Wednesday, September 21, 2005

A Bimonthly Journal of Ambedkar Study Circle, JNU

Vol. 9-10 July/Aug 05'

CASTES AND YOUR CASTE


Dear Friends,
The theme of this issue is ‘Castes and your Caste’.Now we have posted all the articles from this issue.
Please go through them and kindly post your comments so that we can further improve our efforts.Those who are interested in Subscribing the Hard Copy of INSIGHT can send us email at insightjnu@rediffmail.com or post a letter at our address.


INSIGHT

C/o Anoop Kumar

122, Periyar Hostel

JNU, New Delhi

India 110067

Tel: 0-9871086609 (Anoop), 0-9312474357(Rajneesh)


Next issues:
Sep-Oct : Caste and Gender -II

Nov-Dec : Caste and Indian Communists


We invite articles, cartoons, stories, poems or any other form of literary expression based on the above themes.

Previous Issues

September 04' : Introductory Issue

October : Religion and Conversion

November : Understanding Reservations

December : Understanding Caste Atocities

Jan/Feb 05' : Caste and Nationalism

Mar/Apr : Caste and Gender

Editorial Collective
INSIGHT

EDITORIAL

Writing caste

Welcome back. The Editorial Collective apologizes for the inordinate delay in bringing out this issue as most of the team was away on vacation. Added to this was the difficult nature of this issue of Insight. Over the last few months, we have found that it is extremely difficult to get people, both dalit and nondalit to write about their castes. We found time and again contributors approaching the issue in the third person, distancing themselves from what they experienced.
We had a sense of this when we began Insight. In fact this is one of the main reasons why we began Insight: To get people, both dalits and nondalits to introspect upon their experiences of caste.Despite the difficulties we have been fortunate to get a wide range of people writing about their caste and how it functions in their lives. These narratives are far from complete documentations. But they are a beginning, a drop in the ocean. And some of them are brilliantly insightful allowing us to question both how we think about caste and the way forward for the dalit movement.
The even more exciting part of putting this issue together was learning about Ayyankali. His personality, his courage, his far-sightedness and his determination still makes our hair stand on end as we write of it. It is his birth anniversary on August 28 and the Ambedkar Study Circle is very excited about the possibilities this opportunity presents to popularize the life and thought of Ayyankali. Although Insight itself is not an advocate of violent change, knowledge of such a hero steadies our hand and straightens our backs.
Over the last few months, Insight has been in spirited debates with many young scholars. One of the important issues that was raised was that of the way forward for the movement. It has been suggested in one of the articles that the Annihilation of Caste should be the driving slogan of the movement. While not disagreeing with this claim at a macro-level, Insight believes that such a claim is utopian at the micro-level. Looking at successful dalits movements across the country, be it the jatavas in UP, the mahars in Maharashtra, or the dewars in Orissa, we have found that mobilization among dalits in most parts of the county is occurring on caste lines. This may be a dangerous trend but as is elaborated in Sudhir Kumar Behera’s article, that after having mobilized on caste lines to protect their livelihood and traditions and sense of self, the dewars are now seeking alliances with other dalit movements across the country.Starting out with an annihilation of caste agenda also leads to a lack of plurality within the movement. Already established movements on caste lines feel undermined by Unitarian movements usually lead by the most populous dalit caste in a region.
We must emphasize here that all attempts made to consolidate schedule castes and tribes with women, minorities, industrial labour and agricultural labour are commendable and worthy of unstinting support. We would also like to say however, that this should not come at the risk of undermining any dalit movement in the country. The way forward is full of hurdles and obstacles and it is dangerous if we use quotations from anyone, even Babasaheb Dr Ambedkar, to sideline dalit grassroots movements. The Buddha himself has said, as Santhosh Raut emphasizes in Navayana: “Find your own path”. This is the truth.
We will do well to recognize it. Shared experience of dalits is so unique and powerful that we should not be afraid that strengthening of identities will affect long-term unity both within our selves and with other oppressed sections of society.We have also begun the process of registering the Ambedkar Study Circle as a charitable organization in order to register Insight formally. Any suggestions in this regard are welcome.With apologies again for the delay in publication, we hope you find this issue as interesting as it was to put together.
Jai Bheem!
EDITORS’ NOTE-
Dikus were the non-tribal money lenders, petty shopkeepers, forest contractors and brahmins who were party to the colonial exploitation of the forests. It was against this category of the people that Birsa Munda led his struggle. We at INSIGHT have felt for a long while that all the categorizations surrounding caste has privileged the caste hindus. Whether calling them brahmins (born of the head of brahma), or caste hindu, or dwija (twice born) we found that we were unable to accuse them publicly (etymologically to categorize means to accuse publicly) of their exploitative history.It is with this word diku that it all falls into place. The word is expressive of the caste hindus parasitic nature, practices of usury and scant regard for nature. We have been using the word diku to denote caste-hindus except when we are talking about specific divisions within them, since our January issue.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Our Icon- Ayyankali

A Pioneer. A Revolutionary. A Hero.
Compiled from www.ambedkar.org
He was born on 28 August 1863 in Travancore, Kerala. He was one of the seven children of Ayyan of Pulaya caste (agricultural labour). Ayyankali grew up to be a tall, well built and handsome young man. He was known for his physical prowess and proficiency in the martial arts.

One particular child hood incident made Ayyankali aware of the caste prejudices prevalent in Travancore society. While playing football with children of his age the ball kicked by Ayyankali fell on the roof of a Nair house. The Nair warned him not to play with diku young men. Deeply hurt, he took oath never to play with them. Then he went into a period of deep thought. He came out of a month of contemplation, a la Buddha, with a secret agenda - civil liberties for the untouchables.

During that time dalits were not allowed to wear proper cloths and were banned to enter into the main street of a village or ride a cart in front of dikus. Fearless Ayyankali decided to resist these inhuman conditions of dalits. To raise the confidence and will to fight among dalits he decided to take ‘direct action’ alone. He bought two white bullocks and a cart and tied big brass bells around the animals' neck. The dikus were horrified at the arrogance of this Pulaya. He wore a dhoti, wrapped angavasthram around his shoulders and tied a turban and drove the cart up and down the small market. This created a great sensation both among dikus and dalits. No dalits ever thought of doing such thing in their wildest dreams. Dikus were also very shocked at the daring of Ayyankali. Soon diku lumpens gathered to teach Ayyankali a lesson. On his way back home, he was stopped by them.

"What? Wearing a mulmul dhoti?"

Ayyankali pulled out a long dagger and told them in his booming commanding voice that any one that stops him will get the taste of the sharp weapon in his hands.

That day he exercised his civil liberty, banned so far for untouchables, and got away with it. The harness bells of his bullock cart rang loud each day in the street and market.

His success gave birth to pride and conscientised other Dalits and rankled the dikus.

Walk for Freedom & Chaliyar Riot

Though Kali could ride in a cart through the streets, other lesser beings were not allowed to walk there. So he mobilized his people and took a 'walk for freedom' to Puthen Market. When they reached the chaliyar street of Bala-rama-Puram, diku mob was waiting to prevent them from moving further. There was a riot in which both the parties drew blood in the first armed rebellion of Dalits. Hundreds of dalits got injured but under Ayyankali they fought very bravely and for the first time they were able to terrorize the dikus through their resistance.

Inspired by the Chaliyar Riot, youngsters got out on the streets to win their basic rights in Manakkadu, Kazhakkoottam, KaniyaPuram etc in the vicinity of the capital. In the process of dikus trying to put down the freedom movement, the unrest spread and reached civil war proportions. This new situation emboldened the Dalits to ask for other freedoms and rights denied to them. Physical attacks by the dikus tried to prevent further erosion of their feudal monopolies. To this provocation Dalits organized small fighting units to counter them.

School Entry Struggle

During Ayyankali's younger days, the Dalits were not allowed entry into schools. He wanted at least the next generation of Dalits to have education. In 1904 the Pulayas under his leadership made efforts to start their own schools since they were denied entry into government schools. These schools had no black boards. Sand on the floor was the book and fingers the pencil. Thus Dalits challenged the rule that they can not even study in secret. The first school in the history of Dalits was established in Venganoor. But it was destroyed.

Great Ayyankali formed an organization Sadhu Jana Paripalana Sangham (SJPS) that submitted many petitions to the government to allow Dalit children to study in schools. In 1907 the government passed an order to admit Dalit children to schools. But the officials at the periphery sabotaged the order. The school management consisting of landlords also refused to implement the order.

Still Ayyankali knocked at the doors of schools and tried to force the management to honour the government order and admit dalit children. But they were adamant in not letting dalits in the schools. Then to pressurize them Ayyankali thundered, “If you don’t allow our children to study, weeds will grow in your fields". He cut asunder the last strand of kinship between the landlords and labours and paved the path for a historic first ever agricultural labour strike.

Kerala's First Workers' Strike

Ayyankali gave a call to Pulayas and other agricultural worker for strike in 1907. His was a historic call, for he had heralded the first agrarian strike in the history of the world. He added one more demand: 'make the employees permanent' by giving pay during off season when there is no work. The other demands were:

1. Stop Victimization on whims 2. Stop Involving workers in false cases 3. End whipping of workers 4. Freedom of movement, and 5. Admission for children in schools

The landlords didn’t agree. The polarization had gone too far to be reversed.

No processions. No jeeps. No microphones. No pamphlets or banners.

Yet, in the fields of Kandala, Kaniyapuram, Pallichal and Mudavooppara to Vizinjom, no worker was seen. Initially the landlords laughed at the workers. They calculated that when the food grains run out, the workers will be back.

