Being Refugee & Dalit Is a Double Burden: Tamil Rapper Arivu

Arivu spoke about the multiple levels of oppression by caste, race, and gender, that Dalits face.

Edited By :Garima Sadhwani

Producer: Smitha TK

Video Editor: Prashant Chauhan

Being a refugee and being a Dalit is a double burden my grandmother carried, as she raised her daughters and sons.
Arivu, Rapper

Tamil Rapper Arivu of 'Enjoy Enjaami' fame recently spoke about the Sri Lankan Refugee crisis at an event organised by NGOs The Azadi Project and Rethinking Refugees in Chennai. On 14 December, Chennai held a four-day event, including an art and photo exhibition, panel discussions, and charity concerts to focus on the crisis of Sri Lankan Tamil refugees, Rohingya refugees in India, intersectionality, Islamophobia, legal status, and the mental health of refugees.

Arivu talked about the plight of Sri Lankan refugees by recollecting his grandmother's struggle of being separated from her family.


How a Political Arrangement Changed the Lives of Several Generations

His grandmother Valliammal worked as a landless migrant labourer whose ancestors were forcefully transported to Sri Lanka to work in the tea, coffee, and coconut plantations. Due to continuous recruitment and population growth, Indian Tamils constituted 15.3 percent of the total population in 1936. The government then introduced the Ceylon Citizenship Bill in 1948 which granted citizenship to about 5,000 Indian Tamils. However, more than 7,00,000 people became stateless. Then in 1964, the Sirima-Shastri pact granted Ceylonese citizenship to 3,00,000 of the Indian population in Sri Lanka, while 5,25,000 were repatriated to India. This split up Valliammal's family.

"Between the two states, it was a political arrangement, a pact inked by two leaders. But for me and thousands of others, this became a life-altering event."
Arivu, Rapper

He reiterated the multiple levels of oppression that his ancestors faced by socio-economic institutions such as caste, race, gender, and nation.

"Dalits constitute 83% of the 3.6 billion workers that live in these plantations. The majority of the initial Indian immigrants to Sri Lanka were Tamils from the most impoverished regions of South India, occupying the lowest position in the caste hierarchy," he said.

We need a world without refugees. But for such a world to blossom, we need to see humans as equal to each other. As an artist, it is my responsibility to work for such a world and it is your responsibility too.
Arivu, Rapper

A Song Riddled With Controversy

Featuring Arivu and Dhee, ‘Enjoy Enjaami’ was backed by music composer Santhosh Narayanan and AR Rahman’s music label Maajja, which promotes independent music. The song was released on 5 March 2021. 

In July, the song which has garnered over 430 million views and 4.8 million likes on YouTube, ran into a controversy as Arivu claimed he was not paid or credited. 

In August, Tamil filmmaker Pa Ranjith called out Rolling Stone India's magazine cover for not crediting lyricist, rapper, and singer Arivu. Later, allegations surfaced that Maajja had not paid the rapper for his work in the viral track.

Later, at the inaugural ceremony of the 44th Chess Olympiad, singers Dhee and Kidakuzhi Mariyammal performed the song, and Santosh Narayanan was credited as the music composer. Many social media users had expressed their disappointment that Arivu was not credited or even mentioned during the event.

Arivu then broke his silence and wrote that he spent over six months to composing, writing, and performing the track. He also clarified claims by Santosh Narayanan and Maajja that both Dhee and Arivu had contributed equally to the project, saying that he did not receive any kind of external support.

Later, Santhosh Narayanan claimed that the song's rights and revenue were equally shared among him, Arivu, and Dhee.

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