Last week, Actor and dancer RLV Ramakrishnan, who is also the younger brother of late prominent Malayalam film actor Kalabhavan Mani, was hospitalised after he allegedly attempted to take his own life. In a recent Facebook post, Ramakrishnan, a Dalit man had called out at Kerala Sangeetha Nataka Akademi's caste-based discrimination in denying him the chance to perform at an online event.
In his Facebook post, Ramakrishnan alleged that he was denied the opportunity citing that the event is being held for financially backward artistes. But he called out those who finally performed in the event, including government employees. He had also hinted caste-based discrimination of Akademi in denying him the chance to perform.
"I have only one thing to say to the Akademi, who thinks it is a 'blessing' if dominant caste people do anything, even if it is wrong. I did not secure a diploma, post-diploma, M.Phil, Ph D in Mohiniyattam and cracked UGC-NET, by copying in exams. The Akademi is at times opportunistic in its behaviour," he posted on Facebook.
Ramakrishnan reportedly had also given a complaint to Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, stating Akademi's alleged caste discriminated.
He feels pained, as Academi Chairperson and veteran film actress KPAC Lalitha, whom he considered as his mother spoke against him as per the wish of the secretary of the Academi.
Dr. RLV Ramakrishnan opens up his mind with Madhyamam Online Correspondent Anusree regarding his life and experience.
How did you find interest in a dance field known for being performed by women?
I admired dancing from a very young age. It is just as if the art form has been with me all this while I am not sure how and when exactly I found myself associated with it. Applying natural colours as makeup on my face and stringing the fallen bead from someone's ghungroo (chilanka) on a thread to tie on my leg, I had tried to imitate dancing as a child. I was born to a poor couple who went for daily wages. So it is obvious that for a person coming from such a background it was indeed difficult to get past the hurdles and attain doctorate from Kerala Kalamandalam. Besides Mohiniyattam is a classical art form in which Brahmanical hegemony is to be seen always. With my doctorate, I happened to find myself surrounded by a group of people who believed Mohinyattam is an art form of presenting women's beauty.
Did you complete your studies at Tripunithura RLV College??
Usually, almost every institution teaches Bharatanatyam. From grade five onwards my teacher Anandan from Chalakkudi taught me Bharatanatyam for the first time. Being a studious student my ambition then was to become a doctor but during my early college years, I realized that it was not my cup of tea. I then took admission in RLV college for my diploma and post-diploma after which I completed M.A Mohiniyattam from MG University with the first rank. I taught in RLV college for three years as the first male teacher in the history of the college to be teaching in such a field. I then completed my M.phil with the first rank from Kalamandalam and did my PhD in the topic 'Aattathinte Aanvazyikal' under the guide Dr. N.K Geeta. Currently, I am working at Kaladi University as a temporary faculty.
How did you get involved in controversies?
I have always keenly watched the programs of Kerala Sangeetha Sahitya Akademi but never knew how to get an opportunity to perform there. There are no specific criteria for the selection procedure. One had to be the student of any member in the administration or be recommended by one of them to get selected. I used to submit my biodata but never received any calls. During this Covid lockdown, I heard that shooting has begun for a program named 'Sargabhumi' hosted by Akademi. I sought the help of KPAC Lalitha to know how to participate in it. I just called to ask her the details upon which she insisted I must submit my biodata. It is then I went to the academy from where I faced an unfriendly attitude.
A person named Manoj Kumar conducted a rigorous interview and with an air of contempt said Mohiniyattam was not for men to do. I left the office and called Lalitha to inform her that I was going home and there isn't any chance of getting selected from the way they talked. She asked me to wait and said she would come and talk with them. After two hours of waiting she arrived and talked with the people inside for more than two hours. She came back to me with a different attitude altogether, which I guessed was from the brainwashing that happened inside.
She said the secretary will not allow anyone to perform Mohiniyattam except for girls and will not give me a chance since the Akademi was not ready to deal with the criticism and disapprovals it could possibly receive if I perform. Yet they were ready to give me a shot if the chairperson of the Akademi, Lalitha would take the entire responsibility of those criticisms but I told her that I didn't want to bring her any more troubles. As an alternative, they said they were ready to give me a chance for lecturing but upon reaching home I called her to reject the chance and also expressed my protest at the attitude of Akademi.
I had posted about this event on my Facebook page and many people came forward expressing support. Later a statement allegedly belonging to KPAC Lalitha came up announcing that she had not seen me or asked me to submit biodata, she hadn't taken any decision on the matter and that my post contained false claims. A mail containing this statement was sent to every media. I couldn't bear to see me being framed a liar in public. It was with the support of my brother Kalabhavan Mani that I became the person I am today. Despite not being given a chance to perform, I was also being repeatedly accused of lying which led me to depression and suicide attempt.
Did you not try to meet the Secretary that day from Akademi?
I tried to but was not permitted to meet him or enter his office. When I met him outside for lunch break he walked off busily and refused to talk. I do not believe his reason for not meeting me was due to Covid protocols. I think he did not approve of meeting a person like me from a low caste.
Doesn't this mean that you faced caste-discrimination, in this case, more than gender-discrimination?
I personally am not hesitant of speaking out loud about my caste. Just like the names Nayar, Raman and Radhakrishnan, my father's name was Raman Parayan. I am not in the least ashamed of it. Attempting to deny a chance for a person from a backward community and publicly passing statements that humiliate him are all definitely caste discrimination. When they say Akademi will be criticised, doesn't that mean they will have to purify the stage after I perform? I understand it this way.
Do both men and women learn Mohiniyattam in RLV and Kalaamandalam?
RLV trains both men and women. The speciality in Kalamandalam is that men who are Keralites are not taught classical dance there but foreign men are. Kalamandalam also doesn't teach Kadhakali to women from Kerala but teaches foreign women. Gender discrimination exists in the institution. But the secretary is unaware of the fact that except Kalamandalam, all other institutions teach both men and women irrespectively. He also doesn't know that gender equality is practised in Kaladi University and RLV. It seems like he only knows of Kalamandalam.
Why didn't KPAC Lalitha stand by your side in the issue?
Though the Akademi has appointed KPAC Lalitha as the chairperson, they are not ready to give her the higher authority to take decisions. Secretary is the one who has the authority. Discrimination is to be seen there as well. She is a woman who is not given the freedom to make her own decisions. Many criticisms did come up in the past pointing out the autocratic leadership maintained by the secretary in the Akademi. He might not be allowing the administration or the president to take part in any decision making.
Did KPAC Lalitha call you after your suicide attempt?
No, she did not. I still refuse to believe that the statement was from her. It could be the secretary's doing. She is a person who genuinely wished for me to get a chance to perform, I do not think she would speak against me.
Don't you think suicide was a harsh decision?
I believed I would get a lot of opportunities after attaining a doctorate. I have passed the UGC NET exam and does possess all the qualifications required to get the job of an assistant professor. Yet, I do not have a permanent job and is being denied the opportunity to stage my dance. Rejection after rejection is what I kept receiving in my life. What choice do I have when my opportunities are being taken away by the so-called cultural heroes? I was exhausted, that's the truth.
What are your plans from now?
Many people have had to bear such rejection and pain from the secretary. The government has announced a probe into this matter. The principal secretary has been asked to investigate and the human rights commission has filed a case. For now, my objective is not to get a chance to perform but to make sure that he does not remain in the position of secretary any longer. The investigation process is time-consuming but if no action is taken even after the investigation, my plan is to go ahead with legal measures.
(This report was published in madhyamam.com and It is translated by Naja Shirin)