How A Harmless Tweet By DMK President Stalin Sparked A Row Over Lands Granted To Dalits By The British

M R Subramani

Oct 25, 2019, 02:34 PM | Updated 02:33 PM IST

DMK President M K Stalin (Facebook)
DMK President M K Stalin (Facebook)
  • An innocuous tweet put out after watching the movie Asuran has landed the DMK and its president Stalin in the eye of the the ‘Panchami’ lands storm.
  • The controversy will likely be in focus until either the Chief Secretary responds to the National Commission for Scheduled Castes or someone sets the record straight.
  • A week ago, Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam President M K Stalin watched the latest hit Tamil movie “Asuran”. Soon after watching the movie, he tweeted that the film was “not a movie but a lesson”.

    The film is based on the Tamil novel, Vekkai (heat or humidity) written in 1982 by noted author Poomani, who won the Sahitya Academy award for his novel Angaadi in 2014.

    Stalin, in his tweet, said the movie was a courageous one as it questioned casteism based on recovering “Panchami” lands in Tamil Nadu.

    When the DMK President put out his message on social media, little did he think that it would boomerang on him so spectacularly. The first one to latch on to his statement was Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) founder leader, Dr S Ramadoss.

    Ramadoss trolled Stalin asking him that since he had ‘learned the lesson’ would he ensure that the land on which DMK’s official journal Murasoli now stood was returned to its actual owners as the building had been built on “Panchami" lands?

    Stalin responded immediately saying Murasoli was constructed on a private individual’s land. He also offered to quit politics if it was proven that the official journal of the party had been constructed on “Panchami” lands.

    Trolls got hold of his statement and went on to show that two of the plots on which Murasoli premises have come up are “Poramboke” or unassessed lands that had been reserved for the public.

    The issue has now reached the National Commission for Scheduled Castes with the Tamil Nadu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) secretary, Prof R Srinivasan’s complaint that “Panchami” lands are part of the Murasoli premises.

    The Commission has now written to the state Chief Secretary seeking information on the lands. Stalin has criticized the notice to the Chief Secretary, saying that the BJP leader has got misled by Ramadoss.

    The BJP leader has responded saying that the issue was not raised by Ramadoss first but by Marumalarchi DMK (MDMK) leader, Vaiko. (Vaiko in a meeting has even questioned the actual date of Murasoli's launch.)

    Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (VCK) leader and Chidambaram MP (member of parliament), Thol Thirumavalavan, when asked about the controversy, said the government should look into all issues regarding “Panchami” lands, including Murasoli premises.

    More disconcertingly for the DMK, an old video of Thirumavalavan alleging that Murasoli has been constructed on “Panchami” lands has begun doing the rounds on social media. The VCK, interestingly, is now part of the DMK alliance in Tamil Nadu.

    The controversy will likely be in focus until either the Chief Secretary responds to the National Commission for Scheduled Castes or someone sets the record straight.

    But what is meant by “Panchami” lands and what is the controversy about?

    According to “Tada” Periyasamy, who had launched a movement to retrieve these lands in 2011, historically the scheduled caste people were not treated as part of the four varnas of society and hence, were termed “Panchamis” (the fifth).

    In 1890, the Chengalpattu collector sent a proposal to Queen Victoria in England to grant unassessed lands to the depressed class or scheduled caste people.

    The British Parliament cleared this proposal in 1892 and the scheduled caste people were granted such lands until 1933.

    At least two million hectares have been granted to the scheduled castes across the country with at least 2,50,000 hectares given to the community in Tamil Nadu. Lands thus given to the depressed class are called “Panchami” lands.

    The “Panchami” lands were given only to the scheduled caste people with a rider that they cannot sell it for the first 10 years. This was to ensure that they can use this to engage in farming and earn some income for themselves.

    “After 10 years, the lands could only be sold to Dalits (scheduled caste) and not to any other community person,” said Periyasamy in a 2011 interview.

    A Right to Information (RTI) data got by Periyasamy revealed that one-third of the “Panchami” lands in Perambalur district in Tamil Nadu was under illegal occupation or had changed hands.

    “In some cases, though the lands were in the name of the scheduled caste, some upper caste person was enjoying the benefits,” he said.

    The “Panchami” land issue has been raised in the Madras High Court a couple of times too. On 10 March 2017, the High Court asked the state government to conduct a survey across various districts to find out the extent of “Panchami” land available in Tamil Nadu.

    In 2010, the Madras High Court struck down the construction of flats on “Panchami” lands and said the government had powers to re-enter and take possession of the land.

    Last year, the National Commission for Scheduled Caste ordered district revenue officers to provide details of encroachment of “Panchami” lands and the steps taken to recover them.

    The Commission gave the officers 15 days to respond but nothing was heard about this matter thereafter.

    The “Panchami” land issue has been in focus in Tamil Nadu now and again. With a tweet that Stalin thought was harmless, the issue is back in the limelight and it has the potential to dent DMK’s damage.

    M.R. Subramani is Executive Editor, Swarajya. He tweets @mrsubramani

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