Wednesday, June 18, 2008


A few years back the whole of the Islamic world was in a fury over the publication of Salman Rushdie's Satanic Verses more recently over the publication of certain cartoons. We have been saying and I repeat that argument again that artistic freedom does not mean disrespecting the beliefs of others. Unfortunately the so called educated classes in India have internalised an obsolete idea first enunciated by the English and later converted into an article of faith by the conservative secular bandwagon that to insult and humiliate the traditional ethos of India is a virtue and a sign of advanced thinking. If the likes of Karunanidhi should give a certificate of excellence to a movie like Kamla Hassan's Dasavataram then we have reasons to be worried, because Karunanidhi has made it his life mission to be anti Indian and anti non Saivite religious deities. Karunanidhi in his long life has never once critisized the hook swinging ritual that now DMK cardres are encouraged to perform, but he is in the forefront in every attack on Vaishnava deities. He has no right to denigrate a religion that he does not understand or follow. Kamala Hassan has won the admiration of the children of EVR by launching an attack on Hindu religion and he has even appropriated the concept of avatar, the dasaavatar of Sri Vaishnava religion in order to attack Hinduism.The film just released portrays Hindu religion in a bad light and has to be banned. Unfortunately the crowds that pay the money to see this movie do not realise that such movies are made in order to cater to the political classes. Will anyone tolerate a false depiction of the religions of the book. Hinduism has become open game and anyone can trample over it in the name of secularism. I am sure this third rate movie will win all national awards and will be India's entry to next years Oscar. The White countries also like such lopsided depictions of India's religions because it make that violent religion of Christianity look good. Did not the Christians fight each other for centuries, even in the last century they slaughtered the Jews. Are not Shias and Sunnis not fighting each other today. Why blow out of proportion a small episode in the history of twelfth and thirteenth century South India.This movie must be banned

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Casablanca: AN Eternal Classic

Humphery Bogard and Ingrid Bergman in their classic roles in the war time movie Casablanca played roles that have seldom,if ever been surpassed. What makes this movie just a great film. The editing is spotty. For instance, the famous scene in the Railway station at Paris and when it is raining hard and Richard is dripping wet and by the time he enters the train in the very next scene his dress is dry. It is obvious that the director has overlooked this point. The dialogues are cliche ridden. Is that the sound of cannon fire or is it my heart pounding. This line spoken by Ingrid Bergman is as cliche ridden as most of the other dialogues; Of all the gin joints in all the towns of the world she walks into mine;this line uttered by Eric Blaine is just mushy sentimentalism. In spite of the obvious flaws there is something immensely grand about the movie.I regard the corrupt police officer, Claude Rains who plays Captain Renault as the real hero of the movie. He admits that he is a poor corrupt official but maintains a warm and exceptionally largehearted relationship with everyone. The poor girl from Bulgaria who does not have the money to bribe herself to an exit visa is helped by Renault. In the end when he could have had Rick arrested for the murder of the German officer Major Strasser, Renault allows Rick to escape saying: Major Strasser has been shot:Round up the usual suspects. Rightly, it is the beginning of a beautiful friendship. I wonder why no novelist has ever thought of a sequel to Casablanca. The most wooden and by far the faceless character of in the movie is Victor Lazlo. He is self righteous, loves a woman who obviously does not love him,and tries to use his heavy hand to get Rick to part with the letters of transit. I think it would have been great if Bergman and Bogard had stayed behind in Casablanca.

