Tag Archives: Dalit

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

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

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

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

The abstract of the lecture is given below.

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

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

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

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Towards ex-brahminization: The Everyday Life of The Brahmin Male

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Gajendran Ayyathurai*

What happens to a human when she is called a broken person, an oppressed person, an ex-untouchable, a lower-caste person and so on has remained an under-examined, even un-examined, theme in psychological, sociological, anthropological, linguistic, literary, and historical studies. Given the entrenchment of privileged caste groups in Indian and Western academy (as well as in Indian public life), centering or re-centering the humanity of those oppressed by caste in universal categories and identities is safely far away in theory and practice. Be that as it may. The purpose of this article, however, is to reverse the gaze on brahmins. By doing so we, the anticaste people of the world, could help those who claim birth as brahmins to begin the process of becoming “ex-brahmins”.

But first, why should there be ex-brahminization of those people who think that they are naturally born with a brahmin identity in Indian society? Because, as a self-ordained minority (making up less than five percent of the population?), brahmins have lived and thrived through hegemony and violence against their fellow humans. Indeed, their spurious religio-cultural, economic, and historical claims in particular have only glorified their self-ghettoization.

Consider what a tuft on a brahmin male head, sacred thread on a brahmin male body, ash and vermillion lines and dots on a half-naked brahmin male body and typical brahmin dress do to a brahmin body. They give brahmins the power to assume a sense of religious power, and thereby to inferiorize others in order to secure a variety of benefits. For brahmin males, to speak of “human beings” refers only to brahmin males; brahmin women and girls are not their equals, neither in ritual nor in everyday life.[1] But the brahmins have paid so dearly for insulating themselves against nature. That is, they have lost humanism and love, since such values are incompatible with anyone who would self-identify himself as a brahmin male with all the aforesaid embellishments.

The sociological, cultural, political, and historical explanations clearly demonstrate that brahmins have remained possibly one of the most exclusionary groups in human history. Barrington Moore was right in comparing brahmins and Jews in his illuminating historical sociology of them, Moral purity and persecution in human history. But he was wrong in considering Jews as more orthodox and exclusionary than brahmins. For, while it is disputable that the roots of racism could be traced to Jews, it is evident that brahmins are the fountain head of casteism and inventors of gruesome violence, such as untouchability.[2] The irony is that after the arrival of Buddhism, Islamic and European empires, a republican constitution, and anticaste movements and policies in India, the brahmins have made the bodily exclusion of their own women, and of non-brahmins, as their virtue, instead of seeing it as a self-dehumanizing shame and tragedy. Unveiling the assumptions of brahminical virtuosity as antihuman will hopefully set off brahmin males to ex-brahminizing their community.

How does one identify him or herself as a brahmin? Brahminical religio-cultural inventions have been historically self-proclaimed, as the exclusive domain of brahmin, as naturally given, and so prohibiting the other. Today, for instance, this brahmin/othering process begins even from the mundane context of a brahmin introducing him or herself by their surname, be it Sharma, Trivedi, Chatterjee, Iyer or so on. Such surnames audaciously assume a putative historical and cultural superiority over non-brahmin, and guarantee the instant camaraderie with another brahmin which is brutally denied to a non-brahmin.[3] Needless to say, historicizing a brahmin name such as Iyer could suggest that we are in a murky field of brahmin male inventions, which are basically attempts to shut the doors on others, as Ambedkar’s metaphor vividly demonstrates in his work, Caste in India. Aside from the surname, many more bodily doors are shut against those who are excluded, the other.

