India’s Patriotic Feminist Daughters

Posted in Uncategorized by Karthick RM on November 3, 2016

Originally published on Round Table India

The recent documentary “India’s Daughter” on the 2012 New Delhi gang-rape case by Israeli born filmmaker Leslee Udwin has come under criticism from certain leftist feminists for being ‘Western racist’ and the likes. A particularly trending article in these circles is one by Kavita Krishnan, who is a central committee member of CPI (ML) – Liberation. Comrade Krishnan is pained that Udwin has shown “India as a place of ignorance and brutality towards women, that inspires both shock and pity, but also call for a rap on the knuckles from the “civilised world” for its “brutal attitudes”.” She laments that there is a “racist profiling of Indian men” that informs this documentary. And so on and so on.

To start with, yes, Leslee Udwin’s documentary is problematic because it is not well informed. It picked a most brutal gang-rape that caught worldwide attention and tried to show some light on violence against women in India – but it failed to adequately pay attention to the systematic most brutal forms of rape and sexual violence that millions of Dalit, adivasi and lower caste women endure on a daily basis. The problem with the documentary is not that it demonizes Indians and India’s (Hindu) misogynistic culture. The real problem is that it has NOT demonized them enough!

Yes Comrade Krishnan, brutality is an Indian cultural problem, Indian backwardness is a problem, and Indian mentality is a problem. The problem is structural, embedded in India, in the idea of India, in the way this idea was imagined, in the discourse of India, by the people who create that discourse, who accept it and who defend it. I am not saying anything new. I am only repeating what Periyar has said in the past.

But what ethical rights does a Western person have to make a documentary on Indian women?

“I was in Hyderabad recently and was seriously appalled to hear that Arundhati’s piece is apparently being construed by some as being demeaning of Ambedkar and ‘devoting more space to Gandhi’. If this is indeed the nature of the criticism that is being made the pretext for the denial of permission, it is a travesty of reason and a deliberate, mischievous misreading of her article, not much unlike the Hindutvavadi’s misreading of Doniger.”

The above are Comrade Krishnan’s own words, based on nothing but rumour.

So let us twist it slightly and say:

“I was in recently in New Delhi and was seriously appalled to hear that Leslie Udwin’s piece is apparently being construed by some as being demeaning of Indians and racist. If this is indeed the nature of the criticism that is being made the pretext for the denial of permission, it is a travesty of reason and a deliberate, mischievous misreading of the documentary, not much unlike the BJP’s rationale to censor it.”

One logic for Roy and another for a White person. If a Roy can write a (theoretically shallow) preface to Ambedkar to highlight Dalit issues to the West, why cannot a Westerner make a documentary to highlight India’s rape crisis to the West? Between the two, Leslee Udwin was at least honest to admit her shortcomings. Roy and comrades on the other hand said this and more. While the documentary has been wholeheartedly welcomed by other women activists, Roy’s preface came under massive critical condemnation from Dalit activists, thinkers and writers – which were dismissed off by the privileged leftist intellectuals without any just engagement.

Comrade Krishnan challenges Westerners to recognize “the “brutal attitudes” that abound in our own comfort zone, our own “culture”.” What she should do is to challenge Brahminists, the leftist ones especially, to challenge their brutal intellectual attitudes, the comfort zones that they inhabit, the academic spaces that they occupy, the political culture of their politburos, the voices they silence and marginalize. What she should do is ask how many Dalits and OBCs – the people who actually form the working class – are there in decision making levels of the various communist parties in India. But of course, anti-Westernism is “radical”. Anti-Brahminism is “identity politics”.

This is not meant to be an individual attack on Comrade Krishnan, but rather an attempt to offer an insight into a pernicious trend that is dominating political discourse in the name of “anti-Westernism” “postcolonialism” and so on. In fact, Krishnan’s response to the documentary is much in the line of Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak’s “Can the Subaltern Speak?” where the latter argues against White men saving brown women from brown men. But in condemning western universality, who gave these members of an ultra-elite closed group the right to condemn in the name of all brown women and men? If it was not for the intervention of “white imperialist capitalist patriarchy” women of a particular low caste in Tamil Nadu would not be allowed to cover their breasts. It was British colonialist legislation that put an end to the barbaric practice of temple prostitution in the state. All these moves were also fought for and welcomed by the women of the concerned castes. The subaltern actually spoke. Spivak did not care to listen.

Some of the feminists have had a problem with the documentary being named “India’s Daughter”. But in their zeal to defend the image of India, they are behaving like dutiful Indian daughters in ensuring that the name of their mother country is not besmirched by a ‘colonialist Western foreigner’. Gayatri, Kavita, Pragya, Rithambara… sometimes it is hard to tell the difference.

