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How Ambedkar’s legacy has fared in Tamil Nadu

LiveMint logoLiveMint 14-04-2017 Dharani Thangavelu

Chennai: Commemorations across the country on Friday mark the completion of year-long celebrations of the 125th birth anniversary of B.R. Ambedkar, architect of the Indian constitution and an icon for the Dalits and the oppressed.

Amid the celebrations, political analysts said, there are concerns that Ambedkar’s legacy is being politicised for vote gains with both the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress trying to appropriate him.

“We would be happy if everyone celebrates Ambedkar and his ideals. But here, he is merely used as a tool for the vote bank,” says Ambeth Rajan, former Rajya Sabha MP and Bahujan Samaj Party’s (BSP) national treasurer.

Thol. Thirumavalavan, leader of Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (VCK), a party with a strong Dalit base says, “In complete contrast to the ideals of Ambedkar, the BJP is trying to build a Hindutva image around him.”

There are also concerns over instances of caste violence and atrocities against scheduled castes and tribes, honour killings and crimes against scheduled caste women.

According to data compiled by National Commission for Scheduled Castes (NCSC), crimes against SCs rose to 47, 064 in 2014 from 39, 408 in 2013.

While a total of 54,355 instances of crimes against Dalits were reported in 2015, the BJP-ruled states of Gujarat, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan reported the highest rates of crimes against scheduled castes.

In Tamil Nadu, which has a 19% scheduled caste population, 1764 incidents of crimes against SCs were reported in 2015, according to NCSC. Analysts say these numbers are an understatement as many such incidents remain unreported.

“Ambedkar despite being an icon of social justice across the nation and now being taken to international forums, in Tamil Nadu— often portrayed as the land of justice— remains confined only within Dalit pockets,” says Karthikeyan Damodaran, a scholar in South Asian studies at the University of Edinburgh.

He terms it as a “great failure of the Dravidian politics.”

Karthikeyan Damodaran, a scholar in South Asian studies at the University of Edinburgh said parties such as VCK have moved away from radical Dalit politics and have become mere extensions of DMK and AIADMK.

Thirumavalavan admits that it becomes unavoidable for his party not to ally with the others in order to remain in the “mainstream political space.”

Dravidian Leader Periyar E.V. Ramasamy started the Self-Respect Movement in Tamil Nadu in 1925, which fashioned a Dravidian identity for the intermediate and the lower castes.

On whether the two main parties in Tamil Nadu— Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) and the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) are trying to “Dravidianise” Dalit politics, Damodaran said the Dravidian parties will never do that, as it would antagonise the dominant intermediate castes. “If Dravidianising was the agenda they would have taken Ambedkar into their fold of Dravidian icons,” he adds.

“Dravidian parties would be happy to have Dalit parties but will ensure that they don’t grow beyond, say, two or three seats,” adds Damodaran.

Meanwhile, in his message on the Ambedkar birth anniversary, K. Krishnasamy, founder of the Puthiya Tamilagam, a party that advocates for the rights and welfare of scheduled Castes, said that the downtrodden should take a vow to strike out “the Dravidian parties that have continuously subjected us to oppression.”

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