Category Archives: Blog Posts

The Ideology of Male Indispensability: Upper Caste Experiments with Patriarchy

by Chittibabu Padavala

We men are the least qualified to speak about an issue like this. It’s time for us to listen. It must be so, even if women are just screaming and not ‘making sense’ TO US.The barbarity, inhumanity, cruelty and maleness at its usual worst has been rightly and powerfully denounced by more than one woman and including some of the distinguished Indian English writers and shown it all for what it is in the context of the violations of women participating in a New Year Party. If a situation is such in which some people from the perpetrator category (men) tell the protagonists of the victim category (activists/advocates/supporters of women’s rights) how best they can protect themselves from our atrocities, we Marxists say, we have reached the point of thinking and acting in terms of “Patriarchy”, “structures”, “systems”, “reproduction” etc. or at least be attending to them. But that is not all.

The attempted orchestration of Nirbhaya II in Bangalore seems to have turned into another “Kiss of Love” disaster or worse. It is only a matter of time that this Bangalore botch-up almost certainly will bring the worst backlash.Well, Nirbhaya movement came in the wake of a genuinely widespread outrage and the simmering new political shift, soon to take power in elections, was part of it. An atrocity of that kind is one of the very few issues that unite all sections of always fragmented Indian society in condemning them. Additionally, the victim was murdered after being tortured. She must have fought to her death rather than succumb to the demands of her torturers/abusers/murderers, an inference that is most appealing to the prevailing sentiments of Hindusphere.

Even governments, while worrying about damage to their reputation with electoral consequences, tend to do as much as they could, even while lacking the means and mentalities required for the task at their disposal, at least until the political and community connections, corruption, bribes etc. come in at the trial phase.Even Kiss of Love, for all its downright fakery and a breathtaking dishonesty, was planned by people with a sense of organisation/mobilisation and successfully managed to mobilise people in impressive numbers in more than one part of the country, even if in relatively free spaces. It had something positive and affirmative to practice and to display, however wrongly their slogans or targets are chosen.

The attempted Nirbhaya II in Bangalore in the wake of mass molestation during the usual New Year parties has none of those strengths. To begin with, it is not even definitive that such a mass atrocity actually took place.This false and farcical Nirbhaya II only has the strength of justice, power of an undeniable point, only in abstract unmoored in the events it invokes, even if it is unappealing to most people in society. It then failed to move masses and probably succeed only in bringing the most disgusting forms of backlash, far faster than if this Media-NGO cultural coup did not botch it all up.It is not difficult to discern the characteristic manipulations of all upper caste Hindu rebellions and because they are oozing out of everything they are doing and saying. Ersatz yet fluent passions is a constant in their campaigns. Things have not changed with the upper caste elite campaigns in their basic contours from the time they invented anti-Reservation mass mobilisation in the late 80s Gujarat. The meritorious each time ‘originally’ re-invent the basic model in each new case.

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Police trying to disperse the crowd during New year celebrations in Bengaluru city in India. Photo Courtesy : AFP

When Hindu Nazist cadre set out to do the same, or better, to do the real one, on a larger scale, more blatantly, on cameras, in the name of protecting great Hindu culture and morals and punishing the immoral and degenerate Western culture, none of these gender warriors would be so aggressive and radical in their denunciations of patriarchy and hounding of the government.Though not many seem to give sufficient weightage to it, these days whenever Congress (or similar non-ideological party) is in government, the Hindu Left, Liberals and indignant educated/enlightened citizens suddenly become uncompromising revolutionaries and come up with the most pickiest of oppositional stances.If BJP or CPM is in power, they would not even think of doing so. Because Congress can’t unleash its ideologically-hardened and incited crowds, doesn’t go to extreme and obsessive lengths to impose its interpretation of things, like CPM and BJP governments do, typically with the help of their respective cadre. Additionally, governments headed by these two ideological parties counter attack their opponents. Moreover, these two parties employ their own mass media or use their people in the media to undo one-way attacks these coup-hatchers can afford only during Congress (or the similar party’s) rule. So these Left/Liberal/Citizen types don’t plan media coups of Bangalore kind when the government is known to counter-attack or aggressively defend itself.

