CHENNAI: Over 24,000 people are part of a closed group on Facebook called Vanniyar Online Friends Organisation. The group calls itself the biggest online network of Vanniya Kula Sathriyars worldwide — a caste Hindu group predominant in northern Tamil Nadu. Similar caste-based groups are a dime a dozen on Facebook — Tamil Brahmins, Thevars (Mukkulathors), Kongu Vellala Gounders, Mudaliars and Nadars are some of the groups that are popular on Facebook with over 15,000 members in each of them.
After the recent ‘honour’ killing in Udumalpet where a Dalit man was murdered in broad daylight for marrying an upper caste girl, many voices were raised against such caste-based groups on social media. Attempts by City Express to contact the moderators of such Facebook groups drew defensive responses. “If your article is going to suggest that Facebook pages are segregating people based on caste, we don’t wish to be part of it. We are really sorry,” said the moderators of a Tamil Brahmin group on Facebook.
Sweta Ramdas, one of the moderators of the ‘We are Tambrahm’ Facebook page says that the page was created for one purpose only — to be funny. “We are not supremacists and we don’t practise casteism. In fact, many non Tam-Brahms are a part of our page,” says the Mumbai-based woman. The page has 56,441 likes, which is half the number of likes for the official Facebook page of CM candidate Vijayakanth and it is among the most active community-based groups on FB.
An article in this newspaper titled, ‘Researchers find Brahmins speak better Tamil than most others’, was widely shared by the community members. “This is really f******g classist,” read a comment on that post.
Sociologists point out that such identity-based associations start in a harmless way, when people are still in school and college. “The urban and rural youth see caste differently. The trend has been picking up for the past five years. There is a compulsion to identify with their caste and this is not very healthy,” C Karuppiah, HoD, Sociology, Madurai Kamarajar University told City Express.
Displaying casteist pride on social media is not harmless. On March 17, Dravidar Viduthalai Kazhagam (DVK) cadres approached the Coimbatore police commissioner requesting action against Facebook posts which celebrated the recent honour killing in Udumalpet.
“Henceforth, if anyone thinks about marrying a Thevar girl, only sickle will speak,” read a Facebook post by Marudhu Devan. He was ‘feeling awesome’ posting this. Urban youth too, do not shy away from associating themselves with a caste-based identity. “I belong to that caste. So, I am part of the Facebook group,” a woman part of the Kongu Vellalar Gounder community on Facebook told CE.
Asked if she finds the practice healthy, she said that it helps her discover relatives and connect with long lost ones. “After all, FB is a networking site,” she says. According to Karuppiah, there has also been a tendency to add caste names- Iyers, Iyengars, Thevars, Gounders as surnames on FB.
“Tamil Nadu is the only State where caste-based surnames are not in practice,” he says. The progressive practice is credited to Periyar’s self-respect movement. But down the years, these Facebook communities are reminders that these surnames may have vanished but even today, a section of youngsters likes to identify themselves with their caste.
We are TamBrahm
The Iyer-Iyengar Network
Kongu Vellala Gounder
Vanniyar Online Friends Association
Other castes such as Udaiyars, Mudaliyars, Nadars too have Facebook groups