"Jaathigal illayadi Pappa - kula. Thaazhchi uyarchi sollal paavam. Needhi uyarndha madhi kalvi - anbu. Niraya udayavargal maelor."
(There are no castes, child. Calling some inferior or superior on the basis of one's race is a sin. Those who are just, highly intellectual, educated and possess plenty of love are all superior.)
Those who read Tamil poetry, are no strangers to these words penned down by poet Subramaniya Bharathiyar in the 19th century, when the state was grappling with deep caste divides. But now, several decades later, to say that we have overcome the non-existent sense of superiority that caste provides would be a lie.
And documentary filmmaker Geetha Elangovan has depicted this through a victim of caste violence in the third part of her documentary series -- Jaathigal Irukkedi Pappa.
â€˜Didnâ€™t understand how deep-rooted caste identity was in familyâ€™
In this 27-minute video which released on December 6, five children ask questions about caste to 21-year-old Kausalya who lost her husband to this social evil in March 2016. In a case of caste-killing, her 21-year-old husband Sankar, who was a Dalit, was murdered at Udumalaipettai in Tiruppur. He died on the way to the Coimbatore Government Hospital where his body has been kept. Kausalya, too, was severely injured but survived the attack. The main accused in the case is her father, who allegedly decided to kill the couple for marrying out of caste.
The verdict for the case is set to be delivered by a Tiruppur court on December 12.
"My parents used to be extremely affectionate towards me and showed me more love than even my brother," says Kausalya in the documentary. "They bought me whatever I wanted but when I married out of my community, the anger induced by caste, hid the love they had for me," she tells the children.
Kausalya describes that her first brush with the caste system was as a child. Her father used to pick her up from school and noticed that one of her best friends was from the lower caste and told her to stop talking to that student. "At that point of time I did not understand how deep-rooted the caste identity was in my family," Kausalya tells TNM. "But it became obvious after I fell in love with Sankar," she adds.
The documentary uses children to ask important questions on why caste is still relevant in modern society. One child actually asks Kausalya why caste trumps even love and she replies, "My parents who claimed to love me so much, never understood my choice to love Sankar. They had never even spoken a word to him when he was alive. Caste was too important for them to see anything else."
According to Kausalya, the first question her family asked when they came to know about her love interest was which caste he belonged to. "The minute I told them, they said it won't work out and left to look for a groom for me the next day," says Kausalya. "They feared what society will say and could only look at the issue from the perspective of caste," she adds.
How to fight caste
But it is when the children ask how to fight caste that the young woman visibly brightens. "We have to fight it day by day. We have to consider everyone equal when it comes to education, food and marriage," she says.
Speaking to TNM on her experience of working with children, Kausalya says, "I believe that the next generation is the key to transforming society. Only if we talk to young kids and strengthen the roots, will the tree grow to its full potential. Children are susceptible to the thoughts of their parents. They should be able to differentiate between what is bad and good."
Drawing from her own experiences, she says, "Caste became more important to my parents than love."
Kausalya, who now describes herself as an anti-caste activist, states that parents believe they have the right to dictate their children's lives because they brought them up. "But bringing up your children is your duty, it is not a right. And they are not your property," she explains.
The filmmaker, quotes Bharathiyar poem and says that while we preach the values, we fail to practice them in our homes. "We tend to hide such social evils from children. But unless they know the effect of this terrible system, they will not learn to avoid it," says Geetha.
Her three-part series on caste, has children asking question to activists and educationalists in the first part and to manual scavengers in the second.
The first two parts of Jaathigal Illayadi Pappa were released on April 14 to mark Ambedkarâ€™s birth anniversary. Part three of the documentary featuring Kausalya was released on December 6 to mark Ambedkarâ€™s death anniversary.
"We approached Kausalya for the third part because we wanted to show the children the loss that belief in this system can lead to," she adds.