Saturday, July 11, 2009

Vaasanthi on the world of Tamil politics

I have just read the introduction of Tamil journalist and writer Vaasanthi’s book Cut-outs, Caste and Cine Stars: The World of Tamil Politics, and I already know I am going to enjoy reading the book, that it is going to tell me things about my home state that I am completely unaware of. After my travel last week through cities in Tamilnadu’s interior, I am eager for analysis that can provide perspective. Vaasanthi's is just the right book. Here she is, telling us why politics in Tamilnadu is so regional:
The most striking difference has been the regionalization of party politics in Tamil Nadu when compared with other states. While ethnic forces were gaining ground in other parts of India as well, it was in Tamil Nadu that they dominated party politics. It is this that has, till today, prevented the growth of parties with an all-India face in the state. By transforming Tamil language into a object of passionate attachment, by introducing notions of self-respect and regional pride and by providing their version of Tamil cultural history, the DMK spokespersons came out as better Tamil nationalists than the Congress, for instance. The party created what has been described as a ‘hegemonic hold over Tamil political life and culture’. The Congress has long since been marginalized in the state for this reason.

The Tamils cannot relate to the BJP’s Hindutva either for the same reason. The increasing religiosity in evidence now in Tamilnadu should not be attributed to the spread of the BJP. The BJP with its North Indian, Hindi-speaking, Hindu-fundamentalist veneer has made little dent on the Tamil psyche. The pronounced religiosity that is strikingly visible in Tamil Nadu is another contradiction that might baffle an outsider who has heard about the Dravidian movement and its atheist protagonist, Periyar. Ironically, the growing religiosity is the direct result of the shift in the caste hierarchies thanks to the Self-Respect Movement and the reservation benefits and the resultant upward social mobility, which has brought about a silent and willing ‘Brahminization’ of the backward communities who tend to project their caste status through their religiosity.
During my trip, I witnessed this “pronounced religiosity” that Vaasanthi mentions – and it was news to me that it wasn’t there, say, twenty or thirty years ago. But the last sentence in the quote explains a lot: it is precisely the sort of insight I am looking for.

9 comments:

Kartik said...

Sounds like a must read. Thanks for the tip.

Indian Road Romeo said...

"The growing religiosity is the direct result of the shift in the caste hierarchies thanks to the Self-Respect Movement and the reservation benefits and the resultant upward social mobility, which has brought about a silent and willing ‘Brahminization’ of the backward communities who tend to project their caste status through their religiosity."

In Amitav Ghosh's In An Antique Land, he made a similar observation about the caste dynamics in Mangalore/Dakshin Kannada. However, there it was not because of reservation benefits but other changing economic and caste dynamics. That book is worth a read.

Hari said...

India Road Romeo,

Thanks for that connection -- I've been meaning to read In An Antique Land for a while now.

Krishnan said...

Hari, this reminds me of that unique term sanskritisation popularized by eminent sociologist M N Srinivas. According to wikipedia the term denotes the process by which castes placed lower in the caste hierarchy seek upward mobility by emulating the rituals and practices of the upper or dominant castes. I guess fits exactly the churning happening in Tamil Nadu.

Hari said...

Krishnan,

You are spot on -- Vaasanthi too quotes MN Srinivas in the book. I am actually curious to get your views on whatever I write about my travel in Tamilnadu -- you probably have much better insight since you know Tamil culture from the inside, whereas I've never really lived in TN.

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