The Devendra Kula Vellalar community wants to be delisted from the Scheduled Caste list and enrolled as part of Other Backward Class – and they have Modi’s attention.
In these four years and nine months of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) rule, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been addressing many issues that have been hanging fire for decades.
True to his style, Modi raised a subject that has been pending since 1996 during his visit to Tamil Nadu on 27 January while addressing a public meeting in Madurai. The issue is the declassification of the Devendra Kula Vellalar community from the list of Scheduled Castes.
“Friends, I want to talk to you about one more issue. This is relating to the Devendra Kula Vellalar community and ensuring justice as well as opportunity for them,” the Prime Minister said, adding:
The issue came to me and I am fully sensitive towards that demand. And you would be happy to know that there is significant progress with regard to it. I assure the community that justice will be done. This is a subject about social harmony and we are committed to justice for all.Prime Minister Narendra Modi
The statement drew praise from a majority of the community, mainly led by the Puthiya Tamizhagam party founded by Dr K Krishnasamy.
Krishnasamy’s son Shyam took to social media immediately to express hope that the community’s demand, to be delisted from the Scheduled Caste list and enrolled as part of Other Backward Class (OBC), besides a government order, would be met soon.
On 6 October 2017, Krishnasamy convened a meeting, drawing over 25,000 persons from the Devendra Kula Vellalar community, which is commonly referred to as Pallar, announcing his demand.
The meeting was seen as a positive one with a rare demand from a community wanting to be seen as developed by being taken off the Scheduled Castes list.
The community is seeking to be listed among OBCs instead since its people had traditionally practised agriculture before the British colonial rule harmed it. Krishnasamy says the community members were wetland farmers.
There are many references that support the view that the community comprised farmers during the reign of the Cholas. Some books refer to the Chola king’s practice of kudi neeki – denying citizenship to individuals. Those who paid taxes were allowed to retain their lands, but those who didn’t pay lost their belongings and were rendered poor.
During its rule, the British treated these people as marginalised and poor. Therefore, they were included in the Scheduled Castes list. This made the community suffer further, besides being hit economically.
Other communities, too, took an antagonistic view towards the Devendra Kula Vellalar community, and so their suffering continued, with few to sympathise with their problems.
The British, as part of its divide-and-rule policy, placed the community as a unit of the Pallars and categorised it as Scheduled Caste.
Over the last couple of decades, the community has woken up to the injustice meted out to it. Community leaders have come up with exhaustive documentation of inscriptional evidence, rituals conducted in major temples where it was accorded a special honour for centuries, though the Dravidian parties have been ignoring its demands.
But there are opponents to the demand as well. Some of the OBCs are against the move to delist the Devendra Kula Vellalars from the Scheduled Castes list since they fear that they would have more competition for the seats reserved for them in jobs and educational institutions.
The Vellalar community, which includes 153 sub-sects like Kongu Vellalar and Saiva Vellalar, have vehemently opposed the inclusion of the Devendra Kula Vellalar in the OBC list. Its leaders have said such a move would be unjust and cause serious harm to the Vellalar community.
John Pandian, a leader of the Devendra Kula Vellalar, is opposed to the demand for delisting the community from the list of Scheduled Castes. He, however, supports renaming of the community from Pallars to Devendra Kula Vellalar.
One of the issues that Pandian has raised is that Krishnasamy has not sought the opinion of the community as a whole for the delisting. Pandian has alleged that the Puthiya Tamizhagam founder is misrepresenting his support base.
Others like former Indian Administrative Service (IAS) official Christudas Gandhi and some Dalit intellectuals are also against the change. They allege that the demand is in line with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) plan to win over Dalit votes in Tamil Nadu.
Those opposed to the BJP getting closer to the community are never short of effort to scuttle the BJP’s attempt. Nothing is more illustrative than the incident of a young woman, Lois Sofia, from the community shouting slogans onboard a flight to Tuticorin against BJP Tamil Nadu leader Tamilisai Soundararajan.
Sofia was detained by police on 3 September for the act, as it was against the Director-General of Civil Aviation rules.
Sofia Lois' father, a doctor & Sofia Lois goes to University of Montreal, Canada. But suddenly her father citing victim hood - I am from Devendra Kula Vellalar community. Why cite caste? Why this injustice to the community going through the noble process of social justice? pic.twitter.com/pElLkGan5L— Saran Shanmugam (@saranstm) September 8, 2018
In a letter addressed to the Pudukkottai superintendent of police, Sofia’s father first wrote that they belonged to a downtrodden community before striking it to say that the family was from the Devendra Kula Vellalar community. This, according to critics, was a ploy to create problems for Tamilisai, who was on her way to addressing a meeting at Tenkasi, where the Devendra Kula Vellalar are a force to reckon with.
A section of the community points out that the main opposition is coming from those who had converted to other religions like Christianity. This is because these people had availed of reservation benefits as members of the community and never notified their change of religion.
Once the community is delisted, these persons, who have enjoyed double benefits, would stand to lose.
The Prime Minister’s statement on 27 January has now emboldened the youth of the Devendra Kula Vellalar community to question the Dravidian parties on their silence on their long-pending demand.
The youth alleged that the community leaders were given posts only in their own region and not beyond it. He also wondered why the DMK was not supporting the community’s demand.
The All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam has also begun to look into the fallout from meeting the community’s demand. With a sympathetic central government and polls to the Lok Sabha nearing, the community will likely get its demand met soon.