He was actually a Brahmin, but
Popularly known in party circles as Comrade Iyer, Balasubramaniam Iyer, or “Balls” as he was affectionately called by close friends and family, was the second son of Vishwanathan Iyer (critically acclaimed director known for his path breaking movies) and Mythili Iyer (classical dancer). When little Balls was eight, the year was 1992, the Iyer family moved into a posh bungalow in Alwarpet, Chennai, the year when Hindu nationalists demolished an old unused mosque called Babri Masjid in the state of Uttar Pradesh triggering riots across the country, an event on which Mr. Iyer senior would make what is now called in Chennai circles ‘an intellectual film’ three years later which would win a few national awards following which your average Chennai film lover would refer to Vishwanathan Iyer as “Iyer Sir” alone because of Iyer Sir’s ability to churn out movies that were placed on par, according to influential journalists like M. Vishnu of the Mount Road Daily, with those of a Scorcese, a Kurosawa, a Satyajit Ray. Vishnu’s review of Iyer Sir’s Roses (1998), a movie about the life of a Madras Regiment soldier posted in Kashmir, proudly concluded that the movie “put the Tamil in the Indian and the Indian in the Tamil.”
Mythili, originally Mythili Seshadri before she became Mrs. Iyer, was a product of Kalakshetra, South India’s world renowned school of Bharatanatyam, a classical dance that has been associated with the urban culture of the socially refined. Prior to the 20th century, it was called dasi aatam, the dance of prostitutes, but that is a different story. Before she met Iyer Sir, Mythili performed at national and international concerts, hosted TV shows, won several awards and acted in a couple of films. It is important to let the readers know here that unlike her father Mr. Seshadri, a conservative Brahmin who frowned upon inter-caste marriages, who suffered a fatal heart-attack in November 2004 when he heard the news that police had arrested the Sankaracharya of Kanchipuram in a murder case, Mythili was of a liberal orientation who did not attach a value to caste and it was just a matter of coincidence that Iyer Sir whom she fell in love with was of the same caste. After she married Iyer Sir she was content to be a happy socialite actively involved in charity. Disabled children, orphans, old age homes, you name it. So, it was into such a family of cosmopolitan high culture and liberal thoughts that Balls, our Comrade Iyer, the future central committee member of the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M), was born.
One thing which struck Balls when he was five was that both his paternal and maternal grandparents, not to mention many of his male relatives, wore a white thread diagonally across their torso. But his father did not have one. “It’s the sacred thread. It means that we are Brahmins, the learned caste,” Iyer Sir told him. “But I don’t believe in this ritual, this caste symbol. So I don’t wear it.” Little Balls asked in all innocence “Can I get to have one?” Iyer Sir laughed. “You don’t need it. It does not matter. It is an old custom.”
By the time he was 15, when he was a student at Krishnamurthi Foundation and was dating Aparna Ramani, Balls was well versed with the classics of world literature. He was familiar with the Ramayana, the Mahabharata, the Bhagavad Gita (which he would later, when he was 32, defend as the first dialectical materialist text of the Indian philosophical tradition), works of Homer, the comedies of Shakespeare, the novels of Dickens, Twain, Sterne, Keats, Byron and Shelley. For his 18th birthday, M. Vishnu, who was by now a good family friend of the Iyers, gifted Balls the Communist Manifesto and Motorcycle Diaries. Balls did not sleep that night, and on the next day, was twice-born as a communist. As Comrade Iyer.
Thereafter, he could see oppression everywhere in Chennai. A gigantic Malar hospital in Adyar, one of the most expensive healthcare facilities in the city, overlooked a settlement of the poor on the banks of the dirty backwaters of the Cooum river where malaria and dysentery was rampant. The Marina beach, probably Chennai’s most well known public place, was home to several large slums that figured in the news only when the Tsunami hit them. While working class neighbourhoods were congested and suffered from lousy sanitation facilities, posh localities were emerging, dispossessing the poor of their lands, to provide better services for a creamy layer. In contrast, look at Calcutta, Havana, Beijing, Hanoi…
Comrade Iyer could also not be blind to caste violence in the state of Tamil Nadu. His heart bled for the Dalits, who, he felt, were cheated and oppressed by the successive Dravidian regimes. The DMK, which came into power on the wave of student agitations of the 1960s, Annadurai, Karunanidhi, MGR, the AIADMK, Jayalalitha all contributed to the strengthening of the non-Brahmin castes at the expense of the Dalits. Whereas, in the West Bengal of Jyoti Basu and Buddhadeb Bhattacharya, there was no caste at all! To what sublime heights did the philosophy of Marxism take the people of Bengal and in what squalid wretchedness did Tamil Nadu still suffer! “The problem you see,” Vishnu uncle explained one day at his office “is that the Dravidian movement was ideologically flawed from the start. Periyar, for instance, had no knowledge of political economy. Therefore, the Dravidian movement failed.” A very intelligent friend of the author, however, has a different and more elaborate explanation. To state it shortly, Periyar had no knowledge of phenomenological ontology, therefore the Dravidian movement failed.
