Tag Archives: race

Caste and other demons

Can Dalits rightfully claim that they have a ‘homeland’?

Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar

( Review of The Doctor and the Saint: The Ambedkar-Gandhi Debate — Caste, Race, and Annihilation of Caste; By Arundhati Roy, Penguin, Rs 299)

“Gandhiji, I have no homeland.” The first meeting between Gandhi and B.R. Ambedkar, who later became chairman of the drafting committee of independent India’s Constitution and its first law minister, is memorialized in this sentence. It expresses the centuries-old plight of those most oppressed in the varna hierarchy under the “institutionalised social injustice at the heart of the country”.

Has there been a qualitative change in the situation of the ‘ex-untouchables’ since this meeting some 90 years back? Can Dalits rightfully claim that they have a ‘homeland’? Figures collated by National Crime Records Bureau show that “a crime is committed against a Dalit by a non-Dalit every sixteen minutes”, including four rapes a day and murders of 13 Dalits every week. And these figures do not include “the stripping and parading naked, the forced shit eating, the seizing of land and the social boycotts…” This is the backdrop of the book, The Doctor and The Saint: The Ambedkar-Gandhi Debate — Caste, Race, and Annihilation of Caste by Arundhati Roy. It earlier formed part of an introduction to an annotated 2014 edition of Annihilation of Caste — the historic pamphlet Ambedkar wrote when invited by the ‘Jat Paat Todak Mandal’ in Lahore. The invitation was withdrawn after the hosts read the lecture draft. Continue reading Caste and other demons

Appreciating Diversity, Corporate Style – Guest Post by Anonymous

Guest Post by Anonymous

A senior leader of India’s leading IT Services Company took a moment on March 8th to send a note to his colleagues wishing them on International Women’s Day.  In the mailer, he also exhorted his colleagues, among other things, to strive towards building an environment that appreciates variety. The variety of Race, Ethnicity, Gender or Generation! He did not stop there, but went on to talk about drawing strength from these differences. Caste, quite evidently, is conspicuous by its absence in the corporate discourse on diversity (or variety as they also like to call it).

What is it that makes Corporate India, or a part of it, sensitive towards race issues/matters on one hand but allows them ignore caste on the other? Is it reflective of what a social activist friend once mentioned to me in a private conversation – Caste is only visible from “down below” and not “up above”? Continue reading Appreciating Diversity, Corporate Style – Guest Post by Anonymous

A Burden of Proof: A Response to “White Woman’s Burden” by Ameya Naik

This is a guest post by AMEYA NAIK

[On the 26th of August 2013, Newslaundry carried a piece by Rajyasree Sen titled “White Woman’s Burden“. This post is offered as a rebuttal of the views expressed in the essay.]

Dear Rajyasree,

Michaela Cross, aka RoseChasm’s CNN blog piece about her experience of India is, as you say, currently unavoidable on the internet. It does seem to be provoking a dialogue on women and safety in India – at least in social media circles. If the result is that Indian girls and women acknowledge and share their own negative experiences, perhaps thereby to make some Indian men re-examine their perceptions and behaviour, it would still be a step forward.

Unfortunately, some responses represent two steps backwards instead. Your writing (“White Woman’s Burden”, 26 Aug, 2013) is one such; it made me profoundly uncomfortable. The gist of your argument appears to be this: Michaela was not suitably prepared, and she *SHOULD* have known better. Indeed, given her account of her actions and experiences, and the trauma she has experienced therein, it is surprising (to you) how unprepared she was.

Did I just read a young, educated Indian woman entrepreneur – from the hospitality industry, no less – say that an exchange student left traumatised after experiencing molestation (and worse) because she was unprepared? I describe myself as a cynic, but surely this is a new low!

What, pray tell, would suggest she was sufficiently prepared? That she came here, had the experiences she did, and considered them “par for the course” in India? Or that she came here aware of (what you call) the skewed psycho-sexual dynamic between Indian men and women in all its rich and diverse forms, behaved in the most conservative and appropriate fashion – only dancing in “safe places”, avoiding public transport entirely, staying only with trusted hosts or in one of Goa’s five star hotels – and left having experienced only milder forms of violation, like the persistent gaze (which she would know to expect)?

