"Why did clothing prices increase?", "because Dalit women have started wearing blouses". "Why did unemployment rise?", "because Dalits are applying for jobs". "Why is rice costing more?", "those arrack drinking guys have started eating rice". If anyone thought it was Kaduvetti Guru who spoke those despicable words, think again. It is Tamil Nadu's patron saint E.V.Ramasamy Naicker, referred honorifically as 'Periyaar'. I've actually toned down his crude language. Karunanidhi's Murasoli ran a set of cartoons in their 1962 Pongal issue (see below) that has the colorful language verbatim. Please enlarge and read it, holding your noses:
In a fiery speech laden with blatant caste baiting Guru and his party have thrown Tamil Nadu into a cauldron of hatred. Guru, the speech shows, is E.V.R's intellectual heir.
EVR saw the Brahmin lurking behind anything that he thought was the cause for non-Brahmins to be dominated over. Not given to nuances or graces EVR saw nothing but evil in every Brahmin. How much of what EVR said and did was justifiable 'counter-reaction'. Was EVR, like ABC News called Malcolm-X in USA, the 'hate that hate produced'? Did Brahmins create the Frankenstein that EVR became? Castes and the interplay of hegemony was more complex than what an illiterate EVR understood. Untouchability and racial discrimination existed in many corners of the world where the Brahmin had never set foot or where Manu Shasthra never existed. Even in India the much maligned Manu smriti was not as pervasive as was propagated by EVR. Most of India was ruled by the Mughals for over 6 centuries where the Brahman was seen as an infidel along with others.
It is not an accident that India's freedom struggle, the greatest the world had ever seen, was dominated by upper caste Brahmins, Patels and of course the most famous Bania, Gandhi. The upper caste having arrogated to themselves the privilege of education were, naturally, the first to rebel against foreign rule. It is from within Brahmins that reformers arose to rid Hinduism of its shameful Sati and Child marriage practices. It is within the paradigm of freedom movement that centuries old prejudices against women and lower caste were shaken.
Abdul Kalam, former President and a Muslim, recounts an interesting anecdote in his auto-biography. One of Kalam's teacher was a Brahmin. The teacher asked Kalam to come to his house for lunch. The Brahmin teacher's wife would refuse to serve food for a Muslim. The teacher would take it upon himself to serve the food. The teacher would insist that Kalam visit every week for lunch. Kalam, naturally, was not thrilled. Seeing his hesitation the teacher told him "don't worry about my wife. She has to learn".
A question to ponder is why Ambedkar, a Dalit, who had suffered more at the hands of upper caste never adopted EVR's poisonous rhetoric? Not even Malcolm X advocated violence against whites who were lynching his fellow blacks. One could point to an insult that EVR had suffered like not being fed at a Brahmin run mutt in Kasi. Nursing a grudge to ask for violence against every caste member of that community is why EVR remains a rabid rabble rouser and would never join the ranks of Gandhi and MLK Jr. Gandhi stitched a pair of slippers for General Smuts who had imprisoned him. Gandhi was thrown out of a train in a cold night in a foreign country by a white man and yet he never said "if a white man and a snake came together hit the white man first".
It is not a matter of just alleging that EVR was anti-Dalit by quoting him. No. EVR taught a people to hate a community. Having taught hatred it is difficult to keep it focused on just the initial target. Class hatred entered the body politic of the Tamil and is now an inseparable feature of most Tamils. Hating Brahmins was a universal sport in Tamil Nadu. This fanning of anti-Brahmin hatred yielded a more sinister corollary.
While EVR was busy teaching everyone to hate Brahmins little note was taken of the fact that practically every caste was guilty of casteism towards every other caste they deemed beneath them. Several years ago Dalit students in Chennai's Adi-Dravida hostel organized a road blockade to draw attention to the pathetic state of their hostel. Adi-Dravida hostels are government run to house Dalit students. The hostels were not fit even for animals to stay and the food was something no human being would eat. Yet, none other than Brahmin owned Frontline magazine ran stories about the hostel. EVR's party organ, now run by Veeramani, behaved as if no such thing happened.