Landlords formed groups and did try to intimidate the workers by beating them up at random. They failed. They tried to use some backsliders among workers in the fields but met with resistance from Ayyankali Sena. This led to violent encounters between the workers and landlords' men. But dalits remain steadfast in their actions. The fields turned into jungles. Starvation stared workers in the face.

The landlords planted rice seedlings. Since it was already out of season, plants didn’t sprout grains. Landlords unused to working in hot sun suffered health problems. When some landlords tried to adjust, the workers demanded high wages.

With food grains running short, both landlords and workers suffered. Destruction faced both exploiter and exploited. The kitchen fires had stopped burning. Prolonged hunger made many a workers to waver.

Now Ayyankali played his trump card. He approached the fishermen community of Vizhinjom and came to an agreement with them. One person from each family was to be put in each fishing boat and given a share of the days catch till the strike was over.

Landlords saw impending defeat at the hands of their dependants. This sent them into helpless rage. They committed atrocities on many dalits and set fire to their huts. The commandos of Ayyankali set fire to many houses of landlords in the interior and sent shivers down their spines, not knowing when and where the attack will come from.

Soon, the mood of land lords changed to one of compromise. Ayyankali wanted the landlords to come to him, which they did with peace proposals.

Land lords agreed to rise in wages. School entry and travel rights were accepted in principle. There followed a lot of blood letting on both sides. But Ayyankali walked tall at the head of his group.

School Entry

The landlords were humbled but bureaucracy was still not relenting. Three years after the order to allow Dalits entry into schools was signed, it was released to public in 1910. The waves of joys erupted from the dalit masses. But the path to school for dalits was still not free from thorns. The prejudice against dalits entry into schools can be gauged from following statement of ‘progressive’ person like Pillai. Ramakrishna Pillai, editor of Swadeshabhimani, came out against the order with, '...to put together those who have been cultivating their brain for generations with those who have been cultivating their fields is like putting a horse and buffalo in the same yoke." This coming from one who first published the biography of Marx in Malayalam!

When Ayyankali reached the Ooroot Ambalam School in Balaramapuram with Panchami, the 5 year old daughter of Poojari Ayyan, for admission, accompanied by his supporters, diku thugs were waiting there. An intense fight followed with both parties getting injuries. Around the same time, there was a riot going on in the road junction between Pulayas and Nairs. Nairs attacked Pulaya huts, destroyed many and took away fowls, goats and bullocks. They molested women and belaboured the men folk. Many ran and hid in the fields to escape the wrath. Those who fought back were destroyed. After seven days of rioting, the smoke and dust settled down. Though riots ended, temporarily albeit, in Ooroot Ambalam created grave repercussions in Marayamuttam, Venganoor, Perumbazhuthoor, Kunathukaal etc. After this riot, known as Pulaya Mutiny the struggle of Dalits for a free society became acute.

'Adha-sthitha' Dalits Own School

In spite of the best efforts of the government, dalits were not given admission to the extent desired. Ayyankali found a way out--to build our own schools. He hoped that one could study without dependence on the dikus. The permission to start such a school was received from the Dept. of Education. Thus the first school of Dalits was established in Venganoor. No one who loved his life came forward to become a teacher in this school. Among Dalits there was none educated enough to be one. The government paid Rs six per month. To encourage teachers to teach Dalits, the government offered Rs nine per month. After intense search one Parameshwaran Pillai of Kaithamukku in Thiruvanathapuram decided to join the school.
The new teacher entered the school reluctantly, as though he was entering a garbage dump. His socio- cultural reflexes took over when his progressive intellectualism came face to face with societal reality. He was afraid. He show it. The situation was also quite tense. In no time hooting started from all around the school. The opponents were in no mood to stop the cacophony. There followed pushing and jostling between the opponents and supporters of the school that turned to a riot. Some came to assault the 'master'. The 'master' was shivering like a leaf. Still the classes continued in spite of the fear stained atmosphere. That night the school was destroyed. In no time a new school structure came up. The opposition to the school increased, but the efforts to continue the school was not sacrificed. The master came to school and went to his home in Kaitha-mukku escorted by bodyguards. This went of for some time though the school was destroyed at least five times. Each time the school was destroyed, riots ensued. When the master perceived danger to his life, he wanted to give his resignation. But Ayyankali pacified him and assured him security by giving body guards to him.

Covering the bodies of Dalit women

From hundreds of years dikus had enforced a dress code for dalits male as well as female. They were banned to wear normal cloths. The rule for all Dalits was to cover only those parts of the body between the waist and knee, the slightest liberties taken brought brutal retribution of being tied to a tree and given lashes. Dalit women were not allowed to cover the upper portion of their body. The other rule was to wear necklaces of carved granite. The stone necklaces were a sign of slavery and lay on the naked breasts of women like a serpent. The order of the day for women was 'not to cover the upper body'. Necklaces of glass beads and marbles strung together filled their necks in large numbers. Similar stuff was wound around the wrists. From the ears hung a piece of iron - 'kunukku'.

Ayyankali organized an agitation in Neyyattinkara against these 'ornaments' and asked the dalit women to give up the habit of wearing necklaces of carved granite. He told them to wear proper blouse instead. This incensed dikus very much and riots broke out at various places in Kerala. But dalits including their women were in no mood of compromise and soon the inhuman dress code became a thing of past.

Pulaya Temple Entry Movement

In 1917 Chakola Kurumbaan Deivathaan became a member of the Sreemoolam Praja Sabha. He led a historic procession of more than 2000 Pulaya and forcibly entered the Chengannoor Temple. This was ten years before the famous Temple Entry Ordinance and could be considered the first Temple Entry Movement in the country.

A section of Pulayas converts into Christianity started a new movement under the leadership of Pambaadi John Joseph. When the number of dalit christians increased many fold, the diku Christians began to consider them as untouchables. They were thrown out of the churches, so, they build their own churches and chose their own padres. The unsavory experience from the Syrian Christians created sufficient mental agony in PJ Joseph to submit a memorandum listing the misdoings of Syrian Christian church to the British Parliament. Ultimately Mr. Joseph began struggles against Hindu-Christian upper caste domination within the church. Ayyankali gave full support to the struggle begun by PJ Joseph. He not only collaborated with him on many fronts, he also recommended his name to the government for being made a member of the legislative assembly.

Parallel to the Travancore State struggles, Kochi State also saw untouchables on the war path. After the formation of Pulaya Mahan Saba in 1913, they struggled and got social and economic benefits.

Meanwhile Ayyankali gave more importance to creative activities. In 1916 he established Theeyankara Pulaya School, in 1919 Shankhumukham School for Christian converts, Night school at Manarkadu, Primary School at Venganoor, Weaving centre and many other such establishments. Hundreds of offices of Sadhu Jana Paripaalana Sangham (SJPS) were turned into schools.

Functioning of SJPS

The SJPS branches mushroomed in all the villages and hamlets of Travancore. Ayyankali administered the matters of the Sangham with great managerial acumen. The office bearers of the organisation were given elaborate powers by the community. The brave leaders of SJPS were the 'branch managers'. There was no place for cowards in this post. They worked closely with Ayyankali in all the day to day activities and freedom struggles. They were the real captains of his 'army'. It was during the period of 1913 to 1930 that he carried out intense campaigns and work in all parts of Tiruvalla, Changanassery and Kottayam. In that period, After Sree Narayana Guru's SNDP the next most powerful and numerous was Ayyankali's SJPS. Strength and unity were the hallmark of the organisation. Within a short period it had close to a thousand branches in all parts of the state.

After laying solid foundations of his organization Ayyankali decided that SJPS should have its own magazine. The communities' whole hearted support to the endeavour gave the organization strength to set out. The monthly 'Sadhu Jana Paripalini' began publication with Kali Chodikkuruppan as the editor. 'Sadhu Jana Paripalini' was perhaps the first magazine to be brought out by untouchables.

The aim behind all his efforts was education of his community. 'Progress through education and organisation' was the slogan of Ayyankali. He fully believed that the communities' salvation lay in education. He surged forward after kicking aside every impediment that came in the way of his efforts towards this end. He opened schools to open the eyes of his communities' darling progeny where the doors of public and private schools refused them entry.

Inspite of all this, Ayyankali was not for establishment of caste based educational institutions. He considered schools as a place where the whole humanity sat and feted on the riches of human endeavour; then only could fruits of knowledge become meaningful. Yet, he had to go against the grain of his beliefs and establish separate schools for his people, when he was at the end of his tether, due to obstructionist attitude of dikus. Thus he established 'The Venganoor Puduval School' in 1936. The school had a weaving centre, library and other vocational units attached to it.

By 1941 he was a very sick man. He died of Asthma on June 18, 1941. Dalits in Kerala especially Pulyas will remain grateful to him for giving them civil liberties and breaking the chains of slavery for ever.

It is a great shame that nobody is aware of his great deeds outside Kerala. The state which sells itself as hundred percent literate and empowerment of women has nothing to say about his greatest son Ayyankali. The caste- prejudice against which Ayyankali fought through out his life made sure that his life and message does not reach to masses outside or even in Kerala. All of us, at INSIGHT, bow their head before great Ayyankali.

VOICES: Bhikari Thakur- Shakespeare of Bihar

-by B. Prakash
Bhikari Thakur is best known for the creation of the twentieth century theatre form Bidesia. Bhikari Thakur was a barber (a backward Caste) who abandoned home and hearth to form a group of actors who dealt with issues of confrontation: between the traditional and the modern, between urban and rural, between the haves and the have-nots. Appreciative native Bhojpuri audiences consider Bhikari Thakur as the incomparable founder father, propagator and exponent par excellence of this form. He was a folk poet, a folk singer, a folk dancer and actor.
The narrative of Bidesia has been made so effective through the medium of vibrant dances and pleasing music and based on such life-like stories that it presents a realistic picture of the poor joint families of the region.