Simon Schama: Rough Crossings: A Review

Historians like to tell stories, true stories that spring from the materials that have survives from the past. Putting the events together in a seamless web of narrative involves great intellectual and physical effort. And when you read a really good historical work based on exhaustive archival research you get the feeling of drifting into another world altogether. That is why someone said:The past is a foreign country. The twentieth century has seen a number of great historians: Fernand Braudel,Lawrence Stone, Bernard Bailyn, Theodore Mommsen and Simon Schama. Of these Theodore Mommsen won the Nobel Prize and still remains the only historian so honored. He was a historian of the Roman Empire who shifted the focus of research from the Empire to the Provinces. He wrote in a polished and sophisticated style that probably was considered literary by the Literature Committee of the Alfred Nobel Foundation. Thomas Mann was also a good writer and his son Golo Mann has certainly inherited his father's gift for words. The stories that historians tell about the past are regarded as true stories because the characters spring from a whole skein of written and unwritten evidence, not testimony. Unfortunately is a moment of self destruction probably even of self delusion, historians began neglecting the basic features of the craft in favor of abstractions like "models" "causation" "hypotheses" personification of historical epochs as "feudal" "capitalist" etc.The result was a general impoverishment of the art of history writing. Then came Hayden White who even said that history is only a "construct" like any other discourse.The sad state of affairs did not last long. Historians soon realised that a discipline that has been around for nearly 3000 years cannot be swept aside from the intellectual heritage of mankind. The craft of writing history not only involves a commitment to truth, no matter how elusive it may be but also the ability to write in a style free from the vacuous jargon that clutters the pages of several journals. One historian who has stood apart is Simon Schama.Trained in the University of Cambridge Simon Schama teaches at tColumbia University. He is the author of Landscape and Memory and Embarrassment of Riches.He has just published another excellent book, Rough Crossings.The American War of Independence is usually seen as a gigantic struggle against oppression and an epic saga of liberty and freedom. This patriotic interpretation cannot be cynically set aside for the simple reason that all the participants in that struggle, Washington, Jefferson, Adams and Franklin were all influenced by the dominant intellectual ideas of the time that we now collectively call the Enlightenment. Yet the principle of human equality was not present in the minds of those patriots and leads to an obvious paradox: The Americans fought for their freedom and the Slaves in the US at that time fought on the side of the British. This point is ably brought out by Simon Schama in this book. After the defeat of the English and after the surrender of Cornwallis many of the slaves who fought on the side of the British escaped to Nova Scotia in Canada. In fact conservative English judges who were called upon to deliver judgement on the status of slaves who escaped in British ports ususally set them free while liberal ideologues were less forthright in accepting the theory of mono genesis. Simon Schama has documented in great detail the lives of several slaves who faught and died in the American War of Independence.It is a tragic fact of history that the triumph of the rebels meant postponing the freedom of the African American population. This book is worth reading.

Orhan Pamuk and his evocative novels

Turkey is located geographically right in the middle of two great continents, Europe that lies west of the Straits of Bosporus's and the vast Asian lands to the east. Such a location is not without its obvious difficulties, a cultural confusion noted right from the days of Herodotus is only one obvious problem. Turkey aspires to join the European Union and as such has to meet certain exacting standards of human rights, judicial due process, political and intellectual freedom etc. This bill of political freedoms in an Islamic country itself is an anomaly. And yet Turkey in spite of rising time of Islamic fundamentalism and even al Qaeda inspired terrorism has proved to be a stable and vibrant society. The Nobel Prize for literature has gone to a Turkish novelist Orhan Pamuk who seems to represent both the grand historical past of the Ottomans and the contemporary angst in his writings. Most critics would argue that Orhan Pamuk is a post modernist in that he experiments with different structures of time and narrative in his novels. We can even speculate about Pamuk's questioning of the Turkish identity of present day Turkey. He has won my admiration for the courage he displayed in publicly calling upon the Turkish state to acknowledge the Armenian Massacre that took place in the first decade of the 20Th century.Pamuk unlike western liberals who blame Islam for all the ills of present day society. He denounces quite vehemently all those who preach islamophobia in the name of spreading democracy. I will quote a passage from his writings to illustrate the point;It is neither Islam nor even poverty itself that engenders support for terrorists whose ferocity and ingenuity are unprecedented in human history; it is, rather, the crushing humiliation that has infected Third World countries. And for this the west has to be held responsible because it has failed to comprehend the shame and the humiliation that has fallen on the poorer nations. Hot-headed military operations and war swill only take us away from the order of peace.This sentence sums up all that is wrong with the policy of powerful nations against Islamic countries. Pamuk has spoken strongly in favor of intellectual and cultural freedom in Turkey and was even prosecuted for the crime of insulting "Turkish Identity". He regards the writers primary objective as being the unpacking of all that a culture refuses to talk about. A clinical examination of the sites of silence in any given society. Politics of civil liberty and unrelenting questioning of the staus quo are the credo of Pamuk's writing.His writing is aimed at the so called public sphere constituting civil society and he does believe strongly in the tranformative nature of good writing.The book that I enjoyed the most was one of Pamuk's earliest novels, My Name is Red.It is set in the dark days of the Ottoman Empire when Istanbul was the cultural capital of ASIA.The novel attempts an exploration of the subjective world through the experiences of a range of characters,Stork, Butterfly, Olive and Esther.The miniaturist and his world are etched out in a manner that suggests that Pamuk is quite familiar with the mentalities approach of the French Annalist es.

