Author Archives: Routes

A Tribute to Babasaheb Ambedkar

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Baba

1

baba,
you left this world
before I came

you hang as a memory now
on our rusty mud wall

a beaming portrait
inside a humble glass

my mother cleans it gently
with the end of her wrinkled sari
when our roof leaks on a rainy night

she wipes those tears,
becoming your fingers

I write on a tiny sheet,
“why is he weeping,ma?”,

Placing it on her lips,
I kneel to caress her hair.

She just kisses my cheeks
and leaves in a haste

Her breath feels
Like a drop of tear
She doesn’t want me to hear

My father, whispers,
On sulky nights,
“look, at those sober eyes,
That’s where we painted our past”

He, then, gazes at the farthest point
In that folded sky

“ Baba fought against gods,

Gods whose letters
Became molten lead
When it reached our ears

their water
turned into a flaming bird
bursting into temples
we cannot enter
when it touched our lips

their clothes
burnt themselves
when it covered our bodies

their streets
were laden with thorns
that pierced only our soles

we were naked beings,
bleeding from all our pores

those wounds
that wore off our dignity

we were epilogues
torn off from their stories

we were bodies
that belonged only in their borders

baba burnt those books
and wrote a new tale,
still unfinished,
all his life,
where untouched pages
were filled with languages
that spanned a nation

an untouchable nation
spawned from a million borders

he looked
into the eyes of their shivering temple-tops,
and screamed,
that a god who cannot touch us
doesn’t deserve us

we all walked behind him
like colours that follow a rainbow
as he closed their window
that seeks our worship ”

he would then go to sleep
nursed by the verses
hanging softly in his heart

woman-sleeps-among-ambedkar-picture

No other figure in Modern Indian history attracts such veneration like that of B.R.Ambedkar. He braved great odds  and fought for the emancipation of millions of people enslaved by caste system. Image Courtesy : Indranil Mukherjee/AFP/Getty Images

2

baba,
the lowest on our ladder
still spend their lives,suffocated,
inside the shameless sewers

even our own
have flushed their fates
to the corners of our conscience

baba,
our slippers still can’t sink
in their streets
our lips still can’t sip
from their cups

baba,
they walk on the carpets
of our corpses
to burn your statue
in the cauldron of caste

baba,
severed heads of lovers
rest on the lips of railway tracks
women hang from branches
in the shadows of a sombre night

baba
the Hindu rule you feared
during your time
has now dawned in our realm

those scheming saints
now weave an umbrella
into whose shade they pull us
shrieking into our ears
through their holy shells
that we all are ‘Hindus’

us, baba, the very people they spit at, even in their dreams

they usher us into a ghar
that nourished on our grief
where silhouettes of our sorrow
still wail in their garba-grihas

this ghar
where we were the steps
of spiritual stairs
they never stopped climbing
: crushed beneath their feet
we pleaded for our breaths

all this,
while they shower
trishuls of tragedy
onto the skulls of the ‘other’

the other who sells fruits
beside our cobbler stands

the other who drives the flies
away from the meat we skin

the other whose God
tended to our millennial scars,
with a tint, and a moment, of dignity

baba,
with grief,
I whisper to you,
this dewy night,
that some of us
have tainted our foreheads
with the tilaks they threw at us

baba,
scribble with your worn-out pen
on this moth-eaten cloud
hiding the moon in half
those words you want to scream
at these souls who betrayed you

they shall read it soon,
one night,
when those saffron tongues
shall vomit them
into the abyss
near the horizon of hatred

 

rss-21 ambedkar

HEIGHT OF APPROPRIATION : Portraits of RSS founder K.B. Hedgewar and Dr.B.R.Ambedkar being carried out during an RSS rally. Ambedkar was a trenchant critic of Hindutva throughout his life. Image Courtesy : Indian Express Archives

3

baba,
the priests
who flayed our skins
and severed our tongues
now, light the lanterns near your feet,

come back, baba,
like the fiery breeze
that swallows their flames

they bow
in their ironed suits
before your statues
they paint with their saffron stink

come back, baba,
like a tender downpour
washing off the stains
disguised as garlands on your coat
and heal the wounds
that sprout with their prayers

they trap you in the temples
you sought to wreck

they praise you in the words
you strove to burn

come back, baba, come back

if only to nurse my mother’s fingers’
that wilt every time you weep.

 

All the poems were penned by Abul Kalam Azad.

Abul Kalam Azad is a student at the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras, Chennai. He can be contacted at saka16492@gmail.com

Featured Image Courtesy : Economic Times.

Ballads, Statues and Symbols : Microhistories of Anti-Caste Protests

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Key feature of Dalit histories are the numerous struggles and sacrifices of martyrs who were either subsumed under larger identities or denied place in the annals of history. This is an attempt to recover those histories. 

This article begins by explaining three different incidents that happened at three different places at different temporal periods. However they all carry an analogous character as they speak about microhistories of caste protests. As these narratives are built more directly on the ‘little facts’ of the sources it can be termed as microhistory. In line with Siegfried Kracauer’s notion that microhistory gives a more real history (Kracauer 1971: 115), these following narratives carry minutiae on real life. The central element of these microhistories in context is the hero who emerges out of nowhere and as stated by Jacques Revel “the best works of microhistory describe the hero in a multiplicity of contexts,” (Revel 1995: 807). And the following narratives bring that hero in a multiplicity of contexts.

On August 11, 1928 a gang of armed men enter the cheri(Spatial location outside of proper village) of a village called Angambakkam near Kancheepuram district, Madras Presidency(now Tamil Nadu). The gang numbering around 70 men go on a rampage attacking the Dalits and their houses in the colony. Unanticipated of such attacks the Dalits run helter-skelter. After the attacks the gang torches the houses of Dalits and moves forward approaching towards the house of Kuppusamy. The gang tried to break the front door of his house, Kuppusamy who was returning to his village came to know about the attacks against the Dalits in the colony and also found out that his house is also under attack. He rushed towards his home to find out the fate of his family, when he entered his house the gang armed with weapons laid siege to his house. He locked from inside and to chase them away and protect his life, he took his gun and fired shots towards the roof. The gang then took haystack and tried to set his house on fire.

Unable to escape from the dangerous situation he started firing shots towards the gang and in total he fired 21 shots in which fifteen members were injured and nine members were heavily injured and five died. When all this rioting was over it was almost 6 a.m. in the morning. After sending telegrams to the Police Commissioner and District Collector of Madras Presidency, police came to the spot and Kuppusamy handed over his rifle to them. The police arrested him and seven Dalits in connection with the murders.The major reason behind the plan to attack Angambakkam Kuppusamy was nothing but caste-hatred. Kuppusamy, a Dalit joined the British Indian Army as a Havildar and came back to his native village and was involved in activities attempting to uplift the Dalits. People who return to their villages after serving in the army were involved in replicating the discipline that they learned from their military life among the villagers as a way of life based on the notions of self-respect. Immauel Sekaran was one such activist.

The oppressed classes who were working through various forms towards their emancipation utilized the spaces that modernity had carved out. In that sense Kuppusamy founded an educational society in the village and established learning centres for the uplift of the villagers. Kuppusamy who was influenced by Pandit Iyothee Thass’s Buddhism had already embraced it and through his connections with the Buddist Society was involved in collecting funds and had constructed buildings for schools bought educational tools and provided salaries to the teachers. He established contacts with the British civil servants and through Cooperative Societies got assistance for the agricultural wage labourers and also helped them acquire the wastelands to engage in agriculture. The Dalits who were caught in the quagmire of poverty and bonded labour due to debts and agricultural loans were trying to break their shackles through these efforts.

This economic independence and its subsequent result of self-respect in everyday lives became a challenge for the existing traditional caste norms. So the members of castes like Mudaliar and Vanniyar and others who were the traditional landholders in these areas came together planning to attack the Dalits and Kuppusamy who was instrumental in the uplift of the Dalits. The above said incident was what happened when they decided to carry out an attack. It was an incident of violence orchestrated by caste Hindu groups who had strength of 150 families against the 60 families of Dalits who were living in the colony.

Following the arrest of Kuppusamy, eighteen members from the dominant castes were arrested. The Court while sentencing others under various sections of the criminal law ruled life imprisonment for Kuppusamy for his involvement in five murders. The Dalits were unable to take the sentence, during this time Dalit politics was highly conscientised in and around Madras and this case was highly influential. Prominent Dalit personalities of the time and people got themselves involved in the legal proceedings of the case with great interest. The Kolar Gold Field based journal Tamilan provided the space for Kuppusamy’s arguments and published all the details of the case till the very end and took it among the readers. First a forum called ‘Angambakkam Grief Compensation Forum’ was established under the leadership of V.P.S.Mani with an idea to go for an appeal in the higher court. In relation to that, a lengthy appeal was made through the Tamilan journal on March 20 1929. Prominent members of the Depressed Classes, G.Appadurai, M.C.Rajah, Swami Sahajananda and V.I.Muniaswami Pillai evinced interest in this legal battle and also contributed funds.

The case was shifted from Saidapet Court to the Madras High Court and whenever the case came for hearing it saw a good turnout of people assemble at the court complex. Handbills were distributed at times carrying details of how the case is proceeding. Advocate V.L.Ethiraj argued efficiently for Kuppusamy and on May 29, 1923 following the final hearing Kuppusamy was acquitted from all charges in the case. His acquittal was hailed as a victory of the Dalits. A short book carrying the details of the funds collected and spent on behalf of the ‘Angambakkam Grief Compensation Forum’ for Kuppusamy’s case was released on July 12, 1929. Moreover in the same year, a ballad titled Angambakkam Sriman Ebaiyan Kuppusamiyarukku Jaathi Hindukalal Nerndha Aabathin Tharkappu Sindhu ( A Self-Defense Ballad protecting Angambakkam Sriman Ebaiyan Kuppusamy from the dangers posed by caste Hindus to his life) created by J.I. Paul Vannam was sung in Chennai and on the trains from Chennai to Bangalore to collect funds for the case.

Stalin Sindhu Paul

A ballad of self-defense sung in honour of local hero Kuppusamiyar who fought against caste atrocities.

The ballad printed in the name of Tuticorin Adi Dravida Union apart from a few handbills remains as a major source of evidence about this case. Stuart Blackburn in his study on the ballads of the Tamil-speaking people finds himself in an cultural domain where there exists an alternative hero, another type of hero, who he terms as “local hero,” who differs from the courtly model precisely because he represents a different social class and Kuppusamy can be hailed as a local hero who fits the cultural framework posited by Blackburn.

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Vanjinagaram is a nondescript village situated on the Madurai to Tiruchi highway near Thumbaipatti the village of former Madras Presidency(now Tamil Nadu) home minister and Congress leader Kakkan. After you enter the Dalit section of the village and walk a few paces ahead a cement plinth of 3ft height carries a painted image of a man and below his image it is engraved Kandan (03.09.1959 – 08.10.1987). There exists a practice that all the auspicious events of the villagers in this area are marked by worship to the built structure and even festivals too. This practice reminds us of an extension of the ancient hero stone worship practiced among Tamils. Heroes who lay their lives fighting for the community to save them from enemies or fighting a beast were remembered through erection of hero stones where their images are also carved. If so then what was Kandan’s struggle and loss?

Caste oppression that is prevalent in the Melur region of Madurai is comparatively harsh and rigid than other parts of the region. The caste system practiced here is regional in nature, Ambedkar himself has written about the caste practices (Babasaheb Ambedkar Writings and Speeches (in Tamil) Volume-9). Seeing the level of caste discrimination prevalent Gandhi’s Harijan Seva Sangam also functioned from the region, in 1992 two Dalits Ammasi and Velu of Chennagarampatti and in 1997 Murugesan and 6 others of Melavalavu were hacked to death and these two villages also comes under this region. In most of the villages in this region there was a system called Kudikallar where the member of the intermediate caste Kallars can possess ownership to a Dalit family to work either in their house or their lands. The Kallar family then becomes the patron for the respective Dalit family and the latter’s everyday life revolves around them. If anyone in the village has a complaint over the Dalit member they would directly approach the Kudikallar and this form of social contract was in place. So the Dalits in the region were unable to unshackle themselves from this oppressive system and gain mobility or access towards education or remove themselves from doing menial jobs. Even basic civil rights were denied to them.

Kandan routes

Villagers posing in front of a concrete plinth carrying the mural of Kandan who was brutally murdered for defying caste norms.

Given these social realities in place, Kandan who had a basic education to the level of eighth standard joined his brother Subbaiah at a stone quarry in Kidaripatti village and was involved in stone cutting work. The Dalits who work, as daily wage labourers in these quarries never rose up to the stage of owning a quarry. Following the death of Kandan’s brother Murugan in an accident the family received an amount of Rs. 1.75 lakh(1,900 GBP) as compensation. Keeping their four year experience in the quarry and this amount of 1.75 lakh rupees the brothers gained sub-contract for a quarry. This was the first time a Dalit had got a sub-contract to a quarry in this region. When they started their quarry business they were able to hire Dalits for quarry work and also were able to procure tools and machines for stone quarrying on their own. This effort by the Dalit brothers threw up questions of caste restrictions in place and there is no need to explicate how much frustrated and angered was the caste Hindus about this initiative. Moreover Kandan was centrally involved in sending numerous petitions to the Government to intervene and prevent the various practices of untouchability, prominent among them were restrictions to have footwear on and to draw water from public wells. The persistent efforts of petitioning made the district administration to convene a peace committee to discuss these issues of untouchability.

During the peace committee meetings the Dalit youth not only claimed for equal civil rights but also rights over common property resources. However, the administration prioritized civil rights issues and efforts were taken to address the restrictions on wearing footwear. The Dalits continuously attempted to draw water from the public well; Kandan’s family spearheaded these efforts. After a few years a decision was made by the villagers to build a temple. Meanwhile the tender to re-auction a quarry went to a caste Hindu, he also demanded that the stones that were cut earlier prior to his re-auction should be given to him, however Kandan’s side refused to do so. During this time the Dalits through relentless struggles were questioning their oppression and were utilizing the various opportunities available to gain upward mobility and were moving towards a life of self-respect. This angered the caste Hindus further as their hold over the Dalits was losing grip.

Meanwhile funds were collected to murder Kandan, and he had just escaped a murder attempt during the Jallikattu (Bull baiting) event. Kandan who had gone out to a nearby village following his marriage engagement to send some message was brutally murdered with 27 cuts by sickles and machetes on his body and his body was found on a hillock. Most of his body parts were found to be mutilated, Dalit leaders L.Elayaperumal and Vai. Balasundaram helped Kandan’s family to their extent with legal measures. To remember the struggles carried out by Kandan for gaining civil rights for Dalits the villagers memorialized him by erecting a plinth carrying his image in his honour.

***

At the entrance of the bus stand in Cuddalore district’s Kattumannargudi there is a bust, one might not have encountered that bust anywhere in Tamil Nadu as it does not carry any traces of identity of a familiar figure from the state. The name board below the bust says that he is Reddiyur Pandian, beyond that not only his name but why he has been memorialized in the form of a bust is something even the politically conscious few could reason. Known as Pandian, he is a Dalit who fought against the prevailing practice of imposing menial jobs on Dalits and died during the protest on August, 15, 1985.

reddiyur Pandian routes

Bust of Reddiyur Pandian who died in police firing following a protest by Dalits who registered their dissent against the imposition of menial work to them.

Our caste system, which is based on birth, apportioned occupational categories and spatial locations for different castes and maintains the system. Denying occupational mobility for castes and their right to choose work, the system discriminates people by assigning jobs according to their particular location within the caste system thus maintaining a rigid hierarchy from top to bottom of the social ladder. The castes lower down the order were assigned to do menial jobs mostly unhygienic in nature and service oriented. So to move away against the assigned occupational order towards caste-neutral jobs or to gain education formed the basis of anti-caste efforts. As the possibility towards such mobility was found only in modernity, the Dalit stalwarts were practicing and propagating a modernist reformative discourse. In the case of Tamil Nadu, the struggles against the ‘imposition of menial work’ happened at different regions both on a small scale and large level. These protests, which have a century long history, were not archived and recorded properly. However, Kattumannargudi has recorded it by erecting a symbol in the form of a bust to recall and reimagine those struggles.

Today’s Cuddalore district included old South Arcot district provides us a lot of references on various forms of protests between 1946 and 2000 against the beating of parai drum which is made out of cow hide and is also used mostly during funeral processions. Likewise refusing to remove the carcass of dead cattle and to dig graves for the dead caste Hindus were resisted by Dalits through various forms of protests in the Northern districts of Tamil Nadu. Most of these protests happened at the regional level and it never gained emphasis as a state level protest or a slogan and it did not receive such attention also. These protests were also spontaneous and were not led by any prominent leader.

The veteran Congress leader L.Elayaperumal in the year 1962 passed a resolution in Kattumannargudi circle that no one from the region should engage in parai drumming and especially not for members of other castes. It is how Elayaperumal had created awareness about restraining from doing menial work in this area. And in the year 1985 August 15 there was a fire-walking ceremony in the local village temple. The local Dalits had refused to beat the parai drum for the festival so the caste Hindus had hired drummers from outside the district. However, the Dalits of the village refused to the beating of parai drums in total during the festival. So there was uneasy calm in the village and police force was deployed in the region. Dalits from 16 villages approached towards the temple, police prevented them and resorted to lathicharge and threw teargas shells. Finally the police opened firing in which ten Dalits were grievously injured and one Dalit youth Pandian was killed. There was no damage either to the police or to the caste Hindus. The death of Pandian intensified the struggles and this resulted in almost a complete abolishment of beating of the parai drum in the region.

People memorialized the sacrifice of Pandiyan in different ways; a flagpole was erected in honour of his martyrdom at Poovizhundhanallur, which is on the southern side of Northern River the same place where he was shot dead and a bust and flagpole was also erected at Kattumannargudi. A ballad lyric was penned imagining how Pandian’s mother Chinnaponnu would sing grieving the loss of his son, the lyric was penned by Veerananallur Murugandam and was sung on stages during village festivals, also sung as a dirge and also as a folk song during the transplanting at farms in villages. This is how the subaltern people keep Pandian’s memory alive. The bust was designed without the help of a photographic image, as they could not find one, talking about how it was done one of my interlocutors said, “ We see this image as our own visual depiction of Pandian’s struggles and sacrifice rather than an authentic portrayal of his real looks.”

Generally when we speak about Dalit struggles like most cases they become individual-centred based on either their ideologies or their actions. When we talk about ‘martyrs’ or ‘revolutionaries’ it is larger idioms that come to our minds. In many cases a small level of sacrifice and struggle too gets blown out of proportion with the idea to symbolize or create a leader out of the figure. Though there is no need to conceptualise these struggles avoiding the individuals and their contributions but we have to see that it is the traditional ‘hero in history’ figure which figments our imagination. People who are oppressed by caste somewhere in their lives are resisting either directly or indirectly the caste system or the disgrace it brings to them. Given this condition it leads to a position where an individual has to remain either as opposing caste and the disgrace it brings or to accept it and live. The person who opposes it could be someone who is not even prepared how to handle it or does not have even thought about it. But he has to face the problems that arise out of such system. The three cases explained above indicate us that the activists did not possess any strong ideological foundations or had a history of affiliation towards any movement. Vanjinagaram Kandan had no political background and was just an admirer of MG Ramachandran (the Matinee idol who later entered politics to become the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu). Reddiyur Pandian who had lost his father was working as a daily wage labourer and there were no records or evidences, which indicate his political activities. Though Elayaperumal’s intervention had created awareness among Dalits in Cuddalore to restrain from involving in menial work but there is no record to show what sort of influence it had on Pandian’s perceptions about caste. But his involvement in the struggles indicate that he carried a sense of indignation against caste, this provides us an idea that to be an anti-caste person there is no need for large ideological underpinnings but the fact that the lived experience as a member of oppressed caste was enough.

Starting from villages to towns to cities, caste discrimination is abounded and the experiences one gains out of these struggles are enormous. A lot of such struggles never gain the attention of media and many were hidden without attaching any news-value to such and remain as local histories. The political parties or the government also failed to recognize such struggles and experiences to promote social justice. Going beyond all this these struggles do not form part of “histories” in the broader categorical sense.

How caste functions in accordance to regional and local conditions the struggles to resist such existing conditions also get shaped accordingly. These histories of resistance in each region can be compiled based on its local significance. The three struggles discussed above happened during different time periods, at different places, carrying different experiences. These struggles are neglected not only by historians but also by political parties, but the people of the locality remember them in ways known to them and it is how we can see that these struggles were kept alive through ballads, statue and hero stone. We can also see that the support for these acts of memorialization from social movements is also provisional. In this essay struggles of a particular sect among the Dalits were only discussed, if an effort is undertaken to collect all the local and regional records of such histories of struggles we can compile a volume on local histories of anti-caste struggles.

Bibliography

Blackburn, Stuart. “The Folk Hero and Class Interests in Tamil Heroic Ballads.” Asian Folklore Studies, Vol. 37, No. 1 (1978), pp. 131-149.

Ponnoviyam, Anbu. 2009. Urimaikkaga Poaritta Uthamar Angambakkam Kuppusamiyar. Chennai: Siddartha Pathippagam.

Poovizhiyan. 2007. Reddiyur Pandian Parai Ethirppu Varalaru. Seerkazhi.

Prabhakaran, V, Pulavar. 2008. Iyothee Thassa Pandithar Idhazh Pani. Chennai: Thirivalluvar Aiyvu Noolagam.

Rajangam, Stalin. 2008. Vanjinagaram Kandan. Alanganallur, Madurai: Vanangamudi Pathippagam.

Szijártó István.2002. ‘Four Arguments for Microhistory’ Rethinking  History : the Journal of Theory and Practice. 6:2 , pp. 209–215.

This article was originally written in Tamil by Stalin Rajangam and translated by Karthikeyan Damodaran.

Stalin Rajangam is a Dalit intellectual and a Tamil writer  based in Madurai, Tamil Nadu. He is a prolific writer on Dalit issues, films and politics. He can be contacted at stalinrajangam@gmail.com

Karthikeyan Damodaran is a PhD candidate at the University of Edinburgh.

Images courtesy : Stalin Rajangam.

India, the United Nations, and Moving Beyond Anti-Colonialism

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The Indian government’s reaction to the recent UN Special Report on Minorities makes clear the limitations of its anti-imperial human rights history.

On March 15 last month, the UN Human Rights Council met for its thirty-first session in Geneva. The meeting was dominated by discussion of an important new report presented by the Special Rapporteur on Minority Issues, Rita Izsák-Ndiaye, on discrimination based on caste and analogous systems of inherited status. As per UN guidelines, the Rapporteur on Minority Issues is generally an independent investigator appointed to document systematic instances of discrimination along religious, ethnic, racial, and other group-based lines, and to make recommendations both at the international level and to a select number of countries. Izsák-Ndiaye’s recent report marks an important turning point within this vein. It is by far the most concerted effort to bring caste into the framework of international human rights law. Over the past three weeks, the document has started circulating amongst activist and legal circles in South Asia, within the diaspora, and beyond.

Dalit-Buraku590

At the World Conference Against Racism held in Durban, South Africa, 2001, Dalit community and Japan’s Buraku community worked together to call for the inclusion of the term “descent” in the Durban Declaration. Photo Courtesy : IMADR

The March session of the UNHRC was not the first time that caste has been discussed at an international forum. There is by now a remarkable two-decade long history of how activist groups like the Dalit Solidarity Network and the National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights alongside international organizations like Human Rights Watch have been able to frame the issue from being a regional problem specific to South Asia to a global concern, starting with the 2002 Durban Conference of the UN’s Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD). CERD’s recommendation in 2002 to directly address caste and descent-based forms of discrimination through international mechanisms has provided the primary precedent for subsequent action by the UN. It has also had something of a spillover effect onto domestic jurisdictions, with the European Parliament passing a resolution to recognize and combat caste-based exclusion in 2013 and, in the same year, the UK government amending Section 9 of its 2010 Equality Act to mandate specific legislation on caste. Indeed, the need to comply with CERD has been cited in the landmark case Chandhok & Anor v Tirkey (2014), the first successful caste discrimination lawsuit brought before a UK employment tribunal.

Despite becoming increasingly established, however, the globalization of anti-caste law has consistently been met with opposition from South Asian states, especially from India and Sri Lanka. In 2002, Indian government officials vehemently insisted that caste could not be reduced to either ethnicity or race, and so had no place in a UN forum devoted to the latter. If anything, the official response to Izsák-Ndiaye’s report has been even more dismissive. During the March 15 session, India’s Representative to the United Nations criticized the report as a “breach of the Special Rapporteurs’ mandate” (the Representative’s response to the Special Rapporteur is available here, starting at 37:59). By expanding the scope of minority status to include groups vulnerable to caste discrimination—and thereby highlighting gaps in the implementation of constitutional safeguards—the report rendered suspect the entire “credibility of the UN Special Procedure” system. The Sri Lankan government went even further, directly questioning the Rapporteur’s methodology and asserting that untouchability practices do not exist at all in the country.

In themselves, these responses are not surprising given the history of nationalist engagement with the UNHRC through the 2000s. But coming immediately in the wake of Rohith Vemula’s tragic death in January and the ongoing crisis at Hyderabad Central University and other institutions, Izsák-Ndiaye’s report has a particularly timely importance for the Indian context. And the state’s rejection of the report’s legitimacy says volumes about the trajectory of its engagement with international politics since the 1950s.

***

RitaIzsak_colour_high

Rita Izsak-Ndiaye, the UN special rapporteur for minorities. Photo Courtesy © Miklós Déri.

Like all attempts to deal with caste in a non-South Asian legal context, the UN Report struggles with defining the term. With their intellectual roots in nineteenth-century European practices of taxonomy, the classificatory schemes of postwar human rights have found it difficult to address a diffuse non-Western concept that is analogous but not wholly reducible to categories of ethnicity, race, and religion. Izsák-Ndiaye justifies including caste under the label of ‘minority,’ broadly understood, because the condition of groups marginalized by systems based on birth and descent is structurally similar to those excluded through other axes of identity. In both cases, a group is seen to possess some inherent characteristics which justify subservience to a dominant socio-cultural and religious community (which may or may not be in a numerical majority).

The report separates caste-based discrimination into two broad forms: civil and political, and economic, social, and cultural. The first category includes physical violence and threats to person and property; the denial of fundamental civil liberties such as political participation and access to the judiciary; and discrimination within religious spaces and ceremonies. The second category includes restrictions on economic mobility and the right to work; segregation in housing; as well as unequal access to water, sanitation, health services, and (in the case of 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami or last year’s Chennai floods) emergency humanitarian assistance.

None of these details should be surprising to anyone who follows politics within South Asia and its diaspora communities. The UN Report’s main contribution is to present the information in a systematic way that allows us to see patterns across countries and to recognize the specific international and domestic laws which are being violated through the framework of caste. Izsák-Ndiaye cites new data from the 2014 National Crime Records Bureau of India about the shocking (and rising) levels of brutal physical violence–lynching, harassment, and sexual assault—committed regularly against Dalits, acts that go against the most fundamental tenets (Articles 3-5) of the UDHR. Enforced practices of manual scavenging, slavery, and bonded agricultural labor on Dalit and tribal (adivasi) communities in Nepal, India, Pakistan, and elsewhere violate commitments to workplace non-discrimination and workers’ economic choice expressed in International Labor Organization (ILO) conventions since 1957. Finally, discrimination within healthcare and basic medical services, common in many rural hospitals across South Asia, contradicts commitments regarding equal access to health added to the Convention on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights in 2000.

So the most valuable upshot of the Special Rapporteur’s investigation may be to enable increased global activism on the part of anti-caste movements. Framing the problem of caste as a violation of already accepted international norms opens up a new set of legal standards with which to hold states accountable. Of course, there are clear drawbacks to this legalistic turn. The report itself is very much a product of the liberal understanding of freedom underlying contemporary international law—‘liberal’ in the post-Cold War sense recently critiqued by the philosopher Robert Meister, as a minimalist political theory committed exclusively to individual security from violent atrocity and external interference. The report speaks of caste discrimination and not of caste oppression. It calls on legislative and judicial bodies to secure non-discrimination in the economy, state-society interaction, and political life in order to enable equal access to a set of basic goods, but stops short of calling for redistribution or the targeted material empowerment of the lower-caste urban and rural poor. An anti-discrimination based internationalist politics that strategically uses the language of the UN might, then, be much less economically transformative than the long tradition of Indian anti-caste socialism from Jotirao Phule to Ambedkar and beyond.

Nevertheless, the symbolic value of the report is to emphasize the obligations of a state towards a universal ideal of human equality. Engaging critically with the UN Human Rights Council would, for any government, entail first recognizing the legitimacy of the international community to question domestic structures of violence and exclusion. It would mean a cosmopolitan politics appreciative of exchange and interaction as sites for self-criticism. It is this reflexivity, I think, which the Indian government has failed to demonstrate through its outright rejection of the UN Report’s legitimacy. In his remarks to the Human Rights Council on March 15, India’s Representative to the United Nations criticized the report for transgressing on the state’s prerogative to define and govern its populations. He characterized allegations of structural discrimination against Dalits based on religion, social norms, and cultural life as a “series of sweeping judgements.” For the Special Rapporteur on Minority Issues to turn attention to caste set a dangerous precedent for subsequent UN investigations to exceed their prescribed authority. It made the issue seem much widespread than Indian law itself recognized and gave an international human rights body normative superiority over a domestic jurisdiction.

There is a biting irony in India’s appeal to national sovereignty in order to delegitimize an international investigation into caste violence. The legal architecture of the UN’s anti-racism policies, first within the UDHR itself and then the important 1963 General Assembly Convention, is in many ways an Indian creation. In December 1946, the Indian delegation to the UN, headed by Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit and encouraged by both Jawaharlal Nehru and Gandhi, pushed through a motion in the General Assembly mandating South Africa’s apartheid regime to bring its racialized citizenship policies into conformity with international norms of civil liberties. At the time, the motion was seen as an “Asian victory” against the deeply racist alliance of the British Empire, the United States, and South Africa. Recently, historians like Mark Mazower have seen it as an even more pivotal moment in the struggle for decolonization, marking the point when an international legal-administrative structure meant to consolidate global white supremacy was first appropriated to unsettle the exclusions of liberal imperialism. Even as the political efficacy of global governance collapsed from Cold War realpolitik through the 1950s, human rights bodies came to have substantial symbolic importance in the fight for anti-racist and anti-colonial justice.

We must not, of course, overstate the radical nature of India’s inaugural act in the United Nations (if anything, new archival research by Vineet Thakur at the University of Johannesburg suggests underlying prejudice on the part of some Indian diplomats towards low-caste laborers in South Africa). But it is critically important to understand the historical role of India’s opposition to white government in South Africa. The rejection of apartheid through institutional mechanisms meant that the founding of the independent Indian state was closely connected with the emergence of an anti-imperial, anti-racist politics of global human rights. This became a major governing logic of Afro-Asian anti-colonialism from the late 1940s to mid-1960s, manifest in its call for Third World solidarity and its commitment to using international platforms like the United Nations to demand self-determination for colored peoples—a dynamic well explored in Roland Burke’s important recent book Decolonization and the Evolution of International Human Rights (2010).

What we have seen over the past month, with the Indian government’s rejection of a UN inquiry into caste even as the country’s university campuses are convulsed in conflict over institutional complicity with caste violence, is essentially the intellectual and conceptual limit of this anticolonial nationalism inherited from the mid-twentieth century. Seventy years after 1946, we have arrived at a point where a state that pushed vehemently to make global governance into a mechanism for protecting vulnerable communities resists having the same language of anti-racism and minority rights turned onto itself. International politics could be a domain for overturning structures of European domination in the 1940s, but its emancipatory potential is decried now that it tries to highlight the deep-rooted failures of the postcolonial state towards internal minorities. The antipathy to international oversight on caste discrimination reveals the constitutive and uncritical acceptance of the nation within the dominant strain of twentieth-century cosmopolitanism. It shows the inability of an internationalist project defined primarily in opposition to European domination to recognize its own internal forms of exclusion.

The international human rights framework has come under withering criticism since the end of the Cold War for eroding sovereignty and state capacity. But there is surely more to it than that. Given the specific historical relationship between India’s emergence as an independent state and its appropriation of global governance, it is of no small importance that anti-caste and minority rights activists’ engagement with the UN report on discrimination highlights structural violence in a way that is not wholly reliant upon Indian law and legislation—and, indeed, demands accountability and compliance with transnational standards from them. We can hope that this is one way to work towards a new and different cosmopolitanism, one in which the postcolonial world’s interaction with the global community is no longer monopolized by the majoritarian nation.

This blog post was written by Tejas Parasher.

Tejas Parasher is a PhD student in political theory at the University of Chicago. His research focuses on comparative constitutionalism in Asia, international law, and issues of human rights and economic inequality. He can be reached at tparasher@uchicago.edu.

The Life and Times of Rettamalai Srinivasan

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Hailing from a political and intellectual tradition that precedes the Dravidian movement, Rettamalai Srinivasan is a social justice icon who carried a indomitable spirit fighting for equality and civil rights for the Dalits rubbing shoulders with another great icon of modern India, B.R.Ambedkar. Fondly referred as “Thatha” (Grandpa), Rettamalai Srinivasan was born on July 7, 1860 in a poor Dalit (Paraiyar) family in Kancheepuram in the erstwhile Madras Presidency. He was the brother-in-law of the famous Dalit ideologue Pandit Iyothee Thass. During the early days of his political career in Nilgiris, he closely worked with the Theosophical society and Henry Steele Olcott. He also served as the president of Scheduled Castes Federation, Madras and Madras Provincial Depressed Classes Federation.

Early Life

Srinivasan had his education in Coimbatore and later worked as an accountant in Nilgiris, it was during this time he became much concerned about the evils of untouchability that he faced as a student. After coming to Chennai in 1890 for almost three years he did a lot of research on how to uplift the Depressed Classes in the presidency. He went around all the northern districts and delta areas and found how this class of people was denied equal rights like access to common property resources, public spaces etc and if demanded they were attacked violently.

After coming to Chennai, Rettamalai Srinivasan established and led the Paraiyar Mahajana Sabha in 1891 which later became Adi-Dravida Mahajana Sabha in 1893. In October 1893 he founded a Tamil newspaper at the age of 32, called ‘Paraiyan’, which highlighted the sufferings of the Depressed Classes (later classified as Scheduled Castes). Over a period of time it emerged as the mouthpiece of the DCs and other marginalized communities in Madras Presidency. Within two days four hundred copies were sold in Chennai, after three months the daily was made into a weekly and after two years they had their own printing press. The magazine came out for 7 years and when he left India for South Africa it had a slow death.

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Diwan Bahadur Rettamalai Srinivasan. Courtesy : Digital painting by Rajesh.

Dalit intellectual and author of Theendapadatha Noolkal (Untouched Books) Stalin Rajangam, informs us that during this time he frequently had discussions with Congress leaders and Justice Party on the measures to be taken to uplift the DCs. He organized a meeting on Dec 23, 1893 at Wesleyan Missionary Hall in Madras against the Congress petition demanding that Indian Civil Services Examination should be conducted in India, he opposed the move and said that if caste Hindus become civil servants they will suppress the poor depressed classes and gave a counter petition signed by 3412 people and submitted it to General Sir George Chesney at a massive meeting which actually made the Depressed Classes assert themselves and fight for their rights at that point of time. On October 21, 1898 he submitted a petition how the children of the Depressed Classes were denied admission in many schools, responding to his petition the government issued an order that the Chennai Municipality should establish schools.

Friendship with Gandhi

From 1900 to 1921 he left India and went to East Africa and then to South Africa, Srinivasan had the opportunity to listen to Gandhi’s talk in Zanzibar in East Africa in 1902 but met him at Phoenix in South Africa during 1906 and the friendship that developed between the two continued for long. He met Gandhi thrice at Yeravada Jail on the Poona Pact issue, though critical of his stand on issues of untouchability, religion based reforms and separate electorates, he in his autobiography, Jeeviya Sarithira Surukkam ( A Brief Autobiography) published in 1939 states that “Gandhiji a great soul, on behalf of depressed classes, collected lakhs of rupees and had spend them on the education of their children, fought so many years to eradicate untouchability but was not able to change the heart of the caste Hindus.”

In 1921 he returned to India, in 1923, he was nominated for the Madras Legislative Council, Srinivasan was instrumental in bringing legislations that allowed the DCs to use the public streets, buildings, wells and market. People who prevent them from using these common properties were warned that a fine of Rs.100 would be imposed on them. He also published booklets highlighting those legislations among the Depressed Classes, says writer V.Alex, author of Dalit History Series in Tamil. He was also instrumental in formation of a Labour Welfare Department in 1919 by the British government to ameliorate the sufferings of the Depressed Classes.The Adi Dravida Mahajana Sabha pleaded with the government for reserving posts in public services proportionate to their numerical strength. They also opposed to the Harijan Seva Sangh’s claims about the uplift of the DCs. R.Srinivasan also opined that the legislations could not eliminate the injustices and humiliations faced by the DCs in the name of religion; he argued that despite legislations like the Removal of Civil Disabilities Act, the absence of penalty clauses provoked the upper castes to exploit those occupying the lowest rungs.

He was given Rao Sahib title on January 1, 1926 at Saidapet, Madras. Rao Bahadur title on June 3, 1930 and Diwan Bahadur on January 1, 1936, recognizing his tireless efforts fighting for the rights of the Depressed Classes community. The then Chingelpet Collector, P.Sitarama Bandulu in a meeting at Saidapet said that Mr. Srinivasan was largely seen as an mentor, intellectual and comrade got the goodwill of the Depressed Classes in South India and South Africa through his untiring efforts to emancipate them.

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Rettamalai Srinivasan (sixth from right) is seen here at the First Round Table Conference, held at London in 1930. He is seated next to Dr. B.R.Ambedkar.

Association with Dr.Ambedkar

Srinivasan, who died at the age of 85, worked closely with Babasaheb Ambedkar, Rettaimalai Srinivasan in his autobiography, states that, “Both me and Dr.Ambedkar worked as nail and flesh, we both went as representatives of the DCs at the Second Round Table Conference in London and fought for their political rights.” In August 1930, R.Srinivasan, president of Madras Provincial Depressed Classes Federation disapproved the idea of reservation in joint electorates and categorically preferred separate electorates and insisted that representation should be on the basis of their numerical strength and the disabilities faced by them in the region.

