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Increasing Oppression and Shifting Response

Geeta Ramaseshan

By S. Viswanathan
Navayana, New Delhi, 2005, pp. 318, Rs. 300.00


The politics of Tamil Nadu has been pioneering in many ways. The non-brahmin movement which is now more than eighty years old is often considered as the forerunner of social justice in India. The Dravidian movement’s empowerment however has left the dalits who constitute 19 percent of the population untouched. Even though dalits in Tamil Nadu are more organized and are no longer willing to take things lying down, the caste-Hindu intolerance of the growing dalit assertion has led to increased oppression against them. The 1990s witnessed not only a spurt in the incidents of caste based violence in Tamil Nadu but also the manifestation of centuries-old prejudices against dalits in more cruel forms. However a striking difference was the qualitative shift in the dalit response to such oppression.   This book is a collection of over fifty reports of S. Viswanathan, a senior journalist of Tamil Nadu who is also the special correspondent of Frontline. An introduction by Ravikumar, activist-theoretician of the dalit movement in Tamil Nadu provides the framework to understand the violence. Viswanathan’s reports that appeared in Frontline cover incidents of caste-based violence from 1995 to 2004. Written with deep sensitivity, they cover a wide range of issues. Despite the difficulties that reporting poses in terms of time, space and content, Viswanathan chronicles the concerns involving dalits and addresses their problems in the context of larger political and socio-economic issues. The reports begin with the violence unleashed on tribals by the Special Task Force created to hunt Veerappan in 1995 and conclude with a 2004 report on conversion of dalits to Islam. In between are a host of examples that addresses state oppression, police atrocity and state inaction when there is an absolute failure to meet the constitutional obligation in protecting the rights of dalits.   It is difficult to choose a single instance from the book as the violence chronicled by Viswanathan is systemic and endemic. Taken together his essays address the complexities of such violence which are often dismissed as law and order problems underscoring the real concerns of structured discrimination and denial of access to resources.   Take the example of schools. Viswanathan cites an instance when members of a Kabaddi team after having lost a match, decided that one of them who did not belong to their caste but that of the rival team led to their defeat. This led to a caste conflagration as a result of which ...

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