Should the community popularly known as Pallars in Tamil Nadu be considered Scheduled Caste?
The Puthiya Tamizhagam political party does not believe so. Last week, the party led by K Krishnasamy held a one-day fast across several villages in the state reiterating its demand for six different sub-castes to be integrated under the single name of Devendra Kula Velalars and for these groups to be removed from the Schedule Caste list.
Doing so, the party believes, will end the stigma associated with the community name as being former untouchables.
The Puthiya Tamizhagam contested the Lok Sabha elections last year as part of the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance and has visibly moved closer to Hindutva organisations over the last year. Krishnasamy even participated in events of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the BJP’s ideological parent organisation.
Last week’s one-day fast was conducted to remind both the BJP and the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, the ruling party in the state, that the Puthiya Tamizhagam had been assured that its demands would be addressed.
However, not everyone agrees with the idea. Among them is Pallar community member M Amarnath. The claim that caste humiliation would end if the sub-groups are removed from the Scheduled Caste list was a mirage, he told Scroll.in.
“Only education and economic development will help us,” he said. “For this, the SC reservation is necessary.”
Last month, Amarnath moved a petition in the Madurai bench of the Madras High Court last against a committee set up by the state to look into the question of integrating the six communities under one name, as well as removing them from the Scheduled Caste list.
The petition has not gone down well with those who are seeking recategorisation. Amarnath says his father has now filed a First Information Report against members of the Puthiya Tamizhagam, accusing them of threating him to withdraw his petition or face the consequences.
Amarnath said that even his lawyer has withdrawn from the case because of the situation that has been created. He blamed the Puthiya Tamizhagam for using unlawful strategies to stop a legitimate challenge to the attempts to alter the community’s legal position.
The Puthiya Tamizhagam’s justification for its demand that the community be recategorised and included insteadon the Other Backward Class list was that the six groups are primarily agricultural and should have never been included in the Scheduled Caste list.
This inclusion, Krishnasamy has maintained, has resulted in persistent humiliation for the community. Over the last several years, Krishnasamy has claimed that the community does not want to be called “Dalit” and should be in the same category as other agricultural groups.
Politically, Krishnasamy has backed Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Centre on a number of policy decisions. He has also supported the National Eligibility Entrance Test for medical education, something that most parties in Tamil Nadu, including the ruling AIADMK, are opposed to.
However, despite its proximity to the BJP, the party’s demands have not been met. With Assembly elections due in the state in April, the Puthiya Tamizhagam has upped the ante with street protests.
There are also divisions within the community, as Scroll.in reported last year.
High Court case
In his petition filed in September, Amarnath demanded a stay on a government order in 2019 that formed a committee to look into the demands made by Krishnasamy.
His petition argued that the six groups the Puthiya Tamizhagam wants removed from the Scheduled Caste list had in the past faced severe caste discrimination. In support of this claim, the petition quoted anthropologists of the British era such as Edgar Thurston, who the petitioner said had documented the caste discrimination faced by the communities.
Further, the petition claimed that the state government had no powers to alter the Scheduled Caste list. Such power is vested only in Parliament.
Threats and intimidation
Amarnath claimed that on October 7, two members of the Puthiya Tamizhagam came to his home in T Valavanoor village in Tiruchy and abused him and his family members. “They threatened me with dire consequences if I did not withdraw the petition,” he said. “I want to say I have no plans to do so.”
Fearing more trouble, Amarnath left for his sister’s home, about 6 km away. The next day, more members of the party visited his home and abused and threatened his father, he alleged.
His father Muthiah filed a case in the local police station on October 8, accusing five persons of threatening him.
When the matter came up before the High Court on Monday, Amarnath said, his lawyer informed him that he no longer wanted to appear in the case and withdrew from it.
“They somehow got his number and harassed him continuously over the phone,” Amarnath said. The matter itself was not heard on Monday as the court closed for the day before it could come up.
Amarnath said the police has given him protection and a police constable now tails him 24 hours. He said threats and abuses through calls and text messages continue. He shared one such audio message with this reporter, in which a person identifying himself as a community leader tells a lawyer not to appear in the case. However, Scroll.in could not verify the authencitiy of this voice recording independently.
For its part, the Puthiya Tamizhagam claims that the actions against Amarnath are spontaneous reactions by community members.
Shyam Krishnasamy, the youth wing president of Puthiya Tamizhagam and son of party head Krishnasamy, told Scroll.in that the petition itself was motivated by an activist named A Shankar, who was politically opposed to the party.
“The petitioner is a close relative of Shankar,” Shyam Krishnasamy claimed.
Asked about the FIR registered against party members for threatening the petitioner, he said that demands were a sensitive matter for the community. Those who may have asked the petitioner to withdraw his petition were also members of the community from the same area who very much believe in the demands, said Shyam Krishnasamy.
Such actions, Shyam Krishnasamy claimed, were not planned by the party. Amarnath’s “own village people have turned against him because of the manner in which the petition degrades them”, he said.
“Two hundred lawyers, party members and others are now moving the court against the petition,” he said and added that the state government itself has taken a stand in the case that the petition was premature as the committee the government has formed is only looking into the integration of the six groups under one banner and not the removal from Scheduled Caste list.
One theory about why the BJP and AIADMK have delayed fulfilling the Puthiya Tamizhagam’s demand is that they fear a backlash from the other backward communities. After all, including the Devendra Kula Velalar community in the OBC category will increase competition and affect reservations.
Shyam Krishnasamy, however, claimed that once the six communities are integrated and moved out of the Scheduled Caste list, a percentage of quota proportional to its numbers would also be transferred from the Scheduled Caste category in the state to the category they are moved into.
When contacted about the allegation that he had instigated the petition for political reasons, activist Shankar said he had no connection with the case. “Just because a family member has moved the court does not mean I sponsored the petition,” he said.
Shankar said: “They want to suppress the legitimate voices in the community and present a picture that everyone follows their leadership in the matter. This is not so.”