In November 1930, Rettamalai Srinivasan along with Dr.Ambedkar got an opportunity to represent the interests of the DCs, both favoured the extension of minority status to the DCs and felt that such a measure alone could ensure their proper political representation.At the Windsor castle, Srinivasan brought significant publicity to the state of affairs for Dalits when he refused to shake King George V’s hand, publicly proclaiming, “I am an untouchable.”In a memorandum entitled “A Scheme of Political Safeguards for the Protection of Depressed Classes in the Future Constitution of Self Governing India, they specified the terms and conditions under which the DCs would accept the rule of majority in a self-governing India.

Following Ambedkar’s decision to convert, Srinivasan issued a statement demanding him to reconsider his decision, he said,

It is a well-known fact that strictly speaking the Depressed Classes do not belong to the Hindu fold. They are like Muslims and Indian Christians. Dr. Ambedkar is a gentleman of culture and a conscientious man. The voiceless millions of India expect in him a friend and a philosopher to guide their destiny and all communities sincerely hope he will change his mind (Statement released by Rettamalai Srinivasan on October 20. 1935 in Madras Presidency).

Srinivasan as an M.L.C., in the Provincial government of Madras Presidency and President of Madras Provincial Scheduled Castes Federation maintained consistently that only a Constitution that was planned under the auspices of Parliament in England could serve justice to the Depressed Classes. Talking from his experience as an activist where he had spent more than half a century working for the Depressed Classes that,

Our experience of the last 50 years does not permit us to believe in the Congress demand for the constitution framed through a constituent assembly. Though the congress has now emphasized the protection of minority interests, as a signatory to the Poona Pact, I may say that we do not attach any value to such assertions. We are convinced that there is the widest divergence between the professions and practices of Congress. The Depressed Classes today are emphatically of the view that only separate electorates will really safeguard their interests(Times of India, May 11, 1937).

Historian Raj Sekhar Basu in his latest work, Nandanar’s Children: The Paraiyans’ Tryst with Destiny, Tamil Nadu 1850 – 1956 says that R.Srinivasan along with another Depressed Class leader N.Sivaraj supported the separate electorates; he like Dr.Ambedkar believed that Gandhi’s religious approach would not lead to the material improvement of the DCs, but felt that legislations favouring temple entry would definitely improve the social status of the DCs.In 1932, Ambedkar, M. C. Rajah and R. Srinivasan joined the board of the Servants of Untouchables Society established by Mahatma Gandhi. However, shortly afterwards, the three of them withdrew from the Board, which was later renamed as Harijan Seva Sangh.

Keeping his Memory Alive

There had been efforts to keep the memory of Rettamalai Srinivasan alive. The central government issued commemorative stamps in memory of Rettamalai Srinivasan. The Liberation Panthers Party constructed a memorial in Otteri near Madras and named it Urimai Kalam (‘Field of Rights,’ signifying his role in fighting for civil rights). On 6 July, 2011, the Tamil Nadu state government recognized his birth anniversary to be observed as a government function. Still there has been no adequate efforts to compile his contributions and particularly on his journalistic efforts.

This post was written by Karthikeyan Damodaran.

Karthikeyan Damodaran is a doctoral candidate at the University of Edinburgh. His research focuses on caste processions and commemorations in Tamil Nadu, and his interests include, identity politics, social movements, caste and class, film studies and urban studies. He was previously working as a Correspondent for The Hindu Newspaper in India.

University of Edinburgh to celebrate Dalit History Month

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Caste is a very complex social phenomenon. Typified by social stratification and preserved through endogamy, it designates ritual status in a hierarchy where everyday social interactions are based on cultural notions of purity and pollution. The caste system functions on the premise of structural inequality in which some people have high status, whereas others are deemed to be impure. Dalits (formerly Untouchables) are integral to the system even though they are mistakenly referred to as ‘outcastes’. Relegated as ‘polluted’ and inferior human beings, they are ostracized socially, politically, and economically, and endure myriad forms of discrimination.

Whilst caste is sometimes perceived as a South Asian phenomenon, this impression overlooks the fluid nature of caste, which transcends specific cultural contexts. After all, caste discrimination extends beyond both religious and national environments. It affects approximately 260 million people worldwide, the vast majority of whom live in South Asia.Experiences of caste-based discrimination among South Asian migrants in the United Kingdom, Europe and North America has long remained hidden but is now surfacing within the public domain as victims increasingly assert themselves. This has attracted media attention as well as legal and institutional inquiries. The United Kingdom and European Union have begun to address the issue, that latter of which recently passed a resolution designating caste-based discrimination as a human rights abuse. Given this, we feel that caste-based discrimination must be approached as a global phenomenon.

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on minority issues, Rita Izsák-Ndiaye during her presentation of the first comprehensive UN report on caste-based discrimination to the Human Rights Council on March 21, 2016 said, “ This is a global problem affecting communities in Asia, Africa, Middle East, the Pacific region and in various diaspora communities.” She also stressed that “caste-based discrimination and violence goes against the basic principles of universal human dignity and equality, as it differentiates between ‘inferior’ and ‘superior’ categories of individuals which is unacceptable.” Ms. Izsák-Ndiaye warned that discrimination leads to extreme exclusion and dehumanisation of caste-affected communities, who are often among the most disadvantaged populations, experiencing the worst socioeconomic conditions and are deprived of or severely restricted in the enjoyment of their civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights.

Why Dalit History Month?

Taking into account this emerging scenario, we feel it is important for us as scholars working on South Asia with a special emphasis on Dalit scholarship to aid in the dissemination of Dalit history. Dalit movements and Dalit literature were highly influenced by Black history. Scholarship on black history month shows us that it was through the widespread dissemination of black history during Black History Month and elsewhere that a social consensus on racial discrimination and injustices of slavery came to the fore. Likewise, there have been attempts within India and elsewhere to replicate the tradition of Black History Month. Such efforts, we believe, will help non-Dalits within India and abroad to understand and address pressing issues related to social discrimination based on birth.

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Dr. B.R.Ambedkar with the women representatives at the Depressed Classes conference held in Nagpur on July 8, 1942.

The common-sensical view that existed and still exists is that Indian history was upper-caste male dominated which also became celebrated as part of the nationalist history. Going against this tradition and by talking about ‘History from Below,’ the Subaltern Studies Scholarship altered historiographical practices by recording narratives of people from the margins such as peasants. However their scholarship came under strong criticism because it elided the question of caste and its history. Today, Dalit Studies is an emerging field of scholarship that raises such questions and discusses those omissions. It draws upon inquiry into the subjective experiences and cultural practices of Dalits, which enables us to understand how Dalits negotiate with the state, engage tenets of democracy, their contribution to nation building, and how they claim the public sphere.

Scholarship on Dalit History is a form of cultural politics that attempts to transform the ways in which Dalits represent the past. Dalit history functions within the realm of a politics of recognition that, by producing counter narratives, challenges and subverts dominant narratives; phrased differently, it tells an alternative story. Though Dalit histories are replete with stories of discrimination, atrocities and injustices, it also celebrates the achievements of the dispossessed who struggle against stacked odds to live a dignified life of equal status.

Given the fact that University of Edinburgh is committed to diversity and recognizing voices from the margins, we are organising events in the School of Social and Political Science to celebrate April as Dalit History Month. This attempt is aimed at making the University of Edinburgh acknowledge as an institution the significance of the caste question. There are critically important forums that address Racism and Xenophobia, Black Lives Matter, and LGBT History, but Caste does not factor into any of these existing discussions and, therefore, we feel that it is important to bring caste to the fore in order to contribute to and further enrich these critical conversations through commemoration of Dalit History Month. Following the success of the anti-Apartheid movement as a global phenomenon, we feel that anti-caste movements should have a global outreach. Celebrating Dalit history month at a time when we are celebrating B.R.Ambedkar,s 125th birth anniversary would be a fitting tribute to multifaceted leader who was the chief architect of Indian Constitution, a legal luminary, statesman, political and social theorist and above all a crusader for social justice.

This post was written by Karthikeyan Damodaran.

Karthikeyan Damodaran is a doctoral candidate at the University of Edinburgh. His research focuses on caste processions and commemorations in Tamil Nadu, and his interests include, identity politics, social movements, caste and class, film studies and urban studies.

Mohan Bhagwat’s Nazism with Chinese characteristics

The biggest blunder anybody can commit while responding to the statements of Hindu Nazists, however critical your response or analysis may be, is to miss the basic point that these guys should not be allowed to speak to the public in a civilised and democratic polity. Remember great Zizek’s favourite joke about wheel-barrows[1] or Ali-Brahmanandam’s Isuka Bastaala joke[2]. While your scrutiny is focussed on something very striking, what is actually smuggled before your own suspicious eyes is something else.

Well, before ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’ begins to be treated like ‘Hitler salute’ and those chant it get arrested for scare-mongering and ‘hate shouts’ (a sub-genre of the Hate Speech and seemingly a distinct Indian contribution), at least in some European, African or Latin American country to begin this much needed process of De-sanghification of India, the minimum we can do is to resist any temptation to treat Sangh leaders’ statements as just like any other public speech, deserving freedom of expression and critical scrutiny.

Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) has of late slowly but methodically managed to come to be treated as if it was not a criminal/fascist/terrorist organisation, the biggest in the world, and its declarations just like any legitimate outfit’s. Its judgements and advice and ‘stand’ on issues ranging from intimate affairs of the individuals (such as sex and clothing) to international affairs and economic policy have become increasingly seen as important.RSS is surely aiming at even as a moral high command of the nation, much above even the Central government, some kind of an idealised Rishi (Saint) status who stands above the secular powers of the Raja (King) in the pop Hindu mythology.

Probably excited by the easy and ever-growing success of public legitimisation RSS has already achieved, its chief, Mohan Bhagwat seems to have committed the classic mistake of any fascist past, present and future: a failure to know where to stop. In a happy discursive self-goal, Mohan Bhagwat took it upon himself to accept the burden of proof – something we have been at pains to tell the people and the world at large with nearly no success at all, even among those oppose Hindutva – and sets out to tell us how his politics would not produce a Hitler.

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1934, Nuremberg, Germany — Adolf Hitler and his Nazi Salute. Photo Courtesy : Times Live

Bhagwat’s ignorance of the contemporary sensibilities of the International community and even the recent history of the world helped the matters, but not him, in this attempt. He does it exactly in the Hitler’s own register of ‘National greatness’. His assurances that the great India was not interested in occupying others was exactly what Hitler was telling the world before launching his occupation spree.While not taking the fascist self-descriptions seriously is a traditional blunder of the anti-fascists throughout the history, in our mistaken belief in the instrumentalism and insincerity of the fascists, while it has been repeatedly proven that the fascists are honest to their ideals and sincerely committed to their ideology, often with far more commitment than their opponents’s to theirs, taking the fascist self-presentations seriously is futile, even misleading, if we don’t simultaneously factor in the fascist self-delusions in such assessments.

RSS supremo wants us to believe that his Nazist politics will be different from Mussolini’s and Hitler’s. There is no reason to believe that he himself doesn’t. His totalitarianism might probably be aimed at something like a China model, a dictatorship without a Stalin or Polpot at the helm: a combination of the old Brahminism’s speciality of relegating the secular power (Kshatriya) to lesser status than the priestly (Brahmin) one and the success story of the formidable neighbour across the border which has been an envy the Hindu Nazists for a long time (admittedly, and sadly undeniably, we Commies help fascists in more ways than one!). This would be Nazism with Chinese Characteristics.

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RSS Chief Mohan Bhagwat

The assumed or hoped for neat separation of powers in the new totalitarian regime of Bhagawat’s designs, arranged in a harmonious hierarchy is nothing short of a veritable eclecticism in practice, in the real world, particularly when the large-scale social engineering is going to be attempted at involving the one fifth of world’s population cannot even be described as fantasy. Unlike Nazi Germany or China, Hindu Nazists want to have it both ways: consolidating a genocidal regime without any generous welfare net. They incite the mobs and keep them permanently mobilised in a dictatorial framework. Without warfare, those crowds might turn against bite the hand that doesn’t feed them.

To repeat what we have said elsewhere many times, naive Humanism is as unhelpful in this as forgetting materialist foundations of any politics because fascism seems to be an extraordinary moment when the usual calculations and interests are sidelined or bulldozed by feverish ideological frenzy. You cannot produce a mass of mass murderers without also bribing them. Not that ideology is a sham or a simple false consciousness. One needs to have sufficient material conditions taken care of and taken for granted to believe in ideology honestly and authentically.

Sangh Parivar state can postpone the disillusionment of its own cadre, voters and followers which must sooner or later come only if there is war and the whole population willingly walked beyond a point of no return, where ‘keep it going’ is the only option.With it comes the doom and disaster, for the people, victims as well as votaries, the Religion and its Nation-State in whose glory the painstaking hegemony they established, even the rest of the world which is a willing accomplice in all this with its regrettable (and eventually to be regretted).

