Category Archives: Anti-Caste

ANTI-CASTE CONFERENCE on “Caste and Sociology”

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Krantisinh Nana Patil Academy, Rajarshi Shahu Maharaj Research Centre
and Tarabai Shinde Women’s Studies Centre organise the FIFTH NATIONAL ANTI-CASTE CONFERENCE on “Caste and Sociology ” at Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar Marathwada University, Aurangabad 28th and 29th January 2011;
Concept note:

Caste became a subject of sociological and anthropological enquiry during colonialism. The major ideological frameworks within which caste was comprehended and analysed at this time were Orientalism and Indology both of which substantially relied on Brahminical texts. Parallel to this ‘text view’ was colonial anthropology which used evolutionary and functionalist paradigms in generating empirical insights about caste. The nationalist school welcomed and internalised the Orientalists’ empirical (textual) method of the study of caste, which considered caste only within the restricted framework of ‘culture’ and religion. The theories of caste which emanated from such studies ultimately proved beneficial to the Brahminical tradition and interests.
The anti-caste movement stimulated and significantly contributed to the sociological studies on caste,by looking at the exploitative nature of caste in its religiocultural, economic and social aspects. The neo-Marxian theoretical view critiqued and complicated the classical Marxian interpretation of caste, moving beyond the tendency to equate caste with class or to see a one-to-one relationship between the two and provided a nuanced understanding of how caste configures and re-configures itself.
Other major theoretical approaches in academic sociology engaging with caste were structuralism and structural- functionalism which have not paid attention to the experiential accounts of the exploited groups within the caste system. The postmodernist approach is the recent entrant in problematizing caste. Amidst this prevailing abundance of approaches and studies on caste it is required to emphasise and prioritise those approaches which foreground the political, social and cultural articulations of the victims of caste system. This appears to be the correct choice from a transformatory political perspective.
As brought out earlier, caste continues to prevail in India both in its traditional manifestations and in new avatars. Struggles for the upward mobility of one’s caste group have played an important role in the construction of change and continuity in caste. In fact, social cohesion has been maintained in India through struggles of this kind. Therefore it is important to study both struggles aiming at economic, political, social or cultural enhancement of the role of one’s caste on the one hand, and genuine anti-caste struggles on the other.
The colonial mode of production created conditions for the emergence of class within the matrix of caste itself. This is evident from the fact that working class and capitalist class emerged from the erstwhile toiling castes and trading castes respectively.

Though the new capitalist order has challenged the hereditary nature of caste and structures of labour in some ways, caste-based appropriation of surplus was the only basis of capitalist exploitation, at least in the villages. Since capitalist development was oriented towards appropriating the surplus drawn from agriculture and diverting it to industrialisation, the process of formation of class relations in the rural society remained slow. Consequently, the elites of the dominant peasant castes in rural India remained influential and, at the national level, the entrepreneurs, and capitalists from the upper castes continued to dominate.
On the global scale, it is finance capital rather than industrial capital that is dominant. So even if the opening up of markets widens the class-based division of labour, with the dominance of service-based industries, upward class mobility requires cultural adaptations in the pattern of sanskritisation/brahminisation. The politics of caste identity thus becomes more entrenched. Religious fundamentalism and caste-consciousness have
both become widespread in the context of contemporary globalisation. How does this affect the social structure of caste? The Indian caste-class structure is organically linked to brahminical patriarchy.
The interrelationship between caste, class and patriarchy is constantly changing; a sociological study of this interrelationship thus becomes crucial to our understanding of Indian reality. Though the family is seen as an important institution in sociology, there is no attempt to study caste and family together. It is necessary to study how caste and patriarchy are instrumental in arranging marriages, child rearing, distribution of property
/ income and the day-to-day division of labour. The family is in a state of flux under globalisation, industrialisation and urbanisation. Even in the rural areas, the family is facing many kinds of pressure. It is imperative to undertake sociological study of these tensions and shifts.
Against this backdrop, literature, art, media and the sociology of education need to be studied in the context of caste. With a view of comprehending and analysing various aspects of the sociology of caste, Krantisinh Nana Patil Academy, Rajarshi Shahu Maharaj Research Centre and Tarabai Shinde Women’s Studies Centre are jointly organising the Fifth Anti-Caste Conference in January 2011.
Issues to be addressed in the conference:
1) Sociological Theorisation of Caste
2) Caste Mobility and Caste Struggle: Sociological Understanding
3) Capitalism and Socialisation of Caste
4) Sociology of Religion and Caste
5) Caste, Class and Patriarchy: Sociological Interpretation
6) Caste and the Family System
7) Political Socialisation of Caste
8 Education, Literature, Art, Media and Caste: Sociological Perspectives
9) Case Studies of Caste and Field Studies.
Last date for submission of abstract: 15 December 2010.The abstract & Paper should be submitted to Dr. Wandana Sonalkar, Director, Tarabai Shinde Women’s Studies Centre, Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar Marathawada University, Aurangabad.
Registration Fees: Rs.200.00
Dr. Wandana Sonalkar Dr. Narayan Bhosale Dr. Umesh Bagade
Director Conference Co-ordinator Director
Tarabai Shinde Women’s Studies Centre Rajarshi Shahu Maharaj Research Centre
E-mail: wsonalkar@gmail.com E-mail: ubagade@gmail.com
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Arousing Compassion in Brahmins

