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Caste Not a Talking Point in Tamil Nadu Elections

File photos of Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa and DMK chief M Karunanidhi

File photos of Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa and DMK chief M Karunanidhi

Chennai: In poll bound Tamil Nadu, caste violence is on the rise but major parties like AIAMDK and DMK are silent on it fearing a backlash from the dominant Thevar community.

Twenty-year-old Kausalya survived a deadly and daring attack on her and her husband Sankar in March, 2016. Three unidentified men attacked the couple -- Sankar and Kousalya -- with sickles. The man died on the way to Coimbatore Medical College Hospital, while the woman was severly injured.

The girl's family reportedly disapproved of their marriage as Sankar hailed from the schedule caste while his wife belonged to the upper caste Thevar community.

"From the beginning we would both be together all the time. It is very painful not to have him by my side," Kausalya said.

Sankar was a first generation graduate in his poor Dalit family. His famil members are are still trying to come to terms with the loss. "Caste is the main problem. I am Pallar (SC), they are Thevar (OBC). They are angry because she went with a Pallar," Sankar's father said.

The silence over Sankar's death is indicative of the deep root that caste has taken in Tamil society and politics. Except for Dalit and Left parties in the state, no leader spoke out about Sankar's death. While the DMK chief Karunanidhi accused the AIADMK government of poor law and order, Jayalalithaa still maintains a stony silence on the issue.

Dalit studies expert Stalin Rajangam said, "Whichever community is larger in numbers. Not only must they be the majority in numbers but they must also have social power in their hands. Every party tries to get votes by pandering to these communities."

Whether the key party functionaries in any given district or the candidates in an election, every party tries to woo the dominant caste in that area.

According to a NCRB report in 2014, Tamil Nadu ranks second in the country in terms of the number of riots over caste.

As politicians cutting across party lines play the politics of appeasement of the dominant community, caste divides only deepen and proliferate in the state.