Category Archives: Identities

The meaning of Maywati for the Dalit movement

Mayawati and the Meaning of her Victory

By CHITTIBABU PADAVALA

Anand Teltumbde is an eminent Dalit theoretician who is respected and influential. He is among the few intellectuals who is also self-critical; someone who does not necessarily believe in ‘closing ranks’. Compared to Dalit intellectuals who think criticizing Dalit politics and social movements will always necessarily be used for anti-Dalit politics, and that Dalit politics could do without self-critical exercises, he is perhaps an exception in coming up with trenchant criticisms of Dalit politics, movements and perspectives from time to time. Most times, both well-meaning, pro- but non-Dalit intellectuals and Dalit intellectuals think it is dangerous to even air legitimate criticism of anything Dalit. Thus Teltumbde is also a lonely Dalit intellectual. His position is unenviable. Almost everything Dalits do or think is either unfairly dismissed and criticized or not given sufficient credit by the media and the dominant progressive-liberal left. Intellectuals like Chandrabhan Prasad or Kancha Ilaiah focus exclusively on exposing the hypocrisy of so-called progressive intellectuals and highlighting the admirable features of Dalit life and politics. Reading Teltumbde is complementary and sometimes corrective to the work of both Ilaiah and Chandra Bhan Prasad. What is missing in the latters’ intellectual practice is that they don’t entertain any sustained self-critical perspective of Dalit politics and movements and lines of thought.

However, having read Teltumbde’s recent attack on Mayawati—circulated on e-mail, posted on ZEST-Caste, and copied below—I feel the need to critically engage with his ideas, which in this case are far from acceptable. Continue reading The meaning of Maywati for the Dalit movement

Why Hindol Sengupta needn’t fear Mayawati

hindol-senguptamayawati

Baba Hindol and Behen Maya

Please read this very important post on the CNN IBN website’s otherwise dull blog section. It has been written by Hindol Sengupta who covers fashion and suchlike for them. His point is that he can’t relate to Mayawati, and finds it ironic that the “backbone of the knowledge, entreneurial [sic] economy” should be a “non-vote bank”. He says that his class of people, his ‘type’ – People Like Us, to use a cliche – “rejoice every time Manmohan Singh takes stage” but alas, even he couldn’t win a Lok Sabha election from South Delhi.

The reason why I think it is an important post is that unlike most other PLUs, Sengupta makes no claim to ‘objectivity’. When Youth for Equality / United Students / other ‘anti-reservationists’ oppose reservations, and speak about Dalits/OBCs, they claim to be doing so with a claim to ‘objectivity’, that is, they do not admit that the viewpoint(s) they are putting forward are of a certain section of society that is influential in shaping public opinion despite being in a minority.

Sengupta admits not only his discomfiture with a democratically elected Mayawati but also that his discomfiture stems from his background, from who he is. He describes himself and his ilk as “middle-class, educated, metro-bred, Christian-education raised, young.” That would abbreviate into MEMCRY, but let’s just use the word ‘yuppie’.

It is quite extraordinary and laudatory for a yuppie to admit his distance from the political rise of the ‘low-class, neo-literate, village-bred, government school-raised, middle aged’. Such an admission is a rarity, and it is exactly what the ‘anti-anti-reservationists’ want the ‘anti-reservationists’ to admit. Continue reading Why Hindol Sengupta needn’t fear Mayawati

Cows, Women and Hindu Manhood

Life in Modi’s Gujarat

Gujarat is calm. And is on the march. Every village of the state is a Jyotigram. Narmada water is flowing in abundance in the canals quenching the thirst of Gujaratis. “Was not Surat flooded a few months back and did not the people of Gujarat suffer?” I ask my driver. “No, was not Narendrabhai there to take care of everything,” he replies. How can anything go wrong when Narendrabhai is keeping watch!

Narendra Modi, you see, does not have a family and he works round the clock, we are informed. I find Modi smiling down at us benevolently from the digital billboards that dot Ahmedabad. There is no escaping his firm developmental smile. “The man has impressive qualities. Gujarat is bound to forge ahead under this workaholic chief minister. A citizen may have doubts of his secularism, but even his enemies don’t doubt his competence,” writes Gunawant Shah, a popular Gujarati columnist.

