I dream of a casteless society – Jeyarani

By Nikhat Fatima, TwoCircles.net

Dalit History Month began in 2015 inspired by the ‘Black History month’ in the US. April is observed as the Dalit History Month which is also the month in which two great revolutionary Dalit leaders B.R. Ambedkar and Jyotirrao Phule were born. Dalit History Month was initiated to document the contribution of Dalits to history.

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TwoCircles.net has identified 2 women journalists who have braved all odds of caste based discrimination to contribute to the field of journalism through their brave work.

One of them is Kavin Malar who was featured earlier and another journalist M Jeyarani who is featured in the 2nd part:

Dark days of childhood

Despite being the granddaughter of a celebrated politician, Jeyarani faced abuse and violence in her childhood and when she broke away from the four walls of her house she saw that the world outside was not very different from the confines of her house. There was much violence, caste oppression, and injustice but Jeyarani wanted to fight all this and give voice to those who were silenced in the name of caste.

Jeyarani lost her parents when was young so she and her siblings were under the care of their maternal grandmother A.S.Ponnammal, the 7 time MLA, who owing to her busy political life put the girls under the care of their maternal uncle and other family members.

But unfortunately they were subjected to violence and abuse and were kept locked in the house most of the time. Later they were enrolled in a hostel for some years. Today Jeyarani recalls childhood as a nightmarish phase of her life.

When they went outdoors it was with their grandmother who commanded respect and loyalty because of her charisma and able leadership. The same respect and love was extended to the girls as well. So Jeyarani did not learn about caste and caste based discrimination despite living in Algampatti village where everyone was a Dalit. There were 2 sub castes of Dalits one dominant and the other subordinate. Jeyarani belonged to the dominant caste of Dalits. But at that time she did not know anything about caste.

The domestic violence at home was becoming unbearable with each passing day as they were growing up. One day Jeyarani and her elder sister ran away from home. They approached the police and were put up in a shelter home while their 2 younger sisters were in hostels from where they did their schooling.

Dabbling in journalism

As a student Jeyarani had a flair for writing. She wrote poems and essays and won prizes for her writing skills. But her grandmother wanted her to become a doctor or an IAS officer. People appreciated her writing skills but no one ever suggested the idea of becoming a journalist. She had not even heard about journalism in school days.

It was in college while she was also working in a human rights organisation, she learnt about journalism, human rights, gender equality, and various forms of discriminations. She was given the task of writing reports after talking to victims of violence and while writing these reports Jeyarani realised that she was not alone in her sufferings. The kinds of sufferings people narrated made her feel she was just a drop in the ocean.

And seeing her detailed descriptive reports  the people at the organisation suggested Jeya to pursue journalism. The idea that journalism provided one with opportunities to travel, meet new people, indulge in photography, write articles, read books, watch world movies appealed to Jeyarani and she made up her mind to become a journalist.

After graduation Jeya joined Mass Communications and as a student of journalism Jeyarani walked down to abandoned villages where the oppressed people like the Dalits, the tribes, and Muslims lived. They showed her how unfairly this society was designed. She could see the layers of discrimination in the name of caste, religion and gender. Although grief, vulnerability, violence, poverty, and atrocity obliterated their lives, they rose up quickly every time with incomparable passion to fight back or simply to live their life peacefully.

Even as a student Jeya wrote mostly on caste issues. But the Tamil media gave very little space for reports/ news on caste issue. Caste featured in their papers only when some cruelty or riot took away many lives. Jeya did not find a single journalist in the mainstream media who wrote exclusively on caste. So Jeyarani decided to become that journalist who would write on the caste atrocities and violence.

Life Changing incident

In 2nd year of college Jeyarani was an eyewitness to the Manjolai riots also referred to as Thamaribarani massacre. On 23rd July 1999, Dalit workers were going in a procession to the Tirunelveli collectorate to submit a memorandum demanding wage settlement for the tea plantation workers of Manjolai estate.  But they were lathi charged and chased by the police. Some fell in the river and of them 17 labourers drowned to death.

Jeya watched everything in horror and for many  nights the cries of the people, women, old people and children from all directions; their pleas for mercy and for help; their questions even  as they were being beaten all haunted her for many nights.

This one incident taught her  what injustice, inhumanity, discrimination, oppression, caste based violence, untouchability, exploitation is. She wrote about it in detail meeting the victims and taking their account in the lab journal denouncing this action of the government.

A university student writing against the government that too in the university’s lab journal had become a great issue which led to an inquiry from the collector, followed by suspension order. But her professors and other students supported her and the suspension was revoked. And this was her first full-fledged reportage.


