Author Archives: Routes

`Heart of Darkness: Some Thoughts on Rohith Vemula’s Suicide

The pan-Indian outrage which has also reached Harvard Square in the US over scholar and Dalit activist Rohith Vemula’s suicide seems to establish our present political and social moment as an exceptional one, a moment in which the combined force of right wing Hindutva intolerance and systemic institutional inequality have brought about a great social tragedy. What makes the incident even more shocking is the fact that Vemula left behind a deeply meditative and poetic final letter. The letter outlines a history of cultural and personal alienation that has made several intellectually inclined people remember Camus or Fanon on their social media feed. To many who would not otherwise react to caste related atrocities that occur in India every single day, such as the statistics shouting rape and murder, Vemula’s suicide seems unacceptable.

It is now imperative that we highlight the extraordinary nature of Vemula’s death. What makes this a moment of exception? Is it his obvious learning and sensitivity that makes us read his letter with tears in our eyes? Is it the fact that for many of us young scholars and professionals, the university space is somehow seen as sacred ground? And that his death is seen as a violent rupture from a shared ground of intellectual and physical comradeship? Or do we think (like many do in the US) that caste, like race, is a problem of the poor?

On one hand, we have gone into shock because the problem of caste has slapped us on the face, shaking us out of a complacency born of privilege and apathy. On the other hand, we are now forced to confront the horror of our lived social worlds in an urgent, immediate, and ghastly way. Caste atrocities are not things that happen in villages in Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh. They happen to us. By us. Every. Single. Day. Of. Our. Lives.

It is time to ask: who is culpable of Rohith Vemula’s death?

Do you, my friend and reader, remember the debates that your Brahmin, Kayastha, Vaidya friends had about reservation in high school and university? Do you remember somebody saying something about how reservation undermines the high standards of excellence that central and state universities otherwise maintain? Did you intervene at that point? If you were silent, then you are culpable.

Did you, my fashionable Brahmin left liberal (as indeed I am one by the great accident of birth) leave out that girl who was a small town second generation college goer, wearing clothes that outraged your sensibilities? Did you inwardly cringe being seen with her at the bar? Or did you spend time with her, only because it assuaged your conscience—not because you enjoyed it, not because you believed that you were social equals? Or did you enjoy her company, but also felt that there was a universe of unbridgeable distance between you—not that you were superior, or she inferior. Nevertheless, the distance. The gap. Between Brahmin and Dalit. Hindu and Muslim. Man and woman. The accident of birth. The great misfortune…

You too are culpable.

Did you know B.R. Ambedkar as the Maker of the Constitution, a Columbia Man, a man responsible for taking away your slot because of that unfair provision made at the time of independence—this completely outdated thing that is NOT affirmative action (because race is not caste, you argue, race shows physical difference and caste…caste does not exist…not at IIT. Not at IIM. Not as Delhi University. Not at Jadavpur University. Not at Presidency College. Not at Central University of Hyderabad…)

You wondered, what is this irrational thing imposed upon us which makes our merit go unrecognised, our jobs are snatched from us—what is this absurd thing called reservation?

If you have thought silently in this vein, you are culpable.

Did you read Frantz Fanon and C.L.R. James with uncritical admiration? Did you get a degree in English Literature or History or Sociology? Did you ever bother to read Ambedkar’s The Annihilation of Caste from cover to cover knowing the historical and sociological context?

AOC

Cover of the first edition of social reformer and India’s first Law Minister B.R.Ambedkar’s Annihilation of Caste. Image Courtesy : drambedkarbooks.com

Have you ever questioned Gandhi?

No? You too are culpable.

If you have never questioned who clean the garbage vats and sewers in your metropoles, cities, small towns and villages…

If the news about the rapes and murders and deprivation and the dropping out of school of lower caste men and women and children have dulled your eyes and senses and you cannot begin to raise your voice against systemic and institutional violence and injustice, then you too are culpable.

We are all guilty of Rohith Vemula’s death. In more ways than one. The political immediacy of his death in a dispensation that is marginalizing minorities like never before is indisputable. What we do need to do right now is to recognise that Vemula’s death is both murder and suicide. And precisely because it is suicide, it is a deeply political act. His final words bear testimony to the fact that despite reservation and limited representation, the problem of caste in Indian democracy is not addressed. It is not addressed by both the right wing and the left wing. And that upward social and intellectual mobility does not guarantee the fact that a Dalit, in this mockery of a democracy, will be seen as a “mind…made up of stardust”.  How can one ever say, ” Rohith Vemula, Rest in Peace”?

This blogpost was written by Ahona Panda.

Ahona is a PhD candidate in South Asian Languages and Civilization at the University of Chicago. Her academic interests include literary history and politics.

Open Letter to the University of Hyderabad Vice Chancellor on Rohith Vemula

Open Letter to the Vice Chancellor of the University of Hyderabad

We of the global scholarly community make an urgent appeal that justice be done in the most recent case of caste discrimination in Indian higher education, that of the University of Hyderabad’s prejudicial suspension of five young Dalit men pursuing PhDs. It was ordered under political pressure, without even allowing the young men in question to speak in their own defense.  It directly contravened an earlier decision made by the University administration itself, which had exonerated them of any charges of wrongdoing—charges which had been trumped up by political rivals opposed to the activism of these young men.

This prejudice has now exacted a terrible price. One of the five, a scholar of great promise, Rohith Vemula, committed suicide on January 17. Unable to bear the despair of having his one chance at a future snatched from him, of his value being reduced, in his own eloquent parting words, to nothing but “a vote” and “an immediate identity,” he took his own life (see https://www.sabrangindia.in/article/letter-should-shake-our-world-dalit-scholar-suicide-triggers-outrage ). As scholars we know that individual actions are never just that. This suicide is not an individual act. It is the failure of higher educational institutions in democratic India to meet their most basic obligation: to foster the intellectual and personal growth of India’s most vulnerable young people. Instead, Rohith now joins a long list of victims of prejudice at premier institutions in the country, where pervasive discrimination drives so many Dalit students to depression and suicide, when not simply forcing them to quietly drop out.

As international scholars of South Asia, we ask the authorities at the University of Hyderabad to immediately reinstate Mr. 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. It is vital to the life of any academic institution to actively nurture students exactly like Rohith, whose contribution to civic life and healthy political debate made the university the place of learning and personal transformation it should be. Measures must be implemented to ensure that such students are supported and allowed to thrive when they enter what is all too often the hostile, casteist environment of higher education in India.  A university where students turn away from life with the regularity they have at the University of Hyderabad requires urgent and massive rehauling.

The involvement of political leaders in buttressing caste discrimination in Indian universities, and the double standards applied by university administrations to anti-caste student activity, directly contribute to the negative reputation India is earning among scholars worldwide. We urge the University of Hyderabad to restore our confidence by living up to its obligation to end institutionalized discrimination, to educate all students in a climate of respect and empathy, and to resist political pressures to do otherwise. We are all watching.

