The Unlikely Bastion of Communism in Chennai and its Defenders

When we talk about a group or an association certain structures automatically come to mind. Based on our prior experiences we expect certain “must haves” from a collective -specially when it’s socio – political – such as a membership list, a designated office, hierarchy of posts and most importantly a name. However, a small “Communist” group (yes, that’s what they call it) based in VISALATCHI THOTTAM is that irregular block which refuses to fall into any set pattern.

A couple of its members whom I got a chance to meet seemed a bit cautious about outside inquiries . When asked about the name of the group Ravanan ( A member of the group ) said “We are a communist group” while Murali (another mamber ) related the group to “Dravidar Kazhagam” a political entity founded by late “Periyar”.

Periyar (Pic Courtesy: indianquotes.org)
Periyar (Pic Courtesy: indianquotes.org)

And what about the number of members? No straight answers. Murali said their numbers depend on the task at hand as the group is totally voluntary and its daily meetings are conducted in the local public park or at some open space within the locality. The core members stay regularly in touch and play the role of a nucleus around which the group can enlarge or shrink according to the needs.

Rather than the essentials Murali seemed more interested in describing the various achievements of the group. They had encouraged the local residents to provide accommodation and needed support to the Tamil refugees during the war against LTTE in Sri Lanka.They also collaborated with the” MAY 17th” group to protest against the tactics adopted by the Sri Lankan government.

At the local level the group members actively organized a protest against the planned demolishing of a primary school ( Sai Vidyaylaya) for the expansion of a local Sai Baba temple. The plan was eventually shelved. Recently, when anoher temple in the locality – the Thullukanathamman Temple -was given to a private party on a lease worth 15 lacs the group members organized the local residents and filed a complaint in the Alwarpet E4 Police station.Following investigation the temple has now been handed over to the local community. Notices have been pasted on all the houses in the locality declaring this significant achievement of the local community based movement.

Though all the members belong to the lower income group and are illiterate, they have established a library in the locality named “Ambedkar – Periyar Library”. The popular sports comedy Tamil movie “Chennai 600028” was filmed primarily in VISALATCHI THOTTAM. We saw the local playground where major parts of the movie were shot.

A more nuanced description was given by Venu Ramakrishnan, a philosophy major currently preparing for IAS exams who despite not being a member of this group participates in some of its activities. ” I can only be part of those things which I find logical. So when the group members started to ask for a separate Tamil Nation or when recently they decided to burn the Dharamshastra blaming it for the perpetuation of the caste system, I had to dissociate myself” he said. The peculiarities of the group do not appear very strange to Venu. He has an explanation for it. “They lack the formal knowledge required to understand the importance of institutionalization. Also they are short in patience.” Majority of the members are uneducated and in Venu’s words suffer from “intellectual deficiency” which is required to acquire a balanced outlook towards significant issues. He also criticized the group’s antipathy towards all religion. However, Venu is optimistic. “With proper guidance this group can enhance its purposefulness.

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