Sunday, March 23, 2008

Undoing Silence

In presenting this issue of the wall journal, it seems incumbent upon us to take up a few questions, right at the outset. Gopal Guru ends one of his articles, stating, “The spheres of representation are also spheres of intense political contestation. They are advanced sincerely and seriously contest the representative claims that are made by adversaries with the hegemonic intention of assimilation. But they are also advanced to assign exclusionary boundaries around the dalit constituency. Ambedkar tried, both at the intellectual and political levels, to enlarge the horizon of such claims without fear and favor. The quality is absent in the current instance.”

One thing that the caste system has successfully established, which still exists as a pervasive discriminatory reality, is a systematic inequality. Perpetration of caste violence or discrimination occurs in varied realized modes, which the rhetoric of an assumed caste neutral modernity does not take into account. This becomes much more apparent within the University space where the articulation of this discriminatory reality often assumes academic comportments. The fact that a certain section of students are endowed with certain ‘linguistic skills/abilities’, or are better off at ‘presenting’ themselves, is a direct fall out of these social practices. The realization, that Dalit students have been constantly negotiating spaces in the face of bad governmental policies and dividing practices, has sadly slipped through.

The way in which liberal discourse has a growing daunting confidence in its modernity and the subsequent sequencing of modernity on democracy is brahmanical. Hence the political aspirations of Dalit people are dealt in terms of a subsidized satisfaction from the slippage of liberal democracy. The attempts at collating a journal, which specifically talks about the dissemination of ‘caste realities’, should not vacate an essential dialogic space, failing which, it may fall into the trap of the aforementioned problematic representative domain.
If we try and trace the politics of the journal, it would be that of critically challenging discernable conceptions of power, benefit and desire, which reposes behind the formulation of a language that retains at its core the very hierarchies of caste. Keeping in mind this specific context, we focus on Dalit Women in this issue as their accounts are those of subsequent oppression by varied manifestations of caste, gender and implicit economy. It seems yet more imperative to interrogate caste and the woman question, because most of the Dalit women narratives are those of resistance; resistance to accepted norms, discrimination and oppression both in the private and public domain. Dalit poet Teresamma, a teacher from Guntur, writes:

We go to work for we are poor
But the same silken beds mock us
While we are ravished in broad daylight.
Ill-starred our horoscopes are.
Even our tottering husbands
Lying on the cots in a corner
Hiss and shout for revenge
If we cannot stand their touch.

Teresamma’s poetry points out the thrice articulated mode of oppression and discrimination that Dalit women face. Hence their stories of resistance are those of politically realized social experiences.

In the 70s and 80s, the women’s movement in India focused on mobilizing women across caste, class and ethnic background against violence and discrimination. Women were seen as a single political category. So there was a universalizing approach which held that all women were in powerless positions regardless of their background. But in fact, women are placed in different locations in our social hierarchy. Social context and institutional structures around them play a large role in determining their rights. Their location determines their control and power over public and private resources, political participation, concepts of womanhood and notions about body, sexuality, work and family. In a society like ours where there is such plurality of caste, community, languages, and economic backgrounds, gender does not function in isolation. It is always intersecting with the other identities that define power and powerlessness.

The question of who speaks assumes crucial importance. It is necessary to recognize and address the differences between various groups of women and to understand the specificity of experience. Exploring the categories of women, caste, gender and feminism through this lens will perhaps extend the potential of what we attempt at presenting.

Women and Caste

All liberation movements and manifestos start with a call for unity. Revolutions always require the “oppressed” and the “oppressors” to happen. Binaries are always so dramatic. But what happens to the multiplicities which can’t be simplified so easily? Where do all these subtle shades emerge within the same color? The emergence of the Dalit women’s voice is significant for mainly two reasons: first, it marks the emergence of a new subject, and second, it shows the inadequacy of the concept of generalization. While the Dalit Panthers Manifesto classifies “women” as Dalits, there are vast differences between Dalit women and their upper caste counterparts. Popular misconceptions and ignorance still color the ideas that propel the feminist movement in India.

The Ancient of Days

With the coming of the Aryans, the Dravidians were displaced. Manu declared the role, status, duties, and powers of the four Castes. The objective was obviously to consolidate the position of the Brahmins and the Kshatriyas, and to ensure the subjugation of the lower castes and the untouchables (who were largely the defeated and enslaved Dravidian people). Thus were devised philosophies and laws which crushed all chances of resistance. Divine sanction behind the Caste system made any revolution impossible. The woman became an important instrument in maintaining it. As Uma Chakravarti says in her essay Conceptualizing Brahmanical Patriarchy in Early India, control over women’s sexuality became crucial in this aspect. Women from upper caste were forbidden to marry or bear the children for the men of lower castes; so as to prevent caste-mobility; on the pretext of maintaining “purity”. Lower caste women were to serve as slaves and Devadasis, and children born to them were to be considered as lowly. Mixing of castes was the worst crime; the matrimonial columns today still bear the testimony of this command. Hereditary occupations thus became obligatory, and thus the Dalits were stuck with illiteracy, poverty and denial of dignity forever.

The Step Sisters: the Caste-Class-Gender Axis in Modern India

The case of the Dalit women is a complex one. Gender equations can’t be simplified solely on the basis of economic factors. For the upper caste women, empowerment ends with the dream of working and earning. However, “going out and earning” has not altered the gender equations within the Dalit community. There, women have no control over their income. Alcoholism and domestic violence very common. But the kind of domestic violence that a Dalit woman faces is very different from that which happens in an upper caste household. The Dalit woman is at the lowest rank in the hierarchy of caste, class and gender: not only does she face caste discrimination, but she also bears the brunt of anger and frustration from men in her community. There are no complaints, because it’s taken for granted that all Dalit women are beaten up and nothing can be done about it.

The workplace is not a promising arena either. Dalit women are always employed in menial jobs. Uneducated and powerless, they are employed for tasks like scavenging, cleaning toilets, carrying bricks, etc. at a lower wage than men. They become easy targets for abduction, rape and molestation by men of both upper and lower castes. Modernization has only opened up new avenues of exploitation for Dalit women. In a study, Joopaka Subhadra observes, the majority of prostitutes and bar dancers in the metropolitan cities come from the Dalit communities. The Devadasi and Yogin customs continue even today in many parts of Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. Of the few who are emancipated, even fewer are rehabilitated, and the rest become prostitutes.

Damsels in Distress

As per the 1981 census, the male-female ratio was particularly low in states like Rajasthan, Haryana, Punjab, etc with an average of 0.89. The southern states fared better with an average of 0.97. The ratio is lower among the Hindu scheduled castes and Dalits than the Muslims. The phenomenon has been attributed to the practices of female infanticide. Anthropological data confirms that the rites are performed as soon as the child is born, yet records indicate that more female children died (as compared to male children) beyond the age group of female infanticide ;i.e.; between one to 5 years. Moreover, female-male ratio is lower in the 30+ age group. As Jean Dreze and Amartya Sen concludes; this leads to the conclusion that apart from the custom of infanticide, female children die due to neglect and lack of medical attention. Participation of girls in labor-force can be viewed as an additional possible reason. Women also remain deprived of nutrition and related health improvements. This clearly indicates that distribution of resources is in favor of men.

