Practise what you preach, says Ranjith as he calls out communists on caste

The passionate speech by director Pa Ranjith on caste which should be compulsory reading
news Blog Tuesday, October 11, 2016 - 08:23

It took director Pa Ranjith just 8 minutes to tear through political ideologies, from communism to Dravidianism, show the mirror to each of us as individuals, and break the issue of caste to one single question – what have you done as an individual to fight caste today?

Speaking at an event in Tirunelveli, Tamil Nadu, organized to commemorate the 125th year of Babasaheb Ambedkar’s birth, Ranjith called out communists who, he says, talk about equality outside their homes but are reluctant to address caste when it comes to their own families. Pa. Ranjith is known for his vocal opinions on social issues and his films that show a deep engagement with caste politics.

In an emotional, extempore speech, Ranjith makes a simple point with much passion, that only when we talk about caste within our own families can we really hope to annihilate it. If not for his fervor, this should perhaps be made compulsory reading just for its educative value.


The text of his speech below, translated by TNM: (watch video below)


“Let’s talk about how we are. When we work, we work together. We travel together on the bus. We get together in temples. We assemble together in movie theatres. While we get together in public for all of this, why don’t we question why caste is such a strong factor when it comes to temple rituals, family events, and other such occasions? Caste is reiterated and strengthened through rituals again and again. We first need to get rid of rituals. The institution of the family should be abolished. The family is an institution that places caste restrictions and holds on it.

We may be communists, we may be activists who speak up for marginalized people, but we don’t discuss within the family why we haven’t managed to rid ourselves of caste yet. When it comes down to you as an individual, you take the side of those who embrace caste. At that moment, you don’t identify as a communist or a person who wants to break caste, you take the side of casteist people. How then do you expect to get rid of caste?

There is no point in marginalized people saying repeatedly that we should get rid of caste because we’ve been saying the same thing since the time of Ambedkar and earlier. We’ve spoken about this everywhere, discussed it everywhere, but caste hasn’t disappeared.

In the 80s, there were circumstances for change to occur. The Dravidian organizations had the responsibility to make this change but they failed to grab the opportunity. After that, the change has simply not happened. Communism has become a job-based organization. As long as things don’t change at a cultural/behavioural level, nothing else will change. Even if we say we have got rid of Brahmanism at a psychological level, we’re still fundamentally holding on to Brahmincal practices like casteist fanatics.

Go and stand before the mirror and ask yourself this question: Are you free of practicing caste at least one day in your life? Come for the revolution after that. Don’t come otherwise. Change as an individual, are you able to question religious or caste practices at least once in your day?

Why do we (the Dalits) have to keep talking about abolishing caste? Don’t we have any other work? We’re forced to talk about it 24 hours a day. There are thousands of problems here but we’re told to think about this all the time. We’re psychologically damaged because of this. We’re not able to come out of this. We keep searching for ways to come out of this but we are defeated.

There is only one way – there should be discussions. Sociology lessons are necessary, especially in schools. When they say, “All SC students raise your hands, you’ll get free notebooks!” the boy next to me gets angry with me. Did you tell him why I’m being given free notebooks? When in college I get more scholarship than he does, why didn’t you tell him the reason for it? Is that his problem, or mine?

Nobody talks to children about this. Not educational institutions, not teachers. When will you talk to them about it? When will this change happen? This has to change at a psychological level because we’re casteist animals. If we’re to come out of this, these discussions should happen everywhere, in schools, religious institutions, there is need for this.

The big war that’s going to come is between the Dalits and the non-Dalits. That’s where Indian society is headed. People are constantly being oppressed, by being told that this is how you should be, this is how you are. You should not come up in life, and if you do you should remain my slave. You keep bringing up people like this and the oppression continues. Psychologically, these people remain enslaved. Ambedkar compared this to the condition of the black people. If you’re a black person, when you stand before a white, they will know which race you are without you saying anything.

But today, it’s possible for you to wear different clothes and change yourself. You can pretend that you’re not from that caste when sitting before someone else. The clothes, your colour and so on give you the freedom to do that. But I think this is our problem. I think this is why this problem never goes away.

I’ve been seeing this since childhood. My grandfather spoke about it, my father spoke about it and now I’m speaking about it. Tomorrow, my daughter will speak about it and then someone else will. When will all this change? The desire is there in all of us, I’m not denying that. We have all these discussions here and then go home. We will say we have experienced Ambedkar, we will put this up on Facebook and WhatsApp and then we’ll enter our homes. Caste will be there in our homes and we will become casteist. And when we go to work, we’ll pretend that we’re all one. We’ll take on the common identity of workers or students. This means nothing has changed within us. Please keep this in your minds.

Start change from yourselves. Change these at the cultural and behavioural level. All these discussions are limited to arguments about ideology. Mao has said that if your problems have to do with people, you go to the people. You don’t go to the people at all, you don’t talk to them about their problems at all.

Caste fanaticism they say is high in Tirunelveli, Kongu, Madurai and so on. We’re all living on a give and take policy. When we’re in a bus, we give our seat to an elderly person without asking for their caste. We give up our seat on trains, we don’t ask for caste then. When there’s no caste in all these interactions, why is there caste on the streets, in our homes, in our families, in our relationships? That’s what we need to break first, that’s where we need to discuss. But we don’t do that at all. It’s only if we speak out in these circumstances that we can get rid of caste.

People who enjoy the benefits of caste will never allow you to get rid of it. Only a few do this. A local leader in a village will keep the issue alive. You may not be affected if you’re not emotional about this but you are in that state about caste. You’re a Hindu…when someone says a Hindu has been beaten, you take a knife in your hands and run. If you’re religious or subscribe to a caste, you are in that emotional state. You may say you don’t see caste at all but you are fundamentally casteist. If someone insults your caste, you go and stand on the street. You fight. This shows you believe in caste.

The role of women is very important in this. Women have to do this – there’s no other way. Only you can bring a big change. Just as you give milk and bring up the baby, teach your child to oppose caste. You teach your child to respect elders, also tell them not to see caste. You have the responsibility to teach them to break caste.”


Translation by Sowmya Rajendran



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