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DEVANOOR MAHADEVA

I vividly remember an interview that Alanahalli Krishna did with Kuvempu many years ago.

Alanahalli asked Kuvempu: “Do you really believe that the Madhwa philosophy is a mean one?”

Kuvempu replied: “Mean? Most mean.”

Alanahalli had a hearty laugh over that, and the waves of that laughter still reverberate in my ear.

Kuvempu’s impatience with the Madhwa philosophy can be understood in the context of his broad humanist position. The “Nithya muktha, nithya samsaari, nithya naraki” (“One who is forever free, forever involved in worldly affairs and forever goes through the torments of hell”) philosophy of Madhwacharya holds that the human being and the world do not change.

It renders society static, devoid of dynamism, and makes a philosophy of hellish hierarchies.

Vishvesha Teertha is born in this context and is the head of a mut that propagates this philosophy. He seems to be trying to move out of the inertia, struggling to break the confines of the philosophy. It strikes me as the struggle of a little sparrow caught in a net and desperately fluttering its wings.

There are times that I feel that he ought to be with us, not out there. But when I ask myself if his struggle is truly from the heart and born out of a deep religiosity, I cannot confidently answer in the affirmative.

We begin to wonder if Vishvesha Teertha’s padayatra is a matter of religious faith or religious politicking when we juxtapose him with the vachanakaras who said “Keelingallade hayanu kareyadu”, implying that there is no redemption without defeating the ego, and moved closer to the lower castes with this deeply felt faith.

When asked if a man from the Kuruba community would ever be made the head of his mutt, Vishwesha Teertha lost patience and retorted: “You ask this only to Brahmins. Would you ask the same question to a Christian or a Buddhist institution?”

In fact, any man belonging to the Christian or Buddhist faith can ask his religious institution why he cannot head it. Those religions allow it. But is such a thing possible in a Hindu caste-religion? Did a Kanaka Dasa, who stood outside the door of the temple, not belong to your religion? Or is each caste a religion by itself?

What then is dharma or religion? It is, in fact, the hierarchy of higher and lower castes and practices associated with it. This is why we do not think it is petty when Vishwesha Teertha is not allowed to perform puja in Tirupati.

This is also why we fail to see the hypocrisy of a man who will command people not to convert to other religions without a hint of moral dilemma, but will never declare: “Do not covert to other faiths, I am willing to make you the head of my mutt.”

We are never struck by the cruelty of a system that has accepted exclusion as a tradition.

Vishwesha Theertha is all set to give “Vaishnava deekshe” (initiation) to Dalits. There are already several Dalit cult traditions which have long ago been initiated into the Vaishnava tradition. They follow the purificatory rituals of “madi” and treat their shankha-jagates (conch and cymbals) with reverence and do not allow others to enter places where they are kept. They look for brides and grooms within their own small community.

This has led to greater divisions rather than any coming together.

The seer’s padayatra might increase the population of such dasas among dalits, more people might blow conches and strike cymbals. People who have done this have never moved from their position as untouchables.

When such is the case, the Pejavar seer would do well to re-think his plans of giving “Vaishnava deekshe”.

Instead, giving “thrija” (third birth) deekshe to the twice-born Brahmins might be good for the unity, balance and health of our society. The present dwija initiation is intellect-centric. The Gayatri mantra that is central to dwija deekshe speaks of awakening the intellect.