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Feudal Feminism etc…

Posted in Uncategorized by Karthick RM on October 11, 2016

While Asian women who live ‘western lifestyles’ are slut-shamed on the streets, the academese counterpart of it is to criticize them for conforming to ‘capitalist delusions’. Like this gibberish which argues that Muslim women who conform to tradition are more liberated than Muslim women who supposedly conform to capitalism. By this article, the old Muslim lady who suspects love-marriages is a proto-feminist. I suppose then the Muslim man who slaughters his female relative for entering into a love relationship with someone he doesnt like is a fervent anti-colonialist. The Hindu Right must take note of these arguments; now, the Khap Panchayats can legitimately claim that their expecting Hindu women to conform to pure traditional lifestyles is actually a resistance to Western capitalism! I mean, if old Muslim women were liberated in their purdahs, I am sure old Brahmin and Rajput women are also quite liberated in their caste communities. And kindly dont expect Jats to conform to your liberal white western lifestyles please!

As objectifying as capitalism may be, the liberal Muslim women whom this author hates with a blind fury have the liberty to walk out of an abusive relationship, marry someone else, remain single, or go lesbian. The Islamist mothers and grandmothers whom the author glorifies, however, never had this choice.Liberal western feminism has many problems. Not conforming to Islamic feudal values, however, is definitely not one of them. And if there were a choice between the two, I will gladly go with the former.

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Excerpt From my Review of Christopher J Lee’s “Frantz Fanon: Toward a Revolutionary Humanism”

Posted in Politics by Karthick RM on August 14, 2016

See full review at Marx and Philosophy Review of Books

““Concerning Violence”, a recent documentary by Goran Olsson, a Swedish filmmaker too reinforces the ‘angry black man’ stereotype, albeit unwittingly. Olsson’s documentary takes select passages from The Wretched of the Earth to make a case against European colonialism. The Fanon we see here is an anti-European, who rejected all that Europe stood for. Yes, Fanon was genuinely angry towards the brutality of European colonialism, but he nevertheless believed that there was something worthy of redeeming in the European tradition.

Fanon writes in the Conclusion of WOTE – and this is a passage that the documentary conveniently missed – “All the elements for a solution to the major problems of humanity existed at one time or another in European thought. But the Europeans did not act on the mission that was designated by them.” These are not the words of a man who hated Europe; these are the words of a man who accused Europe of not living up to its own egalitarian values. This is a Fanon that neither the Right nor the Left recognize, and this is the Fanon desperately needed now. The “prophet of violence” who allegedly hated all things Europe is a person whom Fanon would have loathed. But one can suppose this is the fate that befalls all great thinkers. Nietzsche remarked that a martyr’s disciples suffer more than the martyr. What he should have added is that a martyr’s principles suffer most in the hands of his disciples.

Lee’s reading of Fanon provides a much needed nuance that is often missing when dealing with Fanon. “Fanon must be viewed not only as a critic of colonialism but a critic of postcolonialism.” (175) Arguably, Fanonism provides not just a compelling condemnation of the brutalities of European colonialism, but also a pre-emptive critique of the postcolony. While Fanon is most prominently used by the postcolonialists to denounce the alleged arrogance of European universalism, often they produce a narrative that excuses the worst excesses of nation-states in the Third World by attributing it to a hangover of colonial ideology. But this is an approach that Fanon scrupulously avoided, if the last chapters of WOTE are read diligently. And it is this Fanon that needs to be retrieved now – his “radical empathy” and universalist humanism do provide crucial insights on the several problems of identity that plague this century.”

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The Rise of the European Right Is a Wake-up Call for the European Left to Abandon Multiculturalism

Posted in International by Karthick RM on August 14, 2016

Originally published on Huffington Post

The astounding success of the Front National in the first round of France’s regional elections brought me no surprise. Though they didn’t win in the end, they have significantly increased their presence in France. The Right has been on an offensive insurgent mode in Europe for quite some time now. Quite strong Right-wing regimes rule Hungary and Poland. Anti-immigrant parties are on the rise in Denmark, Belgium and even in liberal Sweden. And at home, we have the UKIP that is steadily expanding its influence.

The success of the Right is not the validation of some inherently European racist tendencies as the politically correct would like to accuse, but rather the inevitable result of multiculturalism. The Right has capitalized where the Left has failed, weaving criticisms of practices of migrant communities into a strategically articulated discourse of xenophobia. The liberal-left, in its assumption that the best way to fight xenophobia is to treat the cultural practices of migrant communities as sacrosanct, has given ammunition to the Right’s discourse that immigrants will always remain alien to the European way of life.

Multiculturalism, and its dogma of uncritical tolerance of minority communities, has morally and politically undermined the Left and enabled the Right to project themselves as the defenders of Europe.

If in the era of colonialism the European liberal saw himself as the superhero responsible for saving all of humanity, in the era of multiculturalism, he sees himself as the supervillain responsible for all of humanity’s problems. To use a Freudian argument, the self-flagellating masochism of the European left-liberal is a form of a perverted narcissism. The left-liberal is secretly pleased at the ‘punishment’ being meted out to him by the exotic other, since he still remains the object of attention. This is why we could find so many apologetic rants in the wake of the Islamist terror attacks in Paris. “Yes, the attacks were bad, but we were the guilty ones.”

