The Google episode shows the right-wing vision of unity is exclusionary. But this vision is increasingly being challenged in the United States and beyond.
On 9 May 1916, a young BR Ambedkar presented a paper at Colombia University in the United States titled Castes in India: Their Mechanism, Genesis and Development. He referred to caste as a “local problem, but one capable of much wider mischief”. He wrote, “…if Hindus migrate to other regions on earth, Indian caste would become a world problem.”
More than a century later, as one of the biggest corporations, Google, battles allegations of caste discrimination in the United States, the predictive value of Ambedkar’s words is evident. Recently, Google News cancelled a scheduled talk by Thenmozhi Soundararajan, the founder and executive director of Equality Labs, after many Google employees (of Indian origin or Indians) opposed it. The discussion was supposed to mark Dalit Equality Month, celebrated every April to mark the month Ambedkar, the first law minister of independent India and its leading anti-caste activist, was born. Equality Labs is a leading non-profit group in the United States that advocates Dalit rights. According to its 2016 survey, a third of Hindu students in the United States reported experiencing caste discrimination.
Thenmozhi was subjected to an organised campaign led by a section of Google employees, who called her “Hindu-phobic” and “anti-Hindu”. The name-calling went on in emails her opponents sent to company bosses and documents they posted on a mailing list that thousands of Indian employees access.
They represented two foundational but antagonistic visions of “what we as a society, what we as a state should embody”
( Review of ‘Radical Equality: Ambedkar, Gandhi, and The Risk of Democracy’ By Aishwary Kumar Navayana, Rs 599)
In the early 1990s D.R. Nagaraj published The Flaming Feet, a compilation of his essays in which he admired both Gandhi and Ambedkar. Coming close on the heels of the phenomenon of Dalit assertion, it argued that “there is a compelling necessity to achieve a synthesis of the two”. But that has not been the only attempt to examine how the ideas of these two leaders interacted, challenged each other, and how they extended or revisited the meanings of different concepts.
The book, Radical Equality: Ambedkar, Gandhi, and the Risk of Democracy by Aishwary Kumar, takes forward the conversation around the two “most formidable non-Western thinkers of the twentieth century, whose visions of moral and political life have left the deepest imprints”. For the author they “exemplified two incommensurable ways of forging a relationship between sovereignty and justice, force and disobedience”, or represented two foundational but antagonistic visions of “what we as a society, what we as a state should embody”.
Focusing mainly on Hind Swaraj — a monograph written by Gandhi on a ship to South Africa from London (1909) — and Annihilation of Caste, which happens to be the undelivered speech by Dr Ambedkar when he was invited by the Jat Pat Todak Mandal, Lahore (1936) — the organization rescinded the invite when it came across the ‘radical’ proposals he had put forward in the draft — this around 400-page book discerns “an insurrectionary element at the limit of politics” in the works of these two stalwarts. It is “an insurrection that sought to extract the political itself — and the social question — from the doctrinal prescriptions and certitude of its European past”
“The value of a man was reduced to his immediate identity and nearest possibility.”
The line quoted above is from Dalit PhD scholar Rohith Vemula’s ‘last’ letter, discovered after he was found hanging in his hostel room in January 2016. The letter had exposed how caste-based discrimination is used as a medium of oppression against Dalits and other minorities. Casteism serves both as an ideology and as a means for exploitation by the upper castes and upper classes of the Indian society.
Recently, a complaint has been made by a second year Masters student of the Department of Library and Information Science in one of the hotbeds of Bengal student politics, Jadavpur University. Jadavpur Uiversity is also a premier institution of higher learning, with a well deserved reputation. Raja Manna, a student belonging to the ‘Scheduled Caste’ category, has revealed that he has been facing a lot of harassment and discrimination at the hands of his dissertation guide, Prof. Udayan Bhattacharya, an upper caste Brahmin.
Caste discrimination, even while faced with a calamity, is a clear outcome of the brahminical ideology of purity and pollution that has permeated deep into Indian society.
