Monday, February 25, 2008

Introduction to Out-Caste

Out-Caste is an informal, public wall-journal started by the Dalit Studies class under the guidance of our course instructor, Dr. K. Satyanarayana. This is an open forum that engages with the caste question in a specifically Indian context. We wish to look at caste as a category that structures both exclusion and privilege. Our main aim is to represent the Dalit visions of a new India.

We do not subscribe to any political agenda. Our motive is merely to engage the community with questions concerning the complex workings of caste and the struggles against this form of inequality and oppression and its relation with other forms of inequality and oppression such as social class, poverty, gender etc. Through this journal, we wish to acquaint our readers with certain key historical personalities and crucial events in the field of socio-political reform. Evidence of such neglect is obvious in the ongoing suppression and violence inflicted on Dalits on an everyday basis in different parts of the country. In this context, we wish to acquaint our readers with key narratives and debates in this area. We also wish to provide a space for the representation of alternative histories and literatures of Dalits.

While some consider the word ‘Dalit’ to be politically charged, we wish to bring out its emancipatory and inclusive potential. Dalit is a Marathi word whose literal meaning is ‘ground’ (verb) or ‘broken or reduced to pieces’. Dalits then are those people who have been deliberately broken and ground down in a very active way by those above them. As opposed to other terms like untouchable, scheduled caste, harijan etc, the word Dalit itself is a radical rejection of the religious legitimization of untouchability, social immobility and unequal access to opportunities. The clearest definition of Dalit in its contemporary usage is seen in a letter written to Eleanor Zelliot by Gangadhar Pantawane, founder editor of Asmitadarsh (mirror of identity), the chief organ of Dalit literature:

“To me, Dalit is not a caste. He is a man exploited by the social and economic traditions of this country. He does not believe in God, Rebirth, Soul, Holy Books teaching separatism, Fate and Heaven because they have made him a slave. He does believe in humanism. Dalit is a symbol of change and revolution.”

Keeping this in mind, we wish to inaugurate the first issue of this wall journal.

We would like to thank the administration for their continued support in bringing out this Wall Journal. We would also like to extend our sincere gratitude to all the people on campus who gave us their valuable time, support and inputs in bringing out this journal. We would especially like to thank our course instructor Dr. K Satyanarayana, Pro-VC Dr. Maya Pandit, Registrar Mr. T A V Murthy, Deputy Registrar Mr Murlidhar Tadi, DBMSA President Mr. Raju Nayak, T Jyoti, Mr Murti of Stores Department, Dr. Geetha Durairajan and Vidya Kesavan. We would also like to thank Dr Kancha Illiah and Mrs. Deepa of Anveshi for their invaluable support at all junctures of bringing out this journal.

Face 2 Face

Dr. Kancha Ilaiah

1. Keeping in mind the recent National Commission for Scheduled Castes (NCSC) ruling that has asked state and central governments to use the constitutional term Schedule Caste as opposed to Dalit for formal communication, what in your opinion is the implication of the word "Dalit" in contemporary times?

Buta Singh is in favor of state and central government decision to use the term Scheduled Castes (SC) because it is a constitutional term. Dalit however is a political term that Singh believes posits Dalits as a partial group of people. The word Dalit has had different meanings in different contexts. The first recorded use of the word was in the Buddha period. In Sanskrit, the word Dalit refers to the petals of a flower each of which is a separate entity and yet they are bound together. That's how the word was first interpreted. The word Dalit in Marathi has another connotation – it means to be broken. Petals can also be seen to be broken in the sense that there is a break between petals. In my book, I use the word Dalit to refer to those who are suppressed, oppressed and exploited by the majority. Dalit Bahujan too is one word that is used in the same context.

