Interview with Ravi Kumar, general secretary, Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi
Shivani Chaturvedi | October 10, 2016 | Nagapattinam
Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (VCK) general secretary Ravi Kumar spoke to Shivani Chaturvedi on the issue of discrimination against dalits in Tamil Nadu.
In which parts of Tamil Nadu are dalits facing more discrimination?
There are 36,500 temples and mutts under the control of Hindu religious and charitable endowments (HR&CE) department of Tamil Nadu government. This is only about 40 percent of the total temples. Thousands of small temples are maintained privately by various sections of the society. Dalits are denied entry in most of the private, rural temples. The same kind of discrimination prevails in hundreds of HR&CE temples too.
Read full report on discrimination at Nagapattinam: Children of a lesser god
The discrimination practised in these temples is of different kinds: (a) denying entry to dalits at Silambur in Ariyalur district, (b) denying right to pull temple car at Kandadevi in Sivaganga district, (c) refusing to allow the deity to go to dalit streets at Palvarayanatham in Cuddalore district, (d) denying the right of mandagappadi at Pazhang Kallimedu, (e) denying dalits the right to worship at Thirumalaigiri in Salem district, (f) attacking dalits for making their own temple car at Seshamangalam in Villupuram district, and (g) attacking dalits for constructing their own temple at Kurinjakulam in Tirunelveli district.
Can you name some incidents that have taken place in recent years?
Seshamangalam, Thirumalaigiri, Palvarayanatham, Pazhang Kallimedu, all are recent incidents.
How do you view the stand of AIADMK and DMK, which are major Dravidian parties?
Though they use the portrait of Anna in their party flag, we cannot call AIADMK a Dravidian party. They openly practise a soft version of Hindutva. In the case of DMK, on one side they support rationalism, bringing legislation to make archakas (temple priest) from all castes. But they didn’t have the political will to implement it. They oppose religious majoritarianism, but remain silent on caste majoritarianism.
What impact did Gujarat’s Una incident have on Tamil Nadu?
I see no visible impact, but it gave legitimacy to our struggles. Tamil dalits have waged many struggles against degrading jobs such as manual scavenging. Their struggle against drum beating, beef eating, removing carcasses, skinning dead cattle, doing funeral work has a 100-year-old history. They have organised many struggles for land rights too.
How is VCK working to resolve such issues?
VCK is the party which is spearheading the struggle all over the state. We use both protest and negotiation. We organise rallies, demonstrations, picketings, public meetings, at the same time we use legal measures like filing cases, to resolve these issues.
Is the dalit agitation different this time? If yes, how?
Yes, it is more political now. VCK has successfully made dalits a political force in Tamil Nadu, so we can get the support of other political parties now.
Is there any widespread anti-government mood on this issue?
The mood is not anti-government, it is anti-caste. But dalits also feel cheated by the government because it is very reluctant in implementing court orders, protecting dalits, punishing caste terrorists and in controlling hate speech.
At Kallimedu, dalits have threatened to convert to Islam. How do you view this?
Dalits use threat to convert as a form of protest. When the authorities failed to end discrimination, then they converted to other religions.
What happened at Meenakshipuram in 1981 was an example. In Pazhang Kallimedu, the state government didn’t show any interest in resolving the issue. So it seems the casteists are indirectly encouraging conversion.
(The interview appears in the October1-15, 2016 issue)
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