After a speech in June, Ranjith was caught in a swirl of controversy for comments he had made on the reign of the ancient king Raja Raja Chozhan.

The outrage against my speech reflects how caste works in society Pa Ranjith
news Caste Friday, July 26, 2019 - 15:04

For the first time since his Thiruppanandal speech on Tamil emperor Raja Raja Chozhan in June went viral, Pa Ranjith, one of the most important Tamil filmmaker and artist from this generation, addressed the clout of controversy that rose soon after he made those statements against the ancient King.

“Had Raja Rajan been alive, he would have accepted my criticism and opened himself up for a discussion. But those who call themselves his grandsons…” he trailed with a smile while the gathering cheered. Ranjith was speaking at the book launch of Caste Matters by Suraj Yengde, organised by Neelam Cultural Centre on Thursday.

In June this year, Ranjith, during his speech, had claimed Raja Raja Chozhan’s rule as a dark period for Dalits and women. “Lands from the Thanjavur Delta regions that belonged to us were grabbed during his rule by conspiracy. Caste oppression was started during his rule, 400 women were turned into sex workers to work in ‘Mangala Vilas’ during his rule. The devadasi system was implemented during his rule. Around 26 people were sold to the Kolar Gold Field during his rule. So caste discrimination had begun from back then, it isn't a new problem,” he had said. A complaint was filed against the Kaala director by the Thiruppanandal police based on a complaint from Ka Bala, former Thanjavur district secretary of the Hindu Makkal Katchi. Madras High Court has granted him anticipatory bail on the condition that Ranjith should refrain from making statements that stoked controversies in the future.

But on Thursday, Ranjith explained that this selective outrage reflected how caste worked in society. “We need to look at how my questions were viewed - how did people react when Ranjith made those statements and how was it seen when someone else made those statements. What irked people was the community I come from. One reporter even asked me if I’ve been mentally stressed since the incident. Actually, there are many who have been mentally stressed because of my speech,” he said, laughing.

Ranjith also said that he was amused by how the media and a few others selectively harped on his statements and amplified it to make it controversial. “I have spoken about a lot of things. I spoke about how religious Mutts usurped lands from Dalits. I also spoke about caste pride is present even among Dalits. But only those 13 minutes or less from my 50-minute speech was made viral. This is just a discussion that was started by questioning why Dalits were made to be landless. We are all humans but why one section of people have lands while the others don't? I’ve been researching about it and the speech was based on my reading and understanding,” he explained.

He also shared that soon after his speech, many were surprised that Dalits could have owned lands. “How can you say Dalits have always been landless? Have Dalits always existed in this society? Why didn't we own lands? This question is being opposed even before it can become a conversation. Instead of answering my questions, you are making a problem out of it. What is the truth here? Is it truth only when it is an opinion supported by the majority?” he asked.

Ranjith also shared his thoughts on the latest Hindi film, Article 15. “I have a problem in showing Dalits as landless, colourless, dirty people with no dignity and as those who need to be saved. Don't I have a voice? When are you going to register my voice? Article 15 is important and needs to be welcomed, but it has reinforced stereotype. You can show me as poor but I haven’t been affected by it. I have been happy being poor. You’re showing me wearing dirty clothes but you should also show why. Haven’t you swindled me? You are the reason for my state. We don’t need your pity. We need to question why we’ve been treated so,” he explained.

Ranjith raised a number of questions that evening but his most important statement came later. “I am not against you. Generally, when someone speaks we need to listen to them. People here start opposing it immediately. We need to come out from the illusion that we are all one. We need to understand that we are all divided by language, religion, caste and we need to accept this first. Only by accepting can we break these ideas that separates us. Only then can we become truly one,” he spoke. 

“This practise cannot be started as a community but an individual can. Self criticism is the key. You can erase all of your differences through it,” he added.

“We’re talking about humanity’s most important diseases. This conversation needs to take place. Don’t decide what I should and shouldn’t speak. I can only speak in a language that comes naturally to me. If you are not able to take it, then you have a problem. You first need to listen and understand why I’m angry. You are the reason for it in the first place,” he concluded.

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