The Dravidian Professionals Forum organized a meeting on 17 March 2021 to discuss the volume Rethinking Social Justice (Orient BlackSwan 2020). According to the publisher’s website Rethinking Social Justice, co-edited by S. Anandhi, Karthick Ram Manoharan, M. Vijayabaskar and A. Kalaiyarasan, offers a more transdisciplinary approach to envisioning a just society that encompasses the intersecting issues of caste, capital, nationalism, gender, region, urban planning and visual representation.
Anandhi, Vijayabaskar and Karthick spoke at the event which largely involved a politically informed activist audience. Anandhi spoke about the key ideas behind and the current significance of the volume. She highlighted the academic interventions of M.S.S. Pandian to whom the book was a homage and whose works were critically engaged and built upon by the contributors to the volume. Speaking about her own chapter and ongoing work, she stressed the need to have more critical attention to the politics of gender in the Dravidian movement.
Vijayabaskar spoke about the political economy under the successive Dravidian parties, highlighting the inclusive model of growth and responding to certain general criticisms of the Dravidian rule. He noted how patterns of growth, industrialization, land reforms, public distribution system, and welfare schemes contributed to the gradual empowerment of marginalized sections of the population. The Dravidian Model, a book authored by Kalaiyarasan and Vijayabaskar, that deals with these topics in greater detail will be published by Cambridge University Press this year.
Based on his ongoing research, Karthick spoke about contributions of the Dravidian Movement and Periyar to the democratic culture and the pluralist ethos of Tamil Nadu’s politics. He noted how at a time of ethnic and religious fundamentalism, the Periyarist legacy eschewed all forms of chauvinism and imagined an idea of ‘Dravidian’ based on shared solidarity than ethnic, religious or caste markers. He used the Laclauian concept of ‘floating signifier’ to explain how ‘Dravidian’ was conceived as an inclusive identity.
The presentations were bilingual (Tamil and English) and in a manner that was easily accessible to a non-specialist audience. An interactive session followed the presentations. There was an engaged discussion on how marginalized groups like the Dalits can lay claim to the Dravidian movement, the challenge of Tamil nationalism in a time of neo-liberalism, and other issues related to contemporary Tamil politics.
The recording of the event is available on Facebook and has been seen by over 1000 viewers as on 19 March 2021.