In 2008, Comrade Iyer cleared the entrance test for the prestigious Modern History M.A. course at Jawaharlal Nehru University or JNU as it is commonly known in Indian academia, the strongest red bastion of India and the nurturing ground for revolutionary conquistadors, and was lodged in Kaveri hostel, which was a five minute walk from Ganga Dhaba, the informal hub of thinker-activists who would breathe Gramsci, speak Althusser and drink to Guevara, and there would be all types of leftists there, those who believe in parliamentary democracy, those who call the parliament a pigsty, those who take a middle-path because Comrade Lenin said so in ‘Left-wing communism: An Infantile Disorder’, those who say that India is semi-feudal semi-colonial and begs for a protracted people’s war, those who angrily reject this thesis and point out that Indian nationalism was and is a bulwark against imperialist expansionism, those who reject both because the day was not far off when the workers of the world will come together to wage the glorious permanent revolution…
Comrade Iyer, much like his roommate Debabrata Ghosh, was convinced that the CPI-M alone represented the best interests of the country and the controversies around alleged police brutalities in Singur and Nandigram were just conspiracies floated by ultra-left and ultra-right groups to discredit the noble work that the CPI-M had done for the people for Bengal, and his passionate commitment to gender justice apart, sheer logic compelled him to reason, in Lacanian fashion, that the rape of Tapasi Malik by CPI-M cadres could not have happened, because had it happened, the perpetrators could not have been CPI-M cadres, and thus, with all sincerity, even as he slogged his behind off for the rigorous papers in his course, he joined the Students’ Federation of India (SFI), his cherished party’s students’ wing.
These were the happiest days for Comrade Iyer, in the company of those Indians who shared his beliefs, in the 1500 acre big JNU campus, probably the only place in New Delhi where a woman wearing shorts and a t-shirt could walk alone without fear at 2am, the discussions on the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution over endless cups of tea, enjoying the weekly dinner at Mughal Durbar, where Comrade Iyer would be the only person going vegan, of course, not owing to some caste prejudice as he did enjoy his occasional peg of Absolut Vodka, but rather as a matter of taste.
Being a true internationalist, Comrade Iyer organized meetings, protests and rallies both in and out of campus for the cause of the world oppressed. The sanctions on Cuba. The Iraq war. And when the Gaza War happened, where about 1200 Palestinians were killed, which occurred roughly in the same period when about 100000 plus Tamils were killed by the Sri Lankan military, Comrade Iyer organized a series of demonstrations in front of the Israeli and American embassies notwithstanding the cold, rain, storms and hail for the cause of Palestine because, as I said before, he was a true internationalist above parochial Tamil sentiments and besides, Comrade Iyer intuitively knew that Hamas was progressive and revolutionary but LTTE was patriarchal and fascist, which is actually interesting because his elder brother, Natarajan Iyer, a foreign policy analyst with the LDTV, condemned the LTTE because it was uberleftist. Anyway, it is not productive here to talk any more about the elder sibling because he had never had any influence whatsoever on Comrade Iyer. Yes, while the elder Iyer was into Gayatri Mantra, the younger Iyer was into Grundrisse.
However, not everything was smooth for Comrade Iyer and if he could identify the proverbial fly in the ointment it would be K. Raja, thin, dark, with horn-rimmed glasses, MPhil student at the Department of Sociology, an intransigent pro-LTTE activist, a Periyarite, who became notorious in the campus for burning an image of the Hindu god Rama in October 2008, who wore one shirt for 6 days and a pant for a month, single, from Tirunelveli, president of the JNU Tamil Students’ Union, a three member organization that acted as though it was the representative of all the Tamils in New Delhi. “If Dravidian movement failed because of Kilvenmani, then parliamentary Marxism died with the Morichjhapi massacre,” Raja pompously proclaimed at a SFI public meeting on caste politics in Tamil Nadu.
Comrade Iyer, the archetypal argumentative Indian, believed in convincing individuals through dialogue but Raja was incorrigible. He knew that Raja was a non-Brahmin, probably a Pillai, or a Nadar, and when he asked Raja in the course of a casual conversation what his caste was, the fellow snapped.
“That is none of anyone’s business.”
“I am actually a Brahmin, but I am also a communist. So caste does not matter to me. If it does not matter to you, why can’t you state it?”
“And besides, though you guys have hidden your caste titles, you cannot elude the fact it is only the non-Brahmin castes of Tamil Nadu who oppress the Dalits.”
