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View: The problem is the Brahminical system, the basis of which is inequality

Caste is all-pervasive — from birth to death — in India. It needs to be questioned by everyone, not just the depressed castes, if we need to move towards equality.

Nov 24, 2018, 11.00 PM IST
The inequality begins in the relationship between men and women, and extends to the worship of gods and the varna system. That system has spread everywhere.
Pa Ranjith

Growing up, I faced the same problems all Dalits do. You can easily find out what those problems are. If I speak about those experiences, it will be like a stereotype, which is why I don't want to. But caste is the basis of Indian culture - from birth to death.

You might say that you do not support the caste system. But it's in the rituals you follow, in your family ties, in your name, in your marriage. In villages, the birthplace of caste, if you are a caste Hindu, you live inside. If you are a Dalit, you live outside. You accept all this and then publicly declare that you are against caste. You need to realise this and ask your elected leaders why this is so.

These questions are not being raised, as long as your needs are being met. You wake up, eat, work, go to bed - these are your needs. Your needs do not include the need to see all people as equal. Your needs do not include the need to be aware of the fissures caused by caste. That's why it is only the depressed castes that want to see a solution to this. It has become only their need. For everyone else, caste is a matter of identity, of pride.


When you see a Dalit being attacked, the person who is watching the attack is as dangerous as the attacker. Why are they not protesting? That's because caste is the basis of relationships. If you protest, you have to stand up against your father, your mother, your brothers. Take the recent case in Hosur, where a young inter-caste couple was murdered by the girl's father.

Her family was an ordinary family but the father killed his own daughter and then threw them into the water. That is the extent to which caste exercises power. If you don't speak up against such incidents, tomorrow you will be like that girl's father.

In the recent controversy which broke out on Twitter (over a picture of Twitter founder Jack Dorsey holding a placard that said "Smash Brahminical Patriarchy"), people did not seem to realise that the problem is not Brahmins. The problem is the Brahminical system, the basis of which is inequality. The inequality begins in the relationship between men and women, and extends to the worship of gods and the varna system. That system has spread everywhere.

These days, I see an ongoing attempt to further divide the oppressed castes, which Ambedkar tried his best to unite. There is a political agenda to divide the Scheduled Castes, saying each should take pride in their caste identity. The narrative is one of glorification, about celebrating their identity. Instead of the annihilation of caste, the talk is about caste equality. Hindutva groups are saying they will extend support if the fight is for caste equality. The middle castes have forgotten the war they waged against Brahminism. They are trying to rewrite history, saying they too are from a prestigious caste.

Even worse, casteism was earlier practised as a group. Today, it is families who do so, which is far more dangerous. There have been castebased murders in Karnataka, Telangana, Kerala, Maharashtra. These murders took place within the family system. Every single person today, it would seem, takes pride in their caste. This is a result of the same Brahminical ideology.

The Periyar movement in Tamil Nadu was about Brahmins and non-Brahmins. But once the middle castes captured power, they too aligned with the Brahmins. They did not fight the system further because then they began enjoying power. Instead of destroying Brahminical ideas, they began following them because that's what gave them power. And everyone is happy to have free labour. Think of the irony: a movement which began as Brahmin and non-Brahmin has now become about Dalit and non-Dalit.

Cinema played an important role in the Dravidian movement, along with theatre and poetry. For me, too, cinema is political. I will not accept that a film is just something you watch and leave. It is a mass medium that connects with every lay person. Cinema is how parties are born, how leaders are created, how a movement is fanned. It can be used by people to claim their freedom. And I use it against the Brahminical system.

There is a fiery debate in every sphere currently, with Dalits coming forward to claim their space. This is also reflected in cinema. We have to smash stereotypes, about who is good and who is bad. We Dalits are not without culture, without stories, without an address. You say I am nothing but that's not who I am. You say I'm a criminal, but that's not who I am. We are now writing our own stories.

It is easy for you to say Dalits are casteist and that you are not. Talking about caste oppression and taking pride in your caste are two different things. If you think you can conveniently say, "Let's start from the beginning," and if I say "No," you call me casteist. That isn't fair. We have to talk about oppression, take responsibility and then we can work towards equality.

Without the first two, the third isn¡¦t possible. Please realise, at least now, that your root is caste. Cut off that root so that we can stand together and fight. Until you do so, any talk of unity is merely an illusion.

Pa Ranjith is a Tamil filmmaker
(As told to Indulekha Aravind)
(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this column are that of the writer. The facts and opinions expressed here do not reflect the views of www.economictimes.com.)

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