Society and thought

In the field of Education and the Job sector, Dalit presence is almost negligible. Dalit women are even rarer. The few Dalit women who are educated hardly have any influence to facilitate major changes or gender mobilization. The women who belong to affluent Dalit families face a slightly different problem. These families, having improved economically, want social prestige. For that, it is necessary to adopt the upper caste (class) lifestyle. Thus, the fierce patriarchal norms and practices of the upper caste households are fast spreading among the middle class Dalits. This trend is especially dominant in Uttar Pradesh and Haryana. Thus, like “respectable” upper caste people, Dalit women are now expected to manage the household and remain indoors.

Dalit women enjoy little social prestige and political representation. Hierarchies operate even within Dalit communities, so often, reservation and other facilities are monopolized by the dominant caste. According to many educated Dalit leaders, women should be allowed 50% reservation instead of 33% in the Parliament, and within that, all communities should enjoy proportional representation. Yet, the danger of silence remains: Prof. Yesudasan points out that even with reservation, the voice of the upper caste women are more likely to overshadow that of the Dalits.

The voice of the Dalit woman is a faint cry. Unlike Brahmanical feminism, Dalit feminism is a more complex entity, and cannot be solved by aping the strategies of Women’s liberalization movements of the West. The problems faced by Dalit women are more difficult to address, because they form a minority within a minority; and are stratified within themselves. Given its recent emergence, the Dalit feminist movement has a long way to go. Attempts are made to raise awareness and spread literacy, and several political organizations are being formed to forward their cause and urge for their development. Individuals have emerged, but for the entire community it’s still a distant target to achieve.

Friday, March 21, 2008

I am not even the ' other ' in the binary

I am Visvakavi Tagore’s
I cannot write love poetry like
Muddupalani and
Get a central space in
The preface of volumes of
Prominent Indian feminist writings
Because my creator, author
Depicted how wrong it was on my part
To pull down
‘The’ noble man into my love
My author even punished me
By imposing death
To my mother!

I am a mathamma girl
I do not want to write like
Muddupalani because
I hate to be a doll
In the society
Because I know that
It is never fun for me
Like peddintimata
To indulge in sexual freedom

I am Bhanwari Devi
I can not write an autobiography
On the predicament
Of having a heavy veil like
Rasundari Devi
My veil was torn into rags
How precious my veil was to me
It was my life
My family and
My community
A fortress to all of us
And it was all we have
When I lost it I lost my life
Therefore I cannot write
Amar Jiban

I am a Vaishnava woman of Bengal
In the 19th century
I was considered bad due to my caste
Though I was married and
Was having a family
Even when I was ascetic
So, I cannot write devotional hymns like
Mirabai or
Molla Atukuri

I would love to do my bhakti
In my home if have a chance
I would never retrieve my role
As an entertainer to
‘The’ woman
By visiting them at their homes
I am happy that
“old popular culture which had rested
on the social ties binding together women
from different classes”[i] has been overthrown
During British colonial period
Now, after I retrieve my subjecthood
I would sit in my home and do bhakti
Who ever wants to see me
Will come and see me
At my Home

I am Alisamma
I can neither write
“soul-stirring” poetry like
Subhadra Kumari Chauhan on
"Jhansi-ki rani”
Nor become a
“first woman satyagrahi” of the country

Because I was burnt alive in the country
For having come forward
To be a witness about Karamchedu massacre
I was reduced to ashes and
My ashes were not sprinkled on the
Sacred waters of the land
Therefore I do not even think that
I run in the veins of this nationahood
Therefore I will never write like her

We are the two women
Killed in Khairlanji
We are mother and daughter
We cannot edit a journal like Bharati
Like Swarnakumari Devi and her daughter
Because we both were beaten
Paraded naked and killed
By an envious mob of ‘the’ men
For in our family all the three
Children studied very well…

[i] Sumantho Beneerjee , “Women’s Popular Culture in Ninteenth Century Bengal”.

-Indira Jalli
(Indira Jalli teaches in an University in Andhra Pradesh)

Who is Sarpanch Agamma?

Moving off a lane, rutted like the matted locks of a possessed woman, our tented vehicle came on to a road, smooth as the combed model of a hair oil ad. As yet, the city's shops had not opened their eyes. It slumbered like a child who had wept herself to sleep. The occasional vehicle squeaked like a pup "kui, kui", as it went on its way. To a mind numbed and irritated by hours in the city's din of traffic; shops, people, markets and irritated noises ... Oh, seeing the city at four in the morning was like walking out of the blazing afternoon and washing one’s face with the cool water of the ranjan pot.
Sangeeta is my good friend. She is angry that I stay in the old city.
"Can't you escape from that risky and tense place?" she scolds me. "It may be all right for you, but: to get in touch with you is an exhausting business", she grumbles. Sangeeta is a city girl. She is a person with many good views about society. She not only thinks, "Society is not good yaar, change karna padta hai”, but also has a desire to document' unrecorded cultures. My other friends marvel that she is a sincere woman who, reacts in a responsible way with social work. Sangeeta is doing a project- on Dalit women in Panchayat Raj. She interviews many people as a part of that project. We are now going to Bobbalonipalle,' near Eturunagaram in Warangal district.
"Ey, will you accompany me please? This whole district is yours - ye poori aap ki estate hai na Rudrama, please come yaar, please?" When Sangeeta is either angry or feels loving to me, she calls me Rudrama.
As she teased me and boosted my ego in different ways I said, "I am not Rudrama, I don't have that scene", consenting to go with her. I felt that with this excuse, I could say "Hi" to my district, and see the beauty of its furrows, its yellow tangedi flowers, its fields and its thumma trees again.
Eturunamagaram is perhaps a hundred miles from Warangal. If we count three hours from the city to Warangal, two hours from there to Bobbalonipalle, and add an hour for
refreshments on the way, it totals six hours. Agreeing that if we start exactly by five, we could reach there by eleven, we planned to leave Sangeeta's house in Nallakunta by that time. During the day, it would take an hour to travel from the old city to her house in the traffic. There wouldn't be traffic on the road at four thirty, and so I asked for the vehicle to come to my house at that time. Breathing in the lights; darkness, heat and cool exuded by the city like a budding flower - Wah kya mazaa a raha hai! I had scolded Sangeeta unnecessarily, "There is no question of waking up at four as long as life is in my body!" In the end, for Sangeeta, for her project, and because of my interest, I had relented. But I had not imagined that the city in the star-studded morning would be so pretty. "Useless sleep - I would have missed all this, let it go", I thought.