To which the crazy chap replied, “Well, then I suppose the class enemy of the proletarian is not the capitalist system but the police constable who pushes him around.”
The heated argument continued and Comrade Iyer was firm in his position that it was Marx who mattered more to Tamil Nadu than Periyar. When the irascible Raja accused him of being a Brahminical casteist, Comrade Iyer angrily retorted that Rupini Nair, his Malayalee girlfriend, a feminist and a passionate SFI member (who was later to become his wife), was a proper non-Brahmin. Raja was wrong, as were his ideological forefathers who resorted to unrefined Brahmin bashing to flee from pressing questions of class privilege. Though Raja himself was from a family of agricultural labourers, his reasoning as such was bourgeois and Comrade Iyer would never entertain a debate with him again.
By the time he reached his final semester, Comrade Iyer had gained a goatee, lost a few pounds and his virginity, learned to roll a joint properly, impressed most of the faculty at the History department with his presentations that were proof of his eclectic knowledge, made a name for himself as someone who had a flair for sophistication, and was advised by Prof. Ambika Venkataraman, a party sympathizer, to apply to the Department of History at Oxford where one Prof. Vinay Shastri, an expert in South Asian postcolonial studies, would be an excellent supervisor for his line of research interest.
Needless to say, given Comrade Iyer’s background – his academic background I mean – and the powerful recommendations he got from lecturers at JNU, walking into Oxford, with a scholarship, was a breeze for Comrade Iyer.
And the erstwhile colonized was now at the heart of the Empire, he thought. Ha. Skype calls with Rupini once in three days and not once did he contemplate breaking up. In Chennai, Iyer Sir got his ninth national award for his movie Heart, a touching family drama about a love story of a Telugu guy and a Manipuri girl. It was a beautiful tale much like that of Comrade Iyer who got married to the one true love of his life when he returned home for summer vacations. But Rupini did not change her surname to Iyer but to Balasubramaniam.
At Oxford, Comrade Iyer submitted his dissertation on ‘Parallel voices: Dalit narratives and the Dravidian movement’ which, of course, was a completely non-partisan account of how the Dravidian movement, in the guise of fighting Brahminism, was only interested in constructing a non-Brahmin hegemony caring little about the liberation of Dalits and how Dalits found their own autonomous voice of subalternity by constructing their particularities through lived experiences. Comrade Iyer who had transcended caste long ago could always be objective in whatever intellectual project he undertook and he later got a job as the associate editor of Political and Economic Monthly.
And even though his thesis did not mention Marx even once, his rise in the ranks of the party was meteoric, for the party, which had completely discarded caste, laid great emphasis on promoting persons of merit.
Below, I have compiled a list of 35 must read texts for activists involved in radical political projects. I have selected works on political positions of all types, philosophy, history, military strategy, literature, which I believe would greatly assist activists in their understanding of the world today. I have arranged them in no particular order – I just listed them as they came to my mind. So you might be surprised to find Hitler placed along with Gramsci, Huntington with Marx, and Arendt with Sartre. Each of these texts are, in my opinion, the best representations of certain political/ethical/philosophical perspectives that activists need to be familiar with. For instance, a good understanding of fascism, right-wing propaganda, and the idea of the ‘authoritarian personality’ is totally impossible without being familiar with Mein Kampf. Likewise, Civil War in France provides an excellent account of how a ruling class can and will deal with a crisis, especially if the oppressed are not willing to go the extra-mile to overthrow the powers that reign. Moore’s graphic novel Watchmen informs us what true political heroism is in the figure of Adrian Veidt. Each of the texts that I have selected provides a unique perspective on practical and ethical political questions that confront activists today. I hope it is of some assistance. If you have any suggestions, feel free to comment.