  1. Rupa Viswanath, Professor of Indian Religions, University of Göttingen, Germany
  2. Joel Lee, Assistant Professor of Anthropology, Williams College, USA
  3. Dwaipayan Sen, Assistant Professor of History, Amherst College, USA
  4. Nathaniel Roberts, Research Fellow, Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity, Germany
  5. Gajendran Ayyathurai, Postdoctoral Researcher, University of Göttingen, Germany
  6. David Mosse, Professor, SOAS University of London, UK.
  7. Karthikeyan Damodaran, PhD Scholar, University of Edinburg, UK.
  8. Hugo Gorringe, Senior Lecturer, University of Edinburgh, UK.
  9. T. Dharmaraj, Visiting Professor, Centre for Modern Indian Studies, University of Göttingen, Germany
  10. Ania Loomba, Professor, University of Pennsylvania, USA.
  11. Lalit Vachani, Research Fellow, Center for Modern Indian Studies, University of Göttingen, Germany
  12. Srirupa Roy, Professor of State and Democracy, Center for Modern Indian Studies, University of Göttingen, Germany
  13. Christophe Jaffrelot, Dr., CERI-Sciences Po/CNRS, Paris, France
  14. Suvir Kaul, A. M. Rosenthal Professor, University of Pennsylvania, USA
  15. Frank J. Korom, Professor of Religion and Anthropology, Boston University, USA
  16. John Harriss, Professor, Simon Fraser University, Canada
  17. Dilip Menon, Professor and Director, Centre for Indian Studies, University of Witwatersrand, South Africa
  18. Raka Ray, Professor of Sociology and South and Southeast Asian Studies, University of California, Berkeley, USA.
  19. Jonathan Spencer, Regius Professor of South Asian Language, Culture and Society, University of Edinburgh, UK
  20. Constantine Nakassis, Assistant Professor of Anthropology, University of Chicago, USA
  21. Sankaran Krishna, Professor of Political Science, University of Hawaii-Manoa, USA
  22. Chandra Mallampalli, Professor of History, Westmont College, USA
  23. Timothy Lubin, Professor, Washington and Lee University, USA
  24. Linda Hess, Senior Lecturer, Stanford University, USA
  25. Auritro Majumder, Assistant Professor, University of Houston, USA
  26. P. Bagavandoss, Professor, Department of Biological Sciences, Kent State University, USA.
  27. Shirin Rai, Professor of Politics and International Studies, University of Warwick, UK.
  28. Indira Arumugam, Assistant Professor of Sociology, National University of Singapore, Singapore.
  29. Michele Friedner, Assistant Professor, Stony Brook University, New York, USA
  30. Dibyesh Anand, Associate Professor, University of Westminster, UK
  31. Ravinder Kaur, Associate Professor, University of Copenhagen, Denmark.
  32. James Caron, Lecturer in Islamicate South Asia, SOAS, University of London, UK.
  33. Francis Cody, Associate Professor of Anthropology, University of Toronto, Canada.
  34. Christopher Taylor, Assistant Professor of English, University of Chicago, USA
  35. Alpa Shah, Associate Professor (Reader) of Anthropology, London School of Economics and Political Science, UK.
  36. Bishnupriya Ghosh, Professor of English, University of California, Santa Barbara
  37. Gloria Goodwin Raheja, Professor of Anthropology, University of Minnesota, USA
  38. Anjali Arondekar, Associate Professor of Feminist Studies, University of California, Santa Cruz, USA
  39. Nosheen Ali, Habib University, Karachi, Pakistan
  40. Vazira Zamindar, Associate Professor of History, Brown University, USA
  41. Kavita Philip, Professor of History, University of California at Irvine, USA
  42. Bhavani Raman, Associate Professor, University of Toronto, Canada.
  43. Subir Sinha, Development Studies, SOAS, London, UK.
  44. Francesca Orsini, Professor, SOAS, London, UK.
  45. Gilbert Achcar, Professor, SOAS, London, UK.
  46. Nilanjan Sarkar, Deputy Director, South Asia Center, LSE, UK.
  47. Jon Wilson, Senior Lecturer in History, King’s College, London, UK.
  48. Peter van der Veer, Director and Professor at the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity, Göttingen, Germany.
  49. Tam Ngo, Researcher, Max-Planck-Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity, Göttingen, Germany
  50. Shakuntala Banaji, Lecturer, London School of Economics and Political Science, UK
  51. Meena Dhanda, Reader in Philosophy and Cultural Politics, University of Wolverhampton, UK
  52. Goldie Osuri, Associate Professor of Sociology, University of Warwick, UK.
  53. Shana Sippy, Visiting Scholar, Carleton College, USA
  54. Sarah Hodges, Associate Professor, University of Warwick, UK
  55. Mukulika Banerjee, Associate Professor of Anthropology and Director, South Asia Centre, London School of Economics, UK
  56. Paula Chakravartty, Associate Professor, MCC and Galatin, New York University, USA
  57. Narendra Subramanian, Professor of Political Science, McGill University, Canada, and Visiting Senior Research Fellow, Max-Planck-Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity, Göttingen, Germany.
  58. Gurminder K Bhambra, Professor, University of Warwick
  59. Rashmi Varma, Associate Professor, University of Warwick, UK
  60. Uday Chandra, Assistant Professor of Government, Georgetown University, Qatar
  61. Anupama Rao, Associate Professor of History, Barnard College, Columbia University, USA
  62. Neena Mahadev, Postdoctoral Fellow, Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity, Germany.
  63. Nusrat S. Chowdhury, Assistant Professor of Anthropology, Amherst College, USA
  64. Kavin Paulraj, Lecturer, Saint Mary’s College of California, USA
  65. Asiya Alam, History Department, Louisiana State University, USA
  66. Ananya Chakravarti, Assistant Professor of History, Georgetown University
  67. Jesse Knutson, Assistant Professor of Sanskrit, University of Hawaii Manoa
  68. Gopal Balakrishnan, Professor, History of Consciousness, University of California Santa Cruz, USA
  69. Geir Heierstad, Research Director, Norwegian Institute for Urban and Regional Research, Norway
  70. Kenneth Bo Nielsen, Coordinator, Norwegian Network for Asian Studies, Norway.
  71. Andrew Liu, Assistant Professor of History, Villanova University, USA
  72. Toussaint Losier, Assistant Professor of Afro-American Studies, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, USA.
  73. Pinky Hota, Assistant Professor of Anthropology, Smith College, Northampton MA
  74. Madhumita Lahiri, Assistant Professor of English, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, USA
  75. Juned Shaikh, Assistant Professor, Department of History, University of California, Santa Cruz
  76. Neilesh Bose, Canada Research Chair in Global and Comparative History University of Victoria
  77. Lawrence Cohen, Professor and Director, Institute of South Asia Studies, University of California, Berkeley, USA
  78. John Holmwood, Professor of Sociology, University of Nottingham, UK.
  79. Balmurli Natrajan, Associate Professor, William Paterson University of New Jersey, USA.
  80. Richard Alexander, Lecturer in Financial Law, SOAS University of London, UK.
  81. Eleanor Newbigin, Senior Lecturer, SOAS, University of London
  82. Chinnaiah Jangam, Assistant Professor of History, Carleton University, Canada.
  83. Matthew J Nelson, Reader in Politics, SOAS, University of London.
  84. Sîan Hawthorne,Lecturer in Critical Theory & the Study of Religions, SOAS, London, UK.
  85. Amrita Shodhan, SOAS, University of London, UK.
  86. Michael Hutt Professor and Director, SOAS South Asia Institute, University of London, UK
  87. Jonathan Goodhand, Professor in Conflict and Development Studies, SOAS, University of London, UK
  88. Nitasha Kaul, Author and academic, University of Westminster, London.
  89. Deepankar Basu, Associate Professor, University of Massachusetts, Amherst.
  90. Somak Biswas, Doctoral Candidate, Department of History, University of Warwick, UK
  91. Michael Levien, Assistant Professor of Sociology, Johns Hopkins University, USA
  92. Nilisha Vashist, M.Phil/PhD student, University College London, UK
  93. Rama Mantena, Associate Professor of History, University of Illinois at Chicago, USA
  94. Sohini Kar, Assistant Professor, London School of Economics and Political Science, UK
  95. Dr. Jacob Copeman, Social Anthropology, University of Edinburgh.
  96. Dr. Priyamvada Gopal, Cambridge University, UK.
  97. Carole Spary, Assistant Professor, University of Nottingham, UK.
  98. James Putzel, Professor of Development Studies, LSE, UK.
  99. Romola Sanyal,  Assistant Professor, London School of Economics and Political Science, UK
  100. Dr Barnita Bagchi, Literary Studies, Utrecht University, Netherlands.
  101. Dag Erik Berg, Postdoctoral Fellow, Center for Modern Indian Studies, University of Göttingen, Germany.
  102. Dr Kalpana Wilson, London School of Economics, UK
  103. Chetan Bhatt, Professor, Department of Sociology, London School of Economics and Political Science, UK
  104. Rahul Rao, Senior Lecturer in Politics, SOAS, University of London, UK
  105. Dr Alan Bullion, The Open University, UK
  106. Katharine Adeney, Professor and Director of the Institute of Asia and Pacific Studies, University of Nottingham, UK
  107. Dr. Mara Matta, Modern Literatures of the Indian Subcontinent, SAPIENZA Università di Roma, Italy
  108. Pritam Singh, Professor of Economics, Oxford Brookes University, UK.
  109. Dr. Sunil Kumar, Lecturer, London School of Economics, UK
  110. Maitreesh Ghatak, Professor of Economics, London School of Economics and Political Science, UK
  111. Richa Nagar, Professor, University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, USA
  112. Mary Kaldor, Professor, London School of Economics and Political Science, UK
  113. David Lewis, Professor of Social Policy, London School of Economics and Political Science, UK
  114. Dr. Suthaharan Nadarajah, Lecturer, SOAS, University of London
  115. Dr. Navtej Purewal, SOAS, University of London, UK
  116. Shruti Sinha, Toulouse School of Economics, France.
  117. Robert Cassen, Professor
  118. Apurba Kundu, Deputy Dean, Anglia Ruskin University, UK.
  119. Rachel McDermott, Associate Professor of Religion, Barnard College, Columbia University, USA.
  120. Dr. Clarinda Still, Contemporary South Asian Studies Programme, University of Oxford, UK
  121. Chad M. Bauman, Associate Professor of Religion, Butler University, USA.
  122. Nandini Bhattacharya, Lecturer in History, University of Dundee, UK
  123. Vijay Prashad, Professor, Trinity College, USA and Chief Editor, LeftWord Books.
  124. Lucinda Ramberg, Assistant Professor, Cornell University, USA.
  125.  Pippa Virdee, Senior Lecturer in Modern South Asian History, De Montfort University, UK.
  126. Andrew J. Nicholson, Associate Professor, State University of New York, Stony Brook
  127. Dr. Teena Purohit, Department of Religion, Boston University.
  128. Sahana Bajpaie, Instructor in Bengali, SOAS, University of London, UK.
  129. M. V. Ramana, Physicist, Princeton University, USA
  130. Andrew Sartori, Professor of History, New York University, USA
  131. Shailaja Paik, Assistant Professor, University of Cincinnati, USA.
  132. Jayadev Athreya, Associate Professor of Mathematics, University of Washington, USA.
  133. Ajantha Subramanian, Professor of Anthropology and South Asian Studies, Harvard University
  134. Sumeet Mhaskar, Humboldt Postdoctoral Fellow, Centre for Modern Indian Studies, University of Göttingen, Germany.
  135. Whitney Cox, Associate Professor, South Asian Languages and Civilizations, University of Chicago, USA.
  136. Nandini Deo, Associate Professor of Political Science, Lehigh University, USA.
  137. Dia Da Costa, Associate Professor, University of Alberta, Canada.
  138. Debjani Bhattacharyya, Assistant. Professor, Drexel University, USA
  139. Yogesh Chandrani, Visiting Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Colorado College, USA
  140. Projit Mukherjee, Assistant Professor, University of Pennsylvania, USA.
  141. Tejaswini Ganti, Associate Professor, Anthropology, New York University
  142. Amit R. Baishya, Assistant Professor, University of Oklahoma, USA.
  143. Tsitsi Jaji, Associate Professor, Duke University, USA.
  144. Pulikesi C. Rajangam, Faculty Assistant, Department of Zoology, University of Wisconsin, Madison, USA
  145. Sharika Thiranagama, Assistant Professor of Anthropology , Stanford University
  146. Benjamin Siegel, Assistant Professor of History, Boston University, USA.
  147. Shefali Chandra, Associate Professor of South Asian History, Washington University in St. Louis, USA.
  148. Prathim-Maya Dora-Laskey, Assistant Professor, Alma College, USA.
  149. Kasturi Ray, Associate Professor, San Francisco State University, USA
  150. Nandita Sharma, Professor, University of Hawaii at Manoa, USA
  151. Malarvizhi Jayant, PhD Student, University of Chicago, USA
  152. Martha Ann Selby, Professor of South Asian Studies and Chair of Department of Asian Studies, The University of Texas at Austin, USA
  153. Dr Sumeet Jain, Lecturer in Social Work, University of Edinburgh, UK
  154. Nandita Sharma, Professor, University of Hawaii at Manoa, USA
  155. Sanjukta Das Gupta, Associate Professor, Department of Oriental Studies, Sapienza University of Rome, Italy
  156. Priyanka Srivastava, Assistant Professor of History, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, USA
  157. Sujani Reddy, Associate Professor of American Studies, State University of New York Old Westbury, USA
  158. J A Hernández Carrillo, Associate Professor of History, The University of Houston, USA
  159. Carmel Christy, Fulbright-Nehru visiting scholar, Department of History, University of California, Santa Cruz, USA
  160. Johan Mathew, Departments of History and Economics, University of Massachusetts-Amherst, USA
  161. Rukmini Barua, PhD Candidate, University of Göttingen, Germany
  162. Romina Robles Ruvalcaba, Lecturer, California State University, Long Beach
  163. Aditya Sarkar, Assistant Professor, History Department, Warwick University, UK
  164. Chandak Sengoopta, Professor of History, Birkbeck College, University of London, UK
  165. Tarini Bedi, Assistant Professor, Department of Anthropology, University of Illinois at Chicago, USA
  166. Urmitapa Dutta, Assistant Professor, Department of Psychology, University of Massachusetts, Lowell, USA
  167. Shweta Moorthy, Assistant Professor of Political Science, Northern Illinois University, USA
  168. Daniel Rudin, Reserch Scholar, Film and Digital Media, University of California, Santa Cruz, USA
  169. Indrajit Roy ESRC Research Fellow, Wolfson College, University of Oxford, UK.
  170. Jacob Kovalio, Professor of Japanese/Chinese/Asian History/Studies

