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Shruti Tharayil


is what i am

“we were untouchables” my mother whispered

when i asked where my roots go



was what i was born as

“you should not claim reservations

use your merits, as you have the privilege”

my father often opined



an identity erased by history

“…but you don’t look like one of us,”

what do you mean?

“you don’ look like a dalit

your colour is not dalit!

your clothes are not dalit !

and of course your class is not dalit!”



so how does one become a dalit?

even if my lived reality sometimes spells out dalit

when you are not yet uppercaste

“we are nambiars!

we don’t worship Narayana Guru”

once my friend told me with pride

“don’t ever tell my parents that you eat beef

they won’t let you in”

“your sister is one of us,

as she married a brahmin”

said another


And yet I can never be one of you!!

who legitimizes my existence?

does my colour and my class negate my caste?

the reality that i was born into?

does it debar me from speaking my dalit dialect

does it make me less of an ezhava?



an identity i cling on to

the only way to reclaim my past

narratives of resistance and rebellion

questioning my privileges

meandering through the untouched path

towards celebrating being

an ezhava



Ezhavas are ex-untouchables who are now categorized as OBCs; they are considered as the most dominant among the Avarnas (that is, the people outside the varna system).

Nambiars are a ritually higher shudra community on par with the Nairs.

 Narayana Guru was an anti-caste ezhava saint of the 19th century. He has been viewed both as a liberating and sanksritiing agent.

Shruti Tharayil works with a non-profit organization in Andhra Pradesh. She works closely with Adivasi, Dalit and pastoralist communities on Women, Violence and Livelihoods with the focus on Food Sovereignty.



12 Responses to ezhava

  1. Nidhin Shobhana says:

    Hi Shruti! Really happy to read your poem. The process of ‘reclaiming’ our identity is very liberatory and transformative. I am experiencing it myself. For many years I had no clue why my father would not talk about his family or their history. For him and for so many of us, it was always through a process of disowning that we could claim a delusional mobility. Today, we are marking a journey from ‘disowning to reclaiming’.

  2. raghunandan says:

    good. shruti, go on expressing. best wishes.

  3. sangharsh says:

    Nice poem.
    Hindu religion is on top of volcano. Every caste will start awakening and will start asserting denied human dignity and benefits. It will lead to the death of Hindu religion. This was told by Babashabe Dr. Ambedkar (expressed in my own words). Let’s kill it. Lets assert our rights our identities. We do not care about their (fake) unity.
    It’s not about class. It is about caste. When are they going to understand that it’s not class which embraces caste but the caste (caste system) which encompasses every other identity? Forms of oppression (like class or patriarchy) can be understood in India after studying caste, that too, in the way experienced by ex-untouchables.

  4. Ravinder Kaur says:

    Hi Shruthi, I really appreciate you effort to depict a dalit experience in the modern context. People are accepting dalits for reason or the other but at the same time they would not like to tell their near dear ones that they are in relation with a dalit. Keep it up.

  5. sreekumar p r says:

    Are Ezhavas Dalit ?

    • Panicker says:

      No not at all. Ezhavas are truly noble, highly cultured category in kerala. Their real history was intentionally removed by some crucked. Ezhavas are the true high class people in kerala. But some how the Namboothiri class along with Sudra Nains put Ezhavas out of the Varnasrama.

  6. Swamy Tanmaya says:

    Hai Sruti,

    Your identity crisis is beautifully reflected in the poem. Reclaim the imposed identities through more expressions.
    Please think about your ultimate identity in between; “you are knowledge”.
    The identity of a community rich in tradition is misinterpreted through a wrong social stratification. The psychological echo of this illusion should be corrected by the reality of ultimate identity “I am Knowledge”.
    The biological definition of caste is ‘manushyanam manushyatvam jati’and ‘punarnnu perum ellam oru inam’. This is the actual truth. Think of these three dimensions such as biological, sociological and psychological. Always identify with the ultimate identity to correct the illusory identities which are transient , yet cruel.

