Judge sparks caste row in TN over Ambedkar portrait

Local bar approach HC after judge removes portrait from court hall.

Written by Gopu Mohan | Chennai | Published:May 31, 2014 1:36 am

A Judge in Tamil Nadu has set off a controversy by ordering the removal of a portrait of B R Ambedkar from the hall of a local court. As the judicial officer belongs to an intermediary caste that has been having a running feud with the Dalit community, the row has taken a definite casteist tint.

The issue invited attention after members of the local bar from Tindivanam, Villupuram district, approached the Mad-ras High Court seeking action against the judge for disrespe-cting the architect of the Constitution, after failing to receive favourable response from his senior official or district police.

According to a petition filed by K G Subbaiyyaa, the president of the Tindivanam Advocates Association, S Devanathan was the principal subordinate judge at Tindivanam, before being demoted as additional sub-judge at the same campus. He took charge on May 2, and three days later, he instructed that the portrait of Ambedkar be removed. There were portraits of Mahatma Gandhi and Tamil saint-poet Thiruvalluvar along with that of Ambedkar.

The petitioner charged that Devanathan acted in a “discriminatory” manner that was an “affront to the reputation” of Ambedkar, seeking action against him to restore confidence in the court, especially of those from the Dalit community. Subbaiyyaa added that representations to the district judge of Villupuram the SP did not bear any results, prompting them to move the High Court. Vacation judge G Chockalingam on Thursday ordered notices to the DGP and other senior officials, returnable by June 4.

The judge in the eye of the controversy, Devanathan, belongs to the Vanniyar community, the caste Hindu group who have been having a running feud with the Dalit community members in north Tamil Nadu.

Meanwhile, wading into the issue that has great resonance within the PMK, known as the party of the Vanniyars, its founder-leader S Ramadoss charged that a section of the Dalits was misusing the name of Ambedkar. The portrait was removed along with that of Gandhi and Thiruvalluvar at the time of renovation, claimed Ramadoss, adding that painting an officer of the judiciary in casteist colour was undesirable.

The present round of skirmishes between Vanniyars and Dalits was triggered after the marriage of a Dalit youth with a Vanniyar boy which left hundreds homeless after their colonies were overran by caste Hindu mobs. The marriage did not last long; she went back to her mother while he committed suicide by jumping in front of an express train. The echoes of this tragedy was heard during the just-concluded Lok Sabha elections when the votes were polarised into pro and anti-Dalit votes.

From Dharmapuri, the epicentre of the clash, PMK leader and former Union minister Anbumani Ramadoss was elected, a victory in which the caste divisions played no small part.

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