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November 10, 1998


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The Rediff Interview/Dr K Krishnaswamy

'The entire wealth of the country should be shared equally with the dalits'

Dr K Krishnaswamy Dr Krishnaswamy, president of Puthiya Tamizhagam, is described as the new star in Tamil Nadu politics. 'Saviour of Dalits', is how he is called. But in person, he looks more like a suave, young doctor than a politician. He is in fact a qualified allopathic doctor, as Shobha Warrior found out during an interview.

You are a qualified doctor. Was it a difficult journey for you to reach where you are now?

Yes, it was a very difficult journey. I come from a remote village in Coimbatore district, where going to a school was also not permitted by the upper castes. Even though our family was a medium agricultural family in the village, my parents found it difficult to send me to school as the area was dominated by the upper castes (from the backward community). They did not like the idea of us, dalits, going to school and studying. I am talking about what had happened some 30, 35 years ago.

Still, defying all the hurdles, my parents sent me to a primary school. When I was ready to go to high school, impediments occurred again. The upper caste people of the village summoned my parents and said, 'See, we are not sending our children to high school. How dare you do that?' But my father stood firm and I could continue my studies.

Did you feel discriminated against in school because, as you said, the upper caste people were against you joining the school?

There was not much discrimination against me in school. But a few teachers, from the minority community, resented my presence in class and they showed their resentment while correcting my examination papers. In fact, our headmaster, a brahmin, was the one who encouraged me and helped me all the time. He was responsible for shaping my character by formally supporting me. See, when the brahmin upper caste showed affection, the backward upper caste showed aversion to me.

I have heard that during your college days, you had joined the Naxalite movement. Were you protesting against the kind of discrimination you faced by joining the movement?

My attraction to the Marxist movement started way back in school itself. Then, I used to write my name as 'Stalin Krishnaswamy'! That was the way I protested against the suppression the lower caste people faced. I became a rationalist also by the time I reached the sixth standard. I haven't gone to a temple ever since.

How did you get attracted to Communism?

I used to go to the library and read whatever was available there. The Dravidian movement started by Periyar also influenced me a lot. But I was greatly influenced by the great thinkers and philosophers like Aristotle, Socrates, Plato and Marx. When other students loitered around, I sat in the library and read books.

While in medical college, I was more attracted to the revolutionary ideas of Naxalism. I joined the student's movement of the Marxist-Leninists. Then itself I had decided to work to liberate the oppressed people from the clutches of the dominant upper caste. The ML was the most progressive party then. Actually I was not part of the Naxalite movement, I was only in the students' wing of the ML.

But, you were arrested under the Maintenance of Internal Security Act during the Emergency?

During the Emergency, we were not allowed to stick posters, we were not given permission to take out processions or rallies. But I openly condemned the forced sterilisation of the Congress by sticking posters all over and I was arrested under MISA and was in jail for nine months.

Why did you move away from the Marxist-Leninist movement? Were you unhappy with them?

Yes, I was unhappy, This happened in the eighties. After one Pongal festival, there was a clash between the thevars and dalits and I wanted to support the dalits, which the ML party did not like at all. They said, I was encouraging the caste factor in the clash. The ML party believed only in class struggle.

But why are you for caste struggle? Don't you think class is what separates people?

In India, caste is the dominant factor even now. See, when a patient goes to a doctor, the doctor treats him for the disease that he is suffering from. You give medicines to cure the disease and not medicines that are available with him. Likewise, India is suffering from caste disease and you cannot give medicines for the class disease. And, caste and class are the same here. The dalit is a caste and it is a backward class too. They are marginalised in society because of caste. They are also marginalised because they are all landless.

Indian politics is becoming more and more caste oriented. This way, are we not making people aware of their caste? Are the politicians not segregating people according to caste? Why can't you fight for the people belonging to the poor class?

Class also segregates people.

Then, there would only be two classes, the forward class and the backward class. Is that not better?