Notes

[1] Zizek’s Wheel Barrow joke:  The story is about a worker suspected of stealing. Every evening as he leaves the factory, his wheelbarrow is carefully inspected, but the guards can find nothing. The wheelbarrow is always empty. Finally, when the penny drops, they realise that what the worker is stealing is the wheelbarrows themselves.

[2] In a similar wheel barrow type situation comedian Ali in a Telugu movie could be seen smuggling sand.

Images courtesy : Special Arrangement and Times Live.

This post was written by Chittibabu Padavala.

Chittibabu is a Dalit Marxist scholar based in Mumbai, India.  For more on Dalit Marxism and updates please see this Facebook Page. 

#StandWithJNU: Solidarity Statement by Academics in the UK

We, the undersigned, stand in solidarity with the students, faculty, and staff of Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU). We condemn the BJP government-sanctioned police action in the JNU campus and the illegal detention of the JNUSU President Kanhaiya Kumar. We strongly condemn the manner in which political dissent is being stifled, reducing academic spaces to fortresses. We also condemn the widespread witch-hunt of left-wing students and student groups that this police action has unleashed.

These recent acts are representative of the larger trend that we have been observing – the imposition of an authoritarian and regressive agenda in institutions of higher learning from Films and Television Institute [FTII], Hyderabad Central University [HCU] to Jawaharlal Nehru University [JNU]. From the institutional murder of HCU student, Rohith Vemula, and the suppression of student protests at FTII to the illegal detention of the student union leader Kanhaiya Kumar and pervasive police presence at JNU, there has been a constant non- observance and disregard of administrative and legal norms as well as a gross infringement of the democratic rights of the student community. These actions are embedded in a deeply chauvinistic cultural nationalism, which espouses a casteist and Brahmanical, homophobic, and patriarchal worldview.

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Students protesting in Delhi carrying placards highlighting the need to save constitutional democracy and to fight against state repression. Image Courtesy : Facebook

We strongly believe that student politics is being targeted currently by giving a new lease of life to a sedition law that was a draconian tool in the hands of the colonial state and has no place in a democracy. It is our democratic right to dissent, disagree, organise and struggle against state, institutions or policies that transgress and suppress democratic and egalitarian values. Expression of dissent cannot and should not be equated with being ‘anti-national’ (or any other such constructed category) and is definitely not punishable under law especially if it is non-violent. Disguising targeted assault on oppositional student groups/political movements within the narrative binaries of nationalism/anti nationalism only reflects how vulnerable the BJP government feels in its own ability to provide accountable governance.

We also believe that institutions of higher learning should be publicly funded spaces for political engagement, debates, and critical discussions – a legacy campuses (be it JNU, DU, or FTII) have embodied. As they always have, university spaces should subsidise costs of education for students, irrespective of the political disposition of the students. A rather disturbing feature of the narratives around this issue has been the construction and furthering of an artificial dichotomy between academics and politics that suggests that being ‘political’ is an aberration. This would certainly appear to be the case, if seen through the neoliberal lens of perceiving education as an industry that produces ‘semester bred’ automated ‘disciplined’ individuals who are mere consumers.

However, as the nonviolent expressions of dissent by students in JNU clearly demonstrate, contrary to this neoliberal view of academia, we believe that ‘personal is political’ and there is no sphere that is devoid of politics. We believe that good academic work necessarily involves a critical engagement with society and its power inequities and in that sense is always politically engaged. This engagement thrives in the democratic space of the university where many dissenting views can be heard and debated. The vilification of JNU as a space of ‘anti-national’ politics is being carried out by ABVP and BJP in order to attack and break this democratic spirit of academic and political life in Indian universities.

As teachers, students, scholars, and academics from the UK, who are keenly observing the developments unfolding in JNU, we express our solidarity with the students, faculty and staff of JNU as they non-violently resist this infringement on their rights. We urge the Vice Chancellor of JNU to uphold the institutional autonomy and the democratic rights of the student community. We also urge the government of India to stop encroaching on our rights as citizens, students, activists, political and politicised subjects.

1.Akanksha Mehta, SOAS, University of London
2.Priyanka Basu, SOAS, London
3.Neha Vermani (JNU, 2013), Royal Holloway college, University of London
4.Partha Pratim Shil, PhD student, Trinity College, University of Cambridge
5.Niyati Sharma, University of Oxford
6.Dr. Benarji Chakka, Chevening Scholar, SOAS, UoL
7.Javed Wani, Department of History, Royal Holloway, University of London
8.J. Chacko, University of London.
9.Jay Lingham, SOAS, University of London
10.Anjali B Datta, University of Cambridge
11.Shinjini Das, University of Cambridge
12.Jaice Sara Titus, Brunel University London
13.William Rees, SOAS, (2015)
14.Alex Wolfers PhD Researcher at Cambridge University
15.Aditya Balasubramanian, University of Cambridge
16.Mayur Suresh, SOAS.
17.Lipika Kamra, University of Oxford
18.Sneha Krishnan, University of Oxford
19.Prashant Kidambi, University of Leicester
20.Dr. James Eastwoos (SOAS, University of London)
21.Rohan Deb Roy, Lecturer in South Asian History, University of Reading
22.Prerna Bhardwaj, King’s College London
23.Tristan Burke (University of Manchester)
24.Surabhi Ranganathan, University of Cambridge
25.Sanya Samtani, University of Oxford
26.Baisali Mohanty, Post-graduate candidate, contemporary south asian studies, University of Oxford
27.Prithvi Hirani, Aberystwyth University
28.Dr Lorenza Monaco, SOAS, University of London
29.Suman Ghosh, Bath Spa University
30.Nayanika Mathur, University of Cambridge
31.Lakshmy Venkatesh Marie-France Courriol, University of Cambridge
32.Jayesha M. Koushik, University of Oxford
33.Aditya Ramesh, SOAS
34.Umika Pidaparthy, University of Oxford
35.Sruthi Muraleedharan, SOAS, University of London
36.JD Brown, SOAS, London
37.Sudarshana Srinivasan, King’s College London
38.Wiktor Ostasz (University of Oxford)
39.T Khaitan, University of Oxford
40.Erica Wald, Goldsmiths, University of London
41.Sanjoy Bhattacharya, University of York, UK
42.Dr. Thomas Marois, SOAS, University of London
43.Saba Hussain, University of Warwick
44.Feyzi Ismail, SOAS Joe Buckley, PhD candidate, SOAS, University of London
45.Sandipto Dasgupta, Newton International Fellow of the Royal Society and the British Academy
46.Annabelle Sreberny, Emeritus Professor, SOAS, University of London
47.Sahil K. Warsi, University of Leeds
48.Subir Sinha, Department of Development Studies, SOAS
49.Sabiha Allouche, Centre for Gender Studies, SOAS, University of London
50.Abhay Regulagedda – MIPLC
51.Jaimie Johansson, University of East Anglia
52.Shabnum Tejani, Senior Lecturer in Modern South Asian History, Department of History, SOAS, University of London
53.Dr Kerem Nisancioglu, SOAS University of London
54.Alfredo Saad Filho, SOAS University of London
55.Arijeet Pal, University of Oxford
56.Elisabeth Leake, Royal Holloway, University of London
57.Musab Younis, Oxford University and SOAS
58.Smitana Saikia King’s College London
59.Dr Rahul S Gandhi BSc (Neuroscience) MBCHB, Member – Royal Australasian College of Physicians
60.Sara Stevano, SOAS University of London
61.Rachel Harrison, SOAS
62.Jonathan Daniel Luther (SOAS)
63.Abeera Khan, MA Gender Studies, SOAS
64.Alexandra Tzirkoti, PhD. King’s College London
65.Aditya Sarkar, Warwick University
66.Teja Varma Pusapati, D.Phil Student in English, University of Oxford
67.Secki P. Jose, PhD candidate, University of Leicester
68.Shreya Sinha, SOAS, University of London
69.Dr. Ashok Kumar, Queen Mary University of London
70.Steven Martin, University of Cambridge
71.Dr Helen Elsey, University of Leeds
72.Dr Mandy Turner, Middle East Centre, LSE
73.Zarah Sultana, NUS Black Students’ Campaign
74.Nicholas Simcik Arese, University of Oxford
75.Dr Aravinda Guntupalli, Senior Lecturer in Public Health, The Open University, Milton Keynes, UK
76.Lisa Tilley, University of Warwick
77.Uttara Shahani, PhD Candidate, University of Cambridge
78.Nadje Al-Ali SOAS
79.Saumya Saxena, University of Cambridge
80.Diya Gupta, Department of English, King’s College London
81.John Wood Aberystwyth University
82.Dimitra Kotouza, University of Kent
83.Nilanjana Sen Graduate Student King’s College London
84.Gerhard Kling, SOAS University of London
85.Akhila Yechury, University of St. Andrews
86.Professor Arshin Adib-Moghaddam, SOAS, University of London
87.Rudra Sen (SOAS)
88.Cam Stocks, Medical Student, Barts and The London School of Medicine
89.Manjeet Ramgotra, SOAS University of London
90.Dr. Juanita Elias, University of Warwick
91.Sarah Gandee, University of Leeds
92.Roy, SOAS
93.Dr Richard Williams, University of Oxford
94.Tom Cowan, King’s College London
95.Dr. Layli Uddin, Royal Holloway
96.Dr Sarah Hodges, History, University of Warwick
97.Emma Hart, University of St Andrews
98.Meenakshi Sinha, King’s India Institute, King’s College London
99.Antonio Ferraz de Oliveira – University of Warwick
100.Eve Tignol (Royal Holloway University of London)
101.Ashwitha Jayakumar, MA student, University of Leeds
102.Alastair McClure, PhD Student at the University of Cambridge
103.Amir Khan – University of Cambridge
104.Javier Moreno Zacarés, Warwick University
105.Professor Stephen Hopgood, SOAS University of London
106.Jordan Osserman, UCL
107.Josh Holroyd, Socialist Appeal
108.Ina Goel, Gender and Sexuality Studies, University College London
109.Julian Benda, SOAS
110.Ola Innset, European University Institute
111.Nicole Beardsworth, University of Warwick
112.Fatima Rajina, SOAS
113.Karthikeyan Damodaran, University of Edinburgh
114.Vanya V Bhargav, University of Oxford
115.Meghna Nag Chowdhuri, University of Cambridge
116.Ranjita Neogi, University of Reading
117.Aparna John, Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex
118.Omar Raii, UCL
119.Ashna Sarkar – UCL
120.Garikoitz Gómez Alfaro, University of Brighton
121.Tom Cunliffe, KCL
122.Mihika Chatterjee, University of Oxford
123.Kavita Maya (SOAS, University of London)
124.Niharika Pandit, master’s candidate, SOAS
125.Jonathan Saha, University of Leeds
126.Farooq Sulehria. Graduate Teaching Asst. SOAS, London
127.Shreya Agrawal, Student at UCL
128.Malia Bouattia, NUS Black Students’ Officer (UK)
129.Amogha Varsha (University of Oxford, UK)
130.Amelia Bonea, University of Oxford
131.Avinash Paliwal, King’s College London
132.Amrita Shodhan, SOAS, University of London
133.Jacob Bard-Rosenberg, Birkbeck College, University of London
134.Laurence Gautier, University of Cambridge
135.Smriti Sawkar, University of Oxford
136.Arianna Tassinari (University of Warwick)
137.Anindya Raychaudhuri, University of St Andrews
138.Onaiza Drabu, University of Oxford
139.Mipsie Marshall University of Sussex
140.Amit Kumar, DPhil Chemistry, University of Oxford
141.Ishan Mukherjee, University of Cambridge
142.Dr. Urmimala Maitra, University of Oxford
143.Sahil Nijhawan (Student, University College London)
144.James Caron. Lecturer in Islamicate South Asia, SOAS, University of London
145.Anirudh Mathur, Student, Inner Temple
146.Maia Barkaia, (JNU, 2010),Research Fellow, LMH, Oxford University
147.Sheiry Dhillon, DPhil OB/GYN (C) MD (C)
148.Jacob George Pallath, GDL student at University of Westminster
149.Sadie Young. Coventry University
150.Dr Nicholas Cimini, Lecturer and EIS-ULA Exec member at Edinburgh Napier University
151.Leandro Vergara-Camus, SOAS, University of London
152.Chandak Sengoopta, Professor of History, Birkbeck College, University of London
153.Ozan Kamiloglu, Associate Lecturer, University of London, Birkbeck
154.Selbi Jumayeva, Visiting Research Fellow, IGS at LMH University of Oxford
155.Somak Biswas, University of Warwick
156.Divya David, University of Oxford
157.Mihika Chatterjee, University of Oxford
158.Mishka Sinha, University of Cambridge, UK
159.Emile Chabal, University of Edinburgh
160.Radhika Govinda, University of Edinburgh
161.Varun Ramesh – University of Oxford
162.Nat Raha, University of Sussex
163.David Dahlborn, UCL
164.Lesley Hoggart, The Open University, UK 165. Chinmay Sharma SOAS
165.Sahil Kureshi, University of Oxford
166.Leshu Torchin, University of St Andrews
167.Ankita Pandey, D. Phil candidate, University of Oxford
168.Ameya Kelkar-SOAS, London
168.Maanasa SOAS
169.Dr Ghazala Mir, University of Leeds
170. Sinthujan Varatharajah, UCL Geography
170.Deepa Kurup, University of Oxford
171.Secki P Jose, University of Leicester
172.Dr. Rashmi Varma, University of Warwick
173.Sneha Menon, University of Oxford
174.Yasser Shams Khan, University of Oxford
175.Harry Stopes, University College London
176.Nithya Natarajan, SOAS
177.Dr Marika Rose, Durham University
178.Mansi Sood, Student, University of Oxford, 2015-16
179.Mukulika Banerjee, Director of LSE South Asia Centre and Associate Professor of Anthropology, LSE
180.Fatima Shahzad, Postgraduate Student, SOAS, University of London
181.Rodrigo Torres, UCL
182.Kanika Sharma, Birkbeck, University of London
183.Paavani Singh – King’s College London
184.Mallika Leuzinger, University College London
185.Kashish Madan, M.A. English Literary Studies, Durham University
186.Grace Egan, University of Glasgow
187.Joseph McQuade, University of Cambridge
188.Amrita Lamba, SOAS
189.Sarah Kunz – PhD student, UCL
190.Shamim Zakaria, University of Sussex
191.Rubina Jasani, University of Manchester
192.Moiz Tundawala, PhD candidate, London School of Economics and Political Science.
193.Aditya Ray, Queen Mary University of London
194.Rahul Rao, SOAS, University of London
195.Dr Lee Jones, Queen Mary University of London
196.Manish Kushwaha, University of Warwick
197.Kalpana Wilson, London School of Economics and Political Science
198.Daniela Lainez del Pozo – University College London
199.Praveen Priyadarshi, PhD Candidate, London School of Economics
200.Anju Christine, King’s College London
201.Amogha Varsha (University of Oxford)
202.Ashutosh Kumar, University of Leeds, UK
203.neha kagal, Doctoral Scholar, SOAS
204.Dr Hannah Boast, University of York
205.Phiroze Vasunia, University College London
206.Saawani, King’s College London
207.Saawani Raje, King’s College London
208.Sanghita Sen, University of St. Andrews. Scotland
209.Dr Rohit K Dasgupta (WSA), University of Southampton
210.Utsa Mukherjee, Royal Holloway
211.Senjuti Chakraborti, Birkbeck College, University of London
212.Aakshi Magazine, University Of St Andrews
213.Souraj Dutta, Research student, University of St Andrews, Scotland
214.Megan Robb, University of Oxford
215.Andrew Kinnell, President of Stirling Students Union
216.Grant Buttars, University of Edinburgh
217.Johannes Makar, student at SOAS and KU Leuven
218.Dr Anandi Ramamurthy, Sheffield Hallam University
219.Anish Vanaik, Purdue University (Oxford, 2013)
220.Akshyeta Suryanarayan, University of Cambridge
221.Eleanor Newbigin, SOAS, University of London
222.Rubina Jasani, University of Manchester
223.Siddharth Chawla, Cambridge University
224.Dimble Mathew University of Bradford
225.Kshiti Gala, SOAS, University of London
226.Bjorn Berntson, University College London
227.Sreenanti Banerjee, Birkbeck, University of London
228.Pori Saikia University of Essex
229.James Harland (Department of History, University of York)
230.Kanwar Nain Singh, University of Cambridge
231.Ayça Çubukçu, Assistant Professor in Human Rights, London School of Economics and Political Science
232.Dr Satoshi Miyamura, SOAS, University of London
233.Kyle Jordan (UCL)
234.Gautam Bondada, D.Phil student, University of Oxford
235.Tom Robinson, UCLU Welfare & International Officer
236.Ettore Morelli, School of Oriental and African Studies
237.Dr Jayasree Kalathil, Survivor Research, UK
238.Tvisha Nevatia, LSE
239.Karin Sjöstedt, SOAS
240.Prof. Joya Chatterji, University of Cambridge
241.Dr Peter Dwyer, Ruskin College, Oxford
242.Dr Chris Rossdale, University of Warwick
243.Rama S. Dieng, SOAS
244.Anish Augustine, Queen Mary, University of London
245.Sofa Gradin, Queen Mary University of London
246.Nandini Maharaj, Sheffield Hallam University
247.Shivangi Pareek, University of Cambridge
248.Shubranshu Mishra, University of Kent
249.Dr. Ritanjan Das, University of Portsmouth
250.Ananya Rao-Middleton, University of Cambridge
251.Ganga Shreedhar, London School of Economics
252.Swapna Kona Nayudu, LSE
253.Elizabeth Frazer, Head of Department, Politics and International Relations, University of Oxford
254.Dr William McEvoy, University of Sussex, UK
255.Prof. William Gould, University of Leeds
256.Marta Garcia Aliaga (SOAS, University of London, and NALSAR)
257.Ayse Zarakol, University of Cambridge
258.Prof Gurminder K Bhambra, University of Warwick
259.Lisa Skwirblies, Ph.D. Candidate (University of Warwick)
260.Dr. Louiza Odysseos, University of Sussex
261.Dr. Alex Anievas, University of Cambridge
262.Dr Meera Sabaratnam, SOAS
263.Dr. Kirsten Forkert, School of Media, Birmingham City University
264.Dr. Eda Ulus, University of Leicester
265.Premalatha Balan, University of Nottingham and University College, London
266.Adelie Chevee, SOAS, University of London
267.Manishita Dass, Royal Holloway (University of London)
268.Rosalind Galt, King’s College London
269.Priyasha Mukhopadhyay, Oxford
270.Rod Earle, Dept of Health & Social Care, The Open University
271.Caoimhe Mader McGuinness, Queen Mary University of London
272.Julie Dayot University of Oxford
273.Sai Englert, PhD candidate, SOAS, University of London
274.Sonali Campion, London School of Economics
275.Dr Cathy Bergin, University of Brighton
276.Aditya, University of Oxford
277.Akshi Singh, Queen Mary, University of London
278.Karan Katoch, University of Oxford
279.Raghav Kishore, University of Huddersfield
280.Dr Tanvi Pate, PAIS, University of Warwick
281.Dr Bhabani Shankar Nayak, University of Salford, UK
282.Konrad M Lawson (Lecturer St Andrews)
283.Professor Emilia Jamroziak, University of Leeds
284.Anwesha Sengupta, University of Oxford
285.Andy Rixon The Open University UK
286.Natalie James, UCLU
287.Mirna Guha, PhD Candidate. School of International Development, University of East Anglia
288.Sita Balani King’s College London
289.Steffan Blayney, Birkbeck, University of London
290.Mehroosh Tak, SOAS
291.Tanya Singh, University of Wolverhampton
292.Kathryn Maude, Swansea University
293.Hilary Aked, University of Bath
294.Dr. S.V.P. Capildeo, Affiliate, St. John’s College, University of Cambridge
295.Dr. Katy Sian, University of York
296.S Lidher (Cambridge)
297.Paul Kirby, University of Sussex
298.Gayathri Sekhar, King’s College London
299.Dr. Marijn Nieuwenhuis, Politics and Int. Studies, University of Warwick
300.Lorena Lombardozzi (SOAS)
301.Alen Toplisek, Queen Mary University of London
302.Dr. Owen Clayton, University of Lincoln, UK
303.Dr Terese Jonsson, University of Portsmuth
304.Alexandra Sporidou Nottingham Trend University
305.Professor Azrini Wahidin, Nottingham Trent University
306.Janhavi Mittal, King’s College London
307.Špela Drnovšek Zorko, SOAS, London
308.Aapurv Jain, SOAS, University of London
309.Noelle Richardson
310.Vicki Baars
311.Abhilasha Joshi, DPhil Neuroscience
312.Fuad Ali, OtherAsias
313.Miqdad
314.Zara Kayani
315.Jack Bardsley
316.Joel White
317.Pallavi Roy
318.Vinayak Raj Gathoria
319.Suchitra Sebastian
320.Shariq
321.Debanjali Biswas
322.Umer Malik
323.sabahat ijaz
324.Sharon Mallon
325.Arushi Menon
326.Umang Kamra
327.Kaushik Banerjee
328.Saumya Singh
329.Sophie Mayer (independent scholar)
330.Zara Qadeer
331.Darshana Gurung
332.Sahiba student masters
333.Nihad Ahmed
334.Nasir Arafat
335.Shreya Chatterjee
336.Edyth Parker
337.Sinjini Chatterjee, student
338.Daniel Ong
339.Sunny Singh
340.Ritika Bose
341.Sanaz Raji, Independent Research & Campaigner
342.Sameen Ali
343.Shruti Sekhar Ravindran
344.Shamira Meghani — scholar and teacher
345.Leon Sealey-Huggins
346.Neeharika Shetty
347.Abhishikta Mallick
348.Lakshmy Venkatesh
349.Deepa Kurup, Oxford University