A Prisoner of Birth: A REVIEW

A few days back I wrote that I watched Jeffery Archer, the well known writer and conservative Party MP on T V and was impressed with his performance. I bought a copy of A Prisoner of Birth and the first few pages were a delight to read. However as I passed the halfway mark I began to suspect an elaborate con job on the reader. The plot is so unrealistic, almost crude, direct ripoff from Alexander Dumas, The Count of Monte Cristo.I may agree that Danny was innocent of the original crime for which he was convicted, but by taking on the identity of Nick and impersonating the murdered Scottish lord, Danny commits a series of petty frauds like impersonation, forgery, misusing the credits cards etc. All these crimes cumulatively add up to More than 20 years in prison.
The transformation of Danny from an illiterate Cockney boy to a authentic Scottish nobleman in just 2 years is utterly unrealistic.
The book has its moments of charm, but such moments are few and far between.

Friday, June 6, 2008

The Slave Ship: A Human History by Marcus Rediker: A Review

Barack Obama's speech on race and racism has quite honestly triggered an avalanche of interest in the whole issue of slavery. I recently bought Marcus Rediker's The Slave Ship: A Human History and having read this wonderful book would like to share my thoughts with the blogger on this site.
Dr Rediker is currently the Professor of History at the University of Pittsburgh and has taken his PhD from the University of Pennsylvania. He is a noted maritime historian and has an earlier work on slavery entitled The Many-headed Hydra: Sailors, Slaves, Commoners, and the hidden history of the Revolutionary Atlantic. Like Simon Shama, Rediker has been exploring the history of Afro-Americans in the Revolutionary era.
All these new works on slavery starting with Phillip Curtin's The Atlantic Trade are essentially commentaries on the famous line of W E B Dubois, "the slave trade was the most magnificent drama in the last thousand years of human history". In fact Rediker takes the phrase "human history" from this line of Dubois. He deals with the period stretching from 1700 to 1808 when the slave trade was regarded as the most profitable commercial venture, yielding returns as high as 700 to 1000%.The English Parliament abolished slavery in English sea going vessels in 1835 under pressure from William Wilberforce and other abolitionists.
Marcus Rediker is a hard nosed historian and therefore does not confuse the issue with mushy sentimentalism. In fact the book documents very carefully the "historical context" in which the trading in "human cargo" was carried out. The eighteenth century opened when Africa was being criss-crossed by Arab traders who followed the ancient caravan routes to the west coast of Africa. Here too trading societies which until a few generations back were mere fishing villages were beginning to see opportunities in state expansion and trade both fuelled in part by the artillery and gunpowder that the Europeans, particularly the Portuguese and the dutch introduced. Africa in the turn of the eighteenth century was as Rediker is at pains to argue a mosaic of stateless societies and more sophisticated war polities in which capture in war meant a life of servitude. Slavery was an established institution in Africa and it was not introduced by the Europeans. In fact the Europeans only took advantage of pre-existing relations and structures in order to acquire slaves. In the 18th century, the raiding and trading parties were confined to the coast, an area known as the Bight of Biafra. As the century proceeded the areas of the interior were also coming under the baleful influence of the slave trade and this expansion in the range and scope of them trade was driven by the expansion of the Dahomey, a kingdom created by the wealth of the slave trade.
The narrative is gripping and is full of insight. Marcus Rediker has drawn on contemporary slave autobiographies and narratives in order to give the human dimension to the Atlantic Trade. It must be said that the African elites and the Arab Muslim merchants were as much part of the nexus of slave trade and plantation economy and it is worth emphasising this point.