With Sangeeta and me the vehicle got out of the city and ran among the towns and villages. Oh, that cool breeze, chatting with Sangeeta, the trees lining the highway, the, ripening crops waving 'ta ta', crossing sunbeams like tender leaves, we reached Eturunagaram. We refreshed ourselves. Sangeeta readied her camera and tape. We went on to Bobbalonipal1e, which lay five kilometers on.
"Why is the name of this village Bobbalonipalle, do you know anything?" asked Sangeeta, whose project pulled apart and dug up everything.
I related the story that I heard in my childhood, with the confidence that this area was mine. "This village was in the forest till recently. It is a village that was given shape by clearing the forest. There were only SC and ST people in this village. These were the only two communities for marriages and quarrels. They had a gudamba still in each house. When the police and excise officials would raid the village, the cowherd would shout 'le le le le le vo voo ...' to signal, 'the police are coming, beware!' When the villagers heard this they would disappear into the forests. Since they were saved by this babbling yodel, the village got the name Bobbalonipalle. Now, there are all castes in the village, and it has become a normal village", I said, looking out through the window glass.
"Not only that, an SC woman has become a sarpanch now", said Sangeeta as the vehicle entered the village.

Passing brick houses plastered with lime and having Mangalore tiled roofs, we went on between houses with country tiles - the road was a bare metalled road, there are heaps of murram on both sides. Stopping near the country-tiled houses, Sangeeta got off, saw two lungis and a pair of trousers sitting on the culvert, and asked, "Where is the village sarpanch's house?" with her half-baked Telugu.
"You have to go ahead and turn left", replied a lungi.
We stopped at two more places - '''Sarpanch is it? You must go further" said people a little surprised. By now, houses with thatched roofs were also there among those with country tiles.
Stopping here, "We have to go to the Sarpanch's house", I asked a woman who was washing clothes near the borewell. .
"Sarpancha? Where does he live here! He lives in Hanamakonda" she said squinting.
"How's that? If the sarpanch doesn't stay in the village, where will she stay? Also, a sarpanch is a woman isn't she? Why is this silly woman saying 'he lives ... '? She must say 'she lives' isn't it?" we said to each other. "This village is an SC woman's village isn't it? Ey, have we come to the right place?"

As we went ahead, we saw a man carrying a buffalo-calf and Sangeeta asked him, "Aiyya, where is the sarpanch's house?"
"The sarpanch's house, look - see the house in the distance - the last house, that is the one", he replied, pointing.
"Why take the vehicle that short distance", we thought and walked past women holding sickles and carrying a cloth on their shoulder to work.
"Who are these new women, and whose house are they going to?" we heard them ask among themselves, gaping at us as never seen before.
"Someone who wants to go to the sarpanch's house", said a woman who came carrying water from the borewell.
"Sarpancha? Why will the sarpanch be found here? He lives in Hanamakonda doesn't he?" said one of the women in the group.
Sangeeta and I looked at each other. "What is this? Is there some mistake in the district list? These people speak of the sarpanch as a man. Have we come to the wrong place?” Sangeeta looked at the list. I had heard that the sarpanch of this village was an SC woman. Anyway, it will be good to verify it I thought and phoned my relative in a nearby village and asked him, "Is the Bobbalonipalle sarpanch a man or a woman? What is his or her name?"
He replied, firmly "The name of the sarpanch of that village is Agamma. She is an SC woman. No doubt at all!"

Walking to the last house, we wondered, "Why are these women switching gender in their talk". The house was not like a house. It was like a hundred foot long shed. The walls are only half the height. The door was like a wicket gate: The yard was sprayed cow-dung water that was green to the eyes and cool to the feet. We stood in front of the door and Sangeeta asked politely, "Is this the sarpanch garu's'house?”, addressing a woman sitting on a sagging rope cot.
"Aa? The sarpanch's house? Why would this be so? “It isn't", she replied, muttering to herself as she got off the cot.
"Aiyyo! Isn't it? They said it was", I said disappointed.
"He doesn't stay here. He only comes occasionally. Only his mother stays here", she replied somewhat fearfully.
"This village's sarpanch is not a man, amma, she is woman, no?" asked Sangeeta to clarify her doubts.
The woman didn't understand Sangeeta's anxiety. :'Yes, my husband's younger brother, he is the person who does all the sarpanch's work", she said haltingly.
"Then who is the sarpanch?" asked Sangeeta. "Ye kya yaar, kya chalra idhar;”, she said looking at me, wondering how, with this search, with asking so many people, with this much going on, it was still not yet clear whether this village sarpanch was a man or a woman. Her project was Dalit gender - wasn't it, and since this didn't get clear, and I saw her becoming dheela, I took the initiative. "The sarpanch's name is Agamma, isn't it?", I asked. “Yes, she is my mother-in-law", she said doubtfully, wondering what would happen. She wasn't able to say "My mother-in-law-is the sarpanch Agamma".
"Amma, we are not authorities. We haven't come from the MROs or Collector's office. We came to speak to SC women sarpanchs", I explained so that her fear would go. I made her sit on the cot and sat myself beside her. When I asked her for water to set her at ease, she went ahead to a pot near the wall and dipped out two tumblers full. Both of us drank the water and talked about this and that. Her fear and anxiety subsided.
"Your mother-in-law is the sarpanch Agamma, isn't she?" Sangeeta asked again. "Aa, yes", she stared back. "Will you call her", we asked her, looking around the house. There were no signs that she was there.
"She isn't at home. She has gone to that church", said the woman, adding, "Some foreign Christian pastors had come to preach".
We went to the church. The church was not among the houses. It was far away.
The church was brimming with people. Unable to bear the crowding, many children were crying. Some tried to pacify the children in the hall; others brought the children out to soothe them. There was a pile of chappals at the door. Near that pile, some old women sat, grumbling, "What is this din, woman? We can't listen to what they are saying? Why did you bring the children?" We moved the chappals out of the way and craned into the door to locate the sarpanch. There was a small stage on which there was a group of worthies in foreign garb, but we couldn't see any village face. We peeled our eyes to see if there was an old woman on the stage, thinking if there was she would be a sarpanch. But there was no woman from that district on the stage. All the people had faces like white chapattis, wearing high heels, midis and lipstick. "So the sarpanch is not on the stage" we sighed dismayed. Not only her daughter-in-law, also the people outside the church said she was there, and she should have been on the stage. We wondered where she was. I asked a man soothing a child, "Is sarpanch Agamma garu here?"
"Sarpancha ...? Agammaa...? She is sitting here in the church" he replied haltingly.
"Where is she sitting? We have come to meet her. Can you call her?" we pleaded. "She was sitting at this door till now, may be she went inside just now", he said. We went to the old women at the door and asked them, "Is sarpanch Agamma garu here?” .
One old woman called out, "O Agamma, some one has come for you", and told us she was sitting by the door.
We were saddened, confused and anxious. How was it that she sat in a comer, near the shoes, anonymous? A sarpanch, without any sign of authority, sitting with the others in that state, was a bitter sight for both of us. We had hoped for more, and looked on the stage ... why would she be seen there? How could we imagine that the woman sitting by the door was the sarpanch? We lost confidence in this situation for a moment.
Recovering, we took her out of the church with difficulty: She was probably sixty. She was dark complexioned and tall. There were rings at the top of the ears, studs halfway down. She had a white thread on her neck with an iron key holding on it. Her wrists had silver clasps on them. She wore an old rough saree that came down to her knees and was tucked behind the back: She saw us and asked, "Who are you? Why did you come? What work do you have with me?", staring at with an expression of fear, innocence and anxiety.
"We have come from the city, avva", we said; changing "amma" to "avva" to set her at ease. "We have come to find out how SC sarpanchas work, what their difficulties are. We came to speak to you. Shall we go to your house? Or away from this din and sit under that tree?" I said pointing to a tree and holding her hand.
What the Bobbalonipalle sarpanch Agammaguru thought, we don't know. "Avvo banchen! I don't know all this. My son only knows everything. Ask him", she freed her hand and hurried back into the church.
"How sad yaar" said Sangeeta, completely defeated, with her head on my shoulder.

