Tag Archives: Protest

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



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.


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.

#StandWithJNU: Solidarity Statement by Academics in the UK

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

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

jnusu protest

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dalit Students as Victims of Institutional Casteism in India

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

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



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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Root of the Problem

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

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

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


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

This post was written by Karthikeyan Damodaran.

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






#MyDressMyChoice: The day we defeated silence

In Nairobi, Kenya, women are demanding respect.

They want to re-claim their bodies.

They are condemning the humiliating public stripping of three Kenyan women earlier in the month.

On this day, 17th November, 2014, many took to Nairobi streets – and marched from Uhuru Park (in the city’s CBD ) to the Embassava Sacco bus stage on Accra Road, where a mob had been filmed ripping off a woman’s clothes.

In the last one year, ten women have been stripped in public, for something that was described as ‘indecent’ dressing.

The mobilisation for the protest started through social media under the hashtag #MyDressMyChoice

Brian took photos. Ngala wrote.

This photo-essay is a narrative of the protest.

At Freedom Corner, protest organisers are reading a statement to the media. This about 11.00 AM.

At Freedom Corner, protest organisers are reading a statement to the media. This about 11.00 AM.

The protest march proceeds through the city centre. This is about 11:45 AM.

The protest march proceeds through the city centre. This is about 11:45 AM.

Our bodies, our choices. Protestors dancing during the protest march. This is about 12: 00 noon.

Our bodies, our choices. Protestors dancing during the protest march. This is about 12: 00 noon.

The adorning of mini-skirts formed part of the protest. Women want to have the choice to exercise bodily autonomy, and feel comfortable in dressing of their own choice. This is about 12: 00 noon.

The adorning of mini-skirts formed part of the protest. Women want to have the choice to exercise bodily autonomy, and feel comfortable in dressing of their own choice. This is about 12: 00 noon.

My body is not your battlefield. This is about 12: 00 noon.

My body is not your battlefield. This is about 12: 00 noon.

We demand dignity, respect and justice for all. Protestors chanting ‘My dress, My Choice’ across the streets of Nairobi.  This is about 12:30 PM.

We demand dignity, respect and justice for all. Protestors chanting ‘My dress, My Choice’ across the streets of Nairobi. This is about 12:30 PM.

The harming of one woman harms us all. This is about 12: 30 PM.

The harming of one woman harms us all. This is about 12: 30 PM.

No society that oppresses women is a civilised society. Protestors make a stand against gender-based violence. This is 12: 45 PM.

No society that oppresses women is a civilised society. Protestors make a stand against gender-based violence. This is 12: 45 PM.

Protestors refuse to tire. This is about 12: 50 PM.

Protestors refuse to tire. This is about 12: 50 PM.

11 12 13 14

Protest has arrived and sets camp near Embassava Sacco bus stage, where the public stripping of a woman’s clothes took place recently. This is about 1: 00 PM.

Protest has arrived and sets camp near Embassava Sacco bus stage, where the public stripping of a woman’s clothes took place recently. This is about 1: 00 PM.

“SHAME ON YOU”! An angry protestor stops an Embassava Sacco bus. This is about 1: 05 PM.

“SHAME ON YOU”! An angry protestor stops an Embassava Sacco bus. This is about 1: 05 PM.

“SHAME ON YOU”! Stopping Embassava. This is about 1: 07 PM.

“SHAME ON YOU”! Stopping Embassava. This is about 1: 07 PM.

On Tom Mboya Street, tension is beginning to build up. This is about 1: 15 pm.

On Tom Mboya Street, tension is beginning to build up. This is about 1: 15 pm.

A scuffle and a counter-protest are quickly developing. This is about 1: 17 PM.

A scuffle and a counter-protest are quickly developing. This is about 1: 17 PM.

Counter-protestors, the majority of whom are men, have come with the bible. This is about 1: 30 PM.

Counter-protestors, the majority of whom are men, have come with the bible. This is about 1: 30 PM.

Counter-protestors are threatening to strip us naked while the police stand and watch. This is about 1: 45 PM.

Counter-protestors are threatening to strip us naked while the police stand and watch. This is about 1: 45 PM.

Counter-protestors are defending patriarchy with bible verses. This is about 1: 50 PM.

Counter-protestors are defending patriarchy with bible verses. This is about 1: 50 PM.

Counter-protestors are getting violent. They have forcefully taken one of our banners, and some are groping women. This is about 2: 00 P.M.

Counter-protestors are getting violent. They have forcefully taken one of our banners, and some are groping women. This is about 2: 00 P.M.

One woman, a counter-protestor, invokes culture and religion, demanding that women dress decently. This is about 2: 10 PM.

Society is at war with itself. Despite the counter-protest, we press on. This is about 2: 15 PM.