1. 36 Stratagems
2. Thomas Kempis – The Imitation of Christ
3. Alain Badiou – Philosophy for Militants
4. Carl von Clausewitz – On War
5. Sun Tzu – The Art of War
6. BH Liddell Hart – Strategy
7. Slavoj Zizek – Violence: Six Sideways Reflections
8. Frantz Fanon – The Wretched of the Earth (With Sartre’s Preface)
9. Friedrich Nietzsche – Beyond Good and Evil
10. Maximillien Robespierre – Speech on “The Principles of Political Morality”
11. VI Lenin – What is to be done?
12. Louis Althusser – On Ideology
13. Antonio Gramsci – Prison Notebooks
14. Adolf Hitler – Mein Kampf
15. Niccolo Machiavelli – The Prince
16. Mao Tse-Tung – On Contradictions
17. Paolo Friere – Pedagogy of the Oppressed
18. Thomas Hobbes – Leviathan
19. Sigmund Freud – Civilization and its Discontents
20. Carl Schmitt – The Concept of the Political
21. Samuel P. Huntington – The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order
22. Karl Marx – The Civil War in France
23. Reinhold Niebuhr – The Children of Light and the Children of Darkness
24. Alexandre Kojeve – Introduction to the Reading of Hegel
25. Hannah Arendt – Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil
26. Jean-Paul Sartre – Colonialism and Neo-colonialism
27. Martin van Creveld – The Transformation of War
28. Walter Benjamin – Critique of Violence
29. D. Sivaram – Essays on Tamil Militarism
30. Thucydides – History of the Peloponnesian War
31. Amilcar Cabral – Speech on “National Liberation and Culture”
32. Plato – The Republic
33. Oscar Wilde – The Soul of Man under Socialism
34. William Shakespeare – Julius Caesar
35. Alan Moore – Watchmen
More than the fascination of Hindus with Nazism, Nazis have had a fascination with Hinduism. Why not? It is the perfect philosophy of slavery, rigid division of labor and racism that has survived for millennia without one major slave revolt. On the other hand, their contempt for the Judeo-Christian tradition was well recorded. Take for instance Savitri Devi Mukherjee. Born as Maximinaini Portas in France, with a PhD in Philosophy from the University of Lyon, she traveled across the world in search of pure Aryan race and culture. Arriving in India, she was fascinated by the native paganic Hindu traditions which she believed was uncorrupted aryanism. She converted to Hinduism and married a Bengali Brahmin (pure race idea in practice) who was part of the Indian nationalist struggle. In her eyes, Hitler was an avatar of Vishnu who was born on earth to redeem the aryan race. Denying holocaust, advocating death penalty for non-vegetarians, the purging of Abrahamic religions from India were some of her bright ideas.
Call me Eurocentric, but I prefer the “colonial” Judeo-Christian civilizational tradition any day to the hegemonic barbarisms from the “native” third world.
அல்ஜீரியா நாட்டு விடுதலைப்போராட்டத்தின் போது பிரஞ்சு இடதுசாரிகள் வைத்த வெட்டி விமர்சனத்தைக் கண்டு, மற்றும் 1968 பாரிஸ் மானவர் எழுச்சியின் போது இந்த இடதுசாரிகளின் இயலாமையைப் பார்த்து, பிரஞ்சு சிந்தனையாளர் சார்த்தர் “கம்யூனிஸ்ட்டுகளுக்குப் புரட்சியைக் கண்டால் பயம்” என்று சொன்னார். அதேப்போல், தமிழகத்திலும் சரி, ஈழத்திலும் சரி, புலம்பெயர்ந்தத் தமிழர் மத்தியிலும் சரி, “முற்போக்குவாதி” என்று திரியும் சில கும்பல்கள் தான் நேர்மையான முற்போக்கு அரசியலுக்கு எதிராகச் செயல்ப்பட்டு வருகின்றார்கள். அது என்னவோ தெரியல, தமிழ் “முற்போக்கு எழுத்தாளர்”னா என்ன வேனாலும், யார் மேல வேனாலும், எப்போ வேனாலும் விமர்சனம் வைக்கலாம்னு உரிமை இருக்கு போல. ஒரு எழுத்தாளருக்கு கருத்து சுதந்திரத்தின் உரிமை இருந்தால், அத்தோடு கடமையும் சேர்ந்து வரும் என்பது சார்த்தரின் வாதம். “நாம் சுதந்திரமாக இருக்கச் சபிக்கப்பட்டுள்ளோம்” என்று அவர் சொன்னது, நாம் எதனைச் செய்தாலும் செய்யாவிட்டாலும், அதனால் ஏற்படும் விளைவுகளுக்கு நாம் தான் பொருப்பு என்பது பொருள். இது விமர்சனம் வைப்பதற்கும் பொருந்தும்.
“X-Men: Days of Future Past” is an unashamed defense of American liberalism. Whether past or future, liberal democracy and multicultural tolerance is the end of history. On the good side, the young Magneto (Michael Fassbender) is not just awesome – he is awe-inspiring (he makes Wolverine played by Hugh Jackman look like a street punk). Confronting his partner who wants to assassinate an individual bad guy among the humans, he says that this one guy is not the problem, rather “they are”. Concomitantly, he is the only truly political person in the movie, who knows what war is, who knows who the enemies are, and who knows that struggle – not reconciliation – is the only way out.
On another note, every time I recollect the below conversation from the earlier “X-Men: First Class”, I get goosebumps. Pretty much sums up what our relation to the Sinhalese – “innocent” or not – must be like.
“Professor X: Erik, you said yourself we’re the better men. This is the time to prove it. There are thousands of men on those ships. Good, honest, innocent men! They’re just following orders.
Magneto: I’ve been at the mercy of “men just following orders”. Never again.”