If one takes a cursory reading of EVR's party organ, Viduthalai, one would think that but for Brahmins the world would be a paradise of equality and justice. Just two weeks back Viduthalai proudly reported a remark by 3rd rate lyric writer Arivumathi "கவிஞர் அறிவுமதி தன்னுடைய கவிதை ஒன்றைச் சொல்லி எல்லோருக்கும் விபத்து மயிரி ழையில் நடக்கும், தமிழனுக்கும் மட்டும் நூலிழையில் நடக்கும் என்று பலத்த கைதட்டலுடன் தொடங்கினார்". Celebrating the disputed 100th year of founding of Dravidian party M.Karunanidhi, 5 times elected as CM, wrote 'this occasion reminds of our undertaking to make Brahmins shiver in their boots'. It is ironical for THAT Karunanidhi to advise Ramadoss to speak decently. Or did indecent speech become defined as to exclude hatred against Brahmins. At least Kaduvetti Guru only 'hinted' at a caste derisively.
Even today when one talks of caste hatred and untouchability the image that comes to most Tamil minds is that of the Brahmin. Forced to negotiate on the same table with Dalit leader Immanuel the Thevar community patriarch Muthuramalingam fumed and engineered a fatal attack on Immanuel. Even today when Madurai celebrates Guru Pooja, in honor of Muthuramalingam, the entire district would be seething ready to burst into an orgy of violence.
In the 90's Karunanidhi named a bus fleet after a lower caste warrior. Madurai burned for several days. Vaasanthi, editor of Tamil magazine 'India Today', later wrote quoting a 10 year old boy who cursed "do they think we will step inside a bus named after a lower caste". Madurai is still home to the grotesque system called 'two-tumbler system'. Even today Dalits cannot ride a cycle or wear a towel on the shoulder in some streets. Breaking that taboo will invite riots. Many Dalit colonies were walled off. It is not an accident that the Dravidian parties, owing fealty to EVR, dominated by so called Backward Castes did not bother to remove such iniquities. Recently Madras Law college saw brutal attack of a Thevar student by Dalit students who had felt insulted in an earlier fracas. I am sure no one would call that as 'you reap as you sow' as one would justify EVR's actions against Brahmins.
|E.V.Ramasamy Naicker's despicable rhetoric about Dalits.|
EVR is seen as one who challenged Brahmin hegemony and brought about social justice with his crusade against religion over many decades. EVR's rhetoric was designed to shock and chill. 'If a Brahmin and a snake come together, hit the Brahmin first' said EVR. The non-Brahmin majority reveled in seeing such a challenge being flung at a powerful minority group. It is unarguable that Brahmins did control the corridors of power and were seen as originators of an unspeakable horror, 'untouchability'. The very sight of a lower caste was seen as polluting to the upper caste. There was a time when knowledge of Sanskrit was considered essential to enroll in Medical college in Tamil Nadu, where almost no one spoke Sanskrit. While all that is true that is not all there is to truth.
Dalit commentator Ravikumar, later an MLA too, in an op-ed titled 'Periyar's Hindutva', wryly observed, "it would not be an exaggeration to say that the bases of the electoral alliances of today's Dravidian parties can be found in Periyar. The spread of an anti-dalit mentality and the reasons for the backwardness of dalits in the last three decades can be traced back to Periyar". EVR, stung by how minority Brahmin's wielded power, saw evil in any minority section of the population. It did not matter if the minority was an oppressed community. Given his blatantly indefensible quotes I'd allege he did suffer from anti-Dalit bias.
A.Marx, EVR's hagiographer, in a book about EVR exults how EVR saw a conspiracy in society's ideas of 'morals'. Marx, unsurprisingly, often cites Nietzsche when he talks of EVR. EVR saw that morals were a conspiracy by Brahmins to keep the rest of the society pinned now. What Nietzsche saw as the conspiracy of the weak EVR saw as conspiracy of the Brahmin. His loathing of Brahmins was so complete that he rejected Tamil literature, including Kural and even the much admired texts of Tamil grammar, as a stooge of Brahmins that encourages casteism.
To all the above add, what has now become the most pernicious system of social justice, the quota based 'reservation system'. 'Reservation' as practiced by India is not the same as its milder cousin affirmative action practiced in USA. They differ by a key metric. The Indian system is aptly called 'reservation' because it is quota based. As with the separate electorate system the reservation system too started with just a 10 year period of implementation and is now in its 60th year.