Society is at war with itself. Despite the counter-protest, we press on. This is about 2: 15 PM.

We make our stand outside the Supreme Court of Kenya. This is about 2: 30 PM.

We make our stand outside the Supreme Court of Kenya. This is about 2: 30 PM.

The Chief Justice of Kenya, Dr. Willy Mutunga (centre), receives the petition. He promises that justice to the victims shall be realised. This is about 2: 35 PM.

The Chief Justice of Kenya, Dr. Willy Mutunga (centre), receives the petition. He promises that justice to the victims shall be realised. This is about 2: 35 PM.


History will judge you by your inaction. The protest is successful. A statement has been made. This is about 2: 50 PM.

History will judge you by your inaction. The protest is successful. A statement has been made. This is about 2:50PM.

This day silence we defeated.

This day silence we defeated.

#MyDressMyChoice Silence shall no longer be a woman.


There is an online petition calling on the President of Kenya to take action. Click here to add your voice.


This piece is the first in a multi-part series on Routes about patriarchal control of women’s bodies. Stay tuned for the next installment!

Brian Inganga is an award-winning photographer and humanitarian worker. Brian is also the co-founder of Change Mtaani CBO in Kibera Slums, Nairobi, and he works at PAWA 254.


Do mention the garment workers, just not only those in Bangladesh

To kick off spring/summer 2015 London Fashion Week, labour rights activists hung a banner off Waterloo Bridge that read:

“Don’t mention the garment workers”

I applaud this sarcasm and would like to add the following:

“…but if you do mention the garment workers, remember to assume they are all from Bangladesh, and that they only work in fast fashion supply chains producing product for Western fashion consumers.”

Post-Rana Plaza, Bangladesh and Bangladeshi garment workers have become the go-to default example for media to cling to whenever anything questionable comes to light regarding fashion and apparel production and consumption. Bangladesh has become THE primary example for sweatshop working conditions, a phenomenon I argue is detrimental to garment workers everywhere.

This was apparent during the 2014 World Cup, when a Western fashion consumer found a tag stitched into her Primark purchase that read “forced to work exhausting hours.” Later, a similar tag would be found by another shopper, this time reading “‘degrading’ sweatshop conditions.” A third shopper then came forward with a note that read S.O.S., this time with a message written in Chinese.

What does this have to do with the World Cup? Let me explain.

Ever heard of shop dropping? It’s a type of in-store consumer activism, where campaign materials with information related to ‘behind-the-scenes’ product details—such as labels describing social or environmental factors associated with production, for example—are strategically left for consumers to discover in-store, or later at home (examples and research related to shop dropping can be found over on the followthethings.com blog).

In fashion, it seems shop dropping is generally used to drive consumers into action by shocking them with information they can’t ignore. A potential trouble with such shock tactics, however, is that they tend not to include crucial nuanced details relating to the social, cultural, environmental and political factors located at the core of the challenges they seek to resolve.

It’s not clear if the above mentioned messages were in fact ‘shop dropped’ as a tactic to raise awareness on the working conditions of millions of garment workers worldwide. Nonetheless, the stories were picked up by international media, with (surprise!) Bangladesh most often cited in reference to poor working conditions (see just three examples here, here, and here). Thankfully, there was at least one mainstream article questioning the consequence these assumptions might have on garment workers in Bangladesh.

So, as the World Cup was in full swing, the internet was abuzz with the story of the found labels and message. Meanwhile, Cambodian garment workers producing sportswear for adidas—a FIFA World Cup sponsor—were campaigning to have their voices heard. Could you hear them over all of that Primark label noise?

The Playfair ‘All in for a Living Wage’ campaign called on adidas to support garment workers in their struggle for a living wage. The campaign featured translated personal accounts from three adidas workers, asking readers to leave questions for the workers in the comments section of the online posts.

Today marks a day of action for garment workers in Cambodia, as they take to the streets in organized protest against their wages.

So the question is, can we support these workers on this issue without compromising our support for workers elsewhere, with other, separate issues?

Of course we can!

But to do so we need to drop our assumptions related to garment work and workers immediately, and then move to understand that the social, political, economic and cultural landscapes impacting all workers everywhere are unique.

This post was written by Mary Hanlon.

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

Recommended Reading //

Merk, Jeroen. (2009) Stiching a decent wage across borders: the Asia floor wage proposal. India: Asia Floor Wage Alliance International Secretariat c/o Society for Labour and Development.

Available for download here.

Image Source: War on Want 

Protest Policing from London to Paramakudi: From Containment to Dialogue in the UK

On 1 April 2009, as world leaders gathered for the G20 summit in London, a man was caught up in a standoff between protesters and police. Trying to get home he sought to pass through police lines on a couple of occasions and was forcefully repulsed. One of the officers struck him from behind with a baton and pushed him to the ground in the process. Shortly afterwards, Ian Tomlinson collapsed and, having received emergency attention, died en route to hospital. Initially reports suggested that Mr Tomlinson had died of natural causes, but as video evidence of the assault by a police officer emerged there was a call for an inquiry and Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Constabulary called for a national overhaul of protest policing.

