“Gone are the days when one man was the slave of the other
Gone are the days when women were subservient to men
Gone are the days of caste disparity
Gone are the days of untouchability”
The above is a crude translation of some of the poems of the Tamil poet Bharathiar. The significance of the poem and its author could be understood only if you know something about the caste system prevalent in India. Bhramins are considered to be the superior caste of India. In their hey days, they practised the system of untouchability. The fair skinned Bhramins kept the dark skinned lower castes at arm’s length. Only the Bhramins could enter the sanctum sanctorum ( the innermost room where the presiding deity is kept ) of the temples. Until about three-quarters of a century ago, people of the lower caste could not enter the temples. Bharathiar rose against this cruel practice. The irony is he himself belonged to the high Bhramin caste. It is something like a white African revolting against the system of apartheid practised in South Africa. Look at his photograph. He is wearing a mustache. No orthodox Bhramin is supposed to wear a mustache. That shows his defiance of the orthodox practice. In one of his poems, he claimed the raven to belong to his caste. You understand the hidden meaning? The black raven belonged to his caste, the fair skinned Bhramin caste, he made a bold claim. That is the ultimate revolt against the caste system based on skin colour. It is no surprise that he was excommunicated by his own people. His clarion call of Independence made him an enemy of the ruling British. He died in abject poverty before his cherished ideal of independence of India was realized.