[Editorial Analysis] Effecting a social rise, starting a political experiment

Mains Paper 2: Polity
Prelims level: Devendrakula Velalar
Mains level: Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation.

Context:

• The Government of India tabled the Constitution (Scheduled Castes) Order (Amendment) Bill 2021 that seeks to give effect to a long-standing political demand to group seven Scheduled Caste subsects in Tamil Nadu under the heritage name ‘Devendrakula Velalar’ (DKV).

• The subsects include Devendrakulathan, Kadaiyan (excluding the coastal areas of Tirunelveli, Thoothukudi, Ramanathapuram, Pudukottai, Thanjavur, Tiruvarur and Nagapattinam districts), Kalladi, Kudumban, Pallan, Pannadi and Vathiriyan.

• These subsects have a predominant presence in south Tamil Nadu, which is a communally sensitive region. it is unique for a community to highlight the need for social advancement in order to be delisted.

The rationale demand:

• The Caste-based political parties and organisations, spearheading the demand, feel that shedding individual Dalit caste tags would help in the social advancement of the community.

• Their argument is that existing caste names were being used more in a derogatory sense to belittle the community.

• The DKVs, they insist, were prosperous wetland owners, and not oppressed sections, socially or economically. Besides, these seven Scheduled Caste subsects share similarities, culturally.

• The demand for such grouping has its genesis in latter day British India when these subsects were included under the Scheduled Castes on the basis of their economic conditions.

• The voices remained feeble for long, only gaining traction in the 1990s with the emergence of influential community leaders such as K. Krishnasamy (founder, Puthiya Tamilagam) and John Pandian (founder, Tamizhaga Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam).

• Caste clashes between the Mukkulathors, an Other Backward Classes (OBC) community, and the Pallars, in the latter half of 1990s over the naming of districts and transport corporations after community leaders, led to a community consolidation.

• The community leaders placed an unusual additional demand — to delist the seven subsects from the Scheduled Castes arguing that being in the Schedule, instead of being a facilitator, served as a detriment to social advancement.

A political risk:

• The twin demands “subsects under a common title” rise by many local leaders, of grouping and exclusion from the Scheduled Castes list.

• Delisting and shuffling of castes from one reserved social class to another was fraught with political and administrative risks.

• It could not only disturb the internal sharing of the communal reservation quota pool by existing castes, but also invite objections from other communities or spur political demands for similar reclassification.

• As per Census 2011, the seven subsects constitute about 17.07% of the Scheduled Castes. In the southern districts, the concentration of their population in many constituencies would be far greater.

Steps to a review:

• The committee headed by S. Sumathi, report, “Devendrakula Velalar – Cultural and Social Patterns of Seven Sub-Communities”, was not made public, but it favoured a grouping of the subsects.

• The second committee headed by Hans Raj Verma, IAS, to make recommendations on the demand. Significantly, the government had eliminated the Vathiriyan caste from the purview of the panel as there was opposition from the community to being classified under DKV.

• In the midst of electioneering in December 2020, he announced that he would write to the Centre to classify the seven subsects (including Vathiriyan) as DKV following the Verma panel recommendation.

Amendment of Constitution (Scheduled Castes) Order, 1950:

• In accordance with the provisions of clause (1) of article 341 of the Constitution, six Presidential Orders were issued specifying Scheduled Castes in respect of various States and Union territories.

• The State Government of Tamil Nadu has proposed certain modifications in the list of Scheduled Castes, by way of grouping of seven castes, which presently exist therein as separate castes:
• It is also proposed to consequentially omit the redundant entries from the said list in view of the aforementioned grouping.

• The Registrar General of India has conveyed concurrence to the proposed.

• In order to give effect to the above changes, it is necessary to amend the Constitution (Scheduled Castes) Order, 1950 in respect of the State of Tamil Nadu.

The Picking up the gauntlet:

• The social advancement of the seven subsects including their demand to be delisted from the Scheduled Castes.

• Claiming entitlement for the exclusive use of the ‘Upper cast’ title, they see the demand for use of the same title by the Dalit subsects as “identity theft” and “cultural misappropriation”.

• They claim that the use of the ‘Upper cast’ (Vellalar) title by the subsects was a modern day inclusion by community leaders and not a historic practice.

• Its traditional stronghold, due to their backing of the DKV classification demand, for political gain not for subsects empowerment.

The Dalit concerns:

• Among the Dalits too, opinion is divided on the grouping of subsects under a common title.

• There are apprehensions that over time, this could trigger arguments as to which of the larger groups is numerically stronger, thereby clouding the larger Dalit cause.

• This section argues that Dalits as such cannot be treated as a homogeneous group considering the differences within in terms of social status and geographical identity.

Conclusion:

• It is indeed unique for Devendrakula Velalar’ (DKV) community to have placed social advancement as priority to be delisted from the Scheduled Castes forgoing the concessions it offers.

• This would be a precedent for using anthropological study for social grouping in Tamil Nadu. Politically, though, this would remain a trapeze walk.

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