With the determination to write about caste based oppression Jeya moved to Chennai. But nobody in the city was ready to even hear the word ‘caste’ let alone write about it. All her ideas were rejected by the editorial board. And she was labelled as a trouble maker for suggesting these ideas.

The only outlet was ‘Dalit Murasu’ a Dalit publishing house. But Jeya wanted to write about Dalits and their struggles in the mainstream media. And when she was not given a chance she changed her job. The same thing was happening everywhere and with Jeya changing jobs often her career growth slid down and she was not earning much.

In the 18 years she has been working as a journalist Jeyarani undeterredly wrote about caste, LGBT issues, women and children’s issues, human rights, environment and minorities’ issues.

She is the first journalist to bring to light in the mainstream media about Arunthathiyar and Puthirai vannar communities that are sub castes in scheduled castes and the most downtrodden.

The Arunthathiyar as per the varna system are compelled to manual scavenging, cleaning the septic tanks, public toilets, all with bare hands with no proper equipment, while risking their lives. While the Puthirai vannar communities are the washermen who collect clothes from the houses and wash them and for which they are paid with leftover food and nothing else. They are dominated even by the other Dalit sub castes being in the lowest rung of the caste ladder.

After Jeya’s report about these two castes where the people were treated as sub-humans came to light there was more awareness amongst the people about these people. Some movements and organisations had already picked up the cause of the scavengers but the Puthirai vannar (washermen) are still living in the same conditions  even after 70 years of Independence of India.


Talking about her idols and whose lives have inspired her, Jeya says, “Whoever works against caste to annihilate it are my idols. I can proudly name two people in Independent India and one in ancient India:  Ambedkar, Periyar, and Buddha.”

“Indians are separated by 6000 different castes. No two castes are equal here. If the sub-castes of  Brahmins or caste Hindus or Dalits won’t mingle with each other means how can we expect them to cross the border and amalgamate as one? The caste system was designed in such a way that we Indians as a nation or citizens could not come together and feel the oneness. It prevents our unity.”

“Ambedkar and Periyar, our social doctors exposed the truth about the venomous triplets called Hinduism, Brahmanism, and caste system. For me they are the real fathers of India.”

Need Dalits in Media in Decision Making

About the current situation of the media and the presence of Dalits in the mainstream media, Jeya feels, “ Indian media is the miniature of Indian society where caste decides everything. Dalits who enter into media with so much aspirations run away from it for various reasons. Before quitting we should not forget the fact that Dalits in media in decision making level is 0%.”

Her advice to Dalits who are in this field is, “Quitting is like committing suicide. Whatever might be the situation do not give up. Learn like Ambedkar and fight for our rights in the media and society till we get it. We should stop chasing sensations as we have real problems to deal with. Write and act against caste. Keep on exposing it. Let us work till the democracy kept hidden in the loft comes to the land.”


Her works

In her career as a writer and journalist, Jeyarani has written mostly about caste and its various manifestations of discrimination and violence such as:

Jaathiyatravalin Kural (Voice of Casteless woman) – Anthology of her articles on caste published in 2014

Ungal Manitham Jaathiyatratha? (Is Your Humanity Casteless?) – – Anthology of her articles on caste published in 2018

Ungal Kuzhanthai Yaarudaiyathu? ( Which of this is your child?) – A book on social and mindful parenting (2019)

Ethu Nadanthatho athu nandraga nadakkavillai (Whatever happened, happened not for good) – It’s a collection of articles on the contemporary social issues of Tamil Nadu (2019)

Being a spirited person, Jeyarani has come a very long way from being a reporter whose articles were all rejected to now authoring books and winning accolades.

M Jeyarani has donned many hats, from being a reporter to an editor, managing editor, correspondent for television channels, executive producer for a TV channel, senior editor, photojournalist, and documentary filmmaker on caste, environment and disasters like the indian Ocean tsunami.

Her works have been recognised by many publishing houses and organisations. She was even featured as one of the ’36 Prominent Women in India’ by India Today.

Hope for the future

Even though the constitution guarantees equal rights to all the citizens of India, many do not have equal social rights. Dr. B. R Ambedkar spoke about social democracy which is essential for all citizens to lead a dignified life.

Jeyarani says, “ As a Journalist I wish to educate people that anything which divides them cannot be a nation’s culture. My writings will tell them caste is a heinous crime and to carry the feeling hatred right from childhood is a kind of mental illness. To act against caste is every Indian’s social responsibility and I will serve my social duty absolutely.”

A casteless society where there is only love and acceptance for fellow humans is her ideal society and what she hopes all human beings will strive for when they realise the futility of being bound in castes that only divide and isolate us.

Jeyarani loves reading, writing, travelling and watching world movies. The best thing about her career is, she says, she gets to travel a lot and thus learn a lot.