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An essay on a village in tamil nadu

So writes Gail Omvedt in her introduction to Thol. What is a good bit more certain, however, is that for the ferment in Tamil Nadu to succeed it must be translatable. On the contrary, its translation must involve not only the translation of one language into another, but also of words into deeds at the national level—into policies that protect Dalits from violent atrocities not merely under law but also in fact, into substantive and not merely formal democracy, or into genuine land reform, to name but a few demands of Tamil Dalits.

But before a demand can be implemented, or the argument found persuasive, it must not only be spoken but also heard. It must be taken up, it must be transcribed, translated, repeated, and repeatedly tested in political and intellectual contests. The demand that is spoken but once, or in a single place, fades on the wind. What happens to Dalits in one particular village is no longer allowed to stay within that village, but is made known to Dalits throughout the state and, equally importantly, is fashioned as a challenge to extra-local authorities to uphold justice.

But as all four books under review attest, extra-local authorities in this case the Government of Tamil Nadu and its ruling Dravidian parties have not only failed to meet this challenge but, on the contrary, have joined actively with the dominant castes in violently suppressing Dalits. These volumes, only three of which are translations in the literal sense, respond to this state of affairs by reaching beyond the state of Tamil Nadu and by posing the problems of Tamil Dalits as a matter of fundamental human rights.

The impulse to translate local struggles into universal claims, in other words, is an inherent feature of Dalit politics and not merely an additional step. The publications discussed below are not, therefore, merely a documentary record of events and writings—they are themselves the very life of the movement.

Viswanathan, originally published in the fortnightly newsmagazine Frontline over the ten-year period from 1995 to 2004. The majority of the reports describe acts of physical violence, which in Tamil Nadu have all too often been perpetrated upon Dalits by the authorized agents of the state—primarily the police—in addition to the usual dominant BC caste groups.

BCs against Dalits, the distinction between caste- and state sponsored-violence against Dalits is of uncertain theoretical relevance.

  • Shrieking green parakeets swoop through the gardens of neighbouring houses, all as big as ours;
  • Are they tulsi leaves, believed to bring good luck?

On state suppression of Dalit political activism, see also: Human Rights Watch 19. On the lackadaisical attitude of the Dravidian parties to land. This includes, for example, the pervasive failure by police and other responsible bodies to collect vital information about reservations, attacks on Dalits, non-enforcement of Constitutional mandates concerning access to public spaces and other resources including temples.

When the scale of caste violence is such as to force itself upon public attention, it has become commonplace in Tamil Nadu for the state government to appoint a special judicial commission to investigate. By appointing such commissions, the ruling party is able to circumvent the State Human Rights Commission, which is thereby prevented from conducting its own investigation Human Rights Watch 1999: The reports of these special commissions can generally be relied upon to show the state and its ruling party in a good light, and reports that do not are rarely made public Human Rights Watch 1999: One glaring example discussed by Viswanathan is the so-called Mohan Commission, appointed in the wake of an event in which police were alleged to have driven protesting tea plantation workers into the Tamirapalani river Tirunelveli with lathis, causing the drowning death of seventeen persons.

In preparing his report, Justice S. When activists attempted to publicly screen a documentary film in Chennai containing footage that disproved the official version of events, the DMK government swiftly suppressed the screening. Their claim, rather, is that in the particular case of India, the state has shown itself to be largely an extension of caste society rather than being distinct from it.

Since coming to power, however, the distinction between state and BC aggression has been substantively collapsed. It is not that Ravikumar or any of the other authors under review are nostalgic for the days of Brahmin rule.

On the contrary, a common complaint of Dalit leaders like Thirumavalavan and Ravikumar is that where they themselves have remained consistently opposed to Brahminical institutions, the heads of both Dravidian parties have long since come to embrace Brahminical Hinduism both in public and private UH: And yet Thirumavalan and Ravikumar also recognize that opposition to Brahmins and to Brahminism does not automatically entail attacking caste privilege as such.

Thus although Dravidian leaders were, at one time, undoubtedly sincere in their opposition to Brahmins, they failed to interrogate fundamentally the agrarian basis of caste domination, in which landed non-Brahmin castes were every bit as antagonistic to Dalits interests as their Brahmin rivals.