Intellectual activities could also lead to deceptions, discriminations and a sense of superiority and inferiority. What the Indian society today needs urgently is an awakening of a sense of compassion and camaraderie. I request the seer to give this (the thrija deekshe), especially to the Brahmins, to awaken empathy.

My request should not be mistaken for arrogance. (I am sure U.R. Anantha Murthy would ask me to give him “thrija deekshe” if he were to hear of this new concept!)

India has given birth to many things. In fact we are masters in the business of giving births. We are people who have made rowdies of gods to keep the hierarchies of the four varnas, and the discriminations that come with it, intact. I am asking the Pejavar seer to inspire yet another birth and awakening.

We are, after all, a nation that believes in births and re-births.

Let me add to this logic with another theory: Those who practiced untouchability in their previous births are born untouchables in this birth, in order to experience it first hand. Those who practice it now will be born untouchables in the next birth. If there is any truth in re-births, this could as well be happening.

The Indian mind which has killed itself thinking up logical arguments to justify hierarchies, might as well indulge this logical argument for once to bring about unity.

I am getting tired and weary, but there is no end to this. I am living from time immemorial in the hope of finding love and equality. My dream is that the Pejavara seer’s padayatra would inspire at least a few young dwijas to turn trijas, marry outside their castes, and inspire the birth of a new humanity.

I hope my dream comes true.

Courtesy: http://churumuri.wordpress.com/

Image courtesy: Vartha Bharati

Caste and Class of Marathi Literature???

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DEAR ALL,
PLEASE FIND HERE A LETTER ISSUED BY GIRIJA KEER, ONE OF THE CONTESTANTS FOR 84TH ALL INDIA MARATHI LITERARY MEET. THIS IS ONE OF THE LITERARY MEETS OF THE UPPER CASTE ELITES IN MAHARASHTRA. THESE ELITES HARDLY HAVE ANY CONCERN FOR THE CULTURE OF THE OPPRESSED SECTIONS OF THE SOCIETY. THIS MEET IS ORGANISED BY THE ALL INDIA MARATHI SAHITYA MAHAMANDAL, WHICH IS ONE OF THE MOST UNDEMOCRATIC BODIES OF THE CULTURAL ELITES IN MAHARASHTRA. THIS LITERARY MEET IS HEAVILY FUNDED BY THE STATE.
GIRIJA KEER EXPRESSED SOME INSULTING REMARKS ON THE LITERATE / ILLITERATE BAHUJANS OF MAHARASHTRA. SOME PEOPLE RAISED OBJECTIN TO THESE REMARKS. KEER HAS RELEASED A PRESS NOTE IN WHICH SHE HAS EXPRESSED HER VENOMOUS VIEWS IN THE FORM OF CLARIFICATION.
KEER HAS OPENLY AND UNSHAMEFULLY EXPRESSED HER HATRED FOR THE PEOPLE WHO ARE LIVING (IN FACT WHO ARE FORCED TO LIVE) IN THE SLUMS.  ONLY 790 PERSONS OUT OF OVER 100 MILLION PEOPLE OF MAHARASHTRA HAVE BEEN IDENTIFIED AS THE MEMBERS OF THE MAHAMANDAL. THIS MICROSCOPIC ELITE ONLY ELECTS THE PRESIDENT OF THE MEET. THE DEMAND THAT THESE BODIES, SINCE THEY HAVE BEEN FUNDED BY THE STATE, SHOUD BE DEMOCRATISED HAS BEEN OVERDUE FOR LONG. WHILE CRITICISING THIS DEMAND, SHE HAS BEEN QUITE ARROGANT AND HAS SAID,” THE QUESTION THAT HAS BEEN RAISED IS – WHY ONLY 790 PERSONS OUT OF 10 CRORE HAVE RIGHT TO VOTE?….MY ANSWER TO THIS QUESTION IS – “SHOULD WE ALLOW 10 CRORE PEOPLE TO VOTE? SHOULD THOSE SLUMDWELLERS, WHO ARE NOT SO REFINED AND WHO HAVE NO TASTE FOR LITERATURE, BE ALLOWOED TO CAST(E) VOTE?” SHE HAS FURTHER ADDED THAT THE ILLITERATE SHOULD NOT HAVE RIGHT TO VOTE. THIS MEANS THAT ONLY THE LITERATE HAVE CONSCIENCE AND, CONSEQUENTLY, RIGHT TO VOTE.
GIRIJA KEER HAS ALSO MENTIONED THE SOCIAL WORK THAT SHE HAS DONE FOR THE PEOPLE AT THE GRASSROOT LEVEL. THE UPPER CASTES HAVE ALWAYS FORSTERED THE PARTON-CLIENT RELATIONSHIP IN THE SOCIEY WHEREBY THE OPPRESSED SECTION WILL ALWAYS LIVE AT THE MERCY OF THE OPPRESSORS. HER WORK IS NO WAY DIFFERENT THAN THIS.
MANY DALIT WRITERS HAVE NOW BECOME ASPIRANTS FOR THIS PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION. MANY OF THEM HAVE ALREADY BEEN DEFEATED OF HUMILIATED BY THE UPPER-CASTE VOTERS AND LITERARY GOONS AND GUNDAS. SUCH ASPIRANTS WILL EITHER NOT CONDEMN GIRIJA KEER’S REMARKS OR DO SO ONLY TO WIN SYMPATHY TO WIN THE RACE. ONE SUCH WRITER IS CONTESTING THIS ELECTION NOW.
I FEEL THAT GIRIJA KEER’S OFFENSIVE REMARKS SHOULD BE CONDEMNED COLLECTIVELY. THIS IS NOT AN ASSAULT ON THE SLUMDWELLERS ONLY; THIS ALSO IS VIOLATION OF THE CONSTITUTION OF INDIA. SHE HAS UNDERMINED THE VERY BASIC POTENTIAL OF EVERY PERSON, IRRESPECTIVE OF LITERACY, TO HAVE CULTURAL OR LITERARY TASTE. IN FACT, SHE HAS EXPRESSED HER CONTEMPT FOR THE WHOLE TRADITION OF SAINT TUKARAM, CHOKHAMELA, ANNA BHAU SATHE AND HOST OF THOSE WRITERS COMING FROM LOWER CASTES AND WHO DID NOT HAVE FORMAL EDUCATION. SUCH DISGUSTING REMARKS SHOULD BE CONDEMNED COLLECTIVELY.