2. But then what about how Dalits are addressed in informal settings across different parts of India?

While untouchability is common to caste identities across the country, the names given to the untouchable castes differ regionally. In Kerela, Adevas were untouchables although they have overcome the status of being untouchables now. Similarly, in Tamil Nadu untouchables are called Nadars, Chamars or Bhangis. Mahar is a term used in Maharashtra. However, the use of the term Dalit unifies untouchables from across the country giving them a common identity and allowing the emergence of social movements. Dalit then, becomes a Pan Indian identity.

3. Your PhD thesis was on Gautama Buddha's political philosophy. Why did you choose Buddhism over other religions and what do you think is its relevance in the present day political scenario?

My thesis focused on the historical struggle between Buddha and Brahmanism. This was the period during which the Vedas and Vedangas were being written. The Manusmriti was not yet written. Caste system founded upon a Brahmanical ethos believes, “Brahman hitalaya, Brahman sukhalaya" (Brahmans are the abode of good; Brahmans are the abode of happiness). Whereas Buddha propagated "Bahujan Hitalaya, Bahujan Sukhalaya" (Majority is the abode of good, Majority is the abode of happiness).

Buddha reinvented the social organization of society by forming Sanghas and reconceptualized the idea of State. Earlier, the State was seen as a divine creation according to the Hindu thought process but Buddha exposed it to be the result of various social constructs. Gradually, women sanghas were also established and joined by excluded social groups like courtesans such as Amrapalli. The objective behind these sanghas was the creation of an equal society. A lot has been written about the struggles of men such as Mahatma Phule and Ambedkar in the context of caste reform. However, I re-asserted Buddha’s struggle against the Brahmans in my book, Why I Am Not a Hindu. While most of the writing on this subject is limited to the 19th and 20th century, I wanted to look at a larger spectrum of history which included the struggle of Buddha against caste discrimination.

4. Your influential book, Why I am not a Hindu received mixed responses. Romila Thapar especially seems to have responded quite negatively, at least as it has been quoted in Wikipedia.

The truth is that Thapar wrote both about the strengths and weaknesses of the book. Wikipedia however only picked out a negative comment. The quote chosen was also quite stray and taken out of context. However, this book continues to maintain the tempo, debate and discourse of certain issues related to caste discrimination. It is a book that puts Hinduism in crisis through which it must find a way out.

For example we may ask why the buffalo isn’t considered a spiritual animal like the cow when Hindus predominantly drink buffalo milk. The cow is claimed to be a divine animal by Hindus because of its role as a provider. But because the buffalo even though it provides milk is black in color, it’s regarded as un-Hindu and therefore kept out of the spiritual realm. On the contrary Dalits revere the buffaloes as a source of wealth and prosperity. The color black is not seen as devilish by them. It thus becomes obvious that the buffalo is as appropriate a sacred symbol as cow and if the buffalo had been equally revered by Hindus, color prejudices would disappear. Today, dark skin is considered to be not beautiful because Aryans had black hair and fair reddish skin and these became the markers of beauty. But if society propagates black skin and white hair, people will follow this norm as well. Therefore, if the buffalo as a symbol is propagated into popular discourse, it would acquire a respectable and spiritual status. Hence, nationhood could be reconstructed in the image of the buffalo as well, which in a way becomes a starting point for thought in my book Buffalo Nationalism.

5. Soon after your book Why I am not a Hindu was published, you were sent a letter by the Registrar of Osmania University on behalf of its Vice Chancellor saying, “you should write within the canons of conduct of our profession”. Keeping this in mind, what do you think is the role of academics in social reform movements?

I have been writing in several newspapers and journals for 20 years. Some articles were controversial and highly debated. Why I Am Not a Hindu was also controversial. It was debated the world over. The university had never asked me about what I wrote and what I should write. It never interfered. Suddenly, on May 6, it sent a letter, which I received on May 11. I was surprised by the letter, addressed to me by Dr Pannalal. My writings only try to reduce prejudices, as the caste system has created a huge gulf between various sections of society. The article the registrar mentioned, 'Spiritual fascism and civil society', appeared in Deccan Chronicle on February 15, 2000.

