Naikkankottai village in Dharmapuri district, which witnessed a flare-up against Dalits early this week, was once a Naxal heartland. The Dalits in the village had enjoyed the support of the Naxal movement in the early 80s.
“The boys (naxals) from Coimbatore and Dharmapuri supported our struggle for better wages. Though many had never approved their ideology, a few youths from both Dalit and Vanniyar castes were drawn to it,” recalled 60-year old Dalit, Kasi.
Many in the village still remember them. On the other side of the Dharmapuri-Tirupattur Highways and right opposite Anna Nagar Dalit colony in the village stands an imposing and brightly white-washed memorial of sickle and hammer, erected on June 24, 1984, for the slain Naxalite leaders, Appu and Balan, in police encounters in 1970 and 1980. It carries the portraits of these two leaders claiming that they had sacrificed their lives for working class.
“Some people come here every year on a particular day and clean it before paying their homage,” says ‘oor kounder’ (village head) Perumal. This 80-year old Vanniyar claims that the land on which the memorial stands belonged to his family. “They snatched it from my father,” he claims. He and his wife are living in the hut nearby tilling his half acre land on which he raises maize. The government knows all, he further adds.
That the extreme Left movement had then received an `overwhelming’ support in the Dalit colonies, especially among youths, was evident from the fact that the State, after getting rid of the movement, had devised a special package scheme for the improvement of socio economical status of the people in and around Naikkankottai.
But the waning of the Naxal movement and the failure of Left parties such as the Communist Party of India and the CPI (Marxist) to fill in the vacuum at that time has led to the emergence of caste-based outfits that attempt to promote ‘mono caste culture’ in the cluster of villages in Dharmapuri block today. “The sharp rise in casteist tendencies that has turned the Naikkankottai into a Vanniyar stronghold and constant police monitoring on the village had forced many Dalits to migrate to Bangalore and Tirupur since early nineties in search of jobs,” says Madhu in Anna Nagar whose house was razed down in the recent flare-up.
CPI Dharmapuri district joint secretary J. Prathaban concedes that Left parties preferred to keep off the village when Naxal movement was active there. Harur MLA and senior CPI (M) party functionary Dilli Babu vouchsafes the same. “We, however, have decided to engage ourselves for the uplift of the working class in the village,” Mr Babu adds.
State Committee member of CPI (ML) Chandramohan wonders how a village such as Naikkankottai where communism ideology is well-entrenched, would support castes.