The fragile peace on the caste-front in the northern districts of the state is in danger of being wrecked due to the tense face-off between Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) founder S. Ramadoss and Viduthalai Chiruthikal Katchi (VCK) president Thol Thirumavalavan.

In the wake of recent incidents in Dharmapuri, the two erstwhile political allies have fallen out. Mr. Thirumavalavan, a Dalit leader, is blaming the Vanniyars, while Dr. Ramadoss seeks to place the onus on the ‘bad behaviour’ of Dalit boys.

The system of having separate cups in hotels and teas stalls for Dalits and other castes, denial of temple entry right to Dalits and the question of using common roads towards graveyards and, of course, inter-caste marriage were usual factors that triggered clashes between Dalits and intermediate communities.

But some common ideological positions – on Tamil nationalism and reservation -- and the personal chemistry between Dr Ramadoss and Mr. Thirumavalavan seemed to ensure a measure of amity. The two worked together on various platforms, even when they were not part of the same political alliance. The VCK conferred titles ‘Tamil Kudithaangi’ and ‘Ambedkar Sudar’ on Dr. Ramadoss. But all of this could come unstuck after the two traded charges on who should be blamed for the anti-Dalit violence in Dharmapuri villagers.

While Mr Thirumavalavan alleged that the attacks were a result of a conspiracy by Vanniyars owing allegiance to the PMK, jealous as they were over the economic advancement of Dalits, Dr Ramadoss claimed it was due to the simmering tension between Dalits and non-Dalits.

Referring to the marriage between a Vanniyar girl and a Dalit boy that sparked off the mayhem, Dr. Ramadoss argued that inter-caste marriages had become a weapon in the hands of Dalit youth to settle score with the intermediate communities. Hewanted the legal age of marriage for girls to be raised to 21 years as only then “they would be mentally and physically prepared for marriage.”

Asked about the allegation that VCK was encouraging love affairs between Dalit boys and girls from other castes with devious motives, Mr Thirumavalavan wondered whether any external agency could egg on two people to fall in love. “Love is something spontaneous,” he said.

On the other hand, he insisted that the Dalits in Dharmapuri were targeted because the intermediate communities could not digest the economic empowerment of the Dalits. Besides, PMK orchestrated the violence to arrest the decline of its following among Vanniyars, Thirumavalvan said.

The Tamil Nadu Untouchability Eradication Front (TUEF) leader P. Sampath said oppressive castes had always opposed inter-caste marriages as they were afraid that it would result in the erosion of their own power and dominance.

As far as the Dharmapuri incident was concerned while both the girl and boy were firm about their marriage, the girl’s father was subjected to humiliation and was forced to commit suicide. “Then they used his body to mobilize crowds and unleash the attacks on Dalits,” he said.

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