The DMK government’s proposal to construct a memorial for Ayothidoss Pandithar, a Dalit scholar and reformer, just a day after it announced the construction of a manimandapam for the 21 people killed in a police firing during a protest demanding reservation for Vanniyars, is being seen as a balancing act between the two communities that are dominant vote banks and at loggerheads in north Tamil Nadu. It is to be noted that in Tamil Nadu every leader, including freedom fighters, has been appropriated by caste organisations.
Political leaders, however, countered such suggestions, saying that the government’s decision was not shaped by narrow political consideration.
“The struggle for reservation is an integral part of social justice, and attaching caste colour to it is unfortunate. The memorial is a long-pending demand,” said T. Velmurugan, leader of the Tamilaga Vazhurimai Katchi (TVK), one among those who had made a strong case for the memorial.
Chief Minister M.K. Stalin, who made the announcement in the Assembly, referred to those killed as “martyrs” and “fighters of social justice”.
He said it was a promise he had made during the bypoll to Vikravandi in 2019, and reiterated that it was the duty of a government to secure the rights of an oppressed community.
Dravida Iyakka Tamilar Peravai general secretary Suba. Veerapandian said attributing motives to the government was inevitable in a society riddled with castes. “The divide is so deep that people make frantic searches to find out the caste of sportspersons when they win medals in international events,” he said.
Mr. Velmurugan said the memorial should not be viewed as a reward for a particular community, since their struggle paved the way for the inclusion of a lot of other communities in the list of Most Backward Classes and one cannot say that they died just for the cause of Vanniyars. “It is my request to the government that it should use ₹2 crore to construct the memorial and the rest for building houses for the families of those who were killed. It will be a fitting tribute,” he said.
He also rejected the contention that participants of a struggle marred by violence should not be recognised by the government. He said struggles for social justice and liberation across the world had inevitably witnessed violence.
Viduthalai Chiruthaikal Katchi (VCK) MP D. Ravikumar said the legacy of Ayothidoss, a social reformer and pioneer of the Dravidian ideology, could not be confined to a particular community. “The Chief Minister also made an announcement to honour freedom fighter V.O. Chidambaram. Will you say that he belongs to a particular community and the announcement is to please the group in which he was born into?” he asked.