Then what is wrong with such selective seizing upon of the opportunities? Isn’t it that social movements and campaigns, particularly the un-armed or non-violent ones, can only operate when the government at least has some pretense of respect for the opposition and public opinion, civil society etc? Isn’t it that our criterion cannot be objectively what is the worst injustice to fight rather than what is showing the most promise and potential to move people and mobilise them, involving thus mobilised people to understand and take up the related and larger issues? All of that is true. Only trouble is that the people who pull the coups should show some awareness of it. It seems, in Bangalore botch-up, they don’t.One woman witness, very articulate, North-Indian sounding, was repeating in a TV call in that “they were outsiders”, even without the prompt from the anchor or anything to warrant it. By outsiders, she might have meant not the kind of people who live in posh localities, or maybe they are from Karnataka but outside Bangalore city. The Right to City effortlessly transforms itself into an Exclusive Right to City in moments like this.

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A CCTV video grab of the molestation event at Kammanahalli near Bengaluru in India.

Interestingly, the assertions assume the form of unimpeachable principles of individual autonomy, individual rights, choice, inviolability of person, ‘right to Night’ and right to public space for women without the alienating gazes and intrusions, freedom of movement and fun-making and all such un-qualifiable matters of rights. Of course, all of them are true and some of those who dub the whole Bangalore events in these terms are honest or honestly mean them. Such matters of right do not depend on any qualities of those who are entitled to them nor could they be made subject to any qualifications and conditions.But there is an unacknowledged undercurrent Hindu principle, drawn straight from the Code of Manu and other sacred Hindu texts. To put it simply, the idea that freedoms and rights, even the basic and fundamental ones, can be privileges, exceptions, special provisions for some people in some places.Since Nehruvian modernizing and “secular” arrangements, these upper caste elites until yesterday availed these freedoms AS privileges, they constructed narratives of modernity and attributed it to modernity alone and told themselves and even others that they were good enough to be modernizing, thus having them all. Thus invisibilised Manu, at least for themselves, allows them to define their privileges as a defense of freedom, of modernity and individual autonomy.

In this convenient Hindu UC imagination, the people with enough power to off set exaggerated and partial stories through the presence and influence in mass media, NGOs and other opinion-making mechanisms, the assertion of elite power to limit the right to city and send clear message to certain skin-colours, body types, looks, sartorial, class and caste markers to erect a vague class wall, marking a boundary, issue a threat by arm-twisting a eager-to-please government in power appears an appropriate and even workable strategy.To complicate the matter, if the upper caste gender warriors have English Media in their hands, the police and citizens have cc cameras. At least certain claims can be verified. So far, the surfaced definitive evidence points to only one instance of an atrocity of a lone woman in a bylane and not to a mass molestation in the places where it was claimed to have taken place.Understandably, there are more advocates than the witnesses.Anyone living in the real world and not in the hyper-privileged protected places all their lives, even in their vacations, knows that mass molestations are a regular and constant in all places where crowds form and on the move from festivals to recreational events to patriotic gatherings to partying events.Such systematic and long-standing problem can be addressed with a little bit of patient ground work with a small team and a camera for a couple of days, if these warriors are patient and responsible enough to do some leg work, rather than in excessively believing in their own verbal power to bring fundamental changes, though limited only for themselves.

This is also a city with the highest concentration of NGOs in the country, probably in the world, if one is not completely caught up in their own Brahmanical confidence in effecting changes without getting out of their desks, they could have partnered with some of these to do the necessary homework. It is clear that these Hindu elite gender warriors thought of giving it a try in what they perceive as the methods of Hindu Nazists: rumour-mongering, spreading panics to move crowds to frenzied action, after all, our goals are incomparably honourable than theirs, they might have told themselves.Hindu Nazists, alas, before spreading lies and rumours to move people to extraordinary actions, do patient organization building, grooming contacts and all such stuff. They are less of idealists than the Hindu Left/Liberal/Moderns. They are into the business of really changing the world, not just trying to construct a cultural SEZ(Special Economic Zone) for a section of society. If imitating the Hindu Nazist methods is bad enough, failing even to do so is worse. The worst is when Hindu Nazist crowds indulge in much bigger atrocities, openly announced and openly perpetrated, with full impunity.