The Bhojpuri taste is so theatrically inclined that it will not hesitate even to undertake long journeys to witness a performance. Like in many other folk forms, the female roles in Bidesia are played by the male actor-dancers. Normally they wear dhoti or shirt trousers but they sport long hair and make it and ornament it like women's hair.

Dance forms an integral part of this form, in fact it’s the essence of the performance, which starts with dance in order to attract a large audience. Once this is done the Bidesia starts. The actors, besides dancing take on female roles in different dramatic contexts. Inspite of the advent of various other modes of entertainment, Bidesia remains the most popular and refreshing relaxation for the Bhojpuris.
Through his plays, he gave voice to the cause of poor laborers and tried to create awareness about the poor situation of women in bhojpuri society. He always stood and spoke against casteism and communalism in the same cultural tunes. People from this region are very fond of and feel proud of his contribution to the local cultural traditions. His plays and his style of theatre are very popular for their rhythmic language, sweet songs and appealing music. His plays are a true reflection of bhojpuri culture. Almost all of his works focused on the day-to-day problems of lower castes/classes. He used satire and light-hearted comments to maximum effect to put forward his views on social ills and other problems plaguing Bhojpuri society.

He was born on December 18, 1887 at the village of Kutubpur in the district of Saran, Bihar. His mother’s name was Shivakali Devi and father was Dalsingar Thakur. He belonged to a naai (barber) caste, one of the most backward castes in Indian society. The traditional work of his caste was cutting hairs and assisting brahmins in marriage as well as in death ceremonies. They were also used by dikus to send and distribute ceremonial (in cases of marriages and deaths) and other messages in the village and nearby areas. They acted like postal workers in the traditional-feudal village setup.

In one of his works he says: “Jati Hazzam more Kutubpur mokam… Jati-pesha bate, bidya naheen bate babujee”. In this he speaks about his own caste and regrets that his caste people are distributing letters to all without knowing the importance of the letter, or the alphabets. He clearly understood the power of education and continuously chided his people for being illiterate and bounded by jajmani (patron-client) relations with the dikus.

Among the masses of Bihar and other Bhojpuri-speaking areas, he needs no introduction. But the so-called mainstream ‘culture’, like always, has conspired to keep mum about his contribution, actively avoiding even mentioning his name. Hence, there are no serious documented accounts of his works till now. It is only very recently that Hindi novelist and story writer Sanjeev wrote a novel on his life and some research work has been taking place on his works.

He is greatest flag bearer of Bhojpuri language and culture. Bhojpuri is widely spoken in major parts of Bihar including Jharkhand, some parts of eastern UP and Bengal. He is not only popular in this linguistic belt but also in the cities where Bihari workers migrated for their livelihood. Many criticized him for upholding feudal and Brahminical values, which to some extent may be true. Despite the support and legitimation of few brahminical and feudal values in his works, he always pioneered the vision of a just and egalitarian society and this is the difference we have to understand. No vision of egalitarian and subaltern society can be even imagined under these idiotic and nonsensical shadows of Brahminical values.

Though his plays revolved and evolved around villages and rural society, they still became very famous in the big cities like Kolkatta, Patna, Benares and other small cities, where migrant labourers and poor workers went in search for their livelihood. Breaking all boundaries of nation he, along with his mandali, also visited Mauritius, Kenya, Singapore, Nepal, British Guyana, Surinam, Uganda, Myanmar, Madagascar, South Africa, Fiji, Trinidad and other places where bhojpuri culture is more or less flourishing.

Bidesia, as a vibrant mode of a regional cultural expression, rugged and unsophisticated in form and rich in variety, is a powerful expression of cultural heritage of weaker section of society. Bhikari Thakur, through his artistic talents and bitter experiences, developed it by picking up elements from Ramlila, raslila, birha yatra and other performative elements and molded it into a totally new and wonderful style known now as bidesia. Bidesia means migrated people, who left their home in search of livelihood, but in the larger context Bhikari’s bidesia not only migrated from the lands but also from their culture also. Many people get confused between the bidesia style and his play Bidesia. Actually, he did all his plays in bidesia style which is very similar to nautanki, but later his theatrical style was known from his famous production Bidesia.

He has written as well as directed and performed ten major works; beginning with a non-serious vasant-bahar based on the dhobi-dhobin dance he saw somewhere.

After Thakur’s death in 1971, his theatre style and use of bhojpuri language are continually being abused by the music industry in producing bhojpuri songs and plays replete with sexual innuendo. This is like a counter-revolution of the brahmin-bania combine against all the ideals that Bhikari Thakur propagated through his art. The dikus have no relations based on social reality and always aim to get maximum monetary profits on the basis of cultural vulgarity. This market forced a shift from Bhikari Thakur’s socio-economic oriented plays to mere sexual fantasy and cheap entertainment. This reflects the creative bankruptcy of dikus against which we dalit-bahujans should come forward and play a vital role to safe guard our anti-diku legacy in which Bhikari Thakur is one of the big stars in the galaxy of Dalit-bahujan revolutionary artistes.

His major productions include: - Bidesia, Bhai- Birodh, Beti-Viyog or Beti Bechba (seller of daughter), Kalyuga Prema (Love in Kalyuga), Radheshyam Behar (based on krisna- radha love), Ganga-asnan (ceremonial bath in ganga), Bidhwa- vilap, Putrabadh (killing of son), Gabar- Bichar (based on an illegitimate child), and Nanad Bhojai.

1. Bhai-Virodh (opposition from brother)

This play deals with the theme of joint family, which is a very prominent feature of Bihar’s rural society. Three brothers are separated due to lack of confidence and respect for each other on the instigation of a person outside their family. However, at the end they realize the importance of living together but not before a lot of harm had actually taken place.

2. Beti-Viyog or Beti- Bechwa (seller of daughter)

This play is considered a very progressive play. Bhikari Thakur through this play criticizes the wide-spread custom of selling young girls in marriage to much older men. This custom prevailed in Bhojpuri-speaking areas until recently. The protagonist is a young girl whose father sells her to an older person.

3. Kalyuga- Prem

Through this play Bhikari Thakur talks about the bad effects of drinking. The lone wage earner of the family is a drunkard and often visits prostitutes. This extravagance soon leads to the pauperization of his family. His whole family including his wife and son suffers tremendously because of the bad habits of the head of the family. Later in the play the wife and son decide to confront him but to no avail. Later being fed up with his father’s immoral ways, the son runs away from the family and goes to Calcutta to earn money to eventually return and rescue his mother.

4. Ganga-Asnan

Malechu is from a village. His wife wants to go to bathe in the Ganga but his mother is too old to do so. The wife finally prevails and they set out but not after loading much luggage for his old mother to carry on the way. Before they reach the Ganga a quarrel ensues and Malechu beats up his mother. At the banks of the Ganga, his mother gets lost in a fair. In the same fair, his wife is seduced by a sadhu with the promise of giving her a son. Malechu finds her in the nick of time and epiphany dawns on the both of them who then find the mother and beg her forgiveness. The story is a critique both of the distance between parents and their children in a situation where old parents are completely dependent on their children and also of the tantric culture of sadhus who most often are conmen.

5. Vidhwa-Vilap (The weeping widow)
The story is about how widows are treated within their homes. It is seen as an extension of Beti-bechwa for more often than not young girls married to old men; spend most of their lives as widows. The story reflects the hatred and seclusion a widow has to suffer in brahminical society for no fault of her own.

6. Gabar-Dichor
It the story of an illegitimate son of Garbari and Galij’s wife. Galij returns from the town to find the village gossiping about his son’s parentage. He wants to take Dichor back to Calcutta with him. But both Galij’s wife and Garbari intervene. A quarrel ensues as each of them claims Dichor as their own. The panchayat is called and they decide that Dichor be divided into three pieces. A man comes and maps Dichors body and agrees to do the job for four annas a piece. The mother relents refusing to pay and giving up all claim on the son. The panchayat sees the light and Dichor is allowed to stay with his mother.

Almost all his plays took their themes from society but were molded in Bhikari’s new progressive and revolutionary style. When asked why he took to theatre, Bhikari answered, “I used to watch Ramlila and Raslila. When in Ramlila, Vyasji gave sermons to people; I also thought I could also give sermons to my people”. This dream came true and till his last day he served his people through his sermons, which unlike diku sermons were based on real life. But our legendary cultural figure is no more among us. He breathed his last on July 10, 1971 after giving us a new lease of life. In the next issue I would like to reevaluate his work from a socio-cultural and political understanding. I will also deal in length with Bidesia.

[B. Prakash is pursuing his MA in the School of Arts and Aesthetics, JNU, New Delhi]

VOICES is a column on contemporary art, culture and literature. It is an attempt to interpret cultural politics and the ongoing arts-related movements of the marginalized groups of the country. It is also a small step towards resisting the brahminical hegemonisation of the arts as well as strengthening more egalitarian forms of art and culture. Your comments and suggestions are warmly welcomed. We request our readers to provide information regarding artists, their arts or related to folk culture which you find neglected in ‘National’ Culture. Such contributions will help us to fulfill the objectives of this column.

Navayana: Who is the Buddha?

- by Santosh I. Raut

‘It is in the 6th century BC that Indian history emerges from legends and dubious tradition. Now for the first time we read of great kings, whose historicity is certain, and some of whose achievements are known, and from now on the main line of India’s political development is clear.’
-A.L. Basham

Indian history starts with the Buddha.

