Publication date: January 5, 2012
Publisher: Popular Prakashan Ltd. (India)
1) Tell us about this book and its original author.
MK: The book is titled UPROOT HINDUTVA: THE FIERY VOICE OF THE LIBERATION PANTHERS. It’s a collection of several speeches by the radical Tamil Dalit politician and Member of Parliament, Dr. Thol. Thirumaavalavan. As founder-leader of the Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (Liberation Panthers Party), these capture his fieldwork—of raising awareness among the masses, educating them to militate, and doing the work of political consciousness-raising.
2) Why were you drawn to choose the book for translation?
MK: It is a kind of universally acknowledged fact that the greatest living orator in Tamil today is Dr. Thol. Thirumavalavan. So, for me, the idea of rendering his speeches into a book and an essay form was a highly tempting proposition. The other (non-literary) reason was, of course, the urgency and the importance of the VCK/Liberation Panthers. I think it is such a shame that the points they are making get lost within the Tamil universe even though they have so many implications and lessons for the rest of India. As someone who reads extensively in English, I felt I must share the brilliance and the joy and set more people like me on this road to caste-annihilation by getting them to read about the Liberation Panthers.
3) What were the key challenges and surprises for you during the translation process/journey?
MK: One of the challenges was to contextualize the text, but to also use the speeches as opening points to chronicle the atrocities that have taken place against Dalit people, the backdrop against which the Liberation Panthers emerged, and the powerful but almost-erased history of Dalit militancy and resistance to oppression. In many ways, this task was not only about translating the text but also about translating an entire history from or against which a point was being made.
4) What’s one thing you wish readers knew or appreciated more about this book?
MK: This book came out in 2004—sixteen years ago. But, as a Tamil leader spearheading a political movement (and subsequently, a political party) aimed at caste annihilation, Thol. Thirumavalavan was so prescient in understanding the dangers of the Hindutva project and how uprooting this fascist danger was fundamental to establishing an equal and democratic society.
There is a general problem with readers/ audiences/ people which has persisted—that when a Dalit speaks, they assume that the speech is only for a certain marginalized and oppressed Dalit underclass. So, they consume the work or interact with it as if it does not have anything to do with them. One cannot be farther from the truth. Dalit leaders like Dr. Ambedkar or Dr. Thirumavalavan were/are talking about issues that concern everyone: feminists, the poor, the educated, the youth, the landless; on the national question, on capitalism, on state violence. Now that the menace of a Hindu State is actually upon us, I wish that people would read and pay heed to Thirumavalavan’s words.
5) What’s your next translation project that we can look forward to?
MK: My translation of the Tamil poet and politician Salma’s second novel is just out: Women Dreaming, published by Tilted Axis in the UK and Penguin RandomHouse in India. It’s an absolute treat——a book that enters the world of women and draws out the intricacies of their lives in a small Muslim village in southern Tamil Nadu.
Author Bio: Thol. Thirumavalavan is the Founder-President of the Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (Liberation Panthers Party) that leads the struggle for caste annihilation, women’s emancipation, and linguistic nationalism. He is a Member of Parliament from Chidambaram, Tamil Nadu, India. [Image Source: Sulekha.com]
Translator Bio: Meena Kandasamy is a poet, novelist, translator, and activist who divides her time between Tamil Nadu and London. Her first works of translation, in her late teens, were the writings and speeches of the radical anti-caste Tamil leader, Thol Thirumavalavan. As a novelist, she’s been shortlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction, the Jhalak Prize, and the Hindu Literature Prize. (Image Source: Meena Kandasamy)
Jenny Bhatt is a writer, literary translator, and book critic. She is the host of the Desi Books podcast. Her story collection, Each of Us Killers, and her literary translation, Ratno Dholi: The Best Stories of Dhumketu, were out in 2020. Her writing has appeared in various venues in the US, UK, and India, including The Atlantic, The Washington Post, NPR, BBC Culture, Literary Hub, Longreads, Poets & Writers, and others. Having worked her way around India, England, Germany, Scotland, and various parts of the US, she now lives in a suburb of Dallas, Texas.