This sort of ridiculous posturing not only alienates the Left from the European masses, but also makes the vitriol of the Right more endearing. To be brutally honest, if I were a politically uneducated White working class person in a Parisian suburb, I would find the diabolical xenophobic frankness of the Front National more appealing than the sophistries of the liberal who expects me to bear responsibility for aggression committed against France.

If backward cultural practices of Muslim migrants are to be tolerated under the argument that they are integral to Islam, soon Hindu migrants too can make a claim, not without legitimacy, that practicing casteism is integral to being a Hindu. Indeed, Hindu lobby groups have opposed Britain’s attempts to criminalize the practice of casteism. There will be no limit to this, and the only politics that the Left will encounter from such groups is the politics of blackmail. As Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Zizek rightly observed, “The more Western liberal leftists wallow in their guilt, the more they are accused by Muslim fundamentalists of being hypocrites who try to conceal their hatred of Islam.”

We need to differentiate between defending the lives and democratic rights of migrants and minorities and serving as apologists for the bigotries and backwardness among them. In fact, the only way to effectively defend the democratic rights of migrants is by being unapologetically critical of backward cultural practices among their communities and extending full support to progressives from such communities. The failure of the Left to do so is the only success of multiculturalism, and this provides the best rhetorical weapon for the Right to denounce migrants en masse as a backward lot.

As an ‘immigrant’ who has been in this country for about four years now, I agree with the Prime Minister David Cameron that British values need to be defended. But what are the British values we are talking about? The utopian communism of Gerrard Winstanley, the secular Republicanism of Shakespeare and the romantic Jacobinism of PB Shelley are the real British values, and very much European values. To think that migrants need not subscribe to these and should stay in their own little closeted cultures is also a form of racism.

In the name of multiculturalism, we cannot allow an infantile liberal-Left deny and denigrate all that is radical and emancipatory about Europe. Because only the far-Right, which hates egalitarian European values as much as the Islamists, will be the eventual beneficiary of this.

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Ferguson: Taking the fight beyond identity politics

Posted in International by Karthick RM on April 13, 2015

Originally published on The European magazine

It has been reported that two police officers were shot at Ferguson on Thursday, hours after the city’s police chief resigned in the wake of an inquiry into the excesses that his department committed under his reign. This assault follows on the heels of another fatal attack on two NYPD police officers in December by a young Black man who claimed to be taking revenge for police brutalities in Ferguson and elsewhere. Ironically, the cops whom he murdered also happened to be “people of color”. Can these incidents, the general mood of public unrest in Ferguson, be read as acts of “divine violence”?

Disease of the old world order

Slavoj Zizek evokes Walter Benjamin’s “Critique of Violence” to defend this argument. Without condoning or condemning, he rightly observes that such outbursts “with no concrete programmatic demands” are sustained “by just a vague call for justice.” Indeed, Benjamin’s thesis is that “If mythical violence is lawmaking, divine violence is law-destroying”. But this is only a part of it. Benjamin further adds, “if the former sets boundaries, the latter boundlessly destroys them; if mythical violence brings at once guilt and retribution, divine power only expiates; if the former threatens, the latter strikes; if the former is bloody, the latter is lethal without spilling blood.” Did the reactive violence by the oppressed in Ferguson achieve, or even aim at any of this? Sadly, no. Why is this? The “irrational outbursts” such as Ferguson are not symptoms of a new world order – they are symptoms of the disease of the old world order.

The advocacy of indiscriminate violence to combat White racist power centers is nothing new. In the past, Black activists like Eldridge Cleaver advocated rape of White women as a form of resistance to White racism – though he later expressed regret for such ideas. Life came full circle when he eventually joined the Republican Party and became a Christian conservative. What does this say? The reality is that the American system is more than capable of defending itself against such violent excesses by its minorities. If anything, it would prefer the pampering of such particularist minority identity politics because the postmodern logic of global capitalism requires the proliferations of multiple minority identities. This impotent violence of particularist identity politics, fueled only by anti-Whiteressentiment, creates more boundaries and comes nowhere closer to destroying them, which alone would be the real act of divine violence. So the White racists who are phobic about the “brutal Blacks” and the multicultural left who, to overcome a misplaced sense of guilt, celebrate “Black resistance by any means necessary” are actually conforming to the logic of the same system.

Overcoming black separatism

Frantz Fanon was precisely talking about this when he wrote in his “Black Skin, White Masks” that those who adore the Black person are as pathological as those who hate him. His message is crucial – the practice of attributing an immutable identity to an exotic Other and preaching phobia against it, as the racists are wont to do, or preaching a patronizing tolerance for it, as multiculturalists are wont to do, damages the possibility of an universalist political project. In fact, more than Black nationalists in America, it was Martin Luther King Jr. who took this message to heart, when he argued it was necessary to overcome Black separatism and fight on a universalist plank for all the oppressed in the country.