– DILIP CHAVAN

Although you are gone, NK

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It is so sudden, so sad, so unnecessary. NK Hanumantayya, a promising young Kannada poet, is no more.

I have not met, seen or heard him. But I have read his poems which impressed me a lot. NK was considered by many poetry enthusiasts as a good poet. Much by him was liked, much was expected of him. It was hoped he would take kannada dalit poetry to further heights.

Hanumantayya wrote poems that were intensely political and personal. He was original in his expressions, his images. Well I liked his poems. NK, you will be loved for what you have given us, you will missed.

Here is a fine one in my intrepid translation.

The King, he waits

The King, he waits

Wearing the cobbler’s shoes

Bearing the blacksmith’s sword, the King, he waits

Wearing the weaver’s dress

Bearing the gardener’s flowers

He waits, the King, he waits

Invisible when we search

Inaccessible when we seek

Hiding behind the eye’s hue,

He waits, the King, he waits

photo from kendasampige.com

photo from kendasampige.com

Symposium announcement

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Here is an interesting symposium that puts together some very fine thinkers. Satyanarayan from EFLU is putting together an anthology of Dalit writings from South India. I have heard him speak and read his articles. He is an original. Very focused and clear in his thinking. Not at all simplistic in his oppositional discourse. Then there is Umesh, a very fine historian. His earnestness makes his scholarship more valuable. Venkat Rao from EFLU has been speaking the Balagangadhar logic regarding caste. So it would be an interesting exchange to watch out for.

Department of English

A One-day Symposium on Dalit Studies in the Indian Universities

31 March 2010

Venue: Dean Hall, Administrative Building,

SRTM University, Nanded

Concept Note

We deem it necessary to see critically how the dalits across India see an emergent pan-Indian dalit cultural identity. This cultural identity is being articulated through creative writing in many Indian languages. It has been through such creative writings, also known as dalit literature, that the dalits have repudiated norms of untouchability, oppressive caste structure and the normative ideology of brahminism. The emergence of dalit consciousness and dalit voice across India during the last three decades has received considerable attention in the realm of social sciences. However, the so-called mainstream literary theory has largely remained uninfluenced / unaffected by the literary, cultural, theoretical and ideological issues raised by the new writers.

Dalit literature emerged as the revolutionary literature and challenged the norms, standards and principles of the so-called mainstream brahminical literature, aesthetics and literary theory. Dalit literature is not the literature of mere protest or negation. It aims at dismantling the existing structures of exploitation and restructuring the global society.