The registrar took exception to my writings. But can he explain which portion of my writing created social dissension? All over the world, professors in universities have an inalienable right to express theoretical opinions and no university has tried to censor theoretical formulations of a research scholar or teacher. This is for the first time in the history of Osmania University that a censorship attempt was made.

In the larger interest of society, the university should not interfere with the freedom of expression and academic freedom of a teacher to formulate his thoughts. There could be various reasons. There was a debate initiated by the Human Resources Development Ministry of the Union government on the one hand and also former Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu on the other that there is no relevance of social sciences today. As a teacher of social sciences, I am bound to take up critical writing because, unless there is critical writing, social science does not mean anything. The attempt to censor is part of a larger process of controlling institutions of social sciences. This trend is also part of a larger privatisation campaign of educational institutions in the country.

6. The Dalit Freedom Network ( highlighted the February 2007 UN Committee Meeting on Elimination of Racial Discrimination. Dipankar Gupta, a JNU based sociologist was of the view that caste discrimination cannot be equated to racial discrimination.

The article “Green snakes in green grass” originally published in the Deccan Herald, March 14, 2007 uses the metaphor of RSS being a white snake which one can easily spot in green grass. But with communists due to their agenda being camouflaged, one cannot distinctly identify them in social processes. Since they operate within the garb of Marxism, green snakes bite sneakily in green grass. Caste and rural inequality even in the present milieu proves the existence of caste discrimination which happens to be easily dismissed by leading academicians like Gupta who are of the view that this social evil is a matter internal to India and can be resolved within its own terrain. They should honestly accept social reality as reality.

7. Although historically, the caste system was specific to Hinduism, caste hierarchies are found in other religions as well such as Islam, Sikhism and Christianity, especially among those who have converted from Hinduism.

Mazhabi Sikhs can go inside the Gurudwara and read scriptures like Guru Granth Sahib. They can sit and eat in langars and yet, they are social untouchables because they carry the Hindu baggage from their pre-conversion identities.

Diverse religions have been an influence on each other for centuries. Sikhism still has traces of Hinduism in its dress code and its rule of not shaving that comes from the tradition of Hindu sainthood. We see caste differences in Islam as well where Pathans and Muslim converts from Aryan descendants are accorded a higher status. Conversion from Hinduism to Islam provides a promise of spiritual upward mobility. However, converts who were shudras are not accorded the status of being ritual practitioners in Islam. There is a similar influence of Islam on Hinduism as well. Earlier, Hindus did not wear stitched clothing. The Pyjama, churidar are all Islamic borrowings. In this way, social and cultural practices within religions continue to be a constant influence for each other.

Double Take

An Interview with the administration and DBMSA on the issue of SC/ST MA fellowships

Raju Nayak, President - DBMSA, EFL-U

(DBMSA is a student organization that works for the welfare of the Dalit, Bahujan and Minority students of the University. The organization offers a space for the development of political awareness among students. It also conducts discussions and talks on various contemporary issues for the intellectual growth of the students. DBMSA organizes remedial classes for the needy students. It also provides guidance regarding various issues related to the courses and admission procedure.)

Q: Can you explain the content of the petition DBMSA has submitted regarding the SC/ ST MA fellowship?
It is a proposal to the University to grant fellowship to the SC/ST MA students who are economically backward.

Q: Who submitted the petition and when was it submitted?
Being the President of DBMSA, I submitted the petition to the VC on behalf of the organization. It was submitted on 26th November 2007.

Q: Why this petition?
This petition is an attempt to help the SC/ST MA students who are economically backward and who thus find it difficult to meet the expenses of photocopying, mess bills, tuition fees etc. There are students who cannot even meet the bus and train fares. This fellowship can be an encouragement for such students to pursue higher education.

Q: Have you submitted similar petitions in the past and why this petition now?
Yes, we have submitted similar petitions in the past and since we are a Central University now, we request the University to provide fellowships from the available funds. Our University being a ‘welfare university’ and one which takes HCU as its model in several matters, we demand the administration to look into how all the MA students are given fellowships in HCU and implement similar measures here.