Bangalore has some of those very few pockets in the country where modernizing, educated, professional women can take refuse from their suffocating patriarchal families and hassling neighbourhoods, with relatively low or infrequent levels of interference.Like elsewhere in such spaces, they provide some absolutely common-sounding but rare freedoms for Indian women, where they can just walk into a bar and have some fun or be on her own without accompanying males to protect them or preying or annoying men hovering over them. Such spaces everywhere allow for mostly upper caste/rich/middle/upwardly mobile women students or professionals the uncertain breathing spaces without having to go through the almost impossible fight to win their minimal freedoms within the family – thus either losing more freedoms or losing the securities of family structures.This model of having only benefits of patriarchy while escaping its daily cruelties and absurdities is coming to an end. Sadly for Hindu UC elite educated professional women, this end is coming when patriarchy is no more a matter within and of the family, kin and neighbourhood but aggressively promoted and worsened by the Hindu Nazist state and its trained paramilitary cadres and their incited mobs.These women will en mass be forced back into the most rigid of the family-kinship traps or no less oppressive friendships, live-ins, co-residential arrangements to stay away from the families. Now the forced choice or no choice is threateningly simple: you either reject patriarchy fully or succumb to it fully.

Though it escapes the campaigners of “notallmen” or not-all-Bangalore types who understood that the campaign got screwed by the campaigners themselves but can’t bear to face or tell the truth honestly, by 70s itself it was feminist and women rights common sense that male power is a ‘system’ and those bad men who oppress women force them into the embrace or the protection of ‘good’ men. In this mutually reinforcing relationship or division of labor among men, very often the same men play protectors to ‘their’ women while persecuting other women to push them back to ‘their’ good men. The bottom line is male indispensability.The time-tested method of upper-castes, of foregrounding “their” women (subjectively experienced among the upper caste elites themselves, of course, as women taking charge of thing even in matters public) whenever they want to assert themselves but their men lack the appeal or acceptance is also gone. Hindu Nazist specialty is precisely to attack the privileged upper caste women first to subdue and limit them back to their families and one of the successful things they invented is to tap and provide a channel for the anti-elite, anti-modern feelings and prejudices of their foot soldiers.

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

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Amid hypocrisy and misogyny, Indian Muslim Women as a ‘double minority’

By Sanober Umar *

The ugly patriarchal politics of ‘Triple Talaq’ or unilateral ‘instant divorce’ through which Indian Muslim men (specifically Sunnis who follow the Hanafi school of Islamic jurisprudence), can divorce their wives by pronouncing the word ‘talaq’ thrice in a single sentence, has appeared once again in mainstream politics. In this board game played over Muslim women, you have two main players. On the one hand you have the ever-so-vocal and self-proclaimed representatives of Muslims – The All Indian Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) – and on the other hand, you have right-wing public figures of Hindutva, including our very own Prime Minister Mr. Modi, shedding tears of concern for Muslim women’s rights.

However Muslim women should not be deemed as agentless victims in this plot, and many are raising their voice against this practice by asserting their Koranic rights. Nonetheless, it is important to emphasize that while AIMPLB and Hindutva politics may seem to be polar opposites, the two have much more in common when it comes to curbing or denying Muslim women their rights. The male dominated AIMPLB is clearly vested in its project of misogyny even at the cost of denying Muslim women their Islamic right of longer procedures of divorce, that allow time and space for reasonable consideration before annulling a marriage. On the other hand, Hindutva men are no saviours of Muslim women either, as many instances both past and present have shown – including the recent spates of rape and murders ( the Haryana rapes and murders by Gau Rakshaks )and not to forget, the horrifying Muzaffarnagar violence not too long ago).

It is imperative to mention here that the kind of divorce proceedings that the AIMPLB vociferously supports is not only not followed by many sects among Muslims in India including the second largest sect of Indian Muslims, the Shias; but also not in twenty-one other Muslim dominant countries or Islamic states, including Algeria, Turkey and Bangladesh and Pakistan, which have abolished regressive practices such as triple talaaq. It is important to listen to what Indian Muslim women have to say about their own needs and rights, and how they are articulating these. Many directly seek guidance and justice through their recourse to the Koran, in effect not turning necessarily to a secular cosmology for their rights, but one that they maintain that their religion already guarantees them. However more than 50,000 women have been compelled to petition to the courts for justice that they derive from their religion, due to the unethical high-handedness of Muslim patriarchs. Misogynists from AIMPLB continue to slander these individual Muslim activists and organizations such as Bazmee Khwateen, Bhartiya Muslim Mahila Aandolan and the All Indian Muslim Women’s Personal Law Board, in a bid to override their legitimate demands. Even if these men from the Ulema concede that the demands of these women are within the Islamic tradition, they still insist on keeping an anti-women tradition alive, as self-assigned representatives of the Indian Muslim community in India. However, here is where an even more important question arises – who gave AIMPLB the right to declare themselves as spokesperson for the Muslim community?