Continue reading Cows, Women and Hindu Manhood

The Visible and The Invisible – Abhay Dube

Modes of Representation in Hindi Fiction

I must confess at the outset that I was a bit afraid when I begin to look for the literary representations of Ambedkar in Hindi creative writing. I thought that I am in for a business fraught with a kind of ‘political correctness’ not known for its introspective qualities. And, I had sound reasons to think so. In the world of Hindi speakers the impact of Ambedkar and his discourse is being felt lately both as a source of literary imagination as well as a potent force in politics. Therefore, a possibility of a linear narrative for and against the formation of dalit political community can easily have diminishing effect on the power of literary expression. While surfing for evidence, to my pleasant surprise, what I encountered was far more complex world of themes, situations, tropes, images and opinions. Another gratification I enjoyed from the fiction of last ten years, published or otherwise, belongs to the nuances of the inner voice echoed by the restless self of literary artist on the both sides of the fence, dalit and the non-dalit. Going by the traditions of cultural materialism I venture to say that in the dalit/non-dalit interface of Hindi literature, the power structure created by the dalit political practices is being subjected to a stern critique. Instead of providing the comfort zone it always looks for assuring its legitimacy, existing dalit political community finds a virtual battleground full of constant skirmishes on the pages of literature. A dialectic is already there to be seen as emerging. Contrary to the experience of Maharashtra, where a rich legacy of dalit literature never found a commensurate political success, it seems that North Indian shenanigans of dalit political power have of late created cultural conditions that leave the whole process open to the counter-narratives. In fact, I consider it as a classical situation producing the counter-narratives of emancipation suggesting different social possibilities within a discursive terrain of Ambedkar.

Continue reading The Visible and The Invisible – Abhay Dube

Mortuary Blues

Post-Gujarat riot people asked me have you written anything – a poem, an essay, a short story, anything? It is strange. Every time a cataclysmic event takes place, there is pressure on a creative person to respond to it. As if it is proper to respond to a catastrophe. As if it is an obligation if you are creative. As if art must serve a purpose in the end. As if underneath every creative urge there is a political undercurrent. As if there is a subtle politics that must consume every art form in the end. As if every expression of art is a grand statement redeeming a belief. But unfortunately creativity is not subservient to anything. It has its own mysterious, enigmatic, whimsical way of manifesting.

I read about the riots like million others as a news item. I had a vague confusion within, mixed with rage and a sense of injustice. (This does not mean I feel less enraged hearing a non-Muslim’s death. Normally, I don’t need to qualify a statement like the one above but I have heard such retarded inane counter-remarks that I think I need to clarify it.) And in spite of trying hard my pen spluttered nothing. Then seven months later, one August afternoon, as I was rehearsing for a play (George Bernard Shaw’s Arms and The Man – Why that play I wonder?) it all came to me. I do not know how I should categorize this poem. This was neither a response nor a rant. I wasn’t trying to make any statement. I just wrote a poem. And I know Gujarat was on my mind when I wrote this.

Mortuary Blues

Slithering
through her soul
are few uneasy thoughts.
A blob in her throat,
her voice choked,
she stretches her hand,
as if a magic wand
will bring it all back –
the dreamful of sack
bit-by-bit stacked
in afternoons doing nothing.
Her son, perhaps, lies dead here
(She doesn’t even know it!)
amidst the decomposed heap.
She stretches her hand
to reach out for what,
I don’t know.

She may be a Muslim
or a Hindu, who cares
in this urban milieu.
Haven’t we all died
in our own mother’s eyes
so many times, whenever she wished
for a son or a daughter
to hold her if she falters.
But we all had our reasons,
perfectly justified reasons.
It’s no different here;
She only looks for a son
who is not there.

She wades through
her resolve, her stubbornness.
It has acquired
a macabre face now.
She stumbles,
gets up, only to stare
at a charred face.
Maybe he’s her son,
maybe he’s not.
She lost her reason
long before she lost her son.

I stand quietly
with a list in my hand
I don’t know who’s who,
all I have here are few names.
A stink greets us.
My soul silently pleads,
silently pleads to her
to quickly confirm
that this room
does not have her son.

I am just a municipal clerk,
doing an honest work,
diligently counting the dead
to earn my humble bread.
Arrey! This is just a mortuary!
I’ve seen worst crimes
at a spin of a coin –
the crime where one kills
one’s own conscience.
In this age of karseva and jehad,
wonder anyone heard a word called ittehad?

She straightens up, sighs,
looks at me with moist eyes.
Her face though sad
is at peace. She says
does it matter? Does it matter this room
has her son or not?
Even if this room had her son,
it means nothing.
I quickly extend my hand
expecting her to grease it.
See, I’ve been kind enough
to let you in, to let you
search for your son.
She smiles sadly
they took it all away in the riot.
I shrug my shoulders,
Ok! For once I shall be magnanimous!

