Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Understanding legacy of Periyar through a Dalit Bahujan perspective

Review Article

Is deepening contradiction between Dalit-Bahujan brahmanical manipulations of information and ideas

By Vidya Bhushan Rawat

Periyar was one of the greatest revolutionaries of our times, though he has not been acknowledged because of particular political reasons. Periyar, father of Tamil nationalism today is under attack from not only the Brahmanical forces but ironically this time; the instrument which they have used is through Dalit writings. Before we move to Periyar and his legacy, it is important to analyse the politics of two Indian states which are important to understand the great vision of Periyar and legacy of Dalit-Bahujan movement in India. Yes, Tamilnadu and Uttar-Pradesh, two very important states, one a Dravidian land as claimed by Periyar and the other the holy land of Aryavrat where government once did not bow to protesters demand for not allowing the statue of Periyar to be build. Though it looks ironic that Periyar who was an iconoclast could be turned into a demi God by his so-called followers.

Take the case of Uttar-Pradesh which today is being run by Ms Mayawati, the supremo of Bahujan Samaj Party, which once upon a time put the statue of Periyar in Lucknow despite all protests from the alliance Bharatiya Janata Party. Today, the irony is that Periyar’s name has again become an anathema for those in power in UP since the Brahmins objected to his writings and ‘Sachchi Ramayan’ is prohibited in the state. Those who want Taslima Nasreen to write everything about Islam, are afraid of the writings of a person which are already available in other parts of the country. Similarly in the Dravida land of Tamilnadu, politicians always used his legacy for their political gains. Periyar, who was ruthless as far as Brahmanism was concerned, was mocked by his own legatees who felt no shame in compromising with the Hindutva political groups. And Periyar’s revolutionary ideas were just converted to political rhetoric of monopolizing the state institutions in the name of social justice. The result is that the Adi Dravidas of Tamilnadu who need social justice and inclusion in the ‘national’ life of Tamilnadu feel betrayed and suddenly some of their leaders have got a common cause with Brahmins in degrading Periyar. How can Periyar be faulted for the follies of his so-called followers. How can Ambedkar be blamed if his caste man makes him their own copy write product.

Periyar was a revolutionary who felt that social empowerment and cultural changes should precede any political process. Unfortunately, his movement was thoroughly monopolized by those who had political ambition. In the name of social justice and anti Brahmanism, we saw another hegemony that ruled Tamilnadu. It was brutal without any ideological clarity. While it talked of injustice meted out to it by the upper castes, it still ignores the injustice done to Dalits. Is not it a shame that Tamilnadu’s powerful backward castes still not allow the Dalit Sarpanch to hoist the national flag? Is it not a shame that in many villages in Tamilnadu there is a virtual wall of separation between the upper castes and Dalits?

When Tamilnadu’s anti Brahmanism movement was failing to unite the OBCs and Dalits, similar things was happening in Uttar-Pradesh. Bahujan Samaj Party which claimed the slogan of Jiski Jitni Sankhya bhari, uskee utni bhagidari, suddenly took a Uturn and combined the Dalits and Brahmins together to build up a strong alliance. Not to content with the Brahmins, Mayawati is going ahead with wooing every upper castes including the Kshatriyas, Vaishyas and Kayasthas. Keeping their view and sentiments in mind, the UP Chief Minister banned a film named ‘Teesari Azadi’, a film which has caused much heart burn among the upper castes for its plain speaking of the Brahmanical notoriety. The media portrayed it as ‘Jaharili CD’ , a poisonous CD. Those who understand the history of the Dalit Bahujan literature will vouch that Teesari Azadi was what Dr Ambedkar, Periyar and Phule cautioned their people from being mislead by the upper castes. They did not preach hatred but they educated all of us to be vigilant against Brahmanical politics of manipulations and subjugations.