EVR's followers often exult that Tamil Nadu was the front runner in reservation system since the early 20th century, essentially conceding that the system is in place for a 100 years. I don't want to go into the claims of whether a 100 years is enough etc. Excluding all together any economic criterion and pegging a key benefit, education and jobs, to caste ensures the perpetuation of caste. As economic prospects improved and those benefiting under the quota regime became doctors and engineers and moved to urban centers they did escape the yoke of casteism. Not acknowledging that or even making room for that, a system, based on caste only, has made it every one's interest never to forget their caste.
In a premium private school in Chennai Brahmin and non-Brahmin students taunt each other. The non-Brahmin says "thanks to quota I shall sail into MBBS". To which the Brahmin student retorts "shudra" (actually they say a cruder form 'soothies'). When MBBS list comes out with 9 out top 10 students being BC's Veeramani exults that the happiest day for him shall be the day there is no Brahmin in any medical college. Hitler could not have been clearer. I've heard friends support Karunanidhi's policy of not recommending Brahmin authors for Sahitya Akademi. And then there is the Brahmin guy who tells a non-Brahmin friend "your daughter will not be as good in math as my Brahmin boy". It was said, nonchalantly without malice as a matter of fact statement.
The quota system also provides an incentive to castes maintaining their 'purity' and 'numbers'. Thanks to proliferating private media we get to hear caste leaders say they will punish their girl children if they fall in love. Is Ramadoss a fool to talk about love marriages? No. He is trying to preserve his flock. To be sure, there are other sociological reasons like considering women folk as 'property' that fuels such talk. Tamil film director Bhagyaraj could easily make a movie about a Brahmin girl marrying a boy from the barber caste. If he had made the girl to be from any other caste his movie would have been burned and probably he too would have been harmed. The Brahmins should thank Ramadoss's men for having the courage to ask Dravidian party leaders "would any of you consent for your children to marry a Dalit?"
PMK, formerly Vanniar Sangam, came to limelight for their tree-felling agitation clamoring for an exclusive quota. The BC's who had enjoyed the fruits of quotas for nearly 4 decades had come to form a 'creamy layer' where well educated and convent going kids continued to hog the quota seats. Naturally the benefits of quota did not percolate below the 'creamy layer' to other backward castes who now called themselves 'Most Backward Class'. Vanniyars trace their lineage, like every other caste, to an ancient ruling community. They called themselves the sons of Pallavas, of course with no proof. Barring the Brahmin it appears every community, when talking of how great they were, likes to call themselves 'erstwhile rulers of the land'. At this rate its the poor Brahmin who looks like the powerless.
It is laughable that those who write "Ramadoss's quota agitation yielded fruits for Vanniyars" and then feign indignation at the blatant caste oriented rhetoric. If Vanniyars enjoyed the fruit of a violent agitation that was launched with a singular aim of garnering caste based benefits then its kind of facetious to now say "Ramadoss is overtly communal".
Losing elections successively, seeing his domination eroding, desirous of achieving absolute political power Ramadoss has begun to show his fangs in plain sight. The only concession I'd give him is that its unfair for most Tamils to scold him. A blogger, who now disavows PMK, writes soothingly that Guru was wrong to divide Tamils into Telugu's, Naickers, etc and speak of the latter groups as 'immigrants' forgetting how they were part of Tamil Nadu for many centuries. Guru learned that from EVR and the Dravidian political ilk. The blogger, intentionally and maliciously, did not include Brahmins in the list of people who should be considered Tamil by virtue of being in Tamil Nadu for centuries. So much for his pose of humanism. That blogger, an avowed admirer of Prabakaran, blamed the Brahmin-Bania press for claiming that Prabakaran was dead. Never mind that the entire world press was claiming that. These are not tit-bits. These are windows into a soul.
