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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.

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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.

#StandWithJNU: Solidarity Statement by Academics in the UK

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Dalit Marxist Manifesto

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

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

chittibabu

Dalit Marxist scholar Chittibabu Padavala

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

communisty-flags

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A study of response to suicides of Dalit students

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Victims of Systemic Casteism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This blog post is written by Divya Trivedi.

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

Images courtesy : India Today and Mid Day.

`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.

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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