Column: Confessions of a privileged Dalit girl - Thanks to Pariyerum Perumal, Asuran & Karnan
D Meera Chithirappaavai
In my 27 years of existence & just a few years of wisdom, one thing I am very sure about is that life is all about revelations & discoveries. In the past few years, I have been reminded in multiple ways about my life as a privileged dalit girl. I wonder how my ancestors would process the presence of the words “privilege” & “dalit” in the same sentence!
I was born & raised in Bangalore & my parents were both central government employees. Today I understand that their unflinching effort in protecting me from any kind of caste discrimination is the result of both the lack of awareness & the privilege that I hold. I vividly remember my dad celebrating news that announced the first Dalit Supreme Court Judge and he often used the phrase “namba aalunga” (our people) not in a discriminatory context but out of pride when he saw any Dalith on the wall of fame. I even criticized him for being casteist & told him that he wasn’t being any different. That wasn’t me speaking but my privilege.
Ever since I watched Pariyerum Perumal and heard the song “Va Rayil Vida Polama”, my point of view changed drastically. It is not that it was the first time I saw a film that highlighted social injustice but it was my maturity level & the authenticity of the film. Mari Selvaraj achieved what he planned to achieve. He ensured his work was a conversation starter to acknowledge the prevailing discrimination & the world didn’t seem the same ever since. I got an answer to a lot of “why”s in my life-
1. Why a part of my family is still suffering from poverty.
2. Why my fair-skinned aththai (dad’s sister) was looked upon differently by the people around
3. Why my mother didn’t like to take non-vegetarian in her packed lunch box to work
4. Why my PUC senior asked me to handle the backstage though I aced the audition to be part of the college’s classical dance team
5. Why my Bharatnatyam arangetram was looked at as a statement & made my aaya (grandmother) emotional
6. Why my ex-boyfriend’s mother didn’t approve of me
While Pariyerum Perumal acted as my starter pack I soon moved on to the next stage.
Dhanush’s Asuran in 2019 made the thoughts drift away from being personal and gave an overview about society in general. The film’s flashback deals with a problem as small as (for the current scenario) a dalit girl who wears a pair of footwear. The pettiness of the issue & the severity of the discrimination hit me harder than I expected. Until then I understood discrimination as an act of superiors keeping the inferiors (word used purely to make the intended statement clear) away from them. But after watching Asuran I understood the depth of suppression & discrimination. The film also ends with the note of highlighting the importance of education & that’s when I understood that my privilege largely comes from the fact that my grandparents struggled to ensure that my parents were educated to an employable extent.
With Asuran I passed the intermediate level & it didn't stop there.
Today, I watched Karnan. Filmmaker Mari Selvaraj through his story finally makes the most important statement. The sacrifice & the protest of a Karnan somewhere paved the path to a Meera who can put the words “privileged” & “Dalit” in the same sentence; not just in a regional language but in English! The movie made me angry, frustrated, anxious, hopeful & strong at the same time. All the impact of the injustice against my people & my race will take another hundred years to vanish and for that to be a little faster I need to know what I have & what I have been denied.
And today, I make myself part of this Dalit movement and I owe it to the three path-breaking films Pariyerum Perumal, Asuran & Karnan for handholding me through this process.
I march forward with gratitude for what I have & intolerance for all that I (my people) am deprived of…!