In Defence of Pa Ranjith

pa ranjith 0

I dont have much understanding of films these days as I dont watch them but yes sometime I read about them. Indian cinema whether in Bollywood or elsewhere has been dominated by the dominated caste groups and defended the existing caste supremacy and promoted gender segregation or division of labour. The cinema rarely showed support for the cause of people victim of caste system or gender discrimination.Black as a colour and physical as well as mental disability were always mocked at in the cinema across the country. In terms of participation and representation, most of the cinema has been purely ‘represented’ by all these dominant groups who enjoyed unfettered supremacy in the industry. The caste system can be visible and colour bias applicable in Indian cinema.

But there were some exceptions too. With new age, people are making their way into art and creative world. Assertive Ambedkarites have made their foray into cinema and are challenging the brahmanical dominant narrative. In the South, particularly in Tamilnadu, Dravidian parties dominated raising the anti brahmin slogan and have also acquired the cultural space too. However, there are critical questions about the role and legitimacy of these Dravidian parties as far as the caste question is concern and also against their support to the Dalits identity.

There were scholars who wrote about it and some were used by the brahmin lobby too using Ambedkar as a tool to defame Periyar. I had put these questions to Thiru K Veermani in an interview long back in Chennai, about the role of Dravidian parties and why parties like PMK have stood against Dalit empowerment. If annihilation of caste was important then why it did not become agenda of the Dravidian parties in Tamilnadu. Why is that in many parts of Tamilnadu, Dalit sarpanches cant hoist the tricolor on Independence day. Why there is still a wall between communities. Why communities like Devendra Kulluvellalar want to do away with the Dalit status ?

There are serious questions. I think it is the right of an individual to question and Pa Ranjith has done nothing wrong in making his analysis of the Chola Kingdom about whom a number of people have already written. Long back, in a review article published in the magazine Frontline, S Viswanathan
(The Legend of Nandan: Nandan Kathai by Indira Parthasarathy, translated from the Tamil by C.T. Indra; Oxford University Press; pages 82, Rs.195.) published in Volume 20 Issue 08, April 12-25 2003, informs the readers about it. (…/stor…/20030425000607500.htm).

Writes S Viswanathan in the review :

“The “Pulaiyars”, the “Paraiars” and the “Pallars” are some of the large Dalit communities. Many historians have shown that large sections of original inhabitants (the Pallars and the Paraiars, for instance) were alienated from their land. Manickam contends that the Aryanisation process reached its peak during the period of Imperial Cholas under state patronage and this led to a form of slavery, mainly associated with land. The distribution of land as gift to Brahmins by the kings during the Pallava and Chola periods brought about changes in land relations. Brahmins, who were until then mostly advisers and purohits to the king, became landowners in several places.”

The fact is the dynasties in India were always caste based and justify the caste system. In Tamilnadu, the backward communities gained under the self respect movement but could not widen their self respect to Panchamas. The Dravidian movement also became successful because of the landed castes who never wanted land reforms as it would have democratised the society more. Hence, just being anti brahmin does not serve the purpose of the most marginalised and Tamilnadu is the best case for that to understand. But it is equally important to understand that Dalit movement will have to ally with those who they can and not with those who justify caste system. Periyarist movement despite all its weaknesses can still be the best ally of the Ambedkarite movement in Tamilnadu as well as outside Tamilnadu.

The growth of the Hindu Munnani or Hindu Makkal Katchi kinds of organisations is nothing but their absorbance to anti Dravidian self respect identity. It is the forces who are being encouraged by many and after Bengal, they have Tamilnadu and Kerala in their map. So, all the forces of social justice have to remain united and sort out their local issues and differences of opinion.

Film Maker Pa Ranjith is the face of assertive Ambedkarite, who has been speaking on issues of Dalit Identity in Tamilnadu and rightly so, does not want to subsume his identity into the broader Dravidian identity at the same point of time question the Chola empire and their handsome donation of land to the temples and mutths. I mean there is nothing wrong in this assertion. Can any one tell us why, all these kings anywhere in India, all role models included, never gave land to Dalits but were very liberal in donating thousands and thousands of acres of land for temples as well as mosques. The reason of India decline and division is these caste based kings and their vampires which focused more on justifying the caste hierarchies and promoted superstitions and rituals. I mean except for the Buddhist period, we never saw seriousness in education and more focus was on brahmanical rituals. The kings remain loyal to priestly classes and never ever touched the caste system.

So why should we venerate those who never ever bothered to democratise our society. Why are they role model for us when they were dynasties. We hate only one particular dynasty which actually is a political family and the power of democracy has just thrown them out. If they were a dynasty they would have been ruling us for ever without our permission. How many of these Rajas and Maharahas ever thought of doing so. Priestly castes were important for them to justify their misdeeds and donation to religious institutions was always considered to be a ‘good’ act even if you dont do any other thing. Nobody inform us the good work in education or land reforms or annihilation of caste by these Maharajas.

The fact is the huge land given to religious institutions denied the democratisation of society and therefore the growth of us. Land is the prime subject where our rural economy and caste system work. Pa Ranjith deserve kudos for raising this issue which has been ignored by the wider Ambedkarite intelligentsia most of the time. Today, the dominant of the religious institutions remain intact because under the democratic system too, we were unable to use the land ceiling laws on these huge land track. Why cant the Gods and Goddesses live in smaller campuses ? Why do they need huge campuses ? How will we democratise society, if we dont do land reforms and if we want to do it then how do we do it if we dont acquire land from those who have amassed it hugely. Social disparities only increases chaos and anarchy. It is the reason of violence. For democracy to succeed, we need democratisation of society, which is not possible in the absence of land reforms.

We stand with Pa Ranjith. I dont think critiquing our social system makes you anti national or anti constitution. Dr Ambedkar did it so valiantly. In the Dravidian Land, Periyar did it more powerfully and with absolute support of the masses that even after seven decade of our independence, the brahmanical nationalist parties have not been able to make inroads there. However, it is the duty of the Dravidian parties to respect and understand the Ambedkarite-Dalits issues and strengthen their leadership and initiate land reforms processes in the villages. As a society we will not grow if we stop thinking and questioning. There is nothing wrong in asking question and giving your alternative views. Meaningful debates only strengthen our democratic spaces and in term give the powers the opportunity to improve and enact laws and legislation for the benefit of the people. Historical wrongs can not be undone but can always be questioned to learn lessons from them for the betterment of the society.

Vidya Bhushan Rawat is a social and human rights activist. He blogs at twitter @freetohumanity Email: [email protected]


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Vidya Bhushan Rawat

Vidya Bhushan Rawat is a social and human rights activist. He blogs at twitter @freetohumanity Email: [email protected]

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