Carleton University, Canada

  1. Mayur Suresh, Lecturer, School of Oriental and African Studies, London, UK.
  2. Divya Cherian, Postdoctoral Fellow, Rutgers University, USA.
  3. Dr Jayeeta Sharma, Associate Professor, University of Toronto, Canada
  4. Kalyani Devaki Menon, Associate Professor, DePaul University, USA
  5. Renisa Mawani, Associate Professor, Sociology, University of British Columbia, Canada
  6. Ajay Parasram, Doctoral Candidate and Lecturer Department of Political Science, Carleton University, Canada
  7. Raza Mir, Professor of Management, William Paterson University, USA
  8. Deborah Nurse, PhD Candidate, Carleton University, USA.
  9. Pratik Chakrabarti, Professor of History of Science and Medicine, University of Manchester, UK
  10. Ambarien Alqadar, Assistant Professor, Rochester Institute of Technology, USA
  11. Kajri Jain, Associate Professor, University of Toronto, Canada
  12. Praseeda Gopinath, Associate Professor and Director of Graduate Studies

Binghamton University, State University of New York, USA

  1. Prof. Shubhra Gururani, Associate Professor, Anthropology, York University, Canada.
  2. Sourit Bhattacharya, Doctoral candidate and seminar tutor, English and Comparative Literary Studies, University of Warwick, UK
  3. Dr Satoshi Miyamura, Department of Economics, SOAS, University of London, UK
  4. Shrikant Botre, PhD  student, University of Warwick, UK.
  5. Deepa Kurup, MPhil candidate, Oxford University, UK.
  6. Sarah Pierce Taylor, Visiting Instructor of Religion, Mount Holyoke College, USA.
  7. Clement Bayetti, PhD Student, Division of Psychiatry, University College London, UK.
  8. Gayatri Reddy, Associate Professor, University of Illinois at Chicago, UK
  9. Nancy Rose Hunt, Professor of History, University of Michigan, USA.
  10. Manuel Capella, PhD student, Division of Psychiatry, University College London, UK
  11. Nicole D’souza, PhD Candidate, Division of Social & Transcultural Psychiatry, McGill Unviersity, Canada
  12. Luisa Molino, MSc – Research Associate, Simone de Beauvoir Institute, Concordia University, Canada
  13. Janet Hoy, PhD, Associate Professor of Social Work, University of Toledo, Ohio, USA
  14. Dr Sophia Koukoui, PsyD/PhD, Clinical Psychologist and Postdoctoral Fellow of Psychiatry, McGill University, Canada.
  15. Himani Bannerji, Professor Emeritas, Department of Sociology, York University, Canada.
  16. Ram Mahalingam, Associate Professor, Department of Psychology, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, USA
  17. Raza Mir, Professor of Management, William Paterson University
  18. Cosimo Zene, Reader in the Dept of Religions and Philosophies, SOAS, University of London, UK
  19. Dr. Amrita Ibrahim, Adjunct Lecturer,  Department of Anthropology, Georgetown University, USA.
  20. Livia Ottisova, MSc, Trainee Clinical Psychologist, King’s College London, UK
  21. Jyoti Puri, Professor of Sociology, Simmons college, USA.
  22. Sangeeta Kamat Associate Professor, College of Education, University of Massachusetts at Amherst
  23. Biju Mathew Associate Professor, College of Business Administration, Rider University, New Jersey
  24. Sahana Udupa, Research Fellow, Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity, Germany
  25. Barbara Whitaker, Psychologist, Consultation for Victims of Torture and War
    Geneva University Hospital, Switzerland.
  26. Suman Fernando, Visiting Professor, Faculty of Social Sciences & Humanities, London Metropolitan University, UK and Professorial Fellow, Institute of Mental Health, University of Nottingham, UK
  27. David Ingleby, Emeritus Professor of Intercultural Psychology, University of Utrecht and Researcher,, Centre for Social Science and Global Health, University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands.
  28. Emine Kale, Advisor/ Clinical psychologist, Norwegian Centre for Minority Health Research (NAKMI), Norway
  29. Madhavi Murty, Assistant Professor, Feminist Studies, University of California, Santa Cruz, USA.
  30. Dr Sunita Abraham, Lancaster University, UK
  31. Dr. James Rodger, Honorary Associate Research Fellow, University of Exeter, UK
  32. Mary Hanlon, PhD Scholar, University of Edinburgh.
    215. James Manor, Emeritus Professor of Commonwealth Studies, University of London.
  33. Poulomi Saha, Assistant Professor of English, University of California, Berkeley, USA
  34. Dr Rochana Bajpai, Senior Lecturer (Associate Professor), School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London, UK.
  35. Dr Shabnum Tejani, Senior Lecturer in the History of Modern South Asia, SOAS, University of London, UK.
  36. Kannan Srinivasan, Independent Scholar, Wertheim Study New York Public Library, USA.
  37. Dina Siddiqi, ESS BRAC University, Bangladesh.
  38. Tanoj Meshram, PhD Scholar, Social Policy, Brandeis University, USA
  39. Varuni Bhatia, Assistant Professor, Asian Languages and Cultures, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, USA
  40. Saadia Toor, Associate Professor, Sociology, College of Staten Island, USA
  41. Madiha Tahir, PhD candidate, Columbia University
  42. Jaspreet Mahal, MA-Sustainable International Development, Brandeis University, USA
  43. Vasuki Nesiah, The Gallatin School, New York University, USA
  44. Lalit Batra, PhD Candidate, University of Minnesota, USA
  45. Jinee Lokaneeta, Drew University, Madison, NJ, USA
  46. Sahar Romani, Postdoctoral Associate, Yale University, USA
  47. Sonali Perera, Associate Professor, Hunter College of the City University of New York, USA
  48. Tapoja Chaudhuri, Affiliate Faculty, Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies, University of Washington; USA
  49. Sangay Mishra, Assistant Professor, Political Science, Drew University, Madison, NJ, USA.
  50. Tejasvi Nagaraja, PhD candidate, New York University, USA
  51. Anand Venkatkrishnan, Junior Research Fellow, Balliol College, Oxford, UK
  52. Maliha Safri, Associate Professor, Drew University, USA
  53. Debashree Mukherjee, Assistant Professor, Columbia University, USA.
  54. Meena Alexander, Distinguished Professor of English, Graduate Center/ Hunter College, City University of New York, USA
  55. Swapna Banerjee, Associate Professor of History, Brooklyn College City University of NewYork, USA
  56. Layli Uddin, Graduate Student, Department of History, University of London, UK
  57. Samina Luthfa, Graduate Student, Department of Sociology, University of Oxford, UK
  58. Jana Tschurenev, Research fellow, Centre for Modern Indian Studies (CeMIS), University of Göttingen, Germany
  59. Praveen K. Chaudhury, Fashion Institute of Technology, State University of New York, USA
  60. Alva Bonaker, PhD Candidate, University of Göttingen, Germany
  61. Achintya Prahlad, Graduate Student, Neurosciences, University of Göttingen, Germany
  62. Atreyi Dasgupta, Postdoctoral Fellow, Center for Hematology and Oncology, Baylor College of Medicine, USA
  63. Stephanie Leder, Ph.D. Student, Center for Social Sciences and Humanities, University of Cologne, Germany
  64. Harshit Rathi, Graduate Student, University of Minnesota, USA
  65. Ishita Pande, Associate Professor of History, Queen’s University
  66. Usha Iyer, Assistant Professor of Screen Studies, Clark University, USA
  67. Ritika Prasad, Assistant Professor of History, UNC Charlotte, USA
  68. Leah Koskimaki, Post-doctoral Research Fellow, University of the Western Cape in Cape Town, South Africa
  69. Aswin Punathambekar, Associate Professor of Communication Studies, University of Michigan, USA
  70. Swati Birla, Graduate Student, Department of Sociology, University of Massachusetts-Amherst, USA
  71. Madhusree Mukherjee, Historian and writer, Germany
  72. Dharashree Das, Graduate Student, Department of Anthropology, Simon Fraser University, Canada
  73. Ritty Lukose, Associate Professor, NYU Gallatin, USA
  74. Anupama Kapse, Assistant Professor of Media Studies, Queens College CUNY, USA
  75. Regina Hansda, Ph.D. candidate, Department of Geography, University of Cambridge, UK
  76. Arindam Basu, Professor of Health Sciences, University of Canterbury, UK
  77. Mary Louise Adams, Professor of Kinesiology and Health Studies, Queen’s University, USA
  78. Jyotsna Kapur, Professor of Cinema and Photography, Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, USA
  79. Shaheen Rana, Research Associate, Georgia Institute of Technology, USA
  80. Patton Burchett, Assistant Professor of Religious Studies, College of William and Mary, USA
  81. Tyler Williams, Assistant Professor of South Asian Languages and Civilizations, The University of Chicago, USA.
  82. Uwe Skoda, Associate Professor, Aarhus University, Denmark
  83. Bhaswati Bhattacharya, Postdoctoral Fellow, Centre for Modern Indian Studies, University of Göttingen, Germany
  84. Ananya Chatterjea, Professor, University of Minnesota, USA
  85. Vedita Cowaloosur, Postdoctoral Fellow, English Department, Stellenbosch University, South Africa

Dalit Students as Victims of Institutional Casteism in India

India’s unparalleled revolutionary leader B.R.Ambedkar’s infamous dictum is ‘Educate, Agitate, Organise,’ none of which the Indian Brahmanical state wants the 200 million Dalits (former untouchables) to do and this intentional objective of the state was exemplified in the death of an young Dalit scholar Rohit Vemula of University of Hyderabad who aspired to become like Carl Sagan.
The only fault of him was, he was a Dalit that too someone who was conscious of his identity and followed the footsteps of Ambedkar involved in the construction of a Dalit selfhood and claimed himself as a Dalit-Marxist, a political category propagated and made famous among the student community by comrade Chittibabu Padavala.

