The Hindu Lit Fest 2024 | Annihilating caste is a joint effort, says writer Azhagiya Periyavan

He says it was important to remember B.R. Ambedkar’s statement that caste was a state of mind

January 27, 2024 09:30 pm | Updated 11:05 pm IST - CHENNAI:

Narratives of the Oppressed: Voices of Assertion Perumal Murugan and Azhagiya Periyavan in conversation (Tamil), at The Hindu Lit Fest  2024 at Sir Mutha Venkatasubba Rao concert hall in Chennai on Saturday.

Narratives of the Oppressed: Voices of Assertion Perumal Murugan and Azhagiya Periyavan in conversation (Tamil), at The Hindu Lit Fest 2024 at Sir Mutha Venkatasubba Rao concert hall in Chennai on Saturday. | Photo Credit: R. Ravindran

Annihilation of caste, although an onerous task, has to happen and it can be done only through a joint effort, said writer Azhagiya Periyavan while speaking at The Hindu Lit Fest 2024 here on Saturday.

In a discussion with writer Perumal Murugan, titled “Narratives of the Oppressed: Voices of Assertion,” Mr. Periyavan said it was fearful to hear voices saying that caste cannot be annihilated. Emphasising that caste accorded dignity to one person and indignity to another, he said there was a huge difference between someone asking him, “Aren’t you a writer?” and “Aren’t you that Dalit writer?” He said it was important to remember B.R. Ambedkar’s statement that caste was a state of mind.

Dalit literature

Mr. Periyavan said Dalit literature, which emerged in a big way in Tamil in the 1990s coinciding with Ambedkar’s birth centenary, has had a huge impact in the past three decades. He said he could confidently say that if ten best contemporary Tamil writers have to be named, five of them will be Dalits. He said Tamil literature getting translated into English gained momentum after the emergence of Dalit literature.

Read our live updates of The Hindu Lit Fest 2024, Day 2

He said portrayal of Dalit lives by non-Dalits could be considered as Dalit literature or writings towards human equality if they were written without patronising the Dalits and after properly comprehending their voices for their rights. He, however, said a lot of such writings had been severely problematic. He added writers such as Mr. Perumal Murugan, Su. Venugopal and Pa. Jayaprakasam were among the few exceptions who properly portrayed Dalit lives without patronising them.

On his novel Vallisai, which was based on historical research about the efforts by Dalit leaders in the past to abolish the practice of playing Parai instrument owing to the stigma associated with it, he said while he did not have a problem with Parai being played as an art form by everyone, playing of the instrument during deaths was avoidable. He pointed out that though Tamils have historically used more than a hundred musical instruments made from hide, stigma was associated only with Parai.

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