Why Tamil Nadu is erecting cages around statues (hint: it’s linked to caste)

Two statues stood on a road between Pondicherry and Villupuram.

On the right was CN Annadurai, the first Dravidian chief minister of Tamil Nadu. On the left, Bhimrao Ambedkar. Together, they made an arresting tableau. Annadurai’s statue stood on an open cement plinth, with a red and black flag of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam jammed into its left hand. Ambedkar’s statue, no more than ten metres away, also stood on a cement platform, but inside an iron cage.

Statues in cages aren’t an uncommon sight in Tamil Nadu. Sometimes, it is Ambedkar, sometimes, Annadurai, and occasionally, others like the reformist leader Pasumpom Muthuramalinga Thevar. A relatively recent phenomenon, they started coming up about ten years ago, when the followers of the leaders felt the need to protect their statues from vandalism by other caste groups. In other places, the police, wanting to minimise riotous assembly, got the ironwork done.

The cages are instructive – they suggests caste tensions in Tamil Nadu are running high. A slew of other changes in the state point in the same direction as well.

Do read. A fundamental undercurrent here — using caste to bolster a sense of self — is what we saw in Punjab as well. There, as writer Desraj Kali had said, “Log jaat ka ghamand liye ghoom rahein hain.” Something similar here. Unity amidst diversity, huh.

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