As president of Ambedkar Students Association Rohit worked hard to forge a Dalit-Muslim solidarity and fought against food fascism by organising beef festivals a visibly upsetting political exercise for the right wing Hindutva forces in the state who had earlier in another educational institution of higher learning had tried hard to foil the establishment of a study circle on Ambedkar but in vain. A whole young generation of conscious Ambedkarites is the most threatening factor for these right wing forces.

 

Rohit

Rohith Vemula sloganeering during a protest as the president of Ambedkar Students Association. Pic courtesy : Facebook.

What followed was arm-twisting by the Hindutva politicians and the casteist university administration, which succumbed to it and expelled five Dalit students. The expelled students continued their protest by staging a sleep-in-protest within the campus, however as a result of deep inflicted psychological pain, one of the students committed suicide leaving a note depicting the cruelty of caste, he wrote, “ The value of a man is reduced to his immediate identity and nearest possibility to a vote, a number to a thing, never was man treated as a mind.” This evaluation of what is being valued it is not mind but identity which in practical terms does count in the most hierarchical society in the world leaves us with what Gopal Guru[1] famously formulated as the Theoretical Brahmins and Empirical Shudras where the latter is a matter of mere numbers while the former is associated with cognition.

The brahmanical state follows certain uniformity when it comes to dealing with the Dalits, they practice humiliation to an disgusting extent. The state, which was not able to provide a dignified life to Dalits at least should guarantee a honourable final journey. More like the recent incident that happened in Tamil Nadu where a 100 year old Dalit man whose funeral procession was prevented by caste Hindus despite a High Court Order which finally saw the police instead of implementing the HC Order were found carrying the body doing the cremation. In Rohit Vemula’s case too, the state after seeing the students assemble in huge numbers sensed that they would showcase the anger towards state secretly without a grain of respect for the departed soul hurriedly did the cremation.

Weapons

WEAPON OF THE WEAK : Students in Delhi resisting water cannons carrying the portrait of B.R.Ambedkar  while protesting against Ministry of Human Resource and Development demanding action against authorities over Rohith Vemula’s suicide. Pic Courtesy Facebook.

The educational institutions in India are largely nothing but an extension of rural life marked by caste rigidity for most of the Dalit students, the only difference is caste is tangible in the latter case while in the former it is a combination of visible forms of caste practices and also more subtler forms. The caste discrimination starts from the level of primary schools where once can cite numerous cases of Dalit kids being asked to clean toilets to use separate utensils to eat and drink. And it is also a common phenomenon to witness social boycott of Dalits as mid day meal programme cooks. Citing ritual pollution the caste Hindu parents would make their children go hungry than eat food cooked by a Dalit. In a recent incident, a Dalit kid was asked by his teacher to remove faecal material in front of fellow students using bare hands. Ashamed by this act the kid went into a psychological affect and has developed an obsession to wash his hands. Suspecting changes in behaviour the parents probed the kid to find out what happened and after strong protests the caste Hindu teacher was arrested. This is one among numerous cases we see in what are called as “spaces of learning.” Coloured wrist bands as a form of identification of their respective castes is a common feature in most of the schools in the rural and semi urban pockets of southern Tamil Nadu and a few areas in Northern Tamil Nadu.

You can pick any random Dalit and inquire him about caste discrimination in classrooms there would be a tale to tell, the perpetual psychological fear of being discriminated against and humiliated based on their identity is a lived experience that every Dalit has to undergo inside educational institutions in India. Many are in fact living their lives masquerading their identity for want of caste discrimination. As deftly put forward in a recent piece by Meena Kandasamy,“ Education has now become a disciplining enterprise working against Dalit students: they are constantly under threat of rustication, expulsion, defamation, discontinuation.” By restricting social interaction the Dalit students are thus faced with deprivation of capabilities, a common feature practiced and perfected by caste Hindus in educational institutions to maintain and safeguard their caste privileges.

The percentage of Dalit students who enter higher educational institutions are meagre in number and even they are not spared. In the name of accumulated privilege over centuries in the form of both cultural and social capital the upper caste Hindus function within an invented realm called meritocracy. Entering the corridors of elite educational institutions like Indian Institute of Technologies (IIT) and Indian Institute of Managements and Central Universities for scores of Dalit students is like walking into hell, the fear of being shamed and humiliated based on birth status hangs like a Damocles sword above theirheads. After years of relentless struggles in their everyday lives they reach these institutions only to get caught in the entanglement of the most-unfair game of caste based micro power politics. It was no wonder why given nature of its exclusivity the IIT’s were dubbed as Iyer and Iyengar Technology, a stronghold of brahminical supremacy.

Root of the Problem

The root of this problem definitely lies with the caste Hindus who are nurtured and brought up in a feudal mindset and even the progressive among them carry a patronizing self as pointed out clearly by Ambedkar,

It is usual to hear all those who feel moved by the deplorable condition of the Untouchables unburden themselves by uttering the cry; We must do something for the Untouchables. One seldom hears any of the persons interested in the problem saying, ‘Let us do something to change the Touchable Hindu. It is invariably assumed that the object to be reclaimed is the Untouchables. If there is to be a mission, it must be to the Untouchables and if the Untouchables can be cured, untouchability will vanish. Nothing requires to be done to the Touchable. He is sound in mind, manners and morals. He is whole; there is nothing wrong with him. Is this assumption correct? Whether correct or not, the Hindus like to cling to it. The assumption has the supreme merit of satisfying themselves that they are not responsible for the problem of the Untouchables.

The idea of caste Hindus to empathise and sympathise with the Dalit cause needs to be shunned, instead they should all question their own selves and accept the bitter truth that they as part of this brahmanical structure indeed failed not only to see annihilation of caste as a praxis but used it as a mere rhetoric. The guilt as practitioners of the most carefully planned hierarchichal system should haunt them as they in a way by remaining silent also played a part resulting in the death of Rohit Vemulas, Senthil Kumars and Nagaraju Koppalas. Ambedkar both as a symbol and an ideologue remains as the ‘weapon of the weak’ in India and carrying his ideals let us march forward to brazen out the social distinctions, inequalities and injustices of a caste-ridden society.

References

[1]. Guru Gopal (2002) How Egalitarian Are the Social Sciences in India? Economic and Political Weekly 37: 5003-5009.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

Poems

Palestinian woman

( for Israa’ Abed)*

What did you say
to the guns they pointed
at your heart,
heart shaped like an olive tree
they stole from your memory?

Oh, Palestinian woman,
now lying gently tilted
a dark green hijab holding your bleeding brain
black sandals facing the ground,
upside down, as if looking for a way out,
to flee this frozen moment
where the tender touch of your heels turned sore,
a sore festering, deep in you, for decades
since the night they crept into your father’s silence,
while he was writing a poem,
he never could finish,
dead alphabets of occupied languages
lay all around his pages…

bloodied and burnt
did he visit you every night
in your teary dreams,
and stand in silence like a corpse
that you forgot to bury?
did you whisper to him
” Baba, please recite to me verses
from your last poem,
this silence is poetry I cannot bear,”?

he is waiting for you, now,
near the gates of mourning
with a charred sheet of paper in his hand
where his unfinished poem killed itself
but, why aren’t you leaving yet?
why does your image
still plunge into my pupils
rippling on my resting tears?

why does your posture, calm and tragic,
still haunt my heart
which has no place to escape?
are you waiting for your three children
for the touch of their tiny palms
for the look in their perplexed eyes
still too young to know death,
still full of hope
that they think you are teasing them,

” Mama, wake up.
wake up, Mama
you won ”
‘some games you can never win,”
you say.
but they can’t hear you,
the world won’t hear you
are you still waiting
for the birds that long flew your land
to return to the nests where they loved?

for the children
crushed while they crawled
burnt while they slept
bombed while they played
to come back and collect
the pieces of their childhood
they hid in a tiny box
buried in the bosoms
of their mothers, who waited
through the moonless nights
for that wall to crumble,
walls where they wrote,

” Martrys always return” ?
do they ever leave?
you still lie,
here, there,
everywhere
the moon on my terrace
looks like your closed eye
the sky smelt like a tomb
the cosmos carved for you
the sound of that gun,
a second before it pierced your life,
rings in my.ear
like a prologue to.a tragic play
I çan’t bear to see.

oh, Palestinian woman,
what did you see in the eyes
of the ones that killed you?
Stolen land?
Murdered memories?
the eyes
of people who eat popcorn
while they bomb your homes
people who sleep on the graves
of your ancestors, who they kill
again and again,
in dreams
they once occupied
and never left

*On 9 October 2015, 29-year old Isra’ ‘Abed from Nazareth was killed by Israeli police at Al-Affoulah bus station in Israel.

Protest against Haryana Government

NEW DELHI, INDIA OCTOBER 25: Two Dalit children burned alive in Faridabad Dalit Shoshan Mukti Manch supporters during A protest against Haryana government at Jantar Manter in New Delhi.(Photo by Qamar Sibtain/India Today Group/Getty Images)

Burn-able bodies

bodies,
burning in my eyes,
ashes falling down as tears,

tears of a history,
untaught
tears of a people,
untouched
bones,
unformed,

crumbling under the burden of fire,
like sentences,
breaking in the middle
with words jumping, letter by letter,
into the abyss of silence
almost as if
they were never written
almost as if
they were never born

tongues,
yet to learn a language,
that only spoke with limbs,
shuffle within the flesh of those flames
for a syllable that resembles kindness,

all it found,
guiltless gerunds
churned from vitriolic verbs,
they knew,
there was no dignity left
in the language of humanity,

children
wake up in coffins
that smell of burning wombs
those coffins
that don’t want to be buried
not before this nation douses itself
in disgust of its own reflection
in those half-open beady eyes
their mother can’t bear to close

homes
once flaming with hope
now drenched in despair
bodies
that shouldn’t be touched
but only burnt
shadows
that shouldn’t be seen
but only slaughtered
some old
some young
some in the day
some in the night
some near the feet of temples
some near the mouths of sewers

a habit that never leaves,
but only creeps, deeper,
like death into the cemetery,
into the eyes of a Republic
that never regrets

*On October 20, Upper caste Rajputs set fire to the home of a Dalit family in Sunpedh, a village in Faridabad near Delhi, killing both the sleeping children inside aged 2 years and 9 months while their parents have suffered severe burn injuries.