Q: What response did you get from the administration?
Mr. Satish Poduval, the Dean of Student Welfare has sent me a letter in which he acknowledges the fact that the administration has recognised the problems of the SC/ST students, but refused to take any direct steps in this regard, saying that there is no UGC provision for such an action. Instead, the administration would try to provide some “merit-cum-means” fellowship for the MA students from the beginning of the next academic year. Also, he asked me to collect applications from the needy students and send it to him so that he will try to provide some relief from the Student Welfare Fund until a scheme for MA Fellowship is finalised.

Q: Did you forward any such applications to the administration?
Yes, I did that, but when I went to the administration with some applicants, I got an unpleasant response. Some of the employees in the administration told me that they don’t believe in “middle men” or mediators, thereby, trying to prevent me and DBMSA from helping the SC/ST students. I think that this statement reveals the administration’s attitude against the SC/ST students.


Muralidhar Tadi , Deputy Registrar, EFL-U

Q: How do you respond to DMSA’s proposal to give fellowship to the SC/ST MA students?
Giving fellowship to the SC/ST MA students would be a good measure. I know many students who are in need of financial assistance. Thus, the scholarship is a necessary thing not only for the SC/ST students, but also for the Minority and Economically backward students. Our university should have a reserve fund to make this possible. The University is looking into the UGC recommendations regarding this matter. Nothing has been finalized till now; it may take a little while, but the University is taking this issue in a manner which would be favorable to the students.

Q: What are the steps in the processing of such a petition?
If the VC finds that the cause for which you are arguing is a genuine one, he will ask the accounts section to generate a fund for this cause by identifying proper sources.


“Follow me, falter not now,

Down with Manu’s injunctions,

Education imparts you happiness,

Jyoti tells you with confidence.”

Mahatma Jyotirao Phule

In the year 1827, the second son of Govindrao and Chimnabai was born in Satara district of Maharashtra and into the Mali caste which was considered to be an inferior caste. He was named Jyoti which means ‘flame of light’ in Hindi. This flame of light was to become Mahatma Jyotirao Phule, the torchbearer for the distressed and the downtrodden of his country, especially the women.

Jyoti’s mother passed away when he was 9 months old. By the age of seven, Jyoti began going to a Marathi school. Govindrao, withdrew Jyoti from this school after being misled by a Brahmin clerk that the school will do no good to his sons’ future. However, observing Jyoti’s exceptional intelligence, his two neighbors advised his father to consider sending Jyoti back to school. So in 1841, Jyoti was enrolled into a missionary school. Having been given a chance to prove his worth as a student at last, Jyoti grabbed this opportunity and faired well in his studies. It was here that Thomas Paine’s book Rights of Man proved to become an inspirational text for Jyoti’s entire lifetime. In 1847, Jyoti completed his studies from the English-medium missionary school. His education here exposed him to ideas of equality, rights and freedom of man which now began to pulsate in his veins.

Having finished his schooling, thoughts of service and welfare of the people continued to pre-occupy Jyoti’s mind. While he was immersed in these thoughts, an incident took place which gave a new turn to his life. He was invited to attend the wedding ceremony of a Brahmin friend. While he was walking along with other people in the procession, an orthodox Brahmin recognized him and insulted him. Deeply hurt by the insult, he left the procession and returned home. That night, Jyoti could not sleep. He felt convinced that social slavery was worse than political slavery. He concluded that the caste system had been solid, unbreakable and had endured for ages because of the fact that the lower classes were not educated and hence had been forced into accepting mental slavery. All great changes, Jyoti believed, are preceded by a vigorous intellectual revaluation and reorganization. Thus, he resolved to raise the banner of revolt against mental slavery and to throw open the gates of knowledge to the lower classes by disseminating education amongst them. Jyoti devoted himself to the task of turning this insult into the mainspring of his actions while he upheld the belief that a valuable goal in life makes one a just man.