A Dalit Marxist Manifesto

Unlike many of my comrades, I have this peculiar problem of leftist trolls, rather than the rightist ones. Since I do not believe in the usefulness of discussing with fascists and their apologists or the deniers, I focus exclusively on those who are supposed to be fighting fascism or who I think belong to potential or real constituencies against fascism.To dramatize a bit, we Dalit Marxists say: you either smash fascists if you can or be finished by them or at least run for your life. You don’t waste time trying to convince them. Not even for the benefit of those overhearing the conversation. That would give a dangerous impression that fascists are worth talking to. Admittedly, we Dalit Marxists have it a bit easy in this regard. We are most unlikely to be born into or of a family or kin of fanatic Hindu fascists like most Hindu communists are.

However, being a Dalit Marxist is risking a double misunderstanding, and one constant humiliation: you will have to explain always that you’ve got nothing to do with that philistine Anand Teltumbde and other such Dalit agents or imitators of upper-caste leftists.The double misunderstanding in question needs some background. When a typical upper-caste leftist hears the word Dalit Marxism, s/he would wonder what this crazy thing is. Marxism is Marxism, what is Dalit or Muslim or Marathi about it? It doesn’t matter that upon approaching a leftist-sounding person in India, the typical upper-caste leftist tries to figure out if the comrade is China-type (Naxal) or Russia-type (CPM) or some updated version of the division. You can be assured that this ideal-type upper-caste comrade never asks herself why all Communist parties in India are ‘of India’, while they should be internationalist through and through.

chittibabu

Dalit Marxist scholar Chittibabu Padavala

Anyway, the typical comrade doesn’t express this irritation at the contamination of the word Marxism with, of all things, the word Dalit. Most of the upper-caste communists will have nothing to do with Dalit Marxism because the very first word puts them off doubly. In the second and engaging-Dalits-type, some of them being the indoctrinating enthusiasts, have already learnt that speaking to, even touching, a Dalit doesn’t actually harm them. In fact, it helps to acquire some ‘radicalism capital’– self-righteous edge over other rivals in the academia or in other fields – or to exude a more-multi-cultural-than-thou kind of airs if one can speak of a Dalit friend, preferably in the context of telling ‘others’ (not quite, because they are of same caste/class/color/accent cluster), how they together had beef in a Muslim slum.

There must be one small category of people among these, a theoretical possibility that cannot be ruled out though experience tells us the opposite, who really want to try their persuasion skills, a kind of training in radical argumentation and recruitment.There is a certain undeniable injustice in subjecting that small upper-caste leftist section which actually tries, for all the ills and ill will of Hindu Communism, to engage with Dalits and Dalit Marxism. Yet, this category of comrades is no less infuriating because of their over-confident stupidity and predictably manipulating behavior from the word go, and till the end. A sample of them, from a much bigger pool of examples we accumulated or put up with, seems to believe that Dalit Marxism is half-Dalit and half-Marxist.

One almost hears a fair-skinned smart sophomore who had already attended two campus or college processions and one wall-poster workshop and innumerable discussions with classmates in the college and hostels, shouting to a Dalit Marxist: ‘Good you have already crossed half-way mark, boy, you will get over with that Dalit bit if you try, no problem, we will only help you!’

My suppressed anger and muted cries to make the upper-caste comrade notice that my ‘full-timer’ experience alone is longer than his entire adult years would not shake an iota of his self-confidence. He would be, in a moment, stretches his hand to me, launching his mission of saving me from the caste and its narrow-mindedness, through Savarnasplaining (a la Solnit), expecting me to notice that what matters is class, state, and economics, above everything else. The upper-caste comrade would also patiently point to me why ‘identity politics’ is a bad thing, and why we must think about ‘larger’ and ‘broader’ issues.

The difficulty in accepting so stretched a hand towards me from our upper-caste comrade is that it is not to shake hands with me but to pat on my shoulder and to nudge me to ‘really real’ things than the ones I feel strongly about, owing to my ‘understandable’ experiences which I must as much unlearn as learn from. Grudge, you know, is not revolutionary. ‘Understandable’ here stands for ‘underdeveloped’ and ‘unacceptable’.