Mob Kills Man, Injures Son Over Beef Rumours In Greater Noida

GREATER NOIDA, INDIA – SEPTEMBER 29: Family members of Mohammad Akhlaq (50-year-old man) mourn during his funeral at their village in Bisada on September 29, 2015 in Greater Noida, India. Akhlaq was beaten to death and his son critically injured by a mob over an allegation of storing and consuming beef at home, late night on Monday, in UPs Dadri. Police and PAC were immediately deployed in the village to maintain law and order. Six persons were arrested in connection with the killing of man. (Photo by Burhaan Kinu/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

None left

I bow
to the cow
munching my mother’s bones
near the windows of my burning house

” I am your mother”,
it moos, in maternal delight,
for her deserted sons

I hear,
in the silence of its hooves,
the final moan of my mother

” Fly away, Aslam,
before the tunes of these deaths
reach the graves of your ears

Fly away, child,
the warmth of my womb
is drenched in this doom

Fly away, darling,
these saffron skies
have no space for broken moons

but
forgive,
before you fly,

forgive all the mothers
whose kids never returned

forgive all the silence
whose words never formed

forgive all the seas
whose shores wounded you”

last wishes,
they say,
are final verses
of a poem whose time to end
has come

I take the bloodied pen
from my mother’s cold fingers
tear a piece from her white saree,
a canvas to conclude this parting poem,
with holes that smell of stubbed cigarettes

cigarettes
a country smokes
in the shadows of its temples

the ash
sprinkled all across its twisted map
are leftovers from our lynchings’

I try to finish the tear
that started in my mothers eye
but……

I realize
that I am already dead
the pen has left the ink
the eyes have left the tears
the birds have left the wings

there is no end
to this poem
there are no eulogies
to these funerals
there is none left
to weep or to write

*On October 1, 2015, Mohammad Akhlaq, a 50 year old muslim man, was lynched by a mob of 100 over the rumors of carrying beef. On October 10, 2015, Zahid Ahmed Bhat, a 20 yr old belonging to Kashmir, was lynched for the same.

Stories of a graveyard

Azaan stabs the dawn
with its absence

Aziz chacha kills himself
with poison he bought
by pawning his bronze-coated Quran

kids from the madrasa
tearing their skull caps
run across the streets
writing on the walls
with blood from their burning eyes
the Arabic word they learnt
the day before

ila-liqaa’
(until we meet again)
-their tongues folded like waves
that vomit corpses onto the empty shores

the leaves with dew on their lips
wilt into parched shrouds for dead roses

the domes of the mosque
crumble into wounded sparrows
climbing up the stairs
that touch the skies
only to slip onto the cracked soils of cemeteries
as tombstones waiting for the corpses

Khaja mama who guards the graveyard
writes a rhyme he always forgot in the school
on one of the blank gravestones
then gently sleeps inside the grave,
asking his wife to cement the top with her tears

Wazira who died two days ago
walks out of her coffin
undressing the rags on her body

stretch marks on her womb
flayed skin on her fingers

At the door of the burial ground
she sits naked
with her legs wide apart
a frozen teardrop twinkled on her bosom
a flock of butterflies huddle on her shoulder blades

*On October 23, 2015, unknown youths dug out the body of a Muslim woman, buried two days before, from her grave and allegedly raped the corpse.

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

SOME PERSPECTIVES ON THE #OCCUPYUGC MOVEMENT IN INDIA

Since mid October, research scholars all over India have been an agitated lot. The UGC, or the University Grants Commission which is the governing body for education in the country, issued a circular stating the withdrawal of the non-NET Fellowship for M.Phil and PhD scholars from the coming academic session. The fellowships were to the tune of Rs. 5000 (50 pounds) for M.Phil scholars and Rs. 8000 (80 pounds) per month for PhD scholars who have not cleared the NET examination. For the uninitiated, the UGC holds the NET (National Eligibility Test) exam twice a year which is mandatory to qualify in order to hold a teaching position. The top 10 percent of those qualifying the NET are eligible for the Junior Research Fellowship of the JRF which is around Rs. 25000 per month (the JRF was reviewed recently).

This scrapping of the non-NET Fellowship was undertaken by the UGC in the most arbitrary fashion possible. In a case of cruel irony, the UGC met in early October to review the fellowship, addressing the demands of students and academics alike. Some of the demands were to extend the fellowship to scholars in all State and Central universities unequivocally as the fellowship is currently available to only central universities and each university can apply its own rules on who should be a beneficiary of the fellowship. Another major demand of students was to revise the rates of the fellowship, which to say is ‘peanuts’ is also an understatement.

As Professor Ayesha Kidwai points out in her article, only a minuscule percentage of the research scholars in India are supported by the JRF. She lists that – “The figure of 6400 fellowships in 2010-2011 works out to research support for just 4.6% of the 137,668 students registered for research in the humanities, social sciences and sciences across India in that period”.

There are many reasons why we students are protesting against this vehemently. The most important of them all is the simple fact that this scholarship has enabled researchers to pursue their research. Because hostels are subsidized, students have been able to do their fieldwork, buy books, attend lectures in other colleges/universities, and participate in conferences etc, with this small amount allocated to them.

A massive rally of protesting students in New Delhi demanding the continuation of Non-NET fellowships.

A massive rally of protesting students in New Delhi demanding the continuation of Non-NET fellowships.

Students have been continuously picketing outside the UGC office premises since October 21st, even sleeping on the road in the harsh Delhi winters.  There has also been massive support from academics who have joined the students in the protests. To name a few prominent members, Prof. Ayesha Kidwai, Dr. Brinda Bose, Mary E. John, Nivedita Menon, Prof. Anand Kumar, and former UGC member Prof. Yogendra Yadav among scores of others. Many other academics have been conducting ‘open classes’ with the protestors starting with Prof. Janaki Nair who conducted a class on October 30th on the subject ‘When Higher Education Was Engendered’. This movement is no longer just centered in Delhi and has gained massive support from students all over the country including Gujarat, Punjab, Mumbai, Hyderabad, Shillong, Kolkata, Madhya Pradesh etc (more information here). This is one among those rare student protest movements which has spiralled beyond the limits of state borders or concerns. It is of concern to one and all. And why is it so?

This fellowship, though a small amount, has been a lifeline for many students to be able to pursue research in India. Higher research is still not considered or even accorded the status of professionalism here. On most occasions parents dissuade their kids from pursuing research. In a country obsessed with engineering, medical and MBA degrees which allow one to start earning from a relatively young age, research is looked at with disdain. This fellowship has been crucial mostly to students from deprived backgrounds such as Dalits (ex-untouchables) or minorities (Muslims, Christians and Sikhs) and to women as well. Due to the massive protests, the UGC hastily formed a committee to look into the reasons of the protest. The committee met for the first time on 3rd November. One of the circulars that the UGC issued in view of the protest on October 27 said that the fellowships will not be discontinued but will be issued on the basis of ‘merit’ and ‘economic criteria’. Now we all are aware how ‘merit’ functions in India.

The major problem with the Indian education system as well as the mindset of the people has been the extra emphasis on grades and ranking since school. This is deeply flawed, and still swears by the ‘rote system’. To add to it, a small percentage only makes it to some of the better schools in the country and most children go to government run primary schools. Therefore, the question of ‘merit’ in allotting an M.Phil or PhD fellowship is a serious flaw. Take for example, the NET exam. This is an exam which again exemplifies India’s love for rote. The exam requires a scholar to answer multiple choice questions and is highly debatable if at all it can judge a researcher’s research ability. Getting an admission to the M.Phil course is not easy. It requires a scholar to clear a tough entrance exam and if selected will have to clear a panel interview. Same is the case with PhD admissions as well, though some universities like the Jawaharlal Nehru University have an integrated M.Phil/PhD program.

Again, the economic criterion that the UGC is proposing is also highly problematic. And particularly for women, as on many instances, this fellowship has helped girls to dodge a patriarchal system and follow their dreams and careers. In a country, where patriarchy is palpable at every single sphere and girls are still expected to follow the diktats of the family, such fellowships have been the sustenance for women to pursue higher education. And this is not just limited to girls from lower middle classes or working class families. Many women from even elite and rich families have rebelled against patriarchy and pursued their studies because this fellowship allowed the possibility. So when economic criteria are to be analysed for a researcher, whose economic criteria is one talking about? Is it of the family or the researcher? This question would be an oxymoron in itself as the researcher is not liable to have any source of income other than the fellowship.

The reason for this draconian act of the government has a lot to do with the general callousness and disregard that the Modi government has towards higher education. Earlier this year, the government instituted massive cuts in education by about 25% from the last year. As per reports, support to state universities was also cut by about 48% as compared to the last academic year. The last one year has also been marked by controversial and contentious appointees to crucial academic positions including the highly debated and protested appointment of the Chairperson of the prestigious Film and Television Institute of India (FTII).  This withdrawal of the non-NET fellowship and slashing of funds for education is also related to India’s commitment to ‘open higher education trade as a service in the WTO-GATS negotiations slated to take place in December this year’ (see Ayesha Kidwai’s article).

These steps would sound the death knell for higher education as we know in the country. One of the most populous countries, India has a dismal record of the number of PhD scholars. A 2013 report taken out by the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD), pegs the number of PhD scholars to a paltry 0.5% of students enrolled in higher education making this de-facto a minuscule amount of the total population. If this fellowship is further withdrawn, many more scholars will be left with no other option but to quit their research. Further, many more will be highly de-motivated to pick up research as a matter of passion or career. Many of us, including me, are in this field not purely because we see this as a ‘career option’ but because we love our subjects and we strive to gather knowledge which we can perhaps later disseminate to the younger lot in various ways. It’s a matter of tragedy, that the government today has no respect for knowledge creation. But it serves well for the state to remember that a nation’s greatness is also measured by the knowledge it generates. The struggle is still on. As I write this, a massive students rally marched from the UGC premises to the MHRD headquarters in Delhi on November 5th forcing the MHRD Minister Smriti Irani to leave the confines of her cabin and address the students on the streets. We shall not rest until we are given what we deserve. Till then #OccupyUGC shall continue.

This post was written by Shaheen Salma Ahmed.

Shaheen is a MPhil student at the School of Arts and Aesthetics, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. Her research interests include,the body in visual representations, mass media and advertising, identity politics , gender and nation, Indian politics and its propaganda through mass media.

Photo Courtesy : Occupy UGC Movement Facebook Page.

A Murder by other means : Death of a Dalit Journalist

On April 12th, Nagaraju Koppula lost his battle with cancer, and casteism. A Dalit journalist working in India, Nagaraju faced caste discrimination his entire life—a discrimination that ultimately worked to hinder his treatment and recovery.

