decisions about new posts. It is true that he was constantly in demand at social events, but added to this were the queues of people hoping to persuade him to intervene on their behalf to secure jobs, transfers, admission to colleges, or caste certificates (Shankar, Personal Communication, August 2012). The demand for Thirumavalavan to attend events, in part reflected the esteem in which he was held but also, as Sannah notes, indicated the lack of an established and accepted secondary leadership. Artral Arasu, one of the state-level leaders who visited Parali Puthur, reflected openly on the problems that secondary rung leaders faced: I don’t know, it is impossible to become a popular secondary level leader. I have been with Thiruma for several years, I don’t know, but people only want Annan. At times I thought people didn’t respect me because I didn’t have enough power. It is the same with Sindhanai Selvan. Ravikumar is a thinker, writer, and he was a MLA, he was in power for some time, but it has been the same for him as well. I think the society is not sufficiently disciplined and they perceive Thirumavalavan as the sole authority in the party as they do with cinema stars. We get a feeling that we live under his shadow. Sometimes when people invite him for function, he would send us instead in cases where he was unable to attend the programme. That is worst. When we go there nobody will talk to us; the bridegroom, the bride —they normally don’t talk, and they look on us as the enemy. There were instances where the bridegroom refused to tie the knot. I don’t know. We have raised this issue several times in the party meetings. We have made demands to develop second level leaders and to delegate (p.222) power Page 8 of 27

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The Paradox of Parali Puthur to the second level leaders. Yet, it is not working. People don’t respect us the way the cadres in DMK and ADMK respect their second level leaders (Interview, July 2012). Despite attempts to promote and advance secondary level leaders, in other words, the fixation with the leader remained. Clearly, this is an issue that affects all political parties in Tamil Nadu. Bate’s book (2009) on Dravidian politics captures the way in which party members engage in forms of public devotion towards their leaders. At its extreme, such fervour verges on fanaticism, as seen in the acts of followers who take their own lives to demonstrate their loyalty. In May 2015, for example, the AIADMK ‘disbursed over Rs 7 crore as relief to families of 244 persons who allegedly committed suicide following Jayalalithaa’s conviction in a graft case by a lower court last year.’3 Whilst the party asked followers to refrain from harming themselves, the distribution of monetary compensation serves as public recognition for such actions. There is a lengthy tradition of political suicides in Tamil Nadu both in protest and devotion, and those committing such acts are often celebrated as martyrs. Since becoming a political party, one of the subtle adjustments to mainstream politics has been a shift amongst some members of the VCK. Where activists in the 1990s frequently claimed that they would ‘die for annan’, this was articulated as part of their militant identity and expressed the fact that they were not afraid of the consequences of their activism. In 2012, by contrast, I came across a couple of youngsters who said that they would kill themselves ‘if anything happens to annan’. Kathir despaired of such sentiments: There was a hope that they [VCK] might alter politics, but I do not think that the people have that expectation any more. That’s finished. So all this ‘I’ll will set myself alight for Annan’ is totally and completely the way of mainstream politics; the loss of critical insight that comes with mainstream politics. Love your leader, there is nothing wrong in that, but if you are going to die for your leader, then how have you nurtured your cadres? (Interview, March 2012) (p.223) In his study of Vijayakant’s emergence as a party leader, Wyatt (2010b: 147) notes how the DMDK is built around the persona of the film-star and observes that the culture of the fan clubs, on which MGR and Vijayakant built, encourages enthusiasm and admiration, not questioning or debate. Wyatt argues that the cultural values of the VCK, by contrast, are those of a party committed to social change rather than veneration. This point is important, but the dominant focus on the leader encouraged by the move to politics has perhaps seen the ranks of the party swelled by admirers alongside the critically conscious activists who survive from the movement phase. Whilst Wyatt is right that it is a mark of how internally democratic the VCK is that critical voices are not silenced, there has been a shift in the public performance of leadership.

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The Paradox of Parali Puthur The VCK has always revolved around Thirumavalavan, but the move to politics appears to have sharpened this focus. Party flyers and posters in the 1990s, as we saw in Chapter 5, did not emphasize the central significance of the leader to the same degree. Now, it is almost inconceivable that promotional material for the party would not centre on the leader. As one senior leader of the party bemoaned: ‘Earlier the posters played a major role because of the slogans. Now the posters and flex banners are filled only with images of the leaders and cadres’ (Anon, Personal Communication, December 2013). ‘Praise and bhakti or devotional love’, according to Bate (2009: 120), ‘appear to be master aesthetics’ governing the adulatory relationships between leaders and led in Tamil politics. His discussion on the practices of leader worship, echoes Arora’s work on Darshan (viewing and being blessed by a deity). This is most commonly associated with religious figures, but has also informed modes of political engagement. It results in a form of leader/led relations which are distinctly unequal. The followers regard the ‘leader with reverence; revel in his very presence; ceremonially greet, praise, and touch him’, but rarely if at all engage with the leader’s ideological objectives (Arora 1967: 652). Both disciples and darshan-seekers are portrayed as responding ‘to the person and not the message’ (Arora 1967: 652), and this sentiment is enacted at each social event where waves of enthusiastic youngsters mob the leader in utter disregard of his pleas for calm. (p.224) As Mani Arasu more succinctly put it: ‘only two people in a hundred actually listen to what he says’ (Interview, April 2012). The adulation of Thirumavalavan has not necessarily been matched by an increase in consciousness or awareness of party principles and objectives. I asked one nonDalit in Madurai District why he had decided to join the VCK: ‘“I like all of Thirumavalavan’s demands and actions” he told me. I asked which in particular and he looked blank: “all of them” he repeated’ (Field notes, June 2012). Given that leaders seeking social change demand action as well as party membership (Gorringe 2010; Price 2010), such responses may suggest a decline in activist commitment and spirit.4 This was a charge that was often levelled at mid-level leaders in the party. Great leaders, the VCK Mayoral candidate for Madurai told me, Have a vision, but they are often stopped short in their tracks because of politicization. Then there is this secondary rung leadership—I am just coming out loud and clear here—they are only interested in their own problems, they never give a thought to our own leader ….They do not realize that he is a man of vision. They just want Thirumavalavan as a rebel leader who can talk for two and a half hours at a meeting just raising the blood, shooting up the blood pressure—that is all. (Thiruma Pasumpon Interview, August 2012)

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The Paradox of Parali Puthur The suggestion is that mid-level leaders in the party now, are seeking to profit from their association to the leader rather than follow in his footsteps. In his analysis of leader-centric parties in Tamil Nadu, Bate (2009) notes the importance of financial centralization. This is exacerbated by the move to politics, Price (1996) suggests, since followers anticipate that they will benefit from their chosen candidate’s access to state funds. As Wyatt (2010b: 165; 2013b) argues, ‘protective/paternalist populism continues to resonate with the voters in Tamil Nadu’, and this tends to be channelled through the party leader.

(p.225) Led Astray? The centralization of party resources may facilitate the distribution of largesse, but it arguably has unintended and iniquitous consequences. Unlike the Communist parties, the VCK does not pay its mid-level leaders a salary. As Suri (2013: 245) notes, this means that ‘party leaders with the capacity to raise funds or enough money to spend in an election are often successful in gaining party tickets’. Most local leaders, consequently, juggle party work with flexible paid jobs (many leaders in the party work in real estate), but others seek to make a living out of their politics which means working for alliance partners or using political connections: J: Now everyone wants to be a district secretary, but to be nominated for that post within the DPI you need to pay 10,000 just to get the nomination forms. Now at least ten people will get those forms. So how will they get that money?

H: Do they not have salaries?

J: No, none of them get salaries, so how do they survive? They have children to feed, houses to keep, and cars to run. Problems arise and they have to respond to the call– how do they do that? So they need money—who will give them that?

H: At weddings.

J: They will give money to Thirumavalavan, but not to others lower down. Where do you go? … It is through compromise that all parties raise money. CPI(M) give their cadres a wage which is why they can engage with multiple issues, but they do not really intervene in many Dalit issues. (Jawahar Interview, March 2012)

Jawahar is exaggerating for effect, but the underlying point holds true. Rajangam outlined how the success of the party in securing political recognition had resulted in forms of social compromise and bargaining: R: Page 11 of 27

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The Paradox of Parali Puthur They have gathered more supporters as a party and that gave a courage to fight against government. They increased their image. Psychologically it boosted their confidence. I agree with that. People [non-Dalits] can’t beat them now because they are scared the party will fight. But this turned out to be a negative thing. Because of their contact with local (p.226) police stations, Dalit leaders act like an agent in some places to settle disputes between Dalits and non-Dalits.

H: Does Thirumavalavan know that?

R: He knows very well.

H: But this is prevalent among all parties.

R: Yes, across parties. How will you do service for people, if you act like other people, if you want to live a comfortable life like others? Erm, Thirumavalavan can’t ask them anything about this. He organizes meetings every month and they have to spend money for posters and banners. They come from impoverished backgrounds. Where will they go for money? (Rajangam Interview, March 2012)

More pervasively, Suri (2013: 246) contends that ‘the escalating cost of party posts and tickets’—earlier we saw how the VCK are reported to have demanded 10 lakhs from candidates in 2016—‘has resulted in an abuse of power to raise election funds’. Nor do the wages offered by the Communist parties necessarily inure candidates from such abuses, as seen in the Express News (2016b) story on the sitting MLA from Thalli. The result, as many party members at the grassroots argued, was a growing gap between the party leaders and members in the VCK as in other parties. In Melavalavu, for instance, Dalit youth complained that VCK leaders rarely visited, often only coming just ahead of the annual memorial to make sure that everything looked spick and span for Thirumavalavan’s visit. In their study of leadership, Mines and Gourishankar (1990) rightly see venality as the most common critique of leadership. Contemptuous references to ‘suitcase’ politics are made by activists to condemn those who they see as being in politics to make money. In the past, the importance accorded to ‘experience’—to living with the poor and experiencing caste discrimination first-hand—in Dalit movements (Gorringe 2010), acted as a safeguard against such accusations. With the turn to party politics, not only are opportunities for corruption and money-making greater, but leadership positions in the party have been opened up to newcomers without an activist past and, since 2007, to non-Dalits. In the mass mobilization phase of the movement, leaders worked their way up through the ranks, cutting their political teeth at demonstrations and rallies and building a name for (p.227) themselves at the local level before they gained prominence. In 2012, by contrast, Thirumavalavan’s busy schedule meant that meetings were often curtailed, Page 12 of 27

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The Paradox of Parali Puthur resulting in a sharp decline in opportunities for secondary leaders to speak on stage. Accordingly, as seen in Chapter 5, prominence came to be measured by visibility. Despite attempts to formalize and restructure the party, there were no institutional mechanisms enabling local leaders to be chosen democratically, let alone allowing for a transfer of power or the election of a successor. Like other parties, this means that the VCK faces problems of succession and schism (Wyatt 2010a; Suri 2013). ‘Tada’ Periyasami, one of Thirumavalavan’s trusted deputies, left—or was forced out—to form his own movement in 2002 and one of the two MLAs elected in 2006, K. Selvam (Selvaperunthagai), cited concerns about overcentralization when he joined the BSP in 2008 (Kolappan 2008). As we saw in Chapter 3, Thirumavalavan’s suggestion that local leaders could be decided by elections was rejected out of hand by people asking him to decide. Activists in Pudhukottai informed me that such centralization has led uncharitable critics to describe Thirumavalavan as ‘the male Amma’, by reference to the autocratic leadership style of Jayalalithaa (Field notes, July 2012). For all its centralization, the VCK offers far more scope for cadre autonomy and questioning than the AIADMK. In the party postholder nomination events there was a chorus of calls for Thirumavalavan to decide and examples of blind hero-worship, as when one of the applicants stood up to stake his claim for a post with his phone in hand to video proceedings, and when another castigated Sindhanai Selvan for using Thirumavalavan’s name: SS: We have held events that have made India ring and ask ‘who is this Thirumavalavan’?

At this point one of the candidates got up gesticulating wildly and said: ‘Please do not use his name like he is some common person. Call him Thalaivar—we all know his name, there is no need to use it’. He clearly felt that some disrespect was being done to Thirumavalavan in this way and noted how other leaders were always called by their honorific titles. ‘He’s drunk too much “strong tea”’ as one of my neighbours put it. Sindhanai Selvan and Thirumavalavan told him to sit down and keep mum but he was up making the same point several times. (Field notes, May 2012) (p.228) In Dravidian politics, leaders tend not to be called by name since this would place them on a par with followers. Respectful nick-names are used instead, such as Kalaignar (artist) for Karunanidhi and Amma (mother) for Jayalalithaa. The desire to honour and respect their leader led some VCK members to alter the suffix in their leader’s name, calling him Thirumavalavar which is more courteous and deferential than the common ‘van’ (Gorringe 2011). Against this impression of a membership in thrall to the leading light of the Page 13 of 27

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The Paradox of Parali Puthur party, many articulated critiques of the direction taken by the party. Thirumavalavan outlined his aims for the party as follows: Our key scale is acceptance, both by the party and the wider public. It is essential that the public do not develop an aversion to us and see us as a rowdy element. Veteran activists may be accepted and feted by cadres, but we need to reach out. … To enter the mainstream, we need interaction with others: Muslims, Women, Non-Dalits, and others do not know our aims, objectives, and issues. If this continues we can never win. … We need to take the forces of democracy on board if we are going to get into the mainstream. The first preference, though will be for people who we can all accept, only then will we maintain a strong team spirit. (Field notes, May 2012) Whilst his speech was greeted with applause as ever, a host of candidates then stood up to explain why they disagreed. The following accounts were typical: Many leaders come into the party, are promoted and grow and then they leave, while the rest of us stay mired in difficulties. Please think about rapid promotions of newcomers. Let people work for a while before getting posts. They come to the party today or yesterday and get posts while the rest of us who have slaved for decades are passed over. (Field notes, May 2012) In both pleas to the party leadership there is an echo of Mines and Gourishankar’s (1990) point about venality. Some newcomers, it is suggested, are merely joining the party to profit from the hard work of those who went before. Non-Dalit leaders are particularly susceptible to accusations of profiteering as we will see in Chapter 8. More generally, there was an undercurrent of anxiety, in Marai Malar Nagar and Madurai, that mid-level leaders were not doing enough. As one applicant put it: (p.229) Some leaders do not even work in or visit rural cheris and they need to do so. We need to campaign especially in local election wards with lots of cheris in them and win over our friends and relatives. If we can’t even do this then there is no hope of winning elections. (Field notes, May 2012)

Mind the Gap This sense of a party growing apart from its base was a recurrent theme. Whilst Mines and Gourishankar point to the ‘institutionalization’ of ‘big men’ in the sense that organizational forms reflect the pre-eminence of the central figure and spiral outwards to link the leader ‘to all members of his group’ (1990: 764), this can only be accomplished through the means of able secondary, or bridge, leaders (1990: 772). Where those leaders are absent, lack dedication and Page 14 of 27

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The Paradox of Parali Puthur popularity, or are not fully associated with the central leader, then the members can feel alienated from the party as happened in Parali Puthur. As seen earlier, some of the more senior leaders were seen as attaching themselves to Dravidian party politicians. Whilst this could be interpreted as maintaining connections to get things done, it was most commonly seen as a form of self-promotion and enrichment. It was partly due to this that the VCK were mid-way through a process of systematic reorganization in 2012. All postholders had been relieved of their duties—though they remained in post pending the announcement of replacements—and applications were invited from those wishing to replace them. Immediately the semi-professional nature of the VCK stood out. First, the party’s response to the demand for posts and the need to retain the support of the old guard whilst bringing in non-Dalits and other ‘democratic forces’, was to create more posts. Almost everyone I met and interviewed had some posting in the party. There were wings for engineers, farmers, women, students, Christians, and countless other categories, as well as VCK-affiliated Unions and all the usual ward, city, district, and state-level responsibilities. Competition for such posts was intense as people saw such titles as a ticket to influence or to remunerative deals and connections. The upshot was an abundance of leaders, but a lack of leadership. The plethora of posts meant that local level leaders were frequently infringing on areas and territory that others claimed as their own. In and around Madurai at (p.230) least, this competition resulted in fierce factionalism and attempts by different individuals and groups to position themselves advantageously. This may help explain the willingness of many respondents to criticize aspects of the party, though the same respondents in the late 1990s had sought to silence critiques of the movement. Speaking off the record for the most part they painted a picture of a party riven by infighting and sometimes working against each other. One issue fuelling ill-feeling was the expansion of the party to include non-Dalit leaders. This was one of the sorest points for Dalits in the party. One non-Dalit leader noted how: There was still a caste feeling among post-holders. They resent the incomers and ask them why they have joined this party: ‘he’s Thevar he should have joined that party, he is Muslim, why not a Muslim party’ and so on. (Rafique Interview, August 2012) Thiruma Pasumpon pointed to a lack of support from local Dalit leaders as one of the reasons why he stood down as VCK Mayoral candidate on the eve of the election. Factions not only compete against each other, in a Tamil political culture in which parties only have ‘room for one man at the top’ (Mines and Gourishankar 1990: 773), the elevation of a factional leader to prominence runs the risk that they will break away. Running alongside the element of horizontal Page 15 of 27

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The Paradox of Parali Puthur rivalry is the fear of schisms. When I noted the weakness of secondary leaders and the need for the VCK to do more to encourage and promote figures like Sindhanai Selvan, one senior campaigner in the party intimated that ‘he had tried to foster his own faction in the party but that effort was a failure and he has had his wings clipped as a consequence’ (Anon, Personal Communication, July 2012). Whether this is true or not, the fact that it is seen as credible shows the mutual distrust among secondary level leaders. If such factionalism offers one reason why there was a failure to actively promote, let alone accept and appreciate secondary leaders, there were other accounts of why the party structure was failing. One school of thought argued that the community lacked talent. Several senior leaders voiced this to me. The position was most sympathetically and coherently put by Tamil nationalist, non-Dalit state secretary of the Farmer’s Wing of the VCK, Velusamy who compared the VCK with earlier mobilizations: (p.231) When the Dravidian party emerged, people from Backward Castes, the next level to Brahmins, came together to dethrone Brahmin power. They [BCs] were educated, capable of individual thinking, economically well off, and they developed as competent leaders. Here, people are uneducated and not capable of thinking on their own. They have been oppressed by others for generation after generation. There was no one there at that time like Thirumavalavan to organize youth. So naturally it becomes like a one-man army. The party structure has been centred around Thirumavalavan. There is a difference between how we speak and how Thirumavalavan speaks. But there was no difference between how Nedunchezhiyan spoke and Annadurai spoke. Both had the ability to instigate Tamil feelings. Karunanidhi used Sanga Illakiyam [Literary Union] to inspire people and he would also speak like Annadurai. But here we didn’t have anyone. So, when a marginalized, uneducated, economically deprived community—a community which lacked opportunity to unite and mobilize due to oppression, has been progressing now—this is all because of his individual thinking and public speaking skills. People at the bottom are not ready to do that, they would fight for you, they would die, they would go to jail, but they can’t become leaders. (Interview, August 2012) A lawyer from Madurai who had recently joined the party, echoed the repeated refrain that middle-ranking leaders were no good and that the party was overreliant on the leader: The party is a good party, has enthusiastic followers, but its middleranking leaders are no good. If I ran a district, then I would hold training sessions and regular meetings. The cadres have enthusiasm but little understanding. For a party to work you need both manual labour and

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The Paradox of Parali Puthur mental labour. Thiruma is the only one doing mental labour, so we need to educate the members. (Vakil Interview, August 2012) This is, in some ways, an attractive explanation. It allows newcomers the dream that their talent will be recognized; re-emphasizes the exceptional talent and ability of the leader; and means that nothing really needs to be done. If there is the talent but it is not being nurtured, then structural changes might be called for. Some disaffected members, for instance, argued that Thirumavalavan was ‘too egotistical’ and ‘too reluctant to cede authority’. If the talent pool is nonexistent, however, then no blame need attach to the leadership and successors will emerge in due course. The longer such a situation is left to drift, though, as the DMK (and further afield the Aam Admi Party or AAP) have (p.232) found to their cost, the more likely any battle for succession and internal democracy and transparency will be messy. Also, as seen in Parali Puthur, the more likely it is that party work will stagnate in the absence of the leader. From this perspective, the over-centralization of the party is the problem. As one former activist put it: Whatever ‘concept’ [in English] the leader decrees from afar they protest about, how, and on the day he says —that alone they organize and carry out. Correspondingly, if he remains silent for five years then this lot will remain silent for five years with him. That’s how it is. In the meantime, when people like us join and say ‘There are people with problems here, with issues to be faced let’s protest’ then they will not join in. They do nothing. This is the thing—they say ‘I’m going to Chennai, I’m going here, I’m going there’ and they push off. (Ramesh Interview, February 2012) Ramesh is not alone in bemoaning the lack of initiative. Several others articulated similar concerns about the (in)activity of local leaders. Kumarvallavan, for example, was a committed local leader who felt that people should be more accepting of such leaders, but admitted that they were not helping themselves: K: The party needs to be run, secondary leaders are essential for the party, but all I can say is that we need to nurture the acceptance of them among our members. They also do not get close to the people. Even with us, not everyone gets close to us.

H: Are they not descending to the grassroots or not being allowed to work at the grassroots?

K: No, no, they do not come—who is stopping them? They must come mustn’t they? They must come to the people. Secondary rung leaders, even if they do not go to the people—they are not even interacting closely with the local level leaders are Page 17 of 27

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The Paradox of Parali Puthur they? [Dynamics in northern districts seem different here.] Now Annan whenever he comes will ask ‘how are you’ but none of those we see as secondary leaders will do that will they? If we greet them they just say: ‘Ah hello you’ (vaanga pa) and go on their way, so they have not learned how to respond yet have they? Post-holders have not taken that on, but secondary leaders are imperative if we are to be a party, then secondary leaders are vitally, vitally important. (Kumarvallavan Interview, August 2012)

Several respondents were especially critical of the party’s MLAs who had either abandoned the party—thus ‘proving’ that they (p.233) were only in it for themselves—or did not get involved at the grassroots sufficiently. Ravikumar, according to ArunMuthu from the Kattumannarkoil constituency that Ravi represented, is a leading light in terms of thinking and writing but: The main problem was that he was hardly ever there. He did not come to see people or visit constituents—that was the main problem. The main issue for the party is the gap between leaders and members. (Personal Communication, June 2012) Given the earlier emphasis on the significance of patronage in Tamil democracy, one charge levelled against Ravikumar carries significance. Whilst most respondents acknowledged his contributions in terms of interventions in the Assembly especially on behalf of minority communities and interests, they felt that he was somewhat disconnected from supporters. As an intellectual and critical commentator noted: See when you get into electoral politics, you have to do all sort of corrupt things; he did not even do them. He wanted all commissions for himself and this created a huge rift. He put on a number of political meetings and none of the cadre went to support him, because this fellow does not give commissions. If a fellow becomes an MLA it is not just because of his tireless work alone; the party is behind him. Because he did nothing for them, no one went and worked hard for his victory this time round. (Pandian Interview, April 2012) As seen in Chapter 4, the unwritten rules of political performance in Tamil Nadu dictate that leaders should act in certain ways and distribute largesse. Ravikumar is a leading figure in the Dalit movement, Manimozhiyan of Muduvarpatti—who campaigned for him in the election—put it, ‘but he did not go to the people’ (Interview, August 2012). Part of the problem, according to one old friend of the writer, is that: Ravikumar did not want to be party general secretary but he was made it and should do something in that light. Instead this is how he acts: he does not attend party events; he runs a magazine which reflects his academic and intellectual interests but does not mention the party at all. Basically he Page 18 of 27

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The Paradox of Parali Puthur operates within his particular circle and does little party work. (Namban, Personal Communication, June 2012) (p.234) Ravikumar, of course, had his defenders; this portrait is an exaggeration, but it bears a grain of truth that speaks to a bigger issue confronting the party. Reflecting on what had changed in the VCK over the past decade, Periyakulam leader and veteran campaigner Tamizhvanen, said: Back then we steadfastly faced up to the abuses of the dominant castes against Dalits and protested against them. We opposed the government, opposed the police department, opposed the revenue department, and fought fiercely against all of the government departments. We have shown people the real faces of all so-called great leaders through protests and posters against them. We are not in such a position now. Therefore, there is a massive gap now between central and outer points of the party. Since there is a gap we can’t take our message to people; we can’t take the fight to the people, the gap is too wide. Back then, the Panthers fought for issues that no one had touched before; the Panthers spread an ideology that none had preached before. People loved the movement that said ‘if you put restrictions we would violate them.’ This movement was accepted by people then. Today, in electoral politics, we have got 10 seats, we wanted to get the respect of all people, we compromised (our ideology) in some places, we clandestinely encouraged some activities, we wanted to contest in the election to capture power but we couldn’t. Only now are we starting to wonder whether our compromising attitude has alienated the people. (Interview, July 2012) One example encapsulates the VCK’s issues with secondary and local level leaders. In a village between Madurai and Melur, Munniamma—a middle aged Dalit woman who works in a petrol station—was inspired by but not a member of the VCK when her panchayat became a reserved constituency. When Thevars sought to assert themselves, she determined to stand in the election herself. Hearing this: Some [VCK] office-bearers came and visited us here. They—Kallarasan, Chellapandi, Saktivel, Thekutheru Praveen, Armugam, Puliyamma, Deepa Akka, they all came, and visited here and gave me their support and encouragement. Even though we would not win, we determined to stand. Even if we just get ten votes we must stand. Then after I contested and gained 725 votes … post-holders took me to Chennai and introduced me to Annan. That was the first time I met him. Annan was sitting talking to Karunanidhi. That is when I first met him and he gave me the posting there and then. He told Saktivel and others and made (p.235) me Melur Women’s Wing Secretary right then and that afternoon I had posters made and suck them up saying I was Ward Secretary. It was only after that that Page 19 of 27

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The Paradox of Parali Puthur this lot’s [BCs] brass neck has diminished. (Munniamma, Interview August 2012) The importance of local leadership is apparent here. First, Munniamma resists BC pressure to stand as an independent candidate and succeeds in attracting a significant number of votes and becoming a rallying point for local Dalits in fights against ongoing forms of casteism and untouchability. Second, the active intervention of local leaders strengthened her position and brought her into the party. Munniamma was one of a number of vivacious and feisty women who had been given posts in the party in a bid to increase the number of female leaders. She spoke of visiting nearby villages and recruiting swathes of women to the party and standing up against casteism. She stands as the perfect example of a ‘bridge leader’ who connects the leadership to the grassroots (Robnett 1997). She had recently been to prison following a confrontation with the dominant castes, however, and was deeply disappointed by the lack of support from the party. In the recent reorganization of the party, as a result, she had not reapplied for her post: That is, the post-holders are not at all like they used to be in the past. … They now befriend whichever member of the Kallars who is opposing me and they say: ‘I’ll appease Munniamma sir. You give me money sir. What can possibly happen? If she registers a case it will just come to the station at Melur won’t it? Then I’ll speak to the Superintendent of Police [SP]. It is a petition from Munniamma is it not? I’ll speak to them, just give me an amount’. It is those who let office-bearers like this into the cheri that we need to beat! … When I go to villages—to the women—they say: ‘Munniamma, you were in post and yet you went to prison for a month. You were locked up for a month akka, we are not joining your party. Your kids and family languished without support or kanji for a month; which official came a paid bail for you? Which office-bearers came to see you in Tiruchy jail?’ … That is what they ask! Then what response can I give them? (Munniamma, Interview August 2012) Captured in Munniamma’s experience is an insight into questions of leadership. On the one hand more people are being offered the (p.236) chance to assume posts which serves to embolden and empower them and renders party structures more representative of women and members of other castes. As a consequence, there are an array of lower level leaders in the party. When I asked Inkulab in Madurai about the lack of secondary leaders he replied: ‘You are here talking to me because I am a secondary leader aren’t you?’ (Interview, August 2012). Many of these leaders are active, engaged, passionate, and work hard to raise issues and address problems at the local level, but they often encounter structural problems when they need or seek further support. Interpersonal conflicts, lack Page 20 of 27

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The Paradox of Parali Puthur of authority, and a willingness to negotiate compromises by leaders looking up to allies rather than down to the masses, stymie the development of such leaders and adversely affect the standing of the party.

Leading Light For all the grumbles, it is instructive that even in critique there is a sense of kinship to the party. Despite the recent expansion of the party, this sense of kinship is still in large part related to caste. When I bumped in Bhoomi at the Muduvarpatti party wedding he asked if I had come to see ‘the great leader’. I recalled that he had not been active in the movement in the 1990s and asked if he had joined the party. ‘No, I am in the ADMK’. But you still respect Thirumavalavan? ‘Yes, he is our community leader; that is my party’ (Field notes, May 2012). There are echoes here of Chandra’s (2004) argument that caste constituencies are easier to mobilize due to expectations of reward. Vikraman, Madurai leader of the CPM, made precisely this point: In general, there is a natural inclination in our country when you say ‘you and I belong to same caste,’ isn’t it? The bond becomes stronger when you say ‘you and I belong to same caste’ rather than saying ‘you and I belong to same class’. They [Dalit parties] try to utilize that sentiment. (Interview, March 2012) In the case of Dalits, of course, the issue of leadership is not just tied to material considerations but to desires for respect and recognition. One of the key failings of the Communist parties, TNUEF Leader Neethi Rajan conceded, was the failure to elevate Dalits to leadership positions: (p.237) At the time when the [CPM] party failed to capitalize on our Dalit support and place them in leadership roles, the parties like PT and VCK gained their ground—this is what I think. Things have changed now in the Communist party. Recently, a Dalit candidate has been elected as the president of DYFI (Democratic Youth Federation of India, the CPM’s youth wing). (Interview, March 2012) The significance of leaders as role models is seen from a different perspective when Arunthathiyar movements question the extent to which established ‘Dalit’ parties adequately represent them. As Arunthathiyar leader Jakkaian noted: To be honest, I live with other’s support. People help me in many ways, especially the educated and government employees. They want to have a leader for themselves, like Thirumavalavan for Paraiyars, and Krishnasamy for Pallars. They look at me from that perspective. … Athiyamaan is another leader and people support him in different ways. (Interview, March 2012)

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The Paradox of Parali Puthur The continuing significance of caste is seen here and in the case of Sholavandan constituency discussed in Chapter 3 and party iconography analysed in Chapter 5. Irrespective of this, Thirumavalavan eschews a caste focus and has been able to attract people from across castes into the party. Just as he manages to reach out beyond caste, he rises above the internal differences and factions to remain a unifying and inspiring figure within his party. As Dhanapal put it, ‘if you are writing about the VCK, the key is the leader.’ I noted that many people were starting to criticize the party and asked whether Dalits now felt abandoned. D: Do they think that? There is no real chance for them to do so. At specific times and places they may, but there are no doubts or questions raised about the leader whatsoever. The respect and honour that the grassroots have for the leader have not altered one iota. Those who hang around him and do business in his name and who tell the people ‘you should do this or do that’ and thus betray the people–those are the people who the grassroots lose trust in, but not a single one attached blame to the leader. They still lap up his speeches, and trust that he has not done—and would not do—a single thing against the interests of the downtrodden. The people know this, but those around him who use his name to do things, who misuse his name for their own ends, they are the (p.238) ones who are rejected. The people are not fools. Of such folk they say ‘he is fooling the people but the leader remains honest’ the people are smart. Their faith in the party or the leader has not waned in the least. BCs and other party people stir up problems and rumours but they are without foundation. (Interview, March 2012)

In thus praising the leader, Dhanapal not only echoes the views of many, but serves to further the impetus towards centralization in denigrating other leaders. In making Thirumavalavan a beacon of integrity, honesty, and commitment, he implicitly endorses the views of Dalits in Parali Puthur who felt that the leader’s failure to visit amounted to a betrayal. The tendency to absolve the leader of all wrongs was widespread. Tamil Kanni, a veteran campaigner who had been to prison and faced multiple cases during the movement days, was typical: H: Now several people condemn the party.

T: Including me too.

H: But you are still in the party?

T:

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The Paradox of Parali Puthur I like Annachi. I have less time for the rest of the party, but Annachi knows me very well and came to see me when I was attacked and so I cannot say that I could go to another party. He has come to my house and slaved hard and got his hands dirty for the sake of the people unlike other leaders. So he is the best leader still. There is no one else also. (TamilKanni Interview, March 2012)

Whilst non-party members were more likely to implicate Thirumavalavan in the over-centralization of the party, no one else can compete for the affections of followers. Some of the more critical members and leaders felt that Thirumavalavan could do more to nurture secondary leaders but Manimozhiyan —the local leader from near Alanganallur—was not alone in extolling his leader’s virtues: If you ask how so many leaders have emerged from this downtrodden community, then it is to our God, Fervent Tamilian Thirumavalavan that heartfelt thanks are due. Not just this generation, but the next as well will be in his debt. No matter what he chooses to do: he can go to the DMK this time or the ADMK, he can join the Communists or dissolve the party, he can say we should stay as a movement or that we should (p.239) take up arms like the Liberation Tigers. He can marry, or buy 500 acres for himself and his family alone. No matter what he does, this community should be grateful to him; this community is indebted to him. (Interview, August 2012) This abdication of critical faculties in relation to the leader made me question the extent of democracy within the party. Several respondents insisted that the party lacks internal mechanisms for meaningful debate and decision-making since all issues are ultimately determined by the leader. Thirumavalavan’s attempts to institute structures of collective decision-making were shouted down in the nomination meetings. When I put this to Manimozhiyan, his response was enlightening: ‘Democracy? Complete [in English]. There is not a single leader in Tamil Nadu with whom you can interact so informally or who will eat with you as an equal.’ When I noted that this was familiarity or kin-feeling rather than democracy, I was rebuked. Following Wyatt (2010b), it is important to stress that the VCK meetings witness a range of voices and opinions, but for these debates and fora to be meaningful, structures and processes that facilitate change within the party need to be functional and transparent. In Tamil political life, Dickey (1993: 350) avers, ‘the presence of the politician, or any respected person … bestows honour on the ceremony or the occasion’. The fact that Thirumavalavan still travels up and down the state—and increasingly across the world—visiting supporters, blessing weddings, and attending social events continues to endear him to party members. He clearly remains one of the most approachable leaders in the state. For all the complaints about the coterie around him who police the doors and determine who gets in to see him and when, on the multiple occasions when I visited I was one of a score of people Page 23 of 27

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The Paradox of Parali Puthur who gained admittance for a quick word or interaction. He was almost unfailingly polite and fell in with requests for photos, listened to accounts, and chatted personably with people, though he berated them for the ceaseless attention on public stages. This approachability and accessibility lends weight to the fictive kinship that continues to tie most followers—even the most critical ones—to their ‘Annan’. Although it is a strength in this regard, the model constrains what the party can do and its ability to develop meaningful structures of leadership.