Though my favorite epic is the Iliad, I like the Mahabharata too, chiefly because several of its themes and characters can be used as analogies to modern-day ones. Take for instance Draupadi. I would say that she is the ideological matriarch of modern-day mainstream Indian feminists. Independent woman, strong-willed, liberal with sexuality, etc etc. all while remaining thoroughly casteist. You couldn’t have avoided noticing the sound and the fury of the neo-Draupadis when a brutal crime happens to one of their own, like the Delhi case. But when it happens to one of ours – Tamils, Kashmiris, Dalits, Nagas, Mizos – their silence is deafening. Protests for the Dalit girls whose lives were brutally ended a few days back? Against genocidal rape in the occupied Tamil Eelam homeland? Abuse in Kashmir/Manipur/Jharkhand etc? Let alone lighting a candle to satisfy their consciences, I don’t think they would have even lit a Classic Menthol cigarette for the “Other” victims. Things get worse when they open their mouths for the “Other” people in rare occasions – what comes out is so miserable that one prefers their silence. (No ladies and gentlemen, I didn’t check Kafila to see if any radical feminist has written anything. Its been ages since I stopped visiting that stupid politically correct site.) Day by day, I am getting more and more convinced of the absolute emptiness of feminisms that lay claim to universalist status. I even wonder if this is just another ruling class strategy to divide and confuse the oppressed. The women of oppressed nations and social groups must fight as comrades with the men of their respective nations and social groups to radically alter the status quo. Let us leave the reactionary “ally” (a)politics to the daughters of Draupadi. Let the sons and daughters of the Isaipriyas, the Bhotmanges, the Phulmonis, the Sakines fight as comrades, with unity as our shield, and discipline as our spear.
Originally published on JDS
“Hope has two beautiful daughters – Anger and Courage. Anger at the way things are, and Courage to see that things do not remain that way.”
-Quote attributed to St. Augustine
Five years after Mullivaaykaal, the worst slaughter in the history of not just the Eelam Tamil nation, but the Tamil civilization as a whole. A few resolutions have been passed at Geneva asking the Sri Lankan state to behave itself without, of course, any mention of genocide. The same applies for several reports by high-profile international NGOs that talked about torture, militarization, sexual abuse, human rights etc. A few popular documentaries have been released by media organizations that have shown their audiences the suffering of the Tamil people in the island during the war and after. But as a nation, where are the Eelam Tamils? As a civilization, where are the Tamils?
A hitherto unheard of student uprising took place in Tamil Nadu last year, opposing the pro-LLRC US resolution in Geneva. This uprising triggered off similar protests in the diaspora, where grassroots organizations and activists united on a principled political platform. More than anything, the protestors were united by Hope, Anger and Courage. It was also obvious by the protest symbols used, that these activists from Tamil Nadu and the diaspora are ensuring the survival of the Tiger legacy of uncompromising resistance to oppression.
Liberal feminists like Radhika Coomaaraswamy claim that Tigers promoted a “culture of death”. However, any genuine revolutionary fighting a brutal state would know that the Tiger’s culture was a celebration of life and all the best elements in one’s culture.
“Words are weapons” said Latin American writer Eduardo Galeano. Let us have a look at some the words that the LTTE used in the course of their struggle. They did not say that the cadres who fell in battle “iranthu poanaar” – “they died”. They said “kaaviyamaanaar” – “they became poetic history”. Those who became poetic history were not “buried in graveyards” – “kallaraiyil pithaikkappattaar”. They were “sown in resting abodes” – “thuyilum illathil vithaippattaar”. Those sown in the resting abodes were not “thyaagi” – “martyrs”. They were “maaveerar” – “heroes”. The Tigers, we must understand, used the martial elements from traditional Tamil culture to give a people resisting genocidal oppression a sense of hope, destiny and faith in the future of an independent Tamil Eelam.
However, after a colossal tragedy like Mullivaaykaal, it is but obvious there would be some sense of loss among the Tamils. But the strong ones and the politically principled recover while the weak and politically vacillating elements become victim to the enemy’s psychological war. Confusion, distrust, loss of faith, cynicism, fear, death wishes, suicidal impulses, “auto-oppression”, reluctance to identify with one’s own people, a perverse comfort in promoting disunity, a contempt for one’s culture – all of these are effects of psy-ops on a victim.
The genocide may have been executed on the Eelam Tamil nation. But it is the Tamil civilization, which constitutes over 80 million Tamils world over, which is at war now. A genocidal state and its international abettors have thrown us a challenge. It is not “submit or perish” – it is “submit and perish”. What happens in Tamil Eelam affects Tamil Nadu. What affects Tamil Nadu affects the diaspora. More and beyond the physical deaths of our brothers and sisters in the Tamil Eelam homeland, it is the death of our souls that the oppressors aim at. They want us to reek in despair, desolation and denial.
We must respond with Hope, Anger and Courage.
