Tuesday, August 24 2021

Dive In

If a man hides his name, caste and religion then bitterness comes in… He was using a Hindu name, though he belonged to a different community. He also had two different Aadhaar cards. He was selling bangles which our daughters wear and apply henna during sawan (monsoon). That's how the altercation started.

That’s Madhya Pradesh Home Minister Narottam Mishra defending the vicious and unprovoked beating of a Muslim bangle seller in Indore. A police case of rioting, assault, robbery, intimidation and trying to disturb communal harmony was registered—but only after hundreds of people gathered outside the police station demanding action against the accused. You can watch the appalling incident here, and listen to him narrate his ordeal here.

Big Story

Erasing Arivu: A big caste controversy over a pop song

The TLDR: A Rolling Stone cover story on indie music has unleashed a huge uproar over the erasure of Dalit artists—specifically a Tamil rap star named Arivu. We look at the song and artists at the heart of the row, and the politics of caste and pop music.


First, the controversy

The story: Rolling Stone India did a big cover story that focused on two songs and two indie artists: Dhee and Shan Vincent de Paul. The Tamil songs: ‘Enjoy Enjaami’ and ‘Neeye Oli’. The magazine also gave a lot of attention to maajja—the record label and music platform that released the two tracks. Dhee and De Paul were featured on the cover, like so:


The glaring omission: The Tamil rap star Arivu who wrote the lyrics to and sang ‘Enjoy Enjaami’ alongside Dhee. He also co-wrote ‘Neeye Oli’. But there is only one quote from him—in stark contrast to the many paragraphs devoted to everyone else involved in the creation of these songs, including the producer, founders of maajja etc. 


The outrage: was sparked by a tweet by Tamil director Pa Ranjith who said


“Arivu, the lyricist of Neeyaoli and Singer as well as lyricist of Enjoy Enjaami has once again been invisibilized. Rolling Stone India and maajja, is it difficult to understand that the lyrics of both the songs challenges this erasure of public acknowledgement?”


The pattern: This is just the latest example of how Arivu has been airbrushed out of his own work. For starters, he was relegated to a secondary role from the outset. The song itself is credited as sung by Dhee featuring Arivu. And maajja arranged a remix of the song with Paris-based DJ Snake which got rid of Arivu’s vocals entirely. The banner advertising that collab on Times Square in New York reduced Arivu to a footnote:


The response: Rolling Stone hilariously tried to compensate for its omissions by sending out gushing tweets and Insta posts spotlighting Arivu—and pretending he was a big part of the original story. Twitter folks did a far better job of acknowledging Arivu by redesigning the cover image like so:


The included vs the excluded

So why is everyone so angry? The answer lies in comparing who made the cut—and who was erased.


Meet Dhee: Born in Sri Lanka and raised in Australia, Dhee aka Dheekshitha Venkadeshan has an impeccable musical heritage. Her mother Meenakshi Iyer is a well-known name in music circles—and comes from a long line of musicians. Her stepfather, Santosh Narayanan, is a highly successful music producer—and has produced most of Dhee’s songs for Tamil films, and now the big standalone hit ‘Enjoy Enjaami’. Dhee’s previous claim to fame: the very successful ‘Rowdy Baby’, a duet with Tamil actor Dhanush. 


Point to note: Dhee’s upcoming debut album is in English because: “I wish I could write in Tamil but it would probably take five to 10 years for me to learn Tamil. I can speak the language but not creatively write. Maybe, I will do it one day.”


Meet Arivu: He was born and raised in a small town called Arakkonam—which is about 70 km from Chennai. His father is a college professor, and his mother a government school teacher. His grandmother was a tea plantation worker in Sri Lanka—who returned to Tamil Nadu to work menial jobs to care for her children. There was no money for luxuries like a television at home, but Arivu’s parents saved to put him in a private school, and he went on to get an engineering degree and an MBA. His big break into the music industry: A chance encounter on a train with Pa Ranjith’s associate. Ranjith has since been a highly valued mentor. Of his music—infused in themes of caste struggle—and career success, Arivu says:


“My grandfather accepted oppression as a way of life. Even today, he wouldn’t walk straight into a home of a dominant caste person. He would say he doesn’t want to offend them… I realise the generational shift when I go in a car to a street where my grandfather couldn’t have walked in slippers. And that makes me acutely aware of my own responsibility.”


Not just about Dhee: While everyone has focused on her caste and class privilege, The News Minute makes an important point—no one is calling out maajja:


“As much as Dhee has a say in how she was represented in the video, it’s also the directors of the video, the PR people who arrange for magazine features or collaborations with other artists who play an important role in representation. But they are not easily visible to the public eye which is why we can’t pull them up and ask for accountability. Rather than asking for accountability from Dhee, we have to ask for accountability from the production company – maajja – which has such close ties to Tamil Nadu. It would have been aware of the anti-caste, Periyarist history of the state but has still taken the decision to ignore it and let Dhee take centerstage and erase Arivu.”


Big point to note: Dhee is represented by maajja. Arivu is not.


The invisible elephant: caste


In today’s edition

Headlines That Matter

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A list of intriguing things

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