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Voice of the oppressed

TALISMAN — Extreme Emotions of Dalit Liberation: Thirumaavalavan; Translated into English from the Tamil original by Meena Kandasamy, Pub. by Samya, an imprint of Bhatkal and Sen, 16, Southern Avenue, Kolkata-700026. Rs. 200.

THE 1990s witnessed a significant development in the socio-political history of Tamil Nadu — the Dalit upsurge and the emergence of a new, militant Dalit movement. This Dalit assertion of an unprecedented nature is seen as an offshoot of the massive mobilisation of this oppressed section for the celebrations of the birth centenary of the relentless fighter for their cause, B.R. Ambedkar.

That Dalits in the southern districts of Tamil Nadu, who had all along been silent victims of atrocities perpetrated by sections of people from the predominant non-Dalit castes, were no more prepared to be at the receiving end, became clear when they hit back with a vengeance in several areas. The backlash soon spread to other regions, particularly the northern districts.

Thol. Thirumaavalavan is one of the two principal Dalit leaders with a substantial mass base, who emerged from this movement of resistance, the other one being K. Krishnasamy. Working in different regions they have been keeping lakhs of Dalits, particularly the youth, under their charismatic spell. Thirumaavalavan, besides being a forceful orator, has also proved himself as an effective writer.

This work is a collection of 34 essays he wrote for a Tamil magazine during 2001-03. These insightful essays cover a whole range of subjects pertaining to Tamil life, social, cultural, economic and political, besides highlighting the plight of the Dalits, who have been victims of caste-based discrimination and violence. The author's deep understanding of the crosscurrents at work in the State politics is quite amazing.

From Dalit upsurge to "the resurgent Tamil nationalist sentiment", from the deep fissures in the Dravidian movement to the vicious machinations of the Hindutva forces, from the casteist atrocities against the Dalits to the cruel forays into poor nations by the U.S. troops in the name of containing terrorism and from the Presidential election to panchayat polls, Thirumaavalavan deals with almost every incident or event in his essays.

The first essay "What rules the nation: law or casteism?" discusses the challenge posed by casteist oppression to the civil society and calls for a national debate on the issue. He explains how even the police, the state administration and the judiciary are often indifferent to the plight of the Dalits and turn a blind eye to the atrocities against them.

In fact, he says, the police themselves let loose a reign of terror against the victims, under the pretext of maintaining law and order. "This way, innumerable people of the cheri (where the segregated Dalits live, often outside the village or town) suffer as refugees in their own land. They run from village to village. But the manipulative administration takes no notice of them," he writes.

He gives an account of atrocities against the Dalits at different places on various occasions, with elaborate, well-written, footnotes. Some more articles are also there on violence against the Dalits. A couple of essays deal with the Government's failure to hold panchayat president elections in four Dalit villages, reserved for the Scheduled Castes, because no eligible person would dare contest the elections against the wishes of the dominant caste Hindu communities.

He wonders whether the administration is serious about holding the elections in these villages. Many of the essays, which relate to State politics, look at the developments in this respect from the Dalit perspective.

In an essay on Dalit uprising vis--vis Dravidian politics, Thirumaavalavan explains how the principal Dravidian parties have drifted away from the ideals of "Periyar" E.V. Ramasami and blames the downslide on the "competitive politics" since the 1970s, when the actor-politician, M.G. Ramachandran, was removed from the DMK following differences with Karunanidhi, who led the party, and formed his own Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam that later became the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam.

The same kind of feud continues between Mr. M. Karunanidhi and MGR's political successor, Ms. J. Jayalalithaa, the author states and adds that this has weakened the movement to a great extent. In Thirumaavalavan's view though the principal objectives of the Dravidian movement included women's liberation, social justice, annihilation of caste system and struggle against Brahmin domination, the movement has in the last 50 years succeeded only in respect of ending Brahmin domination.

But the benefits arising out of it have all gone only to the intermediate castes, Backward and Most Backward Castes and this has led to a situation in which the oppression against the Dalits, according to him, has increased now, with the intermediate castes continuing the atrocities against the Dalits.

The author argues that the Dalits cannot, therefore, expect much support from the Dravidian parties in their struggle against oppression. Explaining how the Tamil society has been "slowly losing its identity" owing to the Hindutva forces' action in tampering with history, saffronising education and homogenising Tamils' religious life and the Dravidian movement 's failure to counter these forces effectively, Thirumaavalavan reveals his mind stating that the alternative lies in building up resistance from below by appealing to the "Tamil sentiments", as the Dravidian movement once did.


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