PMK in search of relevance

In southern Tamil Nadu, caste-based violence erupted once again in early November. This time, it was particularly virulent: 268 houses, 50 two-wheelers and four vans were set on fire in Natham, a village in the Dharmapuri district. The suicide of Nagaraj, a resident of Natham, provoked the violence. Nagaraj allegedly took this extreme step because he believed his daughter had brought dishonour to the family and, more importantly, the Vanniyar community by marrying a Dalit youth. On November 9, the Vanniyars went on a rampage in the colonies of the Scheduled Castes in Natham. The next day the Dalits retaliated, setting fire to a few Vanniyar houses.

S. Ramadoss, the founder of the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK), the Vanniyar party, now demands the dilution of the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act of 1989, which aims to curb violence against Dalits. He wants to prevent its misuse against non-Dalits. The PMK does not accept that the Vanniyars have committed atrocities. The party claims that the violence was the consequence of Dalit boys falling in love with Vanniyar girls. It reportedly accuses Dalits of rousing social tension by filing false legal complaints and ensnaring girls from other castes with bogus professions of love. Anbumani Ramadoss, the founder's son and former Union health minister, is even reported to have said that Dalit boys wore jeans, T-shirts and "fancy sunglasses" to lure girls from other communities.

Tamil Nadu is dominated by three intermediate caste communities, the Vanniyars in the north, the Thevars in the south and the Gounders in the west. The PMK, founded in 1980, commanded a 50 per cent share of votes in northern Tamil Nadu in its heyday. Ramadoss has a reputation for being a weathervane, aligning himself with the party that is likely to win elections. In the past, he has allied with both the DMK and the AIADMK. As a result, the PMK has been able to obtain a significant share of power in Tamil Nadu's regional government and in the Central government.

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