It is Thevars Vs Dalits in Madurai

By Vidya Subrahmaniam

MELAVALAVU (Madurai): There is an uneasy calm in the Dalit areas of Melavalavu village. Last week, what they feared happened. A threat letter arrived for Karuppiah, the elder brother of slain panchayat chief Murugesan. The letter asked Karuppiah to withdraw the cases filed against the Thevar community or face death like his brother.

Melavalavu witnessed violent caste riots in 1997 following the cold- blooded murder of Murugesan and six others. Murugesan paid with his life because he won the panchayat elections against the wishes of the Thevar community. Today, with just two days for the elections, there is fresh tension between the Thevars and Dalits and policemen guard both sides of the village. For the Dalits, already living in a state of panic, the threat letter to Karuppiah is a sure sign that voting day will bring in more violence.

Indeed, the two communities are on diametrically opposite sides in this election. If the Thevars have vowed to vote out the Karunanidhi government, the Dalits see the CM as the one man who can protect them from the Thevars. What has angered the Thevars further is Karunanidhi's alliance with two Dalit parties, the Pudhiya Tamizhagam and the Dalit Panthers. As against this, is the fact that Jayalalitha's close aide Sasikala is a Thevar. No doubt because of this, the AIADMK is often referred to as a Thevar party in the state.

The confrontation between the Thevars and Dalits started with a decision of the Karunanidhi government to reserve the post of the Melavalavu panchayat chief for the Dalits. Murugesan withdrew his nomination under pressure from the Thevars, but filed his papers again after the government convinced him that he had a right to contest. And that adequate protection would be given to Murugesan and other Dalits contesting for the post of panchayat members.

On December 28, 1996, the day of the panchayat poll, the Thevar community allegedly beat up the Dalit voters. The police arrested some among the Thevars and lodged them in jail. According to Karuppiah, this so angered the Thevars that they repeatedly sent threat letters to his brother Murugesan. Finally, on June 30, Murugesan and six others were axed to death. Murugesan was beheaded allegedly to make a point. Says Karuppiah: ``They came and told us that a headless Murugesan cannot be the head of the panchayat.''

On the other side, one can see the anger of the Thevars. They feel that Karunanidhi deliberately reserved the post of panchayat chief for the Dalits. Says Wallucheri, once an ardent admirer of Karunanidhi: ``Karunanidhi may think he is Kanshi Ram. But we will vote him out en masse. He had no business to put innocent people in jail. We'll teach him a lesson.''

Their vote: Of course to the AIADMK. And what has the AIADMK promised them? ``We want justice and they have promised us justice.''

Referred by: Mukundan CM
Published on: May 9, 2001
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