- Joopaka Subhadra

Translated by Srivats

Why Is Modern India Vegetarian?

The incident in HCU*, made us wonder about the much larger questions of food and nutrition in India, and how that, in more ways than one, relates in to the religion and caste. It is common knowledge, that Indian cuisine is as diverse as it comes. It is also common knowledge that certain types of food are considered taboo by some and relished by some. How many times have we seen vegetarians look at a meat loaded plate, crinkle their nose, and say, “Erguh! How do you eat that stuff?” How many times have we watched friends eat beef on the sly, because their mothers would “kill them if they found out.” Close home, in campus, when beef was prepared for the participants observing fast for Ramzaan, why was it a hushed up affair?

We are quick to judge some food as bad, unhealthy, and hence, a bad thing. Going by the HCU incident, some food are even considered “contagious”. Dislikes that stem primarily because one is used to a different kind and mode of cooking food, quickly converts into legitimising that dislike in terms of hygiene and health. But have we ever questioned the legitimacy of the standards that we are using to reach these conclusions?

This skewed hierarchy of food is not a result of a recent campaign, but something much simpler, and much more older. “…country can be said to have achieved complete food and nutrition security if each and every person in that country is able to consume a minimum quantum and quality of various ingredients of what I would like to call 'an adequate and balanced diet' on a regular basis,” reads a report ‘Indian Experience on Household Food and Nutritional Security’ by N.P. Nawani. But what constitutes this “balanced diet” is a matter of furious debate.

In India, this balanced diet is measured by the Recommended Dietary Allowance or the RDA, for various age groups, including special groups like infants, nursing mothers and so on. And this measure is not only for nutritional requirements, but also becomes an economic one. Says the Nawani report, “Availability and affordability of such diet, backed by health and educational services in an environmentally sustainable scenario will then enable each member of the society to live a 'good' life; each individual personality getting an opportunity to flower to one's full potential.” RDA thus has direct ramifications on the status of poverty, in determining the per capita incomes that will enable a person to achieve daily intake of the required 2400 K.Cal, and consequentially the minimum wages

The root of the problem, as Veena Shatrugna, Director, National Institute of Nutrition, points out, is one-sided diet itself, that was loaded with cereals—then seen as the cheapest, and the most easily available source of calories. Consequently, this decision, in turn affected the minimum daily wages, the determination of the poverty line, and not to mention, making the Public Distribution System what it is today, i.e. a machinery doling out rice and wheat at cheap rates, but no meat, egg or nuts, or any non-vegetarian food at all. So in a country where vegetarians are a definite minority, we now plan our daily meals based on a notion of a Brahminical notion of a “easily available, balanced diet”, and the cultural production of modern India as vegetarian. This was fine for the upper castes rich, who had the luxury of eating 3-4 kinds of vegetables, and other supplements like nuts, oil etc., along with their rice, but for the poor, this meant serious lack of vital sources of energy. So if the poor man got his plate of rice, and 3 rotis a day, he was expected to be happy and satisfied. The result? We survived, but barely.

The question that now arises is why the nutritionists, and the bureaucrats did not look at alternate sources of proteins, more importantly meat proteins, which, as Dr. Veena Shatrugna, points out, is not just widely consumed, but also highly recommended for anaemic populations such as Indians? Why was there no acknowledgement of differences in cuisines and the palette? The answer seems simple enough, the bureaucrats took the average Indian diet, but the average Indian that they had in mind, was not the majority who ate meat, but the dominant upper class minority. What was an alternative became the norm. The food that the various tribes used eat, says Dr. Shatrugna, was never analysed for its nutrient content. So while we romanticised their customs, did detailed anthropological investigation on how they lived and how they married, there is very little research to evaluate what they eat, and how their food, or the lack of thereof is affecting their health, growth, child birth or birth weight of their children.

The result? 41.9% of adults belonging to the ST and 38.4 % belonging to SCs have Chronic Energy Deficiency, while the pooled average of the nation is 34.8 %. Further, 62.7 % of the children born to Scheduled Caste parents are under-weight, 57.6 % are stunted, while among the other castes it the numbers are 53.1 % and 50.1 %

The women suffer more. Most studies and recommendations are made with the modern working class male, as the average and the requirements of the women are appropriated accordingly. Questions such as different working style, responsibilities, and requirements of the women are not taken into consideration. The birth weight in the low socio-economic groups have not increased significantly since the past 50 years. There pharmaceuticals rally to supplement women with iron, various multi-vitamins during pregnancy, but with no significant impact. NGOs, and activists blame the man- he eats first, the woman is left with the leftovers, but the problem is much simpler, says Dr. Shatrugna. “The low socio-economic groups get 80% of their proteins from cereal. In a scenario where there is not enough food to eat, where is the point in asking the women to eat first?”

What we need now is to a second look at the standards that we have put in place. The items of food that were delegitimised by the RDA—flesh food, egg, etc., must be allowed to become a part of the daily diet of people of all economic strata. The argument that it is beyond the means of the lower caste man, just does not hold. Egg is cheaper than vegetables, then why is egg not distributed via the PDS? Why are we raising a huge outcry over culture and heritage when eggs are being given out under the mid-day meal scheme? Why is eating beef against any religion?

The questions of why food becomes aligned to religion and caste, may still be unanswered. However, in a society that has claims to equality in opportunities and preferences, we need to realise that caste does not work in its open manifestations of discrimination and repression alone.
(Certain students who wanted to put up a beef stall in campus for one of the fest, where prevented from doing so. One of the arguement for the move was that beef is unhealthy. The Dalit Students' Union apporached Dr. Veena Shatrugna for clarity on the nutritional values of beef, and were given a letter certifying that beef was indeed neither unhealthy, nor "contagious".)
Also read Dunkin Jalki's article on food habits in student hostel messes
Thank you James for the links


Joopaka Shubhadra works with the Andhra Pradesh secretariat. She holds an MA in Telugu literature. She has authored several short stories and also writes a regular column in the Telugu magazine Bhumika. She belongs to the Madiga community of Andhra Pradesh. Her writings reflect issues of caste and gender. However, she feels that in her writings the issue of caste gains predominance over that of gender.

How would you articulate the problems faced by the women in your community?

