தகவலை வழங்கிய சொந்தம்: திரு. கமலன் அவர்கள்.
Tindivanam Journal; Seeking Its Share, Rural Caste Tries Disobedience
By BARBARA CROSSETTE, SPECIAL TO THE NEW YORK TIMES
LEAD: From their homes of mud and thatch nestled along country roads lined with tamarind trees, landless rural laborers have been coming out by the thousands to block roads, stop trains and join in other acts of mass disobedience. They are demanding that affirmative-action laws deliver on promises to improve the lot of one of Hinduism's poorest rural castes.
The new movement of farm workers, members of the Vanniar caste, is being watched all over India. Here, the powerless lowest social groups often suffer discrimination and abuse, according to public-action organizations, whose assertions are supported by extensive reporting in the Indian press.
To some political observers and welfare organizations, the Vanniar movement in Tamil Nadu, India's southernmost state, holds promise as an example to the disadvantaged of success through unity and the strength of numbers. To others, it sounds an alarm, provoking fears of caste-based politics that could further fragment Indian society.
Where the Vanniar movement leads, and what kind of a model it creates, depends to a great extent on the next moves made by its leader and founder, Sanjivikaundar Ramadoss, politicans in Tamil Nadu and foreign diplomats watching the campaign say.
Impatience With Politicians
The state has a new government, which Dr. Ramadoss said he had already put on notice. The Government of Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi assigned a Cabinet minister to meet with him last year and has pledged to study his complaints. A newly elected state government in Tamil Nadu has suggested changes in a state affirmative-action program on Monday in response to Dr. Ramadoss's demands, but militant Vanniars rejected the proposals the same day as ''treacherous and an insult to the Vanniar community,'' the Press Trust of India reported from Madras. The Vanniars are reported to be planning more protests.
Dr. Ramadoss said the Vanniars, scattered in small villages around the town, number 20 million, about a third of the state's population. Federal officials, questioning the figures, say they would like to take a new census and work from that.
Shortage of Arable Land
But whatever the final count, there is no doubt among residents of Tamil Nadu that the Vanniars dominate a large area of rural hinterland west and south of Madras, the state capital. There, mostly on other people's land, they labor in the rice, sugar cane, peanut and vegetable fields. Some Vanniars, less than a fifth of them, own a few acres of arid ground.
Their villages, already suffering shortages of arable land, have this year been struck by a drought that has emptied their ponds of water and is beginning to dry the wells.
Dr. Ramadoss, who lives above his private clinic in Tindivanam, said the children in Keel Siviri suffer ''all the diseases associated with malnutrition.''
At a small, ramshackle building that serves as the Vanniar Organization headquarters in Tindivanam, N. Govindarajan sits at a worn desk listening to complaints of Vanniar men and women. Most need help in dealing with authority or financial assistance. Many want to find a way to educate their children or get them jobs.
Dr. Ramadoss, who is 52 years old, said that in the 1960's, when Tamil Nadu's affirmative-action program for the lowest of the state's 570 castes was introduced, 105 groups were listed as disadvantaged. Fifty percent of places in educational institutions and jobs in government were set aside for them.
Eighteen percent was reserved for outcastes, called harijans by Mohandas K. Gandhi.
Rise in Disadvantaged Castes
In 1967, when a forerunner of the Dravidian nationalist party now in power was the government of the state, Dr. Ramadoss said, the number of castes described as disadvantaged rose to 202, an addition of 97 castes.
But the 202 shared the same 50 percent of educational and employment opportunities. Worse, the new castes added to the list were able to take a lion's share of the reserve places because they had come from communities with more advantages. The Vanniars, Dr. Ramadoss said, were pushed back further.
''This Vanniar community has been the most backward educationally, socially and economically for the last 41 years since independence,'' he said. ''The literacy rate of our people is only 20 percent - that state average is 35.'' ''In higher education, in professional courses - medical, engineering, agrcultural science, law -we get only 1 percent, sometimes 2 percent of the places. But our population is one third of the state.''
In 1987, under Dr. Ramadoss' leadership, the Vanniars - a caste largely confined to rural Tamil Nadu - began their acts of civil disobedience. In September of that year, they left the fields to blockade major highways for seven days. Nineteen Vanniars were killed in battles with the police - 11 shot and 8 clubbed to death, Dr. Ramadoss said - and 40,000 people were arrested.
Since then, there have been sporadic demonstrations intended to keep the case in public view. Dr. Ramadoss said that to speed up the caste's development, the Vanniar Organization is asking for 20 percent of the places reserved in schools and jobs for the backward castes in Tamil Nadu and 2 percent at the national level, proportions closer to the Vanniars' percentage of the population.
''We have conducted more than 10,000 meetings, had 25 district conferences and many agitations,'' he said. ''If our demands are not met, there will be more.''