Politically incorrect rhetoric and derogatory remarks about other ethnic groups are par for the course in Tamil Nadu. There are proverbs about Malayalees, Vanniyars, Brahmins, Mudaliars, all in unflattering manner, of course. While Ghandhi strove to exhibit acceptance of diversity as virtue EVR reveled in being offensive. EVR called for physically assaulting Brahmins and to cut their sacred thread. I personally know of such an incident in Tanjore. EVR, propagating atheism, took a procession of slipper garlanded picture of Rama. To show that Ganesha is nothing but an idol EVR broke Ganesh statues in the streets. At one level I marvel at how Tamils have accommodated such rhetoric. Of course all that was possible only because EVR chose to offend Hindus, a very accepting lot. The Hindu's rightly judged that EVR's come and go faith in gods will remain. EVR's divisive rhetoric about non-Brahmins being Dravidian and Brahmins being 'invaders' took root in Dravidian party rhetoric. Repeatedly denied office Karunanidhi would bemoan that only Tamils would allow a Malayalee to rule over them. It is, that, Karunanidhi, a blogger wrote about as 'the last refuge of Dravidian ideals' and today bemoans divisiveness.
EVR had his redemptive sides too. He was mostly a nihilist and anarchist who believed any collective identity was a contrived 'artificial' one in as much as we are not born with any identity except our gender. A. Marx says EVR considered linguistic and nationalist identities too as artificial as they were 'learned'. In a marked departure from this key aspect Karunanidhi and Annathurai, claiming to be EVR's proteges, cultivated militant linguistic and ethnic chauvinism as a tool to gain elected office. My favorite Tamil blogger admonishing divisions amongst Tamils along caste lines exhorts all Tamils to unite under the banner of 'Tamil race' and he helpfully has, as banner on FB, a picture of an LTTE regiment walking by with guns slung on their shoulders. Greedy for elected office the first principle that Annathurai jettisoned was his separatism. Tamils have repeatedly rejected such rhetoric at the ballot box.
In the Tamil Nadu I grew up I've rarely heard anyone speak openly of their caste or of going to caste meetings. Today its common to hear, of all people, Tamils abroad in US say "I went to XYZ caste meetings". Those meetings are replete with caste pride laced talks of course. Children are even taught blatant lies as history with a view to making them feel proud of their caste lineage. Despite living in a pluralistic society that prides itself in being open a Brahmin music teacher feels its ok to drop innuendos about a non-Brahmin child's abilities to pick up Carnatic music because her parents have no familiarity with music. The same child studies Western Classical with an American teacher who calls the child a 'prodigy'. A Chetttiar American gleefully says that he would rather go to a Chettiar Sangam than to Tamil Sangam. He also added, for good measure, how he frowns on inter-caste marriage. A chauvinistic strain runs through everything that a Tamil does whether it is a Tamil Sangam or Caste Association. The impulses are the same. One might point to American being proud of, well, being an American. When pride is tied to a larger heterogenous groups its more diffuse. When pride gets tied to a narrow slice it often becomes militant and racist.
EVR's biggest failure was in propagating atheism. In 1950 Karunanidhi mocked on screen that a Hindu goddess was nothing but stone. Guru, in 2013, declares unabashedly that Vishnu, Siva, Murugan etc are the beloved deities of Vanniyars. Not even Brahmins had dared to do this. For this I congratulate Guru. Unlike Gandhi and MLK Jr EVR lacked the intellectual finesses to see value in religion. Not seeing value in religion EVR was only interested in tearing it down. Where Gandhi tried to foster dialogue amongst various religions EVR found himself like a bull in a china shop. This robbed Tamils of any paradigm of political correctness. Innuendos about Muslims, particularly, abound amongst Hindus and Christians. The converse was true too. Karunanidhi took vicarious pleasure in mocking Hindus (when he was not mocking Brahmins). Seeing a party man with a vermillion mark on the forehead Karunanidhi quipped 'is that blood on your forehead'. Today thanks to social media people give back as good as they get it. When Karuninidhi's wife, a devout Hindu, applied Vermillion on her son's forehead a FB guy quipped "நாங்க பூசினா நெத்தில ரத்தம் ஆனா நீங்க பூசினா டிராஃபிக் சிக்னலா".