Started in Marathi during the seventies, dalit literature is now being written in several Indian languages. These literatures, barring languages, do share the egalitarian ideology and expose the exploitative mechanisms latent in the Indian society. The rise of dalit women writers in many parts of India has raised many issues pertaining to brahminical patriarchy, dalit male chauvinism and specificity of the dalit women’s exploitation. Many dalit women writers have refused to subsume their ideological and practical issues in the overarching rubric of Indian feminism. Apart from creative writing, there have been attempts to theorise caste, patriarchy and culture. However, such writings hardly find any space in the curricula in the Indian universities, leaving them lopsided and socially irrelevant.

It is now being widely accepted that educational system is exceptionally important in maintaining the status quo in the society. Curriculum happens to be actual means whereby a particular worldview is inculcated in the learners’ minds. Basil Bernstein suggests how a society, selects, classifies, distributes, transmits and evaluates the educational knowledge it considers to be public, reflects both the distribution of power and the principles of social control. Since the curriculum is a result of deliberate selection and organization of the cultural knowledge in the syllabus, textbook has been the significant issue in educational research. The traditional curriculum designed for courses in literatures at the UG and PG levels has either underrepresented or not represented the literatures produced and theories developed by the subaltern writers and intellectuals. Marginal incorporation of dalit literature into the curriculum, which is predominantly brahminical and patriarchal, only serves to legitimise it.

This symposium aims at discussing the state of courses in dalit studies / literatures in various universities and colleges and hopes to explore the commonalities in the experiences of the teachers committed to contribute to alternative pedagogy. The Department of English of SRTM University, Nanded plans to start an interdisciplinary course in Dalit Studies from the next academic year. The deliberations in this Symposium will also be hopefully useful in designing and conducting of this course.

Resource Persons

Dr. K Satyanarayana (Head, Department of Cultural Studies, EFLU, Hyderabad)

Dr. Venkat Rao (Department of Literatures in English, EFLU, Hyderabad)

Dr. Umesh Bagade (Professor and Head, Department of History, BAMU, Aurangabad)

Prof. Rahul Pungaliya (Dept. of English, Abasaheb Garware College, Pune)

Dr. Bhagwan Jadhav (Dean, Faculty of Arts, SRTM University, Nanded)

Contact

Dilip Chavan – dilipchavan@gmail.com

Kancha Ilaiah’s New Book

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Kancha Ilaiah is a fascinating thinker and writer. He first made waves with his book Why I am not a Hindu. Parts of that book even appeared in the famed Subaltern Studies. He has to be credited for his concept of ‘dalitization’ which is a very useful sociological concept. He is often difficult to agree with, as his ideas take liberty with facts referred to. But, his works always will provide you insights that are uncommon. He is provocative. Ilaiah is a must read. Here is a review of his new book by Anand Teltumbde, which appeared in Tehelka. Although Teltumbde is critical of this book, you will notice he admits to Ilaiah’s strength of observation. Teltumbde is a fine thinker too. Check out the review.

KANCHA ILAIAH is known for books with explosive titles like Why I Am Not a Hindu and Buffalo Nationalism, but with spiritual content. This book, his latest, follows in the same tradition. At a time when many intellectuals are morbidly worried about the resurgence of Hindutva, Ilaiah boldly sees Hinduism on course of its death because of its “failure to mediate between scientific thought and spiritual thought”. The book is a reflective account of his own journey through castes and communities and highlights everyday clashes of caste cultures and conflict between “the productive ethic of Dalit-Bahujan castes and the anti-productive and anti-scientific ethic of Hindu Brahminism”.

The contents page would catch the fancy of any reader with its catchy phrases like ‘intellectual goondas”, “spiritual fascists”, used for Brahmins and “subaltern scientists”, “meat and milk economists” for the Dalit- Bahujans. The first thing that crossed my mind is that the marketing wing of any publication house will be simply overjoyed with brand ‘Kancha Ilaiah,’ with its potential appeal to the vast market spanning three out of four spiritual worlds (Christian, Islam and Buddhist, excluding Hindu), to make use of his phraseology. Indeed, with his passionate promotion of Dalit-Bahujan and outlandish interpretation of mundane details of life, he has created a unique place for himself among subaltern writers.