Women of my community grapple with the problem of poverty but are also subjugated to domestic violence. However this domestic violence must not be placed under a universal category called domestic violence. It has to be understood differently in terms of the difference in the positioning of men in the social structure . Dalit women work but have no right over the money they earn. They are triply subjected by the conditions of labor, caste and gender. They are treated differently by the society. To give you an example - a Dalit women’s complaint at a police station would not be treated in the same way as that of an upper caste women.

Tell us about your own experiences as a person belonging to the Dalit community.

I belong to the Madiga community in Andhra. In my case the question of caste superseded that of gender. In school we were taught that a house has 2 or 3 rooms, a kitchen and a bathroom. I could not relate to it since I lived in a hut. When we were asked by the teacher as to what we had for breakfast, students would reply" eggs, bread, butter, jam etc." and again I could not relate to it since all we ate was rice and chilli powder. So the fact that I was different from the other students was posited early in life.

Since you say that very few Dalit women of the Madiga community are educated, how did you come to constitute the educated minority?

I am the youngest of 12 siblings. My father owned a small piece of land. Someone told my father that he must educate his children so that at least they could help him with his land documents. That is how I was sent to school. I studied while living in social welfare hostel.

What prompted you to write about caste issues?

I believe that only a person who is subjugated to a certain condition can represent it with authenticity. An outsider cannot look at it with the same perspective.

In case of Dalit women, does exposure to education make them more aware of their rights?

Education of Dalit women is a rare phenomenon, if it does occur, they are not conscious of it as a process which could enable them to bring about change. They are not in a position to apply and implement what they have learnt. Therefore education does not necessarily bring about a change in the thought process of women.
Also in the Dalit society, education is not a priority. In the upper castes children are educated by way of norm but in our community it is not so. It is a different domain altogether and very view venture into it.

Has modernization minimized the problem of caste?

No, the forms in which it is perpetuated have changed but the problem itself has not. Even in the cities Dalits live in separate bastis .They do jobs involving cleaning. Upper caste people are never seen in such occupations. The Greater municipal corporation of Hyderabad has no upper castes working in such jobs. The railways employ Dalit women for cleaning jobs. Even in the condition of poverty an upper caste person would not perform these menial jobs. They are always taken up by the people of my caste.

Do Dalit women have any representation in politics?

There is reservation for them in the village Panchayats but being uneducated; it takes a long time for them to understand political strategies and the functioning of Panchayats as an institution. So it is more of a struggle for them.

Tell us about the status of women’s movement in Andhra Pradesh.

The prominent Dalit women’s movements are the anti- liquor movement which started from Prakasham district in Andhra area. In Kurnool there were land struggles. The current struggle is regarding caste differentiation and categorization. Almost all of Dalit politicians, IAS, IPS officers, doctors, lawyers, and writers belong to the Mala community. So they have come to constitute the creamy layer which claims reservations generation after generation. There is hardly any representation of sub- castes like the Madigas. This problem has been identified by us now and a demand for proportional representation is being made.

Are there government schemes for Dalit women?

No, there are no well structured schemes. Even when schemes, for example the pension scheme are available, people are unaware of it. The government makes no efforts to increase the level of awareness amongst people. In my village about 50 Dalit women of pensionable age receive no pension. In most of the schemes only a minuscule amount of the total funds allotted is utilized.

Prisons We Broke

"We may not be able to work for twenty-four hours a day, but a little time out of our busy schedules is not too much to expect, is it? Friends, you may be busy for six days a week with your own Work; what about giving half a day each week for the poor? Believe me you will achieve a lot. If all educated people show a little sympathy; for the weak, it will be a great service to society. Those weaklings will receive a new breath of life; they will be able to take at least a few faltering steps ahead. All they need is a little support. What we need therefore is a group of intellectuals dedicated to the task of pulling out these helpless people from the mire of poverty. It is our duty to ignite a new spark in the community that is bereft of all life. Today you live in bungalows. You have wives who are educated. Your children are graduates. You have occupied high positions in society. You are going to continue the tradition of fighting for human values and rights of the downtrodden. Your life is of the same quality as a life lead in heaven. Did our people even enjoy such a life?

You must remember that it was one man who achieved the impossible task of transforming beasts into human beings. That glorious ray filled millions of lives with brightness. That pure stream managed to wash away the sins of all people. He was the only man who made it possible for millions to taste a drop of elixir. There are so many intellectuals today, millions of them crawling around. Why is it that none of them are able to provide leadership even to a small section? Don't you understand that ignorant people like us can see through your games? Isn't it a shame that millions of people are unable to achieve what one person could achieve? How did millions of illiterate people follow one man? He was a man who believed in himself. He had courage and fortitude; he was neither a defeatist nor an escapist. His words had the sharp edge of a vajra. Nobody could seal his lips with bribes. He had fire coursing through his veins. He had iron in his soul. He never changed his positions; nor did he ever compromise his principles for selfish gain. Money, prosperity, fame ­nothing could tempt him. He understood the times. Whims and fancies did not sway him. His heart was soft and tender, full of love for the down trodden: He never sacrificed helpless people for his own selfish motives. His character was spotlessly clean, without any blemish.

But what about us? Our dark settlements do not have even an
iota of clean space. There is a world of difference between him and us. "

The Prisons We Broke: Baby Kamble

“The Prisons We Broke” is the first work that comes in Dalit Literature which is written by a woman. It is because of that itself, the book deals with the two major problems of the society: firstly, the oppression and exploitation of the Dalit by the upper class: secondly, the discrimination towards women in a patriarchal society. In the memoir, the retrospections of the author flow out profusely in beautiful colors. She talks about the life in her village, called Veergaon. In her memory, the Maharwadas never had a prosperous life. On one side, ignorance and lack of reasoning ruled them, on the other side, the Maharwadas life was dominated by poverty and epidemics. Death rate was high because of the ceaseless starvation and lack of medical facilities for the fatal epidemics. More over superstitions adorned their blindness.

Though Hindu Religion and gods considered Mahars as dirt, Mahar community upheld the Hindu principles and they thought of gods with great sanctity. Potrajas, and possessed women are common in the village. They never forget to give offerings to gods. Generations after generations Mahar community broke their heads on the stones of Hindu temples with hopes. But the effect was curses. They cried at the feet of idles with hopes. But the gods never heard them. They smeared kumkum and haldi on the gods. The possessed women are greeted with respect. It is believed that they could speak about the future of the Maharwada, and they could bless them with good wishes. So they often practiced the rituals that are taught by the same religion which considered the Mahars as dirt.

Poverty was an unresolved problem among the Mahars. They were fated to eat left-overs. The stale bhakris, and the rotten rotis were their common food. Upper caste considered them as the dirt in the garbage where others throw away their waste materials. Mahars had to fight with the animals like cats, dogs and vultures for their food. They were the masters of the dead animals. The upper caste Brahmins wiped away all the human qualities from the Mahars and converted them into beasts. They were enclosed in dark cells, and their hands and foot were in the chains of slavery. Mahars also valorize the prestige of Yeskar stick. And they thought that it is their duty to work for their masters. They never had complaints. They lead a very satisfactory life. They ate the leftovers and were content. They accepted their fate as part of their life. They considered themselves as untouchables. For their hardships, and laborious work for their masters, they earned miseries and abuses as remuneration. Even in their poverty stricken life, they never forgot to love each other and show kindness to their fellowmen. Generations after generations, the Mahars served their masters very obediently. The upper caste community threw abuses at the Mahars, if they did not fall at the feet of their masters, or if they did not give the way to their masters when the masters came across in their way.