Beyond Kilvenmani: The Dravidian Movement and violence against Dalits in Takil Nadu

Caste violence has become an important element in the political life of contemporary Tamil Nadu. We may define caste violence as systematic, organized and sustained acts of physical and cultural violence directed against the less powerful, marginal, and in a hierarchical sense lower social groups by members of the dominant landed groups. Though the latter are classified as Backward Castes and Most Backward castes in the case of northern Tamil Nadu, the BCs and MBCs are by far the most powerful social groups in the political and agrarian structures of rural Tamil Nadu. Both NGOs and the academic interpreters of the endemic caste violence in the countryside, conceptualize the growing social distance between Dalit castes and the BCs and MBCs as instances of “caste” conflict implying thereby that caste identities and loyalties are at the root of this problem. Such an interpretation while not inaccurate, skirts the more potent question pertaining to the structural linkages between the politically organized sections of the Backward landed communities and the violence directed against the Dalits in different parts of the Tamil region.Rural violence is not a new and novel feature. Medieval inscriptions record numerous instances of burning down of entire villages in the fifteenth century during clashes between the idankai and valankai groups. Caste hierarchy was reinforced through a range of measures that included dress codes, restrictions on the use of certain musical instruments, habitat ional exclusion by creating tindacheris in which particular social groups were sequestered, limited access to common areas such as the sacred space of the temple, educational institutions and the like. Indeed the social history of the Tamil region can be plotted along the axes of caste, community and sect, though the boundaries between the three conceptual categories were always fluid and permeable. In the nineteenth century we find identity formation crystallizing itself around the twin poles of caste and race with the ethno linguistic category of Dravidian glossing over the different castes and sub castes of the society. Uniting in the divided population in the name of language, the concept of Dravidian defined the Tamil identity in terms of the cultural practices of the dominant non Brahmin castes thereby excluding the dalits and other communities.Dalit intellectuals have in recent years mounted a serious challenge to the hegemonic claims relating to the libratory potential of the Aryan/Dravidian dichotomy in which the discourse on Dalit liberation and political praxis takes place. The literaey critic Raj Gauthaman in his excellent work entitled Dalit Parveyil Tamil Panpattu has shown that even in the earliest corpus of Tamil bardic poetry there is a stratum of communal and caste consciousness which effectively marginalized tribal groups which came to form the basis of dalit caste of the historical times. This interpretation alters the framework in which the emergence of caste consciousness is placed by conventional historians in that it situates caste in the context of autochthonous social trends. The importance of Raj Gouthamn’s work lies in his effort to reclaim the historical memory of the Dalits in order to assert an identity that is distinct from the one existing in the dominant Dravidian discourse. In his counter reading of Tamil literary and social history, Raj Gauthman is infact re interpreting the claims of Iyothee Das that Tamil cultural practices as depicted in the early bardic works are just as oppressive as that of the Aryan/Sanskrit other. He goes on to add that the ethic of valor and conquest enshrined in the puram genre of poems are mere ideological shibboleths to validate and legitimize the appropriation of agricultural surplus from the tribal sections of Tamil society, who he says were the ancestors of the present day dalit population. While this interpretation may not have all the sophistication of a well thought out historical thesis, it certainly points to a rupture in the dominant paradigm.In this paper we attempt an analysis of the violence in the Tamil region in which the caste conflict between the BCs and the Dalits are contextualized in terms of (a) the groups inv9lved and (b) the reaction of the state. We examine the frequent outbreak of social conflict in terms of the denial of the dominant discourse of the very basis of this conflict. We examine the issue of the Kilvenmani Massacre in terms of the response of the state as well as the social groups which took part in the massacre. I also examiner the response of Dalit intellectuals and political leaders such as Comrade Tirumavalavan to the growing instances of anti Dalit violence.On Christmas Day 1968, when C N Annadurai was the chief minister of Tamil Nadu, an incident took place that is regarded today as emblematic of caste relation in this part of India. A few days prior to this incident, a group of farm workers began agitating for more wages. 