August 25, 2014
Daina Kukka Harvilahti
”You see the way the politics is going on: the power of money, masculine power, caste power. Indian politics is that. I want to reset that model. I want to make our people to reset that model and find their own model with dignity, with equality, with humanity.”
Adima is a cultural centre situated in Kolar, within the Indian state of Karnataka. The centre is well known for its cultural programs, especially the annual children’s camp Chukki Mela and monthly full moon festival Hunnime Haadu (Full moon’s song) that was recently held for the 100th time. I had a discussion with one of the founders and hearts of Adima, Kotiganahalli Ramaiah, while he was rallying as a candidate for the Indian Parliament last April. Mr. Ramaiah is one of the pioneers of the Dalit movement in Karnataka and a leading cultural figure.
Adima, meaning primordial or original, is a trust and a cultural centre that was founded by a group of friends in 2006. The group shared a dream of cultural revolution and consisted of social and political activists, who were also known in the cultural circles around Karnataka and elsewhere. Before Adima, there was another government registered organization, Chowki Samskrithika Kendra, that was focused on children’s education through organizing summer camps during which children from deprived communities were taught singing, acting, dancing, clay work and public speaking. After Adima was formed the focus of the camps, now held in October and April-May, shifted more towards performance arts. In 2009, at the end of a year I spent in Bangalore and Kolar as an intern, I had a priviIedge of participating at the camp as a teacher and photographer.
Adima’s roots can be seen within the political uprising of Dalit’s in the 1960’s and 70’s, when the Dalit Panthers in North India – partly inspired by the Black Panthers in the USA – rose up in opposition to political oppression and caste discrimination. At the same time the movement in Karnataka was mobilized after several violent and political incidents that lead Dalits and their supporters to join together more firmly, forming a solid movement for a couple of decades. One of these incidents in the South was the murder of a Dalit boy – the reason behind the killing being that he had passed exams which a boy of a higher caste had failed.
This emerging movement was especially strong in the Kolar district and many of the people I have interacted with were central figures in it. They held rallies in the streets, sang revolutionary songs, played the thamate, (a beating instrument traditionally used in Dalit ritual services in the district) and performing plays in order to address the continuing suffering of those at the bottom of the caste system.
This political uprising was accompanied by a popular and recognized literary form Dalit Sahitya, which is also called Ambedkari sahitya, in reference to the central Dalit figure Dr. B.R. Ambedkar. Dalit Sahitya became a movement and a style of literature that expressed the untouchables’ experience of oppression, deep poverty and neglect of their culture (e.g. Hardtmann 2008). Nowadays Dalit literature reaches a wide public and is a distinct part of contemporary Indian literary tradition. Their short stories, poems and novels are recognizable of their their deep and self-reflective qualities, as well as their emotional content and realism with many times containing a clearly political message.
The founders of Adima, the cultural centre that has been my entry point for this discussion, were also influential in rooting this tradition in Karnataka. Apart from major cultural events, Adima has long hosted seminars, camps, concerts and film clubs.
Adima Living School
I asked Kotiganahalli Ramaiah, an eminent poet and playwright, about his theatrical work:
D.K: What kind of themes have you been taking up in your plays?
K.R: If there’s a seed I will make it (the play), I´ll plant it and I’ll nurse it. The beautiful flowers can be seen through it and moulded in a play. All my plays are like that, it is very political. It is against globalization. How to look at the things from the lowest standpoint. How it reacts to the lowest, the marginalized and the cornered. To look at the very mighty empire of economy, political systems, hegemonies, dictatorships and the attitudes. Everything come into my plays. All my plays, it is an economic text. They are political-economic texts.
According to Mr. Ramaiah, something is transmitted not merely through the words, but beyond them in the immediate experience of a performance. He explained that all his productions are based on orality, oral traditions, which is important when we keep in mind that many of the people he is representing have been excluded from the writing of official history. He goes further, saying that no one has any history, that they have to create their own histories.
The plays that have been staged during the last decades are filled with collections of Kannada and Telugu folk stories, mythical, historical and legendary figures (e.g. Anna Hazare and 12th century social reformer Basavanna) and variations of well known tales, such as Ali Baba and 40 thieves. This particular story was transformed into a children’s play where a girl was leading the troops. In fact, Mr. Ramaiah often brings up his appreciation for feminine power and knowledge.
K.R. Matriarchy means, you know, that is the only source to rewriting the history. History isn’t the cultural history only. So I’m looking into how to locate the manipulations in historical times. […] This perspective I’m trying to draw. How to look at the cultural hegemonies. You cannot dissect that which culture is this and which culture is that. It is all combined into new stances of culture now. So you have to look into that, which is the originality in us, the essence in us. That is the most important thing I’m doing now.
The focus of Adima has been on children. Every April the hills of Shivagange, Teralli begin to buzz with kids, nationally recognized actors, artists, directors, writers, cooks and other personnel at the annual children’s camp. The camp is designed to take place between Dr. B.R. Ambedkar’s birthday (April 14) and the day that Buddha is said to have become enlightened. The aim apart from the obvious artistic lessons is to teach children to express themselves, to recognize their surroundings, their roots and their potential as well as to allow them to stand strong and confident in different situations.
K.R. The problem with Indian society is this, the Hindu society is this you know. They will be taught to self negation. The caste system is built on confidence. Social structures, social environment gives very confidence. But unfortunately in India, the people who belong to Untouchables are marginalized. They don’t get this confidence within themselves […] They have been taught to deceive themselves, to their self negation.
Adima is aiming to be a place of inclusion and the children participating at the camps come from different communities from over the surrounding areas. I have seen over the years how some of the girls from the neighboring areas have grown into beautiful actresses. Recently Adima’s troop was in Columbia where they performed a multilingual play about prince Ekalavya of Mahabharata in a joint project to study Indian epics.
Rally for democracy
While the parliamentary campaigns were taking place all over India, I participated at the camp where 30 young men and women were rehearsing for the election play, Matadana Jagruti, which was then performed around the constituency as a part of Kotiganahalli Ramaiah’s campaign. Alongside acting they were singing folk and revolutionary songs and playing dollu kunitha, a traditional drum dance from Karnataka. When I asked why Mr. Ramaiah, a literary personality, decided to enter the political world now, he told that his main goal is to educate. He wants to touch peoples mythical and subconscious side and to create new texts, vocabulary and ways to express dignity and equality.
K.R. [R]eading and writing has been denied from us for 5000 years. So what do we have then, what is the importance of letters then? Letters are created by somebody else and we are trying to learn that text. Where are our own texts? Here, orality is a great source to create our own texts, because its from tongue to tongue it has transferred from the very ancient time. […] Particularly myths, India is a very mythical land, you know that. For everything there is a myth. And without understanding what is a myth and what is beyond myth you cannot understand, I mean, anybody can’t understand themselves.
For more information on Adima: