Some of the people of the colony are leaning towards the DMK

Four years after caste violence Natham colonys residents cant just move on with their livesSarayu Srinivasan
news Elections 2016 Saturday, April 16, 2016 - 18:23

Between a rock and a hard place: Natham colony has been orphaned by political parties

Located eight kilometres away from Dharmapuri town, Natham colony’s freshly painted houses hide the violence unleashed on the Dalit residents in 2012 and the heightened discrimination they have continued to face since.

In November 2012, over 200 houses in three Dalit colonies including Natham had been set ablaze by Vanniyar people. They were angered by the suicide of a Vanniyar man whose daughter Divya had married an Arundhatiyar man named Ilavarasan.

On account of the violence, life for the Arundhatiyars in Natham has been split into ‘before and after’. Very few people were willing to speak to this reporter, but those who did, feel that the fire that burned their houses has charred their lives too.

The compensation of Rs 2.78 lakh that was given for each house was simply not enough. Many of the people in the village have accumulated huge debts and have no way to repay them.

Pointing to an empty space between some houses, Shivaraj said, “I used to have a nice shop of my own in this small space. It was a decent business. Now I run a loss-making business in a smaller space in the town after my shop was destroyed in the fire,” said Shivaraj, who rents out sound appliances for a living. Nobody wants to engage a person belonging to the Arundathiyar community, he says.

The Arundhatiyars are one of several “untouchable” castes who work with leather. However, many of the people of Natham no longer do this work and used to rely on jobs and small businesses in Dharmapuri town to eke out a living. But that too has dried up.

“Most of our women here are educated, yet they are sitting at home, because nobody wants to employ them in the town,” says Shanti (name changed on request).

Shivaraj echoes her views. “Jobs are hard to come by as caste-based discrimination has increased in the aftermath of the Ilavarasan-Divya episode and it has reduced our employment options. Most people are going to other districts and states to find jobs or do odd jobs elsewhere in the district,” he says.

With state elections around the corner, if there is one thing they are pinning their hopes on to repay the loans, it is a government that would build a factory for them. Dharmapuri district has industrial parks in Hosur and Nampally, but for the residents of Natham, the factory represents more than just employment.

“We want a job outside the area because we won’t be constantly reminded of our caste by the people of the dominant caste. Any protest (against casteist slurs) lands us in jail,” says Shanti. After the violence, the police was tasked with their protection, but Shanti says that in effect, it had only brought more trouble. She alleges that the police have falsely implicated people from the colony in cases.

Dharmapuri is a stronghold of the Vanniyar-based Pattali Makkal Katchi. Both the PMK and the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) having fielded candidates from the Vanniyar community, which was enraged by Ilavarasan and Divya’s marriage.

“Before the incident, parties would only come to the Dalit colonies for votes. Not a single party really showed any interest in our development. After the incident, it was the Vidudathalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (VCK), which supported us,” Shivaraj says. The VCK does have some presence in the district.

While most people say they only want a leader who would be able to get the colonies back on their feet, some of the leaders appear to have their hopes pinned on the DMK.

“Although we don’t have a preference as such, we do feel that among the larger parties, if DMK came to power, the harassment from the police that we are facing currently would reduce,” said Shivaraj. He added that they would support any party that would promise steady jobs.

They also have another reason to support the DMK. In 2008, the DMK government recommended that the Arundhatiyar community be given 3 percent reservations within the existing 18 percent quota for the Scheduled Castes. The government’s decision has since been bogged down in litigation.

Arundhatiyar groups such as the Adi Thamilar Peravai however, view the DMK as a party which is sympathetic to their cause. District secretary of the Peravai, Murugan, said “Even if there is no factory set up for give jobs to the unemployed youth from the community, we look forward to the DMK to work for the betterment of our community and perhaps even increase the quantum of reservation in job and education by an additional 3%.”

On the day this reporter visited Natham, Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa was campaigning in Dharmapuri, but campaign posters were conspicuously absent in Natham colony.

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