1967 had been a particularly bad year for the region because of the sustained drought. The workers of the CPI felt that it was an opportune moment to organize the peasants, particularly the landless pallan and other castes in view of the collapse of the communist led insurrection in the Tanjavur district led by Jeevanandham and other leaders. A day prior to the Kilvenmani Incident one of the petty land owners was assaulted and killed, allegedly by the organized group of landless workers. An armed gang was sent to the cheri where the landless laborers resided. However they had by that time taken refuge in a barn along with their wives and children. In a gruesome act of retaliation the building was burnt down killing 44 men, women and 8 children. The DMK government which was in power in the state was reluctant to register the case and even the news of the horrific massacre reached the public only through the questions raised in the Assembly by the CPI MLA of the neighboring Nagapattinam constituency. Left and Secular liberal hagiography sees the Kilvemanni Massacre as a mere class oppressor versus worker issue. In fact the CPM has even appropriated for itself the memorial for the 44 victims of the December 25 Incident and is reluctant to admit the caste identity of the victims. In short, the incident itself has become a bone of contention between those who prefer to see it as the Dravidian Movements ambiguity with regard to the question of Dalit identity and human rights and those who view it in ideological terms.Social conflict is also predicated upon the very morphology and distribution of social groups across the territorial limits of the region. The great historian, Burton Stein has argued that the territorial segmentation, a structural feature of South Indian Tamil society, reinforces the dominance of certain groups in specific regions and sub-regions. The introduction of Panchayati Raj in this kind of a socio-political configuration through the 73rd Constitutional Amendment introduced yet another volatile arena of conflict and violence.II VIOLENCE AND THE STATEThe Kilvenmani Incident is just one of a whole litany of violent encounters between socially dominant landed groups and lower status landless and marginal social sodalities such as dalits. After Independence the Tamil region has seen episodes of violent upsurge against dalit societies in alarming propotions. Given below are a few of the more prominent incidents:Mudalukathur Massacre of 1957Melvalavu Massacre of July25,1997Gundupatti Incident of 1998Tambraparini River Massacre of July 23, 1999Kodiyankulam Incident of 31 August, 1995Thinniyan Incident of October 25, 2002In all these and other incidents the local dominant group was clearly involved in and complicit in acts of unspeakable cruelty and violation of human dignity, and in all these case there was hardly any action/reaction from the state. In one case however, the Tambraparini River Massacre, the then DMK regime was seen as the main instigator of the violence in which 17 people were killed.. The State appointed the Justice Mohan Commission of Inquiry and it camr to the magnificent conclusion that the “police were not at fault”and that the victime drowned because they “did not know how to swim”. The irony of the situation is that the very parties that soundly condemned the violence against the workers of the Majoli Tea Estate are today local allies of the very regime that perpetrated the massacre. Once again this reinforces the point I am arguing that there is considerable ambivalence with regard to the issue of state violence directed against the dalits. The Kudiyankulam Incident fared no better at the hands of the rival ADMK regime. The Gomathinayakam Inquiry declared the police innocent of any act of violence and thereby the state machinery that was deployed so ruthlessly against the dalits was absolved of all blame. It may be pointed out that even in the case of the Kilvenmani Massacre the state was at pains to absolve the perpetrators of any guilt. And the naidu landlord was declared innocent by the Madras high court after a lackadaisical trail. Shri Tirumavalavan,a noted dalit politician of the region has observed. “Only the explanation given by the court for releasing Gopalakrishana Naidu who committed such horrid murders is amusing and strange. It was: It is not possible to accept that a mirasdar who was very highly respected in the society could have involved directly in the murders”. He goes on to say that without a shred of evidence, and based on this conjecture, the court pronounced its judgement that day.From this we can say with some conviction that a general consensus with regard to violence against dalits had also infected the judiciary which by 1968 had come under the stress of Dravidian politics. The sad fact that the SC&ST Atrocities Suppression Act in Tamil Nadu has secured so far a single conviction shows that the administrative and political will to enforce compliance is lacking.The introduction of Panchayatiraj government at the local level through the 73rd Amendment has resulted in the opening of yet another level of inter societal violence and there is no let up in the intensity of the attacks. The position of the president of the village governing council inappropriately called the