And when the political parties known for their opportunism were working hard to destablise the Dalit-Bahujan coming together and virtually succeeded in both Tamilnadu and Uttar-Pradesh due to enough room allowed by the politicians, there were enough numbers of ‘intellectuals’ also who decided to hit the legacy of the Bahujan movement and started a slanderous campaign against Periyar. Without going into whom they are and their ideology, I am perturbed to see that similarities are being written between Dalits and Brahmins and OBCs are made villain. There is no doubt about the fact that the many of the so-called OBCs would not have been in the list but for political reasons. These powerful communities never ever thought of their being OBCs but for political reasons of power and they are as ruthless against Dalits in the villages as any one else. Some time, these farming communities are more anti dalit because of Dalits fight for land rights and the agrarian communities are up in arm against any kind of land reform

Since, Periyar is still revered in Tamilnadu and Dalit Bahujan movement for his fearless ideas and contribution; it is time that those forces who are at work in Uttar-Pradesh, romanticizing and cementing an alliance of two unnatural allies, decided to question not only Periyar but his entire contribution. Some put him worst than Gandhi who did nothing for the Dalits. Do we remember Periyar for ‘doing’ something for some one or do we remember him for dismantling the Brahmanical citadels in the Dravida land. Periyar was basically a social reformists with potential ideas. Ideas can not be killed. You have to produce a better idea, a better vision in case you disagree with some one.

Suddenly, the backward communities became villain in this entire scheme of things and Brahmins and other upper caste became ‘polite’ allies of the Dalits and tragically this justification is not coming from the upper caste but from some of the Dalit and Brahmin writers. And therefore it is important that this suspicion and farce being created need to be cleaned and clarified. Periyar’s ideas might not have the sophistication of Baba Saheb Ambedkar but definitely they were potent enough to shake the Brahmin domination in Tamilnadu. The jolts of those ideas are still felt in Tamilnadu state. To clear the ideas of Periyar and his legacy, two intellectuals S.V.Rajadurai and V.Geetha came out with a collection of book : The Periyar century : Themes in Caste, Gender and Religion’ published by Bharatidasan University, Thiruchirapally, Tamlinadu. These articles are collections of article written by both the writers over a period of time when Tamilnadu was witnessing seer political opportunism by the parties claiming to have Periyar’s legacy. That Jayalalitha overtures to Hindutva were well known to be described here and Karnunanidhi’s shake hand with BJP was shocking.

We are not writing our own ideas and vision. May be because we lack it and therefore our energy is basically confined to replacing the community and person, to maintain our own hegemony and that happened every where, in Tamilnadu, in Uttar-Pradesh, in Maharastra and in Andhra Pradesh. So, the broader vision of a Dalit Bahujan is lost somewhere to the tainted glorification of a few individuals whose empowerment is made synonymous to community empowerment. Its tragic as it reflect our idea of social change is nothing but a replacement. We want to change one from our castes and we know little about ideologies. Hence Ambedkar and Periyar become caste icons and not who benefited every one. It is these multiple identities that threaten the very basis of Dalit movement. For me, it was a movement of a common Dalit identity where we revolt against the priestly vision a few ‘enlightened’ and talk of Bahujan. It gives me freedom to question even Gods. It believes in mutual respect and does not relegate our women to backyard just as any other religion has done. If we want to confine Dalit movement and Dalit identity to any other religion, then I am afraid, it will be just a replacement and we will not be able to face the revolt with in.

It is therefore important to understand what Periyar meant for and how and why his vision gets tainted and who are vilifying him today. In today’s broader context when one hegemony is being replaced by creation of another one, completely at contrast with what the forces of social justice stood for, particularly likes of Ambedkar and Periyar, none could have been more authentic than S.V.Rajadurai and V.Geetha. Though both of them are definitely gone deep into understanding Periyar’s movement and are in awe with him. However, these articles have been updated and reproduced from Economic and Political Weekly, Seminar and Dalit International Newsletter and therefore definitely well balanced and not a propaganda material as being written by the opponents of Periyar.