(p.240) Leadership Lessons? In the VCK, one state-level leader put it—using a quip by Tamil comic Vadivelu —‘the building is strong, but the foundations are weak’ (Interview, July 2012). What he means is that the party is well-established as a fixture in Tamil politics and has a growing membership and resource base, but its infrastructural scaffolding hinges on the leader and does not reach down into the grassroots as those of the movement did. He felt that the attempt to reorganize the party and replace local leaders would address this to some extent, but conceded that the party needed to train and develop secondary-level leaders better and delegate more power to them if they were to retain the close links to the people that took them to prominence. The leader is clearly not immune to questioning or above reproach. The intimacy of the relationship, characterized by the terms of fictive kinship, predicates a relationship with give and take on both sides. Thirumavalavan, thus, must exert himself and go out of the way to meet ‘the people’ who do not view him in purely instrumental terms but see him as an inspirational figure to whom they are bound by ties of obligation and affection. This personalization of the relationship not only cements the loyalty to the leader, but also renders the democratization of the party problematic. Hansen (2004) argues that successful leadership has a performative aspect to it and includes staging spectacles to enhance the image/ standing of the leader. Panther events at present, both emphasize and undermine Thirumavalavan’s authority: on the one hand he is the star to whom all eyes are turned, simultaneously the lack of discipline can make this seem like empty adulation. The Manimozhiyan who worships Thirumavalavan, thus, was one of those who voted against the VCK coalition in Sholavandan. This breach of party strategy illustrates issues of leadership in the VCK. That an ardent follower of Thirumavalavan and bridge leader in the party should flout instructions in this manner speaks volumes. It was telling that the most vibrant atmosphere I encountered in movement events in 2012 occurred where Thirumavalavan held power (casteists, police, Government) to account or spoke of the achievements of the party. My sense from speaking to members on the ground was that more needed to be done to sell the (p.241) gains of politicization and the virtues of different alliances. Too often, cadres were told that this was the best of two poor options. The voluntarism and enthusiasm that Page 24 of 27

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The Paradox of Parali Puthur took multiple activists to Chidambaram to campaign in the 1999 election has ebbed away as the gains to be made from political engagement have become less clear. Speaking to those on the peripheries of the party highlights the urgent need to nurture and encourage secondary leaders who can take the message of the party to the people. It is vitally important to this end, that those chosen to stand as MLAs or MPs are not just those with means or who speak well and appeal to non-Dalits; they need to be actively engaged with their constituents and communicate their endeavours to the party in person and through active bridge leaders. Most respondents spoke of the growing gap between leaders and members. One contributory factor here is the elevation of newcomers— especially non-Dalits—to positions of leadership. In the past, the route to prominence was clear; hard work and commitment paid off. Now, as Thirumavalavan repeatedly explained at the nomination meetings, various factors had to be considered to help the party grow and appeal to a wider constituency. This is not to say that newcomers are necessarily unworthy. Villavan Kothai, as we have seen, was among the first to reach Parali Puthur. The establishment of the party as a reliable alliance partner, however, means that leaders have more means to develop themselves. The gap between leaders and led, thus, is increasingly marked by affluence. In this situation, accusations of venality and corruption are rife and claims of betrayal seem credible. It is true—as seen in Artral Arasu’s quotes earlier in this chapter—that secondary leaders struggle for acceptance. As I thanked the villagers in Parali Puthur and made to leave, an elderly lady clutched at my arm and said earnestly: ‘Thambi, ayya [sir] must come. Ayya must come and raise a flag here’ (Field notes, June 2012). Whilst this focus on the leader is unavoidable, more could be done to overcome the contempt borne of familiarity; had Ravikumar or Sindhanai Selvan, whose base lies in the north, visited Parali Puthur, the absence of the leader might have been less keenly felt. Such moves might help foster the sense of a party engaged with its roots rather than divorced from them. One former member of the VCK argued that the style and feel of the party had changed: (p.242) His situation and his circumstances have changed. As he is a Tamil leader now, he occasionally descends and talks to people because only if he does will people respect him. How do you think Vijayakant acts? They’ll be working in the fields, slaving in the fields and he makes a show of hugging them; makes out he lives for them by going and hugging and kissing them or handing out money and they all fall about and go: ‘aha, such a big man, such an actor coming to talk to us, he came to see us’ and they get fooled like that. When I say they are deceived, I mean that they then go and vote for him at the next election. (Interview, April 2012)

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The Paradox of Parali Puthur To compare Thirumavalavan’s interactions to those of Vijayakant is misleading and intended as a deliberate slight. Thirumavalavan, we have seen, remains accessible, personable, and approachable in a way that few leaders are. What the barbed comment demonstrates is the need for the party to reconnect with the people to counter accusations that leaders are simply out for themselves. This is particularly important given the frustrations of older activists at the loss of radicalism. For all its development as a party, the VCK remains largely reactive and dependent on the opportunities afforded by other parties. In 2009, Thirumavalavan did propose a Third Front, but when no leaders responded, he returned to the DMK. Again in 2015, he sought to set the agenda by campaigning for meaningful coalitions based on shared power (Karthikeyan and Gorringe 2015). Such proactivity is essential but it needs to be sustained and the party needs to extract more from alliance partners (either policies or patronage) —and publicize this—to persuade members to vote with enthusiasm rather than obligation. The PWF in 2016 is one step in this direction. Irrespective of its performance in the elections, the alliance has re-energized the party faithful since the distance from the two Dravidian parties enabled Thirumavalavan to be more critical and fiery in his speeches. Standing without the dominant parties will allow the VCK to shore up and establish its vote-base. Furthermore, as we have seen, PWF allies have stood united against caste violence. Such concessions may be symbolic, but in a state where the Dravidian behemoths will not risk alienating the intermediate castes they are significant and consequential shifts in position. In her study of leadership in Tamil Nadu, Widlund (2000: 366) observes that activists expect tangible rewards to encourage them to (p.243) campaign, meaning that the VCK cannot succeed on the basis of Thirumavalavan’s popularity alone. In light of the above-mentioned point it is clear that the rewards of campaigning may also be the intangible gains of solidarity and unity in the face of caste injustices. First, they need to enthuse and mobilize supporters and keep them onside, for which active bridge leaders are imperative to communicate and interpret party positions. The rapid promotion of newcomers, to this end, needs to be accompanied by measures to retain the trust of older activists. Second, the leaders need to be seen to condemn and control the ‘depredations of others’ (Widlund 2000: 367). This last point has become especially pertinent in light of countless rumours and allegations about corruption and compromise within the party. It is the move beyond Dalits and the allegations of compromise that concern the next two chapters. Notes:

(1) In August 1995, police stormed into the village of Kodiyankulam on the pretext of looking for trouble-makers involved in recent Thevar vs Pallar clashes.

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The Paradox of Parali Puthur They destroyed property and polluted the Dalits’ drinking water (see Gorringe 2005: 162–3 for details). (2) See The Hindu report here: http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/tamilnadu/violence-rocks-two-villages/article1455991.ece and a short video account here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5NWEmXb4CPM (both accessed 22 June 2016). (3) See the story here: http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/tamil-nadu/ suicides-after-jayalalithaa-sentence-aiadmk-gives-rs-7-crore-to-families/ article7213966.ece (Accessed 26 June 2016). (4) It is important to note that several VCK respondents pointed out that there was a difference between the party in Madurai and in northern districts. Speaking to members and analysts across the state, however, this difference is perhaps not as significant as they would have me believe.

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The ‘Sewer of Politics’?

Panthers in Parliament: Dalits, Caste, and Political Power in South India Hugo Gorringe

Print publication date: 2017 Print ISBN-13: 9780199468157 Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: March 2017 DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199468157.001.0001

The ‘Sewer of Politics’? Corruption, Co-optation, and Compromise Hugo Gorringe

DOI:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199468157.003.0008

Abstract and Keywords In 1999 activists warned that politics was a sewer and that any who entered into it would be tainted. In 2012, many argued that those predictions were all too prescient. The VCK was widely spoken of as the katta panchayat party (though little evidence was ever produced to support this) and were said to be involved in compromising on cases and in cases of corruption. This chapter details these accounts and places them within a wider analysis of political brokerage and deal-making in Tamil Nadu. It demonstrates how Tamil politics works through informal connections, networks and deals and offers an analysis of such everyday corruption. Keywords:   Corruption, patronage politics, katta panchayats, brokerage, Tamil politics

This movement emerged differently from other Backward or Dalit movements of that time. This was not VCK then. Thirumavalavan took over the responsibility from Malaichamy in the DPI. There were so many organizations even at that time. But what others would normally do is to compromise with the government, they would hold talks with the government for Dalit people if there was any caste-based violence, they would go and talk with the government officials, and hold protests at the micro level. Finally, they would get along with the government on the eve of election in order to get one or two Assembly seats. —(Velusamy Interview, August 2012) Page 1 of 35

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The ‘Sewer of Politics’? There is a selfishness in all politics. Look at how seats are allocated in all parties. It is all about money and donations. For instance, if there was an election here at my workplace—I’ve worked here for years and they all know me, but I have no money. What happens is that you come along and hand over a big lot of money and they give you the seat. Whether you win the election or not is another story, but that is how seats are allocated. It is pure ‘business’ [in English]. —(Yesuraj, Personal Communication, February 2012)

(p.245) Into the Sewer? In the 2016 Tamil Legislative Assembly elections, the Tamil wing of the BJP produced a poster condemning the corruption of existing parties who are accused of buying votes with freebies and bribes. Jayalalithaa is depicted on a throne and wearing ostentatious jewellery, Karunanidhi sits next to mounds of notes and gold, and Thirumavalavan is portrayed in black attire like a thief with a sack of bank-notes on his back.1 The VCK supporters were outraged and insisted that this demonstrated how the BJP viewed and singled out Dalit leaders. The poster implied that the VCK were now enmeshed in processes of corruption in the state. Processes of institutionalization are frequently attended by claims that movements are selling out, so when they abandoned their poll boycott and entered institutional politics the Panthers were riven by discord. There was a strong sense, evident in the quote from Tamil nationalist and VCK leader Velusamy, that VCK identity was linked to extra-institutional radicalism. Whilst leaders maintained that repression and isolation left them little option but to affirm their democratic credentials, many saw politics as a sewer that would taint all those who entered it. Harriss (2007) reports that such attitudes towards politics are widespread. Sherkat and Blocker (1997) note how activists are shaped by their political engagement and may view integration into the political-economic system as a form of selling out in itself. In 2012, several respondents felt that this is precisely what had come to pass, attesting that the VCK had lost its radicalism and integrity and now attracted people seeking to make money rather than change society. Just as institutionalization takes particular forms, the means by which activists become corrupt or lose their radicalism are coloured by local norms and practices (cf. Jeffrey 2002). In the Tamil case, the charge of selling out had two facets: on the one hand, integration into political networks increased opportunities to benefit financially and on the other, such connections increased pressures to compromise and (p.246) negotiate settlements following caste discrimination or violence. As Yesuraj (above)—a Dalit office worker—highlights, entering politics increases the need for resources; to maintain appearances, bankroll campaigns, pay for posters and cut-outs, and make a living (cf. Suri 2013). Veterans of the mobilization phase saw this either

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The ‘Sewer of Politics’? as a betrayal of everything they stood for, or the understandable desire by longsuffering activists to reap the rewards of their struggle. If the perceived focus on money was dispiriting, there were acute concerns over how wealth was acquired. Rumours of criminality, compromises, and brokerage swirled around the party as encapsulated in the BJP poster described earlier. Multiple cases reported in the media linked party members to land deals or extortion.2 The muscular militancy of the Panthers, who promised to hit back and exact revenge for caste atrocities, gave them the status of determined and fearless campaigners. This strong-man image was certainly helpful in the real estate business, where pressure and intimidation are staple ingredients (Cook 2015), and numerous Panthers in 2012 worked in real estate. In the run-up to the 2016 state elections, Gopalan (2016) stated that ‘in the last ten years or so, he [Thirumavalavan] has encouraged muscle power, which helps his loyalists enrich themselves.’ An anonymized local leader of the party in Madurai was scathing of fellow activists: M: Since they became a party they have lost their objectives, their focus, and their passion. It is all about lining their own nests. Look at the number of millionaires in this district!

H: How do they get so rich?

M: Transfers, getting jobs for people, intervening in disputes, and taking a cut from both sides, real estate. All out for themselves. (p.247)

H: When did this start?

M: When they met the elections. (Meesaikaran Interview, July 2012)

As with many of the allegations levelled at the party, Meesaikaran’s broad-brush account lacked evidence or substance. Whilst the claims of compromise and corruption were inescapable, the details were elusive or disputed. On several occasions, I was told that dominant castes had bought the silence of the Panthers on an issue, only to find, as in Parali Puthur, that they had held mass protests. Vocal critics, in turn, claimed that many of these protests were ‘for appearance sake’ and did not imply sustained commitment. The intense competition for places and factionalism within the party may explain some of the stories, but the number of similar tales cropping up from respondents and in the media suggests that the VCK has not been untainted by the move to politics.

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The ‘Sewer of Politics’? Such concerns, of course, are not new. Ambedkar discussed similar concerns in 1943: Indian politics, at any rate the Hindu part of it, instead of being spiritualized has become grossly commercialized, so much so that it has become a byword for corruption. Many men of culture are refusing to concern themselves in this cesspool. Politics has become a kind of sewage system, intolerably unsavoury, and unsanitary. To become a politician is like going to work in the drain. (Ambedkar 1943) Corruption in politics remains a high-profile issue that saw thousands of protestors gather to demand greater accountability and witnessed the emergence of the AAP in 2012. Its website holds that the system ‘does not allow honest politicians to function’ and claims that they are only contesting elections to ‘change the current corrupt and self-serving system of politics forever’.3 In an email, similarly, Ravikumar used Ambedkar’s quote above before concluding: ‘Are we going to clean the drain or sink in it? That’s the question standing before us’ (Personal Communication, December 2013). This chapter concerns the difficult and painful questions surrounding the VCK’s entry into politics. We begin with research on the political world into which the party were immersed as an important corrective to (p.248) accounts, which single out the Dalit party for condemnation. We then turn to the assertions that party members have become money-minded and look at some of the accusations of betrayal and compromise, before considering whether there is any space for negotiation in Dalit movements and charting ongoing struggles against injustice. Two caveats are in order here: first, amidst a barrage of claims and counter-claims there was no irrefutable proof in most cases. The key for me was the extent to which such assertions were seen as credible by those on the ground. Second, the research was focused in and around Madurai where the dynamics and issues are different to those in northern districts where corporate appropriation of land is more common. We shall see that whilst some members of the VCK do engage in forms of compromise and brokerage, the attention devoted to this, by the BJP and others, is disproportionate and speaks to the renegotiation of power entailed in the emergence of a new stratum of mediators.

The Market for Public Office? In his research on administrative corruption, Wade (1985) argues that the system is structured in a way that puts pressure on officials to bend the rules. So endemic is the problem that: one can understand why, from the point of view of farmers and contractors, an ‘honest’ engineer is not one who does not take money, but one who takes no more than the normal rate, who does not haggle, and who having taken your money at least tries to help you in return. (Wade 1982: 308)

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The ‘Sewer of Politics’? Singh (1997: 638) similarly reports opinion poll findings that voters in India would prefer a ‘leader who is corrupt but efficient to one who is honest but inefficient’. ‘Poor people mainly challenge corruption’, Corbridge (2013: 223) concludes, ‘when the sums exacted from them depart from the figures they expect to pay’. Wade’s premise is that people ‘vote for whom they think can give them most favours’ (1985: 487, emphasis in original). The number of people voting for Dalit parties that have no chance of winning challenges this assumption, but we have seen how activists anticipated some return from the VCK whether it be a voice in Parliament or access to (p.249) various government schemes and services. The key mechanism that Wade focuses upon is the market for government posts and transfers. This has a direct bearing on Dalit politics in a number of ways: first, it has driven up the ‘rupee price of successful politics’ (Wade 1985: 479). This means that emergent parties require significant resources to compete with others. Singh (1997: 634) argues that there is now a compulsion for parties to ‘build a sound financial support base’. Given the remunerative potential of political office, Wade (1985) points towards the spiralling costs of election campaigns and money spent in the effort to secure votes. Such practices have only increased since the 1980s, meaning that poorly resourced parties struggle to compete (Wyatt 2013a).4 Second, the susceptibility of administrative officials to transfer, makes them ‘very vulnerable to pressures to behave corruptly’ and respond to political pressure (1985: 485). Given that political and social power lies in the hands of established parties, this increases the difficulties that insurgent organizations face in seeking to establish themselves. Finally, Wade draws on Scott’s (1972) work to distinguish between ‘market’ and ‘parochial’ corruption. The former refers to the buying of influence, whereas the latter signals the use of networks of kin, caste, and affinity to access and influence powerholders. Lower-caste politicians, as Singh (1997: 629) notes, are often censured when they emulate the techniques of the predecessors, as the furore over Ashish Nandy’s comment that ‘most of the corrupt come from the OBCs and the scheduled castes’ recently demonstrated (Guru 2013: 40). ‘Signs of market corruption,’ Wade (1985: 487) observes, ‘will generate less opposition than signs of parochial corruption’. Dalit parties, as a consequence, are placed in a double bind; supporters anticipate that their access to power will facilitate the redistribution of the rewards of office, but any participation by Dalit leaders in patronage politics is liable to be decried as corruption. Before turning to the specificities of the case study, therefore, it is important to (p.250) stress that intervention and mediation to secure posts and services is widespread (Borooah 2016), and the very essence of Tamil politics. One respondent, who worked for the Tamil Nadu State Transport Corporation, detailed how his transfer request was expedited:

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The ‘Sewer of Politics’? After marriage I got a secondment to the family home. Then one day the manager came up to me and shook my hand and said, ‘Thank you for your hard work over the past three years, tomorrow you can return to your duty in Sondaoor.’ I was shocked—tomorrow?! I did not know what to do, but there is an ex-driver, member of our TN State Transport Corporation who is now a big man in the Dravidian Party…. One of my colleagues had worked with him and knew him well, so I took half a day off work, got hold of this colleague and went straight to see Tharakar.5 Fortunately he was at home. Then my friend introduced me and explained the issue and he said, ‘Tomorrow? Why have you left it so late?’ ‘I only found out today—my wife and child are here and I have no one now back in Sondaoor, my parents too have shifted.’ Like this we talked, then he said ‘OK’ and he got on the phone to the Managing Director of my work and said ‘This is Tharakar here —they all know him because of his political connections and so the MD sat up and listened. ‘There is this bloke [name] who is in a spot of bother. His transfer will come through soon so keep him on till then’…. About a week later … I went to see him and he told me to get two flight tickets to go to Madras and see the Transport Minister (TM). I was appalled—two flight tickets would cost a fortune. I said that I’d get his flight and travel by train myself and he laughed and told me where to meet him. Next day … the Assembly was sitting and everyone was there so we stood there waiting for the TM to emerge. Then another minister came out and saw Tharakar and immediately shook his hand and engaged him in conversation. Whilst they were chatting the TM came out and walked past. I was totally in a flutter because he was walking away. I couldn’t interrupt and Tharakar could not extract himself. … Tharakar told me to get in his car and we drove straight to the minister’s home. Just as we arrived we saw him coming out to get in his car and drive south. Fortunately, as he came down the steps we arrived and he saw Tharakar. Then the two of them headed back into the house. He asked me to come in, but I said, ‘it’s ok, you go ahead’, and waited outside. Finally, they emerged, shook hands, and went separate ways…. A week later my transfer came through and I showed it to my friend and asked what I needed to do and he asked for (p.251) Rs 25,000. I was shocked and protested—I had anticipated much less, but he asked if I wanted the transfer revoked, so in the end there was no other way but to pawn various things and pay up…. How they shared out the money I have no idea, whether Tharakar got 20, and my pal 5 or 15 and 10 I do not know…. H: And was there any follow up? Do they expect you to work for the party or anything as a consequence? No, no nothing like that—just the money and it was finished after that. (Poriyalar, March 2012) Page 6 of 35

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The ‘Sewer of Politics’? My respondent was neither well connected politically nor affluent. Lacking ties to the mnister or the party, he drew on his personal networks to effect the transfer. The process was more expensive as a result, but it was effective. The informal and personal contacts employed make it very hard to secure formal proof of corruption and minimize the risks of legal action (cf. Wade 1985). As Scott (1972: 89) notes: ‘Market competition tends to become institutionalized so that there is a widely known and rather stable price for a particular action.’ The range of actions involved is extensive (Wyatt 2013a and b). Informal brokerage extends beyond politics to inform everyday life. It is central to real estate and land deals as De Neve (2015) and Cook (2015) demonstrate, but also governs mundane transactions: Government subsidized gas is much cheaper than the commercial equivalent and setting up an account that entitles you to it is difficult. Indeed, it is so painstaking that people transfer accounts as much as possible. Some friends transferred a parent’s account from Nagpur to Chennai as they were struggling to create one. We were using a friend’s gas cylinder when it ran out. At this point there was a strike by lorry drivers which had resulted in an acute shortage of gas supply. Immediately our friends rallied round. In the first instance they sought to partially refill the cylinder to tide us over. This practice is illegal and the place where it was done had been shut down by the police. The practice was said to be continuing underground, but you needed to know people in the know to get directions. Secondly they tried to see if the gas company could be ‘persuaded’ to deliver early. In the event, we paid Rs 900 instead of the usual 400 to a delivery man who knew our friends well and owed them a favour. The extra payment in itself, thus, was insufficient. Numerous phone calls and negotiations were required to get to that point first. (Field notes, April 2012) (p.252) Similar examples abound. A respondent requiring a birth certificate for his child was told that the office was short-staffed, but that ‘Rs 500 would oil the wheels’. When he said he could not pay that much, the person behind the counter tried reasoning: ‘There are five of us working here, that is only 100 per person, but you will find that it really helps.’ Failure to pay meant a longer wait and much less helpful staff. Small bribes are seen as a common courtesy that help move things along. ‘Every area of interaction between citizens and officials to get some work done’, according to Borooah (2016: 3), ‘resulted in someone, somewhere having to pay a bribe’. Having connections is another way to open doors. One respondent narrated another banal instance. He was on holiday when he was told that the wildlife reserve was out of bounds. His uncle at that time was senior in the Forestry Commission and so he gave him a call and put him on to the wardens. Within minutes, a special case was made for his party to proceed on their sight-seeing adventure. Again, in July 2012, in central Madurai I witnessed police haul over a motorcycle rider who was defying traffic rules. Page 7 of 35

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The ‘Sewer of Politics’? Quite a heated argument ensued before it became clear that the rider’s claims to be well-connected in the ruling party bore some weight. At that point he was issued with a lame admonishment and allowed on his way. Negotiation, mediation, and either drawing on or paying political connections to get things done, characterize ‘machine politics’ in Tamil Nadu (de Wit 1996). Where small time players like VCK activists come in, is as ‘link-workers’ who ‘mediate between different worlds’ and parties in complex transactions (Cook 2015: 292). It is essential to establish this context to show how Dalit parties have been integrated into institutionalized ways of doing politics rather than being especially venal. The wider literature underscores the importance of brokers or fixers who help citizens access information and state resources (Berenschot 2014; Piliavsky 2014). Jai Singh, a politically aware Dalit photographer, argued that one reason why the VCK is condemned by others is that they are displacing old elites in this role: They [established parties] are just angry that another party is getting involved now. They are annoyed and angry when VCK office-bearers can buy a Sumo or vehicle like that. Another thing is that people come to the (p.253) VCK because they can get things done. If you go to the ADMK or the DMK. With Azhagiri6 here, you raise an issue, or get him involved and he will swallow the money. With this lot, they will take some money but they will get the job done. So you are going to lose money either way— which is better? (Personal Communication, June 2012) From this perspective, the issue is not that the VCK is doing anything unusual, but that hitherto excluded groups have gained access to state resources and patronage. Corbridge (2013: 223) argues that lower-caste entrants to politics feel that it is ‘their turn to milk the state’ and points to a different morality at play in evening out corruption. Singh (1997: 629), though, observes the opprobrium heaped on underprivileged groups when they emulate the techniques of their predecessors. Were the VCK simply assuming the role of mediator and benefitted as others have done, it would be immensely popular with upwardly mobile Dalits. Indeed, those who have benefitted from the patronage of the party celebrate this novel access to power. In trying to understand the internal critiques of party functioning, therefore, we need to look elsewhere.

Panthers Incorporated? In the late 1990s, activists frequently bemoaned the fact that those working for NGOs were profiting from their groundwork. Similar charges of profiteering were levelled in 2012, but the targets this time were within the party. Maalin, a long-term member of the VCK left to form a new organization, asserting that the party no longer held true to their ideals:7 M: Page 8 of 35

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The ‘Sewer of Politics’? Commercial Dalit politics has arrived; this is not true Dalit politics. Going to the people in pure white shirts and holding forth, that is their politics. (p.254)

H: OK, but like it, or not we have become a party. As a consequence of this at least can they get people jobs or SC/ST certificates or transfers or so on? Are they at least doing that?

M: That they are doing. But they ask money for it. Five hundred rupees. If they obtain a caste certificate for you—600 rupees.

H: They even have a rate for these things?

M: Yes (laughs)

H: Like going to a café?

M: Yes, yes—600 rupees for a caste certificate. Income certificate Rs 150. Pattas are obtained for 5000 rupees or 10,000 rupees.

H: Then people will stand by them for this at least?

M: Yes, they come and stand there daily. In the same way as we stand in line for Dravidian parties—the DMK or the ADMK—in like manner they are standing for the VCK. ‘They will do something for us’ is their view. They do not stand there anticipating a liberation struggle. … The idea that the liberation of the downtrodden is most important and we will stand by that— all such resolutions have been lost. The Paramakudi police firing can be taken as an example … within six months they were voting in Sankarankovil. (Interview, June 2012)

As the reference to Paramakudi implies, Maalin was speaking of Dalit politics in general here. PT had condemned the government for the police firing and called for a CBI inquiry, but then campaigned for the AIADMK as an ally in the Sankarankovil bye-election. The reference to elections and political hand-outs also highlights that this is clearly seen as an outcome of integration into politics. As Scott (1972: 89) suggested, these forms of corruption ‘become institutionalized’, and the ‘price-list’ in the quote above indicates that such processes are in train in Tamil Nadu. Given the widespread nature of such corruption, one could follow Witsoe’s (2012) work in Bihar in celebrating the fact that Dalits now have their own agents who can grant them access to key benefits. Cook (2015) notes how important caste is to brokers’ links, and De Page 9 of 35

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The ‘Sewer of Politics’? Neve’s (2015) research in parts of Tamil Nadu where Dalit movements have been less active illustrates how caste networks can exclude the lowest castes from property markets. Dalits now have brokers but, in line with Scott, college educated (p.255) but non-political youth Vijay and Ajith in Melavalavu explained that these gains have a price: V: There are 4 or 5 Government employees here, but that is at the lower levels— driving and so on. The educated people here as yet have not got into jobs. …

H: Now we heard that Thiruma annan had got two or three people Government jobs, is that true?

A: Yes, that’s who we are talking of.

HG: That’s true then? [Yes] Did they take money for that?

V: They’ll have taken some money. He will not have taken money, those below him will have accepted money. People like [named official] and so on will have demanded money. (Melavalavu Field notes, June 2012)

As we have seen, those seeking transfers, jobs or other benefits work through intermediaries and politicians and are expected to pay for these services (cf. Wyatt 2013a), so this cannot explain the antipathy towards the VCK. The key, as former Mayoral candidate Thiruma Pasumpon suggests, is the extent to which new income streams are distributed. He spoke of alliance partners disbursing huge sums of money and noted that ‘whether this percolates down or not is the question. This helps explain the rush to get a post in the party’. (Interview, August 2012) Wade (1985) also highlights the transfers of large sums to ‘vote-bank leaders’ by established politicians seeking to gain votes. The central problem, as seen here, is not that VCK members are doing well for themselves, but that the comparisons between an emerging strata of leaders with political connections and the rest lead to resentment and envy. Whereas all activists in the past struggled to make ends meet, well-connected ones now can thrive. Time and again I heard snide comments about mid-level leaders riding in cars, cosying up to politicians and building large homes, and in party nomination meetings, established district leaders stood out in terms of attire, comportment, and vehicles. Notwithstanding this, criticisms were not universal and plenty of people were sympathetic to and supportive of those who had managed to get ahead, and saw condemnations as motivated by jealousy. Their views mirrored Page 10 of 35

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The ‘Sewer of Politics’? theorists like Jenkins (p.256) (1983) who speak of social movement entrepreneurs finding a career for themselves through protest. As Aathiyamaan told an audience of Adi-Tamilar Peravai (ATP) supporters: I myself have wondered how Thirumavalavan is always in Kalaignar Karunanidhi’s office, but there is a trail of toil, suffering, and humiliation that marks his passage to recognition. For a Dalit leader to gain political recognition is no easy task. (Speech, August 2012) Having gained recognition through hard work, Dalit leaders are then required to ‘play the game’ and conform to widespread expectations. Pandiyammal, Madurai District Secretary, stressed that as ‘District Secretary you have to have a vehicle’ to gain respect (Personal Communication, May 2012). Whilst many pointed to her vehicle, with its VIP pass to a DMK wedding on the windscreen, and her new house, as indicating someone who had profited from politics, others demurred. Palani Kumar, who had left the party, applauded her: Pandiyammal built a Rs. 40 lakh house in a cheri8—others complained, but that is the one thing I value about her house. She stands as an example and model for others and also shows that cheris can be developed, so I appreciate that. So many people move up and out and move away, but she has stuck to the same place and developed it. (Interview, April 2012) Local leader Manimozhiyan, similarly, urged me to understand the background and context within which such conspicuous consumption occurred. First, there was the fact that postholders in all other parties were better off, but more to the point: The underlying reason for that is that this community has lacked means in the past. As they gain some finances they think to experience what their fathers never had: ‘let us too go by car, let us too build a house’. We have not taxed the people to any great degree, but we are keen to taste the successes of others. (Interview, August 2012) (p.257) Several less wealthy respondents told me how they had fulfilled their dreams of travelling by air even though they could barely spare the expense. A popular Dalit song in the 1990s spoke of impoverished Dalits looking up as planes flew overhead and noted wistfully how the dreams of the poor evaporated like the exhaust streams they left behind. Having struggled for social recognition, fought against discrimination, and laboured to be accepted as equals, Manimozhiyan stressed, the desire to follow those ambitions and develop oneself could not be condemned. Both the point about role models and the emphasis on the need for contextualized understanding are important and help explain the continuing popularity of the party. Despite this, complaints, frustrations, and allegations Page 11 of 35

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The ‘Sewer of Politics’? were rife. The concern is not that leaders wish to better themselves, but that the gains of politics are inequitably distributed; that the rewards for the toil of activists accrue to new leaders; and that there are ethical concerns about how some of the new-found wealth is obtained. Pay-outs from coalition partners are viewed as a benefit of politicization and welcomed as such. The questions here concern both who gets the money and whether the income entails co-option. Jakkaian, leader of an Arunthathiyar movement, saw this as inevitable: When you enter party politics, the situation is such that you can’t speak anything outside the Assembly, without the permission of your alliance leader. In Tamil Nadu, we have Karunanidhi and Jayalalithaa. Thirumavalavan can speak against the government now because he is part of Karunanidhi’s opposition alliance, but once Karunanidhi comes to power then he won’t speak anything against the government. (Interview, March 2012) More nuanced critics were frustrated that the VCK did not raise Dalit issues on coalition platforms and noted that this perpetuated the notion that Dalits were a ‘side’ issue and not part of the mainstream. The compulsions of politics, however, could mean more than just biting your tongue whilst sharing a stage, as Tamizhvanen in Periyakulam noted. At the moment we have an alliance with parties who insisted that we should scrap that [SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities] Act. We’ve joined hands with those political parties. It is a compulsion of electoral politics. (p.258) In TN, Dravidian parties have been ruling for the last 40–50 years. The great Congress movement has been ruling the country for 60 years. Yet, the social structure is still stratified based on caste and divided into villages and cheris. In government administration, BC officials tease and taunt officials from the SC community about lacking intelligence. People used to witness such things and believed that the VCK was the movement that would rescue them from such acts. But people have now begun to feel that we have abandoned or compromised our ideology as we join hands with leaders who want the village and cheris to remain separate forever…. We used to file a case, demand the arrest, go to the court—but, it is not like that now. After we receive the complaint today, we go for compromise. The movement, the people, the representatives of the movement are in a position to compromise and are ready for settlements. (Interview, July 2012) From being an agent negotiating access to public goods and resources, to mediating between parties in cases of caste discrimination is not such a huge step. Similar connections are used and similar channels are followed. Whilst the process may be the same, however, the way in which they are viewed is not. Whilst the former is seen as the principled action of a Dalit party delivering Page 12 of 35

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The ‘Sewer of Politics’? tangible rewards to its constituents, the latter is read as a betrayal of everything the movement stood for. Asking for some recompense for service rendered is—as we shall see—acceptable, but all such brokering can lead to accusations of selfinterest and venality. ManiArasu was a veteran activist in the party, but he was disillusioned by fellow postholders: Now if I have a problem and I go to see a leader—they are interested only in extracting Rs. 100 or 200 from me. They do not think we need to work for free so as to attract people to the party. To that extent money-madness (panna-pythium) has infected everyone. Post-holders included. H: This is since becoming a party?