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POST-HINDU INDIA: DALIT-BAHUJAN SOCIO-SPIRITUAL AND SCIENTIFIC REVOLUTION
Kancha Ilaiah
Sage Publications
316 pp; Rs 295

Reading this book gives you a feel of travelling in a Maglev train — an illusion of running on rails but in fact levitates over a thin layer of air. While traversing through its arguments, the book creates an illusion of being based on truth but is distanced from it by a thin layer of prejudice. There is an overdose of culture and spirituality which could intoxicate readers without them realising it.

If one is not so ‘spiritually’ intoxicated, one suffers from mundane doubts nibbling at his intellect: is this conjoint term ‘Dalit-Bahujan’ sociologically viable, given the huge load of material contradictions between these two population groups that have been precipitating into most heinous caste atrocities? How and why did these worthy ‘spiritual democrats’ or ‘spiritual revolutionaries’ come to emulate the caste hierarchy of Brahmins, the spiritual fascists, within themselves and zealously preserve it? If the Dalit- Bahujans were so accomplished in terms of their scientific and technological prowess, how could they be enslaved by a handful of scheming and spiritually degenerate Brahmins for millennia? The book succeeds in establishing the superiority of Dalit-Bahujans, but doesn’t it essentially follow the very same Brahmanic ethos of superiority-inferiority?

The value of Kancha Iliah’s book lies not so much in its thesis but in the richness of its observations not only on the castes of India, but also on the many people and events in the world.

(Image of Ilaiah and the book are from Tehelka.com)

About Namdeo Dhasal

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Dilip Chitre is a poet of significance both in English and Marathi. He is a painter too. His contribution as a translator is also great. Of his from: navayanatranslations,, two noted works are his translations of Tuka in Says Tuka and his translations of the Marathi Dalit poet Namdeo Dhasal. Tehelka had published an interview with Chitre about Dhasal in 2007. The interview was conducted by S Anand of navayana. Read the complete interview here. One of the questions Anand asks relates to the perennial question of the obscurity of the poem and their political stance. I like the way Chitre answers it.

 

S Anand: There’s something I’ve wanted to ask you, Dilip. His political followers — as you’ve told me — when he’s in hospital, there are some two hundred Panthers outside. Do they read his poetry, do they have an understanding of it? Or is there a split between Namdeo the poet, and this other, political, person?

Dilip Chitre: I don’t see it as a split in Namdeo; it’s the one-sidedness of his multiple audiences. His Dalit audience sees him as a charismatic leader, but they may not possess the literary sensibility demanded by his poetry. He’s not someone like Gadar, who will write these very simplistic poems, and some of them rank bad poetry, and express revolutionary sentiments and rouse people and so on. A middle-class person approaching his poetry does not know the Dalit situation, he does not even want to know. So he misses part of the poetry…

Namdeo dares you, as a reader, and as a translator. There’s something I describe as aesthetic subversion. Namdeo subverts bourgeois sensibilities, and that’s what appeals to me. A subversive act tries to undo the entire system on which your values are based. Namdeo is a guerrilla poet. In one phrase, one line, he’ll juxtapose dialect and the slang of Kamathipura with European references in very sophisticated Marathi.

Raja Rao’s Kanthapura, nationalism and caste

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Raja Rao’s Kanthapura enacts some of the motifs of postcolonialism. In my previous post here I point out that Raja Rao critiques the simple position al010that the discourse of colonialism instituted a notion of the natural superiority of the colonising race and this was internalised by the colonized. In the second piece on the novel I point to how the novel problematizes viewing colonial modernity as having had a liberating impact on the Indian society. Let me take this reading further.

The problematising potential of the novel extends to anti-colonial nationalism too. In order to examine this let us turn to another dimension of the novel. The emergence of novel as a genre in 19th century India raises the question of whether it is derivative. While there is a debate on this issue, the novel’s role in enabling the notion of nation-state to take shape is an important one. Benedict Anderson has argued that novel is partly responsible for a community to imagine itself as a nation. The novels written in 19th century and even beyond in India may be used to support this claim. While in Kanthapura, the action is restricted to the village itself with none of the characters venturing too far out, yet the village is not insulated against the happenings in other places. In fact, the stimulation for action is not local. The grand events that form the focal points of the novel take place in response to events elsewhere – Lahore, Bengal, Gujarat, etc. The village community moves from an insulated identity towards a national identity. In one sense, Kanthapura chronicles the formation of a national identity within a remote village. This thematic is also supported by the manner in which the village becomes a kind of a microcosm of the nation. The narrative tends towards mythicizing. For example Moorthy’s fast, Ramakrishnayya’s death, the receding of the flood, and nationalist struggle itself are mythicized. The narrative takes recourse to Vedantic texts and Puranas and inserts nationalist struggle into them. For example, in a harikatha, Jayaramachar brings in an allegory between Siva, Parvati and the nation. The three eyed Siva stands for Swaraj. Later Rangamma standing in as the commentator of Vedanta after the death of her father reads the Puranas allegorically, interpreting hell as the foreign rule, soul as India and so on. Shall we say nation is thus constructed hermeneutically?