We need to have Hope. Hope in ourselves as individuals, hope in our people, hope in our language, hope in our culture, hope in our martial legacy, hope in our destiny, hope in our victory. Above all, hope in our Heroes, and hope in LTTE leader Pirapaharan’s school of thought.
We need to have Anger. Anger against the killers, anger against those who assisted them, anger against those who deny what happened, anger against those who obfuscate the Truth, anger against the sell-outs, anger against those who sow disunity, discord and depression.
We need to have Courage. Courage to stand by our identity and ideals, courage to speak Truth to power, courage to uphold the national flag, courage to celebrate our Heroes, courage to belive in the triumph of our civilization, courage to sacrifice, courage to Love, courage to fight.
And we also need Vision. To end with the words of Maximillien Robespierre, the ideological patriarch of modern day revolutionaries,
“We wish in our country that morality may be substituted for egotism, probity for false honour, principles for usages, duties for good manners, the empire of reason for the tyranny of fashion, a contempt of vice for a contempt of misfortune, pride for insolence, magnanimity for vanity, the love of glory for the love of money, good people for good company, merit for intrigue, genius for wit, truth for tinsel show, the attractions of happiness for the ennui of sensuality, the grandeur of man for the littleness of the great, a people magnanimous, powerful, happy, for a people amiable, frivolous and miserable”
In a word, all the virtues and miracles of a sovereign Tamil Eelam, instead of all the vices and absurdities of unitary Sri Lanka.
மரணக் கலாச்சாரத்தைப் புலிகள் பின்பற்றிணார்கள் என்று ராதிகா குமாரசாமி போன்ற ஒரு சில பெண்ணியவாதிகள் பழி சுமத்துகிறார். ஆனால் இனப்படுகொலைக்கு எதிராக, ஒரு ஒடுக்கப்பட்ட மக்களின் தாயகத்தை மீட்க்கும் ஒரு போராட்டத்தை நடத்துபவனுக்குத் தான் புரியும், புலிகளின் கலாச்சாரம் வாழ்க்கையின் கொண்டாட்டமென்று. இது அவர் பயன் படுத்திய ஒரு சில சொற்களிலிருந்து நாம் அரிந்துக்கொள்ளலாம்.
“வார்த்தைகளும் ஆயுதமே” என்று லத்தின் அமெரிக்க எழுத்தாளர் எடுவார்டோ கலியானோ (Eduardo Galeano) சொன்னார். புலிகள் பயன்படுத்திய ஒரு சில வார்த்தைகளைப் பார்ப்போம். போர் களத்தில் விழுந்த போராளிகளை இறந்துப்போனார் என்று சொல்வதில்லை – காவியமானார் என்று சொல்வார்கள். காவியமான போராளிகளைக் கல்லறையில் பிதைப்பதில்லை – துயிலும் இல்லத்தில் விதைக்கிறார்கள். விதைக்கப்பட்ட போராளிகளைத் தியாகி என்று அழைப்பதில்லை – மாவீரர் என்று அழைக்கிறார்கள். களத்தில் நின்ற கடைசி நாள்வரை, ஒவ்வொரு சொல்லையும் மக்களுக்கு வாழ்க்கையிலும் வெற்றியிலும் நம்பிக்கை தரும் முறையாகப் பாவித்தார்கள்.
ஹுசேன் புல்ஹான் (Hussein Bulhan) என்னும் மனத்தத்துவ விஞ்ஞானி சொல்கிறார், தொடர்ச்சியான, ஓய்வுப்பெராத ஒடுக்குமுறையைச் சந்திக்கும் மக்களுக்கு வாழ்க்கையில் வெறுப்பு வந்து, தன்னைத்தானே அழித்துக்கொள்ளும் நோக்கங்கள் வரும். இது இனப்படுகொலை புறியும் அரசின் ஒரு உளவியல் போர் தந்திரம். மனச்சோர்வு, குழப்பம், “அய்யோ இப்படி ஆயிருச்சே” என்ற வருத்தம், அரசியலிலும் போராட்டத்திலும் அவ நம்பிக்கை, மரண ஆசை, போதையின் மீது காதல், வாழ்க்கையிலிருந்தும் சொந்த மக்களிடமிருந்தும் தப்ப வேண்டும் என்ற ஆசை – இது அத்தனையும் உளவியல் போர் உண்டாக்க கூடும். முள்ளிவாய்க்காலுக்குப் பின், இந்த உளவியல் போருக்கு பலியான பல நபர்களை நம்மாள் அடையாளம் கான முடியும்.
இதனை எதிர்க்க ஒரே வழி தான். நம்பிக்கை. ஒவ்வொரு விடுதலைப் போராட்டத்தின் அஸ்த்திவாரமே நம்பிக்கை தான். வாழ்க்கையின் மீது, மக்களின் மீது, உங்கள் கலாச்சாரத்தின் மீது, உங்கள் மொழியின் மீது, உங்களின் மீது… மிகவும் முக்கியமாக, உங்கள் மாவீரர்களின் மீது, தலைவரின் சிந்தனை பள்ளியின் மீது.