The condition of the Mahar women was miserable. They had to do all the house hold duties, and go for selling wood to earn for their daily bread. They collected all the left overs from other places to give them to their children. Most of the time women had to go on hunger unendingly. When a ritual comes, the work of the women got doubled. They had to plaster their house with cow dung, and clean the utensils and the clothes. Girls got married at the age of eight or nine. And they became pregnant at a very tender age which created a lot of complications in their first delivery. They lead a very pathetic life in their husband’s home. If a girl could not do the house hold duties, she was abused by her in-laws. She could not go back to her home also, in the fear of scolding from her father and brothers.

The author talks about the influence of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar in the memoir. Ambedkar was the light of their life. He asked the Mahars to educate their children, and inspired them to fight against the atrocities. He asked them not to give offerings to the gods who never cared about them. And he also asked them not to eat the dead animals. Baby Kamble and her relatives actively participated in the revolutionary activities. She was very much influenced by Ambedkar. She loved her father also. Her father often told not to work for money. Money is not the ever valuable thing in the world. The value of money will go, when we become poor. But the dignity that we earned in the course of our life will be there to support us. Money cannot always give us a satisfaction to our life. Author and her relatives and some of her friends went to school. They were ill treated by the teachers and others in the upper caste. But they managed to survive. Author is very much influenced by the movie ‘Sati Savithri’. Ambedkar’s speech reverberated in the village, and the villagers reiterated his words. We can also see an influence of Buddha in the text.

In the last part of her book Kamble talked about the responsibility of the present society. Even now discrimination is not completely wiped out from our society. There are a lot of villages which should be brought into the light of main stream. The educated people should work for them. Once, Baba Sahib worked for the community. That is why the society got freedom. Now those who enjoy freedom should work to unchain others. I, as a reader could hear another reformer’s sound in Baby Kamble’s voice. A new inspiration is born out of her voice. Education, prosperity and comforts should not make us unaware of the problems of society. We will have to utilize our faculties to support and guide others to the main stream, only then we can enjoy the real value of our life.


Producer: Jagmohan Mundhra
Director: Jagmohan Mundhra
Starring: Nandita Das, Rahul Khanna, Gulshan Grover, Govind Namdeo, Raghuvir Yadav, Lillette Dubay

Bawandar started out with an aspiration by Director Jagmohan Mundhra to make a film based on his homeland Rajasthan. Unfortunately, on his journey for a subject matter, he encountered a sad story from a reporter of a newspaper titled The Guardian. He read from this newspaper the tale of Bhanwari Devi, a worker in a group known as Saathin, who was raped by men of an upper caste.

Nandita Das plays the role of lead role as Sanwari Devi – a lower caste woman. Sanwari is the wife of rickshaw-puller Sohan (Raghuvir Yadav) and a mother to two kids. Sanwari is approached by 'Saathin' worker Shobha Devi (Deepti Naval) to take up cudgels against the prevalent system of child marriage. She does so with dynamism and in the course, invites the fury of the villagers.

The upper caste men of the village, the Gurjars and the village priest and do not like this 'reformist' attitude and in order to teach her a lesson gang rape her in front of her husband who is also beaten up.
Amy (Laila Rouass) arrives in Rajasthan with her friend-cum-interpreter Ravi (Rahul Khannal) to write about Sanwari Devi after having read about her case abroad. They rake up the case five years after the incident. Sanwari Devi (Nandita Das) belongs to potter's family of Dabri village. She is married to Sohan (Raghuveer Yadav), a rickshaw-puller in Jaipur, has two children and is a gutsy housewife.
A courageous Sanwari goes to the police station to file a FIR. The police officer (Ravi Jhanakal), a corrupt man, wants her to produce a medical certificate. Almost after two days with Shobha's help Sanwari manages a court order with the help of which she gets the medical certificate in Jaipur. About two days pass in this process. When the case is filed, the upper caste men panic and get the help of the MLA Dhanraj Meena (Govind Namdeo). The case is transferred to the CBI.
In the meantime, a women's NGO, in Delhi on hearing the incident, tries to help Sanwari. A Gurjar lawyer (Gulshan Grover) defends Sanwari but the influence and reach of the upper caste men is high.
The trial realistically takes some time and goes through a number of changes in the process. She is still waiting for justice- and that doesn´t change in the end of the film. Whatever so-called "justice" she achieves during the case, which is the only portion consisting of positive elements in this film, will clearly not benefit her in her endeavors to come.
So is the plight of the real Bhanwari Devi. As expected the judgment went against her. All the accused were let free. It didn't end there. The judge pronounced some of the most shocking remarks ever heard in a judicial statement.
Bhanwari Devi was a Dalit and so, her rapists — upper caste men — could not have possibly raped her.
Talking on the fact that she was raped before her husband the judge said
It isn’t possible in Indian culture that a man who has taken a vow to protect his wife, in front of the holy fire, just stands and watches his wife being raped, when only two men almost twice his age are holding him.’ The judgment also states that it is highly improbable that an uncle and his nephews would commit rape together. The presence of one Brahmin amongst those accused leads the judge to observe that gangs in rural areas is not usually multi-caste and so the accused could not have acted together.
Rape not about sex, it is about subjugation. It is a power statement. Especially so, when aligned to it is poverty and caste discrimination, it cannot but create a Bawandar.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Outcaste is a public wall-journal that was started and is run by the Dalit Studies class under the MA English program. It functions under the guidance of Professor. K. Satyanarayana. As stated in the first issue, we would like to represent Dalit issues and debates in contemporary India. In this, the second issue, we are looking at the issue of caste in wide range contexts- from the international- the caste-race debate surrounding the United Nations conference against Racism, to the national – the Bant Singh case and to local, concerning the death of a Dalit student at Hyderabad Central University. The Journal also includes a historical piece regarding the development of the Dalit movement in India, a review of K Stalin’s documentary India Untouched that attempts to dispel myths about the disappearance of caste and untouchability in Modern India

We would like to thank Dr. Satyanarayana, the administration for their continued support of our efforts, and Mr. Dhanaraj for his time.

Editorial Board

Sukanya Basu Ray Chaudhuri
Sudhams Cherukupalli
Gaurav Rajkhowa
Aarthi Sridhar
Priya Chandran

Death of a Dalit student in HCU

The bad name that Hyderabad Central University has acquired due to the continuous atrocities related to caste discrimination inside the campus is carried on by another incident that took place recently. A Dalit research scholar of the University was found dead inside his hostel room on 25th February 2008. The victim, Mr. Senthil Kumar, was a PhD scholar in Physics. The death of the student is suspicious due to a variety of reasons, all pointing to his identity as a Dalit. As the investigation is carried out, different Dalit students’ organizations like Ambedkar Students’ Association (ASA) and Dalit Students Union (DSU) staged protests in the university campus. What follows is the excerpts of an interview with the President of the ASA, Mr. Dhanaraj.