© Dan Husain
August 26, 2002

Touchable Crimes: Gohana Nay Kizzhevanamani

Investigations by the police or the intelligence officials in highly contested cases have an uncanny ability of looking weird in an unabashed manner.

The recent chargesheet filed by the CBI, which had been asked to look into the attack, and arson, at a Dalit (Valmiki) basti in Gohana, once again vindicates this thesis. According to a newspaper report the chargesheet into the 2005 Gohana riots in Haryana has ‘..revealed that some people in Balmiki Basti had set their houses on fire themselves, allegedly for compensation.” The chargesheet talks of CBI’s observations that ” extensive burning was observed in 19 out of 28 houses. Of these, nine houses were inspected thoroughly and it appeared that in these houses the “simulated arsoning” was carried out, which are yet “to get compensation”. Continue reading Touchable Crimes: Gohana Nay Kizzhevanamani

Thinking About Sahir Ludhianvi

Some time ago I had written a short piece for Kafila titled ‘One Question‘. I had thought that I was articulating my anger fairly strongly at the refusal of the political apparatus to do any thing to punish the Guilty of the 1992 Bombay Riots, despite the fact that many perpetrators of those riots had been identified by the Justice Srikrishna Commission. My worry was that almost no one seemed to be bothered while every one was ecstatic about the “guilty” of the 1993 Bombay Blasts being brought to book.

There were a few responses that agreed with my contention and sent me links to sites where similar concerns had been raised. There was, however, one response that raised serious questions about my style of writing and went so far as to suggest that “Such a discourse ends up making the most harrowing human tragedies sound like the nearly fossilized shayari of Sahir Ludhianvi”.

Continue reading Thinking About Sahir Ludhianvi

“One Day I Cursed That Mother-Fucker God”

Warriors of Truth and the Theatre of the Absurd

Shivam’s post actually gives me the opportunity to explicate certain things at greater length, especially in relation to Chandrabhan Prasad (CBP) but also, more generally, in relation to our relationship to the political in the contemporary. Shivam’s article from Himal Southasian, though it was written in a different context and with a very different intent – that of defending OBC reservations from the attacks by upper castes – opens out to my mind all the problems that I wish to underline. The fact that Shivam has posted this article in response to my comment and Ravikant’s earlier post, indicates that his argument there has a certain larger relevance to how we understand what CBP represents.

Let me at the outset however, clarify that my reading of Chandrabhan Prasad and his stances, especially his political mode and style, do not necessarily mean that I endorse his politics. In fact, let me confess, most of the time his politics makes me quite uncomfortable – even though I have on each occasion been persuaded enough to modify my own positions in trying to confront his. Moreover, there are still large areas of his politics that, I believe are based on a somewhat deliberately partial understanding of the situation. So for instance, his adulation of ‘American society’ or US corporations like Microsoft and IBM for taking the diversity issue seriously, is to say the least, naïve. It refuses to recognize that these were gains of hard won struggles against racism which are once again being seriously challenged. One only has to look at the recent agitation in Michigan University to be able to see that the so-called liberalism of white society is in a sense not very different from modern upper caste arrogance. Note also that the language espoused by both the white opponents of affirmative action in Michigan and the upper castes in India is that of equality: “affirmative action is anti-equality” is the common refrain.

Continue reading “One Day I Cursed That Mother-Fucker God”

Chandrabhan Prasad and the Other Backward Classes

Outlook

In light of the two posts that have appeared on this blog on the peculiar politics of Chandrabhan Prasad, I reproduce below an essay I wrote for Himal Southasian a few months ago, and which CBP refused to respond to. The question of Dalit-Bhaujan unity, which is one of the points in Aditya’s succinct post, is by no means a simple one, and I do realise that I left it open-ended in this essay. But my point was more about reservations for OBCs and CBP’s opposition of it, than Dalit-Bahujan politics. Given that the two are not unrelated, I have been thinking a lot on this – Gopal Guru and Bhalchandra Mungekar are two amongst many who say that the OBCs need aan Ambedkarite political movement. Kancha Iliah and VT Rajshekhar are amongst the OBC thinkers who agree. But I don’t see that political movement happening anytime soon. Such political stagnation is another aspect of demography-driven dalit politics. Continue reading Chandrabhan Prasad and the Other Backward Classes

Dalit Betrayal and All That

Ever since Chandrabhan Prasad (CBP) embarked on his distinctive style of politics, he has really managed to annoy many self-proclaimed radicals. Ravikant’s earlier post on CBP’s recent salvo on deserting the vernacular and inhabiting the world of English language is in that sense really welcome, as it sets things in perspective.