The year 1848 was a year of great changes all over the world. In America, the women’s emancipation movement had started. The first women’s rights convention was held in 1848 at the Wesleyan Church, in Seneca Falls, New York. But in India, women continued to be regarded as inferior and subordinate human beings. Hence, Jyoti resolved to usher in social reform in Maharashtra for the so-called ‘weaker sex’. He was barely twenty-one when he decided to emancipate Hindu women from their ancient subjugation. He had realized the truth of the proverb, “The hand that rocks the cradle, rules the world.” Jyoti thus became the first Indian to start a school for girls of the shudra and atishudra caste. By this time, the Poona Brahmins’ hatred for Jyoti had surpassed all bounds. They threatened Jyoti’s father Govindrao who, under immense pressure, had to ask his son to leave either the school or his house. Jyoti subsequently left his father’s house and had to shut down the school which was hardly eight months old.

Jyoti reopened this school at a place provided by Sadashiv Govande in Peth Joona Ganj. Help came from Brahmins friends and the English in the form of books, slates and money. For the first time in India, the gates of knowledge were opened to the lowest of the low of society. Having acquired more than two years of experience in the field of education, Jyoti now established another school for girls on July 3rd, 1851 at Annasaheb Chiplunkar’s house in Budhawar Peth. By now, Jyoti was well-acclaimed all over Maharashtra as the champion of female education and rights of the lower castes.

Jyoti was not an ordinary school teacher. He urged his students to gain their own insights and think independently. Jyoti believed that instruction should elicit knowledge and education should sharpen faculties of the mind. Admired by all, many of Jyoti’s friends heroically stood by him even at inopportune times.

Jyoti’s enlightening writing started from the year 1869 with Shivaji Powada that concentrated on working out the theoretical basis for his activity. The best known of his works, Gulamgiri (Slavery) was published on 1st June 1873. Satyashodhak Samaj (Society of the Seekers of Truth) was established on 24th September 1873.

On 11th May 1888, a huge public meeting in Pune was organized to recognize the impact of Jyoti’s academic and reformist work and it was here that the title of Mahatma was fondly bestowed on him. Nearing the end of his life, he wrote his last work Sarvajanik Satya Dharma Pustak (Book of the True Faith) in early 1889. He had suffered a heart stroke in the meanwhile, which rendered the right side of his body useless for practical work but he nonetheless labored with his left hand to finish his last book on 1st April 1889. He died in the following year on 28th November 1890. The book was published by his adopted son in the year 1891.

Mahatma Jyotirao Phule spent his life fighting for the rights of Indian women and the lower castes, paving the way for social reformers like M.G. Ranade and Vishnushastri Chiplunkar, eminent scholar of the intellectual world in Pune who came a generation after him. He was also to be succeeded by the likes of Gopal Ganesh Agarkar, the champion of social reform movement, Dhodo Keshav Karve, founder of women’s University in India, Pandita Ramabai and Mahatma Gandhi who took up a similar cause for the rights of the depressed classes.

A Day in the Life of...

Name: Mrs. T Jyoti
Age: 41
Native town: a village in Warangal
Current residence: Hamal Basti

Jyoti’s day begins at 4 a.m. when her eyes open although it is about five by the time she gets out of bed. She cooks for the family and walks fifteen minutes to a private residence where she works as a domestic servant from 7 to 8 a.m. She then reaches EFLU where she spends most of her day, sweeping the grounds until 5 p.m. She admits that recently, her work has considerably increased. When her shift ends, she heads back to the private residence to finish another hour of chores before heading home by 6. Jyoti says she enjoys working so much so that she takes up work in other people’s houses even on weekends.