The trouble with such ‘me’ here is that the image is exclusively in the eyes of the beholder. The empirical me and real me don’t resemble the picture in the comrade’s imagination. Such attitude is part of growing up upper-caste in India, they just can’t imagine how to look at the world without them being at the center of it, they can’t look at a lower-caste person except from above. Being progressive, radical, revolutionary are not just products of only honest, idealist and painstaking study and analysis of the world but also a resurfacing of the old theme of Higher-hood now denied to them, or they live in denial of, adjusted on a new surface.

The trouble is that the Dalit Marxism is not half-Marxist and half- Dalit. It is fully Marxist and fully Dalit. We are in no way keen on meeting our upper-caste comrade halfway. We are in the business of bringing Marxism back to where it belongs: lowest in stature and biggest in numbers of the Hindu society, the lower castes. This also means releasing Marxism from the shackles of upper-castes. Marxism can and must do better than being monopolized by the upper-castes and be abused as a tool for their upward/forward obsession. Not that upper-caste Communists do not mean to improve the world from what it is now. Some of them surely do. Only that it is easy for them to imagine a communist world than to their marginality in society. It somehow cannot be put into their minds that such pathological self-importance is a direct product and clearest expression of upper-caste privilege and upbringing.

Therefore, for the benefit of such comrades, their thinking, their programs, let us clarify what Dalit Marxists stand for. Unlike you Hindus, we Marxists are committed to a politics of clearly stating what we want to do. In an Andersonian(Perry Anderson) spirit, we will make our point not merely as a statement of any abstract principle, but through an instructive case that gives the impression of an ideal meeting ground for both of us – Dalit Marxists and Hindu Leftists.

communisty-flags

Indian Left during a rally. Image Courtesy : Theredhammerwordpress.com

Hindu communists start an all-India Dalit organizational network! If the shamelessly slavish performance of one of its constituent organizations is anything to go by, it might be one more of a series of cruel Communist jokes on Dalits, projected on a national scale, or even worse.It is tempting to assume that the initiative might be a good thing given the Hindu fascists being in power, and that it is better for the guttural and well-entrenched anti-fascism of Dalits and professionalized, iron-fisted discipline of the Communists to come together and even merge.

Aren’t we the ones castigating Hindu upper-caste Communists all these years for neglecting ‘caste problem’, and in their complicity with caste status quo, its continued perpetration in wider society and even charging the communist upper-castes with the crime of reproducing the same old caste hierarchies in their own ranks even more rigorously?

Isn’t it the oft-repeated Dalit Marxist line to say that there are many Hindu temples Dalits can enter in this country but no single politbureau of any communist party that lets Dalits in? Isn’t this all-India confederation of Dalit organizations something to be welcomed? Even if it is too late and too little, don’t we have to support it and strengthen it? Even if this is seen as hypocrisy, isn’t the hypocrisy a tribute paid by the evil to the virtue? Can’t we dare to imagine that the social processes so unleashed and its resultant new political sensibilities can have a life and momentum of their own? Isn’t it cynical to rule out any good coming out of this gesture, by precluding the potential of Dalits making the best of this?

One of the main sources of the vitality, humanity, resilience, responsiveness, endurance and effectiveness of Dalit organizations across India is that most of them are never organizationally affiliated to any political party, let alone to any – invariably Hindu and upper-caste – Communist party. This allows them to keep away the typical problems that come with rigid structures of organization and top-down approaches the Indian communist parties suffer from.

This happy situation doesn’t let any uniform policy, form of struggle or demand, grip the Dalit activism, as in the case with the most work of the most Communist-affliated front organizations that reduces them to become irrelevant and ideological in their local, specific situation.It is a major part of the explanation for Dalit activism’s superior creativity, humane organizational functioning, freedom from bureaucratization, decency in mostly avoiding and occasionally conducting in-fighting without any communist-style waste of energies in maligning similar and fellow organizations, brainwashing, isolating dissenters, boycotting the recalcitrant and obsessive indoctrination.Since caste-inspired, caste-inflected oppression and exclusion are always and everywhere very specific – with the activists having to each time, in every case, decide on who are opponents, who are friends or neutral parties, and so to what extent, how much of it can change and how – Dalit activism typically doesn’t easily fall for usual communist infirmities like stupid belief in policy or argumentative uniformities.

Before any postmodernist steps in seeing some potential here, let me clarify that Dalit activism’s basic target of struggle is neither Capitalism nor Indian state but Hinduism and non-Dalit society. In fact, sometimes we find the first two less antagonistic to our lives, goals and politics than the latter and, in some conditions, as useful for us against the first pair. Every Dalit activist in this country knows, unless she is fed excessively on the philistine Teltumbde’s work, or still to get out of the ideological slavery of Hindu communist parties, that our main oppressor is society around us more than the state or globalization.Communist-style uniform policies, centralized-command structure, half-feudal/half-militaristic hierarchies and abject cadre surrender and slavishness are neither possible nor useful for Dalit activism as we have to use our own minds and grasp of each empirical situation, agitation or mobilization without resorting to handed-down pre-fixes for all situations, and without any exclusive focus on uniform, impersonal, ‘hidden’ structures like class, capitalism, neo-liberalism etc.

Now the potentially pernicious effects of this Hindu communism’s incursions into Dalit activist field are not difficult to discern, it might be impossible later to fight back if we are not alert now. First attack will be on the temperamental autonomy of Dalit Organizations and their constitutive creativity and inbuilt immunity to dogmatism. Second one will take the form of a seduction: Hindu communists offer us unity on a national scale but will only bring in uniformity. This only means training Dalit activists in turning away from empirical realities and possibilities around and learning how to parrot centrally formulated slogans when prompted by higher-ups.

Another predictable danger in this attempted Hindu colonization of Dalit activism through communist bait is, turning our sphere of work from humanizing Hindu society to fighting faceless capitalism/globalization, forfeiting the Dalit-specific rights and concerns, in favor of building the so-called unity of people.Yet another menace in this stealthy and conspiratorial takeover of our slowly growing representational space in the media is, instrumentalization of our issues for communist blackmailing and embarrassing techniques against governments, used opportunistically.

The biggest and deadliest danger in communist patronage/leadership/usurping of Dalit concerns is the immediate abortion of something absolutely important, the upper-caste communists will surely achieve with disastrous effects, if not counteracted.When the ongoing genocide of Muslims created conditions and a demand for much-needed coming together of lower castes and Muslims, Upper-Caste communists with their innate incapacity to understand fascism, ineradicable unwillingness to fight it anywhere outside media and legal domains, will keep Muslims and lower-castes separate.

While all the time preaching to lower caste activists broader perspective and prescribing universalism as against our narrow ‘identity politics’, the Hindu communists are specialization-hungry professionalizers. Unlike the Dalit activists who participate in every single struggle for justice in their realms with a broader sense and grasp of social issues and all-round political education and experience, the Hindu communists severely impose specilization on the activists with one-sided expertise, a pathological inability to work without pre-existing structures or models and also without orders and permissions from above. For all their shouting at the top of their voices of the virtues of unity and universalism, their actual training of cadre follows the Taylorism of professionalization with its inevitable fragmentation of the cadres.

Then, isn’t it the time for us to come together, close the ranks and fight fascism? Dalits must reject this communist colonization precisely because of the fundamentally irreconcilable approaches to Hindutva fascism. Hindu Communists are not against Hinduism but only against Hindutva version of it. We reject both. We consider that Hindutva poses immediate and pressing deadly threat but Hinduism is more pernicious, though a deeper yet long-term problem. This tricky but deadly difference requires us to respond to Hindutva without delay but treat Hinduism as the main and ultimate enemy.

When Hindutva overreach will ultimately spell its doom and open up possibilities for a Post-Hindu India, Hindu communists with their fanatic belief in a good, non-violent, tolerant, even multicultural Hinduism will be our first enemy, something that surely comes in the way of moving towards a post-Hindu India.For Hindu Communists, Hindutva is a problem of Capitalism. For us, it is only one of the many avatars of Hinduism. Hindutva is, from our perspective, a Hinduism that takes its own religious core very seriously. For Hindu Communists, Hindutva is a perversion of Hinduism. For us, Hindutva is more honest and authentic version of Hinduism. It represents the extension of what old Hinduism does to Dalits round-the-clock in all walks of life to new victims: Christians and Muslims. While old Hinduism’s killings of Dalits are to set examples, Hindutva’s inexorable dynamic is to eliminate its new victims.

Hindu Communists believe that Hindutva is divisive. We point out that what they are doing is unification of a religion and a nation. We say that unifying, ‘uniforming’ drive of Hindutva can only be combated by inherently divisive, conflictive force of caste. The Hindu Communists reject both caste-based mobilizations and religion-based mobilizations. We charge that they not only fail to stop Hindutva (they helped them come to power in the first place, but that is a different story), they successfully discredit and preclude the only possible opposition, the Muslim and lower-caste combined mobilization against Hindutva, thus helping fascists.

This post was written by Chittibabu Padavala on November 25, 2014 for flyingfootage. wordpress.com and is reproduced here due to popular demand.  Chittibabu is a Dalit Marxist scholar based in Mumbai, India.  

Colombia: Students Tell Amazing Stories

This blog post was written by Gwen Burnyeat(i) and was commissioned and originally published by Latin America Bureau. You can read the original here

Students at the Nacional University in Bogotá give a fascinating insight into life in Colombia

20 December 2015. In my first term teaching a class in political anthropology to first year political science undergraduates at the Universidad Nacional de Colombia in Bogotá, I decided to give the students the chance to design their own essay topic, and to meet with them individually to help guide the process.

The results were astounding – not because of the quality of the work, though many students were very bright, but because of the things they wanted to write about, which revealed profound and moving dimensions of Colombia that are not often visible.One student, a young boy with indigenous features and a rapper’s dress sense who never said a word in class, told me he was from a village called Mitú in the department of Vaupés, one of the remote regions of the country covered in Amazon jungle.

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Laguna de Chisacá, Páramo de Sumapaz, Colombia.Image Courtesy : Wikipedia

“I was four when the FARC [Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia] took my town. My mother worked in the cafeteria at the police station. They were going to kill everyone in the station but someone warned my uncle, and we all fled to my aunt’s house, which was made of cement, and hid under the bed”. Most of the houses in the town were made of wood, he explained, which offer less protection against stray bullets.

“I remember being under the bed all day with my mother and hearing the guns. I remember being afraid. I don’t remember much else. My mum remembers a lot more, though. I want to write my essay about that. How do I do it?” I was stunned. I decided the only assistance I could give was to help him address the issue academically.

I told him the first step was to write down everything that he remembered, not thinking about analysing it but just getting his emotions and memories down on the page. Then he should ask his mum to tell him everything that she remembered. Then he should look at those two things as his field data, which he could take a step back from and analyse, from a perspective of anthropology of emotions and self-ethnography, and go and find historical data in the library about the role of this takeover of Mitú within the Colombian conflict as a whole.

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Houses in the Amazon. Image : Gwen Burnyeat.

He handed in a wonderful essay, whose strong point was a moving testimony he had taken from a telephone interview with his mother, who was still in Vaupés, while he was living in Bogotá so he could study. Another student decided that he was interested in interrogating the informal economic sector of the recyclers. The recyclers in Bogotá are generally homeless or very low-income families who are semi-organised into informal cooperatives. Once or twice a week, people put their rubbish out on the streets and, before the rubbish truck passes, the recyclers open all the bags and take out the material that can be re-sold or re-used as scrap: metal, bottles, plastic, paper, and so on.

They collect it in wooden carts they pull themselves. Some recyclers work alone while others are in teams of entire families, wrapped up in layers of clothes against the cold night air and with dogs riding on top of the carts, which are piled high with their salvaged goods. My student interviewed a man called Don Luis who explained that he liked recycling, that he had got used to all the disgusting things he had to handle and see and smell, that he wouldn’t know how to do anything else now, and that he was happy because he was putting his daughter through university.

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Recyclers at work in Bogota in Colombia. Image : Gwen Burnyeat

Sometimes he suffered because of the social prejudices he experienced, and he wanted my student to pass on the message that all bogotanos ought to appreciate better the environmental service recyclers are providing. One of the most striking things was the way my student described in his essay Don Luis’s response when he told him that he wanted to talk to him for a university project – the first thing Don Luis wanted to know was: which university? As soon as my student said it was the Nacional, he relaxed and agreed to talk, because he trusted people from public universities, but not from the private ones.

The other essays were just as varied in scope and topic. They ranged from studies inside the university of the economics of the informal sweets and coffee stands, the drug-dealing, and the drunken appropriation of space in a particular area in the campus to essays that compared the mechanisms of paramilitary and guerrilla control over civilian populations across different ethnographies of Colombia’s armed conflict.

I found out a lot about my students – I learned that some of them lived up to two hours away from the university and received travel subsidies and that others, who were from remote parts of the country, benefited from academic mobility schemes. One was an actor in his spare time, another was running in the elections for student representative, one was obsessed with comic books, and another worked with peasant farmer organisations.