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Image Courtesy : AFP

It comes as a surprise to many that the AIMPLB is just an NGO. It does not hold any power by itself in relation to the State. It has however managed to garner popular support since the 1985 Shah Bano case, which many have noted transpired in a context where the Congress Party which was at the Centre at the time, overlooked the voices of progressive and reformist Muslims. Not a single member of the AIMPLB has been democratically elected. It is a body of mostly handpicked Muslim men who join the ranks simply based on their self-projection as scholars of Islam or social connections, with a large following of poor Muslims, many of whom as mentioned earlier, are too illiterate to even know the depths of debates and dialogues in their own faith, and therefore follow whatever these imams have to say especially at a time when they feel vulnerable as minorities in an increasingly radicalized Hindutva State. Ultimately, the Indian State historically has been conspicuously active in erasing Muslim women’s rights by according a degree of legitimacy to AIMPLB which can be over-ridden easily if the State chooses to do so, especially given how Muslim women’s rights are being evaded in such a blatant fashion and against their constitutional rights as Indian individuals.Meanwhile, the right-wing Hindu BJP claims that it cares for Indian Muslim women, which is news for Indian Muslim women themselves.

Modi in a recent speech, shedding tears for Indian Muslim women, made remarks about how the Muslim community must come together and discuss this issue to guarantee rights for women facing misogynistic oppression through laws like the triple talaq. One may certainly agree with our Prime Minister on this point. It only seems to be a fair demand. But the politics of Muslim marginalization in India is interwoven with Hindutva demonization of the community, including positing themselves as being the bastions of women’s rights when the truth is far from it. One cannot help but wonder why our Prime Minister remains silent, let alone shed tears, for Muslim women who suffer from the violence of Hindu right-wingers? Muslim women have been brutally tortured and killed in several riots by Hindus since our Prime Minister came to power. Justice still remains to be sought for the women victims of Gujarat, Muzaffarnagar and Haryana very recently. It should not come as a surprise than that many within the Muslim community have noted this hypocrisy and taken it to social media, reminding our Prime Minister of his silence in cases such as Mewat rapes, the trauma that Bilkis Bano and several other women underwent during the Gujarat riots, Insha Malik who lost her vision in Kashmir during peaceful protests or Najeeb’s mother still searching for her son who disappeared after Hindutva goons beat him up in JNU recently. In fact, Mr. Modi’s tears is one of the premises that AIMPLB uses to its leverage when it claims that the State wants to infringe the community’s collective identity, but does not care about its interests or intervene in other situations that demand institutional inclusion and protection of minorities.

However now that Prime Minister Modi is on board for the rights of women by expressing concern especially for minority Muslim women, one would hope that our PM would extend the same empathy to his own wife, Jashodaben, whom he abandoned after his marriage. After all, the personal is political as many feminists have observed, and he would set a good example for men and women in the whole country with such a gesture of kindness towards women in his personal life. Right? Reiterating the thread of this article in sum: the Ulema of AIMPLB wants to protect Muslim patriarchy and maintain its power among the largely illiterate population of Indian Muslims, and Hindutva figures want to malign Islam in order to demonize a discriminated minority while omitting their own oppression of Muslim women. They both need each other to mutually constitute and reaffirm each other’s power and popularity in their voter demographics. One is a non-State actor, and other is the government itself.But Indian Muslim women are not in the fringes of this debate anymore, and they are finding ways to empower themselves as women and as Muslims, who carry the burden of being a ‘double minority’ in spaces occupied by misogynists on the one hand and hypocrites on the other.

* This blogpost was written by Sanober Umar. It first appeared in Kafila.

Sanober is a PhD student in History at Queen’s University in Canada. 

Edinburgh to celebrate Festival of Indian Films and Documentaries

The first Edinburgh Festival of Indian Films & Documentaries (EFIFD) sweeps across Scotland’s capital city of Edinburgh from Wednesday 7th to Sunday 11th September 2016.Hosted by the Consulate General of India (Edinburgh), in association with the University of Edinburgh and Heriot-Watt University, the five-day film festival features over 30 films and documentaries from the Indian sub-continent and is being showcased across four landmark city venues. According to Festival Director, Piyush Roy, “The film festival brings to Scotland for the first time, an eclectic cinematic selection from over five decades of Indian moviemaking, featuring a vibrant mix of themes ranging from histories and human drama, faiths and philosophies, music, magic, fine arts, popular culture, politics and personal stories.”

