“Do you eat piglets?” he asked as our car moved through the long road from Lucknow, via Barabanki, Faizabad, Akbarpur towards Azamgarh. “We can have roast piglets and whiskey when we end our day’s work” This was our ‘tour sponsor’, Chandra Bhan Prasad, well known now as the maverick intellectual who celebrates capitalism, consumption and globalization and who was the first to advocate a Dalit-Brahmin alliance against the Sudra (OBC) castes. Thus it was to be. We were to spend our first night in the poorvanchal on 4 June 2008, eating and drinking.
When we arrived at his village at about 8 pm, it was dark. All of Uttar Pradesh only has electricity for about seven or eight hours every day. And this was a village. That too, the dakkhin tola (the generic name for the Dalit settlement, given that, by and large, it is supposed to be situated at the southern end of the village). But true to the line that Prasad has been trying to convince us of for sometime now – and which actually occasioned this trip – within minutes, the generator started purring and the place lit up. We were in front of a fairly large pucca building that happens to be Prasad’s family house. The preparations were soon made for the feast that was awaiting us – the cooler was put on and other arrangements were made. Prasad has been at pains to underline to us, over and over again, that over the last twenty years, hunger and humiliation have disappeared from the lives of the Dalits in this area. Not that they are not poor and oppressed any more. But their lives have changed decisively.
Continue reading Flight to Freedom: Travel Through Dalit Villages
It is this silence — ‘indifferentism’ as Ambedkar had prophetically termed the caste Hindu/liberal attitude to anti-caste concerns — that continues to echo for Badhal… When only Dalits are forced to bear the burden of articulating Dalit issues they are dubbed sectarian; the casual betrayal of Dalits by the rest of society passes for secularism.
Navayana publisher S. Anand wonders why the left-liberal set stood up for an art student in Baroda but not for Dalit students at AIIMS.
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
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
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
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
M Venkatrayappa, a dalit from Kambalapalli, Kolar district, Karnataka still remebers the last glimpses of his wife Ramakka, sons Sriramappa and Anjaneya and daughter Papammas. It has been more than six years that they died a very tragic death. All of them with four others from their hamlet were burnt alive by the local Reddys.The police termed it revenge killing, supposedly in retaliation against the killing of Krishnappa Reddy, a village functionary belonging to upper castes.
Kambalapalli massacre in March 2000, had made national headlines.The tremendous public uproar compelled the then Congress government not only to apprehend the culprits but also shift the dalits to a new village which is situated around 40 kms from Kambalapalli.
Today all that is passe. The first week of December when the whole nation was debating the growing surge in atrocities against dalits came the damning verdict in this particular case. All the accused were acquitted.In legalese they call it the case getting settled as all ‘witnesses turned hostile’ during the court hearings. Continue reading Thinking Kambalapalli in times of Khairlanji
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”
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
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.
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