  7. Anil kumar says:

    Ezhava is not a Dalit community.It is not part of the four tier Bramanical caste hierarchy.Ezhavas were buddhist who refused to convert to Hinduism..but later as of hobson’s choice they became part of Hindu,centuries later.later. Ezhavas were always at loggerheads with the upper caste people and were averse to accept anyone’s superiority..This has resulted in to many conflicts and crisises..especially with Nair community who were fierce protectors of casteism and braminical superiority.One should be proud of belonging to this caste and declare it with pride as and when it is required.The people who claimed nobility were a shamless lot.Their woman were concubines and prostitutes and considered it as a noble act.

  8. rakesh das says:


    is what I am
    and very proud to be so
    when I pondered where my roots go
    “Mahabali was my king” my heart whispered
    The greatest one ever on earth who ruled
    As I have the same feeling to give when I hear somebody pleading
    and I can feel the beat of my heart which gives me joy in giving

    was what I was born as
    “I should not claim reservations
    I should use my merits, as I have had the privilege of a prince ” says my heart
    my father brought me up so
    so who am I
    my heart said aloud “Forwards Forward”
    as my King was the greatest King who ever who lived
    the patriotism to die for my country at the first call
    doesn’t comes to all
    as I had always dreamed to do so from when on god knows
    today I live for my fellow beings
    today they need me more alive than dead
    an identity erased by history
    “people of the greatest kingdom on earth,”
    what I mean?
    “Yes as a kid whenever I looked
    at my father I have always felt him to be a Forwards Forward
    towering above 6 feet
    Yes I dont’ look like a dalit
    As I fill inspiration when I meet people
    They need me dearly I give them strength and hope
    I look like the Forwards Forward when I looked at myself
    Yes my heart reacts and like a lion I can hear it roar
    when I am suppressed within me I can feel the power
    never to bow down and lie low
    how come government says I am a dalit!
    and of course my class is above the Forwards
    like my King Mahabali, over every other King in the world who towers”
    he really had the Kings heart and not of a coward
    like a cunning jackal, who plead

    so how does one become a dalit?
    You are what you think you are my heart stated firmly
    Who the else in this world can know me than myself truely
    I felt pity on the people whom they themselves thought to be forwards
    when I saw the fear of the future in their eyes,
    fear of the unknown and for their lives,
    I laughed my heart out at their cowardice
    Sree Narayana Guru We worship”
    Instead I love what he preached which I try to sum up and follow
    One more greatest of all men of his times, one of our fellow
    I once told my friend with pride
    He found the answer all the religions are trying to find world over
    “Whichever be the religion of a man, it suffices if it makes a better man”
    Which I feel to be that God is still trying to find how to make man a better man
    So he keeps on sending prophets who try a new religion
    does it make me less of anybody else of any region ?

    an identity I cling on to, something to be proud of
    the only way to reclaim my past
    narratives of resistance and rebellion
    Questioning why should I need privileges
    meandering through the untouched path
    towards celebrating being
    an ezhava
    Being human is being a real ezhava
    Being great is being an ezhava
    There is always a shift of power as day and night
    So this is life live it King Size
    Be brave and proud of yourself
    And one day everyone else will be proud of you

  9. dasd says:

    some fools are trying to insult the ezhava community ! ezhavas are a community of billionaires and millionaires! examples are manpuram nadilath nirapara infosys pollakulam jyothi lab etc etc etc etcetcetc and many many more these fools are insulting the community

  10. dasd says:

    even ancestors of ezhavas were considerably very rich their place in the caste system in the past was very contradictory as the rich ezhavas who travelled in palanquins also had to face discrimination but ezhavas were always a proud hindu community and always opposed caste system!
    the first person to have a car in travancore after the maharaja was an ezhava of allumootil tharavad! the famous channar ! we ezhavas/thiyyas are proud of our ancestory and also proud of the present we own almost all big business houses of kerala we have produced big intellectuals for the society!………… we are proud and rich and prosperous community

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