Prof Kalyani interview: ‘If BJP comes to power, we will lose all rights’

Professor Kalyani has been working with the Irular community in Tamil Nadu for more than two decades to safeguard their rights and welfare.
Professor Kalyani
Professor Kalyani
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At the age of 75, Professor Kalyani sees no reason to slow down. When TNM met him at the office of the Pazhangudi Irular Paathugappu Sangam (Tribal Irular Protection Movement) in Tindivanam in Tamil Nadu on Thursday, April 4, he was solemnising an inter-caste wedding. “It is important to break social hierarchies one at a time. Such inter-caste marriages serve as an important way of doing that,” he says. He speaks to TNM about a range of issues from safeguarding tribal rights to upholding the Constitution.

Professor Kalyani has been working with the Irular community to safeguard their rights and welfare and is also part of the Tribal Irular Protection Movement. In the 2021 Suriya starrer Jai Bhim, Kalyani’s role is reprised by artist and activist Kaaleeswaran, as the activist who brings Sengeni to lawyer Chandru. Kalyani was also part of the delegation that held negotiations with poacher Veerappan when Kannada actor Rajkumar was abducted.

"It's imperative to take our ideologies forward to the next generation. The DMK had championed its ideological principles, sometimes ferociously, in the beginning. In Tamil Nadu, the victory of regional parties is attributed to Tamil nationalism and a fervent attachment to the language. This is a place where the slogan ‘this body is for this soil and life is for Tamil’. However, today's youth seem disconnected from these ideals. It's necessary to educate our children and nurture a politically astute generation. A strong ideological basis is what propels us forward and maintains a healthy democracy."

Reflecting on his journey, Professor Kalyani shared, "I was an atheist when I was in Class 5. Can you believe it? In my teenage years, I travelled several kilometres to hear Anna [former Chief Minister CN Annadurai] speak." Discussing electoral dynamics, he says, "Our allegiance was always to an ideology rather than an individual. However, contemporary politicians, including Chief Minister MK Stalin, want everyone to prioritise them rather than their parties. So the entire approach of the cadre now is one of trying to get into the good books of the politicians,” he added.

Agenda of BJP-RSS

Speaking on the increasing presence of BJP-RSS ideologies in marginalised communities, Professor Kalyani says, "The BJP-RSS infiltrates Adivasi and Dalit communities through various means, not just direct membership. Their tactics involve offering incentives and gradually indoctrinating people with their agenda. Unfortunately, political opposition to this ideology is lacking in Tamil Nadu, barring the VCK, which vocally opposes Sanatana Dharma."

Professor Kalyani strongly believes that the agenda of the BJP, backed by the RSS, is to destroy peace and tranquillity by causing divisions and enmity among the people. “They are not doing it for Hindus or any particular community’s growth but for political gains and power. Wherever they have come to power, the society has been fractured and there are communal tensions.” Expressing apprehension about the ramifications of BJP's ascent to power, he cautions, "They oppose reservation and social justice. Allowing them to prevail would be detrimental, particularly for Dalits and Adivasis. Our constitutional rights are under threat. Though I have several criticisms against other parties, including the DMK, I believe that if BJP comes to power, we will lose all rights, including the one to dissent,” he says.

Discrimination of Dalits and marginalised communities

“Dalits and marginalised communities are completely ostracised and discriminated against. This not only adversely impacts them but they are also not able to contribute to the country’s development. If we need democracy and if need development, it will happen only if all of its people contribute to the cause,” Kalyani added.

Speaking about the adverse impact of the National Education Policy (NEP) on marginalised communities, Prof Kalyani says, "Dalits and Adivasis struggle to access education without scholarships. The NEP exacerbates social disparities, serving the interests of corporate elites at the expense of societal advancement. India's progress hinges on equitable access to education and socio-economic mobility for all its citizens." 

For over two decades, Professor Kalyani has been working with the Irular community to safeguard their rights and welfare. He recalls that his association with the community began after his involvement in the Athiyur Vijaya case of 1993. Vijaya, a 17-year-old girl, was raped by six policemen. After a legal battle that lasted for 13 years, the policemen were sentenced to life imprisonment only to be released on bail three months later and acquitted by the High Court in another two years. It was when working on Vijaya’s case that the movement was started in 1996. 

The meticulous record keeper that Kalyani is, he shows us a steel cupboard full of over 900 cases handled by the movement, more than 700 complaints filed by him and hundreds of pamphlets and petitions. “This is all I have. These are not only records of the cases but also proof that we fight for our rights and democracy as long as we live,” he says. 

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