How many times have you heard the below arguments from your progressive friends?
If you are not with Hillary, you are with Trump.
If you are not a multiculturalist, you are a racist.
If you are not a maoist, you are a class enemy.
If you are not a feminist, you are a misogynist.
If you are not a Tamil nationalist, you are a Telugu. (lol)
If you are critical of Arundhati Roy, you are an Indian state agent. (double lol)
If you are critical of the Indian left, you are RSS.
If you are critical of Islam, you are an Islamophobe.
If you are critical of JJ, you are DMK.
If you are critical of Kabali, you are PMK.
If you are critical of Vijay, you are an Ajith fan.
Binary thinking is the death of all creativity and critical thought. And Arnab Goswami is not the only criminal in this regard. As a Nietzsche commentator (Paul Glenn) rightly said “opposite values are an intellectual framework created by the mind to simplify reality, and as a result, the framework does not do justice to reality The rich details and vast subtleties of the world cannot fit into two starkly separate categories.”
Sometimes, I feel that the liberal-left meetings here, especially pro-diversity meetings and “people of color” meetings and literary discussions with exotic Asian writers, are much like the therapy sessions for people suffering from testicular cancer in the movie “Fight Club”. You know, get together in a group with some feeling of togetherness and identity (ooh la la) and attempt at catharsis by narrating your unique experiences, sharing sad stories, hugging and feeling each other and so on. Which is why the radical presence in that group in the movie is not the cynical narrator who does not have testicular cancer but who pretends to be a victim and joins the group to get some meaning in life – rather it is the character of Marla Singer who makes a parody of this group by participating in it despite obviously not having testicles. But she is the one in that situation who has the balls, in an allegorical sense, because she is the cynic who knows that she is a cynic and is also courageous enough to expose the cynicism of those who think that they are believers but are actually cynics themselves. Maybe that is the real radical act of politics today. More than speaking truth to power, we need to reflect on the lies that the liberal-left tells to itself to create an illusion of some happy harmonious community and throw them back in its face. Without doing this, let alone revolution, even substantive reform is not possible.
A late trigger warning: I hope I didnt offend anyone who gets touchy about the subject of testicular cancer. If I did, well, balls to you.
After deep consideration, discussion and deliberation for about 20 minutes, we decided that Tamil ‘progressive intellectuals’ have too many privileges in our society. So, since we are pretty jobless at the moment, and since we also want to try fighting privileges by naming and shaming instead of participating in deep theoretical and political struggles, we have come out with the following list of privileges that Tamil ‘progressive intellectuals’ have. We use ‘progressive intellectual’ as a generic pejorative term to designate those writers, journalists, academics, artists, (non)thinkers, poets, sculptors, wine-shop owners, dappankuthu dancers, etc. who consider themselves as ‘progressive intellectuals’ and feel that it is their task to criticize real or imagined injustices even if they are absolutely clueless on how to change them, who also take it as their divine right to pass judgments on people’s movements.
We place ‘progressive intellectuals’ within single quotes because that sounds a lot cooler.
These points were jointly written by myself, Catwoman*, and Bane*. Mostly myself [expects standing ovation]. Many thanks to Magneto* and Mystique* for their feedback. [*Names changed to protect identities.]
Please, please, please like and share this post. The authors will also send private mails/fb messages/tweets to their contacts appealing to circulate this post as much as possible.
- You call yourself a ‘progressive intellectual’. That is the first joke. A bad one at that.
- You think your lived experience validates your political position. FYI, it doesn’t.
- You do not want to take responsibility for your choices.
- You want to criticize everyone who has contributed in practical terms to the Tamil cause, be it Periyar or Pirapaharan. Fine. But if your criticism is criticized, you react like a monkey whose ass is on fire.
- You demand the freedom to criticism as an inviolable right, but you can stay aloof from a people’s movement while judging it in your terms.
- You can have no knowledge of Tamil history, politics, culture, art or philosophy but can still claim validity to your arguments just because of lived experience.
- You say that there is no essential Tamil culture and yet use an essentialized notion of a Tamil culture to condemn it.
- You can only identify differences in Tamil society – and there are many indeed – but you would deliberately thwart all attempts to create a unity.
- The reason you would give for doing the above is that you claim to oppose the domination of a particular region, caste, or gender. Nothing new. That was Karuna’s rationale for splitting.