When one begins to identify one’s body in caste terms, as a brahmin male does, what flows thereafter are the divisions, such as body and mind, not just within oneself but also between people. Self-ghettoization is therefore set in motion from one’s body to imaginations and practices of space and time leading to what Alain Badiou has called “collection of ghettoes” in another context.[4] Language, for instance, is an amazing human invention to communicate with and between one another, rather than to hold as the exclusive creation of one’s own god and to deny it to one’s own women and others. This is what brahmin males have done. From the sage Manu’s path-breaking insistence that brahmin males have to pour hot oil or molten lead in to brahmin women’s and lower castes’ ears if they listen to Sanskrit, to brahmin males’ exclusive power to be the priests in temples today, now across the world, the brahmin males have made a killing out of the sacred linguistic connections they make for themselves. That is, they have policed Sanskrit as sacred, but meant only for them, as the only source of other languages and human wisdom in India, as the only ancient language with modern ideas of genetics, and as the only language to be researched at IITs and IIMs. It does not matter whether the 2011 Indian

Sacred-Thread-Ceremony_Brahmins_Vintage-India

A sacred thread  wearing ceremony of brahmins taking place. Image Courtesy : impressivemagazine.com

census found only around fourteen thousand Sanskrit speakers among India’s one and a quarter billion people. The brahmin male language needs local and global endorsement. Sadly, the global academy has sanctified such spurious claims of brahminical obscurantism through its own power to canonize what P J Marshal has called “caste segregation” in the last two hundred and fifty years.[5]

Self-denial of speaking to fellow humans, let alone inviting them for a dialogue, is ominous enough to spur other dangerous brahminical exclusions. No wonder then, the brahmins are also known for their politics of food. Consider the irony of brahmin male food categories such as vegetarian, pure-vegetarian, prasadam (sacred food) and so on in order to ridicule and reject the food humanity eats across the world as non-vegetarian. When a male identifies himself as a brahmin and sells food, it is automatically celebrated as the best, the most wholesome. Even if it is unpalatable, even if the brahmin who prepares and serves the food is nauseatingly dirty and lacks the basic culinary skills that thrive among those they have oppressed, such as untouchables. Arguably the vegetarian vigilantism of brahmins in modern times is intertwined with their ascendance through and collusion with colonialism since the late nineteenth century, particularly in two ways. Firstly, brahmins begin to displace caste-dormant or caste-free relations among urban people into caste-manifest relations with their migration to urban places, as they did in the villages they owned prior to colonialism; and secondly, in using their caste-based ritual power and colonialism-based material power, brahmins have begun to monopolize the hotel industry for instance, sidelining mixed and cosmopolitan cuisines and customers in urban centers such as Madras.[6] Ironically, the non-brahmin privileged caste males in the Tamil speaking regions who attempted to usurp the ritual and material power from the Sanskritic-brahmins in late colonialism also mimicked the brahmin males with their own pretentions of ritual and culinary purity, as is evident from the Tamil purist movement and its doyens such as Vedachalam Pillai (who was also known for his vanity as Maraimalai Adikal).[7]

Once basic human elements, such as language and food, are religiously rarified and ritually excluded in order to favor brahmin males, then sexual and “spatial segregation” are inevitable consequences.[8] Imagine a brahmin woman ever becoming a temple priestess. One cannot. This is not because brahminical gods, such as Brahma, Vishnu, and Siva denied brahmin women their right to religious, secular, and material parity with brahmin males. Rather, brahmin males have policed their own women, mutilated their bodies, and sanctified their power over them through their religious scriptures and interpretations, as did Manu, for instance. Pratiloma, that is, the prevention of a privileged caste woman from having sexual relations with or marrying anyone “below” her caste status is not her own decision. Rather, women’s deciding about their own desires is the privileged males’ paranoia. Nevertheless, brahmin women have always had sexual and marital partners from other caste groups, and vice versa, even when they were “widowed” and prevented from re-marriage by brahmin males’ violence. This is confirmed by Pudiyamaadu editor Swapneswari Ambal’s critical analysis of brahmin males widowing (their forced rules/restrictions) brahmin girls and women, who in any case became pregnant and indulged in infanticide in the early twentieth century.[9]

