|Member of Parliament|
17 August 1962 |
Anganur, Tamil Nadu, India
Thirumavalavan or Thol. Thirumavalavan (born 17 August 1962), is Dalit activist, Member of Parliament in 15th Lok Sabha and the current President of the Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (Liberation Panthers Party), a Dalit political party in the state of Tamil Nadu in India. He rose to prominence in the 1990s as a Dalit leader, and entered politics in 1999. His political platform centres around ending the caste-based oppression of the Dalits, which he argues can best be achieved through reviving and reorienting Tamil nationalism. He has also expressed support for Tamil nationalist movements and groups elsewhere, including Sri Lanka.
He did his Bachelor's course in chemistry, masters degree in Criminology and completed law at Madras Law College. He worked in the government's Forensic Department as a scientific assistant, which he later resigned in 1999 to contest polls. He contested the 1999 and 2004 general elections unsuccessfully and won the 2009 general elections from the Chidambaram constituency. He won the 2001 state assembly elections in alliance with Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), a post he resigned in 2004 quoting idealogical differences with DMK. He has written a few books and has acted in a few Tamil movies.
Thiruma, being the leader of a caste centred party, is often alleged to have instigated caste violence in Tamil Nadu. His confrontation with Vanniyar based caste Pattali Makkal Katchi and its leader Ramadoss has resulted in frequent clashes between Dalits and Vanniyars. Both parties accuse each other of instigating violence against the other community. Both Thiruma and Ramadoss reconciled and worked together during the period of 2004 to 2009, when they were part of the same electoral alliance. Several party men quoted strained relationship with Thirumaa and quit the party on account of the increased involvement of him in Katta Panchayat (kangaroo courts), bringing disrepute to the party. Thiruma was also in the centre of controversy when the party asked party cadres to donate weighing against Thiruma in 2012, on the occasion of his 50th birthday. In August 2013, Kavitha, a divorcee and mother of a girl child, accused Thiruma of reneging her on the promise of marrying her and she filed a complaint in police to similar effect.
Thirumavalavan was the second child of Tholkappian (Ramasamy) and Periyammal, and was born in the village of Anganur in Ariyalur District in Tamil Nadu, India. His father had studied up to the grade, while his mother remained uneducated. He has a sister and three brothers, but he was the only member of his family who went on to higher education after completion of his schooling. He initially studied chemistry, and went on to do a masters degree in Criminology, before studying law at Madras Law College. He then began working in the government's Forensic Department as a scientific assistant. He began growing interested in politics in 1982, when he was still a student, in reaction to reports from refugees of Sri Lankan military atrocities against Tamils in Sri Lanka. He began holding rallies and organised boycotts and conferences to support the Sri Lankan cause. He ran around Madras Law College, but failed . This, he alleged, was due to his being a Dalit. The incident led to his meeting and becoming acquainted with politicians from the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), a major political party in Tamil Nadu. Till 2002, he had his name as R. Thirumavalavan, with his father's name Ramaswamy as initial. He changed it to Thol. Thirumavalavan, "Thol" indicating the shorter version of Tholkappiyan.
In 1988, when working for the government's Forensic Department in the southern city of Madurai, he met Malaichamy, the Tamil Nadu state convenor of the Dalit Panthers of India (DPI), an organisation that fought for the rights of Dalits. The next year, following Malaichamy's death, Thirumalavan was elected the leader of the DPI. He designed a new flag for the organisation in 1990. As part of his work, he also began visiting Dalit villages in the Madurai region, and began learning about the problems faced by Dalits. The killing of two Dalits in 1992, he says, made him more militant. Against the background of increasing Dalit assertiveness, he emerged as one of two major Dalit leaders in Tamil Nadu, with a large base of grassroots support, particularly in the southern districts of Tamil Nadu. During early 1997, he was suspended from his government job on account of his increased political activity. He resigned from his job formally in August 1999 to contest in the 1999 Indian general elections.
The DPI boycotted elections until 1999 general elections. It is unclear on why the party did not contest elections till 1999. The decision of contesting election in 1999 was considered controversial within the party. Thirumavalavan allied with G. K. Moopanar's Tamil Maanila Congress and represented the Third Front. The party contested in the Parliamentary constituencies of Chidambaram and Perambalur. Thirumavalavan contested in Chidambaram, and managed to poll 2.25 lakh votes in his debut elections. Thirumavalavan alleged in one of his interviews on 22 February 2000 that the opposing DMK administration used National Goonda Act and National Security Act to detain cadres of his party. The phase also culminated the rivalry between Thirumavalavan's party and his competitors in the Chidambaram Constituency, the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK). PMK is a Vanniyarcaste party that has a strong presence in the northern districts of Tamil Nadu. The election in the constituency was marked by violence from both the parties. Houses of Dalits were burnt and Dalits in the region were denied employment, while Vanniyar houses were also burnt.