But until recently at least, the prevailing assumption outside of Tamil Nadu has been that the allegedly anti-caste Dravidian movement also known as the non-Brahmin movement had entailed Dalit uplift in some fundamental sense. Thus Gail An essay on a village in tamil nadu, a respected authority on Dalit issues, expresses surprise at the lamentable condition of Dalits in Tamil Nadu: It is therefore worth asking what exactly is different about the situation today, as compared to, say, the beginning of the twentieth century or earlier.

Of the various forms of violence described in the four volumes under review, none are new—routine beatings, murder, ritual humiliation and torture in response to individual acts of insubordination or infringements of ritual proscriptions; social and economic boycotts; and vigilante raids involving the destruction of Dalit homes and property, looting, and arson attacks on their hamlets in response to collective as well as individual insubordination.


Nor is there any evidence of their being used more regularly, or more readily, in recent times; we simply do not possess the data that would allow us to make diachronic comparisons of this type. Although it comprises previously published work, the volume exceeds the sum of its parts. In highlighting what others have habitually ignored, Viswanathan not only sheds light on the multiple dimensions of anti-Dalit violence in Tamil Nadu, but begins to reverse the epistemic violence that has rendered anti-Dalit crimes largely invisible to all but their most immediate victims.

Tamil Nadu

Uproot Hindutva is a collection of 17 of his speeches, delivered between April 1998 and November 2004; Talisman an essay on a village in tamil nadu 34 articles written by Thirumavalavan for the Tamil edition of India Today, a weekly newsmagazine, between August 2001 and February 2003.

In translating his words into English, Meena Kandasamy has made them available for the first time—not just to non-Tamil speakers from the West, but more significantly to Dalits from elsewhere in India. For an oft-overlooked feature of Dalit politics in India is the extent to which Dalits from different linguistic regions remain largely cut off from one another, and for whom English remains the only viable lingua franca.

For although relatively few Tamil Dalits read English, fewer still read or write in Hindi or other Indian vernaculars. The reverse is also true: This turn to Tamil has been criticized on two grounds: Both criticisms bear upon the issue of translation.

In the first, a Tamil-focused movement is assumed to be inward looking, centripetal, and inherently inimical to addressing all-India and global issues. Simply put, this criticism assumes an incompatibility between the turn to Tamil and translatability.

The second criticism bears upon translation in the extended sense of a translation between words and deeds. For it accuses the movement of embracing a self-defeating strategy. And if the turn to Tamil is strategically self-defeating—if it weakens Dalits even within Tamil Nadu—of what relevance could the movement be to all-India politics or to the struggle of dominated subpopulations more generally?

As I will explain, however, neither criticism rests on solid foundations.

Life In A Village of India

For until very recently, virtually all Dalits habitually gave their vote to either one or the other of the major Dravidian parties. The erosion of Dalit support, moreover, is of greater significance to Dravidian party dominance than simply the loss of their votes. But today Dalits frequently refuse to play this role, attending their own rallies instead VT: Their political future therefore depends on their ability to form successful alliances with non-Dalits, and in the present day this means with either one or the other of the Dravidian parties.

There is of course nothing paradoxical about this; instead of the Dalit vote being split more or less evenly between, and without any voice within, the two Dravidian political machines, the VCK is potentially in a position to force these parties to compete for votes they had long taken for granted.

  1. The Dina Thanthi is the leading paper.
  2. We spent our childhood playing out on the dry riverbed, the open ground for the entire evenings.
  3. The vendor would sing songs to attract children and pull out the colourful, sweet semi-liquid material which was elastic enough to be moulded from the bamboo which was holding it and out of which he would make birds, animals, watches, insects, etc. All Muslim families wrote letters to their relatives living afar, inviting them for the Mariamman festival.

For by challenging the Dravidian parties on these grounds, the VCK in one fell swoop stakes out an independent basis for Dalit power in the electoral arena, while nevertheless encouraging those parties to reform themselves and leaving open the door to cooperation.

