TIRUVANNAMALAI / CHENNAI: If you thought future generations hold the key to a caste-free society, think again. The Vanniyar Sangam’s unique tactics to build their caste brand, in the rural pockets of northern parts of the State, seem to be paying good dividends. Their ‘brand ambassadors’ are school-going children. Vanniyar Sangam is the community organisation of the PMK.
Regardless of whether they study in private or government schools, several Vanniyar students in rural pockets of Tiruvanamalai and Villupuram districts wear accessories that flaunt their caste identity. The Sangam’s logo — an agnikundam with two swords — appears on stickers on the back of cycles of Vanniyar students. Children also wear yellow-red coloured wristbands — colours used by the Sangam and in the PMK flag, and chains with ‘sickle pendant’ that supposedly indicates their community is fearless. Vanniyar students are also known to write their caste ‘slogans’ in their notebooks and display caste symbols on their measuring rulers.
This trend was widely popular in Tiruvannamalai till 2012, after which a huge caste clash erupted between Vanniyar and Dalit students at a government school in the district. Then, the school education department cracked the whip on students wearing caste symbols. However, the practice continues till date.
To counter the Vanniyar youngsters, Dalit students have started painting their cycles red and blue — colours of the Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi. They also put up pictures of Dalit icons like Dr. BR Ambedkar in their vehicles. This polarisation keeps caste tension always simmering, ready to break out into violent clashes over trivial issues — such as over parking spaces, washing of plates, drinking water taps and even occupying seats on a bus.
“After PMK intervened in the inter-caste marriage of Divya and Ilavarasan in 2012-13, even minor arguments over love affairs lead to clashes. The divide has deepened so much in the last 10 years that now even a Class-X student prefers to make friends only with children of his own caste,” says a school teacher in Tiruvanamalai.
“Few months ago, a group of locals started a protest against a teacher who asked a student to remove caste slogans from his notebook. They left only after realising that the teacher was also from the same caste. Teachers from other communities cannot take action,” says another teacher from Cheyyar.
History of political assertion
1871 Vanniyar community leaders petitioned to the census authorities to classify them as Vanniakula Kshatriyas
1898 Chennai Vanniyakula Kshatriya Mahasangam formed
1931 old caste name ‘Pallis’ removed from the Census list
S S Ramasamy Padayachi launches TN Toilers Party in 1951 with the demands for reservation for Vanniyars. In 1962, it merges with Congress after Rajaji stepped down as CM
N A Manickavelu Naicker backed by Vanniyars’ vote bank formed Commonweal Party and contested 1952 polls with the support of DMK. Then he dissolved the party and joined in Congress in 1962.
In 1989 PMK made its political debut in 1989 lok sabha election