In 2001 state elections Viduthalai Chiruthaigal allied with the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and contested seven seats. Since the PMK joined the AIADMK alliance, the VCK had to join the DMK led alliance. There were ideological differences in the alliance as it had BJP, which was earlier criticized by Thirumaa. Thirumaa was elected from Mangalore Constituency to State Legislative Assembly. During the 2004 general elections, he resigned his MLA post on 3 February 2004 quoting humiliation meted out by the alliance partners, especially the DMK. He also quoted that he quit as he contested in the symbol of DMK during the 2001 assembly elections. Thirumavalavan contested once again from Chidambaram in 2004 general elections, this time with Janata Dal (United) and polled 2.57 lakh votes and lost by a low margin.
During 2004, after efforts from N. Sethuraman from MMK, Thirumavalavan and Ramadoss, the leader of PMK joined hands through a Tamil protection movement named Tamil Paathukappu Iyakkam. He joined the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) alliance in the 2006 elections to the Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly. His party was recognized by the Election Commission of India as a registered political party on 2 March 2006. Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi contested in nine seats in Tamil Nadu and 2 seats in Pondicherry. The party won two of them, namely Durai Ravikumar from Kattumannarkoil, and Selvaperunthagai from Mangalore constituency. The alliance with ADMK broke in 2006, when he started allying with the DMK. His party contested in the local bodies elections in DMK alliance in 2006 and won five chairman to various municipalities. In the 2009 general election, Thirumavalavan allied with DMK and was elected to Parliament from the Chidhambaram Lok Sabha constituency in his third attempt.
Elections contested and positions held
|Elections||Constituency||Party||Result||Vote percentage||Opposition Candidate||Opposition Party||Opposition vote percentage|
|Indian general election, 1999||Chidambaram||TMC (M)||Lost||31.17||E. Ponnuswamy||PMK||47.68|
|Tamil Nadu state assembly election, 2001||Mangalore||DMK||Won||43.71||S. Puratchimani||TMC||46.49|
|Indian general election, 2004||Chidambaram||JD (U)||Lost||46.20||E. Ponnuswamy||PMK||58.45|
|Indian general election, 2009||Chidambaram||VCK||Won||49.3||E. Ponnuswamy||PMK||37.91|
- 2001: Elected to Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly for the first time.
- May 2009: Elected to Lok Sabha (fifteenth) for the first time
- 31 August 2009:Member of committee on commerce and member of consultative committee on ministry of social justice and empowerment.
Thirumalavan's politics are grounded in a retheorisation of Tamil nationalism, which seeks to turn it into a force for the elimination of the caste system. Oppression of Dalits, he says, is institutionalised in India, including Tamil Nadu. Although the Dravidian parties which dominate the politics of Tamil Nadu are ideologically committed to the eradication of the caste system, Thirumavalavan argues that they have in practice drifted away from the original ideals of the Dravidian movement. Their policies, he says, have mainly benefitted the middle castes, and had actually led to an increase in the oppression of Dalits, with the middle castes replacing the Brahmins as the oppressor. Dalits cannot and should not expect much help from the Dravidian parties. The solution, according to Thirumavalavan, lies in Tamil nationalism. Caste oppression, he says, can only be ended by building resistance from below, through appealing to Tamil sentiments, as happened in the early days of the Dravidian movement under Periyar E. V. Ramasamy. If a properly Tamil government is formed in Tamil Nadu, he says, caste oppression will immediately disappear.
Thirumalavan is also a staunch critic of Hindu nationalism and, in particular, Hindutva. Hindutva, to Thirumavalavan, is the essence of the oppressive Indian state. Hindutva, he argues, has through religion worked to homogenise Tamil society with that of northern India. This, he says, has led to Tamil losing its identity. Ethnic Tamil nationalism, in his view, is essential to combat Hindutva.
Thirumavalavan's views on the importance of the Tamil identity have also led him to strongly support Tamil secessionist groups in Sri Lanka, including the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, a militant secessionist group who are formally banned as a terrorist organisation in India. He has criticised India for assisting the Sri Lankan army during the Sri Lankan military operations against the LTTE in 2008 and 2009, and has called upon the government of Tamil Nadu to take steps to safeguard the Tamils of Sri Lanka. On 15 January 2009 he started a hunger fast near Chennai (Maraimalai Adigal Nagar) for the cause of Sri Lankan Tamils. After four days, on 19 January he called off the fast, saying that it had had no effect on the Indian government, and calling for a hartal in its place. He was a part of the 10 member MP team that visited the war affected areas and transitional centres in Vavuniya on 11 October 2009. The delegation visited various part of Jaffna district and had a meeting at the Jaffna public library.
