Dear Prime Minister,
I don’t remember the exact date, but the year was 2002 when I heard your name first Mr Prime Minister. It was during the Gujarat riots, and I was in the first year of my graduation in a college near my village.
I am a 30-year-old poet from Athipakkam village near Tiruvannamalai in Tamil Nadu. When I cite poetry as my profession, I mean it, since that is what I do most of the time, especially in the past few months, since I am home, jobless. However, I had a lot to cherish in 2015, the year I completed my PhD in Tamil literature. In 2014, I had received four awards for my lyrics in the Tamil film, Madras. One more movie, Rajinikanth’s Kabali, may be using my lyrics very soon.
My native village is near Tiruvannamalai, where I was born in a Dalit family. I assert “Dalit family” because that identity cannot be separated from my childhood or school and college days, or from the lives of my parents and siblings. Since childhood, my dream has been not just to get a job like everyone else but also to escape the atrocities of the upper castes, mainly the Vanniyars, who are politically powerful, under the banner of the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK) — yes, an ally of the NDA.
Whenever they instigate riots, they burn our houses first, then kill our animals, destroy our bicycles and motorbikes. I recall those days 15 years ago, when I returned home after classes, crossing a village of Vanniyars. They would throw stones at me.
I remember holding the hands of Thol Thirumavalavan, the leader of the Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (VCK), a Dalit party, when he visited our village — maybe my first encounter with a politician. He gave us immense courage.
That hostility hasn’t ended. Your NDA ally has launched many attacks on Dalits in Dharmapuri and even in Villupuram, a few kilometres from my village.
I was the first girl in my family, and perhaps my village, to attend a regular college. I was the first girl in my village to go for post-graduation. Now I have completed my PhD. For all these success stories, my parents, especially my appa (father) Kuppan, should be praised. He sent me to the town and then to Chennai for my education. When villagers opposed, he told them the purpose of education was not to make money but to become independent. He believed that with education and hard work, I would get a job. That’s all he wanted — seeing me happy and free from all that he has suffered.
I am going to tell you why I am without a job. Because I am shattered. I have realised that it is money, not merit, that saves you in India. I cleared the NET (National Eligibility Test) in 2006 and got my PhD in 2015. In between, I worked with an aided college as Tamil faculty for four years. But when the University of Madras selected candidates for permanent posts this year, I was rejected. Those who were selected had neither cleared the NET nor completed a PhD. None of them had the required teaching experience. Why then wasn’t I selected? I am told that Rs 20 lakh was the rate for a post.
Despite all my qualifications, and the fact that I am an SC Paraya woman enjoying reservation, I was denied a job. Isn’t it a matter of concern?
When I think of 2016, I find it very tough. My second poetry collection is being published. But when I think about my state of being, I can’t sleep. Politicians and the government are there to serve people, but we find politicians controlling people, making them slaves. You must have read reports about how politicians used stickers on relief material to settle scores during the Chennai floods.
At the national level, things are not so different. I will tell you straight to your face that your government did not even bother to respect writers and intellectuals who told you whether you were right or wrong. How painful it would have been when they decided to return their awards. How painful it would have been when your government ignored their worries. What happened to writer Perumal Murugan and many other writers in Tamil Nadu was no different. When they were bullied by caste groups, the state machinery remained a mute spectator — like you were. Sir, what you should understand is that there’s no special god for the RSS or the BJP or the other Hindu groups. When your men and the government proved they had little respect for writers and intellectuals, did you try to speak to them? I believe I could at least expect that from my prime minister.
Had I been able to meet you in person, I would have said the following: Sir, our reservation system for Dalits should be reviewed, with the latest population data for SCs/ STs. There are so many people working for equality, for a better world. It would be great if you set up an international award in the name of B.R. Ambedkar for those messengers of equality. I am also anxious about the increasing attacks on writers after you came to power. I ask you what proof you have of the things you have done to strengthen national integration and constitutional values. Still, I appreciate the fact that you made November 26 “Constitution Day” to pay tribute to Ambedkar and also the plans for a 150-feet statue.
Further, you see a lot of public anger if a rape happens in a city, but what about those being raped in villages? There should be a common law to handle atrocities against women. There’s no urban rape or rural rape.
I request you to handle such cases and bills sociologically rather than emotionally. I oppose capital punishment and believe in reform, not retribution. Let us show the world how we transform our convicts. Hope you remember that an eye-for-an eye approach will only make our country blind.Wish you a wonderful year ahead.
Wish you a wonderful year ahead.
***Tomorrow: A Kolkata artist