Buddha – the enlightened one, the perfect human being , one who discovered the truth for the first time and showed the way for freedom from suffering, a person who for first time gave the model of a casteless society based on equality, fraternity and liberty….

‘Buddha has revealed the truth, all compound things shall be dissolved again, world will break to pieces and our individualities will be scattered; but the word of Buddha will remain for ever…’

It was on a full moon day of Vesakha in c563BC in Lumbini Park (in Nepal) under a Sal tree that Siddhartha was born. His father, Suddhodhana was King of the Sakya clan. Siddhartha’s mother Queen Mahamaya died seven days after his birth and Mahaprajapati Gotami adopted the child. At the age of eight when Siddhartha began his lessons in civil and military arts, his mind lay elsewhere, seeking clues to the complexities of life. The young prince mastered all the philosophic systems prevalent in his time. He also learnt the mediation from a disciple of Alarakalam, who had a monastery at Kapilavastu. Throughout his youth he was immersed in the luxurious life, but his thoughts always returned to the problems of suffering. “All the comforts I have, this healthy body, rejoice youth! What do they, mean to me?” he thought.

This mental struggle went on in the mind of Siddhartha until his 29th year. One night he quietly left the palace, his home, to seek the solution to the questions that troubled him. He first visited ascetic Bhagava and watched his practices. Unsatisfied with what he saw, he went from one ascetic to another in search of a path to the truth. Finally he went to Magadha and practiced extreme ascetism in the forest of Uruvilva on the banks of the Niranjana. This too proved to be a dead end. He became very weak but he attempted another period of mediation, on the grounds that “Blood may exhaust, flesh may decay, bones may fall apart, but I will never leave this place until I find the way out from all suffering and attain enlightenment.”

Nirvana

It was a great struggle, there was much suffering. It took him four weeks of mediation to attain enlightenment. It was a full moon day when while sitting under the pepal tree at Bodhgaya, he realized the universality of suffering: He attained Enlightenment. Dr Ambedkar has beautifully explained the phenomena of his enlightenment in his book Buddha and his Dhamma. According to him, Siddhartha reached final enlightenment in four stages

1) this stage he called reason and investigation
2) in this stage Buddha added concentration
3) in third stage Buddha brought to his aid equanimity and mindfulness.
4) In the fourth and final stage he added purity to equanimity and equanimity to mindfulness.

It was December 8th when he was 35 of years of age that Siddhartha became the Buddha.

He died at the age of 80 in Kushinagara (483 B.C.) His last words to Anand, his favorite disciple were: “It may be, Anand that you will say ‘gone is the word of master, we have no longer any master now’. But do not think like this. Be your own light. Rely upon yourself do not depend on anyone else. Make Dhamma the light and guide, death is only the vanishing of the physical body. The body was born and nourished by food, and just as inevitable are sickness and death. The true Buddha does not have a human body, the body may vanish, but the wisdom and Enlightenment will exist forever in the truth and Dhamma and in the practice and Dhamma. He who sees merely my body does not truly see me. He who sees Dhamma truly sees me. After me, Dhamma shall be your teacher. Decay is the inherent in all component things, but the truth (Dhamma) will remain forever, work out your nirvana (enlightenment) with diligence, these are my last words. My dear disciples, this is the end, in a moment, I shall be passing into Nirvana. This is my instruction”.
Was The Buddha an Incarnation of God?

Never had the Buddha claimed that he was the son or a messenger of God. The Buddha was a unique and perfect human being who was self-enlightened (Samyak Sambuddha). He had no one whom he could regard as his master. His own hard efforts took him to enlightenment. Through his enlightened mind he opened the door of all knowledge. He knew all things to be known, cultivated all qualities to be cultivated. He himself denied the existence of miraculous God. In the Aguttara Nikaya, he said, ‘I am not indeed a deva, not a gandharva, not ayaksha, not a manusya. Know that I am the Buddha’. Buddha always guides the world from time to time, but some people have mistaken the idea that it is the same Buddha who reincarnated or appears in the world over and over again. As Ven. K. Dhammananda says, ‘They are not the same person; otherwise there is no scope for others to attain to Buddha hood. Buddhists believe that any one irrespective of caste, creed, sex, race, religion can become the Buddha, if he able to remove his ignorance completely through his own efforts’.

After achieving the nirvana, all Buddhas are similar in their experience.

Buddha truly revolutionized the then Indian Society. Many orthodox religious groups tried to condemn the concept and Buddha because of his liberal teaching and they misunderstood and misappropriate the teachings of the Buddha for their own interest. Many regarded him as an enemy when the numbers of his followers increased. Intellectuals and orthodox believers dislike the concept because his doctrine attacked the stratification of society and propagated equality and liberty. When they failed in their attempt they adopted the reverse strategy of merging Buddha into their pantheon.

We are still living within the dispensation of Gautama the Buddha. The perfect evidence of this is that of turning the Dhamma-wheel by modern Bodhisattva Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar on Asoka Vijaya Dasami 14th Oct. 1956 at Nagpur.

Just after the Diksha ceremony, Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar gave vows-popularly known as Twenty two vows. In these vows he clearly mentioned in 4th and 5th vow that, don’t believe in God: I believe that Buddha is not an incarnation of Vishnu, such propaganda is mere foolishness in my view’.

Although the moral conduct of the people has, with few exceptions deteriorated, the future Buddha would only appear at some incalculable period when the path to Nirvana is completely lost to mankind and people will be ready to receive him.

[Santosh I. Raut is pursuing his M. Phil in the Centre for Philosophy, JNU, New Delhi]

Letters with Insight

I just found your wonderful Navayana-Insight, web page. I heard about Doc Ambedkar many years ago but did not know he coined the phrase "Navayana". This is very interesting. I am a 46 year old man who has practiced Buddhism for 20 years. And am very interested in the work of your organization to help improve Indian society. Thank you for your wonderful aspiration to follow in the footsteps of Doc A.
Stephen Hendry.
henntsp@yahoo.com

I was reading Sujatha's article. I want to congratulate her for such wonderful article. She is made of steel. 'Belonging' to a class/caste is an excuse for tying your own hands...Sujatha realized this and has only climbed up the ladder to free herself...very inspiring...falling short of words...
I have one complain with Editorial Collective. My article in the last issue wasn't edited well enough. It didn't sound crisp nor did it flow smoothly from one paragraph to the next. It was very difficult writing personal details about so many lives in the first place. At the end of an emotionally taxing exercise of writing it out, seeing a badly subbed copy in print broke my heart. I suggest you guys don't do it in a hurry next time. These are people's lives and their most delicate and difficult emotions on paper.
Shaweta Anand
Jamia Millia Islamia University, New Delhi


Congratulations on the new-look that Insight has got! Its indeed wonderful that you effort is picking up so well. A couple of things that other readers/subscribers told me after going through the articles, and which I too share - 1) Insight needs to be primarily the voice of students, although it’s good to take everyone along with you. 2) In the interviews, more probing questions are needed. The answers sometimes seemed somewhat predictable because the questions too were quite so.
Nikhila Haritsa
Pondicherry University

Thanks. What struck me about the issue is that you have solicited important contributions... I recall a book printed (where?) which had the papers of a seminar somewhere in Maharashtra a few years ago - also of Dalit women, but included a few others. Dr. Vijayabharati of Hyderabad had also spoken there. Yes, I agree that there needs to be more reflection on dalit feminist issues. I would have liked more details in interviews about dalit-feminists and their experiences with other feminists, left organizations and male dalit organizations. These narratives are very important because they have never been articulated before. Swathi touched it briefly in her intro, but I was left wanting more.
Gita Ramaswamy
Hyderabad

I am very much delighted to see Insight, a magazine brought out by Dalit students of JNU. I read the editorial written by Swathy Margaret. It is thought provoking and questions some of the hegemonising tendencies prevalent in the Dalit movement. I think the present Dalit leadership (both in various political parties and those who lead caste organizations) limit their endeavors to gain certain 'benefits' from the State. I would like to draw your attention to one of the recent Kerala govt. decisions that says that the caste of the children of intercaste marriages would be that of the father alone. Earlier child has the prerogative of choosing either and in most cases; they were give all the benefits of Dalits. Kerala govt. has given orders and the law was implemented form last April onwards. This was in accordance with one of Supreme Court verdict which says that caste of the children of inter-caste marriages would be that of the father. Within no time our "model state" has created law to weaken Dalits. Not even a single Dalit organization in the State has so far come forward to question this law. This shows the real patriarchal nature of all these Dalit organizations.
Ranjith T.
SN School of PA, FA and Communication, University of Hyderabad

I had the opportunity to review this entire issue and feel very happy to read a new topic of Dalit feminism. Every single article was a class by itself, starting from the Editorial page by M. Swathy to Dr. Kesava Kumar's last one.
To me this was for the first time I came to realize this vast resource of our women intellectuals. Writing, scholarship and analytical work have been men's domain but certainly this was an ice breaker. Every one of us must support them in their pursuits and reassure them that for them sky is the limit, unless you limit yourself.
Historical research article by Smita Patil was great. Our activist women like Rajni Tilak, Pushpa Balmiki, Sujatha Surepally, Du. Saraswathi and others showed their aspirations and frustrations, not only with society in general but with our dalit men folk as well. They all deserve our respect and to be treated as equals.
The other half of the issue "Permanent Column" and "General" were very enjoyable as well. Our cartoonists did a great job of the front and back page. I think they are no less brilliant than Laxman the legendry cartoonist of India.
Dr. Laxmi N. Berwa,
M.D., F.A.C.P, Virginia, USA

Book Reviews

Writing and reflecting on Dalit literature
-By M.N. SANIL
  • Touchable Tales: Publishing and Reading Dalit Literature. Edited by S.Anand (Navayana publishers: Pondicherry)

The book Touchable Tales: Publishing and Reading Dalit Literature delineates the undercurrents of the consumption of dalit literature in India. Anand, the editor of this book consider dalit literature as a product of 1970s intentionally written literature. According to him, it directly or indirectly searched dalit realities in a cultural manner. Dalit literature in India is an autonomous dalit intellectual tradition which exposed the pitfalls of casteist Indian society. At the same time, it can be also be read as responses to the works of Dr. Ambedkar. Anand considers the opinions of dalit writers like Arjun Dangle, Bama, Lakshman Mane and Narendra Jadhav. He has also interviewed intellectuals like Eleanor Zelliot and Gail Omvedt.

