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‘Theenda Theenda’ questions the casteist attitude which triggers caste violence among the communities.

This TN group is fighting caste violence one dance at a time
news Caste violence Wednesday, September 19, 2018 - 13:06

The motley crowd of around 200 rural youth, boys and girls watched in silence the 40-minute dance, relating to the ugly realities of today’s caste-ridden society. Two artistes presented this visually through their body movements and using a piece of cloth as a prop.

Staged at Usilampatti in Madurai district, which once shook the nation’s conscience for rampant female infanticide, on September 17 – the 140th birth anniversary of Dravidian ideologue Periyar, both venue and date were apt for the artistes and spectators to collectively relook the issue of casteism.

With the brutal daylight murder of Pranay Perumalla Kumar, a Dalit in Telangana who was hacked to death for marrying a woman from the Vaishya caste (categorised as Forward) fresh in our minds, and the speech of a youth wing leader of Kongunadu Munnetra Kazhagam warning Dalit men against falling in love with girls of his caste still ringing in our ears, the dance performance, ‘Theenda Theenda’, had a universal relevance.

However, the message had a personal resonance for the specific audience at Arul Anandar College near Madurai, which organized the event in association with Manal Magudi (Rhythms of Land) Theatre group. “The performances clearly reflected the harsh social reality in our villages and also opened up a space within us to look for cultural forms to fight against casteism,” said Bowjiya, III-year English literature student of the college.

They were able to relate to the nuances in the body movements of the dancers, particularly their use of the ‘thundu’ (towel), to the beats of folk musical instruments like Urumi, Thudupu, Orutu, and Thavil.

“When Akila tied the thundu on her forehead and moved chin up, I remembered the public behaviour of men of the dominant caste in our village,” said a student of Folk Arts from Madurai Kamaraj University.

Akila, the choreographer and main dancer from Chennai, has been experimenting with various dance forms, including classical and contemporary ones for nearly 20 years. However, her inspiration for choosing ‘caste psychology’ as the theme for the dance performance came from the tragic love story of Ilavarasan, a Dalit and Divya, a Vanniyar from Dharmapuri. Having eloped in October 2012, their marriage was a source of caste tension leading to the suicide of Divya’s father. Months later, in July 2013, Ilavarasan’s body was found on the railway track in Dharmapuri, with investigating officials claiming it was suicide.

Taking a swipe at “caste pride”, the recurring theme in every modern day love story, through their dance narrative, Akila and her fellow dancer, R Chandiran from Arakkonam near Vellore, had appropriately picked up the ‘towel’ (thundu) as a metaphor to portray dominance and servitude.

The towel, as part of the narrative, tells different things from different perches. When Akila tied the towel on the forehead or placed it on her shoulder it narrates the dominance, of say caste. Similarly, when Chandiran ties the towel around his hip or holds it on his hands, crouching his body, it talks about the submissive nature of the suppressed caste in society.

However, when their body movements reflect the union of love overcoming their caste differences, the towels are not there on them. The performance passed through various phases like how they were separated by caste groups; and their struggle against caste oppression before it ends on a positive note with the dancers casting their towels- making a loud statement that they had won over casteism, drawing thunderous applause from the crowd.

For the cheerful spectators, the triumph of love over caste, even if it was just an artistic achievement, was a beginning that they would like to see. Perhaps it was the kind of real life scenes that they would like to see in their villages – the towel having no reserved perches on the human body and the human bodies united at their will with the towel not coming in between.

All through the performance, the graceful movement of the dancers was not just artistically appealing, but also come as a whiff of fresh air providing relief from the cacophony of hate speeches by caste leaders vowing to kill young men who win over the heart of their girls and the melancholy of the news of recent caste killing of the Dalit youth for marrying a girl from a dominant caste at in Telangana.

Narrating her experience, dancer Akila said that their performance ‘Theenda Theenda’ mainly questions the casteist mindset which perpetuates caste violence among the communities. This attitude of dominances was not confined only within the intermediate caste groups, but it was very much present within various sub-castes of Schedule Caste which perpetuates discrimination among themselves, she said.

Akila decided to take this message through her performances to the younger generation which she hopes would bring positive change in their attitude. In the last three months, Akila and Chandiran had performed in three places in Tamil Nadu where it received a good response. For next two days, they will perform in three more colleges in Madurai, and their journey will continue across the state.

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