The process of imagining a community – of imagining nationhood – also underlines the homogenising tendency of nationalism. The congress workers, who so vehemently are ‘swadeshi’ and give up anything foreign, unwittingly embrace the European model of nation. This notion requires a nation state to have a singular form. A nation is a community of people who have a common language etc. Thus in Kanthapura, Congressmen including Moorthy follow the same model of the nation-state. Sankaru epitomises this: his insistence on speaking Hindi even to his mother instead of the local language Kannada; his fanatic resistance to the use of English and so on. This conception of the nation informs that of everyone: e.g. the narrator visualises Moorthy {when in prison} to be wearing kurta pyjama instead of dhoti. The Hindi teacher is not from any Hindi speaking region but a Malayali [Surya Menon]. Thus, the very conception of ‘Nation’, which is conceived after the European model of the nation-state, undermines the ‘Swadeshi’ spirit of nationalism. Any pure form of nationhood untouched by colonialism is seriously questioned.

Another problem arises when this novel is read as a record of a nation-in-the-making.  It would seem to exemplify Jameson’s argument that third world literature is necessarily a national allegory. When we keep in mind that Benedict Anderson’s thesis about the emergence of nation-state is a work on the emergence of nation-state in Europe, Jameson’s argument seems to put third world literature in the past of European literature. This only re-enacts the familiar theme that comes across in the colonialist historiography of Indian nationalism: that Indian nationalism is a learning process as has been pointed out by Ranjit Guha (Subaltern Studies I). This particular view of nationalism characterises Indian nationalism as a response to the stimulus of colonial administration. The view of the history of the colonised society as a march towards the teleological goal of becoming ultimately ‘Europe’ places them always at a past time in relation to the colonisers present time. The denial of coevalness of time is a necessity in the discourse of colonialism.

This view of India’s history being bound to Europe takes us to Dipesh Chakravarthy’s thesis that as far as history as a discourse is concerned, Europe remains the sovereign theoretical subject of all histories, including the one we call Indian (Provincialising Europe OUP, 2001). Further, he says, as opposed to other narratives of self and community, history is the meta-narrative that looks to the state/citizen bind as the ultimate construction of sociality. Other constructions of self and community speak an anti-historical consciousness. With modernity, history becomes the site where the struggle goes on to appropriate other collocations of memory. In Kanthapura, the narrative in the beginning reflects an ahistorical consciousness. The description of the village life is as a timeless continuum in the form of Sthalapurana. Or the Harikatha wherein nationalist figures become mythical. Whereas, colonialism disrupts the narratives of the community and introduces ‘history’. In as far as the change in the narrative technique, which becomes more linear while narrating the freedom struggle in Kanthapura, history really begins with Europe inhabiting Kanthapura. This is most clearly suggested in the loss of mythicizing tendency of the narrative in the later part when the arrival of newspapers, novels and pamphlets has exposed the first person narrator to techniques of historicizing.

This whole reading of the novel harps back upon the exchange between the coloniser and the colonised. The interesting insights offered by the novel are about the immense complications and violence that attend the arrival of colonial modernity in India.

The novel highlights with no subtlety the collusion between colonialism and Brahmanism. The manner in which Moorthy becomes an outcaste in the Brahmin quarters with his campaign against untouchability indicates the tension between Brahmanism and nationalism. For Brahmanism, the colonial ruler is not the enemy but Gandhi’s anti-untouchable movement is. The collusion between Brahmanism and colonialism is suggested through the alliance between Bhatta, Bade Khan the policeman and the Sahib of the Estate. Swami, who is waging a war against ‘caste pollution due to this pariah business’, sees British rulers as protectors of the ancient ways of Dharma. Swami receives a large amount from the govt as Rajadakshina and is promised that he would receive moral and material support in his war against caste pollution.

