Thursday, January 24, 2013

Venomous Touch Notes on Caste, Culture and Politics

Venomous Touch
Notes on Caste, Culture and Politics
Translated from the Tamil by R. Azhagarasan
Foreword by Susie Tharu
demy octavo hb  320pp ISBN 81-85604-76-23 Rs 650 2009
 Combative, however partisan, and yet often beguilingly playful, these essays, many translated from the Tamil for the first time, bring Ravikumar’s concerns to a wider audience. Ranging from the centrality of caste, the logic of communalism, ideas on culture, the politics of the media, education, censorship and literature, just to mention a few of his interests, these essays provide an unsettling impact on the consensuses of democratic India. As he himself talks of in the Preface, for him the personal is political, and questions of power in society, derived from his engagement with Marx, Bakunin, Derrida, Foucault and other philosophers and his wide readings in Tamil literature, permeate his writings.
Ravikumar charts the history of discrimination against dalits in terms of land ownership, labour and education, condemns the celebration of the golden jubilee of independence under Hindu authority in ‘independent India’. He declares that fundamentalism moves hand in hand with consumer culture. He provocatively critiques the film-maker Lenin’s much awarded docu-feature, Knock-Out. He writes on some of the most horrendous tales of the slaughter of dalits––the Melavalavu murder–-where power overturns the rule of law. Throbbing with righteous anger at centuries of oppression and denial against dalits, this collection of essays, as Susie Tharu says in her incisive Foreword, act as ‘both poison/venom and remedy’.

Ravikumar is an activist-theoretician of the dalit movement in Tamil Nadu and co-founder of Navayana Publishing. A legislator and general secretary of Viduthalai Ciruthaikal Katchi (VCK), he is a member on the panel for Tamil as a classical language. 
R. Azhagarasan is lecturer in English, University of Madras. A distinguished feminist scholar and activist, formerly professor, School of Critical Humanities, EFLU, Hyderabad, Susie Tharu’s current research is on cultural history/theory.

“Venomous Touch…castigates all forms of bigotry and abuse of power, noting how outrage at international ‘big issues’ such as the Taliban’s destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas deflects attention from narrow- minded protests against Hindi films in TN, Pakistani cricket in Mumbai, fashion shows on TV, and other local intolerances.
What it does is to hold ‘us’ and the State to the principles on which it was founded. It does this in the name of human rights supported internationally, but from a very particular standpoint in local history and political struggle. It is an impressive record of passion and commitment and deserves to be read wisely.”
Paul Sharrad: Biblio:A Review of Books, May-June 2009

“Mostly in the genre of the short essay, these Notes on Caste, Culture and Politics spanning the period 1992-2007 are interventions in ongoing debates that bring historical and conceptual insights to illuminate the immediacy of the moment. They bear witness to the turbulence and fertility of new forms of political thought whose emergence is hopefully not yet a finished episode in the unfolding of Indian history. I, first went through them in a serial fashion as immensely readable, sensitive, touching, angry, bitter and more often than not brilliant, accounts of struggle against caste oppression, economic injustice and cultural hegemony.
The extensions of this dense interweave of theorising and practice implicit in Ravikumar’s writing and the exploration of this model’s strengths and weaknesses, its imaginary horizon and its hopes await sustained reflection in another installment of his oeuvre.”
R Srivatsan: Economic & Political Weekly, 30 January 2010

Published by: Samya
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