PC Harwood, the officer responsible for striking Mr Tomlinson was tried and, though he was acquitted of manslaughter, was found guilty of ‘gross misconduct and sacked from the Metropolitan Police Service (Walker 2012). More generally, the episode prompted intense soul-searching with the UK police forces and led to a series of investigations focused on how the police managed protest events. Subsequent reports by the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee (2009) and by Her Majesty’s Chief Inspectorate of Constabulary (2009), and documentary programmes – notably Channel 4’s Dispatches programme, ‘Ready for a Riot’- cast a critical spotlight onto the tactics used in the management of public order and raised questions regarding the training and preparation of police officers for such events.

The Chief Inspector of Constabulary’s (HMCIC, 2009) review of public order policing critiqued existing methods of crowd control and called for a new approach. It recognised that police crowd control interventions can aggravate potential conflict if they appear unreasonable and/or indiscriminate to those in attendance. In so doing, this report drew on two areas of academic research. The first is the Elaborated Social Identity Model (ESIM), which offers a theoretical basis for understanding crowd dynamics (Reicher et al. 2004). It shows how certain forms of police public order tactics unify crowd opposition and contribute to an escalation of conflict. The second body of research (Stott and Gorringe 2013) relates to Scandinavian police practices of dialogue and engagement as means of facilitating protestor objectives and enhancing mutual sympathy and understanding. Both areas of work advocate the need for flexible, reflexive and pre-emptive and/or preventative public order policing.

The guidelines emphasised in new training manuals revolve around the need to respect the human rights to protest and assembly and are based on the four principles of education, facilitation, communication and differentiation (Reicher et al. 2004). Reicher and colleagues stress that police should seek to identify and meet the legitimate aims of crowd members; and that, if the police consider it necessary to impose unwanted limitations, they should do their best to provide alternative means for achieving the crowd’s objectives:

Indeed, it is at the point where violence is beginning to break out and where the temptation to clamp down is at its strongest that facilitation becomes most important. It is at this point that a clear indication that the police are supporting collective aims (and that violence endangers them) can make the difference between escalation and de-escalation.  Of course, for this to happen, it is necessary not only that the police are trying to facilitate crowd aims, but also that crowd members see them as doing so. (2004: 567)

The emphasis throughout is on the need to avoid violent confrontations and preserve the legitimacy of the police as guardians of law and order. Following the G20 protests research into policing suggests that people comply and co-operate with the police when they perceive them as legitimate not just when they pose a deterrent threat. Conversely where people see the police as operating according to different values and not abiding by the rules, then deference towards and co-operation with the police breaks down (Bradford, Jackson and Hough 2013).

‘Traumatic events’ as della Porta notes, ‘can stimulate learning processes’ (in D. Waddington 2007: 32), and the response of the British police to a protest related death in 2009 suggests that lessons are being learned and new methods of conflict resolution are being introduced. Clearly this is not a linear, or completely smooth process. Police responses to student demonstrators in 2010 suggested that there was a retreat from the recommendations of the HMIC reports (Stott, Gorringe and Rosie 2010), and renewed hostilities in late 2013 show that lesson have not necessarily been learned (Gorringe and Rosie 2013). The issue here, though, is one of accountability, responsibility and legitimacy and the attempt – at least – by police in the UK to condemn and seek to address failing in their practices. As an academic who conducts research in both India and the UK, the contrast between police reactions in the UK and the recently released Justice Sampath Commission findings (Dorairaj 2013) into police firing in Paramakudi could not be starker.

Condoning Police Excess?

Where the death of one person at the hands of a ‘rogue’ officer occasioned multiple changes to protest policing and a criminal trial in the UK, the police officers who fired into a crowd and severely beat up protestors after they had been arrested – killing seven people – in Paramakudi were exonerated by the Chief Minister almost before the smoke had cleared (Jaishankar & Karthikeyan 2011). The Sampath Commission duly echoed this position arguing that the police had acted in self-defence, but it did call the actions of police in beating arrestees ‘disgraceful and at variance with the prescription of the Police Standing Orders’ (Dorairaj 2013). Even this criticism was unacceptable to the state government which rejected these ‘disparaging remarks’.

