In the late 1990s, a group representing Dalits in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu called
the Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi-or Liberation Panthers Party-shook the established
social and political structures. For over a decade they boycotted elections, questioning
the legitimacy of institutions that failed to implement constitutional provisions and
allowed casteism to persist. The Panthers conducted mass awareness campaigns for Dalit
liberation, instilling a sense of empowerment in a hitherto marginalized population.
Eventually, labelled as extremists and alienated by the State, the Panthers were pushed
into electoral politics. How the Panthers mobilized themselves and managed to effect
changes in Tamil Nadu's politics is the main premise of this ethnographic account. Looking
into the processes of transition therein, the author discusses how caste considerations
inform and underpin politics in the state and whether the Panthers will erode or adapt to
hegemonic caste power. With its micro-empirical focus on identity politics in Tamil Nadu,
the book also explores diverse dimensions of mobilization and ways in which contentious
politics alters political regimes.
Foreword / Surinder S. Jodhka
Introduction: An Elegy for a Lost Movement?
From Movement to Party
1. Institutionalizing Caste Politics in Tamil Nadu
2. Twenty-First Century Casteism? Discrimination, Hierarchy, and Politics in
Contemporary Tamil Nadu
3. From Protest to Politics : The Institutionalization of the Panthers
The Process of Institutionalization
4. Doing Tamil Politics : Informal Institutionalization
5. Symbolism over Substance? Symbols, Space, and Power
Co-option and Compromise : Taming the Panthers?
6. The Paradox of Parali Puthur : Leadership in Question
7. The `Sewer of Politics' : Corruption, Co-optation, and Compromise
Beyond Institutional Politics
8. Subnational Nationalism : Reinventing Tamilness from Below?
9. The Power of the Panthers : The Outcomes of Dalit Politics
About the Author