நம்பிக்கையின் இனைப்பிரியா சகோதரி சிந்தனை. நம்பிக்கை இல்லாத சிந்தனை தோல்வி மனப்பான்மையையும் துரோக அரசியலையும் உண்டாக்கும். சிந்தனை இல்லாத நம்பிக்கை எங்கும் போகாத பாதைக்குள் இழுத்துச்செல்லும்.
நம்புங்கள். சிந்தியுங்கள். தமிழீழம் நாளை பிறக்கும்.
ஐ. சி. ஜீ (ICG – International Crisis Group) முன்னால் தலைவரான கரெத் இவான்ஸ் சில நாட்களுக்கு முன்பு ஈழ தமிழருக்கு நடந்தது இனப்படுகொலை இல்லை, மற்றும் இனப்படுகொலைப் பற்றின விவாதம் புலம்பெயர்ந்த தமிழ் மக்களின் பிரச்சாரம் என்று சொல்லியிருக்கிறார். இனப்படுகொலையிலிருந்து பாதுகாப்பதற்காக மக்களுக்கு வழங்கப்பட வேண்டிய இறைமை (remedial sovereignty) தமிழ் மக்களுக்கு உள்ளதா என்ற கேள்விக்கு இவர் ‘அதையெல்லாம் இப்பொழுது பேசாதீர்கள்’ என்று சொல்லியிருக்கிறார். அவரைப் பொருத்த வரையில், இலங்கை தவறுகள் செய்தது, ஆனால் இப்போதைக்கு இலங்கை அரசாங்கத்தை பொறுப்புள்ள அரசாங்கமாக ஆக்குவது தான் சர்வதேசத்தின் கடமை.
இவான்ஸ் என்பவர் தமிழ் மக்களுக்கு எதிரான போர் நடந்த நேரத்தில் ஐ.சி.ஜீ.யின் தலைமை பொருப்பில் நின்றார். சர்வதேச அரசியல் தத்துவத்தில் (International Political Theory) இவர் ஒரு முக்கிய புள்ளி. ஈழ விடுதலை போராட்டத்துக்கு எதிராக மேற்கத்திய நாடுகளில் ஒரு தவறான கருத்து உருவாக்குவதில் ஐ.சி.ஜீக்கு ஒரு பெரிய பங்கு உண்டு. ‘மனித உரிமை’, ‘குழந்தைகள் உரிமை’, ‘பெண்ணுரிமை’ என்ற போர்வையில், புலிகளுக்கு எதிராக ஒரு அறிவிக்கப்படாத தகவல் போர் (undeclared information war) இதுப்போன்ற அமைப்புகள் நடத்தினார்கள்.
இரண்டு வருடத்துக்கு முன், தமிழ்நெட்டில் வந்த ஒரு பேட்டியில், ஐ.சி.ஜீயின் இலங்கை பொருப்பாளரான அலன் கீனன் சர்வதேச விசாரனை நடந்தால், அதில் இனப்படுகொலை விசாரனையையும் சேர்க்கலாம் என்று சொன்னார். இப்போ, திரு இவான்ஸ் அவர்கள் அதைப்பத்தின பேச்சே இப்போ தேவையில்லை என்று சொல்கிறார்.
இதுபோன்ற சர்வதேச அரசுசாரா அமைப்புக்களின் (International NGOs) சதுரங்க விளையாட்டுகளை நாம் கவனிக்க வேண்டும். அதில் காய்களாக நாம் சிக்க கூடாது.
Originally published on Round Table India
With her new preface to Dr. Ambedkar’s ‘Annihilation of Caste’ Arundhati Roy, and the publishing house Navayana, have received criticism from Dalit activists and writers. Very compelling critiques have been put forth explaining how Navayana’s annotated version of an Ambedkarite classic is an act of appropriation. In the short essay that follows, I seek to explain why it is an act of appropriation with the help of an analogy.
In 1961, Frantz Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth was released. The book, which was later praised as the “Bible of the Third World”, had a preface written by the French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre, probably one of the most recognizable faces of “First World” philosophy of the 20th Century.
The beauty of Sartre’s preface was that it offended everyone privileged – the French nationalists who wanted him murdered, liberals like Hannah Arendt who thought that the preface was more incendiary than the original, dogmatic leftists who dubbed it anarchistic and also a section of Black American academics. These critics’ only contribution to Fanon studies is to reduce an intellectual giant’s thoughts to a Lilliputian idea of “lived experience”, who felt that a White man had overstepped the boundaries in writing a preface for what they felt was the work of a “Black man”.