Anand exposes the paradoxical behaviour of the Indian upper-caste academicians towards dalit literature. Most of them used to consume dalit literature. They used to present papers on the dynamic dimensions of dalit literature. But, casteist intellectuals are not ready to address the real dalit issues. A kind of untouchability is practiced in the day to day life of casteist academic community. Intellectual subordination of dalit issues by the nondalit groups should be examined with this cultural change. Anand converts the opinions of dalit-non dalit intelligentsia to a healthy dialogue.

S.Ravikuamr, an activist-cum-theoretician gives excellent observations on the nondalit consumption of dalit literature. He considers the growth of dalit literature as an offshoot of globalization. According to him, dalit literature should be more revolutionary in its practices. At the same time, he is conscious of the pitfalls of economic globalization. According to him, dalit literature which used Marxian or pro-nationalist canons is accepted by the nondalit writers. Those dalit writers who deviate from those two streams are not accepted by nondalit readers. He considers this deviance as a mentality of the Indian brahminical civil society based on the negation of Ambedkarite philosophical tradition.

When a dalit intellectual Satyanarayana (Teacher in CIEFL, Hyderabad) offered Dalit study as a separate course, diku students were not ready to take that course. They considered it as an amateur course. They considered it as a course provided by an unknown person. The student community represents the microcosm of neo-casteist academic platform. Sisir Kumar Das reduces the definition of dalit literature as the narratives of pain. Satyanarayana criticizes Sisir for his reductionist definition of dalit literature. According to Satyanarayana, Sisir considers caste as a theme and suppress it as theoretical tool to explain Indian literature. Satyanarayana is trying to resist the macro-micro untouchability of the brahminical Indian educational institutes.

The book is problematic but readable and a pioneering work in an under-focused area of the movement.
  • Vasant Moon, Growing up Untouchable in India (Vistaar Publications: New Delhi 2001)
Dalit debates in India emerged as an ideologically loaded response to the casteist Indian society. Vasant Moon’s autobiography is recognition of this fact. In this book, Moon tries to historicize dalit realities and convert it into political ethno methodological record. His writing is a political deviance from the mainstream/eclectic/Marxist writings of India. Vasant is a socially mobile dalit bureaucrat who had the opportunity to cooperate with the pluralist dalit political discourses of Maharashtra. In his hands Dalit autobiography becomes a political weapon which threatens the statusquoist claims of the diku intellectual discourses.

Eleanor Zelliot, the noted sociologist gives an historical explanation to this autobiography through her well-written preface. Zelliot considers Vasant’s attempt as a maneuver which traces the roots of the caste system rather than the depiction of marginalized urban life. Ambedkar’s impact on the lives of dalits is explained in the preface.

Moon begins his biography from his native place i.e. vasti/ghetto. The vasti appears as a terrain of social backwardness. Moon depicts the day-to-day casteist existence of vasti. Dalit biography is converted in to micro dalit history through the vivid portrayal of wretched life. Moon’s autobiography is translated from Marathi to English by renowned scholar Gail Omvedt.

Moon realizes the dalit political moves to discard the caste based occupations. Moon considers it a paradigm shift to the world of modernity. He recollects the political practices of the dalit activists like Dasarath Patil. At the time, dalits tried to appropriate market for their mobility in the monetized Indian society. Moon considers the above mentioned shifts as redemption from the social backwardness. His mother is portrayed as an agent who fought with the casteist dalit Indian patriarchy. His mother and sister become frames of reference which undermines the knowledge /power relations of the diku womanhood.

Moon’s description of educational institutes debunks the representation of dalits in such brahminical institutions. Due to the casteist implication of the word harijan, Moon rejected the scholarship of Harijan Seva Sangh.
Buddhism is represented as a counter ideology to the hindutava forces. Conversion and dalits become the major themes in the autobiography. After the conversion to Buddhism Maharpura becomes Ananda nagar. Moon traces the political connotations in the etymological reversal. Ambedkar’s charismatic leadership transforms Vasant Moon’s political life. Moon documented the micro-macro details of the pan Indian dalit assertion. Moon last chapter reverses the dalit patriarchal discourses. Narrative jumps from a dalit male subjectivity to that of female subjectivity. His wife continues her life as a dalit activist. Moon gives an interdisciplinary touch to his autobiography by mixing the socio political cultural aspects of dalit politics.

[M.N. Sanil, is pursuing his MA in Sociology at the Hyderabad Central University]

Our Achievers

Brahma Prakash

He has been selected by the Taiwan Economic and Cultural Centre, New Delhi, for the Taiwan Government’s scholarship for one year’s study in Taipei in eth department of performance studies. His research area will be aesthetics and culture. B. Prakash will be joining in September. B. Prakash is the cultural editor of Insight and is pursuing his MA in the school of Arts and Aesthetics in JNU.

Smita Patil

She presented a paper titled “Constructed Gender and Oppressed Sexuality” at the Sixth Annual Conference of the International Social Theory Consortium 2005 at the National University of Singapore. This conference was hosted by the Department of sociology National University of Singapore in collaboration with Thesis Eleven, Centre for Critical Theory, La Trobe University. She would like to thank the international Dalit community for its generous moral and financial support without which her participation would not have been possible.

N R Suresh Babu

In May 2005, he joined the Department of Sociology Bharathiar University, Coimbatore University, TN, as lecturer. He is about to submit his PhD thesis in JNU on ‘Caste Conflicts in some selected villages of Tamil Nadu : A Sociological Analysis’.

T. Kabilan

He was selected for the Indian Revenue Service through the Civil Services Exam 2004 conducted by the UPSC. He is pursuing is M. Phil in the Department of Sociology, JNU. He is working on “Poverty and Information Technology”.

Milind Awad

He has been conferred with the Annabhau Sathe Award by the Annabhau Sathe Mitra Madali, Majalgaon for his dissertation on Annabhau Sathe titled: “Annabhau Sathe: From Marx to Ambedkar”. He is pursuing his P.hd in English Department, JNU.

DIKU GLASS CEILING

-By Insight Editorial Collective

Howsoever qualified a Dalit might be his social status always haunts him whenever dikus get an opportunity to make him/her realize this.

A lecturer of the Political Science department of Motilal Nehru College of Delhi University has not been recommended for the senior scale after a thoroughly orchestrated sham of an interview on 5/7/05 in which all sorts of shameful and objectionable points were raised by the Principal. The proceedings of the July 5th meeting were premeditated and suffer from legal infirmities wherein Dr K.K. Panda, a teacher on reemployment was present in a meeting he had no business attending. The presence of Dr K.K. Panda, unauthorized and illegal, vitiated the proceedings.

The minimum eligibility criteria for the senior scale is years of teaching experience and lack of any complaint against a teacher. Dr Narendra Kumar not only fulfills these criteria but is also the author of two books and numerous articles, besides holding a PhD from JNU. This can rarely be said of those who apply for and get the senior scale. In spite of a strong resolution of the College Staff Association and a protest by the Delhi University Teachers’ Association, nothing has been done to undo the wrongful harassment.

The incident only proves the malice that diku academicians hold towards their dalit colleagues. No avenue is missed to place hurdles in the paths of dalit professionals and to constantly remind them that they are not welcome. This is not an isolated incident; as such reports come in from all parts of the country every month.
Insight stands in solidarity with Dr Narendra Kumar.

Exposing the limits of modern caste discourse

-By Lakshmi Kutty
[This article is composed from excerpts from a letter written by the writer in response to a letter from a member of the Insight Team.]

I don’t think I agree with you when you say the Dalits are a weak community by themselves, but I completely echo your point that the non-involvement of non-dalits in the movement has been the main cause for ghettoizing the movement as something characterizing ‘dividers of hindu society’. What is happening is that caste is increasingly being seen as something that doesn’t exist in modern Indian society, but it is being created by those who try to debate on it. I come across this sentiment all the time in casual conversations with people around me. THOSE PEOPLE who try to make a big issue out of it (meaning those who expose its presence in the public domain) are the real ‘castiest’ people, not US who have forgotten it and are moving ahead in life! I agree with you that the less caste is debated in a public, informed, involved manner, the more people will continue to physically and symbolically uphold it while believing that it belongs in the past.

I’m not very sure if what I’m saying is accurate, but as this is an open forum I’m saying my thoughts. One of the reasons I feel caste is erased from the upper-caste/mainstream public domain is because of the manner in which caste gets entwined with certain issues, and remains associated with only those issues and nothing else: the practice of untouchability, the issue of reservations, caste-based violence/atrocities, are the most prominent.

