Caste matters

Ravikumar, a prominent activist of the dalit movement in Tamil Nadu is general secretary of the Viduthalai Ciruthaikal Katchi (VCK) and has been elected to the Legislative Assembly in Tamil Nadu. Although he is one of the founders of Navayana, his new book of essays Venomous Touch: Notes on Caste, Culture and Politics has been published by Samya, with a foreword by Susie Tharu. The translation is by R. Azhagarasan of Madras University.

"Combative, however partisan, and yet often beguilingly playful, these essays, many translated from the Tamil for the first time, bring Ravikumar’s concerns to a wider audience. Ranging from the centrality of caste, the logic of communalism, ideas on culture, the politics of the media, education, censorship and literature, just to mention a few of his interests, these essays provide an unsettling impact on the consensuses of democratic India. As he himself talks of in the Preface, for him the personal is political, and questions of power in society, derived from his engagement with Marx, Bakunin, Derrida, Foucault and other philosophers and his wide readings in Tamil literature, permeate his writings.

Ravikumar charts the history of discrimination against dalits in terms of land ownership, labour and education, condemns the celebration of the golden jubilee of independence under Hindu authority in ‘independent India’. He declares that fundamentalism moves hand in hand with consumer culture. He provocatively critiques the film-maker Lenin’s much awarded docu-feature, Knock-Out. He writes on some of the most horrendous tales of the slaughter of dalits––the Melavalavu murder–-where power overturns the rule of law. Throbbing with righteous anger at centuries of oppression and denial against dalits, this collection of essays, as Susie Tharu says in her incisive Foreword, act as ‘both poison/venom and remedy’.

In our Dalit Studies and Essays and Nonfiction sections. Hardcover, 320pages. Rs 650. ISBN 978-81-85604-76-3