Complementing the screenings will be Q&A sessions with participating filmmakers, seminars and panel discussions with academic experts on cinema and South Asia, exhibitions and exciting live music performances of popular and classical Indian music. Among the guests are classical musician Marianne Svašek performing a Dhrupad recital, filmmaker Nila Madhab Panda (one of the youngest recipients of India’s civilian honour, the Padma Shri award) discussing his documentary God’s Own People (also making its UK premiere at EFIFD 2016) and Swaryatra, Edinburgh’s leading Indian film music group presenting a loving live tribute to its popular musical history. God’s Own People is an intimate document of human faith narrated as an epic cinematic story, exploring the bonds between the devotees and the divine through millennium old rituals at the largest pilgrim gathering of 21st century that happened in the Eastern Coastal Indian town of Puri in July 2015. Excited about the first ever Scottish debut of an Odia language film, Mr. Panda said, “I am very pleased to have our film God’s Own People being showcased at the Edinburgh Festival of Indian films and documentaries. It is a moment of pride to have it as the festival’s opening film.”

venue-1-indian-new-wave-cinema-film-guildThe festival’s highlight is the participation, and a retrospective of some classic Indian arthouse films featuring legendary Indian actor, Om Puri, in the lead.Om Puri’s contributions and influence extend far beyond India, where Ardh Satya (Half Truths) remains to date, the biggest art house cinema blockbuster in Indian film history. He is equally known for his work in English films (East is East, West is West, My Son The Fanatic, Gandhi, Wolf, Charlie Wilson’s War, 100 Foot Long Journey), and has received an OBE for his contribution to British cinema. One meaningful aim of the festival is to celebrate and enhance the cultural connection between India and Scotland, and the UK. Om Puri’s presence will be a fantastic way to honour this connection – his retrospective will include the Bollywood Curry Western, China Gate, the critically acclaimed contemporary Basu Bhattacharya classic, Aastha: In the Prison of Spring, Ardh Satya and the rarely available early Indian New Wave cinema classic, Susman (Essence), personally sourced by Om Puri from its director, Shyam Benegal.

venue-2-scottish-premieresFinally, making their UK premieres at EFIFD 2016 are three exciting new features from three regional Indian language cinema industries in tandem with the festival’s focus on highlighting the other movie making industries in India, beyond Bollywood. These are:

– Nachom-ia Kumpasar: A Konkani love story set in the 1960s, directed by Bardroy Barretto, this UK premiere at EFIFD celebrates Goa’s unique musical legacy shaped by Portuguese influences.

– Shaheb Bibi Golaam: A riveting new age Bengali drama set in Kolkata featuring a contract killer, a housewife and a taxi driver in an unusual game of chance and revenge by critic turned filmmaker Pratim D. Gupta.

– Ekk Albela: Set in the Hindi film industry’s golden era of the 1940s and 50s, this acclaimed Marathi biopic by Shekhar Sartandel (featuring Vidya Balan) profiles its first male action hero and dancing star, Bhagwan Dada.

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The 2016 Edinburgh Festival of Indian Films & Documentaries will be a week of memorable movie memories with some of the most sterling films from Planet Earth’s most prolific cinema industry.

The festival’s event listings, film trailers and links for ticket purchases can be found at the official EFIFD Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/EFIFD

Follow EFIFD on Twitter: https://twitter.com/EFIFD

EFIFD 2016 Trailer: https://youtu.be/5HlkOvFQDbg

This post was written by Piyush Roy.

Piyush is a PhD candidate in South Asian Studies at the University of Edinburgh. He is a film studies scholar and has won the Best Film Critic (Special Mention) Award at the 60th Indian National Film Awards in 2013. 

Göttingen stands up for annihilation of caste

A huge mobilization of Dalits (former Untouchables) rages in the state of Gujarat, India whereby recently Dalits had to face caste violence. A few weeks ago members of the Dalit community in the city of Una, who were removing carcasses, were brutally attacked by the “cow vigilantes”. Dalits have been historically forced into removing carcasses and human excreta. These occupations, which were sanctioned by Brahmanical caste system, are practiced even today in large parts of the country. In one of the biggest and most inspiring anti-caste mass mobilizations of Dalits in Gujarat have challenged the present Hindu-nationalist government head on. Gujarat is the same state, which had witnessed mass-murder of more than 2000 Muslims a decade ago.