Where does this place those on the radical left? Of course, we have to, without any hesitation, acknowledge that the police system in several parts of America is totally racist. But at the same time, we should not slip into the quite problematic multiculturalist position of endorsing everything that goes by the name of Black/minority identity politics. One can acknowledge that a section of the population has been systematically marginalized, convey solidarity with their struggles, while also remaining critical of reactionary cultural and political tendencies within those minority communities. We can learn a few lessons here from VI Lenin who, while being extremely sensitive to the precarious position of the Jews in Russia, was also boldly critical of isolationist Jewish Bundist politics. To make an excuse that reactionary politics of minority communities have to be tolerated just because “they are different from us” is after all another form of racism.

Defending the egalitarian aspects of Western society

What is needed is, as Zizek suggests elsewhere, a “radical emancipatory Third” that rejects both an identity politics based on anti-Western ressentiment and a shallow liberal multiculturalist tolerance. It is this Third alone that can defend the egalitarian aspects of Western society. This might take the form of a reinvented Jacobinism or a heretical Leninism, but the urgent need is to imagine such a politics of universalism, one that breaks boundaries, expiates both guilt and ressentiment, strikes potently, and is lethal even without spilling blood.

Only this force which the current system cannot accommodate and liberals cannot imagine can bring forth the real event of divine violence.

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J’accuse: Charlie Hebdo and the Rank Stupidity of the Infantile Left

Posted in Society and Culture by Karthick RM on January 20, 2015

Originally published on Huffington Post

In the wake of the brutal murders at the office of the French satirist magazine Charlie Hebdo, did you come across any article which read something like the following?

‘While the Hebdo murders are sad (add few token lines of phony sympathy) France has killed many people during colonialism. And it has a history of white racism. Plus, it is also engaged in neo-colonial endeavors. Likewise, Charlie Hebdo is Islamophobic (give few examples). The murderers are just isolated madmen and do not have an ideology. etc etc.’

Well done! You’ve just had a generous dose of infantile leftism! Criticism is reserved only for the West and Israel. Only the Whites and Jews have it in them to be the super-villains of the world. The rest are just innocent suffering victims. And yes, the ‘resistance’ of these ‘victims’ – whatever form it might come in – ought not be criticized. Ironically, this sort of Manichean thinking, that of the bad West vs the poor Rest, is precisely the mirror-image of the Bush doctrine of “either you are with us or against us”.

Slovene philosopher Slavoj Zizek made an interesting comment about such trends among the left: “For the multiculturalist, white Anglo-Saxon Protestants are prohibited, Italians and Irish get a little respect, blacks are good, native Americans are even better. The further away we go, the more they deserve respect. This is a kind of inverted, patronizing respect that puts everyone at a distance.”

The irrational hatred for Whites and Jews (including those from the working class) apart, this is precisely the kind of patronizing respect that the infantile left in Western countries shows towards Islamism. In reality, this left is much like the right, in that it secretly accepts that Muslims are incapable of radical social reform, and hence, becomes a patron of Islamist identity politics. And the bogey it invents to hide its own failures and to shut down legitimate criticisms of Islamism is that of Islamophobia. And the ‘name-and-shame’ campaign this coterie launches against critics – not to mention the real, existential threat posed by Islamic fanatic groups – create a climate where there is self-censorship that writers, intellectuals and comedians impose on themselves. The implicit message seems to be this: criticize Islam, and you are an Islamophobe. Should you be killed, you probably deserved it.

Isn’t that what is also transpiring in Hebdo attack case? Though the magazine was clearly an equal-opportunity offender some on the left have used even this tragic circumstance to paint the institution as ‘Islamophobic’.

I did come across a few nauseating articles but this one by Richard Seymour on a magazine that goes by the name “Jacobin” takes the cake. Let alone a solidarity with the victims – which the writer believes to be “platitudinous” – there is not even a word of condemnation of the terrorists (again, a term which the writer opposes to categorize the killers) who executed this barbaric attack. Instead there is a banal sermon on the possible dangers of Islamophobia, a totally irrelevant anecdote about Thatcher coupled with an inappropriate comparison with the IRA, and accusations at Charlie Hebdo which make it sound as though the magazine invited the attack.

It is precisely this sort of irresponsible justifications of acts of blind terrorism that shrink the already limited political space for progressive activists, representatives of the working class and oppressed nations. And no less a person than Lenin condemned these sort of acts. Seymour asks his readers to check up on Said’s Orientalism (and it is not a wonder that he is disapproving of Zizek). But maybe he should re-read – and try to understand – what Lenin meant when he called terrorist-glorification tendencies an ‘infantile disorder’.

A true leftist would realize that the attack on Charlie Hebdo is not merely an attack on a liberal freedom of press – it is an attack of a core Marxist value, namely, the ethical imperative to critically examine every ideology under the sun, and Islam is no special exception. For a leftist to ignore that is imbecility at its worst.