Once home, Jyoti cleans up the house and cooks for her family. She feels grateful to have children who help her in her work. She has two daughters and one son. She finds her son to be the most obedient, an unusual occurrence in her basti. Jyoti hopes to get him married some day although she proudly refuses to ask for dowry for his wedding, even though it has been a part of their family tradition. But she worries about her two daughters, for whom she’ll have to arrange Rs. 2 lakhs each, for their weddings.

As such, her family has had to face issues of debt in the past as well. Jyoti’s husband being a daily wage earner, his income is subject to availability of work and when he finds it, he earns about Rs. 150/- a day. However, since he is now suffering from diabetes, blood pressure and asthma, his income has become more irregular due to which Jyoti has had to take up the mantle of being the main breadwinner of the family.

Keen on sending her children to a private school, Jyoti had to constantly take loans to pay for their fees, uniforms and books. She is still repaying those debts and sometimes, things get rough. Jyoti recalls how they had to live in the dark for five whole years as they could not afford to pay their monthly electricity bills which amount to Rs. 300/- a month.

One of her few recreations is attending Sunday mass with her family every week. If she finds time, she visits her mother and sisters who live nearby her basti. Jyoti also has a cable connection at home and likes watching some Telugu serials. As a child she used to love watching films although not so much anymore. Speaking of Chiranjeevi’s daughter, she doesn’t approve of love marriage and feels confident that she will arrange the marriage for all her children. After all, as she says, would girls who go in for love marriages respect their mother-in-laws and vice- versa?

For now however, she wants her children to finish their education. Her son Kiran is currently studying engineering while her two daughters, Shailaja and Aruna have finished XII and IX respectively. Jyoti herself never made it past Standard II. As a child, she was never interested in studying. She confesses that she cannot comment on whether her teachers were good or bad, but she was frightened of being beaten when she did not do her homework. Moreover, none of her friends were interested in studying. She was married off at the age of 17 and she now lives with her husband and three children. Though none of her children are interested in studies, Jyoti now understands the value of education. This realization dawned on her when she learnt that a student of EFLU was paid only Rs 5000/- as a starting salary after completing her Ph.D. Looking at such state of affairs faced by the educated, Jyoti fears the future condition of her children. She has therefore kept all her children in school and in fact, has recently enrolled herself into a basic English proficiency course offered by EFLU students for workers.

Jyoti is not completely oblivious to the political developments happening in AP. She often listens to the news while cooking. She is aware of the past and present CM and also the MLA of her constituency. She has even voted a few times in her life. She belonged to the Madiga caste which has traditionally been the caste of cobblers and house servants, before her ancestors chose to become Christians. Unfortunately she has not yet got her SC certificate probably because the government has refused to accord this status to converts.

T.Jyoti is an employee at EFLU for the last 20 years. She joined in 1984 as a house keeper and now works as a sweeper. Much to her happiness, she has recently been made a permanent employee which has increased her monthly wage to a respectable Rs. 5000/-.

Literary Edge 2



The nocturnal porcupine reclines here
Like an alluring grey bouquet
Wearing the syphilitic sores of centuries
Pushing the calendar away
Forever lost in its own dreams

Man’s lost his speech
His god’s a shitting skeleton
Will this void ever find a voice, become a voice?

If you wish, keep an iron eye on it to watch
If there’s a tear in it, freeze it and save it too
Just looking at its alluring form, one goes berserk
The porcupine wakes up with a start
Attacks you with its sharp aroused bristles
Wounds you all over, through and through
As the night gets ready for its bridegroom, wounds begin to blossom
Unending oceans of flowers roll out
Peacocks continually dance and mate

This is hell
This is a swirling vortex
This is an ugly agony
This is pain wearing a dancer’s anklets

Shed your skin, shed your skin from its very roots
Skin yourself
Let these poisoned everlasting wombs become disembodied.
Let not this numbed ball of flesh sprout limbs
Taste this
Potassium cyanide!
As you die at the infinitesimal fraction of a second,
Write down the small ‘s’ that’s being forever lowered.

