Event ReportsPublished on Jan 22, 2020
Livelihood issues, administrative apathy behind militancy in Tamil Nadu: Former Chief Secretary

Lack of livelihood, pseudo-nationalism whipped up by political parties, casteism and administrative apathy are the major factors contributing towards militancy in Tamil Nadu, according to  K S Sripathi, former Chief Secretary, Government of Tamil Nadu.

Initiating a discussion on “Militancy in Tamil Nadu: Causes and Remedies”, at Observer Research Foundation, Chennai, on 4 January 2020, Sripathi noted that militant tendencies in the State had initially surfaced during the British era. The British system of economic governance impoverished the artisans and rural folk, resulting in migration, neglect of individual duties, further juxtaposed by a growing cry for rights that transformed into militant leanings. The government’s (British) political imperatives widened the social gap, creating fault lines along caste identities in the Tamil society.

Speaking about administrative apathy, Sripathi said that passivity in rehabilitating and repatriating the Sri Lankan refugees led to the growth of militancy in 1970s and 80s, along the Western Ghats. The repatriates were settled in forest areas, with limited options for livelihood. This ensued in increased crime rates in the region. The entire Western Ghats region has become sensitive to militancy, he noted. He said loss of livelihood and lack of gainful employment has fuelled urban naxalism. This is further exacerbated by the government’s apathy towards managing the liquor consumption in the State. Monthly targets for TASMAC stores, and freebies dolled out during elections further estrange the people for seeking any gainful employment, Sripathi said.

Secessionist movements

On secessionist movements, Sripathi noted that glorified caste identities, foul money, freebies, political and election considerations have created secessionist movements. The TN government took strong measures to root out naxalism and other secessionist movements. The government was able to infiltrate many of these organisations, driving them to go under-ground and dormant. Human rights commission, courts and to some extent civil society has weakened the police, the strong arm of the government, allowing militancy to fester, said Sripathi.

Commenting on the social milieu, Sripathi said that Tamil Nadu today has become an island in the nation of India. TN has become a pseudo nation in the overall polity of India. However, this seems to be a nation wide phenomenon. Constant in and out migrations changing the dynamics of the region’s demography, spiritualism overrun by materialism, hyper consumption culture and unemployment are some of the soft factors contributing towards militant affinities, observed Sripathi. 

Shoreline security

Elaborating on the administrative apathy, Sripathi pointed out that the nation has a 7,500 km shoreline with 1160 km flling in Tamil Nadu, yet most of our policies are Pakistan-centric, focusing primarily on the borders north of the sub-continent. In the aftermath of the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attack, the Coast Guard was strengthened and the Gulf of Mannar Reserve was created. The reserve provided gainful employment to many, thereby reducing the need for militant affinities. Policies focused on strengthening the shoreline has also helped in reducing drug trafficking.

Value based education and judicial reforms are essential to root out militancy, noted Sripathi. The administrative apparatus of the government has limited judicial powers to handle many sensitive situations, and at times, the courts are unable to fully comprehend the ground reality. It may help the executive to play a quasi-judicial role to diffuse and dispense situations that could escalate into militant trends. Further, there needs to be judicial accountability. The education system needs to ascribe more importance to values and vocational education that will help livelihood alternatives.

Concluding the discussion, Sripathi noted that militancy in South India is more psychological and is different from the violent militancy of the North.

This report is prepared by Deepak Vijayaraghavan, associate, Observer Research Foundation, Chennai

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