I am not sure about Manu smriti oppressing people but I am very certain that Dravidian politics is hypocritical and deprives people of opportunities. The Hindu carried an article( http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/tamil-nadu/for-dalit-students-its-a-nightmarish-leap-from-tamil-medium-to-english/article4686735.ece) about how Dalit students struggle in college because most come from Tamil medium schools. In a very ironical combination Dalit leader Thirumavalavan joined hands with PMK's Ramadoss to promote Tamil. Thiruma never understood that EVR wanted to promote English as a language of learning simply because it creates opportunities. That is also why EVR was against Tamil linguistic chauvinism. Annathurai and particularly Karunanidhi made a fetish out of educating large sections of people in Tamil while sending their children to top English convents in Chennai. My PMK sympathizing blogger has an aversion for Guru and remarks "Guru was after all a guy selling illegal liquor and was not educated like Anbumani who studied in Montfort at Yercaud". The blogger did not pause for a minute to reflect on the hypocrisy of Ramadoss. After all Montfort educated Anbumani was still asking Vanniyars to vote for him because he was Vanniyar. Montfort educated and even doctor Anbumani was the one encouraging Guru to be what he can be, a fiery speaker stoking caste feelings. In fact I view Guru, as a lesser danger compared to Anbumani. Guru does not know better. Anbumani knows better and indulges in caste bashing. Education is of no use.
In an earlier blog I had written how Thiruma adopted stances like prohibiting Navodaya schools which were inimical to Dalit progress. By falling prey to Tamil chauvinism and not demanding convent style education for his brethren Thiruma is the first enemy of Dalits. I'd tell every Dalit to run away from any Dravidian leader who even utters the word "Manu Smriti". While Karunanidhi prattles about 'அவாள்' to Dalits he is busy educating his children in convents while prohibiting, using government orders, opening more English medium sections in Government run schools. While Dalits are taught about Brahminical conspiracies the real conspiracy is a third rate politician who bribes voters with free color TV program costing Rs 7,000 crores instead of spending it on schools. While Rs 500 crores was spent of Tamil Semmozhi conference Dalit hostels were left to become dilapidated and unfit for even animals to stay ("Hellhole hostels" See picture at end of blog).
There is a certain romance for violence, worldwide and Tamils are no exception. Bhagat Singh and Malcolm X are fancied more than Gandhi and MLK Jr. Asking people to abrogate their caste self styled 'Tamil enthusiasts' exhort people to call themselves Tamils and the associated picture (see below at the end of the blog) is a troop of gun toting LTTE soldiers. What's the message here? "I am Tamil, let all other Indians beware of me since I've a gun". Vanniars on FB use very derogatory and militant images on FB. One such post had Thiruma apologising and begging for his life.
What can we make out of all this? To be blunt Tamils (and in general Indians) are very racist. Every caste harbors chauvinistic pride and unmitigated contempt towards others they see, even, as peers and worse towards those seen as below. In the place of Brahmin hegemony a non-Brahmin hegemony exists today. The incessant focus on Brahmins has allowed everybody else to practice racism, even its violent forms, with impunity. For the number of times that Veeramani and Karunanidhi speak of Rajaji's 'குல கல்வி திட்டம்' it is not an accident that they do not speak of Keezhvenmani massacre. Reservation policy, as it is structured today, is the prime culprit in preserving casteism. The caste based policy badly needs reforms. I do not envisage abrogation of caste as a criteria overnight. In fact that may not be desirable too. But a reform to include economic criterion and excluding creamy layer is urgent. A culture of respecting religion by constitutional functionaries is essential. It is unpardonable when a state's CM ridicules a faith. A climate of respecting diverse ethnicities, an abrogation of chauvinism, a refusal to classify those living amongst Tamils for centuries as immigrants and a culture of political correctness is all a crying need. I'll add a caveat to political correctness, it does not mean stifling free speech. Let us not forget that hatred takes root more easily than sensible ideas. Tamil Nadu eagerly learned hatred from EVR forgetting or ignoring some valuable ideas he had.
To all the above I'll add lets bury the culture of selective outrage.
Do I harbor hopes? Nay. Not a bit. The poison has run too deep.
|"I am Tamil" poster found on FB.|
|"நாங்க பூசினா நெத்தில ரத்தம் ஆனா நீங்க பூசினா டிராஃபிக் சிக்னலா".|
|Dalit Hostel Dining Hall - Courtesy Frontline Issue Jan 15th - 28th 2011|