Have these caste-based sexual and spatial segregations changed today? Considering the spectacle of information technology, IITians soaring in Silicon Valley and to Mars, special economic zones, and the emergence of gated communities, a handy answer is that things have turned upside down. India: the casteless democracy has finally arrived. And so India is now free of brahmin power and violence against their other: i.e. their own women and other caste groups. However, a quick survey of temples mushrooming in India and among the Indian diaspora in the West (one count says there are now seven hundred temples in the US) confirm that brahminism is alive and well, and that mutations of brahmin-male conceptions are countering the traditional and modern challenges thrown against them. No wonder Obama carries a hanuman in his pocket as an amulet and celebrated Diwali in the White House with a brahmin male solemnizing the occasion.[10]

While this age-old temple-based casteism is reproduced through brahmin male ritual and material power, our understanding of sexual and marital relations between brahmin women and Dalit men, and vice versa, for instance, remains understudied. A pedestrian observation could, however, point out that such unions, which break down caste boundaries, are few and far between. Whereas the sexual and marital relations between brahmins and whites are on the rise, true to what Iyothee Thass observed a century ago, brahmin males more than welcome their daughters cohabitating with white-men (married or not), while they brutally prevent their daughters marrying from people they oppress as untouchables.[11] In other words, brahmin male power survives only because of the psychological damage they cause their daughters and sons through casteism and sexism early in life, thus preventing them from becoming humans.

When children are raised at home with symbols and practices of caste-based religiosity and exclusion, brahmin male owned or brahmin male employed educational institutions do nothing to reverse the antihuman self-destruction of their children. Instead, brahmin children are trained to be hate-mongering segregationists. Harvard anthropologist Ajantha Subramanian’s incisive exposure of Madras IIT, where the student festival is still called Shaastra—shamelessly echoing Manudharmashastra— confirms this.[12] Unequivocally stating that Madras IIT is a den of casteism, she clearly traces how brahmin children arriving at Madras IIT understand themselves as the engineers of the future India, having already been trained in social-Darwinism in the brahmin-owned and controlled middle and high schools in Chennai. Ironically, such brahminical enclaves have always thrived in Chennai city, despite the Dravidian parties’ decades’ long gimmicks against caste.

It is clear brahminization of merit and brahmins’ prosperity through casteism is complete, both locally and globally. In fact, one could say that globalization has become a euphemism for the predominance of brahmins. A sugar coated global brahminism shining and exclaimed as incredible is in-built in anti-democratic principles. It is even a threat to humanity, since the seeds of casteism have been sown across the world in a variety of ways. For instance, people like B K S Iyengar, flaunting his brahmin male surname, could spread his yoga in the US and Europe, conveniently connecting brahminical, mythical, and material aspects in which brahmin male power and its exclusionary interpretations of the human body and mind remain unchallenged, locally and globally. Never mind the multi-billion dollar industry that Iyengar has left behind by patronizing brahmins and recruiting white Americans and Europeans.

Therefore emancipation of those oppressed by casteism could only be possible at the death of the brahminism (re)created by brahmin males, and those who emulate them. This is what the Ambedkar-Periyar Study Circle students in IIT Madras, through their successful agitation against brahmin-male dominated IIT administration banning of their organization, emphasized when they quoted Ambedkar in their pamphlet, saying “Hinduism is a veritable chamber of horrors and it must die for caste to vanish”.[13] Otherwise, the brahmin-Dalit bhai bhai bonhomie offered by brahmin males and their associations are meant to re-ghettoize the Dalits, just as brahmin males have ghettoized themselves.[14]

Considering the predominance of brahmins in India today, in the global economy and the academy, and the inevitability of casteism spreading across the world through the agency of brahmins, the question before us, anticaste people, remains: Is there a scope for brahmins becoming ex-brahmins? One cannot escape the depressing situation we now find ourselves in.

iit-madras

IIT Madras, a premier institute of higher education which is overwhelmingly dominated by brahmins.

