Dalits, Tamil cinema and Tamil society

Last Updated: Fri, Jan 05, 2018 19:04 hrs
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Rajnikanth has been busy politically affiliating himself with lofty visions about Tamil Nadu needing a revolution, about the welfare of the poor, Dalits and other subjugated masses in the state. He acts as a Dalit messiah in films like Pa. Ranjith’s Kabali yet keeps completely quiet about the attack on Dalits in Ambalapattu village in Thanjavur on the same day as he announced his entry into politics, the first day of another year of horror for Dalits in Tamil Nadu.

The goons of the Dravida movements in the state have only survived till day making money and strengthening their power structures and are silent on the attack. Seeman can’t stop talking about Tamilness but says nothing about this attack.  Tamil Nadu is a state of hideous contradictions. On the one hand, the state has a great number of anti-caste voices; on the other, it has the dubious distinction of being the most casteist state of all states in South India. The number of cases of violence against Dalits, the brutal murders bears witness to this.

The film industry ruled by Thevars and Tamil Brahmins have domesticated the basic tool of resistance from the Dalits, the parai. When Antony Dass sings country folk songs with his parai, it is mere a platform given by the privileged. Anirudh and Rahhman play the parai and the entire state embraces it with cheer and enthusiasm. Ilayaraja remains silent on his Dalitness and on violence on Dalits but makes a lot of noise about copyright over his songs. The violence by the Kalars of Ambalapattu exposes the hypocrisy of the Tamil film industry, the industry that has been the face of politics in Tamil Nadu for the past several decades. 

Dalits are being vandalised, our celebrations distorted, our progress hindered, our educational and economic progress are hacked and demeaned. The state is ruled by ruthless mafia, scamsters smugglers, rowdy sheeters, religious and language fanatics, real estate agents, casteist intellectuals (including Dalits like Pa. Ranjith who sell out the moment they work with the likes of Rajnikanth), illiterate old men and women. Tamil Nadu is run by money, power, and sex.

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Seeman's fight for me, as a Tamil Dalit, is meaningless. All those who take the names of Periyar, Kamaraja and Anna and Amma are equally corrupt and violent. The question of which Tamilian as the chief minister doesn't exist for me At the end of the day, no matter what happens Kalaingnar will live cozily while the fisherfolk are continuously being killed by the Sri Lankan marines and by the forces in their own state. The question of who killed Amma will prevail and who killed Anitha will pass away. Many Dinakarans will win while many Thirumavalavans will be silenced. Sasikala will live lavishly in jail while farmers will protest to their deaths in Janpath and Tamil Nadu will do nothing, Tamil folk in Sri Lanka will suffer and live subjugated and Tamil diasporas whether in Malleswaram or Malaysia will continue to live in fear but much will be made of Tamilness by everyone.

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Dalit individual and collective growth will continue to be vandalised by all the dominant religious caste groups in Tamil Nadu even as Dalitness might be made sexy in a film like Kabali. The fact is that no one in Tamil Nadu wants to recognise the violence against Dalits in the state. Perhaps this is why Kabali has to be in Malaysia and the Dalit struggle muted into sexiness. Tamil Dalits suffer brutal violence every day. The attack on the New Year celebration by Dalits shows this. It also shows that violence against Christians is not just in North India but is creeping into the South. The fact is that most Christians are in South India and most Indian Christians are Dalit.

As Bama shows in her novel Vanmam, the most brutal violence is reserved for the Dalit Christians in Tamil Nadu, and, indeed, across the country, as these are communities bettering themselves. ‘Why do you Dalits need to wear shirts and pants?’ asked the upper castes in Ambalapattu. The bikes and loudspeakers and houses of the Dalits were destroyed and damaged. Dalits are economically well-to-do in this village in Thanjavur and this cannot be tolerated by the upper castes. The message is clear. Dalits need to know their place and they need to stay at the bottom of the hierarchy and not dare come up in life.

In the current dispensation, it is easy to use religion as an excuse to attack the Dalits, as has been seen in the various attacks late last year on Dalits celebrating Christmas across North India. That this has now come to Tami Nadu shows the growth of the Hindu rightwing in Tamil Nadu too. This is a deeply disturbing and ominous sign.

South India is the emerging capital of violence against Dalits in the country. It is high time that South Indian Dalits unite, agitate and politically topple the systems of governance in the country. It is time they banish all the so-called saviours and their visions of revolution in states like Tamil Nadu.

A true revolution in Tamil Nadu will happen when Dalits can proudly speak their name in Tamil cinema (as the Thevars do, as the Brahmins do) and become protagonists of films not just victims of violence in them. A true revolution in Tamil Nadu will happen when Dalits no longer take these attacks lying down and protest as the Dalits in Maharashtra have this week. That revolution is far away from Tamil Nadu today. 

Rev. Immanuel Nehemiah is a pastor at two churches in Zuzuwadi, Hosur and Electronic City, Bangalore.

Note: The views expressed in the article are the author’s and not of Sify.com