In her forceful analysis ‘Anti Caste Radicalism in Tamilnadu : Remembered moments for a receding past V.Geetha take us to the history of anti caste movement in Tamilnadu followed by a more detailed analysis by her and S.Rajadurai in ‘Dalit and non Brahmin consciousness in colonial Tamilnadu’, in which they explain in details how Tamilnadu’s much neglected Dalit icon ‘ Iyothee Thass Pandithar founded Chakya Buddhist Sangam and prior to that Dravida Mahajana Sangam in 1881. Hence much before Ambedkar converted to Buddhism, Iyothee Thass has subscribed to Buddhist philosophy for the Dalits and Adi Dravidas of Tamilnadu. Said Iyothee,’ Self government would only be possible when Brahmin cease to run away from the fear of seeing a pariah and when pariahs cease to chase away Brahmins and throw cow dung at them, when the latter enter the pariah quarters in the village and harmony prevails between the two and they come together as brothers and when the Buddha Dhama is realized.’ In fact Rajadurrai and Geetha through their readings argue that Iyothee Thass said that the pariahs were the original Tamils and their religion was Buddhism and it is the Aryans who degraded them and destroyed their religion.

Both the authors are extremely critical of DMK and AIDMK’s overtures to the Hindutva forces and term it as betrayal of Dravidian ideology.

The article ‘ Neo Brahminism : An International Fallacy’ is well timed and has exposed the theoreticians who are targeting the OBCs and cleverly terming Brahmins as ‘friends’ of Dalits. While for me, it would not be prudent to mention those writers who for the past few years have been writing continuously in the ‘mainstream’ media about the ‘anti-dalit’ views of Periyar, a response was needed both in terms of ideology and politics. While nobody condone the politics of the Dravidian parties who do not really have much love for the Dalits yet as far as ideology is concern, both Rajadurai and Geetha have explained through meticulous work that the Brahman cal forces are gunning to the OBCs through the backdoor of dalit ideologues.

In their analysis to various charges leveled against the OBCs, the authors point out , ‘ BC-SC relationships are marked by conflicts and contradictions. The liberation of SCs cannot be imagined within a circle of oppression that locks them into perpetual conflict and confrontation with the BCs. The oppression must be seen as deriving its strength and persistence from its articulation with the ruling and hegemonic ideology of Brahminism and unless the multiple mediations that structure BC arrogance and power are clearly mapped out, the liberation of SCs will proceed along paths that only lead to the Congress and now BJP ‘solution’ for the oppression of the SCs.’

I think this is a serious analysis and one must see it how BJP today is using the OBCs on the one side and also SCs on the other side. In Uttar-Pradesh, though there is no BJP but their philosophy in power which says upper castes and Dalits are brothers. While SC-BC fight is basically because of their common interest in land, the real land owners are enjoying everything. And rightfully explain the authors: No single BC can be said to have monopolized educational and employment opportunities in the state. While some castes such as the Nadars and Gounders have taken to lucrative trade and entrepreneurship, the BCs even if put together, do not come anywhere near controlling capital and financial matters in the state.’

To prove their point further, the author again quote Iyothee Thass that the principal contradiction of all the marginalized communities particularly the Dalits is Brahmanism,’ saying that an ideological struggle against Brahmins and Brahmanism was primary and necessary.’