As far Islamist terrorism goes, maybe the Left should remember what Robespierre, the patriarch of modern day revolutionaries, said – “To punish the oppressors of humanity is benevolence; to be benevolent to them is barbarism.” This, and this alone, is real Jacobinism.This, and this alone, is real Jacobinism.

Islamophilia Cannot Be an Effective Answer to Islamophobia

Posted in International by Karthick RM on December 24, 2014

Originally published on Huffington Post

The recent siege by an Islamist in Sydney has raised all too familiar debates about Islamophobia. The general right-wing argument, of course, is that such acts of terrorism are justified by a hard-core minority of Muslims and that downplaying the role of Islam is potentially harmful. On the other hand, the general liberal-left argument is that expecting all Muslims to condemn such acts is bigoted because a whole community cannot be held accountable for the actions of a few ‘deranged lunatics’.

Central to both arguments is an unstated belief that the Islamic identity is central to all Muslims, and while the former despises it, the latter preaches a patronising tolerance of the same. And both are wrong.

We have to look at Islamophobia as the tendency to blame Muslims as a whole, without any differentiation of nation, culture, class, gender, and political orientation for terrorist acts committed by Islamists.

Likewise, we have to look at Islamophilia as the tendency to exonerate Islam as an ideology from the crimes that are committed in its name, as the belief that the Muslim identity is good in itself and is central to an adherent of the faith.

Reality, if anything, shows the contrary. Proponents of the two sides are unlikely to remember that the first state to declare itself officially atheist in the world happened to be a predominantly ‘Muslim’ country – socialist Albania. Under Enver Hoxha, the state banned religion and religious preaching, shut down mosques, and tried to achieve gender parity in all services. In practice, the ‘Muslim’ Hoxha was the most rabid Islamophobe of the previous century. Incidentally, it was precisely those western governments – who are now accused of harbouring Islamophobia – who railed against Hoxha for curbing religious freedom for Muslims.

Several other examples could be given. The Indonesian Communist Party led insurgency, the Kurdish movement in the middle-east, the Marxist-Leninist Communist Party (Turkey), the Communist Party of Iran – all militantly secular movements led by ‘Muslims’ – have faced brutal repression from variants of Islamism. It would be a brutal illogic to say that the murder of thousands of individuals from these movements had nothing to do with the Islamic ideology that the states they challenged upheld.

Why is this important? Drawing parallels from other cases, can we say that the Inquisition’s slaughter of tens of thousands of heretics at the stake was just an act committed by a few ‘deranged lunatics’ and that the ideology of the Church had no role to play in it? Can we say that the discrimination against Dalits, the lowest castes in the Hindu hierarchy, owes to a few bad individuals and is not a structural problem in Hinduism? Can we say that war crimes perpetrated by the Sri Lankan state against the Tamils were just acts of bad soldiers and they can be divorced from the genocidal intent of Sinhala-Buddhist nationalism?

Similarly, we cannot excuse the Islamic ideology from the terrorism and violence that is committed in its name. There is a lot in political Islam that justifies violence against non-Muslims, sexism and terroristic acts and those Muslims who have been fighting it for long have written the best testimonials. For liberals in the West to ignore this and to engage in downright immature acts, like wearing a hijab to convey solidarity with Muslim women, is tantamount to mocking those progressives in Muslim communities who resist the cultural diktats of political Islam.

A more critical approach to political Islam is needed. Commenting on the Rotherhamchild abuse scandal, which saw the sexual abuse of over a thousand white, mostly working class, children by men of Pakistani-Muslim origin, Slovenian Marxist philosopher Slavoj Zizek argued that raising questions about inherent sexism and violence in these communities is neither racist nor Islamophobic. Rather, it is this questioning alone that can guarantee an authentic co-existence.

Liberals and leftists in the West are right to condemn the bigotry of the majority community, but the fundamentalism of the minority community cannot be spared from criticism. If those identifying as left and liberal fail to criticise the dangerous trends of Islamism, the right will step up for the task. That is a future no one wants and political correctness can do little to fight it. Maybe one can start by expressing critical solidarity with those progressive movements from within the Muslim communities that are willing to think beyond narrow religious identities and are willing to challenge the bigotries in Islamic ideology.

A Comment on ‘Moodar Koodam’

Posted in Society and Culture by Karthick RM on November 3, 2013

Originally published on The Weekend Leader as “Portrayal of Tamil assertion in films”

First, let me say that I thoroughly enjoyed watching debutant director Naveen’s Moodar Koodam (Fools Gathering). A low budget movie of a genre that is rarely taken up in Tamil cinema – dark humour – it was good entertainment.

The comic storyline, interspersed with even more comic flashbacks, the lack of an infallible hero and his often senseless romance, a narrative that gives weight to all characters, make the movie a worthwhile watch.

While I appreciate the style of the movie, I have to disagree with some aspects of its content. The director seems to have unnecessarily mixed what could have been a good comedy on its own with a social commentary that is banal.