However, Fanon himself was above such thoughts. He wanted Sartre to write the preface because he considered Sartre a “living god” and several biographical accounts confirm that he was greatly satisfied with the controversial preface. The power of a preface is that it conditions the way a text is read. And when the author of a work has conveyed an explicit approval for a preface, he is in a dialogical process with the one who writes the preface, and he also indicates that he wants to be read in that spirit. Or, Fanon wanted to be “framed” in the ideological parameters of Sartrean humanism and posthumous criticisms of the preface can only be termed as acts of bad faith.
Now, let us turn to a book that can rightfully be called a Bible, a manifesto of liberation, for the Dalits and the other oppressed castes in India – Babasaheb Ambedkar’s “Annihilation of Caste.” Is there any indication anywhere in “Annihilation of Caste” that he wanted a Brahmin publishing house and upper-caste intelligentsia to frame how he should be read? Is there any indication anywhere in any of Ambedkar’s works that he wanted upper castes to assist in interpreting him? Since the answers to these questions, to the best of my knowledge about Ambedkar, is in the negative, the critics are right when they allege that Navayana is engaging in an act of appropriation when they decided to frame him in the fashion that they did. What those defending Roy should realize is that what is being contested is not Roy’s right to write an essay on Ambedkar – I’ll add here that I enjoyed reading the essay for the stuff on Gandhi – it is this essay framing Ambedkar within certain paradigms and reading him in a manner which has little relevance to Ambedkar’s politics that is being challenged.
There is also a particular way in which the Dalit criticisms are being read by those to whom it is addressed to and the way they respond to the same. It is as though they are responding “Ooh, we understand and sympathize with your lived experience but we are trying to help you with our knowledge.” This seems to be a way of saying “Ha ha ha. Knowledge still belongs to us, but you guys can only talk from experience.” Sorry to disappoint you friends. Ambedkar’s critique of caste was not based on lived experience alone but rather was and is one of the most rigorous theoretical analysis of a social system of oppression that has confounded and condemned the oppressed for millennia. And likewise, the Dalits and lower castes who are “claiming Ambedkar for themselves” are not doing so based on their lived experiences alone, but rather because of a thirst for emancipatory knowledge by challenging the epistemological privilege that Brahmins have enjoyed for ages.
What is this privilege? The superiority of the Brahmin is not based on economic power that can change with fortunes. It is also not a weak pseudo-science argument of race superiority. It rests largely on the Brahmin’s power over definition, on his ability to determine good and evil, social and anti-social, clean and unclean, high and low, acceptable and unacceptable, interpretation and misinterpretation. It is the Brahmin’s power over the Word, over knowledge, and over meaning.
In contemporary India, take the Indian nationalists, the Hindu nationalists, the central committees of the various socialist parties, postcolonialists, liberals, anti-modernists, anti-Eurocentrists, anti-Enlightenmentists, anti-colonialists, feminists – which caste defines the ideological paradigms in any of these different political/intellectual/ groups?
When the Brahmin determines what the philosophy of oppression is, the Brahmin determines what ‘neutral’ liberalism is, and the Brahmin also determines what resistance is, where is the space for a counter ideology to emerge? And when a Brahmin runs a powerful publishing house that markets how Dalit thinkers should be read, is it not legitimate to think that the traditional monopoly over knowledge and meaning is being extended to assimilate even the voices that counter it?
Going back to Fanon, he clearly recognized that Europe had a thousand problems. But he also recognized that it produced schools of thought that sought to take man to a higher level. Thus, Fanon accused the White colonizer of hypocrisy, of belonging to intellectual traditions that spoke about equality but behaving as a person practising inequality. But in our case, as recognized by Ambedkar and thinkers like Periyar, the Brahmin is a hypocrite only when he talks about equality. The radical potential of the thoughts of Ambedkar lies in the fact that he recognized that, throughout history, even in the most liberal vision of equality as propounded by the Brahmin, whatever intellectual tradition the Brahmin hails from, to take an Orwellian line “some animals are more equal than other animals.” Consider this, Arundhati Roy has pointed out several times in her public speeches that over 90% of the cadres of the Maoist party are Dalits and Adivasis. But why is it that over 90% of the leaders of the Maoist party and its urban intelligentsia come from the upper castes?
Some years back, Hindutva ideologue Arun Shourie wrote “Worshipping False Gods”, a third-rate pamphlet against Ambedkar. The sordid history of the Hindu religion shows us one thing – while there are one section of Brahmins who denigrate and deride the gods of the lower castes, there is also simultaneously another section of Brahmins who try to accommodate and assimilate these gods within the Brahminical tradition and spin their own myths about these gods which are then imposed on the rest of the population. The lower castes have lost several such gods in history. They cannot lose anymore.
They cannot lose Ambedkar.