panchayat, after the gandhian metaphor for the Indian version of village democracy,is increasingly becoming a contested one between sections of the dominat castes groups and the dalit groups in the case of reserved seats. It is obvious that a great deal of government contracts are routed through the Panchayats and hence the competition for the post. The murder of Leelavathi, a councilor of Madurai by DMK workers was direct fallout of the war over government funds and local development that ruffled the feathers of vested interests. In this case too the response of the then DMK government was luke warm and no one was either arrested or prosecuted for the murder.Certain features of Dravidian political culture are deeply implicated in the rise of anti-dalit violence in parts of the state. Competitive electoral politics between the DMK and AIDMK has resulted in a situation wherein the two major formations account for nearly 56% of the votes polled, with an average electoral strength ranging from24% to 26% for each of the two parties. This polarized electorate has made it possible for weak political actors like the Congress and the BJP to forge alliances with the two giants of Dravidian politics. Further, the social morphology of the Tamil region, already alluded to with dominant castes and communities concentrated in specific regions of Tamil Nadu such as the vanniyars in the north, the mukkulathors in the south and specific zones in which the kallars and maravars are numerically dominant in areas of Madurai, Puddukkotttai and Ramanathapuram, has provided a fertile soil for the proliferation of caste and clan based political parties. We may add here while the political rhetoric of such parties in couched in the language of egalitarianism with regard to the elites in the areas where they operate, the practice of social and personal discrimination is prevalent in the context of dalit groups. Social domination and the resultant caste violence is predicated upon the situational strategy of asserting equality towards the upper castes and enforcing the ‘inferior” status of the lower castes, particularly that of dalits. Dravidian political ideology has not been able to bridge the yawning chasm between the imagined ideal of social justice and equality and the appalling reality of caste division and hierarchy that operates at the local panchayat levels.The social scene of village Tamil Nadu is riven with the visible symbols of identity and oppression. The flourishing industry of human rights activism has already documented the existence of the “two tumbler” system in most parts of rural Tamil Nadu. The enforcement of the two tumbler system in parts of Madurai and Ramanathapuram and in the vanniyar dominated regions of South Arcot and Dharmapuri districts is a constant source of tension and violence. Along with this there are other visible markers of status that are enforced. In the habitation areas of the dominant castes the dalits are forbidden to wear footwear and the men folk are made to tie their upper cloth round their waists. Such conventions become the cause of violence, when educated youth resist such display of deference to the higher castes they invite serious retribution. The temple festival is yet another arena that generates conflict. In fact the southern districts see a spate of violence particularly during the annual festivals of the amman shrines or clan temples. Status assertions vis-à-vis the higher castes and its negation is another reason for the outbreak of conflict and in such conflicts the local police and the administration side with the dominant groups. Given the highly politicized nature of the society with caste factionalism and party based rivalries any local issue can become the starting point of a caste conflict.The Ministry of Home Affairs in its Annual Report for the year 1996-97 has reported 282 violent castes conflicts in Tamil Nadu, and out of this figure 238 or 84% involved conflict between dalit groups and powerful landed groups such as the Maravars, the Kallars (often clubbed together as Thevars), Nadars, Vanniyars and Pallans and other SC communities. The table given below from the Justice Mohan Inquiry Report provides an index of caste violence in contemporary Tamil Nadu:DistrictNumber of violent anti-dalit incidentsNumber killed in clashesMadurai189 3Theni41NA NADindigulNANA NAVirudhanagar38212 24 Ramanathapuram182 NASivagangaiNANA NATirunelveli6014 NATudikudi11 Nil III PANCHAYAT ELECTIONS AND VIOLENCEThe violence unleashed against Dalit aspirants to the post of President of the Panchayat is symptomatic of the larger issue of dalit empowerment under the Dravidian political dispensation. A problem that considerably complicate the issue is that the Tamil communities referred to as Adi-dravidas are themselves divided along lines of hierarchy and there is ethnographic and anecdotal information to show that the practice of social exclusion permeates even to the door step of communities that bear the brunt of anti-dalit violence. Thus arundhitiyars are generally regarded with a degree of socil distance by other members of the dalit communities. In the case of panchayats that are revered for the