It is worth recalling the events of 11 September 2011. Dalits, primarily but not exclusively from the Pallar caste, travelled in numbers to Paramakudi for the annual celebration – or guru puja – of Immanuel Sekaran. Sekaran was an anti-caste activist who led campaigns for dignity and rights in the 1950s before his murder in 1957. Over the past two decades Dalits have started marking his anniversary in much the same manner as Ambedkar jeyanthi is marked elsewhere. Significantly, however, this is an area of historic caste tensions and the iconography attending this event emulates the processions and festivities surrounding the birth anniversary of Muthuramalinga Thevar the pre-eminent Thevar leader who was a contemporary of Immanuel Sekaran and implicated by many in his murder. The Thevars are dominant castes in the area and have seen the annual commemoration of Immanuel Sekaran as an affront.

Caste tensions are common around the memorial as a consequence and so there is always a heavy police presence. In 2011, caste clashes running up to the guru puja saw Pallars and Thevars trading insults and witnessed the death of the 16-year old Pallar youth Palanikumar of Pacheri village. He was accused of insulting Muthuramalinga Thevar with graffiti – highlighting the caste based polarisation and discourses of pride and honour that characterise caste relations in the area (Geetha 2011, Parthasarathi 2011). In the face of such tension the police were understandably anxious to avoid further caste clashes, but they also determined to prevent the popular and radical Pallar or Devendra Kula leader John Pandian from making his way to the memorial. Though the justification for his preventative arrest was the fear that his speeches might instigate violence, this action clearly diminished the legitimacy of police actions in the eyes of Dalit participants.

Where the police could have gained trust and legitimacy by emphasising that they were there to protect and facilitate Dalit protestors, they created animosity instead. Pandian’s supporters were infuriated by the move and gave vent to their anger by sitting down and blocking the roads. The police ordered them to disperse. At this juncture at least two respected Dalit leaders – Chandra Bose of the Tiyagi Immanual Peravai (Martyr Immanuel Front) and Thavamani of the Tamil Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam (Tamil People’s Progressive Federation, John Pandian’s party) contacted the police and offered to intercede. In their study of crowd situations, the social psychologist Stephen Reicher and colleagues (2004) stress the importance of communicating to crowds through trusted intermediaries. These offers, however, were rejected (Geetha 2011; People’s Watch 2011). Instead, a lathi charge was ordered and closely followed by police firing. In the process, police action was entirely indiscriminate and affected onlookers as well as those taking part in the memorial (Interviews with activists, 2012; People’s Watch 2011).

In this context, the assertion, by the Sampath Commission, that the police actions were ‘absolutely warranted to maintain peace and restore normalcy’ (Dorairaj 2013) have prompted a wave of protests by human rights and Dalit groups. From media and independent reports it seems clear that any unrest on the part of Dalits was a direct response to police interventions. In the face of such contradictions a number of authors have suggested that the government were seeking to appease a dominant caste vote-bank and send out a warning to the Pallar community about their increasing assertion (Geetha 2011, Parthasarathi 2011). The AIADMK has historically sought to woo the Thevar vote-bank (Pandian 2000), though whether that was the case here is unclear. In 2012, by contrast, there was violence by Pallars against Thevars that led the dominant caste groups to feel abandoned and victimised by the police (Interviews 2012).

Towards Democratic Policing?

In this paper, rather than focus on the caste bias or otherwise of the police I wish to counterpose the response by police in London with the Sampath report on Paramakudi to ask questions about protest policing more generally. The violence against Thevars in 2012, and the police operations in 2013 that resulted in a trouble free celebration of guru pujas for both Immanuel Sekaran and Muthuramalinga Thevar suggest that good and bad policing affects all communities. Loader (1997: 15) argues that the police are ‘one of the principal ways in which the … nation and its qualities are represented’. Where the police are seen as distant and unaccountable, however, as Ellison and Smyth (2000:  152) note by reference to Northern Ireland, then ‘policing can promote feelings of belonging and security for some’, but ‘it can also deny recognition to others’.

It was a recognition of the potentially divisive nature of public perceptions of the police that led Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary to overhaul policing in the wake of the London G20. Whilst this does not make the UK police paragons of virtue – as seen in clashes with students and the recent revelations about ethically disgraceful covert operations (Lewis and Evans 2013) – it does, at the least, retain the sense of a police force that can be held to account. It is the Tamil Nadu government’s reluctance to act on even the minimal criticisms voiced by the Sampath Commission that is most troubling in this regard. Even if we accept the report’s conclusion that the police acted in self-defence (which is contradicted by numerous independent reports: People’s Watch 2011), the failure to hold officers to account for blatant breaches of their own codes of conduct can only serve to erode the trust and legitimacy upon which democratic policing depends. Shorn of these pillars, the police are condemned to maintain order on the basis of fear and force, and that is no recipe for democratic policing.

This post was written by Hugo Gorringe.

Dr Hugo Gorringe is a Lecturer in Sociology at the University of Edinburgh.

Image Source: CC Licensed image by Phil John and Ramesh Lalwani, via Flickr


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