M: Yes. Money-madness has afflicted them to such an extent, that some of us cannot bear to see the post-holders. (Interview, March 2012)

It is not just the old hands who think like this. The lawyer, Mohamed Rafiq, is a relative newcomer to the party, but he has been dismayed by the avarice he claims to have encountered: (p.259) Basically they are only interested in money—how they can make money from people. If there is a problem, they settle the issue in the manner most profitable to them. They are on the look-out for a quick buck. I have no need of that. I am a lawyer; I make money through work. They want money; there is nothing wrong in that, but they should not take it from those that need it most. (Rafiq Interview, August 2012) Of course, these two are themselves local leaders of the party, demonstrating that not everyone can be tarred with the same brush, but their concerns are widely shared. Speaking to two Dalit youth in Melavalavu—heartland of the VCK —one got a similar sense. Like others, they exonerated the leader from their complaints, but were highly critical of local leaders: A: Thalaivar is OK, but the office-bearers are not, they do not visit or speak to us.

V: Even for a small problem they ask for money. That’s the sort of people they are. …

A: Now if there is an issue where they can collect money, then they go there and act correctly. But if it is a common man with an issue: ‘Avan than a? Naan varain’ (Is it just him mm? I’ll come—the colloquial usage here suggests that the response Page 13 of 35

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The ‘Sewer of Politics’? will be slow). Elsewhere they only work for a price; there is no hard work. (Ajith and Vijay, Discussion, June 2012)

That many activists are working ‘on commission’ and funding their politics in this way is undeniable. This was recognized within the party, and some attempts were made to manage these concerns. Addressing applicants for posts in Marai Malai Nagar, Thirumavalavan stressed that: You must not see this post as a path to riches. The plan is to have people in post for three years and then change. In a context where we are reaching out to non-Dalits we need to incorporate others. Accusations against postholders may be fair or may be false but we need to work together. (Field notes, April 2012) Putting time limits on key posts offers one solution to multiple issues raised here: it could prevent people from establishing overly (p.260) close ties to powerholders, offer more people a chance to reap the rewards of office, and prevent jealously from splitting the party. Equally, however, it holds the possibility of worsening the situation as postholders could feel that they have three years in which to cash in. That said, in the 2012 nomination process hardly anyone was relieved of responsibility altogether, merely promoted, or shuffled into another role. Sharing out responsibility is seen as one way to keep the depredations of individuals in check, but the proliferation of posts means that it is harder for leadership to maintain oversight. As Wade (1985) found in a different context, the competition for posts makes it hard to hold people to account or know which version of events to trust. Disciplinary action, where it is taken, therefore, occurs on a case-by-case basis that can easily be derailed. Devaraj, one of the state-level leaders of the party gave me an insight into how things work in a discussion that is worth quoting at length: D: I was put in charge of nominations in [x] District and went down there. For each seat or ward post there were up to ten nominees and so I had to speak to them. First I asked: ‘Will you give up your candidacy and back one of the others?’ If not, then I had to try to decide who was best placed to stand. The District Secretary for X is a non-Dalit industrialist. Not a businessman, a ‘trader’. He is very well off; he booked my lodge for me when I went down. Now I had to file nomination papers and sign them off as party representative, but unknown to me he got hold of the papers and completed the forms giving opportunities to all of his minions and then signed it off as party representative himself. I got to know of this and called him up and asked him to come and see me. He realized I knew all about it and said ‘I’m in Villupuram’. He was here all along, but claimed to be elsewhere. I said ‘What you have done is totally improper and wrong. What am I here for, to cool my heels? But come over and we can talk about it.’ He dithered about this and so I said, ‘If you are not here by 3 pm I will take disciplinary action.’ Now there is a state-level leader called [name withheld] you have Page 14 of 35

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The ‘Sewer of Politics’? probably met him. Yes? Well, this trader knows him well; they have dealings and money transactions. So I get a call from [this leader] saying ‘What’s this annan, I hear that the trader has acted improperly. He should not have done what he did, but he is vital for the party so leave it this once and we can talk about it in Madurai.’ I said ‘is that right? OK.’ I did not let on to him what I thought. Then I waited till 3 pm and when the trader did not show up I called all the party postholders in the district together and told (p.261) them what had happened and wrote up an announcement saying that he was suspended from the party and so his actions were not to be seen as connected to the party. Everyone signed it and then I called the press and gave a press release. He phoned me up to ask what I had done and I told him to speak to Thiruma about it. Then I told Annan what I had done and why and asked if that was right and he agreed that it was the course of action to be taken.

H: So what happened? Is he still in the party?

D: Yes. He went and fell at Thiruma’s feet and said he would never do such a thing again and Thiruma said ok, get lost you can keep your post.

H: But what message does that send?

D: He fell at Thirumavalavan’s feet didn’t he? So he has been taken to task. We did not just ignore it. He has means and resources, so we have to adjust a bit. (Personal Communication, June 2012)

This lengthy quote neatly captures the indeterminate and uncertain process by which people are held to account. First, it requires a state-level leader to be determined and unresponsive to pressure from the candidate and fellow leaders. Second, it shows how the desire to reach out and become a mainstream party renders certain candidates attractive, both as non-Dalits and as people of means. In postholder nomination meetings, Thirumavalavan openly stated that resources had to be factored into decisions. Finally, it demonstrates the flexibility and the ad hoc nature of actions taken against people. Arul Joseph, a VCK-affiliated lawyer in Madurai, emphasized how hard it was to take decisive action: AJ: An issue there is that the leader is really troubled by them. The thing is—he knows them and has worked alongside them. He says: ‘I ate with them, worked with them, and suffered with them. How can I ask them to leave?’ He spoke about this and asked the question. (Interview, June 2012)

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The ‘Sewer of Politics’? This clearly applies more to Dalits than newcomers, but the stress on fictive kinship means that Thirumavalavan is close to most leading members of the party. Several people, furthermore, suggested that there was a structural issue. Intellectual Dalit activist Alex put it as follows: The VCK does not give a salary to its officebearers. Well maybe one or two of the key postholders get some allowance, but not all of them. (p.262) Instead the leader has effectively said: ‘Look, the party has created opportunities for you, it is up to you to exploit them’ and they have—to great effect! (Personal Communication, March 2012) Stalin Rajangam was slightly more critical in making the same point that the local leaders came from poor families and yet were expected to make their presence seen and felt. ‘Where will they go for money?’ he asked rhetorically. ‘So, they indulge in all such activities’ (Interview, March 2012). Tamil Kani, veteran activist in Madurai, spelled out what ‘such activities’ might be when asked how local level leaders supported themselves: Various illicit activities. Siphoning off money in cases and so on. I did not push for a major posting, but it is the leading figures who are approached and can make money. Everyone just thinks about how to get ahead. I have not thought like this—I have been working for the people. (Interview, March 2012) Implied in Tamil Kani’s assertion that he is ‘working for the people’ is a critique of others who are working for themselves. Whilst many deplored the rise of money-mindedness, there was also an acceptance that people had to live and to fund their activism somehow. When I asked Puliyamma, Women’s Wing leader in Madurai, about the charges that VCK activists only took up cases for money she was indignant: P: They can say what they like. What, have we taken money and built ourselves multi-storey houses? All of us are still living in huts! What do you say—if I leave my house first thing, I’ll ask for Rs 100 or so won’t I? Without that Rs 100 then what sort of work can I do and how can I run a home? If we go out and solve a problem, then giving us Rs 10 for that is his problem. How are we supposed to live? Having joined the party too, then our consciences will not let us simply go to work. Someone has been attacked here they say on the phone; some issue has arisen here they call us to say, then we need to go and stand there. (Interview, August 2012)

Whilst Puliyamma gave the official line that activists only sought to recoup costs that they had incurred, Nesamani, an urban Dalit woman who was not in any party, summed up the prevalent view. Speaking of Dalit activists, she said:

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The ‘Sewer of Politics’? (p.263) They spend time and money trying to sort cases out so it is only fair that they should get a cut of any compensation package. That reimburses them and means that they can take up other such issues in the future. No one begrudges them that, but there has to be a limit doesn’t there, pa? (Personal communication, May 2012). Like Nesamani, all respondents felt that a line had to be drawn somewhere. For some activists the very idea of making money from the people was anathema, but for most there was a sense that their hard work and endeavours deserved some reward. If the deliberations about money were contentious, however, they paled into insignificance compared to the intensity of feeling surrounding compromise. Accepting money for services rendered was one thing, accepting money to keep quiet or drop a case was altogether different.

Compromise and Kangaroo Courts The VCK emerged as a fearless movement that fought back against caste oppression and vowed to turn the nation on its head. Their standing as principled and radical actors was important to activists and remains an important part of how they saw themselves. In the 2012 Periya Oorcheri village festival, young men in the VCK-printed sports-shirts bearing the motto: ‘No Compromise.’ Velusamy’s quote at the head of the chapter accentuates how important this sense of commitment is to the Panthers, and the biggest concern of activists who spoke to me, was that their integration into formal politics and its social norms and networks would mean a betrayal of the party’s core ideals. ‘The resources we get from alliances’, one senior leader noted, ‘morally corrupt the cadre and kill their fighting spirit’ (Anon, Personal Communication, December 2013). For all the gossip surrounding post-holders who have enriched themselves, it was the issue of compromise that most exercised my respondents. The harshest and sharpest critiques of the party surrounded these issues and intimated, to quote Manohar, that ‘Dalit parties are not standing on our behalf, but in our name’ (Personal Communication, January 2010). The implication here is that Dalit parties are profiting from representing Dalits. The director of an organization working with and for Dalits spelled out what he saw as the dilution of Dalit politics: (p.264) D: As soon as they entered politics they lost that conflictual stance. They lost that awareness. Now listen, the awareness and spirit that there was in 1999 or 1995 isn’t there. Go back to those villages again and you’ll find that they have returned to the condition of the 1980s. … It was of that moment alone.

H: At that point the other castes were scared

D: Page 17 of 35

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The ‘Sewer of Politics’? They were

H: Now that fear is absent?

D: It is. The fear is not there and nor is the will: ‘we don’t want to challenge them.’ Another side of the coin is threatening katta panchayats. I myself will say that when I used to go and do work then caste Hindus and the state were my enemies. Today Dalit movements have joined that group. They are the ones doing the katta panchayats. Sorry Dalit parties, Dalit politicians not Dalit movements. Now I need to fight on three fronts: Caste Hindus, Government, Dalit politicians.

H: Why are they doing this?

D: Compromise; for money alone. On one occasion—I don’t wish to name the party —a caste Hindu boy tricked a Dalit girl with a promise of marriage, misused her, and she became pregnant. That girl was from a very poor family; his family were exceedingly wealthy. As soon as this became known abroad, the party that I mentioned intervened and got 5 lakhs from the boy, kept 4.5 lakh and gave 50,000 to the girl’s family and got her to have an abortion with country medicines and then drew up a document for 100 rupees: ‘We both had a very close relationship, but there was no sexual relationship between us at all. Because we fell in love I am giving you some money.’ They drew up this document and got both parties to sign it. The witness to this pact was none other than the aforementioned party itself. The Dalit party was the witness. That girl went to commit suicide and at that point someone saw her on the railway bridge and told her about us and she came here. We ensured the girl got counselling and went straight there and got a case registered and the boy arrested. Once the boy was arrested if you ask who phoned me up to contest this; it was that political party alone. (Interview, March 2012)

The director represents an NGO that is funded to take up cases of discrimination; there are several Dalit parties he could be referring to; and it is impossible to verify this account. The gist of this case, however, echoes widespread allegations from VCK members as well (p.265) as external critics. The cumulative effect of multiple interviews and exchanges is to support the bitter summation by one veteran leader of the party: ‘Before the police used to be scared of us, but now our own people are’ (Anon, Interview, July 2012). As with the earlier quotes, Dalit politicians are seen as motivated by self-interest and money rather than ideology; but here that money is secured at the expense of justice for Dalit victims. The growing gap between leaders and grassroots that was discussed in the previous chapter is seen as both cause and consequence of such actions. From this perspective, the focus on political machinations means

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The ‘Sewer of Politics’? that they are divorced from the people and their actions when they are called on to mediate in a dispute serve to further alienate Dalits. One phrase above requires further discussion. Several respondents noted that the VCK was now described as ‘the katta panchayat’ party, but this depends on a particular reading of the phrase. The term is used routinely in the English language press to refer to kangaroo courts that rule by decree and impose extrajudicial settlements. Such courts have attained prominence in recent years, to the point where the Madras High Court sought to clamp down on these extrajudicial bodies in 2008 (Dorairaj 2009; 2011). Katta panchayats are often seen as synonymous with caste or village councils through which local power-holders exercise their dominance and ensure compliance using the imposition or threat of social ostracism. Clearly, Dalit parties do not fit this description. The VCK, at least, emerged in part to contest the power of such bodies as ‘women and the weaker sections, including Dalits, bear the brunt of the onslaught of the katta panchayat’ (Dorairaj 2009). Such panchayats continue to exist and rule by dictate in parts of Tamil Nadu. Honour killings and punishments for caste transgressions are often sanctioned by such means and are frequently opposed by Dalit parties. Dalits, rather, are said to partake in new variants of such panchayats. ‘In urban areas’, Dorairaj (2009) argues, ‘the katta panchayat has assumed an entirely different role fostered by the politician-anti-social nexus, particularly in the wake of the real estate boom in recent years’. They are said to revolve around ‘illegal arbitration and the intimidation and abduction of victims to deal with cases relating to property disputes, business rivalries and money transactions’ (p.266) (Dorairaj 2009). It was in this sense of the term that VCK activists were said to be involved and could draw on their real estate work to do so. We have seen how there were rumours that VCK leaders had failed to push for a resolution of the land dispute in Vandiyur Theerthukadu, because they hoped to cash in on the value of the plots. Samuel Raj of the TNUEF, likewise argued that the party did not protest against the eviction of Dalits from citycentre locations in Chennai. I noted that they were in alliance with the ruling DMK at the time and he pointed towards the new constraints under which they operate: ‘VCK can’t speak. They can speak only to some extent. That’s it. VCK has shifted from the party for Dalit rights to a party for all’ (Interview, April 2012). Against this characterization, several VCK members spoke of challenging the mass relocation of Dalits, and resettlement colonies like Kannagi Nagar had VCK branches. What is apparent is that the VCK protests were neither highprofile nor sustained. Reflecting on similar processes of land alienation in Madurai district, one non-party activist detailed how such deals worked and how they had created frictions within the wider Dalit movement:

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The ‘Sewer of Politics’? In one case there was land allocated to Dalits here in Madurai in a housing scheme … giving housing and pattas [deeds] to Dalits. Now some women in this colony had run up debts and the DPI [as the VCK are still known to many] stepped in and gave them some 2000 rupees or something and got them to sign a receipt, but then told them that they had to move. Now this land is inalienable—you cannot sell it or buy it, but they were ignorant of this and had got some money. The women knew no better so they were moved out and people from other castes moved in who had paid the DPI 200,000 rupees. Now these women were alienated. When you have built yourself up as a party for these people how can you abandon your base like that? Then another scheme came up whereby houseowners could get special loans and so the DPI lot approached the women again and asked them to sign forms. This is the first point that they realized that they were still registered as the owners of the homes. At that point they came to us. We chased up the matter and checked the pattas and found that they were registered in the names of the women and that is when we discovered that they had been defrauded. … These women cannot even write, so how did they sign the forms? We asked to see the forms but they were not produced. Furthermore, they picked on the most vulnerable women; widows and (p.267) orphans, those without backing. We have won one case, so far, where we reclaimed land from a Thevar in Melur. They had grabbed the land off her, knocked down the colony hut and started building. We took the case to court and got all the documents to show that she was the real owner and have reclaimed the land and housed her in a small hut there, but many of the others remain homeless. One DPI member still crosses the road and bows his head when he sees us coming. (Penniyam, Personal Communication, March 2012) The anger and sense of betrayal are palpable as party workers stand accused of a breach of trust and of doing the dirty work of dominant castes for them. In his work on brokers, Cook (2015: 298) describes how their links primarily derive from ‘jati, community, family, friend, neighbour, or work networks’. Dalit intermediaries, by extension, have more access to, and trust amongst, Dalits, and are better able to negotiate deals and prevent protests as a consequence. Clearly, this is an issue in some cases and the lack of a clear leadership structure and transparent rules of conduct discussed in the last chapter are to the fore here. Whilst condemning such actions and highlighting the need for the VCK to protect its most vulnerable supporters, it is important to contextualize such complaints. De Neve (2015) reveals how lower castes have been excluded from property markets. The Dalit activist and advocate Jawahar echoed this, insisting that instances in which Dalits were defrauded could not be frequent because they are not remunerative: J:

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The ‘Sewer of Politics’? My understanding is that they—like all other political parties— are acting as land brokers.

H: But they don’t have land do they?

J: They do not need land to be a broker or agent. Now, you want a bit of land. This land is under dispute, so you approach party office-bearers and say that you want to buy the land and ask them to finish the deal in return for compensation. Then they will engage in the issue and finish the deal. Let’s assume that I am the rightful owner. When they come round and intervene, I will give in to their pressure and sell the land.

H: But are the people selling the land to Dalits?

J: How? They are the ones without land aren’t they! Where in the city do Dalits have land? (p.268)

H: Colony houses?

J: How much do you imagine you would get for a colony house?

H: Not much for the house, but the land?

J: Not likely to be more than one cent. How much will you get for that? … My understanding, borne of experience, is that you cannot gain lakhs of money by intervening in Dalit issues and forcing a compromise. OK. But if there is a nonDalit issue, then they have the capacity to threaten and intimidate and gain money.

H: Really, aren’t the other parties even bigger and better placed to do that?

J: Yes, but there will be a link between them. That is what is meant by alliance party. That is the way of elections. They cannot cut their relationship [with Dalit parties] immediately because they need them for votes. (Interview, March 2012)

From this perspective, Jawahar argued, katta panchayats helped to fund those standing up for Dalit issues at best and distributed the gains more widely at worst. Dalits, as we saw in Chapter 2, remain land-deprived, and so Jawahar’s assertions make intuitive sense. By extension, Dalits are more vulnerable Page 21 of 35

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The ‘Sewer of Politics’? because of their limited resources and stand to lose more from dispossession. Vijaybaskar and Menon (forthcoming), who carried out research in the north of the state, document how entrepreneurs and developers can profit from small plots of rural land either by aggregating parcels of land or by securing clearance for agricultural land to be put to non-agricultural use. The combination of caste and political connections here place Dalit activists in a strong position to negotiate deals and oversee transactions. What is clear is that Dalit actors are now involved in such informal settlements. If there is a certain ambiguity over how to view land deals—as the democratization of brokerage or as betrayal— there is less room for interpretation in cases of atrocity or caste discrimination where allegations of malpractice were also common. ManiArasu, for instance, felt that money-mindedness was leading cadres astray: H: Now with land you say that compromise can occur [yes]. Now if there was an atrocity in this village or elsewhere. Are there people who compromise in these cases too? (p.269)

M: In the party? They are there, there are many like that. There is no practice of properly registering a PCR case, following it through, and securing a conviction, is there?

H: So why do they compromise? Is it money?

M: Money alone—that is it. Now I am here—a problem arises—postholders will call me and ask me to sort out the matter. I am here slaving away, whereas they finish their work on the phone itself. (ManiArasu Interview, March 2012)

The gap between mid-level leaders and those on the ground resurfaces here, as does the resentment against this emerging elite. ManiArasu, we should note, is himself a city leader, pointing to divisions within the party and the emergence of two tiers of leadership: those claiming to continue the work of the movement and a more professional and networked cohort. Still, the quote implies that activists are actively involved in people’s problems. Kathir, however, pointed to a crucial difference to the past: ‘They do not see people’s problems, they encounter them first as compromise. It is only when called on to compromise that they see people’s problems’ (Interview, March 2012). Bhagat Singh, a leading lawyer in Madurai who was one of the team responsible for securing the conviction of those responsible for the Melavalavu murders, spelled out how such deals could be done without the knowledge—let alone consent—of the victim:

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The ‘Sewer of Politics’? Now that they are a party they are in contact with other party leaders. Many of the accused will have party connections and so pressure is put on this lot to drop cases or come to some agreement. There was a case near Melur where a student was brutally beaten up. He was hospitalized but there were some dealings, which led to Rs 40,000 changing hands and a compromise agreement being drawn up. When this case came to court they produced this document, but the victim was still in hospital and knew nothing about it. Party people had come to this arrangement without his knowledge. (Interview, July 2012) Party leaders, thus, encounter problems through political connections as well as through victims. Such actions are rightly experienced as betrayals of people and ideals. This was emphasized by Muniamma, a feisty local level leader who had decided not to reapply for a post having felt that she was not supported by the party when she landed (p.270) up in prison. She had confronted the dominant Thevar castes in her village and felt that the party leaders were closer to them than to her. The bitterness in her quote was echoed by many others who had similarly felt let down or abandoned: M: ‘Athu meeru, adanga maru’ (Resist, Revolt) you said, and now you go, and polish the feet of the Thevars! I went to jail for standing up to them, then what do I want with a post [in the party]? …

H: Why do the party lot try and appease the local Thevars here? What is in it for them?

M: Money alone (Caasu thaan!). It is not [name] annan alone, but in general. It is really bad.

H: What do they do with that money?

M: They are going by car, whilst we are receiving blows. We receive blows and they get an amount and compromise. (Muniamma Interview, August 2012)

Inclusion into the institutions of interest mediation, as Dryzek et al. (2003: 106) put it, ‘can mean a less vital and democratic society’ if radical groups moderate their actions and temper their demands. We have seen how institutionalization may have blunted the radicalism of the VCK by integrating them into networks that do not have the interests of Dalits at heart. Whilst most people focus on the impact of political alliances, Ramesh pointed to everyday networks in noting how a local leader was befriended by a shop owner: ‘He cultivates her friendship and Page 23 of 35

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The ‘Sewer of Politics’? gives money to her to avoid people problems [disputes]. If that wasn’t the case there would be no friendship’ (Interview, February 2012). Several respondents suggested that people were leaving the party as a consequence and partly attributed their failure to win seats in the 2011 and 2014 elections to this. Small parties, clearly, struggle to compete with established organizations in terms of patronage and largesse and so concerns over selling out are felt more keenly. A deep sense of belonging and attachment compelled many more to remain in the party whilst criticizing it. Were such actions as the above widespread and widely known, many of those I interviewed would have left. More commonly, respondents argued, VCK activists intervened in problems, ensured an out-ofcourt settlement, and (p.271) then siphoned off an amount from the compensation package. On a grander scale, in Chapter 4 we saw how one party member had secured victory in panchayat elections by promising to ensure that any inter-caste disputes were resolved without recourse to the courts. So long as actions did not compound discrimination or add insult to injury they were tolerated. Nesamani once more summed up prevailing attitudes towards extrajudicial interventions: If you sort things out without recourse to the law and get compensation for the family, then fine. What good is a rogue policeman serving a short sentence going to be to them? But you cannot go too far. If you let abusers off too lightly, then what’s to stop them re-offending? (Personal Communication, May 2012) Nesamani’s quote compels us to move beyond absolutist condemnations of betrayal and the characterization of engaged activists set against money-minded egotists. She suggests that not all compromises or out-of-court settlements are wrong. Whilst she is speaking of a specific case, the reference to a ‘rogue policeman’ is also pertinent here since compromises may be a means to secure some recompense in a setting where faith in the judicial system is lacking.

Happy Compromises? The temptation to compromise, in other words, needs to be understood against a backdrop in which state inaction often means that pursuing a legal case is fruitless (cf. Carswell and De Neve 2015; Sampath 2010), and in which informal mediation characterizes Tamil politics. In this context at least, not every settlement is a problem. State-level leader ArtralArasu, insisted that the VCK were being unfairly characterized: A: There was a time our people used to approach others, Ambalar (caste headman) landlord or others to resolve an issue. Even for community or family problems— say there was a dispute between my wife and I—we approached those who had dominated over us —a Kallar or a Gounder—and we would get them to preside Page 24 of 35

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The ‘Sewer of Politics’? over a panchayat. They would do this and impose conditions. Today though, we have more awareness so we go to the station and help to mediate or ask them to process cases. At one point in time they [dominant castes] gained from our land, now if there (p.272) is some common land or waste-land then we go and occupy it. If they have marked out land for real estate, then we encroach on adjacent lands and put up huts. If he can then he will give money, if not, then nothing. … The work they used to do we are now doing. All the big industrialists and capitalists—did they develop without doing this? When others do it, it is honest—when we do it, it is unjust…. If they do it, it is not a panchayat, but if a Viduthalai Chiruthai does, it is panchayat—that too, katta panchayat. (Interview, July 2012)

Madurai-based contractor and leader Dhanapal echoed this sense of doublestandards in his defence of the party: D: Look now, Jayalalithaa is in power—many have gone to prison, but not many of the VCK have. DMK lot have gone to prison, but not us.9 The whole system works like that and so we might get embroiled. Now I have some land. It is my land. I am trying to work, but someone else in the village laid claim to my land that I have inherited from my grandparents. … I have a patta for this land dating back to 2006 whereas he paid off the land revenue and got a record after this date. They are the ones causing issues. I and the VCK are fighting for justice, but they say that the VCK are brokering land deals…. If people say this continuously for long enough then the name of katta panchayat begins to stick. (Interview, March 2102)

Gilbert, an NGO Director from the north of the State, likewise insisted that ‘some of that is there but you need to compare it to other parties. All the parties are doing this. … One can say that they [VCK] are less culpable than the others’ (Personal Communication, (p.273) April 2012). For both Dhanapal and Gilbert, the Panthers are small operators in a form of muscular politics dominated by established parties. Alm’s (2010) account of a small time fixer in Tamil Nadu lends credence to these accounts. VCK Propaganda secretary, Sannah, similarly questioned why certain actions were excluded from discussion of katta panchayats. By reference to Vandiyur Theerthukadu he said: S: Who is supporting the upper castes here? Are the Viduthalai Chiruthaigal behind them?

H: No.

S: No, but the entire machinery of the government gives them support.

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The ‘Sewer of Politics’? Sure, but if you protest continuously will you not be able to regain the land?

S: Definitely we would get it, if we protested continuously we would definitely get the land, but at the same time the VCK is not just a full time protest organization. We protest to protect the people, but at the same time we also protest to gain a foothold in politics. There are many types of protest. This does not mean that we abandon this cause. We are still protesting about this as much as we can. (Interview, September 2012)

Multiple court cases had decided in favour of the Dalits in Vandiyur and yet it took over a decade to evict the dominant castes. Local Dalits, as we have seen, were critical of the VCK, but Sannah argued that the real culprits were the encroachers and the authorities who failed to enforce the law. What we see illustrated here is the continued imbrication of caste and power in land management. Kavitha, who stood to be a Ward Councillor in Periyakulam and is affiliated to the VCK, emphasized this point: ‘We have filed lots of cases and lots of protests … the police do not enact the Atrocities Act. They come and negotiate and secure a compromise’ (Discussion, July 2012). Time and again I was told of the struggles people faced in filing Prevention of Atrocity cases. All too frequently the police would fail to file a First Information Report, or would list charges that did not fall under the Act. It took sustained pressure by civic associations— including the VCK—to ensure that FIRs were filed (cf. Krishnaswamy 2010). In almost every instance, the opposing side would immediately—or even preemptively—file counter-cases (p.274) that required Dalits to lose out on work and travel to court once a month. Even when cases were registered and taken to a conclusion, the conviction rate remains abysmally low (cf. Carswell and De Neve 2015). A 2015 investigation by the NGO Evidence demonstrated that 30 per cent of PoA cases were closed due to ‘mistake of facts’— highlighting the discretion open to police—and insisted that: ‘instead of conducting enquiries and registering cases against the accused, the police had shown more interest in compromise and settlement’ (Srikrishna 2015). Sannah, again, pointed to the obstacles placed in the way of change: What the ruling class think is that if we achieve our goals there will be a major change in society. As a consequence, they create distractions and diversions; they register cases against party cadre, they instigate riots, once the media, and other organizations instigate such conflict then our concentration on the goal is dissipated. Once that happens we end up facing in multiple directions. Then we resolve issues and get back on track only for this to recur again. Whatever the end goal or peak of Dalit politics is, when we are mired in problems time and again we are dragged down

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The ‘Sewer of Politics’? and have to wade through these first. An issue that should be resolved in 10 years takes thirty. (Interview, September 2012) Operating in this context of caste power, the pursuit of extra-institutional settlements may either be forced onto Dalit parties or be the best means of addressing an issue. The Dalit Resource Centre offered an example of how such intervention may secure the desired ends: Kondamani is a village near Vilangudi, Madurai, where for about 50 years more than sixty Dalit families were living. Three Maravar families caused problems. One Mr. Samy, who is doing real estate business through the JCB machine, cut down the trees grown by Dalit communities and ransacked their houses. With the support of the Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Iyakkam they negotiated with the real estate person to vacate from their place and got a compensation for the losses incurred. (Jeyaharan 2009b: 95) There were multiple accounts like this of the VCK taking up and publicizing issues and protesting to secure a solution. Joshua Isaac, a VCK-affiliated Dalit activist, highlights VCK occupations to retrieve (p.275) panchami lands,10 and Sasi of the VCK’s Land Reclamation Front spoke of the sustained research underpinning such actions as seen above (p. 90). His detailed research into landholding records had established Dalits’ right to large tracts of land outside Madurai. (Interview, July 2012). Such protests were not reported as prominently or discussed as much as negative cases, which is partly why the VCK were determined to launch their own TV channel. For all their concerns about the party, most of the critics cited here were in the VCK or accepted that they were more engaged on Dalit issues than any other party. When quizzed on this, Thirumavalavan, insisted that the people now had sufficient political consciousness to keep the politicians honest. When I told him of the Kosuvangundu Panchayat President he looked pained, but insisted that: ‘Even if party people compromise, the people will not let them. They will launch protests and file cases’ (Personal Communication, September 2012). Vesting faith in the people is admirable, but it obscures the lack of clear and transparent processes to address accusations of wrongdoing within the party. Furthermore, training by the party was haphazard though VCK activists in Madurai attended workshops on the Prevention of Atrocities Act run by the Dalit Resource Centre and routinely joined them in protests (Prabha and Jeyaharan 2009). Whilst more could be done to systematize and monitor such training, this is a reminder that the Panthers are still to the fore in contesting caste abuses and the party retains strong ties to individuals and institutions who exert countervailing pressure on them to stand strong on Dalit issues. Mani Arasu, for instance, spoke of how he withstood pressure from a notorious criminal with political connections to reclaim Dalit land:

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The ‘Sewer of Politics’? Now Varichiyur Selvam and all called me for negotiations. Have you heard of Varichiyur Selvam?11 A big rowdy he is. He called me—we have known each other for ages—he said ‘What bank account do we need to (p.276) deposit things in?’ I told him: ‘This is our land that they have feasted off for 150 years, we will not let them occupy it anymore’. (Interview, March 2012) Faced by constant criticism, activists offered a powerful counter-narrative that highlighted their continued commitment and pointed out double standards. The Madurai City Secretary, Pandiyammal, was typically forthright: P: Katta panchayat party? They talk of that but are people really scared of us? Can they prove that we have done this anywhere? Accusation and condemnations are legion; anyone can make them. We were born to an enslaved and oppressed caste, but today we stand with our heads held high. Problems that come to us we take up and deal with in the police station. None of us deal with issues in closed rooms or in fields by beating people up do we? When people come to us we speak to the SP [Superintendent of Police], we speak to the Commissioner, and we speak on their behalf. Where possible we go with them and advocate for them. This is no kangaroo court; we are working with the police to hold discussions and resolve issues. Our lands, houses, and assets are seized and looted—do they not do katta panchayats? Do these not occur in the ADMK or in the DMK? … They think that the VCK is a downtrodden party, they should not stand on behalf of others with their heads raised. (Interview, July 2012)

Few organizations were as often in evidence at protests on caste issues as the VCK, but Sannah highlighted how becoming a party had created different responsibilities: [When problems arise] who takes up the issue? The VCK is the only party to address the issue. … There was a problem in Namakkal12 where they had been without a path to the cremation grounds for 20 years in a place called Munjanoor. There again it was the Viduthalai Chiruthaigal who took up the issue. As soon as the VCK stepped into the breach and took up the issue—the victims there are Arunthathiyars—no one there made compromises with the non-Dalits. Because we protested without compromise the people have gained an access route to the cremation grounds today. I can keep giving examples like this, but in some villages (p.277) there are minor or petty confrontations and we also have the responsibility to ensure that we engage in dialogue to prevent these small problems from escalating into major caste clashes. You see, the Panthers can make a fuss and then leave the village, but the villagers there need to live in peace. We cannot allow the problems caused by a few to adversely affect the entire village. In those situations, we have to resolve matters through dialogue … one or two frustrated people might come and accuse Page 28 of 35

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The ‘Sewer of Politics’? us of compromise, but in some places such compromises are necessary to protect the people. (Sannah Interview, September 2012) In a setting characterized by weak state responses to caste violence, Thirumavalavan emphasized this point. Simultaneously, he stressed that such compromises had limits: We should note that in some cases compromise is not a crime: When we stand firm and demand court cases then who are the ones to suffer? Our people. At the end of the day after all the protests what happens? Cases are not registered by the police anyway—or if they are then the court finds against you—so then what? The cases I am talking about here are minor ones. We can never compromise on atrocities. (Personal Communication, September 2012) ArtralArasu, likewise, noted that ‘We are flexible at times, but we do not compromise on big issues like rape or physical harm’ (Interview, July 2012). As Ravikumar put it succinctly: ‘In electoral politics you cannot function without compromise. But compromise is only for joint action, not for surrender’ (Personal Communication, December 2013). The discussion on the Melavalavu case in Chapter 5 indicates that these lines are sometimes breached, and it is clear to see how this latitude allows room for abuse. Equally there was agreement that an absolutist approach could make things worse for Dalits. The otherwise critical Kathir, for instance, insisted that different approaches were sometimes called for: There are two types of politics: rights-based politics and mainstream politics. With rights-based politics all our objectives, demands, and ideologies will be focused on the people and we work sincerely towards their uplift. It could be aimed at the eradication of caste, could be the eradication of untouchability; there is no need to compromise— to adjust to those opposing me. Peace-keeping is different. Peace-keeping and compromising are very different. It’s about getting people to understand. (p.278) Now what I thought when I was 25 was that if a caste Hindu murdered a Dalit then we should kill him in revenge. At 25 this was. In my 30s there was a change and I began to rethink this. … Now what I am saying is that you and I have to live together—it is not so easy to break this. Let’s take Uthapuram as an example. What I say is that it is relatively easy to break the Uthapuram wall—that is just cement, iron, and mortar; but the problem is people’s minds, blood, and heart—those are the aspects that are most problematic to change. (Kathir Interview, March 2012) Carswell and De Neve (2015) point to the significance of processes of negotiation in noting that BC members who are compelled to compromise are stigmatized. Given the prevalence of casteism, Kathir who condemned Page 29 of 35

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The ‘Sewer of Politics’? compromise felt that there was occasionally a role for peace-keeping. As with all cases described here, the question remained about the limits to such negotiated settlements. Much of the opprobrium heaped on the Panthers by Dalits, this suggests, reflects their shift away from an exclusive focus on Dalit issues. The chapter closes, therefore, by placing these critiques in context.