A Murder by other means

“He died of cancer, murdered by Manu*”, wrote, with seething anger,clouded by grief, Chittibabu Padavala, a close friend of Nagaraju Koppula,probably the only English journalist from the Madiga community, a Dalit sub-caste,who caved in after a protracted,courageous and consuming struggle with lung cancer on April 12.

4 days prior to that, “I wish he could live”, read an article by Allam Narayana, the chief editor of a well-known Telugu newspaper “Namaste Telangana”, on the life and condition of Nagaraju.
Wishes, sometimes, remain just that: wishes. Wistful whispers of weary voices.

Nagaraju was born in Sarapaka Village from Bhadrachalam mandal of Krishna District to a family struggling to survive in the margins of a casteist society, wading through the straits of severe socio-economic subjugation. A father, who went missing when he was 4 years old, and a mother striving as a daily wage labourer, along with his five siblings, to keep this wrecking boat afloat. He too had to walk on this beaten track of child labour, as many in this country do every second, each a silent storm in this broken, and ever breaking, cup, at a very young age for the sake of sustenance. A construction labourer, then an ice candy-seller, and eventually a respected artist, who painted sign boards etc.,in his village.

With the sheer strength of his relentless hard work and will power in an environment socially, financially and structurally hostile, he managed to complete his M.A in the School of Journalism from the University of Hyderabad, followed by a Diploma in the Indian Institute of Journalism and New Media in Bangalore, supported by scholarships, and trained in investigative journalism and creative writing at the Tehelka School of Journalism in Delhi.

Venturing into a field with an abysmal representation of Dalits, discriminated in myriad subtle and not-so-subtle manners, he began his attempts to eke out a living from the profession of journalism. After interning at and freelancing for publications like The Hindu that deemed beneath their ‘merit’ to hire him, he landed a much-needed job at The New Indian Express which for hardly unknown reasons paid him lesser than what they did his fellow reporters. A job,no, something more than it, a dream much dearer, to which he dedicated his heart and soul, latched onto it with a zeal that left one inspired and,even,a bit concerned, expending unmatched energies in pursuit of stories.Nagaraju swept with a stunning stroke of his sincere pen a broad range of reports from the dismal state of health care for mentally ill prisoners swallowing many lives through its numbing apathy to the wildlife species hanging from the edge of extinction in the then Andhra Pradesh. From Nehru Zoological Park hosting four cheetahs from Czech Republic to a mother waiting for three years to meet her children, Nagaraju churned scores of moving and amusing stories, serving ample proof of his journalistic mettle.Consequently, it didn’t take him long to make a mark of his own in the organization inviting well-deserved acclaim.

But as it happens, time has an unmistakable penchant for tragedies.His health declined. Weight loss and repeated bouts of coughing pulled him to consult doctors in GovtTB&Chest Hospital where he was faultily diagnosed for TB based on the meagre and clearly insufficient evidence of an X-Ray. As one of his friends notes, “They did not suspect Lung Cancer because Nagaraju was a non-smoker, largely ignoring the fact that about a third of lung cancer cases occur in non-smokers.” However, the treatment, which offered no solace whatsoever, continued for 5 months. When doctors kept ignoring the repeated protestations of Nagaraju that his medical condition is worsening, he visited a private clinic where he was diagnosed with lung cancer based through a lymph node biopsy.During this period of five months, the ruthless apathy and hideous discriminatory attitudes of The New Indian Express administration were starkly palpable, to Nagaraju and his friends. According to them, refusing to provide any sort of financial assistance/health cards, as was the case with his peers, to their employee, forcing him to go on a loss of pay leave for the five months by granting a casual leave only for 12 days, reinforced their belief in the casteist and debilitating labor-hostile environment of the publication, He was able to undergo treatment with the assistance of funds from his friends and colleagues, with a discernible absence of help from media houses or journalist unions, while Nagaraju’s name had been removed from the rolls of the newspaper without any intimation.Ill fate never stopped haunting him. More often than not, kind hearts bear the most bitter wounds.He was at the receiving end of an online fraud, a case of grave cyber robbery, which siphoned off approximately 1.23 lakh rupees from his SBI account, the amount collected for his treatment. A money that would now be smelling of blood and tears in the pockets of the robbers.

Birsa Ambedkar Phule Students Association of Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi organised a meeting to demand justice for Dalit journalist Nagaraju.

Birsa Ambedkar Phule Students Association of Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi organised a meeting to demand justice for Dalit journalist Nagaraju.

A very heart-warming campaign, initiated by his friends and well-wishers, “Justice For Nagaraju” had been afoot to bring to light the grievances of the then bedridden, with unstable consciousness, Nagaraju, to fight for the rightful justice he deserves, to indict The New Indian Express authorities for its casteist crimes, right from the unequal pay to the egregious negligence of his decaying health, demand for radical reforms in the functioning of the Media houses and Journalist Unions and, of course, to raise assistance, financial and moral, to improve the rapidly sinking condition of Nagaraju, a journalist this cursed land didn’t deserve.

The campaign had gained traction in social media circles’ and been successful in grabbing the attention of the government, which promised some financial aid, Civil rights activists’ such as famous balladeer Gaddar, intellectuals, artists, journalists, politicians etc. from the state, some of whom visited him personally, lend him their much-needed-support. Protests against the casteist administration of the Indian express were under way in places such as the University Of Hyderabad with encouraging involvement of the students, activists etc.

Before death decided to pull down the curtains on this disheartening tragedy, to force a full-stop into this sentence of maladies…before Manu snatched the final breath from the battered lungs of Nagaraju….a slow and deliberate murder…a murder by other means…a murder, scripted,in treacherous detail, in the holy books of hideous history…

A delegation comprising of The University of Hyderabad Contract Employees’ Union, the Democratic Teachers’ Network and the Telangana Students Association met the editor of The New Indian Express, G Vasu. The latter denied rejecting Nagaraju’s leave applications after Nagaraju fell sick and said he had granted him leave twice in 2013. He denied any unwillingness to provide him with medical assistance and reimbursement and said the administration was willing to provide medical help, but Nagaraju never applied for help or used his health card.Their statement also highlights, and reinforces, what many of those close to Nagaraju already knew,

“As a team we found that there were several violations of ethical conduct in how Nagaraju has been treated. Striking is the absence of a forum where he could take up the issues of caste discrimination which he said he had faced in the organization. Another key structural issue is that of contractualization of workforce, which was used by the New Indian Express administration to legitimize the taking off of Nagaraju from the pay rolls and the lack of proper medical benefits. Excuses such as Nagaraju not asking for or accepting medical help, can not be validated in today’s context, and also can not be used to justify the administration’s illegal act of not providing for medical benefits to their employee. “

 

In a press release, the Delhi Union of Journalists (DUJ) paid tribute to him and demanded that Dalit journalists, who are anyway so few in number, be protected against casteist behaviour of superiors in media organisations. “In the rare scenario that a Dalit journalist is able to enter the upper caste stranglehold of news organisations, let the managements be careful to not exploit or subject these journalists to any sort of discrimination at the work place”, the DUJ release said.

Delhi Union of Journalists organised a memorial meeting for Nagaraju.

Delhi Union of Journalists organised a memorial meeting for Nagaraju.

Some deaths, come flying from above, pushed by the storm of misfortunes, to pierce us below the eyes, where sighs and tears rest. While others nest, all our lives, in a muted corner of our hearts,waiting for the saddest moment to strike from within us. We weep. We write. Some to remember. Some to forget. We huddle in silent spaces, alone, together, with our memories: Of us before, with, and,now, after him.

Nagaraju, a rural poor dalit, a Madiga, who broke all the boundaries that didn’t want to be touched sullying the purity of many-a-agrahara, who strenuously climbed the ladders, laden with pieces of broken glass, of the system, held onto it with his remaining breath, while the long arms of an unjust milieu kept tugging, from below, at his legs, weary from fighting all through his life. Nagaraju, a heart wrenching reminder of the efficiency of walls, cemented with bricks of inherited wealth and status, to exclude, and to kill slowly those they couldn’t.

Nagaraju, a flowering smile on a wilting face.
Nagaraju, a bed ridden hope of faintly filled stomachs.
Nagaraju, a moon passing beneath the clouds as the night slowly closes its moist eyes…
Nagaraju, the immortal flame of unlit candles…
Farewell, Nagaraju.
To gentler lands with kinder beings.

 

This obituary was written by Abul Kalam Azad, he is a student at the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras, Chennai. (With inputs from Chittibabu Padavala,Swathi and Friends of Justice for Dalit Journalist Nagaraju Koppala Campaign)

 

Notes:
*Manu is a Hindu Mythological figure who had scripted an extremely prominent text Manusmriti, which codifies the heinous and hideous rules, the Dharma, that should govern the workings of the caste system. Manu, hence, is a widely referenced casteist symbol/icon.

WATCH // Udita (Arise): a film on garment making in Bangladesh

Udita Poster

On April 24th 2013, the Rana Plaza building collapsed in Bangladesh. Over 1,130 workers were killed and thousands more were left injured. These workers were producing garments for consumers in Europe and North America.

We have now marked the two year anniversary of the collapse, yet the ILO trust fund established to support victims and their families remains nearly 3 million dollars short.

Rana Plaza was not the first industrial accident of its kind in Bangladesh, and building (and fire) safety is not the only challenge faced by garment workers.

Udita, the latest documentary from The Rainbow Collective, brings together footage capturing garment work in Bangladesh, collected over a five year period.

The Rainbow Collective premiered the film in East London at the Unite The Union Community Centre to a packed house on 24 April, marking the 2nd anniversary of the Rana Plaza collapse.

Udita Trailer (full documentary below):

Udita

Udita asks its audience to listen to the testimonies of workers and organisers. No simple solution is presented. No judgements are passed. Viewers are left to draw their own connections.

Thanks to The Rainbow Collective for making Udita free and accessible.

Please watch and share through your networks.

Udita (full documentary):

This post was written by Mary Hanlon.