There are perfectly good strategic reasons for the VCK to adopt this approach. It is too early to say.

  • It must be taken up, it must be transcribed, translated, repeated, and repeatedly tested in political and intellectual contests;
  • We lived in total harmony;
  • Most abandoned their mansions and sold off the furniture and fittings;
  • For it accuses the movement of embracing a self-defeating strategy;
  • A well-developed road network makes express bus service available to all major towns and places of interest;
  • Muslim families always threw a separate vegetarian feast the day after their family weddings for Hindu friends.

And because his words have not been available heretofore in English, it has not been possible for interested persons elsewhere in India to question the validity of these assessments.

Such an interpretation becomes more difficult, however, when we consider that equal weight is accorded to the preceding phrase: What, for Thirumavalavan and the VCK, is at stake? Thus VCK members are also expected to give up names that identify them as members of any specific caste, even though in most cases these names are uniquely Tamil.

Thus by openly championing the plight of Sri Lankan Tamils, Thirumavalavan simultaneously calls attention to what is popularly regarded as the hypocrisy of Dravidian leaders. Indeed, one might even argue that a nationalism based on opposition an essay on a village in tamil nadu caste has to be opposed to the valorization of common birth—for caste is, if nothing else, a political-economic alliance premised on the ideology of common blood. At this point one begins to sense that, far from subordinating Ambedkarite politics to Tamil, what Thirumavalavan is really up to is refashioning Tamil nationalism as a form of Ambedkarism.

Elsewhere, for instance, he condemns historical kingdoms standard Tamil nationalism hails as paragons of Tamil virtue—the Cholas, Cheras, and Pandyas—and champions the so-called Kalappira period, during which Tamil Nadu was ruled by non-Tamil kings, on the grounds that under their rule anti-caste Buddhism and Jainism flourished UH: For in Tamil Nadu today even the leaders of the allegedly pro-Tamil Dravidian movement, while preaching the greatness of Tamil and the importance of Tamil-medium education, send their own children to be educated in English medium schools just like other elites.

Purely Tamil-medium education, by contrast, has become the exclusive domain of Dalits and other very poor people. Only the children of the cheris [i. Dalit ghettoes] are enrolled into the state-run corporation schools and learn Tamil.

The golden days of my village life

The trend of mistreating and humiliating those who study in the state-run corporation schools and Tamil-medium schools is prevalent. In so doing, I risk perpetuating the impression that most of his speeches and writings revolve around Tamil.

This is not the case. In addition to caste, his speeches dwell at length on such issues an essay on a village in tamil nadu privatization TAL: That Thirumavalavan should see these topics as not only within his natural purview, but matters of vital concern, comes as a surprise only to the extent that we have been taught to regard the Dalit movement as a sectional interest group Gajendran 1998, Guru 1998.

Viewed through their own eyes, however, the concerns of Dalits are not merely universal in aspiration but indeed already universal, whatever others may have to say about them.

The truly sectional interests, rather, are the national and sub-national forces in India that seek to confine and exclude them. This is the first duty of a reader to any text Asad 1993.

I have not attempted to assess the accuracy of his historical claims or of the sociological account his words imply, because Thirumavalavan does not write as a professional historian or sociologist. He is a politician, an organizer, a thinker, and an instigator. In concluding I would like to note a possible tension among these roles, a tension that turns on the gap between statements and other forms of action.

For knowing what Thirumavalavan says, and what kind of vision he espouses, cannot tell us what he and his party will be able to do. Leaders of the Dravidian movement too once espoused radical ideas, and sometimes still do. Whether the VCK will attempt to make good on their radical message by fighting for real structural change—land reform, for example—or whether they will remain content with symbolic measures and adapt to the patronage-based politics of Dravidianism remains an open question.

In part this is because much of the power of his oratory derives from delivery—a well-timed pause, an ironic twist conveyed by tone of voice—as well as from his ability to connect intimately with his audience by drawing upon his own minute understanding of a life-world that he and they share. These are aspects that no translator could hope to convey.

Yet there are other aspects of his speeches that do not depend on the form of their delivery or the specificity of context, and these might have been conveyed in English.

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