Power Shifts? The VCK are described by disaffected supporters or critical outsiders, as routinely engaged in forms of compromise and extra-judicial settlements. When I put this to Thirumavalavan he offered some perspective on the accusations: T: I have heard that, but is there any proof? Also, all parties do this why are we the ones who are singled out? This is the result of jealousy and an attempt to break the party. Give me details of one instance where we have compromised. (Personal Communication, September 2012)

As Wade (1985) observed, such cases are notoriously difficult to prove, can be hushed up by influential friends, and there are numerous ways for corrupt politicians to avoid conspicuous consumption of ill-got gains. Partly for this reason, as Arul Joseph noted above, Thirumavalavan finds it hard to chastise or reprimand party members. Furthermore, the rumours, allegations, and assertions very rarely had concrete evidence or examples attached, and I was frequently told contrasting accounts. One of the defining instances of compromise I heard was the case of a cross-caste love marriage between a Vanniyar (p.279) and a Dalit when the VCK were in alliance with the Vanniyardominated PMK. A lawyer acting in the case is reported to have said that the family were pressed to settle out-of-court by senior members of the party. When I questioned his report, one frustrated and angered party member said: ‘The whole world knows they took money’. Alanganallur-based leader, Adiveera Pandian, remonstrated with him: AVP: It is wrong to say that there was no protest. That is false information. Thirumavalavan attended the protest which was taken in hand by Sindhanai Selvan who registered the case and demanded that all the accused be remanded. Their names were Murugesan and Kannagi, a Paraiyar man and a Vanniyar woman. (Interview, August 2012)

Given the inefficacy of state action in response to Dalit demands, it is impossible to determine whether such protests were simulative actions or not since the outcome is often the same. C. Nicholas of the Dalit Land Rights Federation, active in northern districts, felt that many VCK functionaries were in the pockets of corporate interests (Gorringe and Karthikeyan 2014b), but activists were to the fore in protests against industrial appropriation of land in several instances. Page 30 of 35

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The ‘Sewer of Politics’? Many of the accounts saw the VCK as guilty by association since they were in alliance with the DMK during key periods. Party leaders and activists listed numerous cases in which they had intervened and cited countless studies pointing towards police apathy and inaction when it comes to use of the SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act, but the rumours continue to be commonplace. In this febrile atmosphere, opinions could be formed on the flimsiest of evidence. Returning from one interview for instance, Tamizh Murasu opined: That guy we just spoke to does not strike me as someone who betrays the people or does the sort of compromising work you see elsewhere. If you ask why I say that: his wife was there working on baskets. If he was cashing in on katta panchayats she would not be doing that. (Field notes, July 2012) People’s views often depended on who they trusted and the circles they moved in. In this process, it is clear that some active members of the party have become disillusioned by the actions of others. Muniamma—whose own post in the party had lapsed—for (p.280) instance, castigated party postholders, saying: ‘All they are interested in is money and not nurturing and supporting the people’ (Interview, August 2012). More worrying for the party, one District leader of the VCK spoke of party members who were misusing the PoA Act to enrich themselves. He gave no concrete examples and conceded that it occurred only in a tiny minority of cases, but the mere fact that he was willing to state this in an interview is alarming. Given the earlier findings about the lack of action in PoA cases, and the fact that 30 per cent of cases are dropped due to procedural error, those wishing to profit from the Act can only do so by using it as a threat. Unless action is taken against any party members either profiting from the people or spreading false rumours, the allegations will gain traction. This is where the wider socio-political context constrains the VCK’s ability to act. First, such rumours are routine and hard to substantiate. Second, as Thirumavalavan noted in Thaai Sol, on one of the few occasions where they took action, the expelled leader was welcomed into another party: Today [the BJP] has not just given a place to the katta panchayat criminal who left the VCK 5 years ago, but given him a seat immediately. He has no understanding of politics, honesty or integrity, but the BJP clearly feels that betrayal and self-serving are the main qualifications of government. (Thirumavalavan 2009: 17) Irrespective of the rights and wrongs of this particular case, those leaving one party under a cloud frequently found a welcome in other organizations highlighting the pervasive nature of such behaviour. What then explains the

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The ‘Sewer of Politics’? anger of party members and the accusations of others? An interview with CPM politburo member Guna offered an insight here: Overall, there was a change in power relationships in the villages across Tamil Nadu and that was the contribution of Dalit movements. Since they did not have a clear perspective, like Communist parties, they couldn’t retain the group later on and these groups became gangs and indulged in katta panchayat and so on. The other thing is, that after they converted into political parties … they needed funds to sustain their activities and so they spoilt over time. (Guna Interview, March 2012) (p.281) As a CPM leader, Guna is clearly not an impartial observer, but there are two points of note here. The first is that Dalit movements effected a shift in the balance of power, and the second refers to what are often termed the ‘compulsions of politics.’ Let us deal with these in reverse order. The latter point about institutionalization is important in shaping the attitudes and opinions of VCK cadres. As with Kathir (above) they mobilized around the call to hit back and avenge caste crimes and forms of humiliation. The alteration in identity from militant activist to party member, as Jasper (1997) pointed out, is significant. Many activists find it hard to accept that the VCK now forge links with parties they condemned in the past; that they bargain with powerholders and reach agreements; and that several have done reasonably well out of alliance partners. For some, the fact that VCK leaders now enter and sit down in police stations is a matter of pride, but for others even this constitutes selling out. Against this backdrop, when the rewards of politics are not equally distributed, frustrations easily translate into criticism. For most party members though, in an echo of Wade’s (1985) research, the issue is one of degree. It is not that leaders take money, but that they demand too much; not that they compromise, but that they sometimes compromise without the full consent or participation of victims; not that they do not address Dalit issues, but that their focus now seems to be on Tamil issues rather than Dalit ones. Nor should this be surprising. As Witsoe (2012: 47) concluded: ‘There was a lot less noise about corruption when a majority of the politicians and bureaucrats who benefited were from upper caste, landed families, and from the predominantly upper caste, urban middle class.’ Jeffrey (2002: 39) likewise notes that the rise of the BSP ‘sharpened class-specific discourses of corruption’ in Uttar Pradesh. If party members struggle to reconcile the promise of the movement with the reality of the party, the reaction of outsiders indicates the impact of the party on relations of power. Crucially, as Jeyaharan averred, the VCK now have bargaining power and may be able to mediate agreements (Personal Communication, August 2012). State-level leader and writer, UnjaiArasan, similarly captured this sense of social change:

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The ‘Sewer of Politics’? Real estate is wrong for the whole society; yet, SCs have now got an opportunity to enter that field. If they can do it, why not us? People (p. 282) have got an opportunity to embark on new avenues—contract work, real estate, construction business, industry, and so on. The VCK is instrumental for all these developments, it gives protection to people. (Interview, August 2012) It is this challenge to existing hierarchies and growing assertion by Dalits at a local level, I contend, that animates many of the more sweeping allegations. In their investigation of a caste dispute near Madurai in 2009, for instance, the NGO Evidence found that ‘assertion of Dalits under the VCK and claiming their rights were the major reason behind the attack’ (The Hindu 2009b). The formation of the ‘Non-Dalit Common People’s Association’ and demands by parties like the PMK for the repeal of the SC/ST PoA Act likewise testify to the aversion that other castes have towards the emergence of a Dalit party. This is not to say that all the allegations are without substance. The sheer volume of accounts and the fact that they were relayed by party members or sympathetic activists, indicates that there is an issue here that the party needs to address if it is to retain the trust of ordinary Dalits. As Corbridge (2013: 225) notes in his review of corruption in India, ‘measures can be taken to increase the moral cost of misconduct.’ Corbridge also concludes that corruption is essentially about ‘power and powerlessness … It is a key mechanism for the reproduction of inequalities’ (2013: 27). The VCK are often the ones holding power to account, but they clearly need to be seen to do more to stamp out abuses of power by their members and the ills of corruption on different levels. The 2016 election campaign of the PWF emphasized the clean image of the Front, but without transparency in terms of expectations (for example, instituting a norm that activists should claim no more than 10 per cent of any compensation package) and responses to corruption (openly investigating allegations and publicly taking action), the VCK’s image as a champion of the poor will be tarnished. It is clear that the VCK lack the connections and influence needed to be the prime movers in the murkier aspects of politics. As Kumarvalavan concluded: We have entered the sewer but have not yet bathed or submerged ourselves in it, nor have we yet gained the political recognition which that (p.283) might bring. It is only if we gain political power—isn’t it—that we can profit from corruption and become part of the sewer. (Interview, August 2012) Whilst Kumarvalavan is correct to note how the party continues to be excluded from the corridors of power, others argue that it is the attempt to enter the mainstream that generates compromise. The fact that some of those who used to Page 33 of 35

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The ‘Sewer of Politics’? struggle for Dalit rights are now engaged in forms of compromise and brokerage constitutes a diminution of civil society in Dryzek’s (1996) terms. If Dalit parties are engaged in ‘normal Tamil politics’ rather than a critique of it, then their radicalism will be confined to who they are and the fact that Dalits are now brokers, rather than what they stand for. Central here are attempts to move beyond Dalit issues to become a Tamil party and the concomitant opening up of the party to non-Dalit leaders. It is the contested and contentious terrain of Tamil nationalism that we turn to next. (p.284) Notes:

(1) See the image, as highlighted by social activist Puli Arasan here (Accessed 25 June 2016): https://twitter.com/PuliArason/status/720268875560935425 (2) See for example, the following three stories: http://www.thehindu.com/todayspaper/tp-national/tp-tamilnadu/vck-functionary-booked-under-goondas-act/ article4107917.ece (accessed on 25 June 2016). http:// www.newindianexpress.com/states/tamil_nadu/Kovai-VCK-man-held-forextortion-bid/2013/05/03/article1572619.ece (accessed on 25 June 2016). http:// timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/chennai/Viduthalai-Chiruthaigal-Katchifunctionary-hacked-to-death-in-Kancheepuram/articleshow/17563381.cms (accessed on 25 June 2016). (3) Read the full statement here: http://www.aamaadmiparty.org/why-are-weentering-politics (accessed 25 June 2016). (4) Electoral expenditure and practices of attempted ‘vote-buying’ are beyond the scope of this chapter, but were a frequent subject of conversation during field work. Some of the sums spoken about for council elections were staggering. (5) All names and places used here are pseudonyms. (6) M.K. Azhagiri is Karunanidhi’s son and was a key political player in southern districts. (7) It is interesting to note that Maalin re-joined the VCK subsequent to my field work in a move that reinforces the emotive connection to the party and the need to take criticisms with caution. (8) Her house is actually in an urban community near the city crematorium and is a Dalit enclave in the city that, like other such habitations, is referred to as a cheri. (9) Kumar (2012) notes how Jayalalithaa made land-grabbing a focus of her electoral campaign in 2011 and numerous senior DMK members were charged with land-grab cases after her victory. Writing for CPM organ, People’s Page 34 of 35

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The ‘Sewer of Politics’? Democracy, Rajendran (2012) noted that ‘over 20,000 land grab complaints have been received since the regime change in the state. The complaints are against not only DMK men, but also against those of the AIADMK, the Congress, and the PMK. Some corporate houses and IT companies too have indulged in land grabbing. Chennai’s suburbs and in particular the adjoining Kancheepuram district have seen a spurt in land grabbing incidence, as real estate prices have shot up in the area of late’. Whilst many people and articles spoke of VCK involvement, Rajendran captures the sense that they are not yet major players in this regard. (10) See the video of VCK activists occupying encroached land here: https:// www.youtube.com/watch?v=xc_H1PbnYJc (accessed 26 June 2016). (11) Details on Selvam are reported here: http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/ tp-national/tp-tamilnadu/rogues-gallery/article4528418.ece (accessed on 27 June 2016). (12) http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-national/tp-tamilnadu/ article3660277.ece (accessed 30 June 2016).

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Subnational Nationalism

Panthers in Parliament: Dalits, Caste, and Political Power in South India Hugo Gorringe

Print publication date: 2017 Print ISBN-13: 9780199468157 Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: March 2017 DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199468157.001.0001

Subnational Nationalism Reinventing Tamilness from Below? Hugo Gorringe

DOI:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199468157.003.0009

Abstract and Keywords Tamil politics is dominated by two political parties that emerged out of the Dravidian movement and cemented their political position in part through agitation against the imposition of Hindi as a national language. There is a strong current of Tamil nationalism in the state, but this has usually been articulated by dominant groups and has implicitly marginalized or excluded subalterns. In its attempt to reach out beyond Dalits, the VCK has embraced the idea of Tamil nationalism and protested vociferously on ‘Tamil’ issues - whether in the state or in Sri Lanka. This chapter charts the VCK’s engagement with Tamilness, the LTTE and non-Dalits, and analyses how this is received both by Dalits and non-Dalits in the state. Keywords:   Tamil, Tamil nationalism, LTTE, Dalit politics, caste

Thennillavan: Tell us what you see as the main differences between the Party in 1999 and now.

Author: I would say the incorporation of non-Dalits and the absence of violent rhetoric and action.

T:

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Subnational Nationalism It is the first that is the BIG difference. We can still explode and use extra-legal means if the need arises. We held some radical protests about the Sri Lankan issue. It is the inclusion of non-Dalits that is key.

—(Field notes, May 2012) Mani: Now Thirumavalvan is keen on presenting himself as a general candidate and the VCK as a common party. He talks about Tamils and about Tamil issues and gives scant attention to Dalit matters. Furthermore, in order to be recognised as a common party, all positions in the party are being allocated to others—to Vanniyars and Thevars and Muslims.

A: Is that a bad thing?

M: Yes, as far as I am concerned, it is a bad thing. Where were they when the party was fighting for rights? What do they care about Dalit empowerment and rights? All they are concerned about is getting a seat.

—(Mani, Personal Communication, February 2012) (p.288) ALL EMERGING PARTIES NEED TO expand their support base, but this task is particularly important for minority groups. Not only do Dalits lack the numerical strength to secure electoral victories, but their status and economic marginalization impede poll success. In a polity characterized by patronage and clientelist networks, it is well-nigh impossible for a small party to thrive without financial resources, social capital in the form of networks and prestige or a central focus that cuts across social fault-lines and appeals to large numbers of voters. Vijayakant’s DMDK used its founder-leader’s financial clout in campaigning and to field candidates in all constituencies. The PMK had resources and social capital in that all parties were keen to secure the backing of the dominant Vanniyar castes. Finally, the AAP offers an example of mobilization around the unifying issue of corruption. We have seen, through this book, how new parties are compelled to compromise or dilute their objectives to become more attractive. Lacking resources and social standing, the VCK were left with little option but to embrace popular causes to rally support. The stigma associated with Dalits, however, meant that it was not sufficient to simply alter their goals and approach. It necessitated a change in image and identity as well as orientation. At the high-point of its mobilizational phase, the VCK were unabashedly and unambiguously a radical Dalit movement. Only Dalits were allowed to hold office, and Thirumavalavan was hailed as the Cheri Tornado or the Che Guevara of the Cheris, and became the champion and the voice of the marginalized. Movement speeches highlighted continuing discrimination and sought to create awareness amongst Dalits and inspire them to join the fight against caste. Page 2 of 32

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Subnational Nationalism Becoming a political party altered this emphasis and changed the feel of the VCK in a bid to reach out beyond its core constituents. The foregrounding of Tamil nationalism did little to alter the identity of the party given the profile of its members. In 2007, accordingly, the general committee of the party ratified what became known as the Velacherry Declaration, which opened up leadership positions to non-Dalits in a bid to escape the Dalit tag and become a Tamil party. The extent to which priorities and identities had shifted since my research in 1999 was immediately evident at a party wedding early in my 2012 fieldwork: (p.289) Across the road, the largest of the banners sported pictures of Thirumavalavan and Prabhakaran—the latter with a panther cub in his arms. None bore mottos about caste or Dalit issues. Only two or three had pictures of Ambedkar and all bore the slogan ‘Ezhuchi Tamizhar’ (Fervent Tamilian). (Field notes, February 2012) In the wedding itself, Thirumavalavan used his speech—to a primarily Dalit audience, to stress that the VCK was not a ‘Dalit party’ but a party for all Tamil people. He immediately insisted that the VCK were the only party in the State to campaign for the eradication of caste as key to the liberation of the people. Other parties, he noted, seek an end to untouchability at best. The underlying message was that the core ideals of the party remain constant although the package has changed. Whilst Thirumavalavan and other party leaders articulate a coherent and seamless shift to Tamil issues and rhetoric, those on the ground offer differing interpretations. Amongst Dalit activists, the two most prominent perspectives on the move to Tamil see it either as a ‘marketing strategy’ (Tamizh Murasu) to gain the votes of others, or as an abandonment, even betrayal, of Dalits. The assertion that ‘we are not a Dalit party,’ is read as either saying that the VCK are not just a Dalit party or as indicating a wholesale change in approach. Following Roberts (2010), it is important to stress that such interpretations are not supported by Thirumavalavan’s speeches or writings. In such narratives, the call for a caste-free Tamil nationalism has always been at the heart of Panther politics, and opening up the party to non-Dalits is merely strengthening a democratic, anti-caste movement. In these accounts there is absolutely no contradiction between Dalit issues and Tamil ones, since Dalits are the original Tamils and the VCK only embraces ‘caste-eradicating Tamil nationalism’. Group identity refers to how a collective sees itself, who or what the group identify with, and how they make sense of the world. A party that coheres around Tamil nationalism, it follows, affords members a very different identity to one focused on Dalit issues. Identity, here, appears as a slate on which persons may inscribe, erase, and re-write their identities almost at will, but identity change is not as uncomplicated and unproblematic as this: Page 3 of 32

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Subnational Nationalism What people think about us is no less important than what we think about ourselves. It is not enough to assert an identity. That identity must (p.290) also be validated (or not) by those with whom we have dealings. Social identity is never unilateral. (Jenkins 1996: 21) For the VCK to become a Tamil party, in other words, requires that it is accepted and recognized as such by others. If the numbers of non-Dalits now joining the party point towards such a possibility, we will see that there remain serious questions as to the extent of this acceptance. Jenkins (1996) also points out that identities are not immaterial, but shape how we relate to others and the actions we undertake. As seen in the last chapter, for many respondents the concern is not that the vision and ideology of the party is mistaken, but that putting this into practice has deleterious consequences. Let us take one typical passage from Thirumavalavan’s wedding address: Since 1999, when we became a party, what we have achieved over the last 11 or 12 years is incredible. The distance we have travelled is extensive; we have come an incredible distance. All sections of society should feel that this organization is for them and, for that to happen we made our declaration on party reconstruction almost three years back. We invited all sections of the society to join—you can be non-Dalit, you can be Reddiar, you can be Chettiar, you can be Mudaliar, you may be Pillaimar, you can be from the non-Tamil speaking population, you can hail from the minorities in Tamil Nadu, Muslims, Christians. Male, female, youth—we invited all, we asked all to join us in the organization, and we declared that this is a movement for you. Based on that declaration, based on that announcement, so many non-Dalits have joined and assumed responsibility in the party. Muslims, Christians, and non-Dalits have got key posts in the party. (Speech, February 2012) This celebration of the party obscures the fact that it is precisely this expansion of the party and, more particularly, the rapid promotion of newcomers that has created rifts and divisions. There is the dual concern that newcomers are profiting from the toil of the original activists, and that those entering the party are merely seeking to enrich themselves. A related fear is that the need to appeal to non-Dalits tempers the party’s actions and utterances and leads them to campaign more fervently on ‘Tamil’ issues—the war in Sri Lanka, the allocation of water from the dams in neighbouring states, and the issue of language—than on caste discrimination. The integration of non-Dalits, in other words, is not only the big change, (p.291) as Thennillavan put it, but the big issue confronting the party at present. In this chapter, we reprise the various arguments and interpretations of the move to Tamil and consider the implications of this new direction.

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Subnational Nationalism Ticket to the Mainstream? Speaking to party workers at a meeting in Marai Malar Nagar, Thirumavalavan stressed the need to reach out to non-Dalits; ‘after 1999 we participated in electoral politics, so, in this situation, there is a necessity to seek the support of all sections of people, for electoral politics we need the support of all sections of society’ (Speech, April 2012). This logic is inescapable since there are no geographical concentrations of Dalits sufficient to guarantee victory in any constituency and whilst certain seats are reserved for Dalits (as part of affirmative action to offset inequality) such candidates are dependent on the votes of others. Whilst voting is tied to localities, Dalits will not be able to neglect other castes. In northern districts of the state—from which the VCK usually contests, Vanniyars constitute between 25 and 30 per cent of the population (Wyatt 2010a: 102). The numbers of Dalits in these areas are not dissimilar, so numbers alone cannot explain the VCK’s relative lack of electoral success. Vanniyars have been mobilized as a caste by the PMK, which has frequently articulated caste-specific demands and grievances, but it is their social dominance that explains why they are more assiduously courted than Dalits. Ambedkar was alert to the dangers of caste majoritarianism and argued that: Majorities are of two sorts: (1) Communal majority and (2) Political majority. A political majority is changeable in its class composition. A political majority grows. A communal majority is born. The admission to a political majority is open. The door to a communal majority is closed. The politics of political majority are free to all to make and unmake. The politics of communal majority are made by its own members born in it. (Thorat and Kumar 2008: 369–70) As we have seen, ‘communal’ categories need to be mobilized and organized to vote en masse. Furthermore, even communal majorities require some votes from others in order to secure political majorities (p.292) in the bipolar electoral contests that characterize Tamil politics. The process of reaching out to others invariably engenders feelings of loss or compromise for activists. The PMK initially reached out to Dalits and other marginalized castes and later espoused Tamil nationalism. When they suffered electoral defeats in the late 2000s, thus, a party stalwart felt that they were being out-manoeuvred by the VCK: Thirumavalavan is mobilizing his community by projecting Vanniyars as oppressors. DPI has a good network and the colony people vote collectively for whoever the party directs them. Dr SR [Ramdoss], however, is speaking for the unity of communities. In this process the importance of Vanniyars is sidelined. (quoted in Raja 2014: 347) Electoral results suggest that the VCK attracts a significant share of the vote. Since they have usually contested in alliance it is hard to identify their votePage 5 of 32

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Subnational Nationalism share. It is also difficult to differentiate votes for the leader as opposed to votes for the party. Where Thirumavalavan has stood—whether in an alliance or alone —he has secured over a third of the vote in national elections and over 40 per cent in state polls. Other VCK candidates, it must be said, have not always fared so well. In Avanashi, for example, VCK candidate Radhamani only secured 13.9 per cent of the vote despite standing in alliance with the DMK (Wyatt 2010a: 121). This implies a reluctance to vote for the VCK. Thirumavalavan explained why this might be the case when he addressed a meeting in Alanganallur: In the early stage they [the people] judged us like other parties, they branded us as problem-makers and extremists. They said: ‘they are opposed to a particular caste’; ‘they are casteist’; ‘they could instigate caste feelings’; ‘they could increase caste-based violence’–this is how they viewed us. Even the police department filed countless false cases based on these assumptions. (Speech, May 2012) Faced by such attitudes, witnessed in the reluctance of alliance partners to canvass for them let alone support them through the ballot box, the VCK as a party needed to reach out to the electorate. In this context, non-political activist and legal advocate Jawahar noted, there were few issues around which they could build a political majority: Dalit liberation was their main area of work. We want to liberate Dalits— from whom? Caste fanatics. On the one hand we need to (p.293) protest; on the other, minds need to change. Now if we just keep protesting, our strength in numbers is weak. That means that we need some sort of platform on which we can gather more people. What platform can we unite people on? People will not rally behind Dalit liberation but we want to liberate the Dalits. I need many more people to support me, and a platform on which I can gain their support. The one platform on which people might rally behind me is Tamil nationalism. (Interview, March 2012) More simply, according to TamizhMurasu: ‘Annan realized that if we only spoke about Dalit issues then no one would vote for us, so the Tamil issue is a ‘marketing strategy’ [in English]; an issue aiming to bring others on board’ (Personal Communication, March 2012). Madurai District leader Ellallan saw expansion as important both for votes and to tackle caste: Look, in a village you have multiple castes: There are Thevars—they are Tamilians; Gounders—Tamilian; Reddiars—Tamilian, and so on, and then you have SC Paraiyars and others who are also Tamilian. Why should we let them exclude us? We are Tamils too, so we call ourselves a Tamil party. Our people will accept that. If we call ourselves a Dalit party, then they will isolate us forever. So we are a Tamil party but we are opposed to caste unlike the other parties. (Interview, March 2012) Page 6 of 32

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Subnational Nationalism The choice of Tamil is not simply instrumental. Tamil nationalism is attractive and available to the VCK since Thirumavalavan started his politics campaigning about the plight of Tamils in Sri Lanka and the demand for Tamil nationalism free of caste has always been a core principle. Dhanapal, who comes from an Ambedkarite family and joined the VCK after it had become a party, also stressed the radicalism inherent in the claim to be a Tamil party: There is a view that Tamil organizations focus on Tamil issues and Dalits on Dalits issues, but from the outset Dalit organizations have raised Tamil concerns. Iyothee Thass Pandithar was one of the first to struggle for Tamil identity, so it is in that lineage that we stand and that path that we are following. We are calling for a Tamil identity shorn of caste or religion. (Interview, March 2012) As we saw in Chapter 1, Dalits used to be excluded from the category of Tamil and so the VCK are not only laying claim to a rich tradition of protest, but seeking to articulate an alternate political (p.294) community. ManiArasu, a veteran campaigner and local leader in Madurai captured this position admirably: M: Caste eradication and Tamil nationalism are one, are they not? Everyone says he has abandoned Dalits; he has left them. That is the refrain I know, but it is not true. He is working with Dalits towards Tamil nationalism. Can we achieve anything by protesting as Dalits alone? Can we cast votes and win elections on the basis of being Dalits?

H: You can’t win, but you can exert pressure.

M: Pressure? Back then we rose up as Dalits, but now we have entered politics Tamil nationalism is the only platform that will bring other communities on board. (ManiArasu Interview, March 2012)

What this illustrates, is that becoming a political party entailed a redefinition of the Panthers. At the Dalit Kalai Vizha (Arts Festival) in Madurai in 2012, for example, Thirumavalavan’s speeches remained popular and were ubiquitous in the stalls around the venue, but even though this was a Dalit event, most of his speeches covered the Sri Lankan issue: ‘The prevailing theme seemed to be a Sri Lankan one with more books, CDs, and posters covering that angle than any other. One poster/placemat even had Prabhakaran on one side and Thiruma on the reverse’ (Field notes, March 2012). In the mass recruitment drives in 2011, this strategy reportedly bore fruit. As seen in Chapter 3, Thirumavalavan told party postholders that the party now had a membership of 45 lakh, a third of whom had contributed a membership fee of Rs. 10 (Speech, April 2012). For the Page 7 of 32

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Subnational Nationalism first time they are actively recruiting people, collecting dues to create a party fund, and seeking to establish a sizeable membership on whose behalf they can claim to speak. As Thirumavalavan intimates, these are impressive numbers and reinforce Wyatt’s (2010a) argument that Tamil Nadu is moving away from a bipolar party system. Whilst many of those signed up will be Dalits, each meeting took pains to highlight non-Dalits who had joined the party locally. The question is: what attracts non-Dalits to join a party that is still primarily associated with Dalits? This is where the plank of Tamil nationalism is so central. Non-Dalits have been recruited to the party in two key ways: First, the VCK have campaigned vociferously on Tamil issues—the conflict in Sri Lanka in particular, but also water-sharing with neighbouring (p.295) states, the treatment of Tamil fisherfolk by Sri Lanka, the plight of migrant Tamil workers in other states, and the status of the Tamil language. Thirumavalavan has been amongst the most outspoken supporters of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and the most vocal critics of the Sri Lankan regime. His interventions in parliament, hunger fast, and silent protests in Delhi whilst he was an MP all served to raise the profile of the party. As Manimozhiyan put it: ‘It is because Thirumavalavan has spoken about Tamil nationalism that he is known across the whole of India and the world’ (Interview, August 2012). That this is not just the idealized portrayal of a party activist is seen in Thirumavalavan’s trips around the world to address Tamil nationalist audiences. The Tamil Sangam (Association) in Delhi similarly sought him out. He explained that being a lone MP was an advantage here since he did not have to toe a party line or secure permission from others to speak on contentious issues (Personal Communication, September 2012).

Panthers and Tigers The Sri Lankan civil war united people across Tamil Nadu in sympathy for ordinary Tamils in the island state. Carswell and De Neve (2009: 51–2) found that the Sri Lankan conflict was not important in influencing how people would vote in Western Tamil Nadu, but even here they noted that a bandh (shut down) called in support of Sri Lankan Tamils was well observed. The apparent sympathies of ordinary Tamils led all parties in the state to condemn the Sri Lankan government and call for more to be done to alleviate the suffering and displacement of Tamils there. Several parties—notably the PMK, MDMK, and VCK—openly supported the LTTE and their call for a Tamil homeland (Eelam). The Indian government, by contrast, was implacably opposed to the LTTE, which is a banned organization in the country following their assassination of then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. Congress, of course, was not the only group to condemn LTTE actions and it is important to pause here to consider why the VCK chose to embrace this Tamil nationalist organization. On the face of it, the LTTE is an unlikely ally of the VCK. Prior to becoming General Secretary of the party, Ravikumar (2009) offered an insightful critique entitled ‘Caste of the

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Subnational Nationalism Tigers’. (p.296) He noted how ‘the wave of Tamil national liberation suppressed the voices of the Dalits’ (2009: 69). Several respondents in Tamil Nadu noted that the LTTE had stood against caste and instituted severe punishments for those practising untouchability. The International Dalit Solidarity Network (IDSN 2008) report on Dalits in Sri Lanka places this in context, noting that: ‘in the LTTE war cemeteries, the movement has defied the caste system by erecting monuments for all martyrs side by side, irrespective of their caste. Reportedly, there are many inter-caste marriages within the movement’ (IDSN 2008: 4). They also report the ban on caste discrimination that came into force in the late 1980s, but argue that the LTTE ‘silenced a broader “lower caste” struggle’ (IDSN 2008: 4) and point to continuing caste discrimination in Tamil communities. Dietrich (2009: 14) observes that the fight for Eelam remained silent on ‘Pillaimar domination, the side-lining of Dalit Tamil labour in the hill country, [and] the murders of Muslim Tamils in the East’. Use of child-soldiers and human shields were widely condemned, as was the targeting of non-LTTE Tamil campaigners and the forced displacement of Muslims (DeVotta 2009; Thiranagama 2013). VCK activists stressed that LTTE actions had to be judged against the wider socio-political context of repression and conflict, but given the question marks over the Tiger’s attitudes towards the inequities of caste and their elimination of rival Tamil groups in Sri Lanka we need to scrutinize the VCK’s attachment to the LTTE. The Sri Lanka issue also had ramifications at home. One senior leader recounted debates in VCK committee meetings stressing that Dalits in Tamil Nadu were feeling neglected by the focus on Sri Lankan issues (Anon Interview, September 2012). Most explained the party’s focus on the issue as stemming from Thirumavalavan’s student politics and long-standing personal position on Sri Lankan politics. There was also a strong narrative portraying both the VCK and the LTTE as militant struggles for equality and against oppression. Speaking at a VCK wedding in 2012, Thirumavalavan highlighted this: I got an opportunity to meet his Excellency Prabhakaran in Vanni and tour around Yazhpanam for ten days [in 2002]. All this was only possible because our organization works for Tamil people and Tamil nationalism. (p.297) Prabhakaran wouldn’t have extended an invitation to Thirumavalavan if our organization had fought only for a particular caste people. There is no chance of that. So it is my pleasure and duty to tell you all here that the Tamil nationalist leader, brother Prabhakaran, was the first one who identified and allowed the world to identify the VCK as a party that fights for world Tamils and Tamil Eelam. After that the Tamil population across the world began to ask; ‘who is this Thirumavalavan and VCK?’ Although the Tamil media totally discriminated against us and offered no coverage, the political parties in Tamil Nadu refused to identify us and the other sections of Tamil society failed to recognize us, the Tamil Page 9 of 32

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Subnational Nationalism nationalist leader Prabhakaran and his LTTE are the first ones to recognize the VCK and Thirumavalavan. (Speech, February 2012) A common refrain amongst Panther activists was that it takes ‘one militant (porali) to recognize another’. Prabhakaran’s recognition of their leader was, thus, worn as a badge of pride and as cementing their credentials as radical activists. If past campaigns, current political networks, and a desire for continued militancy (if only by association) help explain the attraction of the Tamil Tigers (TT), the widespread embrace of nationalism by Tamil parties, and popular sympathy for Tamils in Sri Lanka pointed to this stance as a means to grow beyond Dalit concerns. The poet and author, Meena Kandasamy, explained how an entire generation had grown up hearing about the conflict in Sri Lanka and watching it unfold on television. As against the Tamil nationalist rhetoric celebrating past struggles, she suggested; ‘This was our conflict, struggle—the equivalent of the anti-Hindi agitation for an earlier generation. Not critical, considered support but emotional attachment’ (Personal Communication, April 2012). The author V. Geetha offered a similar analysis and argued that Tamil nationalism was one way of reaching out to people and voters in the state due to the valorisation of the Tiger’s struggle (Personal Communication, March 2012). Whatever people’s views on the Tigers, there was universal concern for ordinary Tamils in Sri Lanka during and after the fierce conflict. Rani, an NGO worker who was otherwise critical of VCK politics, stressed that they could not remain silent: What is happening in Sri Lanka is a major human rights issue that we cannot ignore. The LTTE has been protesting for the rights of Tamils and now they have been subject to horrendous atrocities and violence (p.298) by the Rajapaksa Government, so they are absolutely right to take up the issue. We see it as a human rights abuse on a huge scale. (Interview, March 2012) Few would contest this viewpoint, but several questioned whether support for Sri Lankan Tamils had to be articulated through an uncritical celebration of the LTTE. One senior figure who has since left the party felt that the VCK was too emotional and un-reflexive in its relationship to the LTTE and would have done better to act as a ‘critical friend’ during peace talks in 2002 and 2006. He felt like the unswerving support from nationalist parties in Tamil Nadu was not healthy: ‘I feel like we are administering poison at times, and should have pressured them to ink an agreement’ (Thiruma Pasumpon Interview, August 2012).1 Whilst he questioned the form, Pasumpon did not question the alliance itself or the extension of support to the LTTE. Indeed, Maalin, who left the VCK but has since re-joined its propaganda wing, pointed out that:

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Subnational Nationalism In Tamil Nadu the situation is such that all Dalit organizations—indeed no matter who it is, they have to speak of Tamil nationalism. That has become an imperative. It has become so essential that even Karunanidhi is speaking of Eelam … You cannot do politics without Tamil nationalism. (Interview, February 2012)

Tamil Tigers or Language? The salience of the conflict in Sri Lanka is seen in the CPI (M), which is critical of the focus on national identity, yet found it impossible to avoid campaigning on the issue. Politburo member Guna explained both the CPI (M)’s take on the subject and why it resonated so much in this context: Here, people rejected national parties in the 60s, erm, 67, so they feel they can survive only if they talk about Tamil nationalism. It is a myth, yet, they do. They deal with Sri Lankan issues under the banner of (p.299) nationalism. There is a genuine concern for Sri Lankan people indeed, but they projected this issue under nationalism for their own benefits in politics. We don’t use this issue like that. Tamil people have their own identity, culture, tradition, and so on—CPM already has a declared stand on that. This is a multi-cultural state, so based on that we function in Tamil Nadu. (Interview, March 2012) Guna’s quote explains why Tamil nationalism remains both central and unavoidable in Tamil politics: first, since 1967, neither of the two national parties (the Congress or the BJP) have a foothold in the state. This has generated the view that only regional parties with a Tamil emphasis can succeed.2 Second, he notes the ‘genuine concern’ amongst the public, meaning that all parties need at least to be seen to be doing something to alleviate the plight of Sri Lankan Tamils. Finally, he broadens out the debate by noting how the Tamil language and people are distinct, which necessitates particular forms of politics. Away from the conflict in Sri Lanka, one key issue here is the status of Tamil and the recurrent fear that Hindi will be imposed as a national language. The embrace of Tamil is a slightly contentious one for a Dalit party since many Arunthathiyars speak Telegu at home. Kondavelai of the Scavenger’s Union (the translation that he used) felt that some Dalits were alienated by the move: K: Now they are speaking Tamil nationalism. In Tamil nationalism there are two aspects: First, I am Tamilian, there can be no doubt about that. But Tamil nationalism itself—there are some disagreements with that; what kind of Tamil nationalism? There are several Scavengers who speak Telegu, so what am I to do? What happens is that in our Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi that is full of Dalit people, they cannot make firm decisions … They have become a radical Dravidian party that is what I think. It has come to the point where Backward Page 11 of 32

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Subnational Nationalism Castes see Thirumavalavan as a major leader and are flocking to join the party, but scavengers will not join.