Mary is a Canadian PhD candidate in Sociology at the University of Edinburgh, researching ir/responsible fashion and apparel production and consumption. You can also find her at SocialAlterations.comM.F.Hanlon@sms.ed.ac.uk

Cricket, Caste and the Nation State

It was curtains for South Asia when the Indian cricket team lost to a formidable Australian team at the semi-finals of the International Cricket Council’s World Cup championship on Thursday. It is an irony that the tournament is called “World Cup” considering only 14 countries participate in the game that is followed fanatically only in the sub-continent. However it is now a final, where the the two teams Australia and New Zealand from the same continent will clash against each other on Sunday at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. The defeat of the Indian team against the mighty Australian team saw emotions outpouring from the Indian fans who took both to social media and to the streets to vent their frustration and anger. And when no one paid attention to their madness, the frantic fans started heckling not the 11 players of the team or its team management, but a woman named Anushka Sharma for the team’s loss. Sharma is not a ground staff of the team, not a coach nor a player. She is a popular Indian actress who is dating Virat Kohli, the next in line captain of the Indian cricket team. The fact that Kohli consistently failed to put a decent score in the entire tournament seemed less daunting for the Indian fans, than the fact that his partner – a successful, beautiful and famous woman who had an identity of her own – was in the stadium cheering for him, without the baggage of being his wife. It was not surprising that the predominantly male cricket fans seeped in the patriarchal system of the country couldn’t handle this modern relationship. Cricket though is not only India’s national sport. In more ways than we might imagine it is a mirror to the Indian society. The heckling of Anushka Sharma brought out the misogyny of the society.

Filmstar Anushka Sharma at the Sydney Cricket Ground watching the Semi-Finals of the World Cup clash between Australia and India.

Filmstar Anushka Sharma at the Sydney Cricket Ground watching the Semi-Finals of the World Cup clash between Australia and India.

The Indian team’s loss saw social media being abuzz with  misogynyst and sexist comments against the actor, and apart from that, the loss also brought out arguments and counter-arguments about the social nature of Indian cricket and how democratic it is. For a sport which has become the symbol of national importance and is strongly associated with feelings of patriotism, a loss is considered to be a national disaster and that too in the semi-final of a world cup. The composition of the Indian team is a reflection of how long the country is taking to establish an equitable and just nation. A colonial sport, which was brought to India by the British colonizers, has evolved to become a symbol of the nation and an integral part of everyday Indian culture. Cricket is a sport that is watched and followed by millions in India and goes beyond the rubric of sport and is contoured with nationalism and communalism. Cricket indeed shapes Indian nationalism in many ways, though gendered in nature; it has become the site where one’s patriotism is put under test and especially during the team’s clashes with Pakistan. More than a sport, thus cricket here becomes a symbol of nation’s sentiment and it also enjoys political sanctity as one saw the sport being used as a means to negotiate political diplomacy with the Pakistan state.

An important question which needs to be addressed here is this: Is the sport, which has followers across religion, class and caste and is followed in all parts of the country, really representative of the nation-state and its people? A related question is this: how democratic is it in its representation? Unlike football, cricket emanated from top to bottom in India, the sport played by British colonizers in Bombay (Mumbai) among themselves, which was later imitated by upper class Parsis, then by the Hindu and Muslim elites who had their own clubs and teams;  at each stage of its evolution the sport excluded sections of the society. Does the Indian cricket team represent the social fabric of the Indian society?

Urban poor kids playing cricket on the beach in Mahabalipuram near Chennai

Urban poor kids playing cricket on the beach in Mahabalipuram near Chennai

Ramachandra Guha [1] argues that cricket as a sport cannot be understood in isolation and is strongly connected to the overarching themes of Indian history :race, caste, religion and nation. He gives us an idea how exclusive the sport was: “through its communal representation the Indian Christians were left out as they were rejected by Europeans as they were not white and the Hindus and Muslims too rejected them as they were not one among them.” The discriminatory nature of Indian cricket is exemplified through the figure of Palwankar Baloo. A Chamar [2] by birth, he was easily the most successful bowler of his era, but despite that he could never gain upward mobility in the sport and never became captain of his side. The main reason was he was a Dalit, or Untouchable. 

During his playing days, Baloo faced discrimination. His colleagues, the upper caste cricketers, touched the same ball as he, but off the field they observed the ritual taboos. At the drinks break, Baloo was served tea outside the pavilion, and in a disposable clay cup, while his colleagues drank in white porcelain cups inside. If he wished to wash his hands and face, an “Untouchable” servant of the club took a kettle out into a corner of the field and poured water from it. Baloo also had his lunch in a separate plate, and on an earmarked table. Guha compared Baloo’s achievement on the cricket field to that of Jackie Robinson in American baseball, who was likewise the first player in his game to break through what had formerly proved to be an impenetrable social barrier. The comparison is not at all far-fetched, for caste is, if anything, a more rigid and total system of social exclusion than race. 

More like South Africa, a predominantly Black populated nation whose national cricket team is always represented chiefly by Whites with a tokenist representation of Blacks and Asian ethnic minorities, the Indian cricket team is represented largely by the Brahmins and other upper caste non-Brahmins. Boria Majumdar[3] in his study demonstrates that postcolonial Indian cricket, as played at the national level, was largely a preserve of the social elite, and far from being ‘democratized’ in independent India,  it has become more than ever before a monopoly of the affluent upper castes. Majumdar shows how for almost three decades, from 1950s through to the ’80s, the Madras-Bombay Brahmin axis dominated Indian cricket. “In the 1978 team that played against the West Indies, only two players were non upper-caste Hindus and the 1982 team that played England at Lord’s all players except Kirmani (Muslim) were Brahmans or other caste Hindus.” 

As a known case, the Tamil Nadu Cricket Association (TNCA), which is dominated by the Tamil Brahmins, is also riven by the constant bickering between the Iyer and Iyengar subcastes among them. TNCA has over the years become a common property of the Brahmin males in the city of Chennai (formerly Madras), and going well beyond the aspects of sport, cricket is a field for pursuing  modern forms of caste discrimination, gatekeeping and social exclusion. 

Cricket as a sport as mentioned earlier functions as a site of construction of nationalism and in the Indian case, more like other sports it acts as a masculine domain where concepts of hegemonic masculinity and nationalism overlap. Here the fact that in the colonial era as inferiorized selves, cricket served as a measure to overcome that marginality. This long tradition where the sport became a marker of nationalistic aspirations to overcome inferiority formed the construction of Indian nationalism.

Cricket, being followed by millions of fans across the sub-continent, largely remains a sport that defines masculinity in its hegemonic form, and interestingly the history of cricket in India shows us how the sport in colonial Bengal was taken up by the upper caste elites as a form of counter-hegemonic measure towards the construction of the Bengali male as effeminate by the British. This being the case, the sport which is followed mostly by males who in a sense have subordinated masculine identities see the sporting heroes as symbols of hegemonic masculinity, and through them they imagine a way out of subordination. That is why there was such an outrage when one of their masculine icons failed; they targeted the woman, thus defining an inherent characteristic of female subordination in the construction of masculinity. In another case of subordination, the caste exclusivity in cricket also defines the being of an upper caste male as a prerogative in the construction of nationalism. 

Notes and References

 

Ramachandra Guha (1997) Cricket, caste, community, colonialism: the politics of a great game, The International Journal of the History of Sport, 14:1,

Chamars are members of Scheduled Castes a formerly untouchable caste that was involved in leatherwork, so was considered by the orthodox Hindu society as polluting. 

Boria Majumdar (2006) Cricket in India: Representative playing fields to a restrictive preserve, The International Journal of the History of Sport, 23:6, 927-959 

This post was written by Karthikeyan Damodaran and Divya Rajagopal

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.

Divya Rajagopal is a Special Correspondent with Economic Times newspaper based in Mumbai, India.

Image 1 Courtesy : http://www.deccanchronicle.com/150326/entertainment-bollywood/article/didnt-see-anushka-sharma-during-india-australia-semi-finals

Image 2 Courtesy : http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Beach_Cricket_Mamallapuram_Tamil_Nadu_India.jpg

Practices of Visual Culture: Cutouts and its Materiality as a Plebeian Political Aesthetic

Politics in India has certain unique characteristics which can hardly be found elsewhere and one element which has drawn quite a formidable amount of attraction is its practices of visual culture, countless wall posters, graffiti, giant sized cutouts and billboards form the oeuvre and decorate the landscape. Each of these practices has a specific historical connection related to its landscape. The culture of having giant cutouts is one such unique practice of visual culture specific to a geographic location; something the academicians, journalists and political commentators relate with the southern state of Tamil Nadu in India. A similar form of aesthetic but in a more concrete form of structure that comes to mind is the gargantuan Soviet era-statues, which weighed more than 40 tons and stood 25 feet high and above.

Cutouts DMK

Cutout culture, which thrived on the cinema-politics nexus, facilitated the emergence of cult figures, mythical heroes, charismatic film stars and politicians. Cutout is a term that defined the distinctive political culture of Tamil Nadu in South India. This investment on the visual aesthetics of displaying flamboyantly coloured giant size cutouts adorning the cityscapes was a contribution of the Tamil film industry and the state’s major Dravidian [1] political parties who primarily used these cutouts. Cutouts are pieces of plywood board, which are hand-painted on canvas; aesthetically shaped and erected on main junctions in the cities, they became a powerful vehicle to promote iconicity in contemporary Tamil culture. This form of cutout culture fueled ideas of devotion and charisma.

Writing about West Bengal’s political culture, prominent political theorist Partha Chatterjee said,

“wall writing regardless of parties was the single most visible material sign of political activity in the state. The activity used and perfected for over more than half a century, became an essential aspect of West Bengal’s political culture, in the same way that giant cutouts characterize the public political culture of Tamil Nadu” [2].

Giant cutouts mostly 40 to 70 feet tall where famous movie heroes or political leaders in action or waving their hands or with folded hands could be seen erected at prominent spots in the city, these cutouts in a towering height also brings into play the idea of Darshan a ritualized aspect of Hindu culture where the devotee gazes at the deity and seeing his/her image the devotee in turn becomes object of the deity’s gaze, here the filmstar or political leader is seen as god like. This also defined both the popularity of the leader and their power, and most importantly like wall posters it also gave an opportunity for the cadres to showcase their loyalty but with a little more cost pinching their pockets. Preminda Jacob [3] who studied these cutout images found out that cutouts crafted a charismatic personality for the film star leaders of political parties and enabled the amplification of that charisma throughout the public sphere. She saw the rise of iconicity of Jayalalitha [4] in a series of carefully orchestrated cutout portraits during the 1990s, the already popular image of her as a film star combined with her political persona and gave her a demigod status and the visual cutout culture was significant in constructing this status.

