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01 December 2008 National Politics: Tamil Nadu

Change She Makes

Politics draws a Dalit writer & IAS officer
In & Out Of The BSP
High-profile leaders who burnt their fingers:
  • Natwar Singh and son Jagat Singh sacked for hobnobbing with the BJP.
  • Rashid Alvi quit SP to join Mayawati. Now he is in the Congress.
  • P.G.R. Sindhia expelled as BSP general secretary in Karnataka. He was earlier with the JD(S).
  • Mayawati's man in Himachal Pradesh and one time Congress minister, Vijay Singh Mankotia, says that he is so disillusioned that he quit politics.

***

Many IAS, IPS and defence officers are known to join politics, usually post-retirement. But the acclaimed Tamil writer P. Sivakami, a Dalit, has put in her papers as an IAS officer to enter politics. After 29 years in service, including a Tokyo stint, it's definitely politics and more writing for this down-to-earth woman who hasn't forgotten her roots.

There is speculation that Sivakami will join Mayawati's BSP, which hardly has a presence in Tamil Nadu and only this week appointed a new state unit president, K. Selvaperunthagai.

"I have not yet decided whether I'll join the BSP," says the 51-year-old Sivakami as she waits for the government to process her papers. But reliable sources told Outlook that she met BSP chief Mayawati in Lucknow recently and is all set to join the party. "She must have sacrificed a lot, considering her background, and the fact that she worked her way to the top. I am attracted by that," Sivakami says of Mayawati. For the BSP chief, the writer will be a prize catch from the south.

So why would a writer want to join politics? "So far mostly women are in politics because of their political lineage as wives or daughters. As a result they cannot bargain for power. It's time for that to change and women in large numbers should enter politics," says Sivakami. Her aim was never to be a career bureaucrat. But her postings gave her the opportunity to meet women and Dalits and talk to them. "For the last 7-8 years I met people and read to them from my writings on land rights, women's rights and other social issues. When they turned around and asked me, 'What do you expect us to do?', I realised that I need a cadre to take my message forward: the natural course was politics. I cannot make tall claims, but I want space to work independently and contribute towards fulfilling my social goals."

To be Dalit is one thing, to be a feminist is another. In Sivakami's case, she is a Dalit-feminist and "everyone wants to disown you". Something that she has faced and is aware of since the time she started writing stories in Tamil as a high school student. Her repertoire includes four novels, four collections of short stories, one book of non-fiction. She writes columns on land rights for Dalit women and also on political empowerment. She has written, directed and produced a feature film.

With eight years left for her bureaucratic tenure to end, she decided it would make no difference if she stayed on but it would make a big difference if did what she really wanted to do. "I don't think I'm an exception. I am who I am because of my background and environment. But people respect you for who you are," she says.

Her "firebrand" writing has its share of admirers and critics. "Mainstream literature has boycotted me because I believe that only Dalits can write about issues concerning them and that only women can write on feminist issues. It is not just a question of experience but also perspective," she says. Her first work was sent anonymously and got published, and she believes that male writers have it all laid out for them.

Gita Ramaswamy, a Hyderabad-based publisher, describes Sivakami's writing as "refreshing and self-critical". Hers is seen as a bold voice, a modern voice that is unapologetic in acknowledging her roots, out of which she has grown and evolved successfully.

READ MORE IN:
AUTHORS: Pushpa Iyengar
TAGS: BSPDalits
SECTION: National
OUTLOOK: 01 December, 2008
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