A cheerful morning dawns… it is wedding day for the lovers. Both are students studying for their engineering degree. Both are from the same religion, but from different castes. The boy hails from a lower caste dalit family, while the girl hails from a relatively upper caste thevar family. The girl’s family oppose their daughter’s choice of a lower caste man. Against their wishes, the lovers enter wedlock.
Post marriage, the girl’s family continues with their opposition. They relent their daughter’s life in a lower caste family. They bring her away and try changing her mind. But she returns back to her married life. They continue threatening her and her husband. But of no avail. Police complaints are lodged.. but no sign of the threats abating. Finally, after 8 months of marriage, three hooligans stop the couple in the center of a busy street in broad daylight. They hack the boy to death, and beat the girl up. Before the surprised city people could understand if this was a cinema shooting or a political rivalry, the boy’s breathing stops. This happened two days back in a western district of Tamil Nadu.
Are we talking of a socially or economically backward region? No.. Tamil Nadu is a socially and politically progressed state. Tamil Nadu’s fight against caste oppression began more than 50 years back. Even before India got its independence, there were social movements questioning the caste system in South India. Marriages devoid of religious ceremonies are legal in Tamil Nadu. It is common to see socially progressive women remove their mangal sutras for convinience. Successive governments have strongly encouraged inter caste marriages.
Art, Literature and Movies have also encouraged thinking beyond caste and religious identities since decades. In fact, Tamilians spread across countries since the days of rajahs have followed this culture.
A socially forward society is suddenly walking backwards… shedding its rational nature, and embracing caste identities.
What has led to this downward turn of events…? Is it political vendetta of caste based outfits.. or is it a trend in tamil cinema towards caste based pride… or is it just fate?
I see this as a consequence of the celebration of heroism and honor.While many sections of the society actively move towards rational thinking… other sections have been moving towards hero worship. Post independence, there have been many heroes in the Tamil society. These heroes create an image of a generous, righteous and god like character for themselves. Cinema and / or caste movements give a helping hand here.
Once a hero attains this status of a protector and benefactor of the society, anything and everything he does is worshiped and praised by the masses. Emotional surges are visible throughout society at the very mention of his / her name. These emotional surges wipe out reasoning and common sense.
A decade of films portraying village chieftains and local dons paved way for this trend to take on local caste based identities. A common Hero for Tamil Nadu… was replaced with many heroes, one for each caste. A common collective identity and pride was replaced with caste identity and caste pride. This effect trickled down to politics too… Now many arenas in Tamil Nadu, from politics to movies are populated with local heroes with strong caste identities.
Society has now reached a point where an angry father can demand his daughter’s life if she becomes the wife of a lower caste man. This is helped by the presence of influential political leaders of the same caste..In addition, it is fueled by movies glorifying the caste’s identities and culture. Men and women from this caste, spread across Tamil Nadu, might unite to protect the father… and empathize with him.
Youngsters and students who should be empathizing with the slain man and his wounded wife are busy with fun and frolic of college life… or they are busy with placements and examinations.
Men and women from the man’s lower caste are busy bringing good income to the government run liquor shops. While, there are a handful of demonstrations and agitations from the lower caste questioning this… There is no sign of a mass movement urging the government to take strict action.
Elections are round the corner. The continuing string of honor killings should influence election results. But, schemes that promise free rations, free electronic appliances, free wages, subsidized housing etc have a stronger influence on election results.
Humanity, and the right to live have taken a back seat… Desire for easier ways to accumulate material wealth is of high social priority now. In fact, that seems to be the biggest collective priority.
Am I too a part of the same society..? Apart from being a silent spectator to this, what can I do? I can vote. I can clean my mind of hero worship and caste identity before casting my vote.
Do I know the policies of the party and person I am voting for..? If not, I will also bear the consequences of his / his party’s faulty policies.. my family and future generations might be affected.
Did I favor him because of his caste or creed or religion..? If yes, I am risking my right to a dignified and peaceful life. A false sense of pride will not help me or my family’s progress.