When it was announced on Thursday evening that music composer Ilaiyaraaja, considered by many as the greatest South Indian music director of all time, will be conferred the Padma Vibhushan, the second highest civilian award in the country, there was an outpouring of adulation and love on social media. Many said none deserved it better than Ilaiyaraaja, a man who has scored music for over 1000 movies across at least seven languages.
However, South India woke up to a headline in The New Indian Express on Friday that led to an outrage on Twitter and Facebook. “Dalit outreach with Ilaiyaraaja’s Padma”, the newspaper said, with a copy stating that the award was important in the backdrop of Dalit movements led by Jignesh Mewani in Gujarat. The implication construed by many was that the Bharatiya Janata Party government chose Ilaiyaraaja to placate Dalits and not because of his achievements.
Many reacted sharply to the headline and article. Writer and Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi leader D Ravikumar took to Twitter to question whether it was right to confine a great man to the narrow frame of caste. He pointed out while those opposing reservations harp on the concept of merit, a meritorious composer was being insulted using his caste.
Carnatic musician Sanjay Subrahmanyan too decried the caste association:
Others pointed out that the headline was unfair and an insult to his great talent.
There were also those who called out the perceived caste bias in the copy.
There was also a bit of confusion as many mistakenly thought that the article was published in the Indian Express and not the New Indian Express. The two are completely different organisations which split from the original The Indian Express in the 1990s.
This led to a clarification from Nandagopal Rajan, the new media editor of Indian Express.
Praise for the maestro continued to flood social media on Friday.