Untouchability is publicly recognized as a caste practice and one that is pre-modern, inhuman, reprehensible. There is a widespread notion that because of laws, activism, and shifts in public thinking, this practice has been reduced significantly. And if it exists, it does so only in the rural, semi-rural areas. So when people associate untouchability as the beginning and end of caste discrimination, it allows them to rest in the belief that ‘I don’t practice untouchability, so I’m not castiest’. (This is akin to the manner in which during the social reform period all anti-caste activism got reduced to just ‘temple-entry activism’, whereas the attack and impact of these struggles was much wider and deeper.)Another aspect of the presence of caste in public life is the issue of reservations. Here too mainstream discourse tends to evade/erase the question of discrimination/disadvantage/denial linked to caste status, in this case by focusing on the importance of ‘merit’ and equality in the work/education sphere. The deeper issue of historical discrimination and systematic denial of opportunity is conveniently sidestepped when this issue gets reduced to ‘merit versus concessions’.

Murders, lynchings, police atrocities, dalit women being raped, property/livelihood being destroyed… the most visible outcome of caste-based disadvantages is gross violence. It is likely that such violence may generate some public comment/debate, but it also serves to reiterate the notion that where there is such severe violence caste is present only there. ‘If such violence doesn’t characterize my family/neighbourhood, then there is no caste in my world’.

It’s really dangerous when the anti-caste struggle thus gets reduced in public memory to ‘struggles against untouchability’ or ‘in support of reservations’ or to end ‘caste atrocities’ (even though clearly, these are some of the many debates in anti-caste struggles), because this allows people to dissociate themselves from it. It allows people to change the terms of the debate – in the case of untouchability they absolve themselves of all caste-related wrongs by talking of personally condemning the practice, in the case of reservations they uphold the secular commitment to primacy of merit and equality of opportunity, in the case of caste violence they advocate more civilized systems of law and order. In all three cases, who would ever accuse them of being castiest?!?!

What remains un-reflected when people dissociate themselves from untouchabilty and/or reservations are the many other insidious ways in which their lives still legitimize caste. How it impacts one’s private/public life, opportunities, belief systems, ideologies, interactions, etc. For example, the way marriages are fixed, the values distinguishing good/evil that children are taught, the notions of beauty/sophistication we internalize, the manners in which sexuality and family are controlled… all these betray castiest prejudices. All these are a result of private/public negotiations that uphold the purity and sanctity of caste discrimination. But these wont be acknowledged as ‘casteist’ values; because these are seen as ‘cultural’ or ‘socialization-related’ values. Those who try to see caste in these harmless/neutral practices are the real troublemakers in an otherwise caste-free Indian society!

This dismissal is something even the feminist movement has had to deal with. Cultural traditions, socialization patterns, religious injunctions, societal rules and norms… these are the most common refrains one hears in defense of oppressive social behaviours anytime it is put under scrutiny. ‘Our society is very liberal because it allows women to get educated, work outside the home, marry partners of their own choice, but housework is still primarily the woman’s domain. This is not because we discriminate between men and women, but because our cultural traditions uphold the woman as the maker-or-breaker of the family’. It’s no surprise then that movements against oppressive social practices are largely movements against systems of tradition and culture that legitimize such practices.

Given this state of affairs, I think one of the important moves we as ‘de-stabilizers’ must make is not just to bring these political issues into open debates, but additionally to politicize the tiny micro-structures that make up our value systems and our worlds. I believe it is necessary to open up and expose the symbolic manners of caste legitimacy that are being practiced and encouraged silently. Milind wrote in his article in the Nationalism issue that common people, academicians, journalists, children’s magazines, these are the most dangerous, because these are what form the popular imagination of what is valued and what is not. I was very excited by his point, because I remembered a statement my professor had once mentioned – ‘beware of the good husband!’ It’s easy to fight a husband who beats/abuses you, but the more dangerous character is the good natured, mild-mannered husband because one is never sure how to pinpoint and fight his camouflaged abuse! We have to shake up the comfort of the mainstream and expose the centrality of caste- and gender-based control in everything that makes up this ‘mainstream’.

I accept the charge you made about needing to be thankful that Ambedkar did not give a call for armed revolt but asked the dalit to educate, organise and agitate through democratic means. As Insight is keeping you sober through the pain and anger, for me it’s opening ways to think about my place and my stakes in the subversion of caste. And I can’t speak of this yet, but it’s also making possible a certain understanding of gender for me that was kind of incomplete so far.

[Lakshmi Kutty is a fellow at Sarai, Delhi and is currently assisting Forum Against Oppression of Women activists in the rapid survey on Working Women in Dance Bars of Mumbai]

Locating Dalits in the “Annihilation of Caste”

-By Moggallan Bharti
This article is written in response to the rhetorical statements made by a senior friend of mine (during a personal discussion), which said – “Annihilation of Caste is not ‘our’ aim and agenda”. He further explained to me that “we cannot do so because Caste hierarchy comes from the upper strata of caste system. It is only in the hands of the upper castes therefore to uproot the caste system as they themselves are responsible for building it. This act, i.e. dismantling the caste system is hence beyond Dalits’ reach”.

The point raised by him left me in deep thinking about what should be the primary aims and programme of Dalit movement if not the annihilation of caste. Will merely grabbing the political power solve all our problems? Does Dalit as a word means liberating people from the shackles of caste or strengthening it more in their minds and actions? If it is the latter then someone must tell me strengthening which caste as there are hundreds of sub-castes among the lower strata of caste system and strengthening it for what?

“Dalit” is itself an intentionally positive term. Dalit identity is not a caste identity. Dalit is a symbol for change and revolution. It is an all-encompassing term which carries the aspirations of wider deprived and oppressed sections of society. Dalits believe in humanism and are best capable to achieve a combination of "naturalism of man and humanism of nature", to use an expression of Marx, enabling therefore to become complete in themselves.

In Prof Gopal Guru’s words, “Dalit identity not merely expresses who Dalits are, but also conveys their aspirations and struggles for change and revolution”. This would not come by merely asserting caste consciousness as revolution demands a comprehensive programme for greater good of society, which can only be achieved through the collective assertion of Dalits as a class – consisting of women, minorities, peasantry, landless and agricultural laborers, backwards, tribals, and all the castes and sub castes from the lower stratum of the varnavyavasta. Dalit Identity must be connected to the unity of larger mass struggle cutting across religious and linguistic boundaries. To make it more clear, ‘Dalit’ is secular in nature and not confined to any caste or religious community.

With reference to “Annihilation of Caste”, I find no mention of what my friend has argued with me. On the contrary, I came to realize, in a very simplistic way, that annihilating the caste is rather OUR aim and its break up will not percolate downwards from the upper strata of caste hierarchy.

Why would the Brahmins go against the caste system? They will NEVER do this, because by doing so, they will lose their social privileges and domination. To quote Ambedkar here, “…how many Brahmins who break caste every day will preach against Caste and against Shastras? For one honest Brahmin preaching against Caste and shastras because his practical instinct and moral conscience cannot support a conviction in them, there are hundreds who break castes and trample upon the Shastras every day but who are the most fanatic upholders of the theory of caste and the sanctity of the Shastras? Why this duplicity? Because they feel that if the masses are emancipated from the yoke of caste, they would be a menace to the power and prestige of the Brahmins as a class”.

One does not need the intellect of a rocket scientist to understand the persisting caste and class phenomena of Indian society, where Brahmins act as a class. This class always strives to preserve their religious, social and propertied interests as opposed to the Dalits who are still divided into hundreds of sub-castes. Brahmins WOULD NOT mind in preserving the interests of vaishyas and kshatriyas (other upper castes) vis-à-vis the interests of Dalits, as this “alliance” between upper castes helps in the perpetuation of the domination of Brahmins as a class. It can be seen in society that there definitely exists such a “United Front” of upper castes acting against the Dalits. Thus, there occurs a situation where a Dwivedi marries a Chaturvedi, who are basically different in their caste origins but similar in their class identity. The same can be said of the Tripathis, Pathaks, Sharmas, Mishras, Tiwaris and among the caste kshatriyas and vaishyas without invalidating the so called rule of “inter caste marriages”. But such cases are still to be found among Dalits (leaving out few examples generally found in educated castes among Dalits), where Dhobis don’t marry their daughters to Pasis, Valmikis to Jatavs and so on. Lower castes have still to materialize the process of inter-caste marriages in their real spirit.

In such a situation, can we expect from the Brahmins to break down the caste barricades? My answer is an emphatic “No”. Brahmins will never do this, since they are going to be the most adversely affected by the break up of the Caste system. Since only they are the economic and social beneficiaries of the caste system, the revolt against the caste system has to come from below. We have to infuse among the lower sections of society the feeling of oneness, which upper castes already have, i.e. the formation of a class. In Ambedkar’s words, we have to unite all the untouchables and other deprived sections of society with the feeling of fraternity, which can only be achieved after the break up of the caste system. Therefore we have to mobilize all the deprived castes and sub-castes under Dalits as a class; only then will we able to fight the evils of caste system and aspire for a socio-economic-politically changed society. Dr. Ambedkar was not against revolution; rather he advocated it to be possible with the rider of the necessity of “annihilation of caste”. He proposed that without annihilating caste, one cannot achieve revolution in this country. For him, you have to build a “United Front” for revolution. For building such a “United Front”, one has to first break the shackles of caste first. To quote him, “… men will not join in a revolution for the equalization of property, unless, they know after the revolution is achieved, they will be treated equally and that there will be no discrimination of caste and creed”.