Image Courtesy: Al Jazeera
“[U]ntouchability, is a kind of disease of the Hindus…it is a mental twist…. I do not know how my friend is going to untwist the twist which the Hindus have got for thousands of years unless they are all sent to some kind of hospital.’ Dr B.R.Ambedkar , 1954
Cyclone Fani is over.
Despite being one of the strongest cyclones to hit India in last two decades the manner in which the state most affected by it — Odisha — was successful in keeping loss of life and numbers of affected people to a minimum has earned it kudos even from its critics.
People are slowly trying to pick up threads to restart their lives
It is rather difficult to say whether it will be easy for dalit villagers of Baripada village — part of Patali panchayat — to do so, who had to endure callous and inhuman behaviour from their own village brethren, during the stormy winds. Around 85 of them from 25 families were denied entry to three shelters located within a radius of approximately four km by ‘upper caste’ people. Nandini (name changed) belonging to the Dom caste narrated how they had to ultimately take shelter beside an uprooted banyan tree, while it was raining heavily.
This is the story of a young man who made it to the premier institution of IIT Kanpur against heavy odds, but was then let down by the system and people at the institute. Yet, he showed exemplary courage and stood up for his rights firmly but gently. The story also highlights the frailties of human nature and the vindictiveness that can mar human actions. It is a story that needs to be told.
IIT Kanpur, like all other IITs, has very few faculty from reserved categories. An initiative was taken in August 2017 with an exclusive advertisement for faculty under various reserved categories. The applications received were sent to the respective departments for evaluation, and the shortlisted candidates were called for seminars. The protagonist of this story, Dr SS (I am using initials for the key players for convenience, all names are in the public domain), who is from a scheduled caste of Andhra Pradesh, was shortlisted in the Aerospace Engineering department. He did both his M.Tech and Ph.D from IIT Kanpur under Professor AKG, who happened to be the head of the department at the time. Continue reading The Saderla story – courage in the face of violent prejudice: Manindra Agrawal→
A preliminary report of an investigation into caste discrinimation with regard to Cyclone Thane by National Dalit Watch–National Campaign for Dalit Rights conducted on 18, 19 January 2012
Cyclonic Storm Thane was the strongest tropical cyclone of 2011 within the North Indian Ocean. Thane initially developed as a tropical disturbance within the monsoon trough to the west of Indonesia. Over the next couple of days the disturbance gradually developed further while moving towards the northwest, and was declared a Depression during December 25, before being declared Cyclonic Storm Thane during the next day. As it was named, Thane started to turn towards the west under the influence of a subtropical ridge of high pressure before its development slowed down during December 27, as a strong outflow and marginally favourable sea surface temperatures fought with persistent vertical wind shear. After its development had slowed down during December 27, Thane became a Very Severe Cyclonic Storm during December 28, before as it approached the Indian states of Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh, it weakened slightly. Thane then made landfall early on December 30, on the north Tamil Nadu coast between Cuddalore and Pondicherry and rapidly weakened into a depression.
Cuddalore and Vilipuram Districts in Tamil Nadu and Pondicherry were the worst affected due to Cyclone Thane. All roads in these three districts are line by wreckage of fallen trees including large tracts of Casuarina plantations completely wiped out. The only trees that seem to have withstood the fury of the cyclone seems to be the Borassus flabellifer or the Palmyra Palm. According to government estimates at least 39 people have been killed by this cyclone in Tamil Nadu and 7 in Pondicherry. Apart from the loss of life, the Cyclone left huge destruction in terms of livelihood, particularly agricultural livelihood and ripped apart the green cover in these already arid districts.
The cast in this short film: Sharma- Rajesh, Mishra- Nishant, Choudhury- Roshan, Dalit- Dinamani
Camera- Babita, Script and Direction- Dinamani (firstname.lastname@example.org). Special thanks to Anoop for making the office available for the shoot.