Historically, the political discourse in Tamil Nadu revolved around the Brahmins versus non-Brahmins question. Now, it has become Dalits versus non-Dalits. The consistent campaign by caste outfits have resulted in other communities ganging up against Dalits, rendering their numerical strength somewhat significant,” said P. Sampath, president of the Tamil Nadu Untouchability Eradication Front (TNUEF).

While urbanisation is expected to dilute caste discrimination, Dalits could not take advantage of the process as they could not migrate to urban areas due to lack of education and resources. This is reflected in the increase in their households. Traditional land holding communities migrated to cities long ago. Lands have changed hands and intermediate communities are holding a major portion of the land. Dalits, mostly landless and eking out a livelihood as agricultural labourers, are at the mercy of the intermediate communities,” said VCK general secretary Ravikumar.

The late 1980s saw the emergence of parties that secured political clout for intermediate communities. Subsequently, the Panchayati Raj system accumulated power in the hands of representatives of local bodies from these castes. Intermediate communities became very powerful politically. It also helped them control mines and minerals, particularly sand mining in rural areas. Today, they are both politically and economically empowered. Dalits can do little against them,” Mr. Ravikumar said.