Here queue up they who want to taste
Poison’s sweet or salt flavour
Death gathers here, as do words,
In just a minute, it will start pouring here.

O Kamatipura,
Tucking all seasons under your armpit
You squat in the mud here
I go beyond all the pleasures and pains of whoring and wait
For your lotus to bloom.
— A lotus in the mud.

Namdeo Dhasal, 1981
(translated by Dilip Chitre, 2007)

Namdeo Laxman Dhasal (b. February 15, 1949) is a Marathi writer and Dalit activist. He was one of the founders of the Dalit Panther movement in 1972. Although he speaks as a Dalit, his treatment of themes like exploitation, oppression and violence transcends caste barriers.

Dhasal spent his early childhood years living in a Bombay slum adjoining Kamatipura, Asia’s largest red-light district. This poem in his characteristic style, presents a stark and violent portrait of a part of Mumbai’s sordid underbelly.

A new collection of Dhasal’s poetry called Namdeo Dhasal: Poet of the Underworld, Poems 1972–2006 has recently been published by NAVAYANA.

Literary Edge 1

Book Review

Outcaste: A Memoir - Narendra Jadhav

Narendra Jadhav is a well-known economist, public speaker and a social worker. He is presently the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Pune and the Head of the Department of Economic Analysis & Policy at the Reserve Bank of India. He has also served many international assignments with IMF.

Outcaste: A Memoir is an adaptation by Narendra Jadhav, from his own Marathi best-seller Amcha Bap Aan Amhi (Our Father and Us). At one level, it is a tribute from a son to his father; while on the other hand, it is the story of the Dalits through three generations. The story begins in the 1930s when Damu, the protagonist of the story, is continuously addressed as “Mahar” in his ancestral village in Western Maharashtra where caste determined one’s destiny. Influenced by Dr. Ambedkar’s teachings, Damu stands against the Police and the caste system.

Outcaste is the first Dalit biography. It can also be referred as an autobiography since it also traces the course of Narendra Jadhav’s life. The book traces the extraordinary voyage of Damu from a small village at Ozar in Maharashtra to the city of Mumbai to escape persecution. It was a journey that brought back his dignity and “touchability”. In the city, he earns respect in various jobs, despite being a low-caste and an illiterate. His uncompromising spirit inspired his wife who realized that their emancipation could be possible only through the pursuit of academic excellence. Outcaste is also the story of Sonabhai, the author’s mother. Her innocence as a pre-pubescent bride and horrified reluctance to give up her old and trusted gods for the unknown Buddha are instances of an ordinary Dalit woman’s experiences. In the book, Sonu’s story alternates with that of Damu’s. At the other end of Damu's story, is his sixteen year-old granddaughter's epilogue. Born in Bloomington, Indiana, she writes with confidence, "Now I think I know who I am. I am just Apoorva, not tied down by race, religion or caste." But her father, Dr. Jadhav is not so sure. At one point he asks, "Will I ever be able to free myself from the bondage of caste?"

Outcaste is more than a mere personal account of the caste divide in India. It examines the Dalit awakening spearheaded by Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, the Independence movement, the Civil Disobedience Movement, Gandhiji’s relation with Ambedkar, the mass conversion of Dalits to Buddhism in 1956, and caste in its current reality. One can find Ambedkar’s call for the Dalits to “Educate, Unite and Agitate” as a recurrent theme in the book. Outcaste is the first book to portray Ambedkar as a character in its story. There is also a long note at the end of Outcaste on untouchability, the caste system and Dr. Ambedkar. Dr. Jadhav has wisely retained many Marathi words in the text, thus retaining the essence of the story intact. Personal anecdotes keep the book lively and easily readable. The book ends with a note of self-realization that in modern India dignity rests in the minds and hearts of people, and that archaic prejudices do not really matter. Outcaste thus gives an interpretation of caste, which is astonishingly different and enlightening.