The semi-pedagogical dialogues on communism and the ills of capitalism seem rather pointless especially at a time when most communists in India don’t know what it is that they are fighting for.

The romanticising of the rural as naively good and the cursing of the urban social elites as being morally corrupt has become a boring theme.

This ranting against English, IT professionals, the upwardly mobile has been hammered through Tamil cinema enough.

After a point, the contempt for knowledge and modernity gets really annoying. And it also makes one wonder whether what is being advocated is a rule similar to the Sharia laws…

But why is it that the Tamilophile is usually a crass, frustrated, lower/lower-middle class male who mostly behaves like a sociopath?

Haven’t we had enough with Katradhu Tamizh where the protagonist, a misogynist, goes around killing, beating and molesting people because they did not conform to his notion of Tamil culture?

Or rather, why can’t a smooth and suave and socially refined man – or for that matter, woman – be a Tamilophile? The latter would be the really radical thing to portray.

Likewise, the scene from the movie, where one of the protagonists harasses a guy for talking to him in English, which is in wide circulation in social media, cannot appeal to the learned.

A positive assertion of identity cannot be based on paranoia and insecurity and berating your own for neglecting their ‘roots’, real or imagined. But again, to be fair to the director, maybe this is why he called his movie ‘Moodar Koodam’.

A much radical portrayal of Tamil assertion can be seen in a particular scene in the movie Tamizh Padam. A reel Manmohan Singh calls up the protagonist asking him to take-up a police assignment, speaking to him in Hindi throughout.

After hearing out the Indian Prime Minister with an indifferent look on his face, the protagonist replies in Tamil “Sorry PM ji, I don’t know Hindi” and cuts the phone.

The Indian PM is left with a bewildered look on his face. Comedy apart, this scene speaks more for an assertive Tamil nationalism than all the “Tamil kalaachaaram (culture)” jingoism that we have been subject to in other movies.

When you look at it, the protagonist of Tamizh Padam is really ‘speaking truth to power’ when he tells the highest political authority of India that he (symbolically representing Tamils) can’t speak Hindi, and refuses to engage in further conversation.

This is the real positive assertion of identity – being confident without being xenophobic, refusing to entertain dialogue with the Other who does not recognize you, while at the same time not boring yourself and those around you with didactic rants.

Indeed Tamil Nadu’s identity politics of the future cannot be like Moodar Koodam – a gathering of fools.

Deconstructing Sri Lanka’s reconciliation discourse

Posted in Politics, War by Karthick RM on June 18, 2012

Originally published on JDSLanka

When the Lankan government triumphantly announced the ‘defeat’ of the LTTE on May 19th 2009, there was great jubilation among chauvinist forces in the island. While there are more than enough credible evidences to show what happened to the Eelam Tamils during this period and after – killing of civilians, mass rapes, routinization of torture, denial of medical care to the sick and the injured, to name a few – popular enthusiasm for the regime that made this possible was at its peak in the south.

And after the smoke in Vanni subsided and the diaspora began turning on the heat for an independent international investigation to probe charges of genocide, a word started entering the discourse around Sri Lanka in a big way. Reconciliation. Gotabaya talks of it. The opposition talks of it. Liberal Sinhala and Tamil activists talk of it. India and the West talk of it. NGOs talk of it. But many Tamils remain cynical of the word, three years after Mullivaikaal.


An elaborate report tabled by experts handpicked by the Sri Lankan government called the ‘Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission’ waxed eloquent on measures to be taken so as to achieve unity in the island. While the report completely exonerates the government, let alone from charges of genocide, from even the liberal accusations of human rights violations, it lays the blame for the misery of the Eelam Tamils squarely on the most committed defenders of their interests, the Tigers. Adding the necessary points on the need to address this or that grievance to give itself some credibility to observers, the report brims with enthusiasm for building a united Sri Lanka. Multi-lingual schools, bilingual anthems, pluralist approach to culture, people to people contact, and yes, mechanisms “that would effectively address and discourage secessionist tendencies and safeguard the sovereignty and integrity of the State.” Over the bones of the more than hundred thousand dead Tamils, that is. The real message of the devisors of the LLRC seems to be that Tamils have learnt a lesson and must reconcile to the fact that they are a minority at the tender mercies of the state, not a nationality, and that the there is no imagination beyond the unitary Sri Lanka. And yes, that the LTTE and its ‘secessionist’ project is a ghost of the past.

The same spirit was reflected in the recent US backed resolution in the Geneva UNHRC session, which called for a speedier implementation of the LLRC (a resolution rightly criticized by the civil society in the island, activists in Tamil Nadu and politically informed organizations in the diaspora for being grossly inadequate). Unfortunately for the international powers, GoSL and all the mechanisms it might promote through the recommendations of the LLRC, some ghosts do haunt the Sri Lankan and Eelam Tamil polities. This was evident in the commemoration of Heroes Day in many parts of the territory of Tamil Eelam despite open threats from the occupying Sri Lankan military, and in the continuing apprehension of Rajapaksa that the Tigers may come back with their ‘secessionist’ project. But again, why retrieve the dead? Why to exorcise ghosts when they can be written away by such reports promising harmony in the future? Or, why is it that the Sri Lankan model of ‘reconciliation’ appears a joke for the Tamils?

