RAMANATHAPURAM/TIRUNELVELI: You’re a 1990s kid, if you remember these things,” go some popular listicles on social media. Well if you were a ‘90s kid from the southern districts of Tamil Nadu, especially Tirunelveli, Thoothukudi and Ramanathapuram, along with Chandrakanta and audio casettes you may also remember your parents rushing to pick you up from school amid caste tension, heavy deployment of police or even mobs setting buses on fire.
The 1990s saw frequent outbreaks of caste violence in these districts, with hate-filled misinformation and rumours often spreading through villages by word-of-mouth, causing more tension. Inter-caste marriages, vandalisation of caste leaders’ statues, assaults on members of a particular caste by members of another caste, all would result in classes breaking out.
In the 2000s, southern districts where people of Nadar, Mukkulathor, Devendra Kula Vellalar, Yadava and other communities reside started witnessing a decline in caste clashes due to various reasons, including education and migration of youth to cities like Chennai, Coimbatore and Tirupur and even abroad. However, the actions of the children of the 2000s, who grew up in this relative calm, are now indicating that while overt caste violence may have somewhat subsided, tensions and hatred have continued to simmer and now are being amplified by the Internet and social media, the preferred platforms of millennials.
Last week, Paramakudi police arrested 23-year-old A Rajadurai, under Section 67 (publishing of information which is obscene in electronic form) of the Information Technology Act for allegedly abusing former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Kamaraj and posting morphed images of him on social media based on a complaint filed by a member of the Congress Information Technology wing.
Youngsters have started taking to social media to glorify and deify members of their community involved with caste-based violence, including murder. They have also taken to using memes and selfie videos to spread messages of hate against other communities. Members of those communities too retaliate in a similar fashion on social media, mainly WhatsApp and Facebook. Even freedom fighters and leaders, respected across the board like Kamaraj, are targeted.
Right now in Tirunelveli district, a WhatsApp war between two caste groups is underway. The hate-mongering, boldly through selfie videos, even extend to spreading rumours that someone of their caste has been attacked members of another caste. In an audio clip that went viral in May, a man even threatened to kill P Ve Arunshakthikumar, Tirunelveli, Superintendent of Police, for police action against a particular caste group. The man was arrested. In Tirunelveli district while members of different intermediate communities target one another, in Ramanathapuram district members of intermediate castes target Dalit communities. A very small number of persons from Dalit communities have started responding in the same fashion on social media.
Alarmingly, many of those creating such abusive videos, memes and spreading rumors are the school and college students. Some have appeared in selfie videos while wearing school uniforms. Some show weapons like sickles, knives and swords in their videos, praise their own caste and threatens violence against members of other castes. Curiously, they even provide detailed address, purportedly their own, complete with door number, street, village name and taluk in videos as a challenge to police and their counterparts in other communities.
Speaking to Express, Chelladurai (name changed), a native of Alanagulam, Tirunelveli district, who makes such videos said he had spread a recorded video against Kalakadu-based youths of particular community who he claimed had abused his community leaders. “We did not start this game. My friends and I just responded to those who abuse our caste leaders,” he said. Chelladurai is 19 years old and has completed his schooling.
A Kathir, Executive Director of Evidence, an NGO, said that apart from education and employment, severe punishment would help reduce caste-related crimes online. “The caste war on social media is an extension of banner culture. Those who are proud of their caste used to show it off by installing banners and flex-boards before. Now they have shifted to social media,” he opined.
“In the ‘80s, caste associations were talking about the development of their community through activities like building schools. But that has changed now. Their activities encourage the youths to get involved in clashes. Political parties are fuelling the fire for vote bank politics. Youths should understand that being casteist is equal to being proud of being a rapist,” said Kathir.
It is not just families and village elders, even schools have a responsibility. “Schools are not only to teach children reading, writing and arithmetic. That anybody can do. The purpose of children coming to school is socialisation. Schools should teach them how to live unitedly in a multicultural society with diversity. This understanding should be part of the curriculum,” said educationist Prince Gajendra Babu.
Action against Administrators
Meanwhile, the police are acting by creating a cybercrime wing to crack down on such caste-related abusive behaviour and provocative messages on social media. “This wing will act once it notices these kind of messages and will trace the senders.
We are also planning to probe WhatsApp group Admins regarding false messages and rumours which are spread on their groups and take action against them as per laws,” K P Shanmuga Rajeswaran, Inspector General of Police (south zone) told Express. “We have taken action against some persons who were spreading abusive communal messages in Tirunelveli district. Since most of them are teenagers, schools, colleges and parents should follow their activities and take suitable action against them. They should teach them how technologies can be used in a good way,” he added