Whenever a strife takes place in Tamil Nadu—religious or caste-related—a cry usually rends the air: ‘What is happening to our Garden of Peace’? That the Tamil land is a garden of peace is well-engrained in the minds of most of its people who look upon the communal and caste-related violence that bedevils north India with barely concealed contempt. But every one of them, barring a hopeless minority, have in them an inalienable religious or caste identity, or both, which they will defend with a surprising vehemence. I have seen docile Iyengars going red in the face and gnashing their teeth whenever they feel that their Iyengar-hood is being insulted. Similarly, it will be impossible for anyone, when Thevars are around, to say a word against Muthuramalinga Thevar, a formidable caste icon, and get away with all limbs intact. Aggressive posturing by Hindu, Christian and Muslim ideologues on TV channels is a routine, daily occurrence. The disdain most non-Dalits have for the just struggles of the Dalits is monstrously and demonstrably callous. A keen observer visiting Tamil Nadu will discern without much difficulty that a core of sectarian fire burns inside almost every Tamil, notwithstanding his or her sanctimonious protestations and that its heat is present in even routine discussions on religion and caste.
The fire, seemingly undiminishable and eternal, has a long history.