Q 1. How long have you been associated with the functions of ASA in the university?

I have been associated with the functions of ASA for eight years.

Q 2. Could you briefly tell us about the problems that Dalit students in the university face?

Dalit students in Hyderabad Central University are subjected to discrimination by the university authorities and teachers. Many incidents have been reported where the students are treated badly due to their Dalit background. Harassment by faculty members in the form of grading less for work and research papers of students has always been a serious issue among the Dalit students, which is not yet solved. Another problem is the one regarding the merit-based scholarships the MA and research students get and might lose, if they fail in any of the qualifying examinations. The scholarships are to be provided based on humanitarian concerns but when they turn out to be something that is directly linked with the performance they do not satisfy the requirement of ‘means of subsistence’. There have been reports of humiliation by the dominant caste students done through name-calling and hate campaigns. There has been an even more serious incident where a Dalit woman student of the university hanged herself after she was misused and abandoned by a Reddy guy. Though such atrocities are brought to light by the Dalit associations, no initiative was taken up by the University against them. In another incident that happened in the year 2002, ten Dalit students were rusticated without even conducting an enquiry.

Q 3. Let me come back to the most recent issue in this succession of events of humiliation, the death of Senthil Kumar. Did you know him personally? What do you think must be the reason for his death?

Senthil Kumar was a research scholar in HCU. I knew him personally. He had been a victim of the same humiliation and discrimination that is imposed on the other Dalit students in the campus. He was not allotted a guide even after two years of his PhD programme. Moreover he had a backlog to clear before his viva. When he approached the faculty in this regard, the response he got from them was disappointing. Mr. Senthil’s scholarship was withdrawn due to his failure in presenting the required performance level in some subjects. Ultimately he had to end his life.

Q 4. So do you believe that Senthil has committed suicide?

Yes, given the difficult situations he underwent, it is hard to imagine that he would have died a normal death. Not only that, the primary investigation report by the police also suspected the possibility of death due to poison. Though the newspaper reports were ambiguous initially, they themselves rectified the mistakes later. Some newspapers had said there were no bruises on the victim’s body and later they corrected the error.

Q5. What do the University authorities say about this?

The University refuses to admit any allegation of discrimination on the basis of caste. The authorities are trying to manipulate the postmortem report so that they can make it appear as a normal death. The university says the death might be due to cerebral hemorrhage or cardiac attack and is trying to wash its hands of the problem.

Q6. What measures have been taken by Ambedkar Students’ Association in this regard?

We have staged a dharna in front of the Vice-Chancellor’s office. We put forward three demands. i) An amount of rupees 10 lakhs should be given to the victim’s family. ii) The fellowships provided to the students are to be seen on humanitarian grounds and hence should be delinked with performance. iii) A letter has been given to the administration demanding judicial enquiry.

By Priya Chandran

Letter to the Vice Chancellor University of Hyderabad


University Of Hyderabad

P.O University of Hyderabad Campus, Gachibowli, Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh, India. Pin- 500 046,Ph: 040- 2313 5501



The Vice Chancellor

University of Hyderabad

Sub: Death of Dalit Research Scholar, Mr Senthil, under mysterious circumstances

Ref: No: UH/REG/Stud.Services/07/08 Dated 01/01/08


The Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe Teachers forum expresses its deep shock at the tragic demise of the PhD scholar, Mr Senthil. The Forum has taken strong note of the untoward event and in order to pre-empt such happening in the future, the Forum seeks to suggest the following:

  • to technically delink scholarship from performance and to provide a much broader philosophical premise for the grant of scholarship. Salaries and scholarships need not be considered as parallel to one another and scholarships to Dalit students need to be perceived as source of subsistence. The Forum assumes that the Government of India has a responsibility of providing subsistence to all its citizens and it credits the University of Hyderabad for translating this responsibility into action through implementing the scholarship scheme for all students on the campus. As you are aware, Mr Senthil’s scholarship was withdrawn due to his lack of adequate performance in some subjects and this seems to have caused him considerable anxiety. In some sense, withdrawing of subsistence due to non-performance is not morally tenable and therefore the Forum urges the University to revise this short-sighted policy of linking scholarship with performance. Though the latest guideline via letter No: UH/REG/Stud.Services/07/08 does not deny the university fellowship for PhD scholars on the basis of one’s course performance, this useful guideline was completely ignored in Senthil’s case and the Forum perceives this to be a grave omission
  • to make the procedures of allotting supervisors to doctoral candidates transparent in certain departments, so as to facilitate a much more open policy of the University towards various sections of society including Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribe doctoral candidates. It is very unfortunate that even after two semesters into his PhD programme, Mr Senthil was not allotted a guide. On the other hand, the approach of open policy is already evident in some departments and schools of the University and needs to be emulated across other schools and departments
  • to expedite the inquiry in order to earn the trust and confidence of the Schedule Caste and Schedule Tribe community at large which has been shattered by this tragic event. The University should come clean and it should not leave any stains behind this gruesome incident

Even as the Forum expresses its skepticism regarding certain aspects of the culture of University of Hyderabad, it has deep and abiding faith in its scholastic traditions and practices that it has evolved over the years.

We hope you receive these suggestions with equanimity and grace of a public functionary and do the needful.

Thanking You



P.Thirumal,Wilson Naik.B

Bant Singh’s Story

On the 5th of January, 2006, 40 year old Bant Singh, a resident of Jhabbar in the Mansa district of Southern Punjab was beaten with iron rods by a group of Jat youths, resulting in the amputation of both his arms and a leg. Doctors are still struggling to save his remaining leg. The attack was a result of his efforts to secure justice for his daughter which was seen as a Dalit assertion in an essentially upper caste dominated society.

In 2000, Bant Singh’s eldest daughter, Baljeet Kaur, then a minor studying in the ninth standard, was raped. Their family was pressured to accept cash to keep the incident quiet, and threatened with violent repercussions if they didn’t. The Village Panchayat told them not to go to the police – no one would marry Baljeet if the assault became public. They were offered 10 lakhs, gold ornaments and a scooter to make up for a brutal gang rape. Bant Singh, however, refused to stop short of anything but justice.

In 2002, District Court ruling sentenced Mandheer Singh, Tarsem and Gurmail Kaur to life imprisonment. This was the first time a Dalit had secured a conviction against a member of the upper caste.

Mandheer Singh filed an appeal in the Punjab and Haryana Court, whereupon Baljeet Kaur started being threatened with dire consequences if she did not retract her statements. She was sent to live in another village for two years for her protection, where her hosts too were offered money to make her drop her charges.

Bant Singh was assaulted on two occasions; both times the police in Joga released the accused on bail. On January 5th, 2006, he was attacked while returning home from the fields in the evening. While one Jat youth held a gun to prevent him from fleeing, six started mercilessly beating him with iron hand pump handles, sticks and axes. He was left bleeding in the field, until former Sarpanch, Beant Singh was informed that his man lay dying.