The relationship between Ambedkar and Periyar is also reflected in their writings. Ambedkar was highly appreciative of Vaicom Satyagrah launched by Periyar for the rights to enter the temple of the Ezhavas in Travancore state. Periyar like Ambedkar was fully convinced that casteism could never be vanquished without the simultaneous destruction of the practices and beliefs of Hinduism.’ I am sure all those in Tamilnadu whether it is the backward castes or Dalits will understand this basic framework of Periyar. If the Brahmin friends of Dalits want to portray Periyar as a villain in this, please do so but can they really deny the importance of elimination of Brahmanical beliefs and practices a precondition for the emancipation of Dalits and marginalized in India. I am sure neither Periyar nor Ambedkar have become outdated in their views. We all respect and feel that their idea of a casteless society means annihilation of castes which clearly means annihilation of Varnashram Dharma. In fact, Periyar was more ruthless against Brahmanism among the two. He wrote, ‘ I have endeavored all along to abolish caste, as far as this country is concerned, this has meant, carry out propaganda for the abolition of god, religion, the shastras and Brahmins. For caste will disappear only when these four disappear. Even if one of these were to remain case will not be abolished in its entirety… because caste has been constructed of these four.. only after man has become a slave, and a fool would caste have thus been imposed on society’.

Apart from his strong views against Brahmanism, Periyar’s writing on women are not only fascinating but revealing. In fact, I would call him far ahead of his time and a human right defender of women. He said that we need to create a social and cultural movement of revolt- against, caste, Brahmanism, religion and rule of men over women. His bold views might be termed feminists by many of current day analysts when he says that ‘motherhood in this sense was very obverse of female selfhood and had to be consciously rejected if women were to grow into reason, autonomy and dignity.’

One can not be remain fully agree how women had continuously been degraded and one of the thing was masculinity which Periyar felt was a concept and practice degraded women, refused their humanity and worse enslaved them.

Periyar was not just a political ideologue; his forte was his linkages with masses. He not only blamed Brahmanical system for all the evils related to caste in our society but also provided alternatives. His self respect marriages was one such progressive idea that helped change the marriage system a lot in Tamilnadu but today, as Geetha point out in her essay that when other movement took over Tamilnadu particularly anti Hindi Movement, the women’s issue was relegated to back seat. That always happened. All the ‘mainstream movement’ actually sideline women’s issue. And rightfully, Geetha conclude that ‘ the marginalization of woman question was complete as the movement gave itself up to the symbolic languages of nationalism, a nationalism that did not even attempt to its female subject.

While due sympathies with both the writers, it is obvious that nationalism for political purposes will always take you to deep hatred towards those subject who do not fill into the majorities ideological pursuits. And therefore even when Periyar opposed ‘Indian Nationalism or Hindu nationalism or Brahmanical Nationalism, he was mistaking it with a backward nationalism under the garb of ‘Dravidian Nationalism’ and the result is that in Tamilnadu the chasm between the backward communities and Dalits is very big. That the political parties were responsible for this marginalization cannot take away the faulty politics of the leaders of Dravidian politics. Periyar would have become an all India Icon like Ambedkar had he not decried every one living in the North as an Aryan. His anti Hindi agitation might organized the powerful OBC communities but it ultimately damaged the linkages of Tamil people with rest of India.

Having said that, Periyar would always remain one of the giants of Tamilnadu and for many of us who followed his social movement and politics he would remain as relevant as ever as brahmanical poison is increasing day by day and we need a clear stand against cultural subjugation it is bringing. Periyar is one ideologue and icon we can look at for our mental liberation. A liberation which is not possible if the OBCs are not able to understand the concept of Bahujan and see that the Dalits are their natural allies. So is the truth with the Dalit leadership that for a stronger India, the idea of Dalit Bahujan alliance has not become redundant.

Many thanks to both S.V.Rajadurrai and V.Geetha for their wonderful work in bringing Periyar’s interesting writing to us, to understand the greatness of the man and his ideas.

Name of the Book: The Periyar Century: Themes in Caste, Gender and Religion,

Writers : S.V.Rajadurrai,

Publishers : Bharatidasan University, Palkalai Perur, Thiruchirapalli

First edition: 2007

Price: 105

Pages: 320

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Periyar was no revolutionary or rationalist. He was a rich playboy businessman from the landowning naicker caste. Just got jealous of dispossed Brahmins doing good in the government sector. Was a good stooge of the british. only a low grade moron like you can call him a rationalist.