SC communities the dominant landed groups are quite willing to support an arunditiyar candidate and make him virtually a rubber stamp of the local vested interests. Thus the differences within the dalit communities are exploited by the dominant landed backward caste groups, supported by the political parties across the Dravidian spectrum. Shri P Jaggaiyyan, an arunditttiyar who was elected to the Presidentship of Nakkalamuthanpatti in Tirunelveli was killed by the dominant Maravar group when he refused to let his Vice President, a Maravar himself, to preside over the Panchayat meetings. This case has not been solved and the DMK regime is currently trying to arrange a compromise. Similarly, Shri M Servanan, President of Maruthankinaru village Panchayat was killed when he refused to allow the husband of the Panchyat vice president, a kallar, to act as [president in all but name. In this case also no arrest has been made. In Tirulelveli 10 Panchyat presidents have complained to the Government about threat to their lives, and all of them are arundittiyars. The State Government is yet to act. In the case of Shri Chinnan, President of Vakarai village in Dindigul district, even as President he could not occupy his chair and made to sit on a stool when the meetings were conducted. The compromise worked out by the state government when the dalit presidents complain of being threatened or humiliated involved getting the president accept his own subordination to the Vice President from the dominant castes. This unfortunate aspect of Panchayat Raj in Tamil Nadu needs to be investigated further. In the report of Vishwanathan in Frontline of May 5, 2007 is the following observation and it is certainly woth quoting: “The ill treatment meted out to elected dalit panchayat presidents indicates that untouchability is still practiced in Tamil Nadu villages, 60 years after the constitution abolished it.”. We may add that 40 of those 60 years were under the rule of parties representing the forces of landed castes classified in the argot of Tamil Nadu as BCs and MBCs. Therefore we may be right in being cynical about the claims that these parties represent the forces of equality and social justice. It is well worth exploring whether the competitive electoral politics in India, with its first-past-the-winning-post system servers to increase rather than decrease caste tension and its consequent violence.The most horrific case of anti dalit violence engendered by the Panchayat election is the Melavalavu massacre of the dalit president and 6 of his associates on June 29, 1997.Melavalavu was a maravar dominated village that was reserved for the SC caste. Dalits who had earlier filed their nomination for the post of the President of the Panchyat had withdrawn their nomination when intimidated by the locally dominant groups who were also patronized by the ADMK. In spite of booth capturing and other acts of electoral malpractice, Shri K Murugesan was elected President. As has become routine in Tamil Nadu he was prevented from taking charge of his office and offered a representation to the government. A small police picket was posted at the village. Shri M Karunanidhi the Chief Minister of the state was informed of the threat to the lives of dalit presidents but no action was taken. On a bus on the way to Madurai Shri K Murugesan and 6 of his followers were killed in a brutal manner.In the violence that followed several buses of the state transport corporation were burnt. The real cause for tension in the region was the decision of the Government to name a road transport corporation after Shri Veeran Sundranarlingam, a noted dalit leader. In the mayhem that followed caste violence was unleashed all across the southern districts.These instances show quite clearly that caste tension is simmering under the surface and that the political parties exploit cast in order to create disturbances that can be used to generate cast blocs and thereby consolidate the political base.IV ConclusionIn this paper we have argued that contrary to popular perception, the political mobilization in the Tamil region takes place along caste lines and the Backward caste that form the backbone of the political support base for the 2 dravidian parties are not above using violence in order to generate electoral gains. We have also documented that the social morphology of the state with its layered and concentrated distribution of dominant castes allows for the exploitation of caste as a political resource. It may be said that the shift to proportional representation will considerably reduce the dependence of political parties on organized violence as a strategy for capturing political power.We have examined the several instances of caste violence starting from the Kilvanmani Incident of December 25, 1968 to the more recent instances of such violence and have shown that there is little possibility of anti dalit violence declining as it is predicated upon the very logic of the political parties that compete for power. In a larger theoretical sense we can even argue that the post colonial nation state is in reality an engine of destruction in which innocent lives are lost.