- You want to solve the problem of class, caste, gender and region disparities by just talking (mostly whining) about the same. The idea of these being resolved in a struggle led by a genuinely progressive party does not strike you.
- This brings us to the next point – you want to replace political struggle with political correctness. Since we do not want to be like you, we want to say that we think that you are a bunch of whiny wimps.
- You want to celebrate the difference of identities while refusing to acknowledge that a brutal free market capitalism precisely thrives on the proliferation of different identities.
- Your excuse for political and theoretical bankruptcy is usually a sad life story designed to provoke cheap sympathy.
- You (half)read Marxists, anti-racists, feminists and other culture critics from a western context and try to apply their methodologies to a totally different Tamil context. Again, you will explain your lack of originality with a sad story.
- You take Marxism totally out of context and judge social revolutionaries like Periyar for being ‘reformist’ or a liberation struggle like LTTE for being ‘fascist’.
- Your idea of feminism or gender justice is derived solely from advanced liberal democracies. The gender justice of movements like the LTTE, PKK, FARC are anathema to you.
- To quote the bard, your wit makes wise things foolish.
- You think a dozen likes by dullards on facebook has won you allies and you write in a manner to appeal to their unrefined emotions. You are the Tamil academic version of TR Silambarasan. [And the authors apologize to simbu for this analogy]
- You can call Tamil Nadu activists as ‘mobs’ and ‘fascists’ when they democratically criticize an anti-Eelam movie, but remain conveniently silent when the Indian state bans and censors pro-Eelam movies.
- You can ally with a thoroughly brahminical CPI(M) to degrade Tamil nationalists and Periyarists.
- You can use brahminical establishments and the space that they provide to condemn Tamil society as casteist.
- You can claim to be above the Tamil identity while at the same time forcing Tamils to subscribe to micro-identities. If you can transcend your Tamil identity, why cannot Tamils transcend their caste identity?
- You can drop terms like intersectionality in abstract without any principled consideration or sober assessment of the concrete.
- You can claim to oppose White-imperialist-capitalist-patriarchy (only because that’s the easiest way to get attention) but you welcome the pro-LLRC US resolution.
- Tell the truth. You are afraid of freedom.
[points 26-999 are just repetitions of above points, reworded in more cool sounding academese.]
1000. Ok. We need to go out now. It’s SATURDAY. WE HAVE A LIFE. To quote the bard again, you are not worth another word.
1001. But maybe we can spare three words as a goodbye. Piss off losers.
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.
It was almost 1 am and I was tired after hours of debate with my friends (over several rounds of scotch, of course) about the situation in Sri Lanka and the way some ‘national’ news channels manufactured consent as well as content. We called it a day and returned our homes. Happily drunk, I hit the bed and fell asleep in a flash. And I entered dreamland.
There I was, one of the guests of a talk show on KDTV, a national news channel*. Darkha Butt, a famous TV journalist, was the anchor. The topic of debate? My pet subject.
Butt: Welcome to our show ‘Face the Country’ and we are live from Chennai. We have with us Mr. Subbuni Swamy, leader of the Jaalra Party, Mr. Jho Raaswamy, commentator on Tamil Nadu politics and Mr. Karthick Ram, activist.
The recent defeat of the LTTE and the death of Prabhakaran elicited different responses from various sections of political parties in Tamil Nadu. Many of them are in a state of denial, claiming that the Tiger leader is still alive. So Mr. Swamy, what do you think about the reactions in Tamil Nadu after the rout of the LTTE?
Sub: It is all a humbug. All those people who staged demonstrations were on the payroll of the LTTE. They are now frustrated that they’ve lost a source of income. Every Indian should be happy over the death of Prabhakaran.
Butt: Mr. Ram, how would you react to that statement?
Me: Well, I guess I’m not Indian then. Jus kidding.. Mera bharat mahaan. See, the so called “rout of the LTTE” – it was achieved at a terrible cost. Over 30,000 Tamil civilians were killed since January. The final operation was nothing less than a blood bath. The Lankan govt’s war is something beyond the military defeat of the LTTE – its objective is to humiliate the Tamils who dared stand up against the majoritarian state. The reactions in Tamil Nadu, condemning the genocide of Tamils, is owing to sympathy among the people here for their suffering brethren across the Palk Strait. There is no funding for sympathy, as Mr. Swamy alleges. And please call me Karthick. I don’t like to be called Ram.
