Fighting for the abolition of untouchability is not the responsibility of Dalits alone but of all democratic forces, according to Thol Thirumavalavan, president of the Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (VCK). However, while the Left parties and Dravidar Kazhagam were vociferously opposing it, Dravidian parties and Tamil nationalist groups were hesitant to do so, he said.
Mr. Thirumavalavan, who has completed 23 years as VCK leader since he took over in 1990, spoke about the state of Dalit politics in the State in an interview to The Hindu.
Answering a criticism by Dalit intellectuals that his party lacked autonomy and had to depend on Dravidian politics, he said, “It is only in electoral politics that we are dependent on Dravidian parties; in matters related to policies, ideology and struggles, the VCK is not under the influence of Dravidian politics. We are not dependent on them, but we are staying with them (…saarndhu irukkavillai, serndhu irukkirom).
The Pattali Makkal Katchi’s move to form an anti-Dalit front and demands such as scrapping of the SC/ST (Prevention of Abolition) Act were not only against Dalits, but also a threat to democratic values and social justice. “When the whole world in the 21 century is speaking the language of human rights, strengthening democratic principles and wants to lend ‘voice to the voiceless’, the PMK is campaigning for such a retrograde move.”
He noted that in situations such as the Pappapatti and Keeripatti local body elections and the Dharmapuri inter-caste marriage issue, his party’s struggles were against the State government. “Annihilation of caste is our aim, and we are confidently treading the path, and so we are autonomous. In the case of electoral politics, even the Communists are part of the Dravidian party alliance.”
Speaking about the VCK’s growth since he took over in 1990, he said the party had a base in all districts and not confined to the north, as reported in the media.
However, the VCK was a party of the oppressed and the most vulnerable sections of society, so it is unable to build a strong infrastructure. “After the DMK and the AIADMK, the VCK is the party which has a mass support base. Post 2008 elections, many non-Dalits have become part of VCK and it is a welcome sign.”
Agreeing that lack of unity was a problem for Dalits, he said there should be unity based on uniformity. ‘Dalit’ was an all- encompassing political term, but in Tamil Nadu a few Dalit organisations were creating divisions among them. The VCK had no problem joining hands with Puthiya Tamilagam and was ready to work with it based on an identified uniformity.
“Dalit unity in terms of achieving political and social mobility is very important,” he said.
Talking about the Allahabad High Court ruling banning caste-based rallies, the MP saidcaste and religion-based rallies should be banned, but there was no clarity on what one meant by caste or religious rallies. Mobilisation of vulnerable sections like Dalits could not be seen through the same lens as one does of rallies of dominant castes which demand abolition of the constitutionally guaranteed rights of the marginalised.