Were the publications uncomfortable with the caste realities the song speaks of or deliberately ignorant of them?

Dhee, Arivu and Sean Vincent dePaulFacebook
Flix Caste Monday, August 23, 2021 - 19:12

“Enna kora, enna kora, yein chella peraandikku enna kora?”— this line supposed to be as sung by Valiammal, Arivu’s grandmother in Enjoy Enjaami, already asks the question that Maajja, Rolling Stone India and everyone involved in the erasure of Arivu from his own songs need to answer: “in what way is my darling grandson any less?”

It was Arivu who also sang the parts of Valliammal in the song, as he told her story of forced migration to Sri Lanka, indentured labour on the tea plantations, her return to India to be faced only with landlessness, and their close relationship. This is the record of entire communities robbed off land and rights, of the original inhabitants of a place being removed, their labour exploited, and given little returns. At the root of these violent acts was caste. In ignoring Arivu’s place in creating the songs, a similar exploitation, appropriation and erasure have taken place. Ironically, the Rolling Stones India cover story is titled “Back to the Roots”.

Read: Director Pa Ranjith hits out at Rolling Stone and Maajja over Arivu's exclusion

Rolling Stone India’s cover story raises a slew of questions: Was Maajja uncomfortable with the caste realties the song speaks of, the strength and continued assertion of the Dalit-Bahujan people Arivu paid tribute to? Why does a quick search of the Rolling Stone India cover story mention caste only once, in very generic terms, in a nearly 1,500-word story on two songs, Neeye Oli and Enjoy Enjaami, both of which speak of caste explicitly? Why is there no mention of which caste location Arivu speaks up for? What opportunities does a person like Dhee, whose step-father is Santhosh Narayanan and mother is well-known singer Meenakshi Iyer, have in the music and cinema industry that Arivu will have to work harder for? Is the India office of an international publication like Rolling Stone unwilling to face caste realities?

It’s hard to imagine at this point if these people are going to take the trouble to understand the full extent of their responsibility, but each of us speaking out about erasing Arivu from his songs also need to be aware of the multiple levels at which erasure happens and is reinforced.

Speaking to TNM, writer-poet and independent researcher Rachelle Chandran Bharathi says that the calls for accountability have mostly been directed at Dhee and her mother's Brahmin background. “I’m not sure how much that helps. As much as Dhee has a say in how she was represented in the video, it’s also the directors of the video, the PR people who arrange for magazine features or collaborations with other artists who play an important role in representation. But they are not easily visible to the public eye which is why we can’t pull them up and ask for accountability. Rather than asking for accountability from Dhee, we have to ask for accountability from the production company – Maajja – which has such close ties to Tamil Nadu. It would have been aware of the anti-caste, Periyarist history of the state but has still taken the decision to ignore it and let Dhee take centerstage and erase Arivu.” Ze also mentioned that Dhee has been identified as a Sri Lankan-origin artist, adding that while it is impossible to say if this was for increasing marketability or a call taken by a PR person, her Eelam roots or her birth father’s heritage must be kept in mind.

Filmmaker and writer Rajesh Rajamani says, “The song is evoking a certain cultural history – a Dalit history, and more broadly, a Bahujan history. This runs into several hundred years, whether it’s the oppari [traditionally funeral dirges that now play an important role in anti-caste cultural politics] or what happened to his ancestors. Brahmins do not have this kind of history. They also do not have much of a radical political history to claim. Most of their history is rooted in oppression [of other castes] and being beneficiaries of their caste [privilege]. For them to do radical cultural politics, it becomes about appropriating Bahujan culture. This isn’t a one-off incident either. This time it happened to a star musician, so it got this much attention, but this keeps happening in cultural spaces.” He further questions, “If Brahmin-Savarna artists want to talk about a progressive, radical politics why can’t they talk about their own roles in historic caste-oppression instead?”

There are many questions that Maajja and founders – Noel Kirthiraj, Sen Sachi, Prasana Balachandra, AR Rahman – need to address. As do Rolling Stone and Rolling Stone India. The sundry people in PR, marketing, production, directorial and editorial and other associated roles also bear responsibility. Are artists Santhosh Narayanan, Dhee and DJ Snake listening to people telling them how they’ve played a part in this? More than saving-face, there is an injustice here to be answered for. There is also the Enjoy Enjaami remix Dhee’s collaboration with Paris-based DJ Snake, which had parts with Arivu’s vocals that were almost entirely removed. The Times Square banner that Maajja proudly touted had no mention or picture of Arivu either.

What Arivu is owed right now, one can only hope those involved in his erasure will contritely return to him. 

Read: Director Pa Ranjith hits out at Rolling Stone and Maajja over Arivu's exclusion

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