Thursday, February 01, 2007

My experiences in Karuthu


Around an year back, Kanimozhi Karunanidhi and Karthik Chidambaram started a message forum called Karuthu (http://www.karuthu.com). They wanted to promote free expression of thoughts - this was the peak of PMK's Talibanism, and during the Kushboo episode.
I became a member right away - I enrolled on Nov 13 2005. Since then I have regularly posted there till a couple of weeks back.
Why did I write in Karuthu?
Karuthu over time became a very vibrant community with around 10000 members (although only around 200 of them are active, regular). There is no doubt that these are kindred spirits - that like me, they feel passionately towards social, economical, cultural issues. They feel the need to communicate and reach across to others around the world. Almost all are Tamils and they are spread across the world. I found an opportunity to challenge people on capitlism, religious fanaticism, historical beliefs. Initially my goal was to project ideas about liberalism, and clarify where opinions stand - if they are conservative or liberal. For example, language promoters in Tamil Nadu have been accused of being fanatics. An opinion such as "Let us make Tamil education compulsory in all schools" is thought to be fanaticism - even though such an opinion in the global spectrum is actually liberal. Media and higher classes have successfully projected such opinions as retrograde. But, kids go around in Tamil Nadu without even knowing their native tongue. They have no connection with modern Tamil literature and have a tendency (along with their parents) to communicate entirely in English when outside. Is it true that they are doing this because they are liberal? No - they are doing this because they have no conception of what the social, cultural and even economic effects are of not learning the native language where you live in.
The way these people misunderstand is exemplified by this question - "How would our children survive outside Tamil Nadu?". Survival outside Tamil Nadu does not require learning all subjects in English. It means you should know English as a language. And nobody is preventing that. All that we ask for is coexistence of Tamil. All that we ask for is that Tamil be also learnt. For this we are branded as fanatics.
Thus protection of language is a liberal cause - it is conservative to say a language should not be protected.
This difference in ideologies and where opinions fall under - this I wanted to highlight.

My experience in Karuthu
In several posts starting in November 2005, I could convey my sets of opinons. I wrote a piece criticising President Kalam - and it became a general discussion of capitalism and India's path to modernism. I also participated in several discussions on women's role. I could convey my position with the underlying principle of post-modernism. I recently wrote a post on "The Good Fight" on the looming fight between leftists and the neo-liberal, corporate, religious right. I generally got attacked by right wing economic champions; but the discussions were civil. The admin moderates responses very well.
Our community involved a few colorful online personalities - many of them posted opposing views, but I respect them as fellow debaters.

Now, about the actual views of the modern Tamil onliner:
The most positive aspect with Karuthu is that many people are from ordinary backgrounds and care for the disadvantaged. Many of them have struggled in life with poverty. I rarely found Hindu fanatics. I would say many were more liberal than, say a typical North Indian posting in rediff.com. I have got ino debates in rediff.com, and there is no doubt that Karuthu users are more knowledgable, down-to-earth and none have the fantasies that rediff readers seem to have about Indian ultra-nationalism.
1. Generally there were many who supported the DMK heavily. I found very few ADMK supporters. The people who supported the DMK could not defend it much, but still supported the party. Many of these did not have a clear idea about the role of political parties in a democracy. They treated parties as rivals and supported one camp or another, as if it is a football game. The belief that a party is a private, monolithic entity is well entrenched. This is not good for democracy. For example, most of them did not see anything wrong in Dayanidhi Maran's sudden appointment and rise in prominence - they thought it was fine as long as he did a good job.
2. There is a widespread belief that Periyar and his DK were fighters for social justice - even though most evidence points to them being a fascist entity. I wrote a post about this.
3. There is lots of space for Tamil race fanatics - by this I do not mean supporters of the Tamil language (of which I am one). I mean the ones who think the Indus Valley civilisation is Tamil; those who believe in Lemuria; those who cannot stand Sanskrit as a language. These people are as bad as the Hindu fanatics; and they think they are liberal!! I frequently got into very depressing debates on history with them.
4. One unsurprising note is that there is lots of anti-Brahmin feeling among the debaters. many of them drag in Brahmins into debates that have nothing to do with them. The overall Tamil attitude to Brahmins is very similar to the Hindu fanatics attitude to Muslims. Most Tamils seem to regard Brahmins as an alien race and think evidence for that is well-established.
5. People have a very flexible attitude towards history - most people read things online and found nothing wrong in forming outlandish conclusions. I pointed out in a post that history is as much a science as physics. While nobody would question the theory of gravity, I found people ready to say "Violence was brought into India by Aryans" and then defend it.
6. The discussions on economics were very illuminating - people were pretty knowledgeable. But, I did find that the standard (untrue) view that "Socialism has collapsed" expressed repeatedly.
I have to point out that most of the negatives above are actually more pronounced in national message boards such as rediff.com or indiatimes.com.
Overall I found it a very vibrant, self-aware community. Some of the debates were very bitter and I got into several fights. Surprisingly the bitterest fights were with fellow leftists - particularly progressives. Missionary-like zeal runs through many progressives and I found their attacks more disturbing than the rightist fanatics.

3 comments:

subbu said...

Its nice to see that you resumed blogging after a long pause..

B-Factor said...

Hi,

Great to see you back in blogging...

prince said...

Have you seen the new India search engine www.ByIndia.comthey added all the cool featurw of popular productslike MySpace,YouTube, Ebay,craigslist,etc.all for free to use and specifically for India.Anyone else try this yet? ByIndia.com First to Blend Search,Social Network,Video Sharing and Auctions Into One Seamless Product for Indian Internet Users.