Ajith Kumar A S
The immediate provocation for writing this letter is TM Krishna’s letter to Modi (“Honourable Narendra Modi-ji”). So I think this letter has to be addressed to a large group of people who ‘share’ TM Krishna’s so-called radical mindset when muslims and dalits are attacked and murdered by caste hindus and their hindutva forces. More than the pretensions and dishonesty in his letter I wish to express my discomfort with his liberal discourses, which I think, don’t actually extend any form of solidarity to the targeted communities but on the contrary worsen the situation.
The honorific suffix “ji” sends shivers up my spine. The Gujarat genocide and the history of Hindutva violence is not something everyone could forget. Krishna talks on behalf of “we citizens”, “just normal people”, “millions of us, Indians”. Where does he get the authority to speak for the “normal people” belonging to various parts (“that make up the sum that is India”!). How easily his nationalist rhetoric erases all the differences and how easily he places himself among the millions of people from different communities who face routine violence! The privilege/power/social status of the Brahmin/caste Hindu self hides itself by claiming as “we citizens” who “have been abused, ridiculed and trivialized”. This is how progressive upper castes confront the shame of the privilege they enjoy. Who among the “Indians” enjoy full citizenship? Who are denied citizenship? Why certain communities are always asked to prove their loyalty to the country or that they are “Indians”? These questions are never being addressed. By talking for the victims Krishna presents himself as a victim – the “citizen”.
He wants the prime minister to respond as if the prime minister and the politics he practices have no responsibility for the ongoing violence against Dalits and Muslims. It is as if he is talking to a foreigner who is not aware of this situation. He hesitates to admit that it is the same politics, that forms the political atmosphere to lynch a Muslim in the name of beef and a Dalit in the name of entering a temple, that has bought Modi into power. Krishna says:”Therefore you cannot choose when to celebrate your Sangh identity and when to distance yourself from it. This is double speak.” Is it double speak? While all that Modi does/speak, the way he speaks, dresses and presents himself reflects the dilemma of the sangh parivar in dealing with the political sphere which has not yet totally come under their control and their strategies to counter the international image he has obtained through his role in the Gujarat genocide. Even the “silence” could be their strategy or the reflection of their dilemma. It is funny that Krishna thinks there can be a Modi (as prime minister) who can distance himself from the ‘sangh identity”. It is poor understanding of politics. The political figure ‘Modi’ reflects a particular moment of Hindutva politics.
It could be the authority that the exclusive “classical” music offers or the social status that the Brahmin enjoys, which gives him the authoritative voice. Following most of TM Krishna’s writings and interviews on music I had always felt that they are nothing but his struggles with the dilemmas of his Brahmin self. In his so-called radical discourses on music which are celebrated by most of the “progressive” liberals he doesn’t question Brahmanism but only demands the Brahmin to be more openhearted and liberal to allow non-Brahmins also into their Brahminic spaces of carnatic music without disturbing their caste hold. His liberal views on caste and gender seem as a project to humanize the Brahmin males, not aimed to question Brahmanism which will shake the foundations of what they call “classical” music. I shall not go into the details of my understanding of his music/discourses because it is beyond the scope of this letter. “Classical” music makes a Brahmin a more authentic Brahmin. That’s why Usha Uthup, the music personality I respect a lot, doesn’t appear as a “Brahmin “in the music field because of her radical association with western popular music and other genres in world music. It is from the same authority that classical music offers, that K J Yesudas could tell women not to wear jeans. I am sure that most voices of musicians from other music genres like “folk” or from subaltern communities won’t be heard or considered as authentic. I have felt that even a critique of the caste in the music field by dalit /non-Brahmin musicians won’t be considered worthy like the anti–caste rhetoric of brahmin musicians like TM Krishna. The two approaches are different. When the former shakes the foundation of the idea of the “classical” the latter is sort of reformation within the Brahmin domain. Hence the latter is celebrated as radical.
Krishna’s letter is stemmed in the usual liberal secular argument that accuses all religious communities for “communalism”. He writes, “Over the last week or more we have witnessed what can only be described as the molestation of a human tragedy, the perpetrators of this crime being politicians coloured green, saffron and the various shades of every other colour, all no less sullied.” No wonder it begins with ‘Green’! It is the usual way of accusing Muslims when they face targeted violence. One sided attacks from the hindutva brigade is termed as “communal riots” as if the victims also were responsible for their own “fate”. We have seen the media reports on anti-muslim violence in Gujarat in 2002 which termed it as “communal riots”. (one may remember the pet term of mainstream secular press for the horrendous Hindutva project: “Babri Masjid-Ramjanmabhoomi dispute”). The liberal secular places himself/herself in a comfortable/neutral zone outside the “communal”. Throughout the letter Krishna doesn’t try to problematize his own caste location or what he eats. He is against Hindu hard liners as if there is a “Hindu” who does not sanction caste or religious violence. He doesn’t care to admit that the Brahminhood he enjoys is part of the violence of the Hindu caste order and that there is no Hindu outside this. And the ‘universal-chaste’ music he practices, I believe, makes this whole violent exercise possible.
~ Ajith Kumar A S, A Dalit Musician
Ajith Kumar A S is a Dalit musician, writer and filmmaker based in Trivandrum.