Actor turned politician Kamal Haasan has been on the receiving end on social media for his tweet in response to a question on how caste can be "taken to the next generation". Kamal was answering a social media user's question on Twitter, during a #AskKamalHaasan session.
Kamal said that he'd refused to fill the caste and religion columns in his daughters' "school admission certificate" and that this was the way ahead. He further added that Kerala has started implementing this practice and that those who do so should be celebrated.
I refused to fill in the caste&religion column in both my daughters’ school admission certificate.That’s the only way,it will pass on to the next generation.Every individual shld start contributing fr progress.Kerala started implementing the same.Those who do shld be celebrated https://t.co/DLdTubcfW1— Kamal Haasan (@ikamalhaasan) June 30, 2018
There are many things wrong with Kamal's statement but before one gets into that, an embarrassing video of his daughter Shruti Haasan's old interview on Look Who's Talking with Niranjan Iyengar has surfaced on social media. In the interview, Shruti proudly asserts her Iyengar caste identity, noting that it is one of the three things she shares with Niranjan - the other two being creativity and the "fact" that nobody would marry either of them.
In yet another interview, given to the Times of India, Shruti begins to describe her childhood thus: "I was born and brought up in Chennai. My dad is an Iyengar and my mom a half-Maharashtrian and half-Rajput. The Iyers have the better looking boys and the Iyengars the prettier girls."
Clearly, the Iyengar identity is one of the primary ways in which Shruti chooses to identify herself. Her words are not about merely acknowledging her caste identity, they are infused with caste pride, the very thing that Kamal claims to have annihilated in his daughters by not filling in the caste column. There's a sea of a difference between a person from a dominant and oppressive caste group exhibiting caste pride and another from a disadvantaged caste asserting their identity as a form of opposition.
Kamal's daughters are adults and certainly, Kamal needn't be answerable for what they say and do. But given that he, a politician, is advocating such a measure as an effective way to combat caste, it's important to see if it has had an effect. One can safely conclude that it has not.
This is far from surprising because caste is not something you "believe" in or not. It's not the tooth fairy. It's a form of systemic oppression that has existed for thousands of years and a person like Kamal, who belongs to the Brahmin caste, has amassed the socio-cultural and political privileges that his identity comes with. They do not disappear because he doesn't "believe" in it.
To another question on Twitter about which "nool" (book) had impacted him the most, Kamal gave a bizarre answer that it was the "poonool" and that this is why he had avoided it. The actor-politician seems keen to impress that his Brahmin identity is insignificant to him but it's high time he recognised that not practising caste and not "believing" in caste are two different things. It is important to recognise that the latter is a privilege only Savarnas can claim, even as they continue to enjoy the benefits of their caste identity. Not acknowledging this is dishonesty.
நான் தவிர்த்த நூல் ஒன்று இருக்கிறது, அது என்னை மிகவும் பாதித்த நூல், “பூணூல் “ அதனாலேயே அதை தவிர்த்தேன். https://t.co/9YKk6wji5c— Kamal Haasan (@ikamalhaasan) June 30, 2018
Besides, Kamal's claim about Kerala too is on shaky grounds. In March this year, Prof C Raveendranath, the Kerala Education Minister, had claimed that over a lakh students had not entered their caste in Sampoorna, the automated school management system implemented by the Kerala government.
Although the news led to much celebration about "progressive" Kerala, questions were raised on whether the information was authentic. A school official said that it could be a technical error because his school had entered the information but it was not reflecting in the system. Further, others said that the column could have been left blank because the teachers entering the information may not have had the required details.
Most importantly, the claim was slammed by several anti-caste activists who pointed out that wishing the existence of caste away was a privilege only Savarna Hindus could afford. Noting that caste-based discrimination was very much present in Kerala, the activists said that not acknowledging caste would only mean that disadvantaged caste groups would lose out on their constitutional rights.
Kamal Haasan appears to have not engaged at all with the events in Kerala beyond reading the proud and incorrect claim made by the government. His tweets are ill-informed and disappointing for anyone who considers themselves to be anti-caste.