Untouchable communities (aka Dalits and Schedule Castes) in Gujarat have come together and have decided to end this degrading form of religiously sanctioned labour of removing dead animals manually. This is in addition to clearing excreta, which is another form of forced labour. Dalit communities and their organisations not merely stand against such demeaning labour but also demand reparation in the form of land, education, and jobs as alternative opportunities. They not just stand against the present day Hindu fascist government but also resist its vigilantism of beef-eating communities.

This militant vegetarianism and ‘cow vigilantism’, which are products of caste-extremism, needs to be condemned by people all across the world. This needs attention particularly, because the government instead of protecting its own people is fuelling the casteist persecution of the beef-eating communities. Killing people for their choice of food, such as beef, is against humanity. Needless to say, neither the state nor the vigilantes would ever succeed against the cultural rights, such as, the beef eating food habits of the people. However, considering the increasing brutalities on those who struggle against casteism, the global solidarity with the oppressed people of India is the need of the hour.It is the moral responsibility of the entire world to stand in solidarity with those who are engaged in struggles against the Brahmanical caste system and religiously sanctioned menial labour practices as well as food fascism.

Demonstration Against Caste Violence In India

In an effort to support and showcase solidarity with the Dalits in Gujarat India, on 9th August 2016 a demonstration was organised in the city Göttingen, Germany. To the best of our knowledge, it is for the first time that such a demonstration on the issue of caste-based atrocities has been organised in Germany. This is despite the fact that several universities and institutes in Germany have been conducting research on India for over a century. The event in Göttingen was meant to sensitise the people in Germany about the violent persecution of Dalits by those upholding the Brahmanical caste system. Most importantly, we wanted to stand in solidarity with the Dalits who are struggling against the caste system in Gujarat in particular and India in general.

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Research scholars, faculty, students  and non-teaching staff of University of Gottingen standing up for caste annihilation.

The Dalits of Gujarat have renewed the anti-caste movement in the most inspiring way. They have pledged to give up the humiliating labour of skinning the dead animals and disposing of the dead carcasses and have instead demanded agricultural land from state. They have not only challenged the Brahmanical caste order but they are the one of the most powerful force resisting Hindutva fascist forces in contemporary India. They have also brought together other marginalised groups such as Muslims who have been the victims of communal violence. The struggling Dalits certainly deserve and require all the solidarity and support from international community.

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Students, research fellows and non teaching staff of University of Göttingen at a protest demonstration held in Göttingen, Germany, condemning the caste violence against Dalits in India.

The demonstration was organised by research fellows and students based at the Centre for Modern Indian Studies (CeMIS), University of Göttingen: Sumeet Mhaskar, Gajendran Ayyathurai, Dickens Leonard M and Chittibabu Padavala. Students, research fellows and non-teaching staff from CeMIS, Max Planck Insitute and Goethe Institute partiiapted in the demonstration. The demonstration was concluded with a speech by Gajendran Ayyathurai, and Naima Tiné and Karl Müller-Bahlke read out the statement condemning caste based atrocities in India. The copies of the statement in German and English language were distributed during demonstration.

This blogpost was jointly written by Sumeet Mhaskar, Gajendran Ayyathurai, Chittibabu Padavala and Dickens Leonard.

Sumeet Mhaskar is Alexander von Humboldt Research Fellow at the Centre for Modern Indian Studies (CeMIS), University of Göttingen. Gajendran Ayyathurai is Research Fellow at the CeMIS, Chittibabu Padavala and Dickens Leonard are visiting PhD fellows at CeMIS. 

 

Dr.B.R.Ambedkar Lecture at University of Edinburgh

In this brilliant Dr.Ambedkar lecture delivered by Prof. David Mosse, Professor of Social Anthropology and Head of the Department of Anthropology and  Sociology, through two distinct cases one in India and the other in offshore explicates how debate and policy on caste is warped by issues of religion and nationalism. Prof. Mosse has more than thirty years of experience in south Asian studies and it was indeed a great privilege for the Centre for South Asian Studies to host him to deliver the Dr.B.R.Ambedkar lecture.

http://www.routesblog.com is happy to podcast the Dr.Ambedkar Lecture.

Please click the file below to listen to Prof. Mosse’s Ambedkar lecture.

The abstract of the lecture is given below.

Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar provided a remarkably clear-thinking basis for social policy and law in India in relation to caste inequality and discrimination. However, the course he charted towards justice and common humanity in the age of equality and rationalism was frequently challenged by crosswinds of religion and nationalism. Opening with two distinct instances, this lecture shows how debate and policy on caste continues to be warped by issues of religion and nationalism.

The first case is that of the status of non-Hindu (Christian and Muslim Dalits) and the denial to them of state provisions and protections as Scheduled Castes (historical victims of oppression and untouchability). The second case is the resistance to the implementation of legislation outlawing caste-based discrimination in the UK by Hindu organisations. Here an interlinked perspective (in part Gandhian) regards caste within India as bound up with Hinduism and the nation, and public debate on caste outside India as a (missionary-colonialist) attack on Hindus and Indian national culture.

An elite internalising of caste to Hinduism or silencing caste in the name of religion and nation may illustrate a postcolonial predicament, but it also sets the freedoms of caste against the Dalit freedom from discrimination, and profoundly misconstrues the experience and perspective of Dalits themselves. The final part of the lecture will explore the latter with the case of Dalit Christians in south India whose overt struggle against the public humiliations of caste have limited success against caste when reworked as structural exclusion and blocked aspirations in the liberalised Indian economy; and among whom there is now a quite pervasive aspiration for casteless humanity — captured so eloquently in Dr Ambedkar’s vision of the recovery of common humanity and a society free from social barriers.

Subaltern Symbolism: The Cartoon Furore in Context

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Reams of newsprint, hours of air-time and extensive analysis were devoted to the ‘cartoon controversy’ in 2012. It has been covered from so many angles already that it may seem presumptuous to revisit the subject once again, but much of the earlier material was written in the heat of the moment, before the full facts were known or without placing the furore in a wider context. The row erupted over the use of an old caricature in a National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) textbook. The image depicted Ambedkar – whip in hand – sat astride a snail representing the Constitution of India, whilst Nehru stands behind them with a raised whip. Dalit activists interpreted this as Nehru whipping or belittling Ambedkar, and launched protests across the country demanding its removal. Thirumavalavan was an MP at the time and brought Parliament to standstill with an impassioned condemnation, whilst disgruntled Dalit activists in Mumbai ransacked the office of Suhas Palshikar – one of the leading academics on the NCERT board.

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A 1949 cartoon drawn by Shankar Pillai on Dr. Ambedkar and Jawaharlal Nehru which was reproduced in a school text book. The cartoon was removed after widespread protests stating that it was insulting Ambedkar.

The earliest indications I had of the brewing storm came from the facebook pages of Dalit activists. In these intimations there was no sense that the NCERT textbooks had already been in circulation for a considerable time or that the cartoon was a historical one that had been published while Ambedkar was still alive. These pages, rather, expressed outraged disbelief that a national icon could be so denigrated and ridiculed in a government text-book. There was a sense that Ambedkar’s caste was not incidental to his continued marginalisation. ‘What do they hope to achieve’ and ‘who are they trying to provoke’ were questions raised in these posts.

Whilst no-one would wish to condone or justify some of the intemperate language used in this issue or (especially) the actions of the hoodlums who attacked Palsihkar’s office, wishing these away or describing them as ‘emotional outbursts’ does little to help understand why they occurred. Many commentators (see Teltumbde 2012) have rightly noted that Ambedkar himself urged his followers not to deify him or regard him as a prophet, but other than indicating the writers’ complacent sense of being better Ambedkarites than the protestors, this does not get us very far. It is only by placing this episode within a wider socio-political context that we can comprehend the rage demonstrated in its wake.

The first point to note is that symbols are vitally important and to dismiss concerns around them as tokenism or ‘symbolic politics’ does a disservice to their significance (Rao 2009). Symbols are central to how we understand and frame the world around us. The nations we live in and communities we belong too are all founded on and sustained through symbols of various forms. Especially in contexts of high poverty and illiteracy symbolic means have extensive political purchase and reach. In this context, as anthropologist Nicolas Jaoul (2009) argues, Ambedkar as a symbol of the Dalit struggle has profound political implications and has helped to promote ideals of and aspirations towards citizenship amongst the most marginalised. Dalit struggles to insert ‘their’ iconic symbol into public spaces, he notes, are ‘the focal point for renewed aspirations towards democracy’ and important assertions of Dalit’s acceptance within wider society.

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Dalit Sangarsh Samiti’s mural paintings and signboards carrying images of Dr.Ambedkar in Karnataka. Image Courtesy : David Titheridge.