A few years ago, when CBP called for a Dalit bourgeoisie, there was a similar sign of dismay, scandal and utter incomprehension among many friends – even those who have now started recognizing that ‘Dalits’ constitute a key component of any future radical democratic (or socialist?) transformation. What many of these friends do not recognize is that it is not enough to say that “the Dalit question is also important”: As Khairlanji or the hundreds of other earlier episodes show, there is no way in which the ‘Dalits’ can ‘also’ become part of some imagined larger unity (say the peasant unity dreamt of by communists, or the so-called ‘secular unity’ propounded by bleeding heart secular liberals). For, to take the standpoint of the Dalit is to take the standpoint of a minority in the village and to incur the anger of the majority. The effort to unite might be desirable from a longer term point of view, though I am not quite sure about that too. CBP thus also annoyed many secularists as his attack on backward caste ‘secular’ parties was seen by many as a way of justifying BSP’s alliance with the BJP.

The real point about CBPs politics that earnest radicals do not get is that irrespective of the substantive aspect/s of his argument, he is opening out a new way of enunciating a politics of the oppressed: anger and emotion are sublimated here into a performative excess, thus initiating a politics of irony and hyperbole. Ressentiment (resentment?) is not the main mode of this politics of ‘betrayal’ (which I would call the politics of fleeing) which began in a true sense with Dr Ambedkar’s flight from Hinduism. There is one critical difference from Ambedkar though. I have often told CBP that he is a deviant Ambedkarite (kujaat Ambedkarvaadi, to twist Lohia’s term): after all, “chicken, mutton, daaru aur daliton ki kuchh samasyayein” is certainly not the mode of Ambedkar’s renunciatory Buddhist politics that still remained imprisoned within the logic of ressentiment.

Whatever Happened to the ‘Fake Beard’ ?

The Malegaon Bomb Blast Trail

Shab-e-Barat, the day when Muslims pray for their departed ones and visit their graveyards, saw blood of innocents getting spilled in Malegaon, Maharashtra. It saw deaths of 31 people and injuries to hundreds.

From day one, there have been allegations that the police has not remained even handed while dealing with the case. Apart from providing lax security at the time of the Shab-e-Barat celebrations, it is also alleged that it did not follow some vital clues.

Now comes the claim, as per ATS (anti terrorist squad) in Maharashtra, that a group of Muslims, supposedly associated with some extremist Muslim organisation, implemented the gory act. It is understandable that why the latest claim has been received with lot of disdain as news pouring in from the city informed that a bandh had been planned on 14th of November to protest the arrests.

Can it be now said that the truth is finally out as far as Malegaon bomb blast is concerned ? And the real perpetrators of the gory carnage have been apprehended ? Or there are still loose ends which are to be met.

Continue reading Whatever Happened to the ‘Fake Beard’ ?

Walled away in faith’s defence

Like today’s ‘secular’ or ‘moderate’ Muslim, a species called the ‘nationalist Muslim’ was extremely sought after, and equally rare, in pre-Independence India. The nationalist Muslim was the counterpoint to the problem of Muslim disaffection that surfaced after 1857 — a statist problem to which the colonial solution was the creation of a set of collaborators. In turn, the nationalist retort was to create a nationalist Muslim i.e., one willing to consider mutual agreements to resolve disputes rather than the colonial state as a bulwark. That is to say, a Muslim who ratified the Congress was a nationalist, one who did not was a communalist. But since even the best nationalist Muslims remained disaffected — read Maulana Azad’s ministerial correspondence — and many who started as nationalists ended as communalists or separatists — take Jinnah, Mohammed Ali Jauhar or Iqbal — a Muslim’s only respectable political choice was to become a communist. Continue reading Walled away in faith’s defence

The Orkut Brahmins

This excerpt from a discussion on the message board of a ‘Brahmin’ community on the social networking site young people spend hours on these days, offered without comment:

T.U.»»: Why do we have Ram’s Picture ?
I know that Ram was one of the avatars of Lord Vishnu, but the thing is Ram was not a Brahmin, he was a Kshatriya..The Raghukul Gotra among Kshatriyas are from Ram’s descendants..So as a Hindu I respect Shri Ram, but as a Brahmin It is lord Vishnu we should worship..what say? Correct me if I am wrong ..

