Oratory is an important aspect of Tamil culture, and people delight in the poetic flourishes of podium speakers. It is no surprise, therefore, that the leader of the largest Dalit movement in Tamilnadu is revered for linguistic prowess. The significance of movement utterances, however, extends beyond content and style. In recent decades, Dalit rhetoric has increasingly promised to ‘hit back’. Although these perorations have been credited with instilling a sense of pride, courage and assertiveness into previously submissive social groups, such analyses often take movement oratory at face value. A more contextualised reading of such speech-acts reveals that whilst ‘hitting back’ can restore a sense of pride, it can also undermine Dalit agency by reinforcing their characterisation as victims. In a vicious circle, radical rhetoric stokes the fires of caste conflict, which then inspires further tales of victimisation. Celebrations of Dalit lyricism, therefore, need to be tempered by an appreciation of its context and consequences.
- social movements