The years after the ‘Talkie Era’ of 1930s was when the painted signboards came into prominence, and by 1940s cutouts largely put up by the film industry surfaced to decorate the landscape and with the emergence of Dravidian parties in the 1950s the cutouts became larger in size and shape. For instance during the release of actor Sivaji Ganesan’s film Vanangamudi in 1957, Mohan Arts handcrafted an impressive 80-foot cut-out at Chitra theatre in Chennai city. This was said to be the tallest standee ever made in Asia at the time claimed Harinath, son of Mohan who designed the cutout. This form of visual aesthetics was influential in Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK)’s plebeian forms of political culture and took them straightway to the masses. DMK’s close nexus with the film industry amplified these forms of larger than life structures on the public space. A political visual aesthetic primarily seen as a DMK culture infiltrated too fast and was replicated by AIADMK (All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam) Congress and other smaller political parties in the state [5].

This visual extravaganza called the cutout culture was nothing but an extension of aesthetic display started and pioneered by the DMK in its annual conferences where smaller cutouts were used to decorate the stages and podium which were built embodying a sense of Tamil glory and golden past invoking historical figures or events from the past.  Another important facet of this visual culture are the fan clubs, a phenomenon much popular in Tamil Nadu, fan clubs also gave a fillip to these forms of visual culture during the 1960s till recent times where giant cutouts were put up during the release of films of top stars. These cutouts were erected largely in front of theatres and a few important spots, the most prominent during the 1980s and 90s was Gemini Flyover in Chennai. The cutout scenario in Tamil Public Space reached its peak during Jayalalitha’s maiden regime as Chief Minister from 1991 to 1996, it saw a proliferation of giant sized cutouts, Bernard Bate cites AIADMK as the most extravagant in its use of cutouts and says are, “unparalleled in their ostentatious semeiotic occupation of a city ” [6].

By the end of 1990s there was so much of outcry about this emergent cutout culture and was lamented by AIADMK’s political rivals, DMK being the prominent. This dissent along with the emergence of technological advancement to reproduce images digitally saw the slow demise of cutouts paving way for vinyl billboards. However during the recent past one could see its slow emergence courtesy the DMK, which has used cutouts in its recent state conference held in Tiruchi giving them a possible opportunity to distinguish them from the existing digital culture. Mohan a cutout artist in Chennai said that the cutout culture has invaded other cities, but in Tamil Nadu, the birthplace of cutout culture, it’s hard to see one. “It was only during Jayalalitha’s time that we had a field day” [7]. The last hand-painted Mohan Arts production was a cutout for the 2005 film Chandramukhi. It was raised on Anna Salai opposite the Buhari Hotel. The 2008 Supreme Court ban on all hoardings sounded the death-knell for an industry that once brought a degree of flamboyance to the city [8]. The globalizing nature of Indian cities with a specific interest to attract foreign investors and rid this form of plebeian visual culture which has been seen by the managerial and middle classes as a form of visual pollution has gained judicial investment and moral support from media. Of late, though there has been a re-emergence in terms of practicing that visual aesthetic, but not to an extent of what one saw in the 1990s, however as a visual export from Tamil Nadu it is thriving in other parts of India.

Notes and References

[1] Dravidian parties include a range of regional parties which originated in southern state of Tamil Nadu during the colonial era espousing on the idea of Dravidian ethnic identity as an oppositional binary against Aryan supremacy. Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (Dravidian Progressive Federation) and All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (All India Anna Dravidian Progressive Federation are the most prominent among the Dravidian parties. Both the Dravidian parties had people from film world becoming top political leaders thus contributing much to the cinema-politics nexus.

[2] Chatterjee, Partha. 2006. Cleaning Up Democracy – Bengal’s zeal to sanitize its public political arena Telegraph March 16, 2006. Accessed on January 19, 2015. http://www.telegraphindia.com/1060316/asp/opinion/story_5969333.asp

[3] Jacob, Preminda. 2009. Celluloid Deities: The Visual Culture of Cinema and Politics in South India. NewDelhi: Orient Blackswan.

[4] Jayalalithaa is a film star turned politician who joined the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and rose to become the Chief Minister of the State three times since 1991.

[5] Rajadurai, S.V. and V. Geetha. 1996, ‘DMK HegemonyCultural Limits to Political Consensus’, in SathyamurthyT.V. (ed.), Region, Religion, Caste, Gender and Culture in Contemporary India Delhi: Oxford University Press. pp. 559-72.

[6] Bate, Bernard 2008. Tamil Oratory and the Dravidian Aesthetic, Oxford University Press, New Delhi. [Direct quote from Page 90]

[7] Subramanian, Nirupama. 1994. Larger Than Life, India Today November.

[8] Menon, Nithya. 2014. Chennai Once a City of Hoardings. The Hindu Accessed on January 19, 2015, http://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/chennai/chen-society/chennai-once-a-city-of-hoardings/article6395165.ece

 

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.

Image Source: special arrangement

The younger generation of Syrian refugees in Turkey: Forced to be precocious, but where does their future lie?

The prolonged state of the Syrian civil war led to the huge outflow of Syrian refugees to its neighboring countries like Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq. The registered number of the Syrian refugees inside Turkey is 1.5 million; however, the numbers could be more as most of the interviewees or Turkish officials told me that this number should be more than 2 million or even 3. The younger generation Syrian refugees not only been forced to leave their country, but also face the problems as drop out of schools due to security or economic reasons, lack of parenting, working illegally and got paid lower than the local average salary, and mentally and physically suffered because of their relatives or themselves’ misfortunes in and outside Syria. Even with their strong wills for surviving, how long can they stay on? And where are their future? The Syrian issue is not limited to the regional level, if the international society keeps on neglecting the refugees’ situations. The severe hatters towards the West and hopeless of their life in the minds of the Syrian people due to the careless of the international society may bounce back to the rest of the world. The following stories demonstrate how the younger generation of the refugees as Syrian youth living Turkey and their experiences reflect the iceberg of the hardship as an everyday experience.

Many Syrian youths went abroad by themselves or with few friends, because their parents either had passed away due to the cruel civil war inside their country, or are too old to travel. Muhammad and two of his younger brothers is a case of this. Muhammad is 21, Ala is 20, and the youngest Hisham is only 16, they fled from Darra to Istanbul in the beginning of 2014. All they had was 6000 USD which their father gave them. Without having any acquaintances in Turkey, they have none to depend on but themselves. From finding a place to stay to looking for a job, they can only rest on themselves and their luck in this totally unfamiliar land. Even though the two older brothers have diplomas in computer design Syrian institutes, due to the language barrier, they can only work as restaurant services for earning a life. Even worse, their salaries is half of what the Turkish worker gets in Turkey (the normal salary in Turkey should be above 1500 lira but they were getting only 800 lira).

 

Mahmoud’s salary of US$ 60 a month from a Lebanese fish factory helps to pay the rent for the underground storage room his family lives in.

Mahmoud’s salary of US$ 60 a month from a Lebanese fish factory helps to pay the rent for the underground storage room his family lives in (UNHCR/S. Baldwin / September 2013).

 

The thing perplexing me most is, why a 16 year- old-teen would like to travel to an alien land for job with his brothers? He told me: when I was in school in Darra, the police or intelligence service will come to school and arrest the school children without any reason. Some of them return injured, some of them just disappeared. We cannot attend the class anymore due to the fear from this suppression. My parents were worried about my safety so they have no choice but ask me to leave with my brothers. I need to find a job here, for sustaining the economic problem faced by our family in Syria, because there is no working possibility in Syria now.

Another 20 year old youth Muhammad from Aleppo, came to Istanbul with a few friends for finding a job. In Turkey, the Syrian people do not have the working rights, he worked as an illegal worker for construction. One day, he fell down from the second floor during his work, his back got injured and has to be bedridden for a week. I visited him with another friend in the hospital. When we entered the ward, we found three young men around his age were standing behind taking care of him, there were no adults to take care because all their parents are still in Syria. During his stay in Turkey, he got a call from his mother from Aleppo, the news from the other side of the phone was more painful than the injury on his back. His mother told him that his father has been arrested by the regime, and his brother has been detained by the rebels. Now he not only need to worry about his own situation, but also about his mother and sisters inside Syria: without any form of economic support and male members at home, how can they survive by themselves? He did not cry, not even a single teardrop, but unable to do anything he was just lying on the bed quietly.

 

Children clean up their classrooms in a school damaged during fighting in Kansafra on October 6, 2012 (Zain Karam/Reuters).

Children clean up their classrooms in a school damaged during fighting in Kansafra on October 6, 2012 (Zain Karam/Reuters).

 

In Gaziantep, I met two friends from the rebel groups, Abdullah and Mustafa, 29 years old and 24 years old. The reasons for them to come to Turkey is not as the same as the other two cases, but because during the time of their fighting their family ran out of money, so they need to temporarily stay away from the battlefield for earning some money. They told me that many people are in the same situation as them, because they did not get paid for fighting. Even though they are working in Gaziantep as carriers, but what they are carrying more in their minds is the everyday bombing near their house in Syria. Another day I met Abdullah, his face looked pensive. He told me that a few minutes ago, 100 meter away from his house just got bombed, and his wife and children are crying through the phone on the other side. Even worse, two of his cousins got injured and been sent to the Turkish hospital for recovery. He told me that he did not know what to do, but can just try to comfort his family through phone. “The living cost here is too high for us, I cannot afford to bring my family here.” The next day I saw him, his face seems to be more serious than yesterday, and he told me that one of his cousin just passed away in the hospital.

The Syrian war has lasted almost 4 years, millions of people got displaced, no matter overseas or domestic. The war not only took away the life of the people, but also damaged the future of the younger Syrian generation who are still alive. Imagine just in the Sultangazi area in Istanbul, thousands of Syrian students dropped out of class due to the war inside their country. Many of them have been away from school for 2 to 3 years. Where is their future? They have no choice but to leave their country for finding a job for earning life, while the same children in their age should go to school and learn knowledge for building up their future. There is no sign that shows the Syrian war will end soon, if the international community keeps on neglecting this huge population of Syrian younger generation refugees, after 5 to 10 years, the thousands of Syrian uneducated and illiterate people will become a misery for Syria, or even a threat to the whole international community. As a 20 years old Damascus young man who I met in a hotel in Turkey told me, “I’m going to participate in the jihad now in Syria, since the war have destroyed my family and make our situation worse than death. Even worse, all the countries in this world are not helping us, but just using the Syrian people. Only on the way of Allah can help us relieve.” Before the war, he used to be a student in the Department of Law in the Damascus University. These are just a few people I met during my stay in Turkey, and they are all urban refugees, not to mention about the people living inside the camps……

 

All the people mentioned in this article are interviewed by the author through his visit in the Turkish cities, Istanbul and Gaziantep during 2014 and 2015.

 

This post was written by Ching-An Chang.

Ching-An Chang is a PhD student in Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Edinburgh,

« Older Entries Recent Entries »