krishna: just a reply……..
well……there r lot many humans to bind in castism man…..keep LORD RAM separate from this stupid concept……GOD don’t have any cast they r above of all this…..
if u say ur a brahmin u shud keep this simple fact in mind that our GOD’s doesn’t come under the concepts of what we brahmins created as CAST………any correction of what ever i said always welcome….thanx
and one more thing LORD vishnu is neighter a kshatriya nor a brahmin…… Continue reading The Orkut Brahmins

The Dalit ‘Betrayal’ of Hindi-Hindu-Hindustan

Karan Thapar of CNBC -TV18 recently presented a half-hour debate on whether Dalits have a better future adopting English rather than one of the so many Indian languages. Some of us followed it keenly because we knew where it was comig from and also the dramatis personae – Chandrabhan Prasad(CP), Yogendra Yadav(YY) and Alok Rai(AR) – all very dear friends, and people who have been deeply engaged with the politics and practice of languages in North India. It was a one-sided debate from the moment it started: clear victory to Chandrabhan Prasad from the word go, first of all, because he had managed to pitchfork his provocative stance into a full scale discussion in the national press and the big media. Think about it: it has taken him just three consecutive annual Macaulay’s birthday parties to friends, to bring it to the attention of a much wider number of intellectuals and a larger public. It was a victory for his own brand of Gandhigiri – that you could very much debate and advance your cause while having fun: ‘chicken, mutton, daaru and daliton ki kuchh samasyayein’ is his style, in his own inimitable words. This is not to say that he does not believe in agitational politics. He does that as well.The debate was also one-sided because CP’s interlocutors did not have convincing answers to his extremist views on language and religion and the coupling of the two, which had to inevitably sneak into the discussion, considering en mass dalit conversions were fresh in media memory. For example, when Karan Thapar probed CP on why he suggested Dalits take flight from Hindi and Hinduism; was it because he hated Hinduism? CP had perhaps an obvious but pithy answer: I did not choose to hate Hinduism, Hinduism never loved me!YY and AR looked aghast and betrayed at the idea of rejecting Indian languages, for Dalits, after all, were communicatively, politically and experientially rooted in these languages, beginning with Marathi, most of the(autobiographical) dalit literature was written in indian languages. They went on, the NRI example of turning away from one’s language is not a healthy one: look how they have all become Hindutva supporters, etc. etc. CP of course rubbished this secular middle class sentimentalism by citing Ambedkar’s example, that he always wrote in English and he did so knowing very well that it is not the Dalits who would read him!

Continue reading The Dalit ‘Betrayal’ of Hindi-Hindu-Hindustan

Politics, political consciousness and being

Sometimes it is a matter of a moment, just that moment …

I headed towards the cobbler at Madhavan Park to repair my broken sandal. He was a darkish man. His shop had a photograph of Dr. Ambedkar.

Around Madhavan Park are some small shops and spaces occupied by people at different times in the day. There is a coobler shop, then a knick-knacks shop which also sells newspapers and is an information space for the auto drivers who are lurking there. A lady also comes by in the afternoon and sets up shop to sell food to the auto drivers and to other clients.

I stood by the coobler shop, watching the cobbler repair my shoe. An old vegetable vendor came by and dropped some tomatoes in the cobbler’s shop. The two of them had a mischievous exchange and the cobbler continued repairing my shoe. I continued watching the cobbler at work, very intently watching him, his facial features, his craft. It struck me then that here is a man who would be called ‘chamar’, a ‘dalit’. But how different is he from me? What is this theory and politics about caste?

My words are proving to be futile here because I am really attempting to describe that moment, that moment where a certain transcendence occurred and I could only see this person repairing my shoe as myself, as me. Such a moment betrays all theory, all politics and it is perhaps such moments which cause major transformations among humankind.

Such moments are those which give me a great amount of hope. There is much hope in this world. We all live by it!

As I walk by Bangalore, pass by the city in the buses, I watch the newly formed cobbler kiosks. Most of them are empty. The occupied cobbler spaces are many. And most of them are laced with photographs of Dr. Ambedkar. This photograph does not appear in a vacumm. It appears as a source of consciousness of being, it emerges out of an assertion of a certain identity.

The empty cobbler kiosks are empty not as a matter of lack of occupancy. They are empty because politically, these spaces are flat, devoid of the very identity which forms the basis of our everyday politics.