Eater of God, Son of Bhim
Director Pa Ranjith booked under IPC Sections of 153 and 153 (A)
June 12, 2019
Filmmaker, Ambedkarite, and activist Pa. Ranjith is facing criminal charges for a speech he gave on June 05. Clad in a plain blue shirt, he spoke powerfully at an event commemorating the death anniversary of TM Umar Farook. The event was held in Thiruppanandal, a town in the Thanjavur district of Tamil Nadu. The FIR has been filed following complaints registered by the Hindu Makkal Katchi (Hindu People’s Party). The HMK is known for its fundamentalist views with a history of moral policing, vandalism and harassment. In 2016, the party leader Arjun Sampath faced accusations of intimidation after posting a photo of himself performing Ayudha Puja for swords and guns.
Pa. Ranjith has been fighting for dalit rights through his films and the work of the Neelam Cultural Centre which he founded. He has been an unceasing and critical voice. His oratorical skills, fearlessness and his extensive reading have made him something of a young leader whom many look up to. TM Umar Farook from the village of Kudithangi in whose memory the event was held, was born TM Mani. He was a follower of Ambedkar and Periyaar, an author and someone who fought for dalits all his life. He eventually converted to Islam and changed his name.
Identity Politics and Land Conflict
Pa. Ranjith spoke of several issues that continue to threaten dalit lives and livelihoods. Starting with salutations of “Jai Bhim”, he said that the phrase is a light in a dark place, that it means compassion and resistance to oppression. Referring to the Thanjavur Kaveri delta belt, often called the "granary of the south", he spoke of agriculture and its close ties to caste oppression. Explaining the nexus of temple lands and caste, he reminded the listeners that this is crucial to understanding dalit landlessness.
As Ranjith points out, this conflict over land ownership is at the heart of dalit struggles across the country. The various land reform measures regarding ownership and tenancy rights have still not successfully resolved this crisis. According to “Dalit Emancipation and the Land Question”, an article in Economic and Political Weekly published in 2016, at the all-India level, 58.4 percent of rural dalit are landless. This is the highest in any social group, the author says. The article also provides a state-wide comparative analysis on inequality in landholdings. The author’s calculations are based on the last available figures from India Land and Livestock Holding Survey. One can refer to Land Conflict Watch, an organisation that is tracking land conflicts across the country, for details on ongoing struggles.
Pa. Ranjith also highlighted the fault lines in land-based identity politics. Whether it is the Dravidian movements that celebrate Tamil pride and historical legacy or patriotism for the Indian Nation, both subscribe to a monolithic oneness. He criticised current representatives of both saying that when dalits such as himself speak up about oppression, they are branded as divisive. With regard to Tamil Nadu, he said that those who are critical of the Dravidian movements’ failings are unfairly named "anti-Periyaar". He also called out the DMK and AIADMK who continue to consolidate votes based on caste, often to the detriment of oppressed communities. It was in this context that he said the lines about Raja Raja Chozan that have led to controversy and the FIR. With reference to the Chozha king, Ranjith claimed that a large degree of land-grabs from dalits in the delta belt, occurred under his reign. Given this history, he said that he could not take pride in the “golden-age” as the king’s reign is spoken of. The disproportionate reaction to such a statement is just one more attempt by the Hindu-Right to stifle the voices of those who speak up for the oppressed. For those who read history from the margins, discrepancies exist between their communities’ past and the “legacies” of the powerful who are feted.
The Children of Ambedkar
Pa. Ranjith also spoke of how dalits continue to be ostracised for what they do, wear, and eat. He spoke of how educational institutions continue to fail students from SC and ST backgrounds. He recalled the recent death of Dr Payal Tadvi who was hounded to suicide for belonging to the Tadvi Muslim Scheduled Tribe. Despite systemic and organisational discrimination, Ranjith said that those like him, who are the “children of Ambedkar” are not afraid to raise their voices. Challenging the people who intimidate dissidents, he said he “eats the god they worship” (referring plainly to beef) so he does not know fear.
As the news of the criminal charges broke, support for Pa. Ranjith has been loud from various quarters. People including Vadgam MLA Jignesh Mevani have taken to social media to declare their solidarity with the filmmaker.
Just how difficult is it for Dalits to acquire the very land they are cultivating as landless labourers? In one state alone, Dalits are 33% of population but own just 3% land! #StandWithPaRanjithhttps://t.co/eZKfpJrLzJ
— Jignesh Mevani (@jigneshmevani80) June 12, 2019
— #DalitLivesMatter (@JoinBlueArmy) June 12, 2019
Knowledge is power and the ones who have controlled mainstream narrative of history control the masses, even if it's a blatant lie. And the one who speaks against them is demonised.
Pa Ranjith anna, we are with you. Jai Bheem.#StandWithPaRanjith
— ArjunC (@carjuna197) June 11, 2019
Whether these charges will be dropped or those in power who project themselves as protectors of free-speech will intervene, remains to be seen.
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