However, there are some ways to end the exclusionary and oxymoronic brand of brahminical cosmopolitanism. Anticaste solidarities and movements among the oppressed—not just political parties—are naturally the time tested ways to resist casteism/brahminism. The deep anticaste politics and history of the subalternized in India are a testament to this observation—even though Western and local historians and comparatists have chosen not only not to heed, but have indeed silenced such a past, as G. Aloysius’ Nationalism without a Nation in India confirms.

Needless to say, for a collective transformation, the onus is also on the brahmins themselves to embrace self-emancipatory casteless sociality, and reject entrenched caste-based self-ghettoization. Brahmin women, considering the grave gender oppression inflicted by their own males, have the potential to breach caste by establishing anticaste solidarities with other oppressed people, such as those who have been discriminated as untouchables, for instance. Indeed, the religious, ritualistic, sexual, and material oppression achieved through brahminical governmentality of women’s and untouchable bodies could only be decimated through sexual and material transgressions between the oppressed. This is also actually not new. Iyothee Thass and Swapneswari Ambal appealed for such unions a century ago. Sadly, this has not happened to the extent one may have expected, with privileged caste women daring to break free from the casteism of their men has been met with even more violence, such as honor killing.[15] Nonetheless today the developments of new communication technologies and social media, as well as transportation, have enabled more anticaste unions and movements.

However, a predetermining requirement in such unions is the pledge against caste and the commitment to breach the segregation of bodies, space, and time among the privileged groups, because it is the predicament of the privileged to shed caste and self-emancipate, to become the ex-privileged. Once a brahmin woman breaches caste through living-in or marital relations with a male from a community which has been persecuted as untouchable, the emancipation is mutual. For neither the man nor the woman retains any purchase in their persecuted past. A privileged woman needs to be inspired by people like Padita Ramabai, even as she has to overcome the caste-based dilemmas which the pioneering feminist could not.[16]

The people who break free from brahminical untouchability also need to reinforce their movements and politics by rejecting invocations of sectarian categories, and rather embrace universalizing new identities in which they remain locally grounded and globally interconnected. Iyothee Thass’ total rejection of condescending and discriminating epithets such as Paraiyars/Pariah, Panchamas, Depressed Classes, and so on, and embracing the category The Tamilian (as he named the weekly journal he published from 1907 to 1914) confirms this. In fact, Thass and the anticate movement he built in the Tamil speaking regions are a testament to a history of universalization against marginalization by caste that the people who are prone to oppressions of various kinds in the present cannot afford to overlook.

A critical understanding of the social-Darwinist tendencies of brahmins’ everyday life is the first step in opening up the possibilities for brahmins to become ex-brahmins. For only by becoming ex-brahmins could they too embrace universal humanism and love, something they have denied themselves so long.

Notes

[1] By quoting Caroline Osella and Filippo Osella’s observation that “Brahmanhood is synonymous with maleness”, Ute Hüsken rightly takes a step further to conclude that “(f)or the Brahmanic Sanskrit texts it goes without saying that being human is identical with being male.” See Ute Hüsken, “Denial as silencing: On women’s ritual agency in a South Indian Brahmin tradition”, Journal of Ritual Studies, Volume 27, Number 1, 2013, pp. 21-34.

[2] Patrick Ollivelle’s detailed translation of the ancient Manudharmashastra confirms it is a violent text intending to establish brahmin male power over their own women, and those the male brahmins have deemed as untouchables. See Patrick Ollivelle, Manu’s Code of Law: A Critical Edition and Translation of the Manava-Dharmashastra, Oxford University Press, New York, 2005.

[3] This applies to all caste groups which self-capitalize on caste-based names.

[4] http://www.versobooks.com/blogs/1557-alain-badiou-people-cling-onto-identities-it-is-a-world-opposed-to-the-encounter (last retrieved on 29 April 2016)

[5] P. J. Marshal, The British Discovery of Hinduism in the Eighteenth Century, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1970, p. 24.

[6] Caste in the hotel industry, particularly the sociological history of brahmins’ “pure-vegetarian” brand remains an underexamined theme.

