Wednesday, June 8, 2011

[ZESTCaste] Does God Have A Caste? (Meena Kandasamy)

Does God Have A Caste?

By Meena Kandasamy

"Caste is a state of mind. It is a disease of mind." (Revolutionary
Dr. BR Ambedkar)

Last week, I was shocked to learn that a judicial magistrate court in
India has issued summons to me under Sections 153, 153 (A) and 505(2)
of the Indian Penal Code, stringent provisions of the law that seek to
punish those "wantonly giving provocation with intent to cause riot",
"promoting enmity between different groups" and "creating or promoting
enmity, hatred or ill-will between classes." As the English translator
of Uproot Hindutva: The Fiery Voice of the Liberation Panthers, I was
accused, along with its author Thol. Thirumavalavan (Member of
Parliament and President of the Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi party)
and publisher Mandira Sen (of Stree-Samya Books, Kolkata) of creating
communal disharmony. What was our crime? We had portrayed two Tamil
folk deities, Ponnar and Sankar, as "Dalit brothers." A non-Indian
parallel might illustrate this story better: An African-American
leader says Jesus Christ was Black, and a White man takes him to court
for causing communal disharmony. Would we not readily label the White
man a racist and a supremacist?

Back to the Tamil context and its intolerance. Advocate M. Loganathan,
the 38-year-old litigant in this case belongs to the Kongu Vellala
Gounder community, a feudal, upper caste that became 'backward' after
petitioning the state government in 1975, and works as the Student
Wing Convenor of the Kongunadu Munnetra Kazhagam, a party that was
formed to counter the new pressure exerted by Dalit politics from
parties such as the Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi.

The petitioner held that he was offended by the following endnote:
"Annanmar Kathai is the most significant and lengthy oral epic in the
history of Tamil Nadu. Two Dalit brothers, Ponnar and Sankar, who
saved their people from invasion are worshipped" (p.160 of the book).
This endnote occurs with reference to Thol. Thirumavalavan's speech on
14 April 2003, emphasizing how he sought to implement Dr. Ambedkar's
ideology reflected in his party's slogan "We shall Uproot Hindutva. We
shall retrieve our lost identity." (p.143) Neither the original Tamil
speech, nor my translation and endnote had a deliberate intent to
offend any community. For seven years since its publication in 2004,
Uproot Hindutva has not caused any communal discord.

Loganathan claims that Ponnar and Sankar belong to a Kongu Vellala
Gounder subcaste, and the alleged misinformation in our book (calling
them Dalit) was a premeditated act by which we have sought to incite
the Dalit people of the region to militate for their rights of worship
towards these Gods and revolt against the Kongu Vellala Gounders. He
seems to want to appropriate the deity to his own caste group, and is
effectively saying that it is insulting to call the deity a Dalit.
This litigation is an interesting case of a wolf in sheep's clothing
crying wolf! In truth, western Tamil Nadu stands witness to the
gruesome flesh-and-blood reality of an oppressive caste system that
humiliates, subjugates, rapes and murders Dalits, most notably the
Arundhatiyars, on an everyday basis. In a process of reverse
transference, this fanatical cruelty sometimes seeps in from the real
world to the realm of myth and make-believe, and that is why caste
Hindus like the petitioner Loganathan experience "extreme mental
trauma, irreparable hardship and grievous emotional hurt" when two
folk deities are called Dalit.

The co-opting and appropriation process of
Hindutva-ization/Brahminization/Sansritization swallowed a lot of our
village/regional/folk deities into the burgeoning Hindu pantheon, and
Dalit deities were ascribed caste-Hindu origins because the casteist
mindset could not accept the Dalit in the role of a valiant hero. The
oral nature of the epic in which Ponnar-Sankar appears makes it almost
impossible to ascertain either their exact caste origins, or even if
they really existed historically. The present case filed against us
does not arise out of the petitioner's faithfulness to history: it
clearly springs out of his intolerance, that refuses to treat Dalit
heroes as worthy of deification. Such a litigation reflects a
worldview that if heroes have to retain godhood, they have to maintain
caste-Hindu credentials. That is why, the litigant claims to be hurt
when his ancestral deities are said to be Dalit.

I am outraged that an caste-Hindu is able to misuse a court of law by
filing such a patently abusive and absurd case that disgraces the
history and experience of being Dalit. The real offence in this
instance is the litigant's act of taking offence when something holy
and venerable is identified as Dalit. I only hope that the real crime
here—rampant and rabid anti-Dalit hatred—gets its due punishment.

I am in the UK now, and I will have to abandon my activities here and
hurry back home to face the case because I have been asked to appear
before the magistrate court on 1 July 2011. I will fight this casteist
absurdity and publicity-seeking harassment that masquerades as a court
case. Such a frivolous petition only displays the loathsome,
supremacist caste-Hindu mentality as to who is worthy of worship in
our society: in this telling, a hero can never be Dalit, and
conversely, a Dalit can never be a hero.

Meena Kandasamy is a poet, writer and translator. Her latest
collection of poetry is Ms Militancy (2010). She is a Visiting Fellow
with the School of English, Newcastle University. She blogs at


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