Literature and popular culture
Thiruma's books in Tamil include Aththumeeru (Transgress), Tamizhargal Hindukkala? (Are the Tamils, Hindus?), Eelam Enral Puligal, Puligal Enral Eelam (Eelam means Tigers, Tigers means Eelam), Hindutuvathai Veraruppom (We Shall Uproot Hindutva), Saadhiya Sandharpavaadha Aniyai Veezhtuvom (We Shall Defeat the Casteist Opportunist Alliance). Two of his books have been published in English by Stree-Samya Books, Kolkata: Talisman: Extreme Emotions of Dalit Liberation (political essays written for 34 weeks in the India Today magazine's Tamil edition) and Uproot Hindutva: The Fiery Voice of the Liberation Panthers (contains 12 of his speeches).
Thirumavalavan had a guest appearance as a Tamil militant leader in Sri Lanka in his first film 'Anbu Thozhi' (Lady Love), directed by L. G. Ravichandran. Thirumavalavan has since been cast in the leading role of a film titled Kalaham (Mutiny). He plays the character of Balasingham, a law college professor, which is being directed by Mu Kalanchiyam. This will be his second film. He also made a cameo appearance in Mansoor Ali Khan's Ennai Paar Yogam Varum.
In 2003, A former close associate of Dalit leader Thirumavalavan, has accused the DPI convenor of receiving huge funds from Christian Missionaries in India and abroad and that he was opposing the anti-conversion law brought in by the Tamil Nadu government only because of that. Thiruma, being the leader of a caste centred party, is often alleged to have instigated caste violence in Tamil Nadu. In the northern districts of Tamil Nadu with a Vanniyar majority, there are frequent clashes between Dalits and Vanniyars. During 1999 general elections, there was intense violence in the region with casualties in both sides. Thirumavalavan accused Pattali Makkal Katchi, a Vanniyar based party and its founder Ramadoss of instigating violence among the Vanniyars that result in the attack of Dalits. While Ramadoss alleges that Thiruma encourages his party men to have sham inter-caste love marriage, Thiruma accuses Ramadoss of showing caste superiority and instigating violence against Dalits. Both Thiruma and Ramadoss reconciled and worked together during the period of 2004 to 2009, when they were part of the same electoral alliance. After 2009, when PMK split out of the DMK combine, the mutual confrontation started again.
During December 2012, Ramadoss formed an all community safeguard forum comprising 51 intermediate castes. He said he would not have any further alliance with Thiruma and his party. He alleged that the Dalits take undue advantage over other communities using the SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act and the Act should be abolished. During April 2013, after the party conference of PMK in Mahabalipuram, there were widespread attacks on the Dalits in Dharmapuri district that resulted in two Dalits being killed. Both PMK and VCK accused each other for the mishap, but Ramadoss was arrested after the orders from the state government for the hate speech and damages to the state property during the violence. Thiruma accused Ramadoss that his loss in the electoral base after the 2009 general elections and 2011 assembly elections has resulted in his going back to instigating caste violence.
Several party men, who were part of VCK from the 90s quit the party in 2008 to join the national level Dalit centred party, the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP). Some of them alleged that they had strained relationship with Thirumaa and could not continue in VCK on account of the increased involvement of him in Katta Panchayat, bringing disrepute to the party. The BSP party was floated in Tamil Nadu in December 2008 with the same ideology as in Uttar Pradesh to unite the Dalits and Brahmins. Some of the prominent members of VCK like Selvaperunthagai, who was a MLA in Mangalore constituency, joined BSP. Thiruma, in his response, claimed that the BSP is no threat to VCK vote bank and that the BSP has dumped the principles of Ambedkar, Kanshi Ram and Periyar. Some of the senior journalists also believed that BSP will not have a firm hold in Tamil Nadu to garner the 19% Dalit vote bank in Tamil Nadu as it did in Uttar Pradesh, as the vote bank is already split by the VCK and Puthia Tamizhagam party.
The VCK, in a plan to start a television channel, asked the party men to donate gold on the occasion of the 50th birthday of Thiruma. There were also Thulabaram type of functions where equal weight of Thirma was donated. This was subject to wider criticism, drawing parallels with the exotic celebrations organised by Mayawati, the leader of BSP in Uttar Pradesh. Thiruma clarified that the idea was to collect donations for the party and that his party did not enjoy support from rich people as with the case of other parties. As of 4 October 2012, the party got 10 kg (22 lb) of gold from seven centres that included Puducherry that had 1.5 kg (3.3 lb).
In August 2013, Kavitha, a divorcee and mother of a girl child, accused Thiruma of reneging her on the promise of marrying her. She filed a complaint in police in similar effect, adding that Thiruma, with his friends and party men tried to grab his property under the false promise. The VCK party dismissed her accusation, quoting that she had similar complaint earlier, but Thiruma's name is not mentioned in it.
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