Questioning ‘reconciliation’

The term ‘reconciliation’ originally is derived from the Christian theological concept of ending the gap between god and man, through atonement of the latter. In politics, it is a liberal concept where one socio-political group of people – which formerly was privileged in a system that worked against the detriment of another group – constitutes a series of legal and symbolic acts, mostly with assistance and participation of the affected group, with or without external mediators, so as to create political and more importantly psychological conditions to generate a social harmony that was lacking in the past. To draw an analogy from the Christian concept, let’s say, the dominant group atones for its sins against the oppressed group.

One can presume that that the cynicism shown by atheists to this theological concept that material sin can be expiated through symbolic gestures will be shared by radicals towards the political concept. As the flaw with liberalism goes, the system is not radically restructured, only reformed so that certain grievances of the affected group are addressed and the psyche of the group is assuaged that some credible changes have taken place. Case to consider: South Africa, where despite the much talked about reconciliation process and the feeling of empowerment among the Blacks post-apartheid, the vast majority of wealth is still in White hands. The effects of reconciliation, we must understand, are meant to be more psychological among the oppressed groups than material.

Nevertheless, to be fair to the liberal pundits of reconciliation theory, psychological impacts do affect material conditions to some extent. A feeling of social harmony can effect some positive political changes within a system, though these changes needn’t be the ones that the oppressed group had initially desired. Elaboration is not necessary on how illusions of the justness of a political order can maintain it. So let us consider here the arguments of Dr. Alexander Boraine, by no means a radical, one of the main architects of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the co-founder of International Centre for Transitional Justice. On reconciliation, he writes “At its best, reconciliation involves commitment and sacrifice; at its worst, it is an excuse for passivity, for siding with the powerful against the weak and dispossessed.” [1]

He further argues, “Unless the call for reconciliation is accompanied by acknowledgment of the past and the acceptance of responsibility, it will be dismissed as cheap rhetoric. Perhaps one of the ways in which to achieve at least a measure of reconciliation in a deeply divided society is to create a common memory that can be acknowledged by those who created and implemented the unjust system, those who fought against it, and the many more who were in the middle and claimed not to know what was happening in their country.”

Based on this, certain questions can be posed to those who argue for reconciliation between the Tamils and the Sinhalese in the island.

Will the Sinhalese, obviously the privileged group in the unitary Sri Lankan system, acknowledge that what happened in the past was not a ‘war on terror’ but the continuation of a protracted genocide of the Eelam Tamils, genocide conducted to maintain the system that structurally privileges them?

Will the Sinhalese recognize that those who fought against the genocide enforced by the Sri Lankan state apparatus through armed struggle were not terrorists but the only credible representatives of the Eelam Tamils?

Will the Sinhalese recognize that the Tamils not just have a right but also an obligation to retain the memory of both the civilians and the fighters who died in the Eelam wars and to commemorate them publicly?

These of course are only moral questions. The appropriate political question would be to ask the Sinhalese, (along with the above three, for the line between politics and morality is always blurred), whether they would push for an independent international investigation to identify and punish the perpetrators of genocide in their state and for a referendum to be conducted among the Tamils so that the Tamils can determine their future. But are the Sinhalese in a state of mind to answer at least the three moral questions?

The Sri Lankan system and Reconciliation

At the risk of sounding cynical, one can say that apart from a few exceptions, the answers to the above questions would be in the negative. To push it further, there is a high probability that even the legitimacy of these questions will be questioned.

Why is there a general state of denial of the state of affairs in the island? Of course, in this media age, should anyone make a claim that he was not informed, one can only scoff at him. Sri Lankan society suffers from what Zizek terms ‘fetishist disavowal’ – the Sri Lankan knows what happened (genocide), but he refuses to accept the consequences of this knowledge (prosecution of offenders, a corresponding political solution), so that he can continue acting as if he didn’t know it.

Hannah Arendt points out how mendacity became a general part of the German character under the Nazis by the acceptance of effective lies. The most effective of these was the Nazi slogan “the battle of destiny for the German people”, which made self-deception easier on three counts – that there was no “war” in the proper sense of the term, that it was started by destiny and not by Germany, that the Germans need to annihilate or be annihilated, a matter of life or death. One only needs to look at Rajapaksa’s speeches, editorials of some mainstream Sri Lankan newspapers, blogs and sites run by Sinhala ‘patriots’, the writings of some JHU leader, or even better, the articles of certain self-proclaimed intellectuals to get the same message. The Lie that the Sri Lankan state had been spreading for ages about a global Tamil conspiracy, of Tamils as impure alien invaders, the uniqueness of the Sinhala race, the chauvinist concepts of blood, religion and soil, found acceptance as Truth by a vast majority of the Sinhalese. And this made many of them immune to any moral indignation at the obvious sufferings inflicted on the Eelam Tamils by their state.

