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The Dalits Of The Dalits

Editor’s Note: In this 3-part series, The Lede travels to the western belt of Tamil Nadu – the fertile lands at the foothills of the Western Ghats – where beneath the beauty, caste struggle is rife but silent. We record, specifically, the politics, love and struggle of the Arunthathiyars, a sub-caste of the Dalits in this area, who have and continue to be oppressed, even by other Dalit sub-castes who rank above them in the social hierarchy.

Arunthathiyars do not have a political voice, despite having leaders from the community in mainstream political parties. They are not ‘allowed’ to marry into another Dalit sub-caste, let alone a dominant caste. And the community is limited to specific jobs – as cobblers, manual scavengers, agricultural and construction workers. The Lede delves into the trials and struggles of this silent community that is afraid to rise up.

Part 02: The Bitterness Of Patriarchy

If the most oppressed of the Dalit sub-castes have it bad, the women amongst them have it infinitely worse “Chakkiliyar na chakkara madhiri” - Arunthathiyar women are like sugar (sweet and easy to find). This has been the overwhelming refrain of men, ‘upper’ caste and ‘lower’, about women in the community. Arunthathiyars, the most oppressed of the Dalit sub-castes in Tamil Nadu, predominantly live in the western belt of the state and work as cobblers, manual scavengers, agricultural labourers and construction workers. In the past, Arunthathiyar women were not allowed to cover their bosoms or wear blouses with their sarees.…

Part 01: Politically Powerless

From panchayat to Assembly, the journey of would-be politicians from the Arunthathiyar community is fraught with strife “I deem the acts of the DMK MLAs a drama enacted by them to insult the Arunthathiyar community, the most suppressed section of society, to which I belong.” On 19 February 2017, Tamil Nadu Assembly Speaker and leader of the ruling All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) P Dhanapal minced no words when he declared that he was being discriminated against for belonging to the most oppressed community of the Dalits, the Arunthathiyars. This came after he disallowed the demand for a secret ballot by the opposition Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam in the Assembly, during the vote of confidence for Chief Minister Edappadi K Palanisamy. Dhanapal had been forced to leave the House after violence in the Assembly between the DMK and AIADMK members.…