Bant Singh was rushed to Mansa Civil Hospital, but the doctor, Purushottam Goel refused to touch him without a Rs.1000 bribe. Singh lay in the hospital for thirty six hours and was finally bandaged on January 7th. On January 8th, the hospital authorities informed the family that they did not have adequate facilities to treat him, and he was shifted to PGI Hospital in Chandigarh. But by then, gangrene had already set in and Singh lost three of his limbs.

Significantly, the Jats of the village do not deny the assault took place, or that it was intended to silence Baljeet Kaur and serve as a warning to any other Dalit who dared assert himself/herself against the upper castes. Witnesses say they heard the Sarpanch ordering the men to break Singh’s arms and legs. It is believed that the attack was orchestrated by Sarpanch Jaswant Singh and former Sarpanch Niranjan Singh. Nothing has been done about these suspicions so far.

Of the seven convicted for the attack, two are the sons of Jaswant Singh, and two of Amreek Singh, a ration shop owner, who Bant Singh closed down on account of his hoarding goods. Amreek Singh is also a relative of Mandheer Singh who was sentenced in Baljeet Kaur’s rape. The police, however, maintain there is no connection whatsoever between the assault and the rape, that the two are separate incidents and the assault was the result of an unspecified “personal enmity”.

Dr. Pramod Kumar, Director of The Institute of Development and Communication says, “If the rapist is a Jat, it is not even considered a crime and the victim’s father is told to keep his daughter in check. But if a Dalit is accused of rape, they let the law take its course.”

Jeeta Kaur, the state organizer of CPI (ML) states,” after the attack, we contacted the media, but even local papers did not report the beating up of a Dalit. It was only when his limbs were amputated that journalists seemed to find the incident newsworthy.”

The number of cases reported under The Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act has increased over the years. From 4 rapes and 7 murders in 1992 out of 18 cases, the figures have gone up to 3 murders and 10 rapes out of 66 in 2000; and 13 rapes and 1 murder out of 94 in 2004. However there is sufficient anecdotal evidence to suggest that most crimes against members of the lower castes are not legally dealt with. Bant Singh’s wife, Harbans Singh, spoke of a minor beggar girl who had been raped at a gurudwara a month before her husband’s ordeal, which had gone unreported and ignored. Another minor was gang raped at Nayagaon, near Chandigarh. Her father, a police constable, too had faced threats from the upper caste rapists if he pursued the matter.

Bant Singh has now been heralded by the media as a symbol of Dalit defiance and refusal to relent in the face of oppression. His message of hope and his unbreakable spirit have found their way into a photo-essay by Raghu Rai, the images of which have been displayed here. Sanjay Kak’s documentary on him, titled “Bant Singh can Still Sing”, is available on the video bar.

By Sukanya Basu Ray Chaudhuri

Recast: rethinking issues of caste and race

In August 2000, the United Nations Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights passed resolution 2000/4 on Discrimination Based on Work and Descent. This addressed the issue of caste, and aimed at reaffirming that discrimination based on work and descent was in violation of international human rights laws. In 2001, the addition of caste to the agenda of the United Nations World conference on Racism at Durban brought the discussion of caste and race to the forefront within the public domain. This was done by classifying caste as a system of social stratification based on descent and occupation and, as such, it would fall under the purview of Article 1 of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD), therefore allowing its issues to be treated on parity with those of racial discrimination.

The Government of India vehemently opposed its inclusion on the agenda of an inter-governmental conference as it felt that caste was an internal matter. Attorney General Soli Sorabjee, at a regional preparatory conference at Tehran, said that efforts to connect the issues of race and caste were ‘misconceived’. As caste discrimination was constitutionally recognized and prohibited and the governments at the centre and state have taken step towards its elimination issues of caste had no place at an inter-governmental forum.

Another opponent to the inclusion of caste was anthropologist Andre Beteille who put forth the argument that the idea of caste as race had origin in the pseudo-scientific discourse of late 19Th and early 20Th century Europe. The move to include caste discrimination under racial discrimination would, for Beteille be ‘flying in the face of the distinctions between race, language and culture,… seeking to undo the conclusions reached by the researches of several generations of anthropologists’. As many critics rightly point out, while Beteille focuses on the survival and redefinition of his discipline, he seems to miss out on the larger picture of discrimination within society today. Another aspect he neglected to mention was that race, like caste, based on scientific research is no longer viewed as a biological or genetic fact. One valid issue he does raise is that in the pan- Indian context there exists no uniformity of race between all the Scheduled Caste taken together and all the Brahmins similarly grouped together. The Human Rights Watch, an organization working for the discussion of caste at the international level, recognizes this criticism; and while it admits to an outsider that there are no visual markers that separate the castes of India, it points out that as per the International Committee on Racial Discrimination, "the term `descent' contained in Art. 1 of ICERD has its own meaning and is not to be confused with race or ethnic or national origin.

On 7Th May 2001, a group of 40 academicians, jurists, and representatives of NGOs and Civil society organizations, mostly from Dalit communities, had a conference at Indian Social Institute, New Delhi, where they put forth the notion that `Caste is Race Plus' as it has been ‘inflicted by birth, sanctified by religion, glorified by tradition, Caste has had brutal repercussions for a fifth of India's population through the generations’. They argued that caste was race in the Indian context and the Indian government that had been at the forefront of the movement against apartheid in South Africa now chose to ignore the prevalence of apartheid within its own borders. In relation to the government of India’s rejection of caste as race, they argued that the Indian constitution recognized in many of its articles a parity between racial and caste discrimination.

The Human Right Watch sought to show that issues of caste were not only relevant in the India, but it was a widespread problem that warranted international attention. According to its report there existed caste discrimination against the Dalits of South Asia-including Nepal, Bangladesh, India, Sri Lanka, and Pakistan-the Buraku people of Japan, the Osu of Nigeria's Igbo people, and certain groups in Senegal and Mauritania. There existed similarities in the modes of discrimination practiced against these groups with relation with marriage, labor, access to education, access to land, debt bondage and slavery. With its association as a system based on descent and occupation, in order to stress the global dimensions of the issue, caste effectively gets de-linked with the practices of religion when it is defined as ‘a distinct form of racism affecting victims equally irrespective of religion’, which goes against the grain of the arguments of many Dalit intellectuals, most notably Ambedkar. Kancha Iliaih puts forth an interesting argument that proposes a greater international stake in the removal of caste discrimination as "[t]he colonial world benefited from the cheap labor of the adivasis, Dalits, and OBCs," "the capitalist west owes a moral responsibility to uplift [the lower castes] as much as the upper castes of India do".

Finally due to protests of the Indian government, caste was not to be included in the Durban declaration. One of the key elements of protest was that the representation of the Indian state as a racist regime is in complete opposition to its self-understanding and image. Therefore as the debate progresses, the issue of caste and race becomes less about a need to equate the two, but rather to show that while racial and caste discrimination may not be identical, they both require international attention so as to avoid being swept neatly under the rug of India’s new found global image as a country of progress.

By Aarthi Sridhar