H: So what party do they join? (p.300)

K: They? Each caste has its own party does it not? Those speaking Telegu all commit to Vijayakant or to Vaiko’s party.

H: But Vijayakant says nothing about caste.

K: He speaks Telegu doesn’t he? He does not know a single thing about caste or the plight of scavengers. (Interview, March 2012)

Others disagreed with this analysis and noted that Tamil protection has both class and caste dimensions since it is mainly impoverished Dalits who remain in state-run Tamil-medium schools (Roberts 2010: 28). Moorthy, an Arunthathiyar who has been in the VCK since the 1990s, disputed Kondavelai’s account: I speak Telegu in the home. It’s a language we use for self-protection, but I can’t read it or write it or do anything with it, so how can I call it my mother tongue? Now you speak Tamil, but do you call it your mother tongue? No, Tamil is my mother tongue and I have a full stake in Tamil nationalism. What sort of Tamil nationalism are we asking for? One that alienates others? No. We want a caste-free Tamil nationalism that can exist alongside other nationalisms. (Personal Communication, May 2012) If protecting Tamil can be framed as Dalit-friendly, there is less incentive for a Dalit outfit to campaign on issues like water-sharing from trans-state rivers. Whilst VCK activists proudly asserted that Thirumavalavan was ‘the first of the 44 Tamil MPs to raise the Mullaiperiyar issue and protest about it’, in Chapter 5 we saw how since ‘Dalits here [Melchinanampatti] own no land—the main beneficiaries of the dam issue are the Gounders’ (Field notes, July 2012). The attempt, thus, is to stress that the ‘VCK is for all sections of the society and people’ (Thirumavalavan’s Speech, May 2012). Campaigning on these matters alone was not sufficient to attract non-Dalits into a party led and populated by Dalits. Indeed, non-Dalits in the case above ripped up VCK posters referencing the dam issue. In order to attract interest from non-Dalits, therefore, the party altered its constitution to allow them to assume leadership positions. Until 2007, as Thiruma Pasumpon recalled, ‘the bylaws of the party said that non-Dalits should not be allowed to hold district-level positions in the party.’ He recalled being invited to a general (p.301) council meeting by Thirumavalavan. ‘One hardPage 12 of 32

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Subnational Nationalism core element was there—I do not want to name him now because he is a friend of mine who repented later, but he said “We cannot let people like this in.” That is what he said.’ Having worked with Thiruma Pasumpon (Ganesan as he then was) in and around the Thevar-dominated Usilampatti district, Thirumavalavan was determined to bring him on board and persuaded the council to accept him as ‘state secretary for social harmony.’ I asked if his ties to the leader had fasttracked change: TP: You can’t really say that. The Velacherry declaration was a historical necessity …. Any political party has to come up with a resolution like that. They had a bylaw placing constraints on non-Dalits, so they had to amend that. (Thiruma Pasumpon Interview, August 2012)

The Velacherry declaration, or resolution, was a key date in the VCK’s timeline that saw the end of exclusively Dalit leadership in a bid to reach out and become a mainstream party. As the Vanniyar and veteran LTTE-supporter Velusamy explained: It was at that time, 2 October 2007, VCK had made a resolution in the party, which is called the Velachery declaration, that the party should embrace likeminded people from other castes and religious minorities— they can join and take leadership in the party. I was in touch with Thirumavalavan during the time the resolution was passed in the party. On the basis of that declaration I joined the party. After I joined, the party offered me a party post in 2008. During that time, a lot of people from Backward Castes, Muslims, and Christians from minority community joined the party. I got the state secretary post in the farmer’s wing, and I have been working as a VCK member since then. (Velusamy Interview, August 2012) As with the move to politics, the decision to accept non-Dalit leaders split the party. Many were upset that the Dalit focus was being lost, but state leader Unjai Aarasan agreed that it was inevitable: U: Non-Dalits are minority within the party. We project them because they shouldn’t feel that they are the minorities in the party.

H: No one can deny that, but why posts for newcomers?

U: Yeah, they joined recently–they don’t know about the history of the party, don’t know about Dalit liberty. (p.302)

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Subnational Nationalism H: Then, how can you give party post?

U: That is true but at the same time inevitable. When we proclaim that the party is for all, we have to give them the party post; if we shut the door then no one would approach us, only through them we can reach out to others to get their votes. (Interview, August 2012)

The upshot of these changes is that the VCK has moved beyond its characterization as a Dalit party and now views itself as a party for all Tamils that champions an anti-caste message. Revathi, a Dalit herself, joined the party on the back of its sustained protests on the Sri Lankan conflict and she described the sea-change: R: At first Annan was only giving voice to the Dalits, but today he is speaking on behalf of all Tamils and so many ordinary people are coming forward to join the party. In our party it is not just Dalits who hold posts. All caste people can hold responsibility—all castes today are in the party.

H: They are in the party; do the other members accept them?

R: Yes, they accept them. That is, there are some who do not want other castes to join and wish to remain confined within their own caste cluster, but we have transcended all that—listening to Annan’s speeches and appreciating his work on behalf of all Tamils today many people are overcoming all obstacles to join the party. (Interview, August 2012)

Revathi conceded that the decision remains contentious and that not everyone is happy with the elevation of newcomers into posts or their performance in those positions.

The New Panthers The expansion of the VCK to include non-Dalits gave rise to a peculiar choreography at party events. Thirumavalavan is habitually mobbed by wellwishers when he arrives at a venue and people cluster round seeking to drape shawls round him and present him with gifts —both meaning that they get near their leader and have a photo taken with him that they can treasure. In 2012, Thirumavalavan was a busy MP and had less time to spend at each occasion, so huge efforts were made to discipline the crowds and minimize the time taken over such formalities. If most members were disciplined, some exceptions

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Subnational Nationalism became routine. The inauguration of an auto-stand in Alanganallur exemplified this trend: (p.303) Only auto-stand members were invited onto stage and were led in a round of slogans by Thirumavalavan. Most people had been pacified and sat down when one person pushed through with a shawl. He was initially told to sit down, but it turned out that he was a non-Dalit driver. Immediately he was ushered forward. His caste was revealed on mic and he shawled Thiruma who promptly took the shawl off his own shoulders and draped it around his follower before posing for a photo. Immediately there was a stream of Non-Dalits lining up to shawl and be shawled. All were applauded for choosing to join the party and recognize Thirumavalavan, but how long will this last? Gounder, Chettiar, Reddiar, and Thevar all came forward to announce their allegiance. (Field notes, May 2012) Scrawled underneath these notes I entered two pressing questions: (a) How long will they stay in the party; and (b) How long will Dalits accept non-Dalits getting to drape shawls whilst they stand by as spectators? Similar scenes were played out even in Melavalavu where party members gathered to honour the victims of caste violence. In each case, huge play is made of the fact that the VCK is not a caste party. As Thirumavalavan put it in Alanganallur: ‘Though this movement has been identified with oppressed people, the world has been realising every day that this movement is for Tamil people and Tamil society, poor people, feminists, marginalised …. The comrades who joined us today vouch for that’ (Speech, May 2012). Indeed, when I asked Prabhu, a young Thevar Panchayat President from Thoothukudi district why he wanted a post in the VCK he replied: ‘I like the leader. He’s the best Tamil leader of all. He represents all Tamils and does not think of caste. He also uplifts the Dalits and other sections’ (Field notes, Madurai, May 2012). Similar accounts were offered by other non-Dalits who hailed Thirumavalavan as a Tamil leader and felt that they could strengthen the party. The Nadar Dindigul District Secretary, Villavan Kothai, for instance invited a Dhinna Thandi reporter along to a VCK meeting in Madurai noting that: ‘The media tends not to report what our party does. Annan is not as well-known as he should be in part due to a lack of connections. People like me can help with that’ (Field notes Madurai, May 2012). Thirumavalavan echoed this emphasis on what non-Dalits can offer when addressing applicants for party posts in Marai Malar Nagar: In some cases, we cannot look at service to the party because we have to think about what will help us to win. Someone new to the party, but (p. 304) accepted by the public may get us a victory, whereas someone grounded in the party who has been to jail for the cause and faced countless hardships may have the backing of cadres but may not be voted for by the public. They will gang up to prevent us from winning and cast Page 15 of 32

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Subnational Nationalism him as an extremist. Different posts have different demands, the treasurer needs party support first and foremost, but the secretary needs the acceptance of the public first and foremost. (Speech, April 2012) From this perspective, the VCK’s expansion to include non-Dalits brought in those who could broaden the appeal of the party and take it beyond the history of Dalit militancy that still limited its appeal. Whilst all agree on the need to reach out to others, the process is neither smooth nor uncontested. Speaking to postholders in Marai Malar Nagar Thirumavalavan accepted that divisions might arise: I am aware that this process generates many opportunities for condemnation and unhappiness: You may think ‘I’m senior, I have worked hard for the movement but I have been overlooked’. You may wonder who has spoken against you. There are lots of opportunities for accusations, but we need to work together and develop a strong ‘team spirit’ [in English]. (Field notes, April 2012) In this same meeting, some delegates asked for their area to have a Dalit leader since they ‘were in a reserved constituency.’ Immediately two applicants leaped to their feet to disagree. One was a Nadar, ‘armed with about ten scrap books documenting his work who made an impassioned plea: “Please do not speak in caste terms like this. Break out of this mindset and stop speaking caste. We are all working together and protesting together and have held successful events recently.” The other was a Thevar who stressed that “if you have a non-Dalit then the party can grow even stronger. Don’t look at caste, look at what work they do” (applause for this)’ (Field notes, April 2012). As senior party leader Devaraj noted: ‘Dalit liberation cannot be won by Dalits alone, it requires the cooperation of other castes. So we need to reach out to and incorporate other castes, we have seen Mayawati’s formula in UP and we need that’ (Personal Communication, June 2012). Whilst the non-Dalit members of the party highlight how they can help the VCK to grow and reach out to others, Dalit members (p.305) remain sceptical of the benefits as seen in the quote from Mani at the head of the chapter. As the party nomination event in Madurai extended into the small hours, one of the leaders sent me back in their vehicle. The driver discussed the events of the day and the emphasis on choosing non-Dalit leaders: You can look at it in two ways: ‘on one hand you can say we are like this [holds out clenched fist] and Annan wants us to be like this [opens out fist suggestive of a fruit ripening], and the only way to do that is to reach out to non-Dalits. There is another way of looking at it too’, he continued, ‘and that is that if some non-Dalits beat up a Dalit or there is an atrocity in the village then there are question marks over whether the non-Dalit leaders Page 16 of 32

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Subnational Nationalism will engage in that issue with the same vehemence and commitment as a Dalit leader would.’ While that question mark remains, then bringing them into the party and promoting them is problematic. (Field notes, Madurai, May 2012) This quote neatly sums up the debate within the party and the strength of feeling on the issue was apparent in the postholder nomination meetings. Speaking to activists outside the hall in Madurai, they asserted their commitment to the process and their faith in the leader: Thirumavalavan knows who to accept and who not to. They have to wait 2– 3 years and work for the party and accept their ideology before getting a post. One leader was the State Treasurer in another party—so he was already developed and clearly not out to enrich himself. Transferring to us was a sign of commitment in itself, but even he had to wait for a post. H: Does everyone accept such leaders? They do. There is some grumbling and upset, but they’ll grow used to it. (Field notes, May 2012)

Given that all those at the event either were, or wanted to be, party functionaries, it is not surprising that they should repeat the party line. Cracks in this narrative were, nonetheless, soon evident within the hall. In Marai Malar Nagar: The first candidate stood up and urged the leaders to give value to seniority rather than simply promoting new people. Several of the other applicants also raised concerns about the number of newcomers, who only joined the party to profit from it, being parachuted into posts. There (p. 306) were pleas for seniority and commitment to be taken into account and for the leaders to double check their decision with those on the ground. (Field notes, April 2012) The Madurai crowd likewise aired numerous complaints about ‘speedy promotions’ and unworthy candidates. One impassioned Dalit applicant urged the party leaders to: ‘Please consider hard. Someone who came into the party like this recently did nothing for the party—they did not even celebrate Ambedkar’s birthday.’ Such accusations recurred more volubly when the Ambedkar statues were destroyed in Madurai in August. AdiVeeraPandian was visibly uplifted by Thirumavalavan’s speech on that occasion, but when I asked him about non-Dalits he said that they ‘would have been annoyed by it if they had bothered to turn up’. A:

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Subnational Nationalism Some came along, but a couple who speak of Tamil nationalism so vehemently did not even do that. But those who came—what have they done in their own areas? It has been four days now: have they held a protest in their district? Shouldn’t they have?

H: Have you held one in Alanganallur?

A: Yes, I organized a road blockade with 75 people. We blocked the road for an hour. Today some people were wondering about taking time off work but I said: This is Ambedkar—you have to come! (Field notes, Madurai August 2012)

Respect for Ambedkar here stands as a proxy for commitment to the party. The claim that many newcomers had sought rapid promotion rather than experiencing a change of heart was common. In the Marai Malar meeting, one applicant was forthright: Annan has always shown us the way and we will follow him, but please consider the situation for hard-working party members today. If they are overlooked, then what happens to those who have given their lives for the party? Rather than simply appointing newcomers you need to ask who has worked hard for the party and find out who the committed activists are. Yes, we need to branch out, but rather than simply giving opportunities to those who have just joined, I think that we should reward those who have absorbed the party aims and ideology. (Field notes, April 2012) Outside the party meetings, several respondents went further still in voicing concerns over the influx of non-Dalits. Palani Kumar has (p.307) left the party but remains a close observer and is still in contact with members. He felt that ‘they have started promoting people straight into posts rather than promoting those who have worked for the people and been accepted by them. It means that they are just interested in money and making a quick buck’ (Interview, April 2012). A veteran party leader, whose name I have changed, felt that caution was required in promotions: D: Look at this village. Today there is a big man, a real millionaire—he is Kallar. Let us assume that he looks at us and thinks; this is a vibrant party. If anyone threatens me four or five people will come and stand by me and print posters and stage protests. Let us assume he joins the party as a result, we would all then have to go and stand like slaves at his house. There are many here who have shed blood, raised flags, and pasted posters, but in that situation they will all have to go and stand before him won’t they? That is what we are upset by. That is why we say there are certain posts of authority: district secretary, assistant district secretary—these sorts of significant posts should be in Dalit

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Subnational Nationalism hands. All other posts—state-level posts can be given to others, to BCs. Let them do that work.

H: After four or five years of such work?

M: Yes, then they can get a post. Why are they joining us in the first instance? To nurture the party and help it grow? No, it is to protect their assets isn’t it? (DalitArasu, March 2012)

Several respondents impugned the motives of incomers. An anonymized District leader was outspoken in his anger: Giving key posts to non-Dalits is a major offence (per arbuth) against the party. People like me came to the movement for the people and never once thought about ourselves, but the postholders of today think only of themselves and never once about the people. (Tamilvendam Interview, July 2012) For such respondents there is real frustration and hurt that their party is being used as a vehicle for self-promotion, that their hard work and sacrifice is being overlooked, and that what the Panthers stood for is now in question. At one level they appreciate the need to include others, but fear that the costs outweigh the gains. Kunnath (2009: 321) details similar Dalit discontent with the Maoist party’s (p.308) ‘changing policy towards the middle castes’ in Bihar. Whilst, as we have seen, some non-Dalits have thrown themselves into party work, others seemed to confirm the reservations of their Dalit colleagues. Several non-Dalit leaders struggled to articulate why they had joined the party beyond the assertion that they ‘liked Thirumavalavan’. They are not so different from Dalit counterparts in this regard, but one Arsari offered support to the notion that newcomers see the VCK as a means to rapid promotion. I asked him what his community had made of him joining the party: They asked from home and the caste association—how could you join that lot? I said, if that is how you feel then I don’t want your society and I don’t want your kinship and I withdrew. Half my kin will respond to me, others do not. … Gradually though, people are coming. Several people came with me. My younger brother joined and others of my kin are wanting to join and have asked me to get them posts. I have said: ‘Come along, I will get you posts’. (Arsari Interview, August 2012) Others made similar statements, indicative of a desire for prominence rather than mere party membership. Several respondents spoke of the owner of Tamilan TV and said that he had at least invested money in the party and lent his resources to raise the VCK’s profile. By 2012, he had abandoned the party to join

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Subnational Nationalism Seeman’s Naam Tamizhar Katchi (NTK or We Tamils Party). Devaraj, a senior VCK leader, felt that he had anticipated rapid promotion: D: They [non-Dalits] should spend three years in the party so that we can see what their contribution and work is like first. Three years not five, otherwise they will become fed up. What do the other castes join for? Money and power. They see it as another party, like the DMK or ADMK and hope to gain posts, become an MLA, or MP, and make money. When they do not get this then they leave. I’ll give you two examples. The first is the owner of Tamilan TV. He is a Nadar. He came into the party and was given one of the three general secretary posts—the other two are Dalit, but he was given that post straightaway. Then the Assembly elections came round. He had not been in the party for three years but he anticipated that he would be fielded as an MLA candidate. He did not get nominated and so he left in a huff.

H: Didn’t he go and join Seeman?

D: Yes, that’s right. (p.309)

H: So what will he get there?

D: Ah, but Seeman is also Nadar so they have a caste unity there. That is very important. (Personal Communication, June 2012)

Devaraj suggests that such leaders can accept a place in the ranks in a party run by caste-fellows, but anticipate a speedier ascent to positions of power in a Dalitled party. His second example was of Thiruma Pasumpon who offered a very different account of why he had left the party. It is, thus, possible that this reading is mistaken but it highlights the ambivalence that many Dalits feel towards newcomers and especially towards their elevation to leadership positions. This was reinforced in a gathering of local VCK leaders and sympathizers outside a tea-shop opposite the Madurai District Court. Lawyers and activists affiliated to the party could usually be found in the court grounds, sat under the shade of trees discussing cases, or huddled around the stalls across the road. On this occasion: During discussions here there was a rumour passed round that a non-Dalit VCK District secretary had got the district to pass a resolution calling for the repeal of the SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act because it was being misused. The culprit was said to be [name withheld]—a Gounder. As soon as I chased up and asked about details, they emphasized that it was just a rumour and not at all certain. They believed it was true but it was not Page 20 of 32

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Subnational Nationalism ‘confirmed’. Later TamizhMurasu rang up and made a point of telling me that it was not true: ‘This happened last year and there was no resolution passed to that effect. This new non-Dalit leader had raised this at a meeting not knowing anything but he had been pulled up by others straight away and told that he should not speak like that and that the SC/ ST Act was a vital law. He had apologised and said he did not know. So that news is not correct.’ I pointed out that in this version someone who does not know about the SC/ST Act has been made district secretary: Isn’t that just as bad? ‘Yes, it shouldn’t happen’—was the grudging reply. (Field notes, July 2012) As we have seen, rumours and allegations—often without substance—abound, circulate within, and around the party. This account may or may not be true, but the discussion in itself highlights the strained nature of the process of transformation within the party and the fears of being socially co-opted by dominant castes (cf. Kunnath 2009). Thiruma Pasumpon noted how Dalit activists initially treated (p.310) him with suspicion and even claimed that he had been ‘sent by police and vigilance to break the party’ before he won them round. Like others, he now viewed recent entrants with a degree of suspicion: ‘The sad part’, he continued, ‘is that I paved the way for those who are undermining the party now’ (Interview, August 2012). As Devaraj suggests above, many now see the VCK as ‘yet another’ party that could serve as a vehicle to power or status. What, though, happens to Dalit concerns in this process?

The Tamil Trojan Horse? The frustrations of Dalits and alleged incompetence or avarice of newcomers places the VCK in a predicament. On the one hand they need to include others, but they also need to retain their standing amongst Dalits and members, and their name for determination. DalitArasu suggested that this hard-won reputation was under threat: Today both DMK and ADMK look on us as a party that will achieve things. That is how we are seen. But these newcomers—they do not act with the values they ought to act with. Now when this lot come in—we do not have assets. Let us say they come in with huge assets. Now a problem arises, they come in with huge assets whereas we have nothing—others look at us and tremble, they fear what we can do, but we do not have economic assets. Now a BC enters the party—his only thought is to exploit and eat us, they have no thought to give their assets to the party or for the development of the people at all. What our leader thought when he invited BCs was that other BCs would follow in their wake. Now here there are some 40,000 votes. About 20,000 are Dalit votes. Some 10,000 are BC votes and another 10,000 are forward castes. So if we gain the BC vote victory will be assured. … It was that idea in mind that he invited them, but

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Subnational Nationalism that is not their inspiration. They only want to earn. (Interview, March 2012) I was constantly told that non-Dalits tended to join the party as individuals rather than as part of a group. Sannah spoke of mass conversions to the VCK amongst Pillaimars and other non-Dalits castes (Interview, September 2012), but this did not occur often. State leader ArtralArasu echoed others in maintaining that the gains from non-Dalit integration were limited. (p.311) A: The only gain is that we can say that we have people in our party from all sections, we can say that in the public meetings or to the media, and that would prevent others tearing our posters. The gain is 1 per cent but the loss is 99 per cent.

H: So, with the 99 per cent loss, how can we win elections?

A: We have to convert this 1 per cent into 99 per cent to join mainstream politics. (Interview, July 2012)

Converting both members and non-Dalits to this change will not be easy. Several recruits were already active in politics before joining the VCK and had some followers themselves; their failure to transfer supporters is viewed with scepticism. Kumarvallavan summed up prevailing views: H: Now what is the benefit of Tamil identity for the party?

K: Gain? Um. It is the leader’s effort to forge a Tamil identity and for us not to be excluded from that identity. That is what the leader thinks, but gain? It is just us who are the strength of the party.

H: It does not seem like the wider public have accepted you as Tamils.

K: They have not, they have not! If they accepted that identity, then at least five or six of us would have been elected as MLAs wouldn’t we? That is – laughs – no one has accepted us as such. That is what we say: we too are Tamils, we are a movement for Tamils, but there are many who accept that and many who do not. Actually if you think about it, those who do not accept us are in the majority. (Interview, August 2012)

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Subnational Nationalism Alagu, a VCK leader in Aandankulam in Pudhukottai District, similarly felt that calling themselves a Tamil party had little benefit: He noted how he had organized a meeting on the Mullaiperiyar Dam issue under the title of the Tamil Protection Association rather than the VCK and invited everyone. ‘Some said that they would come, but in the end only our party people showed up. I could have done it in our name for all the reach we had, at least then the party would have got the credit’ (Interview, July 2012). Velusamy, one of the first non-Dalit leaders in the party likewise noted that: ‘although the party embraces everyone, other than the Paraiyar community, no groups accept Thirumavalavan fully. Even the Pallar and Arunthathiyar castes within Dalits are not ready to accept him fully—people from Pallar (p.312) or Arunthathiyar communities accept him at the individual level, but not the community as a whole’ (Interview, August 2012).3 Both Velusamy and Thiruma Pasumpon insisted that Thirumavalavan was the one Dalit leader who was not seen as an enemy of the backward castes and felt that many non-Dalits would join the party. Dalit activists, however, worried about the price they would have to pay to achieve this. Stalin Rajangam observed how Tamil leaders who had never condemned caste atrocities were now happy to share a platform with the VCK because of the focus on Tamil issues: There was an issue in Kanthampatti village in Salem district where Vanniyars did not allow Dalit people to enter Draupadi Amman temple. People began to protest. When people go to the street then VCK has to join them otherwise the party will be isolated from people. This became news all over Tamil Nadu. Thirumavalavan and Ramadoss were together at that time and they could have resolved the issue if they had directly visited the place. He (Thirumavalavan) attended a meeting in the morning with Ramadoss about the removal of English name boards, and visited the village in the afternoon alone. It shows that the issue of caste is not at all included in the project called Tamil nationalism. (Rajangam Interview, March 2012) The fear articulated here is that the emphasis on Tamil will result in neglect of Dalit concerns. Certainly, the choreography described above portrays caste discrimination as a sectional interest of no concern to the PMK. For the message of a Tamil nation free of caste to bear fruit, it needs to be communicated to nonDalits and coalition partners rather than just the party faithful. The customary silence of mainstream parties led VCK leaders to voice their frustrations in public in the wake of Gokulraj’s murder in July 2015 (Ravikumar 2015). Significantly, these criticisms came when the VCK were no longer allied to either Dravidian party. Whilst the fact that Vaiko and the Communists joined the VCK in condemning casteism is a welcome development, the continued hold of caste is seen in the (p.313) attitude of the Dravidian duo. The twin concerns raised by respondents were that the embrace of Tamil had few benefits and—as seen in the last chapter—ran the risk of betraying or side-lining Dalits. Several Page 23 of 32

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Subnational Nationalism respondents argued that the VCK had a moral responsibility to raise caste issues, since Dalits had fewer people to champion their cause: T: There are people to talk about the Eelam issue. Seeman, Pazha. Nedumaran, Su. Pa. Veerapandian, erm, Ramadoss, Vaiko, and other organizations, but how many organizations speak about Dalit issues?

H: Do we have to remain forever a Dalit outfit and not a mainstream political party?

T: Mainstream political party? Do you think people will vote and elect him as MP if he speaks about Tamil nationalism?

H: Won’t they?

