In Tamil Nadu, the PMK holds on to regressive caste and gender politics

The party infamously popularised the concept of ‘naadaga kadhal’ (fake love), a bogus narrative where Dalit men are accused of ‘trapping’ dominant caste women by pretending to be rich.
Anbumani Ramadoss, former PMK MP
Anbumani Ramadoss, former PMK MPInstagram
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Sowmiya Anbumani, Pattali Makkal Katchi’s (PMK) candidate from Dharmapuri for the upcoming Lok Sabha elections, was recently heard speaking to young women students on a bus during her campaign, cautioning them about posting their pictures on social media. She told the women not to be afraid and immediately inform their parents in case they fall victim to cybercrime. “Instead of getting trapped by ‘bad guys’ who try to misuse your pictures, inform your parents. You might get scolded, a few beatings, and stay at home for 10 days. Do not try to give in to those who try to misuse your pictures as it will land you in a larger problem,” Sowmya told the students.

Sowmiya’s stance was praised by many, but there were those on social media who wondered who the ‘bad guys’ were. The skepticism whether Sowmiya was pointing to Dalit men is not surprising given the PMK’s regressive views, especially on inter-caste marriages between dominant caste women and Dalit men. This view has found a way indirectly into the party’s poll manifestos in 2013, 2019, and this year too. Since 2013, the manifesto has mentioned enforcing a rule where people below the age of 21 cannot get married without their parents’ consent. This rule would make it nearly impossible for inter-caste and inter-faith couples to get married as their relationships are often opposed by parents.

While Sowmiya does not specify who the “bad guys” are, the PMK, a party dominated by the Vanniyar caste (classified as Most Backward Class), has had a history of infantalising women from dominant castes and antagonising Dalit men and portraying them in a negative light. Her father-in-law and PMK founder Dr Ramadoss is notorious for his backward views on inter-caste marriages and women’s rights.

This time the party’s manifesto claims that school and college going girls are vulnerable to “deception and false promises at a young age.” It added, “In order to prevent young women from being deceived by premature love, to safeguard the family structure, and for the future welfare of youngsters, we will make it mandatory to obtain consent from the parents of both individuals if they are marrying below the age of 21.”

Read: A note on PMK’s country of Utopia, and its protection of the ‘institution of family’

Notably the legal age for women to marry in India is 18 and 21 for men. In a way, PMK’s poll promise places the onus only on women below 21 to get permission from their parents as men below 21 are also not legally permitted to marry. 

The party, which has allied with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for the upcoming elections, infamously popularised the term and the concept of ‘naadaga kadhal’ (fake love), a bogus narrative where Dalit men are accused of ‘trapping’ dominant caste women by pretending to be rich in order to extort money from their families. Several PMK members have also alleged that Dalit men are motivated by political leaders from their caste to undertake this alleged extortion scheme. Orators in the party, including PMK MLA ‘Kaduvetti’ Guru, have tried to paint the narrative that dominant caste women do not enter relationships or marry Dalit men out of their own volition but are manipulated into doing so.

The bogey of ‘naadaga kadhal’ surfaced in 2012 after inter-caste couple Divya and Ilavarasan from Dharmapuri eloped and got married. Divya belongs to the Vanniyar caste while Ilavarasan was a Dalit. After Divya’s father Nagaraj died by suicide, an enraged mob of Vanniyars set fire to more than 200 houses belonging to Dalits in Natham colony and also damaged and looted other houses in November 2012. In June the next year, Divya returned to live with her mother while Ilavarasan was found dead shortly after.

After the violence in Dharmapuri, Dr Ramadoss called for an ‘all communities federation’ composed of leaders from multiple dominant caste outfits. Citing ‘naadaga kadhal’, the meeting called for the removal of the non-bailable offences from the Prevention of Atrocities (Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes) Act and verification of claims made by marginalised communities by a district judge before action is taken against the offenders.

In 2013, Anbumani was arrested for hate speech while staging a protest demanding that the then All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) arrest the “real culprits” in the Marakkanam violence. Marakkanam, a coastal town in Tindivanam, saw a clash between Dalits residents and PMK party workers during a local festival organised by the Vanniyar Sangam. According to The Hindu, 11 vehicles, including nine that belonged to the Tamil Nadu State Transport Corporation and the Puducherry Road Transport Corporation, were stoned and burnt. The Marakkanam police filed a chargesheet and named 20 people, all part of the PMK.

Two days before Anbumani’s arrest, a PMK youth meeting was held in Chennai’s Mamallapuram where ‘Kaduvetti’ Guru made controversial remarks about the supposed ‘naadaga kadhal’. He went on to threaten to “chop the hands” of Dalit men if they tried to lure women from the Vanniyar community.

In a video interview with Tamil publication Vikatan in 2012, Guru had alleged that men from ‘minority communities’ target women from dominant castes and rich families for their property and money. He added, “With these inter-caste and mixed marriages, it looks like there is a concerted attempt to take revenge on our community. Parents need to be cautious and ensure that this does not happen. Even after all this, if someone tries to marry a girl from our community forcefully, we will slaughter them. These are not love marriages. This is like a business for them as they try to get the wealth and the property that belongs to the girl’s family.”

After growing opposition from several politicians including former Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) Chief Minister M Karunanidhi, Marumalarchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (MDMK) founder Vaiko, and MP and founder of Dalit party Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (VCK) Thol Thirumavalavan, the PMK clarified that it is not against love marriages. However, the party continues to maintain its opposition to ‘naadaga kadhal’.

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