news Wednesday, February 11, 2015 - 05:30
Anisha Sheth | The News Minute | November 15, 2014 | 7.16 pm IST Perhaps, Siddalingaiah needs to be reminded of a poem he once wrote. Roughly translated into Kannada, the opening lines would read:  “We are the steps of the king’s palaceLine upon line of pillars (that hold up his palace)”. These are the opening lines of a poem Siddalingaiah wrote against the caste system. On Friday, Siddalingaiah participated in Alva’s Nudisiri, a literary festival organized by Mohan Alva, head of Alva’s Education Foundation where thousands of students from across the state study.  Siddalingaiah was one of the most radical figures of the Bandaya movement in Kannada literature and a well-known Dalit writer. Along with him, popular folk singer Janni participated in the festival. This year, as in the past, the festival has involved casteist practices that could be a violation of law. Every year, the president of the festival is led up to the stage in a palanquin in a procession (some guests have refused it). Drummers belonging to the Koraga community lead the procession, and are generally kept away from the proceedings. This year too, the same happened, but there was another additional spectacle: a group of drummers painted black and wearing a muttalei on their heads (a cap made of the areca bark and worn by farmers during the monsoon) in an imitation of the Koraga community. These men are painted black to appear like Koraga people, who have distinct physical features. Whether or not they are Koragas is unclear. Anyone who has attended the Nudisiri festival knows that the beat of the drums is heard almost throughout the day. The drummers are reportedly paid a wage. This year, as in the past, the drummers could be seen outside the hall where the festival is held.  This is a group of Koraga drummers who reportedly received wages to perform what is known as their "kula kasubu", or their historical caste occupation.  Koraga drummers performing outside one of the venues of Nudisiri, a literary festival organised by the Alva's Education Foundation.  This too has been criticised as a form of caste-based discrimination and untouchability. The Koraga community has been classified as a Primitive Tribal Group (PTG) and have some of the worst human development indicators in a district which has historically had been far above the state average on health and education. Infants have been known to die of malnutrition. Koragas have also been at the receiving end of a particular type of untouchability and casteist atrocity called “ajalu paddhati” at the hands of other communities in coastal Karnataka. Ajalu is a system that makes it mandatory for the Koraga community to perform certain kinds of tasks for certain families or even an entire village, or temple. When it comes to families, it involves making Koraga people eat finger nails of pregnant women, making them run on the bare fields of the kambala gadde, the field where the buffalo race is held. On other occasions, they are made to beat drums without wages for temple rituals, but in the surrounding fields. The government of Karnataka banned the practice of ajalu in all forms in 2000. Mohan Alva belongs to the Bunt community of coastal Karnataka. His family has been a powerful landlord in Moodabidri, a small town around 80 km from Mangalore. Over the years, he was able to convert the family wealth into a large group of educational and health institutions named after his surname. In 2010, the Dalit Sangharsh Samiti (Ambedkarvaada) lodged a complaint with the Mangalore City police alleging that the Koraga drummers were not allowed to eat with others and were also made to sit separately. The present status of the case is not known. Siddalingaiah and Janni had been at the receiving end of much criticism for being part of a literary festival organized by a man who actively supports the RSS in the region, which has now become a communal cauldron. Read: Advertising casteism in India: Dalits need not apply, says local provision store In November 2011 Alvas had sent students studying in its institutions to participate in a Hindus only kabaddi tournament organized by the RSS-affiliated Hindu Jagrana Vedike in Mangalore, in a bus bearing the name of the college. The team from Alvas had actually won the tournament, when this reporter checked with the organizers later. Today he has been accused of perpetrating a feudal mindset in the literary and cultural festivals he organizes annually. Equally, many literary figures and critics in the state refuse to be a part of his events as he supports the RSS. Last year, a literary festival called “Jananudi” was organized as a counter to Nudisiri and became the subject of much debate within literary and academic circles. Recently, senior journalist and presently media adviser to the government of Karnataka Dinesh Amin Mattu had said on his Facebook page that Mohan Alva has thrice invited him to be a guest at Nudisiri, but on each occasion, he had declined. Explaining his reasons for doing so, Mattu said that he was an “insider” to the region and understood its people and politics unlike an “outsider”, who did not see the damage that had been wreaked on the region by those who fomented communal mindsets. One of Siddalingaiah’s most famous poems is “Yaarige banthu, Ellige banthu nalavathelara swatantrya” and written in the 1970s. Loosely translated into English, the opening lines mean: For whom, and where, did the freedom of ’47 come?For whom, and where, did the freedom of ’47 come?It came to the pockets of the Tatas and BirlasIt came to the people who eat up othersIt came to the rooms of the crorepatisThe freedom of ’47, the freedom of ’47It did not come to the houses of the poorIt did not bring the ray of lightIt did not come to the houses of the poorIt did not bring the ray of lightIt did not lessen the sea of miseryIt did not let bloom the flower of equality It was Janni who first rendered the poem into a powerful anthem of protest against injustice that the poor faced during the socialist and Bandaya movements that were dominant for a decade between the 1970s and 1980s. Listen to the song here:  Siddalingaiah once wrote against the injustices committed upon people in the name of caste and class, and Janni sang songs making these ideas popular. These very ideas are evident in the literary and cultural events hosted by Mohan Alva, and it is ironic that both Siddalingaiah and Janni have today participated in an event in which class and caste markers are very clear.

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