T: They don’t. He fought alone for Mullaiperiyar, sat for hunger strike in front of Gandhi statue in Delhi, but no one seemed to be bothered. … He himself has said that Mullaiperiyar was unnecessary, they didn’t accept us (laugh), didn’t accept us. (TamizhMurasu Interview, June 2012)

The argument was not that Dalit parties should stay silent on Sri Lanka or not address broader political issues, but that priority should be afforded to those concerns that others neglect. As Thiruma Pasumpon put it: ‘The whole SC community is being kept within a barbed wire fence, but we are thinking about the barbed wire fence in Sri Lanka’ (Interview, August 2012). One district leader offered a gloomy prognosis for the party: People used to witness such things [discrimination and atrocities] and they believed that VC was the movement that would rescue them from such things through their actions. But, people now began to feel that we gave up or compromised our ideology as we join hands with leaders who want the village and cheris to remain the same forever. People feel that way, people [with emphasis] feel that way, not us. (Tamilvendam Interview, July 2012) The perils of becoming too close to dominant castes in the pursuit of Tamil had been articulated for some time, but were dramatically illustrated when the PMK campaign against cross-caste marriages (p.314) led to violence and arson in Dharmapuri in late 2012. In the face of virulently casteist politics, as demonstrated in the violence and the attacks on Ambedkar statues, Thirumavalavan’s speeches regained some of the anger and urgency or yore. Reflecting on what some were interpreting as a return to Dalit concerns, Stalin Rajangam asked: ‘If I as a sceptic and intellectual am delighted and enthused that Thiruma is returning to Dalit issues, then how will those on the street Page 24 of 32

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Subnational Nationalism feel?’ (Personal Communication, July 2012). For all the disillusionment, few politically conscious Dalits would view the other parties as better than the VCK. As Dhanapal noted: ‘Now Backward Castes leaders do not raise their voices for the Downtrodden. Our leader must speak on two issues—he is riding two horses in tandem’ (Interview, March 2012). Despite the accusations in the last chapter, it is clear that the VCK is one of the few organizations still raising its voice for Dalits, but in attempting to ride ‘two horses’ they can end up being seen as neither fully Dalit nor Tamil leaders. (Kathir Interview, March 2012)

The Fervent Tamilians? Whilst Dalits critique the VCK because Tamil concerns are seen to dominate their agenda, the Tamil focus means that the party are also judged on those issues. In 2012, the plight of Tamils in Sri Lanka predominated. As we saw in Chapter 5, the imagery of Prabhakaran and the Tamil Tigers is ubiquitous in VCK material and the party had gained a reputation for their work on Eelam. In speech after speech Thirumavalavan spoke of the LTTE protest movement and of meeting Prabhakaran who recognized the fighting spirit of the VCK. Fasts, road and rail blockades, and the championing of a banned organization all raised the profile of the party and gave activists who pined for the days when they hit back against caste oppressors a sense of continuing radicalism. As Thiruma Pasumpon observed: ‘We are representing Scheduled Caste people. When we brought in Prabhakaran especially with the military uniform it imbibed some sort of spirit in them’ (Interview, August 2012). It helped that Thirumavalavan was an MP at the height of the conflict in Sri Lanka, and his multiple interventions—fasting, protesting, shouting down Parliament, and holding up banners—all gained publicity and placed him centre stage: (p.315) If we look at Thirumavalavan’s political career since 1990s, if we look at the highs and lows of his political career, which is normal for any organization or leader who is in politics for a long time, his reputation reached a peak when he sat for hunger strike in Marai Malar Nagar and announced that he was ready to die for LTTE fighting for separate Tamil Eelam. Not only Dalits, even backward caste people who were LTTE sympathizers, supported him at that time. Thousands of youth idolized him on par with Prabhakaran at that point. His speeches, activities, and action were directed towards Tamil Eelam and Tamil Liberation. When he sat for hunger strike till death in Marai Malar Nagar his reputation touched its peak; it reached its heights then. … Thirumavalavan gained recognition which no other Dalit leaders have gained during this period. (Velusamy Interview, August 2012) The emotive focus on the conflict led to multiple arrests of VCK activists for forceful protests and several young supporters took their lives—or attempted to —in protest against the violence in Sri Lanka.4 The hero-worshipping of

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Subnational Nationalism Prabhakaran and lack of critical reflection on the conflict, according to Stalin Rajangam, was a result of the party’s campaigns on the issue: The Sri Lanka issue has been approached in a similar way to Dravidian politics; focused on Tamil sentiment and Tamil emotion. They didn’t approach the Sri Lanka issue intellectually or politically, they didn’t create political awareness among youths in the party. Instead, they approached the issue emotionally. (Interview, March 2012) The support offered to the Tigers, Thiruma Pasumpon similarly noted, was unconditional and, perhaps, less constructive as a consequence. Riding on this tide of anger and emotion Thirumavalavan mooted the possibility of a Tamil nationalist Third Front in the 2009 elections, but found that none were prepared to accept his lead and all potential allies drifted into one or other of the Dravidian camps. Faced by the prospect of contesting elections alone, the VCK aligned itself with the DMK which was part of the Congress Front. (p.316) Immediately there was an outcry from media and activists castigating the party for selling out, and party leaders were compelled to justify the decision as best they could. In March 2009, Thirumavalavan argued that: ‘The VCK tried hard to create an Eelam Supporters Front, but this did not come to fruition. We also lack the means to stand alone…. Contesting alone was considered but it would be like clapping with one hand’ (2009: 266). It was emphasized that they were allying with the DMK and not directly with Congress, and stressed that the AIADMK tended to be anti-LTTE. Ambedkar was also dragged into the debate, with leaders pointing out that he accepted the role as Law Minister despite his antipathy to Congress. As Tamizh Murasu recalled, though, ‘after that hunger strike he said he would destroy Congress. But he joined Congress alliance again … people understood that Sonia Gandhi helped kill Sri Lankan Tamils. Second, no Tamil Nationalist would accept his eulogy of Sonia Gandhi. From that moment on, erm, Tamil Nationalists felt he sold out’ (Interview, June 2012). A senior Tamil nationalist in the VCK offered a similar account: His reputation slowly began to decline when the party aligned with Congress and DMK, not among Dalits but among others. His leadership is necessary for Dalit people and they will accept him even if he does mistakes because they have no other go. But, this is not the case with other people, they will accept him if they like him otherwise they will desert him … his popularity among other people, not among Dalits, has declined till date. It is still declining. (Eelam Vezhum Interview, August 2012) In a village near Alanganallur, Azhagu Murugan told me that he had left the VCK to join Seeman’s Tamil nationalist party due to the VCK’s support for Congress (Field notes, June 2012). He conceded that Seeman had no track record on caste issues, raising the prospect that the VCK’s embrace of Tamil may rebound upon them. Velusamy, quoted above, retained faith in the leader due to his efforts to Page 26 of 32

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Subnational Nationalism form a Tamil nationalist alliance in 2009, but others felt that the failure to withdraw support from the Congress government rendered their continued protests redundant. When Thirumavalavan raised slogans in Parliament in 2012 calling on the government to stop training Sri Lankan soldiers, one AIADMK MP reportedly sneered: ‘Why (p.317) don’t you withdraw support to Congress?’ (Thirumavalavan, Personal Communication, August 2012). Likewise, when Thirumavalavan formed part of a delegation of Tamil politicians who went to Sri Lanka after the end of the war, rather than winning approval for being an advocate of the Tamils living in refugee camps, there was an outcry because he shook hands with President Rajapaksa, the architect of the LTTE defeat. At the launch of the e-VCK website in June 2012: [S]uccessive speakers lined up to justify Thiruma shaking hands with Rajapaksa. Of about 100 questions submitted to the leader, furthermore, he chose to focus on just one: ‘Why have you decided to participate in the DMK drama that is TESO (Tamil Eelam Supporters Organisation)’? Clearly cadres are unhappy and questions are being asked in the party. (Field notes, June 2012) Velusamy argued that Thirumavalavan had done more on this issue and been more consistent than any other leader, but was judged by different standards. The cartoonist Bala captured this admirably in a sketch showing Thirumavalavan trailing behind Karunanidhi on the way to the ‘TESO drama festival’, with Thirumavalavan forced to bear the weight of ‘Karuna’s Eelam betrayals.’5 All the speakers at the e-VCK event agreed that the VCK were being compelled to carry the can for the failure of others to stand firm. One offered a different twist on the handshake, arguing that Thirumavalavan had behaved like a diplomat: ‘The key issue is that after centuries of exclusion we are now in a position to shake hands with big leaders—that is their real gripe’ (Field notes, June 2012). Many see the VCK as employing ever more tortuous rationales to justify their electoral alliances. The question is what alternatives they had. In reflective mood in his MP residence in Delhi, Thirumavalavan conceded that not leaving the ‘DMK during the Mullivaikal massacre—that was the biggest blunder; leaving now would make me the biggest of opportunists. Leaving then seemed tricky because we would have been isolated’ (Personal Communication, August 2012). In an impassioned defence of the VCK decisions, Kandasamy (2009) (p. 318) notes (among other things) how each time the VCK have contested elections alone, they have been subject to caste violence on a large scale. If this illustrates the constraints that small parties are compelled to operate in, one thing the embrace of Tamil has done is to underscore the continuing salience of caste in Tamil politics and people’s reluctance to accept Dalit leadership. Kathir pointed to the enduring exclusion of Dalits from Tamil identity:

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Subnational Nationalism The true Tamil identity rests with the Dalits, but those using Tamil identity are all caste Hindus—we need to be very clear and open about this. So Thirumavalavan should not be thinking to himself that he can turn himself into a Tamil leader, that his party or his people can be seen as such … Tamils will never accept him as a Tamil leader. (Interview, March 2012) One BC member of the party, who was a District Secretary for Communal Harmony, felt that they were held back by their past: ‘My opinion is that he turned the movement into a party with the same name and that is one drawback’ (Senthil Interview, August 2012). To his mind, the party would attract many more non-Dalits if they were not associated with the militant Dalit reputation of the Panthers. The VCK, thus, risks alienating both Dalits and Tamil nationalists by seeking to ride both horses. Given this, it is tempting to ask what the Panthers gain from their Tamil politics.

The Social Impacts of Inclusivity Those critics who accuse the VCK of naivety in their attempt to become a mainstream party might be surprised to hear party leaders reflect on their strategy. When I asked Thirumavalavan what he gained by bringing non-Dalits into the party I did not anticipate his blunt reply: T: Nothing—there is no gain at all in terms of the party, but social harmony is increased because we now have people who can go into other villages. I have been into villages. I have been invited as we now have contacts there and this makes others in the village think: ‘Oh, he is alright, he came and looked after one of us. He gave us some funds when we faced difficulties and so we will not rip his flag down, or rip his banner down.’ I have entered villages that no Dalit leader has ever (p.319) entered before. … Things like that you can achieve. In terms of the party you achieve very little, that is going to take a very long time. (Personal Communication, August 2012)

When I questioned whether non-Dalit leaders would gain votes, Thennillavan in Madurai urged patience: ‘It will take time; you cannot expect 5000 years of caste sentiment to be eroded overnight. This is the first step!’ (Field notes, May 2012). Likewise, in Marai Malar Nagar: One candidate complained that in some villages, those antithetical to the movement, who had despoiled party posters and even held protests against the party, were suddenly being brought into the party and given posts. ‘This gives the party a bad name with the people and loses trust. Please check with local leaders first before appointing people.’ There was general support for this speaker, but Thirumavalavan took issue with it straight away: ‘If yesterday he smeared shit [on our posters] and today he is in the party, then that is our first victory!’ (Applause). ‘Yes it may take time for

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Subnational Nationalism them to fully buy into the party, but this is a first real victory in wider acceptance’. (Field notes, April 2012) This is an important reminder that the VCK remain a young party still carving out a space in Tamil politics. The need for wider acceptance, as we have seen, is apparent in the continued exclusion of Dalit party flags from village squares and the difficulties that autonomous Dalit candidates have in canvassing votes from non-Dalit areas (Collins 2015). Several respondents suggested the integration of non-Dalits and the electoral alliances with others had led to a decline in atrocities. Speaking before the PMK’s retreat to caste politics resulted in renewed outbreaks of violence across the northern districts, Gilbert, an NGO Director based in Villupuram, insisted that atrocities had diminished in the north due to the VCK alliance with the PMK (Personal Communication, April 2012). Others insisted that atrocities had continued but were downplayed or hushed up for the sake of alliance politics. Irrespective of the veracity of these accounts, it is clear that Dalit assertion, generated by the VCK and others, is resented by dominant castes who often resort to violence to reassert their standing (Karthikeyan, Rajangam, and Gorringe 2012). It seems that the PMK were happy to accept the Panthers as a minor ally, but could not tolerate them as competitors or leaders in their (p.320) own right. Writing for Tamil Mann, Thirumavalavan emphasized this point: Whenever non-Dalits start a party they can open branches wherever they like. They can campaign with independence. They can express their opinions without fear or favour. It is a huge struggle for the VCK to simply go to a place and raise a flag there. If we take up general issues than that is a problem too. We took out car rally from Batlagundu to Cumbam [areas of Thevar dominance] on the Mullaiperiyar issue, but as soon as we entered Cumbam, dominant castes surrounded our vehicles and threw stones at us. We said that we were protesting on their behalf too, but their view is: ‘Who are you to speak up on this problem?’ (Thirumavalavan 2011: 42) Writing in the same magazine, Talaiyari (2011: 47) spoke of pressures to compromise and sustain caste divisions in a local election where Artral Arasu was standing: The Naidus … sent a covert message to Artralarasu to say that if Dalit bodies would in future be carried round the village rather than through the village street then they would vote from him en masse, but he refused this offer. Artralarasu had already fought for and won the right to carry bodies down the main street. Here we see the problems besetting the Panther’s passage to the mainstream. Non-Dalits resent those who offer a powerful voice for Dalit rights, and Dalits Page 29 of 32

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Subnational Nationalism are dismayed by the contortions induced by electoral politics. One question frequently posed to Thirumavalavan was how he could give ‘hut-burner’ Ramadoss an Ambedkar award. In response the leader stressed that Ramadoss ‘installed countless Ambedkar statues’ and staged other campaigns, before insisting that ‘those who care about society cannot repeatedly stir up enmity and create situations for conflict’ (Anandha Vikatan 2012c: 96). The problem, as Geetha (2011: 40) observes, is that: Dalits leaders’ desire for posts makes them dependent on the ruling parties, and in the self-belief that they can achieve rights for the people they are even willing to compromise. However, casteists make use of this situation and reduce Dalit homes to ashes meaning that the Dalit people’s trust is in vain…. A politics that demands social change and a government that relies on compromise will end in violence. (p.321) Dalit voters wanted representatives who would articulate their concerns and offer a strong voice, and feared that the adoption of Tamil identity would dilute the movement’s focus or mean pressure to compromise. In so doing, the process challenged activists’ sense of who they were and what their party stands for. Some affiliates and members of the party, as seen in the previous chapter, have succumbed to the temptation to feather their own nests, but the charge that the VCK has abandoned Dalits is unfair. The VCK are still the ones to the fore campaigning against caste abuses, honour crimes, and practices of untouchability; calling for a redistribution of land, the implementation of reservations, and their extension to private sector work. In a positive appraisal of Thirumavalavan’s speeches, Roberts (2010: 19) offers a defence of the turn to Tamil: This appropriation of Tamil identity enables the VCK to claim the moral high ground vis-à-vis the Dravidian parties by calling upon them to live up to their own progressive rhetoric, whilst simultaneously depriving them of their most credible charge against the VCK (i.e. that it is a narrowly castebased organization). While this is undoubtedly correct in theory, in practice it means that the VCK are spread rather thin—seeking to protest and campaign on several fronts at once. The moral high ground they gain is problematized by accusations of compromise, of failing to sustain protests, and of prioritizing Tamil over Dalit issues. From a less instrumental perspective, the embrace of Tamil has highlighted the continued exclusion of Dalits and challenged other parties to address caste discrimination and accept Dalits as equal citizens. In the village of Vanjinagram, scene of a brutal caste murder in the 1980s, I asked the brother of Dalit martyr Kandan what he made of the move to Tamil. ‘We are Tamils aren’t

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Subnational Nationalism we?’ he responded. ‘They do not accept us as such, but that is what we are’ (Subbaiah Interview, April 2012). Having joined the party as a Tamil nationalist and LTTE sympathizer, Velusamy felt that the VCK was the only party which campaigned for Tamil and against caste. To his mind, Thirumavalavan had done what no other leader could in ‘extending the message of Tamil Eelam to people living in cheris’ (Interview, August 2012). Whilst Velusamy applauds the VCK for extending Tamil nationalism (p.322) to the Dalits, this has occurred in a context where all parties pay lip service to the cause. Of far greater import, from this perspective, is the fact that Dalit leaders have now been able to enter villages in some places, raise their flags in common squares, and plaster images of their leader on walls across the state. They are still portrayed as caste or Dalit leaders and marginalized as a sectional interest, but the dream of a Tamil nation free of caste lives on and has been given a boost by the actions of the PWF. As Sannah argues: Even though there is a serious question as to whether Tamil nationalism will deliver liberation, this is a journey towards a common identity. If this is recognized and accepted then caste feelings will really diminish, caste politics will lessen and this will facilitate the emergence of a truly democratic politics. (Interview, September 2012) The embrace of Tamil may not have delivered many gains to the party, but it has retrieved caste from under the carpet of Dravidian politics and compelled others to engage with continuing discrimination. This reflection on what the VCK are hoping to achieve brings us to the final chapter on the outcomes of Panther politics. Notes:

(1) Professor Neil DeVotta, furthermore, noted that the unqualified support and inflammatory language of Tamil nationalist outfits in Tamil Nadu made things worse for Tamils in Sri Lanka in strengthening the hands of hardline Sinhala nationalists (Personal Communication, March 2016). (2) In a sardonic comment on the BJP party list for the 2016 elections, Puli Arasan illustrates this point succinctly: ‘Until you learn to replace Shri with Thiru you’re not going inside Fort St George’ (accessed 28 June 2016): https://twitter.com/PuliArason/status/720616575728885761 (3) These views find an echo in Naig’s election analysis for The Hindu. See more here (accessed 28 June 2016): http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/tamilnadu/a-rupture-that-may-derail-vck/article8515026.ece?ref=tpnews

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Subnational Nationalism (4) See more details here (accessed 28 June 2016): http:// news.webindia123.com/news/Articles/India/20090201/1166616.html. In Thaai Sol Thirumavalavan (2009: 273–4) speaks of thirteen people taking their lives, of whom three were VCK activists, and one Panther who leaped off a telephone tower and sustained multiple injuries. (5) See the cartoon, from July 2012, here: http://truthdive.com/2012/07/31/ double-deal-2.html (accessed 12/04/2016).

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The Power of the Panthers

Panthers in Parliament: Dalits, Caste, and Political Power in South India Hugo Gorringe

Print publication date: 2017 Print ISBN-13: 9780199468157 Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: March 2017 DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199468157.001.0001

The Power of the Panthers The Outcomes of Dalit Politics Hugo Gorringe

DOI:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199468157.003.0010

Abstract and Keywords This chapter asks what the VCK has achieved. It begins by looking back to the mobilizational phase of the Panthers and charts how they radicalized a generation and shook up Tamil politics. Older members of the movement offered nostalgic portraits of fearless radicalism whilst even external critics conceded that the VCK had managed to mobilize previously marginalized Dalits. It then moves onto an evaluation of the VCK as a political party and assesses both political and non-political outcomes of Dalit politics. It will argue that the VCK’s entry to politics has opened up a space for the articulation of anti-caste in some ways even as it has shut them down in others. Whilst many activists are disappointed, the VCK have generated some transformations and inspired others to alter their priorities too. Keywords:   Social movement outcomes, Communist Parties, caste, social change

We are the sons of the soil, the original inhabitants, but are still humiliated. I have raised this issue in Parliament several times; does any other country in the world have the reprehensible practice of manual scavenging? … One cannot find this disgrace, this humiliation anywhere else. Please note, I am the only MP to have raised this in Parliamentary debates on the railways—the VCK has never given up on Dalit rights. There is a claim that we only speak for the LTTE and not for Dalits. It is my duty to tell those of you gathered here today that Eelam politics is Dalit politics too. If women are oppressed and subjugated, then fighting for their rights Page 1 of 31

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The Power of the Panthers is Dalit politics. If we take up the rights of minorities and fight for them— that too is Dalit politics. Muslim issues, Aravani rights, Minority and Women’s rights are all Dalit politics. The government is trying to turn us against each other and prevent us from forming a political force. There is another claim doing the rounds: that we were against the sub-quota. The VCK spoke up for the sub-quota all along—everyone knows we honoured Kalaignar Karunanidhi for making the award, but we spoke up on this issue and put pressure on him before the award. We spoke up for the oppressed of the oppressed and asked him to accept Arunthathiyar demands … but we have been misrepresented and had falsehoods spread about us. —(Thirumavalavan’s Speech, August 2012) (p.324) I’m 62 years old, but it is only since Thiruma has been here that there has been a reduction of caste atrocities round here. All here are with the VCK for caste issues even though they belong to different parties in practice…. He is an MP now and he has to speak accordingly. You cannot expect him to speak in the same way now or use the same language. But now he can take our views into the house of law and speak up there. —(Muthu Pandian, Personal Communication, June 2012)

Charting Impact? People join (and study) movements because they believe that they are capable of bringing about social change. But, what in practice are the consequences of such mobilization? How (if at all) does activism make a difference? What kind of outcome might be termed a ‘success’? The diversity of views within any given collective makes it difficult to determine what constitutes a successful conclusion to the struggle since this will mean different things to various participants. Most studies of social movement consequences have, accordingly, moved beyond the language of success and failure to consider the broad range of outcomes, both intended and unintended, that attend social mobilization (Giugni 1998; Amenta and Caren 2004). This approach allows us to view the violence in Dharmapuri, the proliferation of symbols, and the election of Thirumavalavan to Parliament as divergent outcomes of the VCK. Amenta and Caren (2004: 478) emphasize the need to move beyond Gamson’s (1990) early focus on ‘gains and acceptance’ and conceptualize the multiple ways in which challengers are connected to and impact upon the state. Given research demonstrating that institutions are wary of conceding ground to challengers when public opinion in opposition to the movement is strong (Burstein 1999), we need to look beyond policy change. The institutionalized nature of caste power means that politicians have been reluctant to alienate dominant castes or be seen as Dalit-friendly. In such contexts, rather than looking for wholesale changes, Kriesi et al (1995) speak of the ability to ‘sensitize’ the institutional agenda. Page 2 of 31

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The Power of the Panthers Whilst the character of the state has shaped Dalit politics in Tamil Nadu, it is important to follow Tilly in analysing the ways in which contentious politics alters political regimes. ‘It does so,’ Tilly argues, (p.325) ‘by inciting facilitation or repression, by creating or breaking alliances between claimants and other actors, and by succeeding or failing in pressing direct demands for regime change’ (2008: 179). In a region marked by caste inequalities, it is also crucial to shift our gaze beyond the state and its institutions and incorporate processes of cultural change into our analysis. At the minimal level, Earl (2004) argues that changes in signs and practices can be interpreted as ‘examples of cultural change’, and shows how these may map onto socio-psychological shifts in values, beliefs, and opinions. In this sense, as seen in Chapter 5, the VCK have altered the political landscape. If the violence in Dharmapuri suggested that casteism remains intact, as shown in Chapter 2, the fact that the violence arose from the growing independence and assertion of Dalits points to underlying processes of transformation. In this chapter we consider both how institutionalization has changed the Panthers, but also how those institutions have been altered in the process. In concluding this warts-and-all portrait of the VCK, the chapter reflects on a number of key points which anchor this work. The first is that the VCK is still a fairly young organization and frustrated activists do not necessarily offer the best evaluation of a political party. Their views are coloured by their earlier radicalism and the (perhaps unrealistic) expectations they held. In many cases, their opinions are also tinged with regret and jealousy at being overlooked for a top post. It is also important to repeat that many of the harshest critics quoted in the book remain in the party and, for all their disillusionment, regard the VCK as the best available option in Tamil politics. Much of this relates to its past mobilization and radicalism. ‘Just because my father is a drunkard’, as TamizhMurasu put it, ‘does not mean I can disown him.’ Many Dalit activists grew up with the VCK and owe their political consciousness and activity to the party. For such interviewees, it is more akin to an extended family than an organization. One of the abiding successes of the VCK has been to inspire an emotional attachment and devotion that few political parties achieve. For all his scepticism and cynicism about the party, my friend TamizhMurasu was on his chair like an excited schoolboy when Thirumavalavan turned up at the Adi Tamilar Peravai meeting in Nellai. In an otherwise alien setting, his reservations about ‘Annan’ disappeared. (p.326) Other interviewees similarly conceded that they were disappointed with the direction the VCK had taken, but still felt closer to them than any other political party and would vote for them if given the chance. Kondavelai, who headed up a union for corporation workers who are referred to as scavengers, felt that no political parties offered them a proper voice but that Dalit parties fared well by comparison:

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The Power of the Panthers K: You know how they say, ‘this is not bad compared to that?’

H: Yes

K: Well, compared to Communist parties, the Dalit parties are not bad. (Interview, March 2012)

He detailed the failings of all major parties before pointing out that the VCK intervened on their behalf and secured fairer pay. In the quote at the head of this chapter Thirumavalavan addresses the charge that the VCK have abandoned Dalits and highlights how some criticisms are based on allegations rather than fact. To understand the continued, albeit grudging, attachment to the VCK and numbers of people who are still persuaded either to join or to vote for them, it is necessary to close with a reflection on the outcomes and achievements of this relatively young party and the constraints within which it operates. This concluding chapter begins with a brief account of the socio-political context in which the VCK are trying to make headway. Whilst the party could have done some things differently, it is undoubtedly the case that the party system in the state curtails the options open to them. The chapter will then turn to the enduring appeal of the Panthers. First, it will recall the ‘glory days’ of the movement, since so many leaders and activists harked back to the mobilization phase. Memories of those days still burn bright for many, but they cannot be expected to sustain commitment indefinitely, so we turn to a reflection on what the party has managed to achieve in politics despite its marginal electoral returns. To judge a political party of marginal actors by its institutional outcomes alone, as we have seen, would be to offer too instrumental and stilted a view of politics. The chapter will, thus, assess the impact of the VCK in less tangible fields like dignity and empowerment. We will also reflect on the ripple effect that the VCK have had in terms of other organizations and parties, (p. 327) before considering some of the implications of this research for the VCK and for Dalit politics more generally. Institutionalization may have tamed the Liberation Panthers to some degree, as the quote from Muthu Pandian above suggests, but they are not entirely domesticated as yet.

Discarded Curry Leaves: Caste Politics in Dravidian Land Time after time they have used Dalit people as a vote bank to be thrown away like a curry leaf after eating. We will not accept such treatment. —(Thirumavalavan 2009: 13)

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The Power of the Panthers It is a staple of political rhetoric and media articles that the rise of caste-based parties and religious intolerance in the land of Periyar is an anathema (cf. Rising Sun 2012, Subramaniam 2001). The DMK organ, The Rising Sun lays claim to Periyar’s legacy and emphasizes the DMK’s secular credentials and social radicalism time and again. From this perspective, the Dravidian parties are universal and embrace all castes and creeds. When the DMK allied with PT and the VCK amongst others in 2001, thus, Ram (2001) argued that ‘the entry of caste parties in its fold makes the DMK vulnerable to criticism that it is fostering casteist politics.’ In this widely accepted narrative, parties such as the Vanniyar dominated PMK and the VCK have brought caste into Tamil politics. As seen in Chapter 1, however, this offers an overly generous reading of Dravidian politics. Speaking of the 2011 Assembly Elections, Punitha Pandian of Dalit Murasu made this abundantly clear: P: What I am saying is even if all Dalit votes fall for Thirumavalavan, he cannot win because they are minorities in all 234 constituencies. … In politics you will always have some vote percentage, but you cannot gain political power. Karunanidhi said the same this time [2011] —‘I have a good percentage of the vote’, but he is not in power. That is what happens in this first past the post model. The majority wins. The majority caste! There is also an untouchable factor.

H: Is it caste? DMK and ADMK gain votes from all castes.

P: Though all castes vote for them, the DMK in Madurai will field a Kallar candidate. Will they field a non-Kallar candidate? In Coimbatore (p.328) will they field a non-Gounder candidate? They say they are not for any particular caste, but still 234 candidates are all fielded on the basis of caste. Only in reserved constituencies do they field Dalits; they have never stood a Dalit in a non-reserved constituency. Why? You are a party for all aren’t you? You will vote for whoever Karunanidhi tells you will you not? It is not so. Kallar, Kongu Vellallar Gounder—in the Coimbatore belt … everyone stands Kongu Vellalar Gounder candidates—no other caste will work out.

H: In 2011, PMK and VCK stood together. Caste-wise they should have won, but they did not.

P: What was the winning candidate?

H: Vanniyar.

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The Power of the Panthers Then? It has been shifted—the caste vote that is all. Caste won, it just shifted. It is caste (Pandian Interview, April 2012).

Pandian here highlights the caste considerations that underpin Dravidian politics, cast into sharp relief by the VCK decision to stand Dalit candidates in a couple of general constituencies in 2016. The Dravidian response to the mobilization of intermediate castes in the 1980s, Ravishankar (2016) writes, was to ensure that they appointed ‘district secretaries and candidates of the dominant caste in each district.’ Whilst, as we have seen, castes do not vote uniformly as blocks there are still assiduous attempts to sway their votes. As Kela puts it: ‘caste support is expressed not in numerical absolutes but tendencies. Caste calculations operate locally, and can be undercut by parties nominating candidates from the same caste’ (2012: 74, original emphasis). This is one of the reasons that Dalit parties struggle to make inroads into Tamil politics: where they are in alliances they are allocated seats in reserved constituencies and face other Dalit candidates. With the rise of Tamil rhetoric and protest, the VCK has begun to demand general constituencies too, but (a) these were contested by non-Dalits until the allocation of 25 seats to the VCK by the PWF in 2016 enabled them to make a statement of intent by fielding a couple of Dalits in such seats, and (b) allies are reluctant to cede such constituencies to parties that they regard as sectional. Arunthathiyar leader Jakkaian felt that the deliberate marginalization of Dalit politicians hampered their ability to speak up for Dalits: (p.329) J: Politically, they don’t give any extra MLA seat other than what is prescribed—the 45 MLA seats—in the constitution. Why don’t you give any extra MLA seats if you want to promote SC/ST welfare? Even these they give because of Ambedkar’s reservation policy, otherwise they would not even do that.

H: 45 seats?

J: 45 seats only in Tamil Nadu, erm, 42 for SCs, and three for STs. There are 45 constituencies reserved for SC/ST’s and every five years 45 people from SC/ST communities go to the Assembly from different parties. What they do in the assembly is different, erm, they don’t do anything to be honest. Yet, we don’t get the opportunity to go to the Assembly from any more than 45 seats. It is a form of political untouchability. In all political parties, they give MLA seats to their best slaves rather than to someone who is competent. … That is why Ambedkar advocated for a separate electorate, but Gandhi denied that. Dalit people, therefore, have become politically dependent on others. (Interview, March 2012)

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The Power of the Panthers Perry Anderson goes so far as to argue that the inherited electoral system ‘remains to this day the most damaging legacy of colonial rule: not the stoking of communal furies, but the introduction of first-past-the-post voting systems, converting plurality into monopoly representation at constituency level’ (2013: 93). In a state where the party system still oscillates between two Dravidian heavyweights, the space for Dalit politics is further curtailed. They lack the financial resources required to stand candidates in multiple constituencies, as DMDK leader Vijayakant did, in order to prove his popularity, which helps explain why the PWF was expanded as the 2016 elections approached to include the better resourced DMDK and TMC (Tamil Maanila Congress). Jena (2014), is right in saying that: The election system in practice has been pro-rich, where candidates play [a] bigger role than parties, and candidates from poor economic background and small parties and financially weak parties have very less chance to win because they cannot compete in campaign with financially powerful parties. Lacking resources, the VCK must needs ally with affluent coalition partners and/ or select wealthy candidates to stand for election even though they are not party stalwarts. Jena (2014) calls for electoral reform and state funding of elections to help marginal (p.330) parties succeed. Such reforms would undoubtedly strengthen democracy in India and the VCK have been active in organizations seeking electoral reform. Sindhanai Selvan is on the committee of Campaign for Electoral Reforms in India (CERI), and Thirumavalavan helped to launch the South Indian Coalition for Proportional Representation. Madurai District Secretary Ellallan spelled out the rationale for this: Now the DMK lost heavily and did not win any seats, but it got a lot of votes. The DMDK did not get half as many votes, but it got more seats. The DMK has more votes, but it could not be the main opposition party in parliament because it lacked seats. The DMDK was in the ADMK alliance but it had more seats so it became the official opposition. How can that be right? The VCK, we calculated, had enough votes to elect five MLAs to Parliament but we did not get a single seat. Leave the VCK, the DMK got lots of votes but very few seats, so that is why we have begun to campaign for some kind of proportional representation (PR). Only when that is in place will we be able to get ahead through Dalit votes. (Interview, March 2012) With some form of PR, the VCK could stand candidates across the state and demonstrate their strength in a way that is impossible when allies grant them ten seats at best. Whilst CERI deliberated on a number of proposals and called for a mixed member proportional system, VCK leaders are somewhat hesitant about endorsing the proposals since the ‘PR system doesn’t address the issue of Page 7 of 31

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The Power of the Panthers communal majority. It perpetuates the majority-minority divide’ (Ravikumar, Email Communication, June 2015). The caste-centred electoral campaign of the PMK in 2014 highlighted the real dangers of a form of caste majoritarianism that would benefit from PR. The problem of caste in politics remains intractable. The CERI call for state funding of parties is whole-heartedly supported by the VCK, who feel that it might level the playing field to some extent. An anonymized leader noted: Facing money power is the major problem in elections here. I heard that the ruling party have paid Rs 1500 per vote in some areas of Thiruvallur Parliament constituency. They spent huge money to defeat our leader at Chidambaram. Dalit votes are still vulnerable to money power. (Personal Email Communication, 2015) (p.331) Pending such electoral reforms in the run-up to the 2016 State elections, the VCK reached out to Communists and other non-Dravidian parties to forge a Third Front and sought to strengthen the hands of smaller parties by demanding the formation of coalition governments as opposed to the practice of the Dravidian parties governing the state with the support of others. Ravikumar explained: The call for a ‘Coalition form of Government’ is a strategy to control majoritarianism without a constitutional amendment. It is also a strategy against authoritarianism, hero-worship, populism. Yes, it is a long struggle. But we have started it at the right moment. (Email Communication, June 2015) Whilst critics would question the timing, given that ‘a share of power’ was the rallying call in 1999, the attempt to address inequalities in power in the Tamil party system is both welcome and overdue. This is not to say that the discrimination that Dalit parties face is purely political. CPI (M) leader, Guna, noted how nearly a century of non-Brahmin critique has yet to eradicate caste feeling or sentiment: In the DMK and ADMK, each person will hold on to their caste. If they are a Vanniyar, they will retain that Vanniyar caste feeling. When they organize a procession or something, they will go to the colony [cheri] and use their ‘command’ [in English, meaning authority] to get them to attend. There will be ‘oppression’ [in English], even in their speech you can see the oppression. He will be a DMK man, there will be a branch of the DMK in the village. There will also be a branch of the DMK in the colony attached to the village. But if he is organizing and mobilizing people from the colony for a procession or meeting, then you will see a difference in his tone whilst talking to the colony residents. There will be caste oppression in

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The Power of the Panthers their speech; ‘you must come’, ‘you must go’ and things like that. This practice exists in all parties. (Guna Interview, March 2012) Nor is it just rank and file activists who have failed to rid themselves of such an outlook. Thiruma Pasumpon, himself a Thevar, offered his account of a meeting with a former finance minister: He calls for a multi-party meet in the constituency and what happens is; he says: ‘Have the communists arrived? Are you here? Are so and so here? Have the caste parties come—the Panthers, DPI?’ Like that, openly. That (p.332) evening itself I organized a meeting and spoke my mind openly before leaving …. He is a finance minister and whenever he presented a budget he was talking of inclusiveness. You are from UK and our model of government is yours … Have any in your country talked of inclusiveness? You have Highlanders, but has the issue arisen? Never, because they were treated as equal, they were treated as human beings, but here they are treated as animals! Here they are not ‘he’ or ‘she’ but ‘it’—athu. A finance minister—I am irrelevant before the finance minister—he is the one who presents the budget in Parliament and speaks of inclusiveness, but he has it in his blood. The Scheduled Caste and so on—are not in his notes, but in his blood. (Interview, August 2012) While this is a one-sided account of the meeting, it offers a powerful indication of the continuing salience of caste and, especially, untouchability in social and political life. In the late 1980s, Washbrook (1989: 208) noted the exceptional exclusion of Dalits from socio-political institutions and observed that continuing forms of untouchability ‘are rarely denounced in public’. Despite the rise of Dalit-focused political parties that have publicly challenged casteism, few parties even today routinely condemn anti-Dalit atrocities and crimes. Writing in Thaai Sol, Thirumavalavan (2009: 56) highlights the atrocity in Thinniyam where a Dalit was forced to eat excreta, the denial of local elections in reserved constituencies of Pappapatti and Keeripatti, and numerous such cases before noting: ‘In each instance that the downtrodden are affected, both the DMK and ADMK Dravidian parties remain silent and do not intervene.’ Reinforcing Burstein’s (1999) findings above, he argues that they fear the loss of Backward Caste votes and, hence, remain silent. The continuing problems of casteism are evident in the continued struggles over signs and symbols detailed in Chapter 5 and were vividly illustrated by Inniyavan, a VCK stalwart and town councillor in Kariampatti. He recounted how caste clashes had broken out in a neighbouring village, and the Dalits had fled to Kariampatti: The VCK took up the issue and held protests and the media carried the story too.1 The collector at that time was a woman and she took an active interest in the case and held a peace meeting in the village which she presided over. Parties and organizations were asked to keep away so they Page 9 of 31

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The Power of the Panthers (p.333) did. Dalits and Thevars sat on opposite sides of the table and were making headway, though Dalits were still scared. The collector insisted that she wanted the Dalits to remain in the village. At this one Thevar called out: ‘You’ll [Dalits] be based locally then, just wait till they’ve [officials] gone and we’ll get you’–just like that right in front of the collector. She said: ‘Remand that man at once’, but he jumped up and scarpered. Then she said: ‘I am not leaving here until he is arrested’, and stayed there till 8pm and provided food for all the Dalits—brought to them by the police. The local police had to remand him and the Dalits stayed in the village. Within the month, however, the collector was transferred away! (Interview, July 2012) The enduring dominance of intermediate castes in the state and the influence they can wield was dramatically exemplified in the closing stages of the 2016 election, when PWF convenor Vaiko felt compelled to withdraw from the election. In a complaint to the Election Commissioner, a civic organization noted that: Mr. Vaiko was verbally abused for condemning the brutal murder of Sankar in Udumalaipet. (One Mr. Sankar belonging to SC community was brutally murdered for marrying a girl from Caste Hindu Community. Mr. Vaiko had condemned this killing and also participated in the demonstration held to condemn the atrocity committed on the Dalit.) It should be noted that no major political parties including the ruling AIADMK and DMK condemn the atrocity committed on the Dalit. … There is an open threat message that whoever condemns the atrocities committed by the dominant Caste Hindus and support the affected people belonging to Dalit community will not be allowed to even contest the election. (Complaint to EC, 26 April 2016)2 The Tamil political context, in other words, is shaped by caste considerations and power, and marginalizes Dalit voices by confining them to reserved seats and the status of ‘caste parties’. It is against this backdrop that the VCK must be judged, and it is because of this that the uprising they led has such enduring appeal.