As early as the 1950s, research in Uttar Pradesh found that Scheduled Castes perceived the Constitution ‘gifted to them by Ambedkar’ as a counter to the Hindu caste laws and codes (Mahar-Moller 1958). Despite his own cautions against deification, it is easy to find those who see Ambedkar as a Godlike figure. Insults to or desecration of Ambedkar statues, thus, routinely result in protest as they are interpreted as a symbolic exclusion of Dalits from the body politic (Rao 2009). It is against this background that the emotive force of the cartoon row begins to make sense.

The issue is not, however, simply confined to statues and symbols. The insertion of Ambedkar statues into the mainstream stands as a proxy for the inclusion of Dalit concerns and issues and highlights the continued marginalisation of such voices in national spaces and narratives. Aditya Nigam (2006) demonstrates how historians have adopted a modernist nationalist portrayal of caste as a discredited relic of tradition, and the silencing of caste also permeates social scientific analysis. A high-profile book by leading academics, for instance, can speak of ‘India’s national culture’ with barely a mention of caste. Various visionaries, from Gandhi to Azad, are excerpted, but there is no room for the insights of lower caste and untouchable leaders like Phule, Periyar or Ambedkar (Sen 2003). From this perspective, Dalit leaders feel the perceived demeaning of Ambedkar as a double insult: ‘not only do our heroes not feature prominently, but when they do they are ridiculed’. This was the sentiment best expressed by Thirumavalavan’s tub-thumping performance in parliament.

Whilst we might wish that Dalit politicians would follow Ambedkar’s example of carefully thought-through and considered action, therefore, it would be unfair to cast their actions in the same mould as other recent attempts at political censorship and curricula interference. Dalit politics is still seeking recognition and acceptance into the mainstream rather than writing official versions of events that others are expected to follow. The danger that this could leach into authoritarian tendencies is evident in Dalit leader Athavale’s refusal to condemn the vandalism of his party cadres, but Dalits remain, for the most part, lions rather than hunters when it comes to the narration of history.

With their commitment to more diverse histories and voices and their attempt to be more creative in their pedagogy, the NCERT text-books are assuredly a step in the right direction, but when the figure of Ambedkar is made to bear the weight of Dalit aspirations and expectations alone, his symbolic value is increased. We need to read his transformation into a sacrosanct prophet-like figure in this light. When school texts and histories routinely chart the histories of the suppressed, those figures may carry less symbolic and emotional weight. Until that time, we may bemoan the sensitivity of the marginalised from our positions of comfort, but we should also seek to place them in context.

References

Jaoul, N. 2006. ‘Learning the Use of Symbolic Means’, Contributions to Indian
Sociology 40(2): pp175-207.

Mahar-Moller, P. 1958. ‘Changing caste ideology in a north Indian village’, Journal of Social Issues 14(4): pp51-65.

Nigam, A 2006. The Insurrection of Little Selves. New Delhi: OUP.

Rao, A. 2009. The Caste Question: Dalits and the Politics of Modern India. Ranikhet: Permanent Black.

Sen, G 2003. ‘Preface: National culture and cultural nationalism’ in Sen, G (ed.): India: A National Culture? New Delhi: Sage. No Page Numbers.

Teltumbde, A. 2012a. ‘Bathani Tola and the Cartoon Controversy’, Economic and
Political Weekly 47(22): pp10-11.

This article was written by Hugo Gorringe.

Dr. Hugo Gorringe is a Senior Lecturer in Sociology at the University of Edinburgh. He is also the author of Untouchable Citizens : Dalit Movements and Democratisation in Tamil Nadu. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This blog post was written by Tejas Parasher.

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

The Life and Times of Rettamalai Srinivasan

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

Early Life

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

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

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

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

Friendship with Gandhi

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

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

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

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

Association with Dr.Ambedkar

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keeping his Memory Alive

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

This post was written by Karthikeyan Damodaran.

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

University of Edinburgh to celebrate Dalit History Month

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

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

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

Why Dalit History Month?

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

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

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

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

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

This post was written by Karthikeyan Damodaran.

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

Mohan Bhagwat’s Nazism with Chinese characteristics

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

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

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

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

Hitler

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

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

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

Bhagwat RSS

RSS Chief Mohan Bhagwat

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

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

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

Notes

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

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

Images courtesy : Special Arrangement and Times Live.

This post was written by Chittibabu Padavala.

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

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