In person

A Tonga Ride and Dignity
Dr. B.R. Ambedkar

The year was 1929. The Bombay Government had appointed a Committee to investigate the grievances of the untouchables. I was appointed a member of the community. The Committee had to tour all over the province to investigate into the allegations of injustice, oppression and tyranny. The Committee split up. I and another member were assigned the two districts of Khandesh. My colleague and myself, after finishing our work, parted company. He went to see some Hindu saint. I left by train to go to Bombay. At Chalisgaon, I got down to go to a village on the Dhulia line to investigate a case of social boycott which had been declared by the caste Hindus against the untouchables of that village. The untouchables of Chalisgaon came to the station and requested me to stay for the night with them. My original plan was to go straight to Bombay after investigating the case of social boycott. But as they were keen, I agreed to stay overnight. I boarded the train for Dhulia to go to the village, went there and informed myself of the situation prevailing in the village, and returned by the next train to Chalisgaon.

I found the untouchables of Chalisgaon waiting for me at the station. I was garlanded. The Maharwada, the quarters of the untouchables, is about two miles from the railway station and one has to cross a river on where there is a culvert to reach it. There were many horse carriages at the station plying for hire. The Maharwada was also within walking distance from the station. I expected immediately to be taken to the Maharwada. But there was no movement in that direction and I could not understand why I was kept waiting. After an hour or so a tonga was brought close to the platform and I got in. The driver and I were the only two occupants of the tonga. Others went on foot by a short-cut. The tonga had not gone 200 paces when there would have been a collision with a motor car. I was surprised that the driver who was paid for hire every day should have been so inexperienced. The accident was averted only because, on the loud shout of the policeman, the driver of the car pulled it back.

We somehow came to the culvert on the river. On it there were no walls as there was on a bridge. There was only a row of stones fixed at a distance of five or ten feet. It was paved with stones. The culvert on the river was at right angles to the road we were coming by. A sharp turn has to be taken to come to the culvert from the road. Near the very first side-stone of the culvert, the horse, instead of going straight, took a turn and bolted. The wheel of the tonga struck against the side-stone so forcibly that I was bodily lifted up and thrown down on the stone pavement of the culvert, and the horse and the carriage fell down from the culvert into the river. So heavy was the fall that I lay down senseless. The Maharwada was just on the other bank of the river. The men who had come to greet me at the station had reached there ahead of me. I was lifted and taken to the Maharwada amidst theories and lamentations of the men, women and children. As a result of this, I received several injuries. My leg was fractured and I was disabled for several days. I could not understand how all this happened. The tongas pass and repass the culvert every day and never has a driver failed to take the tonga safely over the culvert.

On enquiry, I was told the real facts. The delay at the railway station was due to the fact that the tongawalas were not prepared to drive the tonga with a passenger who was an untouchable. It was beneath their dignity. The Mahars could not tolerate that I should walk to their quarters. It was not in keeping with their sense of my dignity. A compromise was therefore arrived at. That compromise was to this effect: the owner of the tonga would give the tonga on hire but not drive. The Mahars may take the tonga but find someone to drive it. The Mahars thought this to be a happy solution. But they evidently forgot that the safety of the passenger was more important than the maintenance of his dignity. If they had thought of this, they would have considered whether they could get a driver who could safely conduct me to my destination. As a matter of fact, none of them could drive because it was not their trade. They therefore asked someone from amongst themselves to drive. The man took the reins in his hands and started thinking there was nothing to it. But as he got on, he felt his responsibility and became so nervous that he gave up all attempt to control. To save my dignity, the Mahars of Chalisgaon had put my very life in jeopardy. It is then I learnt that a Hindu tongawala, no better than a menial, has a dignity by which he can look upon himself as a person who is superior to all untouchables even though he may be a Barrister-at-law.

Questions of the Week

1. As debated by Dr. Kancha Illiah, can caste discrimination be equated to racial discrimination?
2. Can education be the panacea for social inequality in India?
3. What is the scope of globalization in overcoming caste barriers?