(p.334) Thunder Out of the Cheris When I asked Dalits why they were in the party, their answers invariably harked back to the mobilizational phase of the movement. No matter how cynical respondents were about the party, there was a unanimous perception that the Panthers had galvanized a generation of Dalits and disrupted the status quo. They felt that the movement had used rhetoric none had used before, raised expectations that had not existed before and carried out protests that broke new ground. Tamizhvanan was typical:

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The Power of the Panthers This magnificent movement empowered people who were previously scared of the police to question the police department; this movement developed people who were scared of the Thasildar or collector’s office, so that now they even question the Collector. The movement gave priority to people’s problems and insisted that the government should pay heed to them and harken to their protests. The movement brought their concerns into the mainstream and that was the reason that a large number of people liked this movement, they felt the movement was theirs, the movement would bring a sea change in the society. (Interview, July 2012) Tamizhvanan is a postholder in the VCK, and so we might expect a nostalgic reimagining of the movement from him, but even those who kept the Panthers at arm’s length offered similar accounts of their impact. X-Ray Manickam, the veteran campaigner and fierce critic of current politics, offered the following appraisal: There was a massive uprising. With Thirumavalavan we thought that freedom had come—there is no doubt about that. At that period … we have no issues with that, but they need to do that continuously. (Interview, April 2012) There is an echo of the opening quote by MuthuPandian here, and even Dalit intellectual activist Stalin Rajangam observed: In the last hundred years, no other movement has emerged as a strong movement like the VCK which created uprising among Dalit people, at the same time, Thirumavalavan also emerged as a leader with all leadership qualities and there is no doubt about that. They have done lot of work when they were a movement and I don’t deny that. (Interview, March 2012) (p.335) If critical and disengaged observers offered such an evaluation, then one can imagine the passion that infused the words of party members. I was repeatedly assured that Thirumavalavan was like a deity and that people had developed to the extent that they had thanks to him. For all the problems surrounding the process of institutionalization, this reminds us that the Panthers have changed Tamil politics. The murals and billboards described in Chapter 5 are signs of overt and visible assertion that would have been unthinkable two decades ago. Concomitant with this rise in visibility has been a decrease in fear in areas where the movement is strong. In 1999, when I interviewed youth in Melavalavu they were obviously alarmed at my presence and remarked several times that the dominant caste Thevars would know that I was there. Returning in 2012, the palpable sense of fear and anxiety was noticeable by its absence. Paradoxically, village youth averred that the movement had a stronger presence

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The Power of the Panthers in 1999 than it did now, but there was no mistaking the change in confidence and aspirations amongst them. ‘We now have someone to speak for us,’ was a recurrent refrain, and—together with the rising stature of the VCK as a party—this has infused affiliated Dalits with a real sense of capacity and dignity.3 These, of course, are intangible outcomes of movement activity, that are measured by how comfortable Dalits are wandering around the village and into nearby fields, by how willing (or not) they are to enter police stations, and their demeanour in relation to police officers and members of the higher castes. As Zelliot (1996: 145) concluded her review of Dalit Buddhists in Maharashtra, those who ‘have joined the movement have a sense of self-respect, a feeling of unity, an ambition for higher social and economic status, and a political awareness which may yet aid significantly’ in struggles against caste discrimination. Inniyavan, a VCK councillor quoted on caste power above, captured the sense of possibility when discussing issues in his area. He noted how a Dalit youth had recruited multiple college friends to the party and taken a whole posse of them to see Thirumavalavan speak at a wedding. He was suspended by the college as a consequence, but the councillor spoke to them and prevailed on (p.336) the authorities to rescind the suspension. As he put it: ‘It is because of Thirumavalavan that we can speak up and come out here and so he is the leader for us. Police respect us now and listen to us whereas before we got nowhere’ (Interview, July 2012). Significantly, he was clad in an informal, coloured lungi (waistcloth) and insisted that he had been to the police station in such garb: ‘as Annan says it is about authority not appearances.’ Irschick (2015: 161) follows Foucault in describing such conscious alterations in behaviour, comportment and values as ‘technologies of the self’, which foregrounds the wider outcomes of Dalit mobilization. As noted in Chapter 2, caste discrimination has not died out even in areas where the VCK are well established. Five thousand years of history cannot be erased overnight, as the activist refrain insists. Postholders were often frustrated in police stations and failed to get the response they desired, but unlike in the past the first hurdle of entering the station and demanding a response was no longer insurmountable. Whilst some critics suggest that the VCK’s entry to politics weakened civil society, the picture is more complex than this. Whilst party members may not be able to rail against the government and exert external pressure as they did in the past, they have access to formal and informal avenues of mediation that were previously denied to them. Looking back to the situation that obtained in the 1990s offers a sense of how far things have changed. Speaking at a Golden Jubilee event in Madurai, to mark 25 years of Thirumavalavan’s leadership, the leader reflected that he never expected to get so far and thanked the movement supporters in Madurai for their role in his development. TamizhMurasu was fired up as he recalled these events. Page 12 of 31

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The Power of the Panthers Thirumavalavan worked in Coimbatore and used to travel down to Madurai each weekend—catching the overnight bus to be there in the morning: One morning—in 1994 I think—he was met by police who dragged him off to Palathoor police station, near Karaikudi, to make enquiries. At 10 am when he had not shown up, people became aware that he had been dragged off. Everyone mobilized. They used to run buses to the court, and so Panthers smashed up five buses at the court and set light to them. They staged road blocks in three places demanding that Thirumavalavan either be arrested and charged properly or released. As soon as news spread to Palathoor they told him that he was wanted in (p.337) Madurai and free to go. On his way to Madurai, he saw all these headlines saying: ‘Thirumavalavan has disappeared’. ‘Where is Thirumavalavan’? (Tamizh Murasu, Personal Communication, August 2012) Thirumavalavan himself told Anandha Vikatan magazine that the police played a significant role in his becoming a politician. In a question and answer section, he described another similar occasion: Q: How did the forensics expert Thirumavalavan become a politician?

A: The police had a huge role in that. At that time, I was working in Coimbatore. One day I was waiting for a bus in the Kovai [Coimbatore] bus-stand when I noticed two people watching me from afar. They went wherever I did; in the end I went up to them and asked angrily: ‘Who are you looking for?’ They stumbled unable to answer. Looking at them I could tell that they were policemen. One of them caught my hand and said: ‘we want to speak to you.’ Then, where there were two people, four surrounded me. They dragged me to a small garden. Only then did they reveal themselves to be Madurai Q branch police [Terrorist and Naxal branch of cops]. ‘Do you know Naxalite Nagarajan?’ they asked. ‘I do not know anyone like that,’ I replied. They started to threaten me. ‘Right, come to Madurai and tell this in the office before leaving,’ they said in the end. We all went to Madurai in one bus. When we reached Madurai there was a shock in store for me. The bus we arrived in was totally surrounded by police. Just as they might arrest a most wanted terrorist, they arrested me as I got off the bus. They took me to a hotel by myself. There, there were uniformed and plainclothes police awaiting me. There the main official asked the same questions as they had asked in Kovai. I gave the same response again. ‘Only if we take him off to Chennai overnight and lie him on a bed of ice and then stick needles in his nails then hang him upside down and hit him will he confess,’ they threatened. The official sat there in just a t-shirt. Suddenly he pulled out a gun and pointed it straight at my face: ‘If we shoot you right here, none will ask after you.’ ‘We will throw you into the sewer and leave you. Tell us the truth straight away.’ After that there were many experiences and events like this, but that’s a long story.

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The Power of the Panthers This is how the police made a politician of the government servant that I was (Anandha Vikatan 2012c: 96–7).

Tamizh Murasu recalled that on this occasion, people had seen Thirumavalavan being carted away and a crowd armed with sickles and petrol cans surrounded the lodge where he was being held (p.338) demanding his release. In Errampatti village, young Dalit men likewise spoke passionately of an occasion when Thirumavalavan circumvented police roadblocks using multiple vehicles and backroads and defied police proscriptions to visit them in the aftermath of caste violence (Group Discussion, June 2012). That such narratives still resonate today helps explain the disappointment in Parali Puthur (Chapter 6) as well as the continued devotion to the party despite concerns and criticisms of the institutionalization process. Thirumavalavan is revered and loved as someone who has sacrificed family life, comfort, and a secure career to devote himself to Dalit politics. Some more cynical observers feel that VCK leaders were always angling for political positions and aimed to enter Parliament rather than pursuing social change. They concede that there was significant mobilization in the 1990s, but view this as based on emotion rather than ideology or a clear blueprint for reform. From the dispassionate perspective of an academic observer, such views cannot be dismissed. Even today, there is no clear sense of how the party intends to attain its five key objectives of freedom from caste, gender equality, class equality, land reform, and a Tamil nation free of caste. Sannah stressed that ‘Dalit politics has an agenda and a goal, but we cannot dedicate ourselves 100 per cent to moving this goal forward 100 per cent of the time’ (Interview, September 2012). He noted how innumerable obstacles were placed in their way and how fighting on multiple fronts meant that there were always urgent issues or incidents that needed to be responded to. Barely a week goes by without a new incident inviting a response and protest from the party. In 2015, the VCK helped forge the PWF, which brought Vaiko’s MDMK, the two Communist parties of the CPI and CPI(M), and the VCK together to campaign for prohibition and against the twin evils of casteism and corruption in politics. As with some previous alliances this was a principled and ideologically driven front—until the belated inclusion of the DMDK and the TMC at least—that actively campaigned on key issues. It is telling that prohibition and corruption became central to the 2016 election, but no one else addressed the issue of caste. Within weeks of its formation, attempts were made to divide the leaders and discredit their aims (Express News 2015c). Simultaneously, caste violence broke out in Villupuram district (Perier 2015) that required immediate attention. (p.339) Dalit parties remain incident sensitive, but it is worth noting that those castigating them for lack of ideology are the same critics who demand a response to atrocities. This places the party in a no-win situation. There is certainly more scope for organization in the VCK. As Sannah observed:

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The Power of the Panthers When we were a movement the people were mobilized on the basis of emotions to become a political force. As I said before there is a need to channel this political emotion into an organization and materialize it. (Interview, September 2012) This is undoubtedly correct. Much more could be done to offer training to VCK post-holders and members in terms of filing cases, exerting pressure on officials, and running electoral campaigns. The party itself could also be better structured, with media offices in major towns and a clear sense of how to respond to atrocities. The villagers of Parali Puthur, for instance felt betrayed by Thirumavalavan’s failure to visit despite the fact that party members were active in the village. Part of this is about managing expectations, but a more established secondary leadership would help too. The case of Parali Puthur, in a different light, raises one of the pivotal outcomes of Panther activism; the loss of fear and compliance. Many of the issues leading to caste violence in recent years, including the violence in Parali Puthur, result from Dalits’ reluctance to accept subordinate status. Increasingly they are demanding the right to participate fully in temple and village festivals; they are angered by walls built to exclude them from others; frustrated by the fact that shares of land and produce from common tanks and trees still elude them; and are no longer prepared to let their hearts be shackled by caste boundaries. Whatever one’s views of the VCK, the mobilization led by them and others has emboldened Dalits to question caste and state authorities, and imbued them with a sense of dignity, self-respect, and radicalism. The VCK have, in this way, contributed to the decline of caste hierarchies in Tamil Nadu (cf. Manor 2012).

Party Time This back-story is crucial if we are to fully comprehend attitudes towards the VCK today. When leading Dalit commentators say that (p.340) the party is ‘worse than any other’, they are expressing their bitter disappointment that the expectations raised by the decade of mobilization have not been realized as they would wish. Given the period of radicalism and rebellion, it was inevitable that many would be dissatisfied by the turn to formal politics and the engagement with the tarnished institutions of the party system in Tamil Nadu. From this perspective, anything short of the success experienced by the BSP in Uttar Pradesh would have been interpreted as failure for some. It is telling that the BSP also have Dalit critics, since engaging with corrupt institutions and powerholders may be read as a failing in itself (Kunnath 2009). Tamil Nadu, however, is not Uttar Pradesh. The party system here, as Wyatt (2010a) demonstrates, is loaded against small parties due to the dominance of the two main Dravidian organizations. Where votes are split four ways in UP, allowing candidates to win with a third of the votes, elections tend to revolve around two main fronts in Tamil Nadu and few candidates succeed in winning unless they ally with one of these. The past decade has witnessed the gradual and uncertain shift towards coalition politics in the state and the emergence of Dalit parties has played a key Page 15 of 31

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The Power of the Panthers role in this, with the PWF constituting the best coordinated challenge to Dravidian duopoly to date. The question is: have they gone far enough? One of the most compelling criticisms made of the VCK is that they have been content to play second fiddle to their Dravidian allies and to follow the rules of the political game in the state. What this means, as seen in Chapter 4, is that they have tempered their criticisms of established parties, joined others in praising alliance leaders and followed the script when speaking on shared platforms. As Stalin Rajangam put it in Chapter 3, there is nothing intrinsically wrong with the move to politics, but you need to take Dalit politics and not just Dalit individuals to the mainstream. Thirumavalavan felt that abiding by such informal rules was the price to be paid for making it in Tamil politics and securing a respectable number of seats from which to contest. This strategy makes sense as a means of consolidating the party organization. Had the VCK succeeded in winning two MPs’ seats or gaining seven MLAs as part of a dominant alliance then they would have secured recognized status and been awarded a permanent electoral symbol. As it is, standing as a junior ally of the Dravidian giants has (p.341) not guaranteed electoral success and has obscured the popularity of the party across the state since they are only allocated a limited number of places. This has prevented the VCK from consolidating a vote base or cultivating particular constituencies and strongholds. Though critics have claimed that they are losing votes to others, the vote-share of key candidates has remained reasonably high. Standing from Thiruvallur in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, Ravikumar lost by the single biggest margin across Tamil Nadu, and yet he secured 24.4 per cent of the vote coming second to the AIADMK candidate who took 50.2 per cent of votes cast. This election was unusual, furthermore, due to the presence of a viable Third Front allied to the BJP, which secured significant numbers of votes that would normally have been split two ways (cf. Wyatt 2015b). The claim that Dalits are deserting the VCK, thus, is disputed. Thirumavalavan addressed this point headon: H: Now there is an assertion that you lost even Dalit voters in the 2011 election.

T: If that was the case then how come we got 50–60,000 votes in each constituency? Are all those non-Dalit votes? At most 10–15,000 of those votes were cast by non-Dalits. How can you explain the other votes? You will find that actually most Dalits voted for us, the floating voters may have gone with the tide and opted for AIADMK.

H: So that means that you don’t get votes of others even though you are in alliance? Page 16 of 31

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The Power of the Panthers T: Not fully no. Many Vanniyars are not prepared to vote for us at all. Still we do not get the recognition for our performances. In 1999 when I gained over 2.5 lakh votes in Chidambaram people said they were Moopanar’s votes, but then how can they explain subsequent elections? There is a reluctance to concede that we have a following. (Personal Communication, September 2012)

The VCK, as Wyatt (2010a) also concludes, clearly have a committed support base, but it is not large enough to win elections on its own. In the 2011 elections when the DMK coalition was swept aside in the polls, the VCK contested ten seats and came up short in each, sometimes polling half the number of votes secured by their opponent. Despite this, the party came second in each case and came close in a number of constituencies. (p.342) Given this indication of popular support, activists felt that they deserved greater respect and should be more assertive. Part of the reason so many grassroots members were unhappy with the party was that they were seen as overly compliant; like the ‘SC/ST Wing of the Dravidian parties’. This characterization is unfair, but as with any small party, the VCK need to do more to publicize their achievements and the concessions wrested from alliance partners. Ravikumar and Thirumavalavan published books detailing their interventions in Parliament after their terms came to an end, but these were not routinely highlighted in the party magazine or conveyed to members at the time. Rising levels of frustration and disgruntlement amongst party supporters reflect what they see as an asymmetric relationship between the VCK and their allies. Most interviewees struggled to articulate concrete gains that could be attributed to participation in the political process as opposed to the mobilization that preceded it. As seen in earlier chapters, there are four commonly cited gains from political participation. First, there is a sense that Dalits now have their own agents who can intercede on their behalf to secure jobs, transfers, and other rewards of office. Second, party members revel in the fact that they are now treated with respect in police stations and by authorities. Third, Thirumavalavan and Ravikumar have provided them strong voices in Parliament but also in the public sphere. Other leaders also receive media coverage that was denied to them when they were a movement. In a historic first in the run-up to the 2016 polls, The Tamil Hindu carried an extensive interview with Thirumavalavan. This was notable as Tamil dailies have tended to neglect Dalit concerns. In a comment on the interview, media researcher Balasubramaniam stressed that this was the ‘first time to my knowledge, that a publication had given this much space to a Dalit leader.’4 It is instructive here to compare the coverage afforded to the VCK with that given to PT. The Pallar-dominated organization’s events and statements are reported more than before, but far more attention and column inches are devoted to the VCK than to PT, reflecting their respective grassroots strength Page 17 of 31

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The Power of the Panthers and appeal (cf. Gopalan 2016). (p.343) Fourth, political participation has seen the visibility of the party increase exponentially especially in the northern districts of the state. Images and billboards bearing pictures of Thirumavalavan abound as do replica red and blue flags with the white star in the centre. Such imagery is still clustered around cheris and Dalit enclaves, but has extended into city centres and roadsides thanks to political engagement, and give Dalits a sense of pride, standing and ‘political arrival’ (Mitchell 2014). Early in my fieldwork as I was trying to renew contacts and gain access to VCK members, a friend alerted me to the fact that his workmate was in the party. Since joining the VCK, I was told, his whole demeanour, comportment, and bearing had altered significantly. The party may be a minor player in state politics, in other words, but it is an increasingly established and recognized one. Two further benefits of political participation are indicated by this: the ability to reach beyond the committed core of activists, and the increased financial security of the party.

Envisaging Alternatives Given this sense of arrival and the visible presence of the VCK in terms of union branches, billboards, and posters; the real affection felt by most members towards Thirumavalavan; the rising profile of the party in the media; and the parliamentary interventions of its political representatives, the disgruntlement, and frustration of many of the activists I interacted with needs to be explained. Some of the grumbles might be attributed to jealousy and annoyance at missing out on plum posts, but a diversity of voices raised similar themes and concerns. There is a widespread and deep-seated fear that the party will lose its radicalism and direction if it remains subordinate to other parties. The alliances with these institutions furthermore, as seen in Chapter 7, are perceived to have engendered an individualistic ethos amongst members. Competition for posts is now seen as an avenue to monetary rewards and self-aggrandizement rather than social change. At the organizational level, the VCK are said to be unduly obeisant to alliance partners and frustrations relate to the emphasis on Tamil nationalism and ‘general issues’ whilst speaking on common platforms. The unintended consequence of this approach is to reinforce the sense that Dalit issues are somehow separate and marginal to more ‘mainstream’ concerns. (p.344) As we have also seen, the VCK are seeking to make their way in a political system that is stacked against them. For a start, they lack the resources and infrastructure that other parties have, meaning that they cannot stand in every constituency or bankroll mass electoral campaigns. Second, Dalits, even where they are united, are geographically dispersed, which places them at a disadvantage in constituency based contests. If these obstacles are faced by many emergent parties, the VCK as a Dalit-led party suffer further impediments. Unlike their competitors, the VCK are compelled to fight on multiple fronts: taking up Tamil issues, lending support to Tamils in Sri Lanka, engaging in ‘normal’ politics around prices and policies, and protesting against continuing Page 18 of 31

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The Power of the Panthers caste atrocities. This raises the question of whether criticisms of the party are based on unrealistic expectations, and what the party might have done or could still do differently. Many diehard supporters were never going to be satisfied by the VCK’s political performance for the simple reason that they were opposed to the move to politics from the outset. Offe (1990) notes how institutionalization engenders a split between the more absolutist and radical ‘fundis’ and the more pragmatic ‘realos’. For these critics, entry into the ‘sewer’ has blemished the party. All subsequent actions by party leaders can then be taken as further confirmation of the axiom that power corrupts. The vast majority of those I interviewed, by contrast, felt that the Panthers were either right to transform themselves into a party, or had little option. Whilst some felt that the Panthers could have remained an external pressure group, their characterization as extremists not only rendered it hard to operate in the face of police persecution and preventative arrests, but also sequestered them from the public who might otherwise have been sympathetic to their aims (Gorringe 2005). The experience of extra-political actors like the DK, furthermore, does little to inspire confidence about the efficacy of extra-institutional agitation. The DK remains committed to protest politics and has retained its core support, but it constitutes little more than a symbolic force in contemporary Tamil Nadu. Few respondents felt that the move to politics in itself was problematic. Once you accept the process of institutionalization, however, as the AAP have recently found in Delhi, it becomes harder (p.345) to maintain radicalism and the status of outsiders (Kumar 2015). In his review of AAP’s challenges in office, Ravi Kumar argues that: ‘The victory of AAP was also possible because it lacked “history”’ (2015: 19). Devoid of historical baggage, AAP were able to present themselves as ‘new’ and as an organization that would ‘deliver’. The contrast with the VCK is meaningful. Whilst they entered politics on a similar tide of optimism, they were unable to shake off their past as a radical Dalit movement. Srikanth, a Backward Caste member of the VCK in a village near Madurai alluded to this in his interview: S: There are so many parties in Tamil Nadu. Had he changed the name to something different then he could have reached even more people. Because he retained the same name for the party as he had for the movement the people are not fully aware of it.

A: Other castes have not joined you mean?

S: Ah, that is the truth. Page 19 of 31

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The Power of the Panthers A: Because the Viduthalai Chiruthaigal are a ‘violent movement’?

S: That is what they were led to believe. Had he created a new name for the party today he would have grown exponentially. … This is just my opinion. (Interview, August 2015)

We have seen how the VCK have struggled to reinvent themselves as a Tamil party, and Srikanth indicates how they continue to be viewed through the prism of the past. The reluctance of non-Dalits to vote for the party and the castebased polarization of politics in northern districts, he suggests, has its genesis in the 1990s when the VCK emerged as a counter to caste dominance (Arun 2007; Gorringe 2005). This history constrains the options available to the party. Since Dalits cannot win elections alone, the party must either act as a pressure group within the system or forge alliances with others. Several respondents felt that the VCK were too quick to embrace the Dravidian parties and should have taken longer to establish an identity and niche for themselves. Joining a Dravidian alliance meant that the party forfeited their outsider status and blunted their critiques. Staying apart from the tainted politics of Dravidian parties for longer may have reaped rewards in terms of greater support from Dalit intellectuals, administrators, and bureaucrats as per the BSP model. (p.346) The rationale for alliances is strong: the party lack resources to put up a strong showing and needed allies to extend their appeal beyond Dalit voters. Greater clarity on the purpose of such alliances would have helped. Joining hands with others can either be a means to an end or a coalition of interests. Principled alliances enable the VCK to retain its integrity and rhetoric about change, but suffer two drawbacks. First, all Third Front attempts to date have proved to be unsuccessful in electoral terms. More importantly, such alliances have been either elusive or unstable. Other parties were constantly on the lookout for more rewarding partnerships and the VCK found themselves abandoned on a number of occasions. Likeminded parties were usually not open to the prospect of a non-Dravidian coalition. Tamil nationalist parties rejected Thirumavalavan’s call for unity at the height of the conflict in Sri Lanka when the situation and the resultant public sympathy made such an alliance important. Despite their obvious affinities in terms of programme and support, Communist parties in the state have tended to prioritize winning seats. When Thirumavalavan indicated that he was open to an alliance with Communist parties in an interview, CPI leader D. Pandian reportedly said: ‘We are not idiots to be told what to do. We are quite capable of making up our own minds’, and belittled the VCK. For all the criticism made of the VCK’s alliances, the better structured and resourced Communist parties routinely side with the Dravidian giants in the state. As UnjaiArasan argued: ‘They should be ready to fight Page 20 of 31

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The Power of the Panthers without thinking about victory, but at the moment they seem to be content with 5 or 7 seats’ (Interview, August 2012). Until 2016, the Communist parties in Tamil Nadu have adopted the alternate logic of political engagement. With an eye on the national picture, they have consistently felt that winning seats and having representatives in Parliament was important. To this end they have been prepared to ally with parties at odds with their ideology in order to secure victory (Vikraman Interview, March 2012). This was the approach of the PMK too, and they repeatedly switched sides in order to maximize their chances of winning and securing ministerial berths (Wyatt 2010a). The party system is stacked against small parties and so—if securing formal recognition and gaining a permanent party symbol were the objective— then the VCK should perhaps have (p.347) followed the PMK’s lead. Instead the VCK have neither been wholly opportunistic nor principled in their alliances, giving rise to claims that they are content with the rewards that flow from alliances and from one or two representatives in Parliament. Whilst the strategies employed by the better resourced and longer established PMK and Communists demonstrate the difficulties for smaller parties in Tamil bipolar contests, the VCK could have been clearer about their aims. Three inter-related issues and recommendations arise from this research. The concerns over the purpose of alliances speaks to a lack of communication and accountability. This, in turn, links into the contentious question of leadership. Finally, there is the question of what and who the party stands for. We will deal with each in turn. For all the criticisms, the VCK as a party remains more accessible, approachable, and accountable to its members than other institutions in the state. Key decisions and alliances are discussed in committee and relayed to members in person and through Tamil Mann, and there is still a culture of contention in the party in which members are not afraid to question or challenge the leadership. Accountability, in this sense, is less of an issue for the VCK than for other parties in the state and yet it remains a problem both because the members expect more of a say in the organization and because too much decision-making power is vested in the leader. Factionalism and schisms within the party mean that the default position is to ‘let the leader decide.’ Whilst this works for a less democratic party like the AIADMK, Thirumavalavan is simultaneously expected to direct the party and be with the people. As with any organization where power is concentrated, rumours and allegations abound to explain why one course of action was taken or why one person was given a particular post rather than any other. Thirumavalavan tried to encourage internal elections in 2012 to no avail. Continued efforts to democratize the party are imperative. In the meantime, much more could be done to communicate with cadres. Jeffrey and Doron (2012) highlight the BSP’s innovative and effective use of mobile technology to communicate directly with members during the 2007 state elections. Whilst the VCK launched a new web-portal in 2012 and added

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The Power of the Panthers another in 2016, and is active on Facebook, this more basic and widely available technology remained an underused resource. (p.348) More could also be done with Tamil Mann. The party magazine tended to suffer the same problems as the party itself. Too much of the publication was devoted to protests around Tamil Eelam and to the leader. It did not, for instance, routinely carry reports on its representatives in parliament nor was it used to quash inaccuracies head-on. In 2012, several interviewees were still convinced that the party could have contested the 2011 state elections with the AIADMK and won the seven seats required for recognition. When I raised this with Thirumavalavan, he laughed and said that there were never any concrete talks and intermediaries had never offered more than three seats. The party structure also hampers effective communication: there are no established offices outside Chennai meaning that all contact with the party tends to occur through informal channels that are the breeding ground for rumours. The VCK lack the resources and political clout to retain a following through patronage networks. Maintaining the trust and confidence of the members is essential as a result. Nothing better illustrates the complexities of accountability in the VCK than the saga of its TV channel. In 2012, the Panthers determined to launch their own television channel. Countless meetings stressed the significance of the media and the disadvantaged position faced by the VCK given the fact that all other parties own TV stations. A brief alliance with the owner of Tamilan TV highlighted the virtues of the medium for leaders. Unlike other parties, the Panthers lack affluent benefactors or deep coffers, so they sought to crowdsource the channel. All party supporters were asked to contribute gold to celebrate Thirumavalavan’s ‘Golden Jubilee’ which would be ploughed into the TV. The grassroots antecedents of the party are to the fore here. The channel was to be financed transparently and openly by small-scale collections. Members were asked to contribute gold so that the money could not be appropriated or siphoned off. No other station in India, Stalin Rajangam noted, had been funded in such an open and traceable fashion (Personal Communication, August 2012). If this speaks to the party’s commitment to openness and lack of resources and black money, however, uncertainty surrounded when the channel would open, what it would be called, or what it would show. In 2015, when the TV station had yet to air, rumours emerged that it may never (p.349) materialize. Disaffected members muttered that if the gold collected from hard-working members was not clearly accounted for—whether in a TV channel or something like an educational institution for Dalits—then they would hold the party to account. The party dispelled these stories with the launch of their new channel—named Velicham (Light) —on Ambedkar’s birthday in 2016. Long-term critics like Dalit Murasu editor Punitha Pandian hailed the move and celebrated the historic creation of a Dalit centric channel. He argued that ‘a television channel which Page 22 of 31

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The Power of the Panthers will create a Dalit and anti-caste discourse is necessary. While there is a risk that this could become a party-mouthpiece, this effort needs to be supported’ (Naig 2016b). Wyatt (2010a: 124) reveals how ‘media access is heavily skewed towards the two Dravidian parties who use cable and satellite channels to publicize themselves and their allies’ and so this development is imperative for the future development of the VCK. Despite this, critics like Karthikeyan bemoaned the fact that Vijayakant gave the inaugural address rather than a Dalit campaigner (Personal Communication, April 2016), and concerns immediately switched to the lack of Dalit staff in the station (Kishore 2016), and whether it would simply sing the praises of the VCK leaders rather than offering detailed coverage of the downtrodden. Here we see how dissatisfaction leads to baseless charges and rumours irrespective of facts, cautioning us again to place the many and varied critiques of the party in perspective. One issue illustrated here is how a lack of transparency engenders questioning. The VCK, as a party, has seen a centralization of power and a devolution of responsibility: decision-making is the preserve of the leader, but most of the problems confronting the party are attributed to postholders. There are, if anything, too many post-holders in the VCK, but there is no clear structure of command or responsibility. Thirumavalavan is constantly on the go, attending movement events and protests, and addressing rallies, book launches, and election campaigns. Time for planning and reflection are in short supply. The problems of a leader-centric party are readily apparent, and the failure to nurture an able and autonomous secondary leadership constrains the party. It is common to see leading figures of the party clustered around Thirumavalavan, but established and respected figures like (p.350) Ravikumar and Sindhanai Selvan need to be able to stand in for the leader in his absence. The problem, as seen in Chapter 6, works two ways: members who insist on seeing the leader need to be educated and be prepared to accept substitutes. Becoming a party requires organizational structures of communication and authority that were less imperative for the movement. Finally, there is the question of what and who the party stands for. In attempting to become a Tamil party, non-Dalits have been welcomed in and promoted into positions of leadership and the party has systematically campaigned on Sri Lanka, language, and water-sharing as well as caste atrocities. Since the Panthers share political platforms on the basis of Tamil identity, however, their statements and protests on Tamil gain more exposure. In the process, Dalit issues are sidelined and become what the VCK speaks about in social gatherings rather than formal political ones. There is also a fear that the emphasis on Tamil has come at the expense of other objectives. This is said to occur when compromises are reached, or when women’s rights are subordinated to the patriarchal rhetoric of Tamil nationalism (cf. Anandhi 2005; Gorringe, forthcoming). Again, part of the issue here is communication. Respondents insisted that the VCK had remained silent on numerous issues when they had in Page 23 of 31

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The Power of the Panthers fact staged protests and campaigns. Devoting sections of Tamil Mann to Sri Lankan, ‘general’, and Dalit issues might be one way to reassure members that the Panthers are continuing to raise their voices for the downtrodden though it would go against the admirable and apt assertion that casteism is not a sectoral concern but one that affects everyone. In 2015, as we have seen, the VCK raised a compelling critique of single-party rule and demanded coalition governments based on a share of power. They also joined hands with other parties that have stood united to condemn the evils of drink, casteism, and corruption. Whether this alliance will endure beyond the 2016 state elections remains to be seen, but the intention behind the moves goes some way towards addressing the concerns of my respondents. Fiery speeches in and of themselves, as we have seen, placate many activists. Whether the VCK secure a ‘share of power’ or not, they need to secure concrete policy or patronage commitments from future allies if they are to appease their followers. Whilst several academics and (p.351) commentators, including this author (Gorringe 2007), have suggested that the VCK have been fully institutionalized to the point that they can no longer function as a radical Dalit party, detailed fieldwork suggests that these obituaries may well be premature. Not only have the Panthers managed a healthy share of the vote in each election, they have also gained new advantages and benefits for Dalits in the process and, in Velicham, have launched a historic Dalit centric channel that promises to highlight issues that customarily go unreported.

