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Wednesday, June 18 1997

Politicians add fuel to caste fire in TN

D Sivarajan

MADURAI, June 17: Caste clashes between Thevars and Scheduled Castes in the southern districts of Tamil Nadu, which has claimed 25 lives so far, is yet to subside, and has acquired political overtones.

The ruling Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) has claimed that the clashes were organised by the Opposition to undermine the image of the DMK. The Opposition, however, claims the clashes to be the handiwork of the DMK to divert attention of the public on the growing rift between the DMK and the TMC.

Going by the pattern and the reasons that led to the violence, the deep prejudices that have developed between the two communities since the clashes in 1957 cannot be ignored. The vicious caste feud had its origin in the clashes that erupted in Mudukulathoor in Ramnad in 1957.

The violence lasted 15 days with 18 Dalits and 8 Thevars getting killed.The communal friction has since then widened, with clashes becoming an annual feature, arising mostly out of desecration of the statue of one community leader or the other.

The first bout of the present clashes was triggered off on April 24 with the desecration of the statue of Muthuramalinga Thevar at Kandamanur. In retaliation, Thevars set fire to the huts of Dalits. The Dalits set fire to a few Thevar houses, unleashing a chain of attacks. In the end, the police resorted to firing. Thereafter, there has been no end to the internecine war between these communities with Madurai and Tirunelveli districts bearing the brunt.

Since the 1957 clashes there has been a progressive increase in the duration of the violence. The conflicts used to be purely on local issues. But now when clashes erupt they immediately find echo in almost all southern districts, paralysing normal life.

Copyright © 1997 Indian Express Newspapers (Bombay) Ltd.

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