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Ilavenil Meena Kandasamy (born 1984) is an Indian poet, fiction writer, translator and activist who is based in Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India. Most of her works are centered on feminism and the anti-caste Caste Annihilation Movement of the contemporary Indian milieu.
Meena in 2012
1984 (age 34–35)
|Occupation||Writer, activist, translator|
As of 2013, Meena has published two collections of poetry namely, Touch (2006) and Ms. Militancy (2010). Two of her poems have won accolades in all-India poetry competitions. From 2001-2002, she edited The Dalit, a bi-monthly alternative English magazine of the Dalit Media Network.
Apart from her literary works, she is vocal about various contemporary political issues relating to caste, corruption, violence, and women's rights in more ways than one. She has an influential and regular social media presence, through her Facebook and Twitter handles. She also writes columns for platforms like Outlook India and The Hindu, occasionally. This was primarily brought to light during the beef controversy at the Osmania University in Hyderabad in 2012.
Early life and educationEdit
Born in 1984 to Tamil parents, both university professors. Named as Illavenil by her parents, she developed an early interest in poetry, and later adopted the name Meena. Meena completed a Doctorate of Philosophy in Socio-linguistics from Anna University, Chennai. Meena wrote her first poetry at the age of 17  and also started translating books by Dalit writers and leaders into English at that age.
|“||My Kali kills. My Draupadi strips. My Sita climbs on a stranger’s lap. All my women militate. They brave bombs, belittle kings, take on the sun, take after me.||”|
|— Meena Kandasamy|
As a writer Meena's focus was mainly on caste annihilation, feminism and linguistic identity. A fierce critique of academic language, she says, "Poetry is not caught up within larger structures that pressure you to adopt a certain set of practices while you present your ideas in the way that academic language is" and thus, prefers to use it for her activism. One of her first poetry collections, Touch was published in August 2006, with a foreword by Kamala Das. It was translated into five different languages upon publication. Her second poetry Ms. Militancy was published the following year. In this book, she adopts an anti-caste and feminist lens to retell Hindu and Tamil myths. Other works such as Mascara and My lover speaks of Rape won her the first prize in all India Poetry competition.
Her two books were reviewed by the New Indian Express. Touch was criticised for its English language errors, though its challenging themes were described as "interesting". Ms. Militancy was described as an improvement in her use of the English language but "disastrous, if not worse" in terms of themes and content. A review in The Hindu put the negative criticism into context, describing Meena's work as difficult for anyone whose politics were "mainstream". Her poetry is "about the female self and body in ways not 'allowed' by this discourse". An analysis of Touch and Ms Militancy in the Journal of Postcolonial Cultures and Societies concludes that Meena "authors a poetic discourse that not only castigates the prevalent modes of subjugation but also resolutely strives towards futures that are yet to be born." In an interview with Sampsonia Way Magazine, Meena said "My poetry is naked, my poetry is in tears, my poetry screams in anger, my poetry writhes in pain. My poetry smells of blood, my poetry salutes sacrifice. My poetry speaks like my people, my poetry speaks for my people."
Her works have been published in various anthologies and journals that include Anthology of Contemporary Indian Poetry, The Little Magazine, Kavya Bharati, Indian Literature, Poetry International Web, Muse India, Quarterly Literary Review, Outlook, Tehelka and The New Indian Express. She was also invited to participate in the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa in 2009 the youngest person from India to represent the country. Two years later, Meena was made the Charles Wallace India Trust Fellow at the University of Kent. Meena was made a featured poet at the City of Asylum Jazz Poetry Concert held in Pittsburgh, the 14th Poetry Africa International Festival (2010), Durban and the DSC Jaipur Literature Festival (2011). She has co-authored a book named AYYANKALI: A Dalit leader of Organic Protest, a biography of Ayyankali, a dalit leader in Kerala. Meena was shortlisted among the 21 Short fiction women writers aged less than 40 from South Asia to be featured in an anthology published by Zubaan, New Delhi, the country's first feminist publishing house. In addition, Meena edited The Dalit, a bi-monthly English magazine. In 2014 published a novel about the Kilvenmani massacre titled The Gypsy Goddess, influenced by the figure of Kurathi Amman, her "ancestral goddess". As of January 2013, she is working on a book titled Caste and the City of Nine Gates, her first non-fiction work.
Meena works closely with issues of caste and gender and how the society puts people into stereotypical roles on the basis of these categories. She has claimed her identity as a Dalit woman and presents a fierce critique of Hindu and Tamil myths by using a feminist and anti-caste perspective to retell them through her works. In the preface to her collection of poems titled 'Ms. Militancy,' she writes, “So, my ‘Mahabharat’ moves to Las Vegas; my Ramayan is retold in three different ways…telling my story another way lets me forgive you.” She has faced a lot of abuse, hatred and threats for her fearless criticism of the Hindu society, to which she says, "This threat of violence shouldn’t dictate what you are going to write or hinder you in any manner.”
Osmania University "Beef Festival" ControversyEdit
In 2012, a group of Dalit students of Osmania University, Hyderabad, organised a beef eating festival to protest against the "food fascism" in hostels. It saw participation from over 200 people, including both teachers and students who ate various dishes made of beef. The right-wing student group Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) staged protests against the event and the organisers, turning the campus into a "battlefield." Meena attended this festival and spoke in support of it. For the same, she had to face incessant online abuse on Twitter by the right-wing supporters. She was called names and given various threats and Twitter India refused to recognise it as "hate speech."  The Network of Women in Media India (WMNI) released a press-statement condemning the attack on her. Post this, she wrote an articleon Outlook India, titled 'A Cowed-Down Nation.'
'Although Meena writes in English, she has translated prose and poetry from Tamil. In addition, she has translated the works of Periyar E. V. Ramasamy, Thol. Thirumavalavan and Tamil Eelam writers such as Kasi Anandan, Cheran and VIS Jayapalan into English. Speaking about her role as a translator, she says "I know that there is no limit, no boundary, no specific style guide to poetry—that you are free to experiment, that you are free to find your own voice, that you are free to flounder and also free to fail once in a while, because all this happens all the time when you translate."
- (with M. Nisar) AYYANKALI: A Dalit leader of Organic Protest. Foreword by Kancha Ilaiah, Other Books, Calicut, January 2008, pp. 103.
- Ms. Militancy, 2010, published by Navayana
“Ms Militancy”, the title poem of this volume, is based on Kannaki, the heroine of the Tamil Classic Silapathikaram. This poem is a call to women to be revolutionary and courageous like the heroine herself.
- TOUCH. Published by Peacock Books, Mumbai in August 2006, ISBN 81-88811-87-4.
- (Chapbook) 16 elegant, untitled poems have been hosted as an e-chapbook The Eighth Day of Creation on the poetry website Slow Trains.
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