The Promise of the Panthers The VCK has had to find its way in unpromising and difficult circumstances in which there are few true allies and many real impediments to their development. As with other movements that have undertaken a process of institutionalization, they have incurred criticisms and inculcated disillusionment along the way (cf. Pai 2002). This should not be taken to mean that nothing has changed. Indeed, in many ways, the Panthers have irrevocably altered politics and society in Dravidian land. We noted the increased visibility of Dalit parties above, but the corollary of this is the increased visibility of and attention to caste issues and to figures like Ambedkar too. Dalit concerns cannot now be neglected or ignored in each election though they may still be marginalized. We have seen how the Panthers were instrumental in raising the profile of the SCP and making sure that the State government acknowledged the provisions even if they could not ensure that they were fully or properly implemented (Alphonse 2012). The panchayat elections in Pappapatti and Keeripatti also offer a good illustration of the pressure the Panthers can bring to bear. Having stalled, annulled, or prevented elections for over a decade, dominant castes were finally compelled to allow elections in the reserved panchayats following sustained pressure from the VCK and the Communist parties. The elections are now duly contested. Though it seems clear that the Keeripatti incumbent in 2012 was little more than a puppet of dominant castes, in neighbouring Pappapatti an educated Dalit with Page 24 of 31

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The Power of the Panthers some independent means had taken office with a view to implementing meaningful reform. One of his first acts was to lay a path to the Dalit cremation grounds and, though (p.352) the path was still subject to dispute in 2012, the mere fact that an independent Dalit could become panchayat president in this Thevar heartland speaks to a sea change. That the Communist parties were instrumental to this change does not diminish the contribution of the Dalit parties; it arguably constitutes one of the major outcomes of Panther politics. When asked what the VCK had achieved, CPM politburo member Guna offered the following analysis: The Dalit movements sensed a vacuum, and they started the struggle with all these slogans, like ‘transgress’. The space was there to develop a mass movement. Both AIADMK and DMK also started to adjust to the new political situation. So if you look at, erm, in the year 1996, erm, when the DMK took over power, erm, they developed the special component plan, erm, they increased the fund allocation, erm, some welfare schemes. Welfare schemes were in place even before that, but the distribution mechanism was developed. Even reservation, before 90s there were so many backlog vacancies, but in the late 90s the situation has changed, the posts were filled. The concessions, welfare schemes, freebies—the big parties introduced all these things to retain their Dalit votes. (Guna Interview, March 2012) Conspicuously absent from this catalogue of notable achievements is the impact of Dalit mobilization on his own party. As countless respondents observed, only slightly unfairly, the Communist parties only ‘discovered caste’ when parties emerged that offered an alternative to their Dalit supporters. ‘One big change’, Gilbert, an NGO Director from the north of the state, argued, ‘is that the communists have now recognized the importance of caste. It is all very well talking only about class and speaking about Marx, but they have been forced to confront the everyday realities of caste’ (Personal Communication, April 2012). TNUEF leader Samuel Raj was more forthcoming about his party: The year 97/98 is the important period in TN, important period for Dalit rights. Definitely, Dalit parties and movements were instrumental for that— PT, VC—these movements have created awareness, they told Dalits to beat non-Dalits back. They played a significant role. We, the CPM, started to work consciously after ’97. Until then our understanding was not that we shouldn’t work for them, because ours is a working class party, CPM is a communist party, working class party, so what we (p.353) thought was social liberty will automatically come if everyone gets economic liberty. … After the 90s, erm, in 1995, during this period, erm, we have discussed in our party meetings: whether the Dalits should be beaten till they get economic liberty; whether they have to live under social oppression till Page 25 of 31

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The Power of the Panthers they get economic liberty. So we have decided in our inner-party discussion to fight against social oppression. (Interview, April 2012) If the VCK achieves nothing else, compelling Communist parties to become more actively engaged in questions of caste and casteism in the state has been consequential. ‘The ideas, tactics, style, participants, and organizations of one movement’, as Meyer and Whittier (1994: 277) attest, ‘often spill over its boundaries to affect other social movements.’ It is not only the Communists that have taken up the baton. One of the most significant changes to social politics in the state in recent years has been the mobilization of Arunthathiyars, the lowest of the Scheduled Castes in the state. Carswell and De Neve (2015) point towards the incipient mobilization of Arunthathiyars around Tiruppur and their engagement with the strategies and tactics that informed the earlier Dalit uprisings across the state. A cursory glance at Arunthathiyar movement flags, modes of operation, and styles of speech demonstrate their debt to the VCK. When Nagai Thiruvallavan of the Tamil Tigers (TT)—an Arunthathiyar organization that is strong in Madurai—took the stage to address an Arunthathiyar arts festival in Melavassel, central Madurai, it felt like watching a replay of the young Thirumavalavan. Cadences, idiomatic expressions, and bodily comportment were all evocative of the VCK leader (Field notes, July 2012). Despite this obvious affinity to the Panthers, Thiruvallavan and other Arunthathiyar leaders place themselves in opposition to the VCK and accuse them of not doing enough to help the lowest castes. One TT supporter played me a recording of a searing speech in which Thiruvallavan terms Thirumavalavan a ‘cheer-leader for Karunanidhi’ and challenges both Krishnasamy and him to say what they have done for Arunthathiyars. The major focus of Arunthathiyar mobilization in the past decade has been the demand for a more equitable division of reserved places and jobs. Their main allies in this endeavour have been the Communist parties—especially the CPI (M)—which have championed their cause partly to retain Dalit (p.354) votes and partly due to the new-found emphasis on caste oppression. At an institutional level, Arunthathiyar mobilization reached a peak with the implementation of a 3 per cent sub-quota within the reservations allocated to SCs. Arunthathiyars would be preferred for this 3 per cent—thus managing not to flout the constitutional provisions or fall foul of the law. Since that point, the impetus of Arunthathiyar mobilization has stalled, and the various movements have reverted to fire-fighting against atrocities and symbolic assertion. The programmatic emphasis of the sub-quota demand enabled a concentrated period of mobilization that has been hard to sustain. The call for preferential treatment in reservations and the criticisms of Dalit leaders from other castes suggests deep divisions between Dalits in the state.

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The Power of the Panthers Dr Krishnasamy filed a public interest litigation (PIL) law-suit challenging the legality of the sub-quota and demanding its repeal. Given his stress on developing as a caste before uniting as Dalits, this is interpreted by Arunthathiyars as the better developed Pallars drawing up the ladder they have already ascended. The position of the VCK is less clear. Many respondents told me that Thirumavalavan was initially opposed to the sub-quota and welcomed it after the fact, but this may be another case of poor communication. Athiyamaan of the Adi-Tamilar Peravai told a packed meeting in Tirunelveli that this had been his perception until he met Thiruma and read his book Thaai Sol which endorsed the Arunthathiyar demand. VCK leaders themselves say that they put pressure on the DMK to accept the demands and note how they still have many Arunthathiyars in the party—several in state-level posts—who have made the case for a sub-quota. Athiyamann, in this meeting, allied his group to the VCK as he mooted a possible entry into politics. This showcases one of the distinctive aspects of VCK mobilization: regardless of the facts around reservation, the VCK have always rejected caste labels and sought to include all Dalits and, more recently, all Tamils. If they were not to the fore, publicly endorsing Arunthathiyar demands they were not obstructing them, have worked with and inspired a range of their leaders, and have helped create the conditions in which Dalit demands receive considered attention. There are instructive differences between the VCK and the Pallar-dominated PT here. Pallars are the most organized and militant of (p.355) the Dalit castes. On the back of sustained, and sometimes violent, mobilization from the 1950s many Pallars have benefitted from reservations, increased their social standing, and are prepared to fight back against caste oppression. Their changing fortunes are perhaps best illustrated in recent attempts by some Pallar activists to present themselves as ancient rulers of Tamil Nadu and to call themselves Mallars in a rejection of their Dalit status (Karthikeyan 2013). The attempt to reinvent a touchable past is significant on three counts: it highlights the continuing stigma attached to being from an untouchable caste; it typifies how Pallar mobilization has often been focused on caste development rather than anti-caste activism; and finally it demonstrates the imbrication of caste, power, and politics as seen in the state government’s decision to ban books based on the mytho-history of Pallar dominance, which were seen as offending Thevar sensibilities (Karthikeyan 2013; Muruganandham 2015). PT entered politics before the VCK and Dr Krishnasamy has raised his voice on key issues; demanding a white paper on reservations, calling for land reform, and lobbying for development in the southern districts. Whilst the PT remain a credible party in southern constituencies, they have become increasingly preoccupied with the status of Pallars and calls for all sub-castes of the category to be formally recognized as Devendra Kula Vellallas. Despite the strong emphasis on the caste cluster, PT graphically illustrated the tensions of institutionalization in 2012 when they remained in the AIADMK alliance for a bye-election just months after Page 27 of 31

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The Power of the Panthers the police firing in Paramakudi. In 2016, the PT contested from four seats in the DMK coalition. Concerns about ‘selling out’, thus, afflict all small parties in the state and speak to the continuing political and financial dominance of the Dravidian parties and their ability to shape the political agenda. The Pallar emphasis on caste status echoes one of the most alarming developments in the field, which is the rise of ‘honour crimes’. The defensive retrenchment of caste boundaries and rhetoric around caste purity arises from increased competition between more equal castes despite the continued attachment to ‘hierarchical values’ (Harriss 2012). Dominant but low-status castes perceive that differences between them and many Dalits are narrowing, and resent the loss of status and labour that is entailed. The upshot has been vituperative campaigns against reservations and cross-caste marriages (Anandhi and Vijaybaskar 2013). (p.356) Of most import to us are reports of honour killings between Dalits, and the refusal of Pallars or Paraiyars to accept Chakkiliyar spouses (Gorringe, forthcoming). One educated social activist was called to a village near Alanganallur where a Paraiyar woman had eloped with an Arunthathiyar man: The girl’s father reportedly said he would not let his girl marry ‘that SC boy’ and threatened to take one of his [the boy’s] sisters if his daughter were not returned. This is the worrying thing. The father is reacting in exactly the same way as a Backward Caste would. They have all absorbed Hindutva ideology and hierarchy. (Penniyam, Personal Communication, June 2012) In her fine-grained study of Dalit women, Still (2014: 211) analyses the complex social processes that result in Dalits emulating the discourses and practices of ‘honour’. She argues that they are ‘Dalit-ising’ honour in ‘dissociating the holders of value from the actual values themselves.’ Her insightful account helps explicate this seemingly contradictory development in Dalit lives, but activists wedded to Ambedkar’s, Periyar’s, and Thirumavalavan’s thought ought to be better placed to reject prevalent norms. Whilst VCK leaders are to the fore protesting against caste atrocities against all Dalits, and have campaigned for more stringent laws against honour crimes (re-emphasizing this in the selection of Vasanthi Devi as an electoral candidate), elements within the party have yet to absorb this message. The then lapsed VCK member, Maalin, noted how few cross-caste marriages there have been within the party and suggested that this revealed the lack of commitment to the stated aims of the movement (Interview, February 2012). Whilst the VCK do not mobilize on caste lines, they have not escaped its tentacles. The current campaigns against honour crimes and casteist rhetoric can perhaps take the anti-caste message one step further and drum it home to supporters as well as the general public. Such campaigns would also contribute to the party’s objective of women’s liberation in emphasizing women’s right to choose partners (or abstinence). There are prominent Page 28 of 31

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The Power of the Panthers Arunthathiyar and Pallar leaders in the party, but giving them positions with more prominence may help in this regard. Significantly, with the scope to field more candidates in the 2016 election, the VCK list included Pallar, Dalit Christian, Muslim, and non-Dalit candidates, including (p.357) five women. Several Arunthathiyar candidates had been offered seats but turned down the opportunity due to personal or financial reasons (Ravikumar, Personal Communication, April 2016). Jakkaian, who has transformed his organization into the Adi Tamilar Katchi (ATK), sought a seat from the CPI (M) and his supporters led protests when this failed to materialize (Express News 2016a), but Nagai Thiruvallavan of the TT stood on an MDMK ticket and offered the alliance a strong Arunthathiyar voice (OneIndia 2016). Political campaigns around exclusive identities invariably hinge on the moral and community policing of women, as the VCK demonstrated in their protests against actress Khushbu’s remarks on chastity (Anandhi 2005). Women easily become victims or symbols in such rhetoric, and lose their agency in the process, which contradicts the VCK’s otherwise strong stance against casteism, patriarchy, and sexual violence (cf. Dhinna Thanthi 2015; Gorringe, forthcoming). Earlier we saw how the choice of Vasanthi Devi itself was portrayed as a symbolic statement since she lacks a grassroots connection with VCK cadres and Dalit women, but this neglects her own grassroots work with organizations like People’s Watch and also obscures the appointment of Pandiyammal, who rose through the ranks of the party thanks to local organization (cf. Gorringe 2005: 236), as a candidate from Sholavandan. The VCK, in other words, are still in the process of negotiating how best to navigate the process of institutionalization. At times their relations to others and joint actions generate consequences that run counter to core principles, at other times it is unclear precisely what their aims are. In this, the Panthers are not dissimilar to other young parties that struggle to come to terms with changing relations and ways of doing things. Party leaders may call themselves Tamil, for instance, but that does not mean that they are universally accepted as such. In eschewing the politics of caste and engaging forcefully with other organizations, however, the Panthers are changing perceptions and altering what is means to be Tamil. It is no coincidence that the DMK made the Dalit politician D. Raja, a central government Minister after the rise of the VCK. The Communists’ renewed engagement with caste testifies to the rise of Dalit issues and even the AIADMK, which secured an outright majority in the 2011 and 2014 elections, has been unable to fully (p.358) neglect Dalit concerns. P. Dhanapal, thus, became the first Dalit Speaker in the Tamil Assembly in 2012 and Jayalalithaa took up the cause of Dalit Christians as well as the Scheduled Castes more generally. In a letter on this issue to the Prime Minister she claimed that: ‘Under my leadership, the Government of Tamil Nadu accords the topmost priority to the welfare of the Scheduled Castes.’5 Some of the schemes highlighted here are universal ones, allegedly paid for with SCP funds that are meant for SCs alone. Page 29 of 31

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The Power of the Panthers Even so it is clear that there is more focus on Dalit issues and welfare now than in the past. Ramesh, the critical activist who had abandoned the VCK for the TT conceded that they had had an impact in this way stating that: ‘if the big parties were not afraid of their [Dalit party] votes there would be no need for such Illavasa Thittangal [freebie policies]. They do not need to. The government does not simply hand out stuff. It is only through the uprising of people’s protest movements that good policies are introduced. That is a real benefit’ (Interview, February 2012). In his rich ethnography of Dalit politics in Maharashtra, Waghmore (2013: 201) likewise observes that social transformations are ‘not achieved through the gift of a benevolent state or the product of elite self-reform as Gandhi envisaged but sustained struggles of lesser citizens.’ The VCK have not been the radical force that they promised to be in 1999, but very few emergent organizations are able to change a political system and culture overnight. Reflecting on the Panthers’ performance, Sannah pointed towards the unrealistic goals that attended their transformation into a party: A movement can only, at best, campaign forcefully for about 30 years. After 30 years, the key players in that movement will grow old—the age factor plays a role—their boldness will diminish and the next generation will start afresh. (Interview, September 2012) In a seminar celebrating the work of renowned Dalit writer Raj Gowthaman, an audience member upbraided him for clinging onto the ‘dream’ of caste eradication. His response was revealing: (p.359) RG: Yes, it is a dream, but that does not worry me. So much has changed over the last 20 years. I know my own limitations and work within them, I know that we can only achieve our goals in the distant future. I see my role as shifting things a tiny step further forward, moving the stone from here to there [indicating a short distance]. Those who say we have achieved nothing, are those who expected to gain political power in five years. I do not expect to achieve what thousands have failed to achieve through my own efforts. All we can do is make changes in our own lives and to the best of our efforts (Field notes, April 2012).

Critics would rightly contend that a political party should do more than an individual and should, at the least, have a clear blueprint for future change. That said, frustrated activists of a once radical organization also need to reflect on how realistic their expectations are. We have seen throughout the book how caste considerations dominate socio-political institutions and processes in the state and how the VCK have had to battle against the odds to carve out a space for itself. For all its flaws, the VCK has redrawn the map of Tamil politics and brought attention to issues and people who were previously swept aside. In the process they have enhanced the political consciousness of a generation of Dalits Page 30 of 31

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The Power of the Panthers who no longer vote out of a sense of obligation to landlords or patrons and have been emboldened to refuse the everyday humiliations of caste. With the PWF in 2016 they are advancing the slow move towards multi-partism (Wyatt 2010a) in Tamil Nadu, and their actions have spawned a new wave of organizations committed to social justice and equality. ‘A movement’s legacy’, as Meyer avers, ‘extends through a range of outcomes … [including] consequences for process, institutional practices, organizations, and individuals’ in ways that reshape the political terrain and the conditions for future struggles. The Panthers may not have achieved what they set out to, as one disaffected activist concluded, but: Now, if we are going to a public meeting, the police give us an escort and go in front and behind in a car. That’s all due to the mobilization of that time. As I said before, the VCK for a certain time before they engaged in elections shook things up, and we are still running along in their tailwind. (Ramesh Interview, February 2012) Notes:

(1) See Guhambika’s (2009) article for details. (2) The complaint was written by Prince Gajendra Babu, the General Secretary of the State Platform for Common School System, Tamil Nadu. I received a copy of the complaint from a member of the group, by email on 26 April 2016. The issue discussed was widely covered in the media and on VCK Facebook pages too. (3) I am grateful to John and Harriss and Jim Manor for stressing this point. (4) See the interview and comments here (accessed 29 June 2016): http:// writersamas.blogspot.co.uk/2016/04/blog-post_14.html (5) See Jayalalithaa’s letter to the Prime Minister here: http:// khalidanisansari.blogspot.co.uk/2013/08/jayalalitha-bats-for-dalit-christians.html (Accessed 29 June 2016).

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Bibliography

Panthers in Parliament: Dalits, Caste, and Political Power in South India Hugo Gorringe

Print publication date: 2017 Print ISBN-13: 9780199468157 Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: March 2017 DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199468157.001.0001

(p.360) Bibliography Hugo Gorringe

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Bibliography Chandran, Ravi. 2012. ‘The Murder of a Girl and the Silence over it’, Round Table India, 1 December 2012. Accessed on 1 July 2016: http:// roundtableindia.co.in/index.php? option=com_content&view=article&id=6001:the-murder-of-a-dalit-girl-and-thesilence-over-it&catid=119 Charsley, S. and G. Karanth (eds), 1998. ‘Dalits and State Action: The “SCs”’, in S. Charsley and G. Karanth (eds), Challenging Untouchability. London: SAGE, pp.19–43. Chatterjee, P. 2004. The Politics of the Governed. Delhi: Permanent Black. Chishti, S. 2014. ‘Biggest Caste Survey: One in Four Indians Admit to Practising Untouchability’, New Indian Express 29 November 2014: Accessed 1 July 2016: http://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-others/one-in-four-indians-admit-topractising-untouchability-biggest-caste-survey/ Ciotti, M. 2009. ‘The Conditions of Politics: Low-caste Women and Political Agency in a Northern Indian City’, Feminist Review 91(1): 113–34. ———. 2010a. Retro-Modern India: Forging the Low–Caste Self. Abingdon: Routledge. (p.365) ———. 2010b. ‘Futurity in Words: Low-caste Women Political Activists’ Self-representation and Post-Dalit Scenarios in North India’, Contemporary South Asia 18(1): 43–56. Cody, F. 2015. ‘Populist Publics Print Capitalism and Crowd Violence beyond Liberal Frameworks’, Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East 35(1): 50–65. Collins, M. 2015. ‘Expressing Reservation: Representation, Reservations, and Election Campaigns in Modern India’, paper presented at Fissures, Mediation and Theories of Empowerment Workshop, Centre for Modern Indian Studies, University of Gottingen, 16–17 April 2015, cited with permission. Cook, I. 2015. ‘Link Work: Land and Housing Brokers in Mangaluru, India’, Journal of South Asian Development (103): 292–317. Corbridge, S. 2013. ‘Corruption in India’, in A. Kohli and P. Singh (eds), Routledge Handbook of Indian Politics. London: Routledge, pp. 222–9. Coy, P. and Hedeen, T. 2005. ‘A Stage Model of SM Co–optation’, The Sociological Quarterly 46(4): 405–35. Deliege, R. 1992. ‘Replication & Consensus: Untouchability, Caste & Ideology in India’, Man 27(1): 155–73. Page 6 of 32

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Bibliography ———. 1997. The World of the ‘Untouchables’: Paraiyars in Tamil Nadu. New Delhi: Oxford University Press. ———. 2002. ‘Is There Still Untouchability in India?’ Heidelberg Papers in South Asian and Comparative Politics, Working Paper No. 5: Accessed on 1 July 2016: archiv.ub.uni-heidelberg.de/volltextserver/4010/1/hpsacp5.pdf Della Porta, D. 1992. ‘Life Histories in the Analysis of SM Activists’. In M. Diani and R. Eyerman (eds), Studying Collective Action. London: SAGE, pp. 168–93. Della Porta, D. and Diani, M. 1999. Social Movements. Oxford: Blackwell. De Neve, G. 2015. ‘Predatory Property: Urban Land Acquisition, Housing and Class Formation in Tiruppur, South India’, Journal of South Asian Development 10(3): 345–68. De Neve, G. and G. Carswell. 2011. ‘NREGA and the Return of Identity Politics in Western Tamil Nadu, India’, Forum for Development Studies 38(2): 205–10. Deshpande, A. 2011. The Grammar of Caste. New Delhi: Oxford University Press. Deshpande, S. 2006. ‘Exclusive Inequalities’, Economic and Political Weekly 41(24): 2438–44. Devasahayam, I. 2004. Discrimination: Module III. Madurai: Institute of Human Rights Education. (p.366) DeVotta, N. 2009. ‘The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and the Lost Quest for Separatism in Sri Lanka’, Asian Survey 49(6): 1021–51. De Wit, J.W. 1996. Poverty, Policy and Politics in Madras Slums. London: Sage. Dhinna Thanthi. 2015. ‘Lift the ban on “India’s Daughter” Film: Thol Thirumavalavan Press Release’, Dhinna Thanthi 10 March 2015: Accessed on 1 July 2016: http://www.dailythanthi.com/News/State/2015/03/10040540/Thol– Thirumavalavan–Emphasis.vpf Dickey, S. 1993. ‘The Politics of Adulation’. The Journal of Asian Studies 52(23): 340–72. Dietrich, G. 2009. Beyond Patriarchy, Caste and Capitalism. Madurai: Tamil Nadu Theological Seminary. Dirks, N. 1987. The Hollow Crown. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Dorairaj, S. 2009. ‘Spreading Menace’, Frontline 26(8): Accessed on 1 July 2016 from: http://www.frontline.in/static/html/fl2608/stories/20090424260804600.htm Page 7 of 32

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Bibliography ———. 2013b. ‘When Development Triggers Caste Violence’, The Hindu, 8 May 2013: Accessed on 2 July 2016: http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tpopinion/when-development-triggers-caste-violence/article4694265.ece ———. 2014. ‘Legislating for Liberation? Dalit Electoral Politics and Social Change in Tamil Nadu’ in C. Still (ed.), Dalits in Neo–Liberal India: Mobility or Marginalisation. New Delhi: Routledge, pp. 133–61. ———. 2016. ‘Out of the Cheris: Dalits Contesting and Creating Public Space in Tamil Nadu’, Space and Culture DOI: 10.1177/1206331215623216. ———. Forthcoming. ‘Liberation Panthers and Pantheresses: Gender and Dalit Party Politics in South India’, in K. Kapadia and S. Anandhi (eds), Dalit Women: Vanguard of an Alternative politics in India, New Delhi: Routledge. Gorringe, H., Jeffery, R. & Sariola, S. 2009. ‘Ethnographic Insights into Enduring Inequalities’, Journal of South Asian Development 4(1): 1–6. Gorringe, H. and Karthikeyan, D. 2014a. ‘Condoning Casteism? Apathy and the Atrocities Act’, Economic and Political Weekly XLIX (4): 74–5. ———. 2014b. ‘The Contemporary Dialectics of Caste Politics’, Seminar 657: Accessed on 2 July 2016: http://www.india–seminar.com/ 2014/657/657_comment.htm Gottipatti, S. 2014. ‘Ally of India’s Modi says Rape “Sometimes Right, Sometimes Wrong”’, Reuters.com 5 June 2014: Accessed on 2 July 2016: http:// uk.reuters.com/article/uk-india-rape-idUKKBN0EG1GH20140605 Gough, K. 1974. ‘Indian Peasant Uprisings’, Economic and Political Weekly 9(32/34): 1391–412. ———. 1987. ‘Socio-economic Change in Southeast India, 1950s to 1980s’, Journal of Contemporary Asia 17(3): 276–92. Government of India. 2014. The Constitution of India. New Delhi: Universal. Guérin, I., B. D’Espallier, and G. Venkatasubramanian. 2013. ‘Debt in Rural South India: Fragmentation, Social Regulation and Discrimination’, The Journal of Development Studies 49(9): 1155–71. Guhambika, R. 2009. ‘Caste Bias Rules in Virudhunagar Village’, The New Indian Express 19 October 2009 Accessed on April 2016: http:// www.newindianexpress.com/states/tamil_nadu/article140898.ece (p.370) Gundimeda, S. 2016. Dalit Politics in Contemporary India. Abingdon: Routledge.

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Bibliography Gupta, A. 1995. ‘Blurred Boundaries: The Discourse of Corruption, the Culture of Politics, and the Imagined State’, American Ethnologist 22(2): 375–402. Gupta, D. 2005. ‘Caste and Politics: Identity Over System’, Annual Review of Anthropology 21: 409–27. Guru, G. 2009. ‘Rejection of Rejection: Foregrounding Self–Respect’, in G. Guru (ed.) Humiliation: Claims and Context. Delhi: Oxford University Press, pp. 209– 25. ———. 2013. ‘Freedom of Expression and the Life of the Dalit Mind’, Economic and Political Weekly 48(10): 39–45. Gusfield, J. 1966. ‘Functional Areas of Leadership in Social Movements’, Sociological Quarterly 7(2): 137–56. Hansen, T. B. 2004. ‘Politics as Permanent Performance: The Production of Political Authority in the Locality’, in A. Wyatt, J. Zavos and V. Hewitt (eds), The Politics of Cultural Mobilisation in India. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, pp. 20–36. Hansen, T. and Stepputat, F. 2001. ‘Introduction: States of Imagination’, in T. Hansen and F. Stepputat (eds), States of Imagination: Ethnographic Explorations of the Postcolonial State. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, pp. 1–39. Hardgrave, R. 1968. ‘The Breast–Cloth Controversy’, Indian Economic Social History Review 5(2): 171–87. Hardtmann, E. M. 2009. The Dalit Movement in India: Local Practices, Global Connections. New Delhi: Oxford University Press. Harriss, J. 2007. ‘Antinomies of Empowerment: Observation on Civil Society, Politics and Urban Governance in India’, Economic and Political Weekly 42(26): 2716–24. ———. 2012. ‘Reflections on Caste and Class, Hierarchy and Dominance’, Seminar 633: Accessed 2 July 2016: http://www.india–seminar.com/ 2012/633/633_john_harriss.htm Harriss, J., J. Jeyaranjan, and K. Nagaraj. 2010. ‘Land, Labour and Caste Politics in Rural Tamil Nadu in the 20th Century’, Economic and Political Weekly 45(31): 47–61. Harriss-White, B. and K. Vidyarthee. 2010. ‘Stigma and Regions of Accumulation’, in B. Harriss-White and J. Heyer (eds), The Comparative Political Economy of Development: Africa and South Asia. London, Routledge, pp. 317– 49. Page 12 of 32

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Bibliography Hasan, Z. 2006. ‘Constitutional Equality and the Politics of Representation in India’, Diogenes 53(4): 54–68. (p.371) Herzog, H. 1987. ‘Minor Parties: The Relevancy Perspective’, Comparative Politics 19(3): 317–29. Heyer, J. 2010. ‘The Marginalisation of Dalits in a Modern Economy’, in B. Harriss–White and J. Heyer (eds), The Comparative Political Economy of Development: Africa and South Asia. London, Routledge, pp. 225–47. ———. 2012. ‘Labour Standards and Social Policy: A South Indian Case Study’, Global Labour Journal 3(1): 91–117. ———. 2014. ‘Dalit Households in Industrializing Villages in Coimbatore and Tiruppur, Tamil Nadu’, in V. Ramachandran and M. Swaminathan (eds), Dalit Households in Village Economies. New Delhi: Tulika Books: pp. 133–69. The Hindu. 2009a. ‘Symbols over Substance?’ The Hindu Editorial, 3 July 2009: Accessed 2 July 2016: http://www.hindu.com/2009/07/03/stories/ 2009070355440800.htm ———. 2009b. ‘Dalits Attacked for Touching “Ceremonial Umbrella’’, The Hindu 30 December 2009: Accessed 2 July 2016: http://www.thehindu.com/todayspaper/tp-national/tp-tamilnadu/dalits-attacked-for-touching-ceremonial-umbrella/ article128233.ece ———. 2015a. ‘VCK Not a Caste Outfit: Thirumavalavan’, The Hindu Special Correspondent 27 April 2015: Accessed 2 July 2016: http://www.thehindu.com/ news/cities/Madurai/vck-not-a-caste-outfit-thirumavalavan/article7145510.ece? ref=tpnews ———. 2015b. ‘Discrimination Most Foul’, The Hindu Editorial 11 May 2015: Accessed 2 July 2016: http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/editorial-ondiscrimination-against-dalits/article7190812.ece ———. 2015c. ‘Dalit Couple Ostracised for Raising Question at Gram Sabha’, The Hindu 28 September 2015: Accessed on 2 July 2016: http://www.thehindu.com/ news/cities/Madurai/is-raising-a-question-at-gram-sabha-an-offence/ article7696574.ece ———. 2016. ‘Kuruvithurai Dalits Want Separate Ration Shop’, The Hindu 23 February 2016: Accessed on 2 July 2016: http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/ tp-national/tp-tamilnadu/kuruvithurai-dalits-want-separate-ration-shop/ article8269602.ece Hodges, S. 2005. ‘Revolutionary Family Life and the Self Respect Movement in Tamil South India, 1926–49’, Contributions to Indian Sociology 39(2): 251–77. Page 13 of 32

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Bibliography Human Rights Watch. 1999. Broken People. Compiled by S. Narula. New York: Human Rights Watch. IDSN. 2008. Dalits of Sri Lanka: Caste-Blind Does Not Mean Casteless. Copenhagen: International Dalit Solidarity Network. Accessed 2 July (p.372) 2016 from: http://idsn.org/uploads/media/FACTSHEET_SRILANKA.pdf Ilangovan, R. 2012. ‘Now, the Food they Cook is Untouchable’, The Hindu, 4 September 2012: Accessed 2 July 2016: http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/ tamil-nadu/article3855760.ece. Intellectual Circle for Dalit Actions. 2015. ‘Fact Findings’, ICDA Press Release 16 December 2015 (email communication): Accessed 2 July 2016: http:// roundtableindia.co.in/index.php? option=com_content&view=article&id=8417:caste-is-pervasive-and-even-soduring-disaster&catid=129&Itemid=195 Irschick, E. 1969. Politics & Social Conflict in South India: The Non-Brahman Movement & Tamil Separatism, 1916–1929. Berkeley: University of California Press. ———. 1986. Tamil Revivalism in the 1930’s. Madras: Cre-A. ———. 1994. Dialogue and History. Berkeley: University of California Press. ———. 2015. A History of the New India: Past and Present. Abingdon: Routledge. Irudayam, A., J. Maghubhai, and J. Lee, 2011. Dalit Women Speak Out. New Delhi: Zubaan. Jacob, P. 2009. Celluloid Deities: The Visual Culture of Cinema and Politics in South India. Delhi: Orient Blackswan. Jacob, T. and Bandhu, P. 2009. Reflections on the Caste Question. Ootacamund: Odyssey. Jadhav, S., Mosse, D. and Dostaler, N. 2016. ‘Minds of Caste-Discrimination and Its Affects’, Anthropology Today (Guest Editorial) 32(1): 1–2. Jaffrelot, C. 2003. India’s Silent Revolution: The Rise of the Low Castes in North Indian Politics. Delhi: Permanent Black. ———. 2016. ‘Dalits Still Left Out’, Indian Express, 18 February 2016: Accessed 2 July 2016: http://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/rohith-vemuladiscrimination-against-dalits-still-left-out/ Jaoul, N. 2006. ‘Learning the Use of Symbolic Means’, Contributions to Indian Sociology 40(2): 175–207. Page 14 of 32

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Bibliography Jasper, J. 1997. The Art of Moral Protest. Chicago: Chicago University Press. Jayaharan, J. 2009a. Pandit Iyothee Thass: A Model for Leadership. Madurai: Dalit Resource Centre. ———. 2009b. ‘Dalit Resource Centre’, in M. Gnanavaram (ed.) The TTS Annual Report 2008–2009. Madurai: TTS: pp. 83–97. Jayakumar, G. 2010. ‘Eklavya Bows to Arjun No More’, The New Indian Express, 28 February 2010: Accessed 2 July 2016: http://www.newindianexpress.com/ magazine/article216687.ece (p.373) Jayal, N. 2009. ‘The Limits of Representative Democracy’, South Asia 32(3): 326–37. Jeffery, R. and H. Gorringe. 2016. ‘Institutionalising Marginal Actors in UP and TN: Insights from Dalit Electoral Data’, in H. Gorringe, R. Jeffery, and S. Waghmore (eds), From the Margins to the Mainstream: Institutionalising Minorities in South Asia. New Delhi: Sage, pp.104–30. Jeffery, R., C. Jeffrey, and P. Jeffery. 2001. ‘Social and Political Dominance in Western UP: A Response to Sudha Pai’, Contributions to Indian Sociology, 35(3): 213–35. Jeffrey, C. 2000. ‘Democratisation without Representation?’ Political Geography 19 (8): 1013–36. ———. 2002. ‘Caste, Class and Clientelism’, Economic Geography 78(10): 21–41. Jeffrey, C., P. Jeffery, and R. Jeffery. 2008. ‘Dalit Revolution? New Politicians in Uttar Pradesh, India’, Journal of Asian Studies 67(4): 1365–96. Jeffrey, R. and A. Doron. 2012. ‘Mobile–izing: Democracy, Organization and India’s First “Mass Mobile Phone” Elections’, The Journal of Asian Studies 71(1): 63–80. Jena, M. 2014. ‘State Funding Can Help Marginalised Section Contest Polls’, The Pioneer 26 July 2014: Accessed 3 July 2016: http://www.dailypioneer.com/stateeditions/bhubaneswar/state-funding-can-help-marginalised-section-contestpolls.html Jenkins, J. C. 1983. ‘Resource Mobilization Theory and the Study of Social Movements’, Annual Review of Sociology 9: 527–53. Jenkins, R. 1996. Social Identity. London: Routledge.

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