Also, while interpreting caste as a harmful institution, Ambedkar has explained to us that having a consciousness of caste, will ultimately lead to a lack of consciousness of “kind”, i.e. of the own being – the self, what many Hindus lack till date, as they only have the consciousness of caste: “There is no Hindu consciousness of kind. In every Hindu, the consciousness that exists is the consciousness of his caste. That is the reason why the Hindus cannot be said to form a society or a nation.” In the light of this, it can be stated or said that caste consciousness is anti-nation in its essence and thereby hinders the growth of society based on the principles of liberty, equality and fraternity.

Now coming back again to the points made by my friend; where do such unilateral statements stand? Are not such statements indicative of the retrogression of the “new” Dalit thinking? Where will we move with such a sectarian agenda of not abolishing, annihilating the caste but by strengthening it? Is the caste consciousness the solution of all and every problem of Dalits? One can give answer to this question in the affirmative, but to its own peril. His misconception cannot be undertaken for the misdirection of larger society. For such misconceptions would again leave us out of the national discourse. I must say here that Dalit discourse is not regarding the Dalits neither it is of the non-Dalits; rather it is the discourse of the larger Indian society. Problems of and atrocities committed on Dalits are of national concern. It is a National Problem. It is hence a National Discourse.

By establishing that annihilation of caste is not “our” goal, such people are refuting none other but Ambedkar’s point that Shastras divine authority be discarded in order to destroy the caste system. By doing so they are maligning the whole Dalit movement by bringing it to square one.
One must ask some questions to those people within the Dalit movement, who favor caste-consciousness that – what is an ideal society for them and what possible role of caste will they attach in such a society? That by ghettoizing Dalits into a particular caste, are not they restricting a pan-Dalit class movement in order to construct a larger egalitarian society? It is very painful, when someone suddenly questions the whole philosophy of Ambedkar by vindicating Caste. It is the contempt of the whole Dalit movement started right from Jyotiba Phule, who himself has given the name “Shudraatishudra” for the formation of larger untouchable group to fight against Brahmanism and casteism perpetuated by them. I must say that meaning of Dalit does not lie in the caste organizations, but its real meaning comes from the comprehensive and captive role of Dalits who today define every political, social and economic activity. Dalit has its own analytical view of judging the matters with a pro-poor consideration. Dalit by itself means an inclusive and dynamic ideology giving space to every pro-people and also to every pro-women approach.

Some people would, after reading this article, conclude by saying that I am influenced by the Marxist interpretation of Ambedkar. To those who would share this thinking, I would say that I am rather influenced by the Ambedkarite interpretation of Marx in the Indian context. I would also appeal to them to go through Ambedkar’s writings once more. Ambedkar has always referred to Brahmins as a class, against whom he wanted to frame Dalits as a class, which could only be attained by annihilating the caste. Dalit, as a class, can only be realized when they will act in same tandem in opposition to Brahmins as a class do. When Valmikis (scavengers) and Jatavs act in solidarity, when Pasis would vouch for Dhobis; Khatiks act in tandem with Mushars; peasantry would fight for the rights of tribals; minorities would take care of other backward castes and when there will be a real upsurge of subalterns and so on; only then an effective weapon against the class of Brahminical forces and an effective tool for annihilation of castes would be achieved. Simply put, Dalits would have to assimilate their divisions into a unified class.

The panacea for Dalit misery and pathetic lives will not come through the persisting caste politics of our time, which is day by day ghettoizing “a particular caste” for the sustaining of particular class interests. The solution lies in a democratic revolution which will change the whole gamut of the oppressive and discriminatory instruments of change, which precisely originates from India’s semi-feudal society. At the same time, it is also true that any such type of democratic revolution can only be possible through the revolutionary upsurge of Dalits. In other words, this revolution ought to arise from Dalits.

[Moggallan Bharti is pursuing his MA in the Centre for Political Studies, JNU]

Affirmative Action in Private Sector

A Necessity for the Marginalized
-By Nandkishor S More

Even without having achieved substantial economic growth with justice as envisaged in the five-year plans, the Democratic Republic of India has ventured into New Economic Policy (NEP) and Privatization of Public Sectors. Needless to state therefore that the chunk of Indian populace, particularly those marginalized and oppressed due to historical reasons, remained neglected. This has perpetuated caste and various other forms of discrimination and gross inequalities. It is all the more important to know the economic and social status of the marginalized where the thrust of various welfare organizations and policy makers be directed.

The contrary is however true. It is assumed that whatever little progress the SC/ST’s (read marginalized) have achieved is due to the welfare state for having assigned the most important and active role in the process of socio-economic development. Statistics of the same is available in the various report of National Commission for SC/ST’s and other surveys carried out from time to time. The available record in terms of recruitment speaks volumes that the participation of this section of Indian population is inadequate.

There are safeguards in the Indian constitution for SC/ ST’s viz., Directive Principles of State Policy, social, educational and cultural, service safeguards and by providing statues and legislations. However, the very participation of the marginalized group proportionate to their population in the organized services/ sectors of the state i.e. Judiciary, Press, Education and Defense is still a distant dream. On the contrary, their presence as agricultural laborers, menial jobs, illiterates homeless, landless ones is disproportionate.

The issue is whether the sector with no state control, with no safeguards/ directives would achieve substantial economic growth and provide justice to the marginalized. The next is whether private sector is purely a private sector without any base or whether it is an establishment carved out from the already set-up public undertaking. It has been observed that the majority of them been carved out of the already existing ones on the grounds that the PSUs were making losses, but many profit making ones have been privatized making the argument redundant. In a recently-held meeting with the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment with industry barons, most of the industrial houses have opposed to the reservation in private sector vehemently. Let’s assume for instance that the policy of reservation will not be there then what steps are there in the mind of the government to encompass and accommodate such a large section of society for their upliftment (leave aside bridging social, economic and political inequalities).

The issue is not of privatization alone but of the policies and processes mandatory for the developing economies under new world regime i.e. World Trade Organization. How will they affect issues of equity and participation of people for capacity building and affirmative actions for the disadvantaged sections. Although the policies of present UPA government as per the Common Minimum Programme (CMP) is very clear about the policy of privatization of public sector, it is equally unclear about the importance of affirmative action and rightful direction of the state towards public sector by making mandatory constitutional amendments and legislations.

Therefore the issue is not only of affirmative action but also of participation of marginalized sections of society in the areas where state is withdrawing from its responsibilities. This is Herculean both for the Government and the people of this country for seeking employment, resource sharing, capacity building of the people, rights of livelihood and sustainability. In absence of affirmative action, it will be back to square one where there shall be poverty and illiteracy. The prospect of the marginalized joining the mainstream of development will be bleak, not only for historic reasons but others and it will be the same old tryst with their destiny.

[Dr. Nand Kisore More is a Faculty at Babasaheb Bhimrao Ambedkar Central university Lucknow]

A Cherished Dream, Common School System: What is to be done?


-By Mormukut Suman

The concept of Common School System (CSS) also called a neighborhood school, was advocated in post civil war as a ‘right’ and institutionalized in the early 1900s. Common School System (CSS) may be a new concept for India, but it’s not a new over the world. It has been operating successfully in Cuba, USA, UK, China and Russia. Let us clear what is the concept of common school system. The CSS was introduced by the Kothari Education Commission constituted in 1964. The Commission said CSS is a tool for social transformation. It will weaken the disparity and inequality in education as well as destroys all the discriminatory walls created by caste, creed, class and social economic status or gender bias prevalent in our education system.

In India, there has been a fundamental difference between poor and medium-elite student’s education .Elite-medium class send their children to convent schools, while poor are unable to pay high fees demanded by elite schools. The present disparity prevalent in education system widens the social segregation instead of bridging it. I came across the real situation of school education when I visited one primary school, situated in Mathura. It is a truism to say that most government-owned schools are still in same in condition they were thirty years ago. To say nothing about sanitation services which are non-existent. When teachers do not come regularly to school, we can imagine what student attendance is. Regrettably this is the real situation of this school.
If CSS had been implemented, it could have changed the very face of the school education in rural areas and urban slums. Fifty percent of school children drop out of schools before completing eight years in school. Most of these students belong to dalit or adivasis communities. The CSS guaranties equity in education as well as job opportunities. The notion CSS refers to a state-financed common quality education. The CSS will open the window to access to quality education depending on talent rather than wealth or class. Education will be free for every student, no tuition fee is charged.

The parliament tried to implement it unsuccessfully not only once but thrice in 1964, 1986, 1991. Lack of commitment and serious concern over the CSS stalled the Bill and indicated clearly the government‘s apathy towards the CSS. The Government wants to keep the education system unchanged, where marginalized or poor masses are not able to get quality education among them most of people are from dalit-adivasis community.
The CSS will fit well in our secular setup, where many languages are spoken and religions exist. Democracy requires a common school system. The CSS not only democratizes the education system but is also a significant tool to social transformation. The CSS will provide an opportunity to such students who are unable to pay high fees and send their children to schools. The Kothari Commission recommends the CSS to utilize 6 % expenditure of GDP on education. Unfortunately no government spent more than 3% of GDP on education. The government has been spending 2.5 % of the GDP on defense sector. Recently Man Mohan Singh’s government has increased the defense budget 77,000 to 83,000 crore.

In 1986 government woke up and constituted Acharya Rammurthi Committee to find out reasons which are responsible for not passing CSS Bill. The Committee says that the variations among masses and classes highly deep rooted. The social segregation is much prevalent in our society, leading them to hate each other or even sometimes fighting on pretty issues. In such a situation the CSS can not be imposed. The elite class sends their children where they can get quality education by well educated professional teachers. However, it did not mention caste or religion based discrimination, which is the main the hindrance to CSS. The second problem he highlighted is constitutional. According to the constitution, minorities have been given the right to establish and administer their own educational institutions, which is against the spirit of the CSS. Further, he blamed the government itself for establishing a few separate schools such as Sainik schools, Navodaya Vidyalayas, or Center School, which are against the democratic spirit. Few separate schools or institution for a separate class is not democratic. It is a governmental duty to provide elementary education to all students for 14 years.