That's why I gave the simile of the doctor and the disease. Here in India, people are segregated on the basis of caste. Here people are suffering from caste disease. So, the problems of India are only because of caste. In India, an upper caste brahmin can start any industry or a business or even a teashop. The caste advantage is with him. But it is not possible for a dalit. Caste is the exploiting factor in India and you have to attack caste first. Unless we make people understand that caste is the biggest enemy, you will not be able to liberate the underprivileged.

Is it right to tell a person born in a backward community that another person belonging to another caste is his enemy?

We are not painting another person as the enemy. It is the system that is his enemy. We are not against any particular community or any particular person. We are organising and agitating against the system which suppresses a group of people.

Are you for a casteless society?

Yes, but not at present. It is our aim. At present it is not possible because we have to bring the oppressed to the level where others are in.

How do you propose to do that?

That depends on the people belonging to the upper castes. They also say they do not want caste conflicts, they say they want peace but they have to decide whether they want the underprivileged to be on their level. All us are Indians, all of us are Tamilians. So, why should one set of people be looked down upon? Is it because of their birth? What is the sin that they have done? Is it because they are ploughing the land? Is it because they are harvesting the land? Is it because they are cleaning others' houses? Why should these people be still marginalised and isolated in society?

You are saying that they are poor because they are born into a particular caste.

Yes. They are poor because they are labelled as low castes. The stigma called low-caste, is the main cause for their poverty.

Don't you feel if you give education to them, if you make them literate, they would come up in life and they would be able to escape the stigma?

Literacy alone will not solve the problem. They should be given equal opportunities. You should share the wealth of the country with them. You gave education to them but did it solve the problem? No. Earlier he was ploughing the field as an uneducated person. Now he is a graduate, still he is ploughing the field. Has education changed his life?

Education is one of the ways to solve the problem, but it is not the only solution. Education is a must for the entire community, not only for dalits. What I want to say is that the entire wealth of the country should be shared equally with the dalits. Unless you share the land with him, he cannot come up.

The Marxist-Leninists also want the land to be shared equally among all communities. Then, why did you part ways with them?

Dr K Krishnaswamy Yes, now they have understood the caste-class difference. Earlier, they were completely against touching the caste problem. They wanted to tackle only the class problem. Now they have started understanding my point of view. I maintain that the caste problem is the most serious problem in India. It was not the ML party alone but all the Communist parties looked at India's problems as class problems. Now all of them have changed.

You once said that your goal is to liberate the dalits? Liberate from whom? What?

From the system. The caste system in India is not ready for the upliftment of dalits. So, we have to break up the entire caste system. We will oppose all those who advocate or promote the caste system.

You mean you want to liberate the dalits from the 'dalit' tag?

The first step is, we have to unite the dalit community. The dalit community is a divided one. They are not united. Originally they were the real owners of the land. About two thousand years ago, the upper caste people seized their lands and they became landowners and the dalits became landless. They were so divided that they became bonded labourers in many villagers. So, my first agenda is to unite all the dalits under one banner. Even after Independence, the dalits have been cheated to cast vote for other caste people. They have only lived for other people, they still plough and harvest for other's benefit. I tell my people to organise, fight and attain political power to get real freedom.

But why are dalits divided?

They are not divided. They are broken up. The brahmin community is not broken up, the backward community is not broken up, only the dalits are broken up. Because others raise their voices but the dalits can't.

The criticism against you is that you are asking dalits to be violent.

What do you mean by violence? Is it not violence on the part of the upper caste community to shun a community from the mainstream for two thousand years? What sort of violence are we carrying out?

Instigating violent feelings in the minds of people...

That is not true. Let me ask, who divided the people? Who suppressed the dalits? Who prevented the dalits from coming up even after 50 years of Independence? Can you quote any incident when the dalits indulged in arson, looting, killing, etc? Can you give me the details?

You mean that the attack is always from the other side and the dalits are at the receiving end?

Yes. That is the only thing I am telling them. To protect yourself, you organise. I tell them, when you are attacked, protect yourself. Is it violence? Do you agree with the others' view that when a dalit woman is raped, her brothers should watch it? When the houses of the dalits are attacked, you want us to be silent spectators? When dalit people are killed, you want us to remain quiet?

'The Dravidian movement has got infected with the brahminism of the backward castes'

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