People who don’t have a ‘mainstream’ face aren’t worth talking to; this was the message from A N Shamseer, 39, currently a CPI(M) MLA from northern Kerala, during a prime time TV show on a Malayalam TV channel on Saturday night. Saying that he did not want to debate issues with certain people who were beneath him, and describing himself as ‘we’ the ‘saviours of Dalits and underprivileged,’ he was brutal and disdainful of Mrudula Devi, a Dalit activist during an Asianet broadcast
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He also allegedly cast doubts on the credentials of two Dalit women who had been arrested in Kannur, a CPM stronghold, where they reportedly attacked CPM party workers. The sisters, Akhila and Anjana, were jailed along with Akhila’s one-year-old daughter. On Saturday night, Anjana, attempted suicide by consuming sleeping pills. Relatives allege that she was driven to suicide by Shamseer calling the sisters a public nuisance on the TV show.
When asked about the arrest, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, who also holds the home portfolio, said he had no knowledge about the incident.
TV news debate shows usually feature well-known guests, familiar to each other and the public who make the rounds of TV studios. Hence, the appearance of a little known Dalit activist like Mrudula Devi on Asianet with the seasoned Shamseer, a familiar face representing CPM, presented a stark contrast on prime time TV.
Incidentally, on the same day, CPM politburo member Brinda Karat published an article in the party mouthpiece Deshabhimani on the poor condition of Dalits in Kerala, and how they still faced great hostility and discrimination that deserves immediate action from the state government.
This was the setting for the TV debate on the arrest of the sisters. Responding to the larger question about Dalits and their rights posed by Mrudula, Shamseer dismissed her arguments as inconsequential. “We are a state where everyone enjoys equality’’, he said, “I have never asked the caste of my school friends.” He said many Dalits held crucial crucial posts and wielded considerable power. “All this because of CPM,” he added.
Shamseer questioned Mrudula Devi’s credentials: “Who are you? I haven’t heard of Mrudula Devi”, he asked, to which she replied, “Who denied us a mainstream space?’’
When Mrudula Devi questioned the logic behind the arrest of two Dalit women, he had no direct answers; instead, he cast doubts on the credentials of one of the arrested Dalit women. On the allegation that the women had entered the party office after a party member called them by a ‘caste name’, Shamseer replied, “Such allegations are used quite often by these Dalits. These are all conspiracies to malign the party”.
As the TV discussion on Saturday went viral, social media went on a rampage against the condescending attitude of Shamseer who was seen chuckling at and scornfully dismissing Mridula’s arguments.
After claiming that his party had done everything for Dalits and the underprivileged, he gratuitously insulted her by saying he had never heard of her. “Isn’t it your mistake if you haven’t heard our voices? Isn’t it your mistake if you haven’t seen us before? Be careful in the words you use… Never should a leader like you, say that you haven’t heard of us, our active struggles for the past 10 or 15 years…”
“In Kerala, if you are a Dalit, nobody will rent out a house for you, do you know that Mr. MLA?’’, she asked Shamseer. As a Dalit, she took offence to Shamseer’s allegation that she was just a pawn in the hands of Congress party. “I belong to no party, neither CPM nor Congress,’’ she snapped.
Mrudula also attacked the media for its indifference to Dalit victims and accused it of often portraying them as prostitutes. She also specifically thanked Mark Zuckerberg. “When the mainstream media either kills or edits our real-life stories, it is Facebook that remains the only medium where our stories go out unedited. That is because it is owned by an individual– Zuckerberg,” she said.