The fourth reason, the committee attributed to private managed English medium schools, charging high fees and having expensive coaching and better infrastructure. Private sector schools in India are nothing but an affluent business. It is true to say that these private schools are teaching shops running in two to ten rooms. During the NDA rule, thousands of business, engineering and medical colleges along with a lot of professional institutions came into existence. The presence of private schools clearly indicates that the government has failed to provide education to all. Today, integrating private schools into CCS has become a far flung dream.
These schools have emerged over the past fifteen years as an instrument for social segregation rather than integration.Recently the Supreme Court directed all public funded private schools who got land from government on charity basis to ensure 10% reservation for weaker community students. Most of schools including, DPS (Delhi Public School) defied the decision saying that it is not practical. What they wanted to say that how can a rickshaw puller boy sit with an IAS officer’s son on same bench? So they started evening class for such students.It’s the need of hour to implement CCS as soon as possible, lest we face a more vulnerable state that can’t be managed.


[Mormukut Suman is pursuing his PG Diploma in Hindi Journalism IIMC, Delhi]

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Culture and caste in CIEFL

The Classical debate continues…

-By Samata Biswas

I want to talk about culture. I mean what I used to and now think/ not think of as culture. My entry point in this discussion is what has been happening on the Central Institute of English and Foreign Languages, Hyderabad (CIEFL) mess notice board over the last couple of days.
Till Friday, the mess notice board flaunted a yellow coloured, expensively printed poster about a Veena recital; to be held in the Gokak auditorium, on Saturday. On the day of the recital, another poster appeared right next to the earlier one.
This one, handmade, was put up by the DBMSA (Dalit, Bahujan, Minorities Students Association) and carried a quote from a ‘great’ Dappu player (like most of the non-Dalit participants I did not know what is a Dappu or who are the Madigas.): “If I booze and play Dappu, I swear! Even Saraswathi has to throw away her Veena, and dance in front of me.”
The next hour or so saw by and large three kinds of experience from the non-Dalit/ minority participants. There were the likes of me who said: “Hmm. So there is such a thing as the Dappu and the Madiga community. I think it is really interesting that mess notice board has managed to create the space for a dialogue. They have done a good thing by putting up the poster, it is important to know that there are other cultural markers in the various strata of the supposed homogenous hindu society, that are as important as the Veena is to some one as upper caste as I am.”
The second kind of response was one primarily of disgust. Why is the DBMSA reacting to anything and everything? By putting up posters every once in a while are they not undermining the more “serious” and “legitimate” grievances? (I want to come back to this later on.)
But these two kinds of responses were primarily articulated by a remarkably small group of people. Almost every one else, who was concerned enough to respond, responded with anger. They said why do they have to make every thing an issue? The Veena after all is just an instrument, and what is the meaning of attaching religious and caste connotations to music? One must understand that there are some things that do not subscribe to class/ caste boundaries, and surely music is one of them?
I could not get the text of the original recital poster. But that mentioned how the performer is trained in the ‘classical’ tradition of so and so, and how the Veena is the ‘ancient’ ‘Indian’ instrument truly representing the rich cultural heritage that ‘we’ have inherited. I had to ask questions about what is ‘cultural’ and ‘classical’, why are the two, almost always in the Indian context, conflated, and who are these ‘we’ that have inherited this tradition? Is it not apparent from the DBMSA poster that there is at least one group of people who are consciously declining the claims of any such inheritance? Is it not even more remarkable that both these groups, the ‘us’ and the ‘them’, inhabit the same, national/ geographical, and in this case, institutional space?
But we tend to forget that ‘culture’ (here taking the term to mean “…the independent and abstract noun which describes the works and practices of the intellectual and especially artistic activity…” as referred to by Raymond Williams), which is apparently the field we are arguing within, is not non-coercive. The relationship between the Veena and the Dappu is one of domination, and even though now, the participants in the institution are supposed to be in more or less an equal footing, it does not make the entire history of subjugation and oppression go away. It is not possible for ‘us’ to read the Veena poster in the same way that the DBMSA has read it. Not merely because the two groups use different “dictionaries”, but also because our experiences have been widely different, the institutional framework attempts to homogenize the student community, but that, thankfully is not possible.
Looking into the way in which one poster frames the other perhaps best shows this. Before the Dappu poster, the Veena recital one was thought of as essentially ‘secular’, here ‘cultural’ and ‘secular’ acting as almost synonymous. But the Dappu poster did not merely foreground the hegemonic structure within which the Veena operates; it also brought to focus the religious and castist connotations that the Veena invariably carries.
The Dappu poster was made to bring these and many more issues up to the front. Placed right next to the Veena one, it was also yellow in colour, and contrasted the painting of a red Veena with a black and white rendering if a dancing man in a loincloth. It also spoke for and about an entirely different mode of being, an experience that includes alcohol and swearing- an experience that has systematically been marginalized over the years, when the majorities were busy forging a nationalist cultural identity.
I think now I understand why and how only a Dalit student could/would have read the poster the way (now, I feel) it needed to be read. I myself had noticed the Saraswathi statue in the Library innumerable times, but it needed another DBMSA intervention and a bit of an action to make me realize that I, after all, belong to a majority community. Even while believing the institutional administration has no job practicing any religion, I hardly ever noticed it was doing so; perhaps because it was my religion that was being celebrated.
There are people asking why is it always the Dalits who raise questions? There were friends of mine who refused to take any notice what so ever of any of the two posters. They said these are merely a group of people with nothing better to do in life, people who do not study. This reaction seems almost relevant and justifiable when raised by a group of bright students inside an educational institution. Their insistence on the importance of not encouraging ‘segregationist’ actions which may lead to ‘violence on campus’, speaks volumes about the lives they have led, a life that never needed any mode of violence to achieve anything.
Uniyal quoted from Namdeo Dhasal, “one day I cursed that mother-fucker god”.
It would have been very remarkable to find out how I would have reacted had this been put up on the notice board one day. The atheist in me would have been happy perhaps, but the secularist in me who tries not to hurt anyone’s religious sentiments, would in all possibilities have been righteously indignant.
This refers to what happened on Sunday. Another poster appeared on the space of the now absent Veena one. “You have no right to insult a god, no matter what religion. The very fact that you did proves that you are nothing but rude, coarse, incompetent, arrogant, fundamentalists who do not know anything.” It is important to know that this was the response of an upper class brahmin from Kolkata, one of those (like me) to whom caste does not exist. For us, class divisions are the primary and sole markers of oppression in our society, and as a result we can hardly understand how the comparative analysis of the cultural markers can lay bare coercive practices in the civil society. For us, oppression is almost always economic, and here since the Dappu player talks about drinking, the economic inequality must be not so prominent. (After all, if you have money enough to drink, why complain, or for that matter if you can waste your time thinking about things that do not matter then is it a wonder that your results are not good?).
For us, cultural markers are abstract and therefore of not much significance, unlike religious markers though, as it is interesting to note that indignation of this section of the student community was engendered only when the ‘religious’ connotation of the Veena was brought to the front.
Note the departure from the initial reactions, earlier there was indignant voices claiming the sanctity of the ‘secular’ space that music (read culture) inhabits. In this case the stress was on the “Veena” while later on it shifted to “Saraswathi”.
Culture to me is also something that lays bare such hegemonic practices. It needed the evocation of the Dappu to bring my attention to the identity of the Veena as something that has systematically and historically marginalized the Dappu and millions of other such instruments, literature, religion, and ways of life.
There is another aspect to the debate, which it is taking place within an educational institution, and all of us, after all, are students. Why is the sanctity of the institutional space being repeatedly evoked? Why is it being assumed that the educational institution is and has to be beyond and above “identity” and other politics? It is not as if, discriminations do not take place inside an educational institution, especially one like CIEFL, imparting higher education, itself a very elite formation. Arguing for the sacrality of the institution’s space will be a step backwards, and then we will no longer be able to view the private/ home as sites of domination and subjugation either.
The “high standards” (and here the secular/ culturally neutral aspirations) maintained by the institutions become suspect when the caste/ class/ gender distinctions of the students have never allowed them equal opportunity. (Looking at it in this light, the indifference to the importance of the questions raised makes a lot more sense.) The ideology implicit in the working of an institution also frames its own minorities in more ways than one. These minorities, and among them the women students, also have to make their voices and demands heard, and how can that be exclusively outside of the campus.
Coming back to what is started with: culture. Raymond Williams in Keywords traces the way in which the modern term culture arrived at its present meaning- I can try and do the same to my understanding of culture. Around one year ago, my position as an educated Bengali, urban middle class youth automatically provided me access to everything I then deemed “cultural”. (Note that to me then, the word was essentially an adjective). Certain kinds of literature, music and films etc only were cultural, every thing else was not. But in the beginning of this semester, I wanted the noun to mean “the whole social process”. But as of now, I really do not know. I know how something can be made into cultural and something else undermined. I know by paying attention to culture I can unveil innumerable power relations that my earlier methodological affiliations always obscured. I tend to believe that domination is not merely economic and that culture plays a very important part in uncovering them. But as to what is it exactly that I understand by culture, I really am no longer sure.

[Samata Biswas has just completed her MA in Cultural Studies from CIEFL, Hyderabad]

Editors’ note
: The debate in CIEFL also possessed an interesting intervention from the feminist students of the campus. We hope to bring out that angle in our next issue on Caste and Gender due in October.