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What is a good bit more certain, however, is that for the ferment in Tamil Nadu to succeed it must be translatable.This ‘translation’ cannot be limited simply to the translation of words.It must be taken up, it must be transcribed, translated, repeated, and repeatedly tested in political and intellectual contests.
Their claim, rather, is that in the particular case of India, the state has shown itself to be largely an extension of (caste) society rather than being distinct from it.
And this is especially true of Tamil Nadu where, as Ravikumar writes in the forward to Viswanathan’s book: the police... In Tamil Nadu, such a state of affairs became obvious after the DMK came to power in 1967...
On the contrary, a common complaint of Dalit leaders like Thirumavalavan and Ravikumar is that where they themselves have remained consistently opposed to Brahminical institutions, the heads of both Dravidian parties have long since come to embrace Brahminical Hinduism both in public and private (: 5, Rajendran 2001).
And yet Thirumavalan and Ravikumar also recognize that opposition to Brahmins and to Brahminism does not automatically entail attacking caste privilege as such.
This includes, for example, the pervasive failure by police and other responsible bodies to collect vital information about reservations, attacks on Dalits, non-enforcement of Constitutional mandates concerning access to public spaces and other resources including temples.
Thus, for example, while it is well-known that a huge backlog of positions reserved for SC/STs in government employment are simply never filled, it is impossible to determine the precise magnitude of the problem.
The reports of these special commissions can generally be relied upon to show the state and its ruling party in a good light, and reports that do not are rarely made public (Human Rights Watch 1999: ).
One glaring example discussed by Viswanathan is the so-called Mohan Commission, appointed in the wake of an event in which police were alleged to have driven protesting tea plantation workers into the Tamirapalani river (Tirunelveli) with lathis, causing the drowning death of seventeen persons. Mohan simply excluded video taped evidence of police officers actually beating drowning men and preventing them from reaching the shore, and then contradicted what the excluded evidence clearly showed, announcing that ‘The death of the people who fell into the river is only an accident; the police did not beat them while they were swimming’ (: 78).
This uncertainty is deepened when we expand our optic to include, not just acts of violence in the sense of bodily harm and attacks on property, but also the various forms of structural violence Viswanathan documents, including what we might call ‘epistemic violence’ (Spivak 1999).
Structural violence includes the social practices outlawed under India’s constitutional set up, but which nevertheless persist in Tamil Nadu with full knowledge of the state, such as Dalits being coerced into various forms of ‘traditional’ unpaid labor, or denied access to ostensibly ‘public’ resources like water, roads, and temples;3 elected offices being ‘auctioned’ by caste councils;4 Dalits being physically prevented from voting as they choose, being forbidden to run for elected office, or being prevented from actually assuming office when elected.5 While the continuation of the foregoing practices involves the state only negatively—viz., by its failure to stop them from occurring—in other instances the state has been more directly responsible for structural violence against Dalits, for instance by suppressing non-violent Dalit political expression; by refusing to implement reservations policies to the extent that a large portion of positions set aside for Dalits remain permanently vacant (while apparently never failing to fill the much larger number of positions reserved in the state of Tamil Nadu for the members of various politically powerful BC caste groups); by conniving in the subversion of land reform and indeed by practicing what Viswanathan terms ‘land reforms in reverse.’But for the purposes of this review perhaps the most important form of structural violence against Dalits is epistemic—pertaining, that is, to the production of knowledge (or its absence) on the condition of Dalits in Tamil Nadu.