Butt (laughing): Ok Karthick. But why are Tamil Nadu’s politicians in a denial mode over Prabhakaran’s death when even Tiger sources have confirmed it?
Me: Well, there are just too many unanswered questions and too many speculations around Prabhakaran’s death. The Lankan govt has given too many versions with too many loopholes for us to take its word as the truth. As for the Tiger’s version of events, they are something to consider. Personally, I’m not sure what to say right now.
Butt: Mr. Raaswamy, what would the Tigers do next? Can they make a comeback?
Jho: The Tigers are a decimated outfit. There is no coming back. Sri Lanka has shown the world how to deal secessionist-terrorists with an iron fist. India should learn from them in dealing with our own secessionist problems.
Butt: I think you have a point there. Mr. Swamy, there are many who claim that there is now a humanitarian crisis in Sri Lanka and that India has a moral responsibility towards the Tamils. What do you think India should do, now that the Tiger threat is over?
Sub: Some pro-LTTE elements try to paint Sri Lanka’s legitimate war against terrorists as a humanitarian crisis. Many English media outlets like your channel, many progressive newspapers, and popular intellectuals like myself and Mr. Raaswamy have repeatedly exposed their hollow accusations. Of course, some anti-national people like Arundhati Roy and Medha Patkar have spoken in favour of the so-called Tamil cause – but we shouldn’t take these terrorist supporters seriously. So what if some civilians die? This kind of things happens in all wars. National integrity is most important. As a responsible neighbour, India should extend all possible support to Sri Lanka in its efforts at reconstruction. After all, even the Sinhalese have umbilical cords with India.
Butt: What is your take on that Karthick?
Me: What ‘legitimate country’ uses its air-force to bomb its own civilians? Which democracy herds displaced people into camps which are little better than prisons? Don’t you know that Sri Lanka ranks among the lowest when it comes to press freedom and human rights? Sri Lanka is not a democracy – it is an ethnocracy where the state works for the majority community and disempowers its minorities through brute force. And India’s decision to back Sri Lanka in the UN Human Rights Council convention at Geneva speaks volumes about the moral standing of Gandhi’s country.
Jho: India opposing Sri Lanka is out of the question. We cannot lose a strategic ally for a bunch of Tamils. Also, if someone raises the Kashmir issue, we will be in soup.
Butt: Besides, LTTE killed Rajiv Gandhi…
Me: For how many years are you going to say this same thing? Till the Tamils are wiped out in Lanka? I don’t think supporting the butchering of ordinary Tamil civilians today just because some suicide bomber blew up one of your leaders in the past is the right thing to do. But then again, you’re the national media – you have your own rules and you bend them as and when you see fit. Your channel and a particular ‘progressive’ (in a sarcastic tone) newspaper based in Chennai cry bloody murder if Israel targets Palestinian civilians in their operations against Hamas. Are Tamil civilians lesser human beings? Have you no sensibility? Or are you just worried that you will lose your government ads or run into trouble with your pro-establishment corporate sponsors?
Butt (sheepishly): I.. ummm.. we are… err… ah! Mr. Swamy wants to say something.
Sub: I don’t think you should pay much heed to the words of these fellows. They lack credibility.
Me: Did YOU talk about credibility Mr. Swamy? This coming from a person who loses his deposits each time he contests from Tamil Nadu is a bad joke.
Sub: Do you dare question my credibility?
Me: Actually, I’m questioning the credibility of these so called national TV channels. I mean, lets face it. You are a non-entity in Tamil Nadu’s politics and Mr. Jho Raaswamy is at the most a comedian – his commentaries on politics are becoming sick jokes as he gets older. The section of population in Tamil Nadu that are likely to back you are a numerically insignificant lot. Yet, you talk as though you have the backing of 6.5 crore Tamils. And these English channels lap it up as though you two guys were the voice of Tamil Nadu. I’m not sure who are the clowns here – you guys living in a delusion of being politically relevant, or the news channels that give bigots like you the space to rave and rant.
Sub: You terrorist scum, you! I will sue you! I’ll have you booked under the NSA, USA, RSA, BSA etc. etc.
Me: No you can’t. You’re in MY dream. And that, my friend, is beyond the long arm of your laws. Haha hehe hoho…
I woke up laughing.
*All character that appear on the TV show, including the channel itself, are figments of my imagination. Any resemblance whatsoever to real persons or organizations is purely coincidental.