[7] See Vaithees, N. Ravi, Religion, Caste, Nation in South India: Maraimalai Adikal, the Neo-Saivite Movement, and Tamil Nationalism, 1876-1950, Oxford University Press, New York, 2014.

[8] Fuller and Narasimhan, “The agraharam: The transformation of social space and Brahman status in Tamilnadu during the colonial and postcolonial periods”, in Ritual, Caste, and Religion in Colonial South India, (Eds) Michael Bergunder, Heiko Frese, and Ulrike Shr̹öder, Franckese Stiftungen zu Halle, Halle, 2010, pp. 219-237.

[9] Pandit Iyothee Thass, (Ed) The Tamilian, 14 August 1907.

[10] For details, see the racist website: http://endoftheamericandream.com/archives/obamas-lucky-charms-a-hindu-god-in-his-pocket-a-masonic-emblem-and-a-ring-that-says-there-is-no-god-except-allah . For Obama’s Diwali celebration at the White House with a brahmin male solemnizing see here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X94Z5SUsUzU (last retrieved on 25 April 2016)

[11] Pandit Iyothee Thass, (Ed) The Tamilian, 16 December 1908.

[12] Ajantha Subramanian “Making merit: The Indian Institutes of Technology and the social life of caste”, Comparative Studies in Society and History 2015; 57 (2):291–322.

[13] See here: https://www.quora.com/What-is-your-opinion-on-the-Ambedkar-Periyar-study-group-derecognition-issue-in-IIT-Madras (last retrieved on 26 April 2016)

[14] Likewise, Dalit political parties surrendering their anticaste and de-brahminizing agenda in order to recruit brahmins as brahmins will only guarantee the continuity of untouchablilty.

[15] For similar views on non-brahmin privileged males’ honor killing women who have decided to break free from their privaliged caste see T. Dharmaraj: http://tdharumaraj.blogspot.de/2016/03/blog-post.html?spref=fb (last retrieved on 25 April 2016)

[16] See Pundita Ramabai Sarasvati, The High-Caste Hindu Woman, Hyperion Press, Westport, Connecticut, 1976 [1888]), pp. 60 and 63.

This article was written by Gajendran Ayyathurai.

*Dr.Gajendran Ayyathurai is Research Fellow at the Centre for Modern Indian Studies
Indian Religions at  Göttingen University, Germany. 

Subaltern Symbolism: The Cartoon Furore in Context

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

Ambedkar NCERT

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

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

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

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

hugo dr-ambedkar-dalit

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

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

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

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

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

References

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

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

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

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

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

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

This article was written by Hugo Gorringe.

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

A Tribute to Babasaheb Ambedkar

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Baba

1

baba,
you left this world
before I came

you hang as a memory now
on our rusty mud wall

a beaming portrait
inside a humble glass

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

she wipes those tears,
becoming your fingers

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

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

She just kisses my cheeks
and leaves in a haste

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

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

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

“ Baba fought against gods,

Gods whose letters
Became molten lead
When it reached our ears

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

their clothes
burnt themselves
when it covered our bodies

their streets
were laden with thorns
that pierced only our soles

we were naked beings,
bleeding from all our pores

those wounds
that wore off our dignity

we were epilogues
torn off from their stories

we were bodies
that belonged only in their borders

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

an untouchable nation
spawned from a million borders

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

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

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

woman-sleeps-among-ambedkar-picture

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

2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

the other who sells fruits
beside our cobbler stands

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

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

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

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

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

 

rss-21 ambedkar

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

3

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

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

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

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

they trap you in the temples
you sought to wreck

they praise you in the words
you strove to burn

come back, baba, come back

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

 

All the poems were penned by Abul Kalam Azad.

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

Featured Image Courtesy : Economic Times.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stalin Sindhu Paul

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

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

***

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

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

Kandan routes

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

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

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

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

***

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

reddiyur Pandian routes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bibliography

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Images courtesy : Stalin Rajangam.

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.

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.

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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

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