A condition after the military defeat of the LTTE has been arrived at now. Actual subjective violence on the Tamils needn’t even happen – the omnipresence of the jack-boot and the rifle butt, the panopticon of the police-military institutions and the intrusive symbols of the colonizer, besides being an open threat of direct physical violence, creates enough psychological violence against the Tamil body to keep it in a permanent state of trauma. The argument that the absence of any major uprising in the so-called ‘post-war’ era signals the Tamils’ acceptance of the unitary state and the success of reconciliation is as ridiculous as the one that slavery is justified when slaves don’t revolt. The Sri Lankan state knows well that to crush the possibility of any mass outbreak of protest in post-Mullivaikaal period, it needs to create such a scenario where the Tamils would be made to know, would be made to feel, that any protest against the powers would be futile and suicidal.

Can’t it be otherwise in the future? Remember Col. Mathieu from The Battle of Algiers who responds to the questions of the French reporters on human right abuses in the colony with one of his own. “Should France stay in Algeria? If your answer is still yes, then you must accept all the consequences.” Structural genocide and violence against the Tamils must continue as long as Sri Lanka occupies the Tamil homeland. At a further degeneration, annihilation is the solution that unitary Sri Lanka can provide, with an intensification of subjective violence on the Tamils. With a possible betterment, assimilation is the best solution it has to offer, where the Eelam Tamils will lose all sense of identity and become ‘authentic Sri Lankans’ i.e. mimics of the Sinhalese. Either ways, violence on the Tamils will only shift forms in unitary Sri Lanka. But it is the latter that the Sri Lankan system desires, since it believes that it has cowed the Tamils with the possibility of the former through what it did during Mullivaikaal. It calls this reconciliation.

Conditions for reconciliation

There are two broad conditions in which reconciliation in the island can happen.

One is a long term possibility. If we can recognize that ‘reconciliation’ in the current context means nothing more than the acceptance of the superiority of the Sinhalese by the Tamils and a willingness to assimilate as Sri Lankans, it can proceed successfully through a combination of factors which include intensification of Sinhala colonization/Sinhalization to make claims of a Tamil homeland impossible, neutralization of activists in Tamil Eelam, Tamil Nadu and the diaspora to accepting the unitary state as the final solution, erasure of memory of the struggle for Tamil Eelam and its symbols and so. If this is allowed to happen, a stage will be reached – looking at trends in the island, it is likely to be within a decade if left unopposed – when the Tamils are but a scattered minority throughout the island without the possibility of a homeland of their own. At that time, maybe there will be a benevolent regime in Sri Lanka that recognizes that what happened to Tamils was a grave mistake, maybe even a genocide, for which they are genuinely sorry, and would ensure that the cultural and economic rights of the Tamil minorities are strongly safeguarded. This would be a genuine reconciliation, with a touch of irony albeit. For it is contingent on the idea of Tamil Eelam and retributive justice for what happened over the past 60 years breaking completely among the Tamils not just in the homeland, but in Tamil Nadu and diaspora as well allowing things to reach such a stage.

The other possibility, which needs to happen soon, is for the Sinhalese en masse to answer the three questions in the affirmative, to pressurize for prosecution of war criminals from the bottom to the top in the Sri Lankan state, to press for an immediate removal of Sinhala military and colonies from the Tamil homelands, to call for a referendum to ascertain the political aspirations of the Tamils, and to ensure material reparations for the losses that the Tamil Nation suffered. Unless this sounds like an idealist pipedream, this is the only way through which reconciliation in the island can happen between the two nations. If this does not happen, ‘reconciliation’ is likely to join the list of swear words in Tamil.

To end, the Christian concept of reconciliation was probably the inspiration behind the proverb “to err is human, to forgive divine”.

The Tamils, of course, cannot be expected to be divine considering that the other side largely tolerates a regime that was and continues to be inhuman.


1. See Alexander Boraine’s “Retributive Justice and Restorative Justice: Contradictory or Complimentary?” in “Genocide and Accountability” edited by Nanci Adler

Tamil Sovereignty

Posted in Poetry by Karthick RM on March 11, 2012

Definition of Tamil Sovereignty

an identity
in uniform
our self

an aim
never missing
its target

a soul
that throbs
for all that
it sees and hears

a human shield
for the wretched
the poor
the orphaned

a life
from the land
it gave birth to

a mystery
to comrade
and enemy

in a million

a friend
a philosopher
a guide

friends admire
fiends despise

prophet to some
messiah to some

ruler? servant?
messenger? message?

some say ‘leader’
some say ‘god’

but dont ask me
about him

i have searched
for words
in all languages
to describe
this phenomenon

i have failed

but ask me
‘what is
Tamil Sovereingty?’

look at this image
fellow national!

this is
Tamil Sovereingty!