Cast out those thoughts

R. Sundaram | Updated on July 15, 2013

Politics at play in matters of the heart.

More needs to be done to make inter-caste marriages acceptable.

It is, indeed, a body blow to Tamil society that the Ilavarasan-Divya marriage should become the symbol of its retreat into antediluvian ideas of simmering casteism. It has also exposed Tamil movie makers as living in cloud cuckoo land when they depict inter-caste couples living happily ever after dancing a few item numbers.

That the tragedy claimed two lives and left the unfortunate young girl to mourn simultaneously the loss of both husband and father, by itself, is at once cruel and poignant. But what about the Tamil people? What is their reaction? A big yawn!

Insensitive approach

While the youth of the State could hold a candle-light vigil in the Marina to oppose violence against women in faraway Delhi, they have no time even to shed a tear for Ilavarasan and Divya. The middle class in Chennai, not long ago, found a resonance in the anti-corruption movement of Arvind Kejriwal and company, and organised protests, but it seems to have turned a blind eye to the cruelty in its own backyard in the name of caste. While some parties, reportedly backed by political authorities, could engineer protests against the screening of movies with a hackneyed plot on terrorism, the same set of powerful people see no merit in confronting unrestrained casteism.

Call it timidity or opportunism, the authorities want to deal with such a sensitive sociological issue by resorting to courts and commissions of enquiry. To my knowledge, no tall leader — perhaps, we do not have tall leaders, anymore — of any major political party has tried to assuage the feelings of the wronged people, nor have they made firm promises to punish the guilty — including those who torched villages recently — and take urgent steps to eradicate the scourge of casteism. This could include various measures, including supporting inter-caste alliances.

Vote banks

While the idea of caste is denounced by all in verse and prose, it appears to be most agreeable socially and most useful politically, to create vote banks.

Periyar articulated a socially radical programme that advocated caste, class and gender equality. His ideals of rationalism, self-respect and equality for all have long been given up by parties that lay claim to his legacy. Dravidian parties have used Tamilness to avoid enacting politically sensitive election pledges on land reform, dowry and caste. M. S. S. Pandian in his book The Image Trap (Sage Publications 1992) has argued that Tamil voters have fallen into ‘the image trap’, accepting Dravidian claims and not recognising that ‘progressive’ reforms resemble ‘charity from above’ and/or disproportionately tax the poor.

It was inspiring to read recently about the intrepid Jyoti Venkatachalam and Soundaram Ramachandran who broke tradition even in pre-Independence days to demolish the barriers of caste hierarchy and set examples for the newly Independent nation brimming with idealism. In 65 years, all ideals of establishing a casteless society seem to have vanished into thin air – despite being surrounded by all the trappings of modernity. We use modern gadgets, operate smart phones and our children go all over the world to seek a living. They see for themselves how other societies are organised without this anachronistic baggage.

(The author is former Member, Ordnance Factories Board)

Published on July 15, 2013

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