Dalit oppression Tamil Nadu elections
A senior BJP politician from Tamil Nadu, India sparked a controversy with his comment on the origin of untouchability, a practice that has suppressed Dalits in India. Picture: A woman looks out from her house at Dalit village of Bhaddi Kheda in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh January 15, 2012.Reuters file

Tamil Nadu Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) leader L Ganesan has landed his party in trouble in the poll-bound state with his remark on the origin of untouchability and how it got perpetuated. The comment made during a recent television programme has evoked sharp responses from Dalit politicians and writers, who said it belittled the victims of untouchability, the Hindu reported. 

The politician explained Sunday to the daily about his comments that have sparked a controversy in a state where Dalits constitute 21 percent of the total population. 

Ganesan said that many years ago people who handled carcasses probably stayed away from the rest of the population due to concerns over hygiene. "Unfortunately, the other side slowly institutionalised this and started demanding the exclusion," the Hindu quoted him as saying. 

His explanation, however, did not go down well with Dalits. "Caste-based untouchability was systematically developed as a tool of oppression. To say that the victims could have unknowingly started it is an insult to them," said writer Imayam. 

The Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (VCK), a political party that claims to represent Dalits in Tamil Nadu, questioned Ganesan's knowledge of the problem of untouchability. "Is he a historian, sociologist or anthropologist to make such claims? What is the evidence," asked VCK general secretary D Ravikumar. 

The VCK, led by T. Thirumavalavan, is part of the People's Welfare Front (PWF), a coalition of regional forces and the Left Front, whose chief ministerial candiate is former film actor Vijayakanth, president of the Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam (DMDK). 

Other major formations in the state are the coalition by the ruling All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazagham (AIADMK) and the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagham (DMK) led by M Karunanidhi. The Congress is part of the DMK-led combine.

Meanwhile, the BJP released its first list of 54 candidates March 26. It includes national secretary H Raja and state vice-president Vanathi Sreenivasan, the New Indian Express reported. 

Tamil Nadu goes to polls May 16 to elect representatives for its 234-member assembly. The results will be declared May 19, along with those of Assam, West Bengal, Kerala and Puducherry.

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