The aircraft drama that a student, Lois Sofia, indulged in on 3 September in Tuticorin provides an excellent example of an engineered event targeting a community and to manufacture outrage. The shouting of political slogans (or, for that matter, any kind of sloganeering) inside an aircraft is an offence. However, the arrest was projected as if it was made for raising a voice against the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government. While at one level this looks like a typical Congress-Marxist-Dravidianist negative publicity stunt aimed at the 2019 election, the real causes may go deeper.
In 1981, a village predominantly belonging to a scheduled community in south Tamil Nadu converted to Islam. This created shock waves across India. The Dravidian-communist forces started high-voltage propaganda that this conversion pointed to the failure of Hinduism and success of Islam as an egalitarian religion. At that time, even the Congress, which had not completely devolved into a divisive force, was concerned about the extraterritorial radical Islamist forces behind the conversion.
The extreme media attention given to the event revealed two aspects. First, the inter-caste relations in that region, particularly between the scheduled community and the dominant community, were negative and confrontational. This had led the sufferer community to opt for a solution. The second was that there were forces funded by foreign agencies ready to cash in on the social problems that exist in Indian society.
Hindu organisations started a massive outreach programme for social harmony and justice among various communities of Hindu society. Despite having to tackle massive money power and anti-Hindu propaganda by Dravidianist and pseudo-Ambedkarite forces, they were able to stop the cascading effect of conversions, even though they had limited success with the original converts themselves.
However, as decades went by, the situation changed. The Devendrakula Vellalars, the so-called scheduled community targeted for conversion, started asserting its original cultural and spiritual roots and its strong position as an equal contributor to Tamil Hindu civilisational process. They rejected the names imposed on them during the colonial and Nehruvian eras of social stagnation.
With large amounts of data from historical, sociological, and inscriptional sources, they showed that they were in no way a ‘depressed’ or ‘oppressed’ community, as was made to be the case by vested interests. In fact, Dr Krishnaswamy, a lifelong fighter for the rights of this community, now demands that they be placed outside the scheduled category itself.
As if this were not enough, there were voices coming from the converted that all is not well within the promised egalitarian utopia of Islam. The converted were facing double discrimination. Anwar Balasingham, himself a convert to Islam, wrote a short novel called Karuppayi Enkira Noorjahan (Karuppayi Alias Noorjahan) in 2011. The novel, providing a perspective through the suicide letter of a converted girl who could not find a groom, exposed the shocking conditions. Though the writer himself was biased in favour of radical Islam, what he revealed unwittingly showed the inability of Islam to be a solution to the problem.
So, the anti-Hindu, pro-Islamist forces chose charged propaganda. Thirumavalavan, who was a Dalit leader in Tamil Nadu, came out with his PhD thesis that the conversions actually helped the so-called ‘Dalits’ in the improvement of their economic well-being and social status. Thirumavalavan is one of the ‘breaking India’ forces operating in Tamil Nadu. He is militantly against social justice and social harmony while using every social evil to further his own divisive agenda. He had earlier made a provocative speech that derides Vanniyar community girls who dare to marry outside their caste. He had given it in writing to Islamists that he would remove the statue of Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar as a radical Islamist outfit objected to it. Further, he does not belong to the community in question.
Krishnaswamy, who belongs to the Devendrakula Vellalar caste, countered the thesis of Thirumavalavan. In a detailed response, he pointed out that the conversion happened when Devendrakula Vellalar had not organised them into proper organisations and that it was a few families of a village who converted and, hence, to show it as a community phenomenon was factually wrong and demeaning.
He further pointed out that his party, Puthiya Tamilagam, had stopped the conversions while, at the same time, improved the livelihood of the community, both in terms of economic rights and through the abolition of evils like the ‘two-tumbler’ system practised in village tea shops and hotels in southern Tamil Nadu. Thirumavalavan, in his interview about his thesis, had even insulted the Devendrakula Vellalar community by alleging that with association to their community they could not have had economic achievements.
As Dr Shyam Krishnaswamy, the son of Krishnaswamy, points out, actually there are many belonging to the Devendrakula Vellalar community who have achieved excellence in many fields. The specific terming of the caste as Pallar rather than as Devendrakula Vellalar by Thirumavalavan in that interview shows the vengeful attitude of arrogance and hatred that he and the ‘breaking India’ forces have for this community and its leadership, which is refusing to play by the rules set by them.
It is in these circumstances that the Sofia event occurred. Tamil Nadu BJP president Dr Tamilisai Soundararajan was going to Thenkasi – a region with substantial population of Devendrakula Vellalars. Already there is a marked inclination towards social justice and harmony where she was headed. It was unwittingly revealed by Sofia’s father in a panel discussion on a Tamil channel about the incident.
We hear his family members cautioning in the background not to say it, but the student’s father ends up admitting that they have mentioned their caste as Devendrakula Vellalar in their counter-complaint in order to incite aversion for the BJP within their community. In the video, during the panel discussion, the anchor asks why mention the caste when it is a ruckus between two individuals. To this, he said:
Dr Tamilisai Soundararajan was going to Thenkasi to attend a function in which she would talk to the Devendrakula Vellalars. She would get them into BJP. So we wanted to show our caste people that while on the one hand she is asking our people to come join BJP, she is harassing Devendrakula Vellalars on the other.
In the meanwhile, violent messages were being posted by Islamists on social media, asking Devendrakula Vellalars to ransack BJP offices in Tamil Nadu.
This episode shines a light on the extent to which divisive forces would go in order to destroy social harmony among Hindu communities and stop progress and emancipation from social stagnation. While the immediate target here is Soundararajan and the BJP, the long-term target is social harmony and positive reclaiming of the cultural rights of Devendrakula Vellalar, a great community that suffered a setback temporarily at the hands of colonialism and Nehruvian socialism.
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