This assertion of yours does have one unexpected benefit – it lets us ignore the fair skin debate. If complexion plays no role, she should still be at least as careful as any Indian woman. If complexion does play a role, she should be even more careful! As silver linings go, though, this is pewter on a thundercloud.

How, pray tell, would the students or the University prepare for their visit to the land of the skewed psycho-sexual dynamic? With little docu-dramas of all the kinds of harassment you can expect, and how to be safe at all times? Would you not seed the most pernicious mistrust in your potential visitors? In fact, why would any of them come at all? Surely the University would simply cancel the trip!

And, while you seem to suggest that this is precisely what the “easily traumatised” should do, we would be the first to protest. Already we cry ourselves hoarse over travel advisories saying India is unsafe for women. That, apparently, is an insult to our national pride. And that seems to be the source of this article: “how dare this unprepared white girl write about India this way?” Only Indian writers can suggest that India has a skewed psycho-sexual dynamic, right? (An interesting dynamic which, of course, makes some – but not all – lechers or potential rapists. And on current evidence, I shudder to ask you who these corrupted ones are, and why only they succumb to this taint.) Because Indian women are prepared for such behaviour, and they know – even when they face it abroad – that it is only an aberration.

Too many responses, too many comments, seem to be in this vein. Why this parochial-with-my-fingers-crossed-so-as-not-to-offend-gendered-perspectives reply at all? My thesis is that it is because Michaela’s account makes us ask a few uncomfortable questions. Such as, how many aberrations to make a norm? How much preparation is enough?

Answering those questions is not a White Woman’s Burden – the onus to answer to them lies on us. Discrediting the person who asked them as “easily traumatised” – and really, as someone who says she has lived through incidents enough of her own, how dare you! – is a thoroughly inadequate reply.

[Ameya Naik is currently in a graduate programme in Boston. A psychologist and lawyer by qualification, he worked in New Delhi across 2012-13.]

Transnational Torture by Jinee Lokaneeta reviewed with Prachi Patankar

There are few books as exhilarating as one by a comrade that is intellectually engaging and speaks to the current context. I was invited by 3rd i NY to a Conversation titled ‘Torturing Democracies: Past and Present’, where Jinee and I discussed her new book at Alwan for the Arts. The conversation came to life with the audience which included many of our comrades from the South Asia Solidarity Initiative (SASI) including Prachi. After that wonderful conversation, Prachi and I decided to delve further into the book and write a review. This was an exercise very different from what we normally engage with in SASI around our solidarity campaigns, but it was also a wonderful way to see another side of Jinee. That is the theoretically rich research of someone whom we relied on as a solid activist. I feel we should be doing more of reading, writing about and debating the work of our activist friends. A shorter version of this review has been published by Himal. Perhaps some of the themes in the book can be debated here with this longer review. Continue reading Transnational Torture by Jinee Lokaneeta reviewed with Prachi Patankar

The ‘Obama Moment’: Sangay Mishra and Jinee Lokaneeta

The ‘Obama Moment’ and Conversations on Race

[The ‘Obama moment’ is much more than the man. Elementary, one would have thought. But maybe not. For, it has been intriguing to watch and listen to people – radical and nonradical liberal alike – mock this moment in a cynical, ‘we-know-it-all’ and ‘what-do-you-expect?’ mode. Intriguing, because, somewhere the insinuation is that those who celebrate are just being carried away by an ephemeral event. Maybe. It seems however, and the authors argue below, that this persona we now know as ‘Obama’ was not there even a year or two ago; he emerged in this present form, through a series of ‘encounters’ – with race, with his own history and with ‘blackness’. In his present form, Obama is produced by a certain African American investment in the earlier Obama (of, say, the pre-campaign Obama). – AN]

Much as the Obama victory on the 4th of November was expected and already predicted by a number of polls, the reaction to his victory both inside and outside the United States was breathtaking.

Continue reading The ‘Obama Moment’: Sangay Mishra and Jinee Lokaneeta