The World as it is: A Review of Partick French Boigraphy of V S Naipaul

It is always a difficult task to write the life of a living writer, and that too the biography of an opiniated and at time infuriatingly controversial, but highly talented writer, like V S Naipaul. Partick French has succeeded in doing just that:A narrative of the lfe of V S Naipaul from the sugar cane fields of Trinidad to the height of Nobel fame and glory. The World is What it is covers the life of V S Naipaul from the vantage point of uncovering the man behind the books, it is reverntial without being dishonest, objective without being cynical, critical without being scandalous. I enjoyed reading the book as I have been an ardent admirer of V S Naipaul, and in these days of post-colonial disregard for truth, we have in Naipaul a writer whose commitment to truth forms the very foundation of his craft.
V S Naipaul work is framed by what can be called a double dispalcenment: His maternal grandfather migrated in the late nineteenth century from Gorakhpur, in eastern Uttar Pradesh, a state of India, to the West Indies to work as an "indentured worker" on the sugar plantations. The abolition of slavery in the British Empire following the highly "Christian" campaign of William Wilberforce in 1834 resulted in a short fallof labor in the west Indies, and the Empire trurned to the badlands of northern India to harvest hands to work on the plantations. The savagery with which the Mutiny had been put down had completely torn asunder the agrarian society of northern India making it neccessay for the likes of Naipaul's grandfather to seek his fortunes elaewhere. The second displacement happened when Naipaul won his scholarship to study at Oxford. Reluctantly he became the chronicler of individuals and people caught in the grip of forces over which theyu had little control.
Patrick French is an excellent biographer and had access to the private papers of Naipaul which are housed in the oil-rich University of Texas at Austen.It must be said to the credit of Naipaul that he did not seek to influence the picture drawn by French, and this stems from Naipaul's own dedication to the craft of words in the service of truth.
There are a few dark spots in the life of V S Naipaul. His treatment of his wife Pat was certainly shabby. The woman did not once complain about the treatment meted out to her by her husband. The violence with which Naipaul treated his lover, Margret Gooding who bore the pain of 3 abortions in order to save V S Naipaul the responsibility of fatherhood, makes one wonder whether genius always pays homage to a tortured soul.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Jeffery Archer in India

I am not a great one for novels. The time I have on hand I read heavier stuff ususally connected with history, medieval history to be precise. The other day I watched an interview with Jeffery Archer on NDTV. The host of the show was fortunately not that irritating woman Barkha Dutt but someone else. I was impressed with the fact that Jeffery Archer was forthright and candid in his answers. He even dealt with his 2 year prison term in a lighthearted manner. I cannot imagine the criminals sitting in the Indian parliament ever going to jail for the rape and murder they routinely commit. In the case of Jeffery Archer, apperently he paid money to a hooker and lied about it in court. I do not think that he did something that serous that he had to spend 2 years in Nalmarsh Prison, a prison that appears in his latest A Prisoner of Birth.I am reading that book.
Archer has a sense of humour and is extrekely easy to get along with. He is obviously addicted to Indian cricket and I cannot understand why.