One of the best essays was Mauricio’s. It was simple in what it set out to do, but it managed to condense one of the key aspects of social reality in Colombia that society as a whole will need to recognise if the peace process is to be successful: the importance of appreciating that different people have different feelings about peace and about politics, and that these feelings are deeply affected by their personal experiences.

Mauricio went to a small town outside Bogotá in the department of Cundinamarca and interviewed three people of different ages and genders about their views on the peace process. He described the town, let’s call it Taralá, as a place that was difficult to get to, out of the way, with no through road. The only way out was the way you came  in – and that was the road to Bogotá. The inhabitants were traditional, devout Catholics, and had not seen much of the armed conflict.

The guerrillas had not reached Taralá – it wasn’t a strategic location for them. The army passed through very occasionally, but there wasn’t a military base there. There was a police station in the town, but it was small and relatively inactive. Mauricio’s interviewees were all very sceptical about the peace process, which is common in many party of the country. They showed a clear preference for the army, which they saw as brave and honourable, while regarding the FARC as the bad guys. One of them said they never went to Bogotá because it was full of FARC – imposing his fear of the guerrilla onto his fear of the capital. Only one of them said he would be happy for the FARC to participate in politics after demobilisation – the other two were scandalised by the idea of seeing ex-guerrilla fighters in Congress.

All of them were sceptical about how the negotiations were going in Havana, and Mauricio picked up many of the common myths that circulate in different sectors of Colombian society: “it’s all going on behind the backs of the Colombian people, no one knows what’s happening”; “there will be no justice, only impunity”; “I think the FARC should all go to prison, alternative sentences won’t work”.

This last narrative resonates strongly in both the left and the right – the left think that the members of the armed forces who have been involved in human rights violations should get maximum jail time, while the right believe that no FARC member should be given anything less than life-time imprisonment. But the recent agreement on a Special Jurisdiction for Peace amazingly treats both sides equally, and gives both the chance of alternative sentences and sentence reductions, provided they contribute to the clarification of truth.

Mauricio cleverly related his interviewees’ opinions to the different geographical, historical and political characteristics of Taralá and its people, and argued that what was needed in order to build peace was a generous gaze that did not judge people for their opinions but understood that the multiplicity of responses to peace had to do with the multiplicity of experiences of the armed conflict, and of social experiences in general.

But perhaps the best bit of the essay was added on as an afterthought. Once he got back to Bogotá, he followed up the interviews with phone calls to all three interviewees. One of them, a middle-aged woman, told him over the phone, “You know what, after we talked that day, I changed my mind. I think I’ve been a bit harsh. Probably it is alright if they [the FARC] participate in politics. If they really do demobilise, that is. I suppose they are human beings after all.”

Perhaps this is what Colombia needs – for inquiring students with a generous approach to go and talk to people about what they think, taking them seriously, without judging their opinions and feelings, armed only with information and with challenging yet respectful questions.

(i)Gwen Burnyeat is a British anthropologist and writer doing postgraduate research and teaching in the Universidad Nacional de Colombia, as a Leverhulme Trust Study-Abroad Scholar. She has worked in Colombia on and off for six years, including with the International Centre for Transitional Justice and with Peace Brigades International in the Urabá region. As well as academic articles she also writes short fiction, and is currently producing a documentary called ‘Chocolate of Peace’.

A study of response to suicides of Dalit students

A study of the responses to suicides by Dalit and other marginalised students in higher educational institutions in India throws up a disturbing picture of a deeply casteist society. Not just the government, but the college administrations, the police, the health system and non-State players such as the media and the civil society, have reacted in prejudicial and problematic ways to the 25-30 suicide cases reported in the past decade.

While in the immediate aftermath of a suicide the attempt had been to hush up the matters, once the college admits that there was one, what then follows is a long drawn painful battle for the family of the deceased to bring out the truth behind it. Wherever enquiry committees were set up by college administrations to probe the cause of death, it was only after constant follow up and pressure from the family or friends. Many of these reports are yet to be filed or made public, even several years after more suicides were reported from the same institutions. The parents and family members of these students, still await closure.

A case in point is that of Indian Institution of Technology (IIT) Bombay. In September 2014, Aniket Ambhore, 22 was found dead below a six-storey hostel building. At first, the institution tried to hush up the matter as a freak accident and were hesitating to term it ‘suicide’. In their quest for an explanation for his death, his parents wrote to the Human Resource Development (HRD) Ministry and the National Commission for Scheduled Castes (NCSC) but got no response. Only after they managed to get their Member of Parliament to raise the issue in Rajya Sabha, a probe committee was set up. The larger campus community was not informed that the committee had been set up and people close to him were not interviewed to judge the veracity of the caste slurs he suffered, says Kranthi Kumar, member of the Dalit student’s body on campus, Ambedkar Periyar Phule Study Circle(i). Students themselves had to approach the authorities to submit their statements.

Dalit student Aniket Ambhore's parents during an interaction with media.

Dalit student Aniket Ambhore’s parents during an interaction with media. Image Courtesy : Mid Day.

Explaining the kind of institutionalised discrimination on campus, Kranthi says, “Students who have a work backlog are sent to counsellors and enrolled in Academic Rehabilitation Program(ARP) where some of them are treated for depression and made to have anti-depressants. Most in ARP are Dalits who are made to feel they don’t deserve to be in IIT.” Aniket was made to enrol in ARP and was worried about his academic performance as is known through the letters he wrote to his supervisor. His parents, Sunita and Sanjay, went to meet Prof Narayanan, who was heading the ARP in April 2012 to inquire about Aniket’s position. In their testimony, the parents said, “In that meeting, Narayanan asked Aniket his JEE rank (which was 7242, and his category rank was 92) and then spoke to him in a humiliating manner, “How did you get admission here, do you know? Because of reservation. You will have to work harder since you are from a category. This is not a chocolate that everybody can have.” He also mentioned in that meeting that any JEE rank beyond 3000 is useless. Then he told us in a harsh tone, in front of Aniket, “You take him away from here. He will not be able to cope here. He will be happy in other normal engineering colleges….” and in a discouraging manner he simply told us to take Aniket away from IITB. Hearing these statements we told Prof Narayanan that his comments were demotivating and that he was being unfair to Aniket by dismissing him as a weak student. He then remarked, “These people take 7-8 years to clear the course and waste whole lives here. “These comments were disturbing for us since such a senior faculty member was making such casteist remarks about Aniket’s academic ability.”

The report submitted by psychiatrist Dr Rajendra Barve, of Parivartan in April 2015, based on his sessions with Aniket during 2014 also states that Aniket felt discriminated at the institution. “Apart from his difficulties as a person during the course of therapy he expressed that he was experiencing casteist feelings about belonging to a particular caste. He also mentioned that he found interacting with some professors at IIT painful. He expressed his desire to earn his success on his own merits and not based on caste and socioeconomic circumstances. He recalled comments and felt humiliated when a professor suggested that he should drop out.” That no action has taken place based on these testimonies, or nobody has been asked to explain themselves publicly, exposes how lightly the institution takes accountability. This also exposes an acute lack of will to course correct within the teaching community in IIT, despite multiple suicides. Or simply that casteism is so entrenched amongst them that they refuse to admit guilt by one of their own. The students say that the committee report on Ambhore has been submitted and that the institution is reluctant to make it public but the same could not be verified as the committee members were unavailable for comment. Aniket’s mother, Sunita wrote a moving letter to Rohith Vemula’s family and friends highlighting the direct as well as “hidden casteism” that took the lives of both these promising young men.

Victims of Systemic Casteism

In July 2015, a B.Tech student from Haryana committed suicide by consuming chemicals. He was a victim of a case of backlogs, ARP and depression. In Nov 2008, two videographers Nitin Kamble and Narendra Divekar, attempted suicide over caste slurs allegedly hurled at them over several months by the Centre for Distance Engineering Education Program’s web director Rahul Deshmukh. And afterwards, in May and June 2015, a third-year chemical engineering student and a 23-year-old pursuing MTech in Earth Sciences attempted suicides, respectively. There have been several students, who after experiencing systemic forms of caste discrimination on campus, leave the place and the course itself.

The commonality in these deaths is the urge to brand the deceased to be suffering from depression. They tried to say Aniket was depressed, Shrikant Malepula, who committed suicide in 2007 in IIT Bombay was depressed. Not just college administration but media experts are also quick to brand Dalit suicides as cases of depression. Manu Joseph, a columnist in a leading newspaper came under severe flak for insinuating that Rohith Vemula had died of depression and not oppression. Noted journalist and Magsaysay awardee P Sainath, amongst others, at a speech in HCU, called him out for trying to brand all farmer suicides and Dalit suicides in this country as products of depression. “why are some classes and castes in society more depressed than everyone else? But, there is a more cruel and venomous insinuation in this: This is not emotional depression, they are treating it as a mental health issue…this is inborn.”Soon after, the social media was abound with hashtags of ManuSmriti (combining Manu Joseph’s first name and the first name of Smriti Irani the current HRD minister, thus a convenient combination of Manusmriti the code of law which dehumanizes women and members of oppressed sections of the society was made.

Most of these deaths have been of students in the science or technical streams and particularly the IITs and National Institute of Technologies (NITs). We spoke to students across these campuses and found that the incidence of casual taunts and caste slurs towards students who get into these institutions via reservation, by professors and fellow students is phenomenally high. To begin with, there is tremendous work pressure on students who make it to these institutions and the accompanied discrimination, is what may lead to some students feeling anxious or depressed but that does not mean they are all going to commit suicide. “It is not because professors are bad or anything, but they are ignorant about how to deal with students from different backgrounds. They have such little knowledge outside of their research sphere. What is needed is a sensitisation program to educate professors across campuses on how to deal with SC/ST /OBC, religious minority, queer and other students,” says Phanendra Srikanth, student IIT Bombay.

Amongst the IITs, Kanpur is by far the most notorious for suicides. Eight were recorded between 2005-10 and an RTI query revealed that no enquiry committee was formed to probe these cases. Instead, a fact finding team was put in place to find the reason for the suicides but none was found. The institute said, in its reply to the RTI query, that they can’t reveal the findings of the committee to media or public as it was an internal matter. As preventive measures, the IIT panel suggested yoga classes, to replace ceiling fans with table fans and reduce the speed of the internet! How this will help students from feeling better and not committing suicide is beyond logical comprehension.

Dalit scholar Rohith Vemula's mother and brother during a protest meeting held in Hyderabad.

Dalit scholar Rohith Vemula’s mother and brother during a protest meeting held in Hyderabad. Image Courtesy : India Today.

Not always are the recommendations of committees so bizarre and completely off the mark. Noteworthy is the Vinod Pavarala committee that was set up after the death of Senthil Kumar, PHD student in School of Physics, HCU in 2008 and gave several recommendations for admissions, allotment of supervisors and actual process of supervision. It said, “Overall, there is a need for all faculty members to internalize greater sensitivity about students belonging to the reserved categories, including those from other socially and educationally backward classes. Rather than being impervious to caste and other markers of inequality in our society, it is important to be pro-active in mentoring and advising of students who come from less privileged backgrounds, both in the classroom and outside. At a time when ‘access and equity’ in higher education are the watchwords of the government and the UGC, it is imperative that a top-ranking central institution such as ours takes a lead in nurturing and promoting a corps of scientists from among the marginalized sections of our society.” In the wake of Rohith Vemula’s death, how many of these recommendations were taken seriously by the teachers, remains a pertinent question.

The role of the media is the most questionable amongst all other institutions. Most of these deaths did not find enough column space in mainstream dailies and faded from public memory precisely because the media did not follow up on further actions. The media has always functioned as a watchdog of afflicted tragedies and seldom as an accountable estate as far as these deaths go. On other matters of Dalits, they are laden with suspicion. A recent report in a leading newspaper on the amendments to the SC/ST POA Act, read like an alarm bell, insisting that the Act was bound to be misused. Such biased depiction does not help the cause of correctly informing the public about the real situation of marginalised people in the country. A political commentator remarked caustically that most laws in this country are misused, especially traffic laws, so should we do away with all of them? Whatever legal provisions are put in place first, one has to accept that caste discrimination thrives in society and thereby also exists in our higher educational institutions. Only then, the safeguards put in place can work.

In stark contrast to these responses, the response of international academics, in one instance led by Rupa Viswanath, Professor of Indian Religions, University of Göttingen, Germany restores some hope in the role larger society can effectively play. In an open letter to the Vice Chancellor of University of Hyderabad, 275 from the global scholarly community without mincing any words demanded that “the authorities at the University of Hyderabad to immediately reinstate Rohith Vemula’s four peers, to provide support to his family, and to launch a police investigation into his passing. But that is not enough. The University of Hyderabad must ensure not only that justice be done now, but that further injustice be rigorously prevented.”

This blog post is written by Divya Trivedi.

Divya is a New Delhi based journalist covering social issues among other things. 

Images courtesy : India Today and Mid Day.

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