Tamil Nadu

In caste-sensitive Tamil Nadu, six communities want to be delisted from SC/ST list

Puthiya Tamilagam party president K. Krishnasamy. File   | Photo Credit: R. Ragu

In an unusual development in a State that has witnessed violent agitations demanding reclassification of castes for acquiring benefits of communal reservations in jobs and college admissions, six communities have begun to build pressure on the Tamil Nadu government to delist them from the Scheduled Castes.

The six communities are Pallars, Kudumbar, Devendrakulathar, Pannadi, Mooppar and Kaladi. Their demand — spearheaded, among others, by Puthiya Tamilagam founder K. Krishnasamy — is that they must be grouped under the common name of ‘Devendrakula Vellalar’ and removed from the Scheduled Castes list. Members of these communities have a good presence in south Tamil Nadu.

In the past, leaders of intermediate caste groups had led agitations seeking to be removed from the Backward Classes list and instead included in lower categories that would entail better representation in government jobs and college admissions. The Vanniyar community, for instance, was about three decades ago reclassified from Backward Classes to Most Backward Classes. Likewise, there is a demand from the fishing community to be recognised as Scheduled Tribes.

Dr. Krishnasamy has sought to justify the demand by arguing that the inclusion of ‘Devendrakulathar’ in the list of Scheduled Castes in the first place had paved the way for the untouchability they faced and their social “suppression”.

“We are agriculturists and described in literature as inhabitants of marudha nilam (wetlands). We had not faced any oppression or untouchability earlier but were subjected to these evils only subsequent to our inclusion in the SC list during the British period,” he told The Hindu.

According to him, the six communities were all one and the same. “My father’s name was Karuppasamy Kudumbar. We used many titles,” he contended.

Historically, the Pallars had themselves registered their caste names as Pallan, Kudumbar and Devendra Kulam in the documents of lands, associations and pleas to authorities.

The status of Pallars has remained a serious subject of study, and scholars had different views on their status in society.

While Edgar Thurston in his book Castes and Tribes of South India had said whatever may have been the origin of the Pallars, “it is tolerably certain that in ancient times they were the slaves of Vellalas.”

But his theory was rejected by K.R. Hanumanthan, former History professor of the Madurai Kamaraj University, who argued that “the ancient heroic tribe called Malla, described in Cankam [Sangam] classics, were probably the ancestors of Pallas.”

He further said: “Pallas, an ancient community of Tamil Nadu, were owners of land and great cultivators, especially of wetlands, in the country. Therefore, they seem to have been suppressed into slavery in course of time by later waves of powerful tribes, which came from other parts of South India.”

Professor A. Sivasubramanian, author and folklore specialist, who agreed with the viewpoint, said it was during the Vijayanagar Empire that many communities were brought under the list of untouchables.

“Caste system in Tamil country started gaining momentum during the Chola period and there is a reference to Teendacheri (settlement of untouchables). But we do not know who lived in these settlements because ‘cheri’ itself only means a settlement. During the Vijayanagar period, the caste system assumed a complete shape and many communities were made untouchables,” he said.

Mr. Sivasubramanian also pointed out the participation of Pallars in nattru nadum vizha (planting of nurseries) of lands owned by Siva temples.

“They were not prevented from entering temples. The British government, advised by upper caste Hindus, brought in a lot of communities in the list of Schedule Castes,” he said.

According to him, the Valayar community had also fought against its inclusion in SC during the British period and was granted exemption.

Presently, the Tamil Nadu government has constituted a committee to examine the demand. If accepted, this could be a rare instance of a reversal of a community from the SC list in post-Independent India.

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Printable version | Sep 24, 2021 8:19:21 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/tamil-nadu/an-unusual-development-in-caste-sensitive-tamil-nadu/article29743274.ece

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