While this reading posits nationalism in conflict with brahminism, something more interesting is available if we push our reading a little further. Moorthy’s politics in the village mobilises people of all castes for the struggle against colonisers. In so doing Moorthy radicalises his sociality by visiting the untouchable quarters, and even having milk offered by one of them. Interestingly after this he is troubled by his action and takes a bath. Though he does not change his sacred thread as then he would have to do it daily, he does take a little Ganga water and we are promised that he would do that every time he visits the pariahs. His politics aims at assimilating the lower castes into the nationalist movement. This may also operate as a move towards containment. For example, the discourse of nationalism meets the discourse of religion at different levels in the novel. While Bhatta, Swami and their followers {who have often material motives such as Venkamma) resist Gandhism in the name of religion, in Kanthapura, the nationalists increasingly employ the religious discourse and customs and symbols for nationalist purposes. Religious resources are mobilised for the politicisation of the people. But the customs, rituals and symbols that become tools of nationalist mobilisation are primarily Brahminic: arthi, puja, conches, bells, Vedanta, bhajan etc. They do not include the cultural practices of the lower castes though their participation is prominent.

The overall idea I have of the novel is that it is an immensely clever novel that very ably reflects much of the nationalistic themes including the patronising attitude towards the lower caste society. The novel, much like hegemonic Indian nationalists, deploys anti-caste postures to dissemble the projection of brahminical culture as the legitimate national culture.

Dalit English Poet – Meena Kandasamy

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Recently I came across an exciting voice in Indian English poetry: Meena Kandasamy. I first read her poems in a blog and found about her through blogs, her own as well of others. This is an indication in itself that blogging is beginning to be the dominant medium for accessing poetry. Blogging has several advantages in this respect as it unshackles the poets from being dependant on publishers or magazines. It is as democratic as is currently possible. More and more poets, despite their background, can find their  readers without being subjected to the humiliating process of the publishing industry.

Meena Kandasamy has some interesting things to say about blogging. She is a Dalit writer from Tamilnadu who writes poetry in English. She is also an active translator. Her blog makes for interesting reading. A new voice in the field of Indian English Literature, she is very articulate about the aspirations of the dalits. One of her recent blogs was insightful. Here she talks about blogging, caste oppression and women. Here is an excerpt:

from: Meena Kandasamy blog

Big media houses which own the major publications rarely give opportunity to Dalit (ex-untouchable) writers, and there’s an absence of Dalit/anti-caste writers who write in English. The elitist writers want to write the feel-good stuff, India Shining myths, and that’s the work that gets into print. So, I wanted to tap the power and enormous outreach of the internet: how anyone can write and be read/heard in the virtual space. I was not writing because anyone was commissioning me, I didn’t have to follow other people’s diktats, I could speak my mind. Google and tagging ensure that I can get heard without having my own column in any newspaper. Sometimes its helped me bring some happenings to light—such as the recent inside story of Dalit students being beaten up at a law university in Chennai (the mainstream media merely reported it as a “clash” at first) and so on. Blogging on feminist issues, with a caste perspective, was also something that I set out to do, because feminism in India forgets that caste exists at all, and that women at the bottom of the caste hierarchy do suffer more.

Since the cost of establishing alternative media in India is extremely high, activist groups have taken to the Internet in a big way. There is a hunger to use the potential of this media, and human rights defenders are doing it the right way. The campaign to free Binayak Sen; the exposes on state terrorism, fake encounters and police atrocities; the virulent speed in which fact-finding reports can be circulated; the ease with which the LGBT community in India came together and organized their shows of strength in every major city—these have all been possible because of the digital sphere and the space for social networking, discussion and dissemination that it allows.

She has another blog where she has posted several of her poems. She has published a collection of her poems called Touch. Kamala Das wrote the forward where she calls Meena an exciting writer. Believe her. Or decide after reading her poems. One of them is ‘Becoming a Brahmin‘:

Algorithm for converting a Shudra into a Brahmin

Begin.

Step 1: Take a beautiful Shudra girl.
Step 2: Make her marry a Brahmin.
Step 3: Let her give birth to his female child.
Step 4: Let this child marry a Brahmin.
Step 5: Repeat steps 3-4 six times.
Step 6: Display the end product. It is a Brahmin.

End.

Algorithm advocated by Father of the Nation at Tirupur.
Documented by Periyar on 20.09.1947.

Algorithm for converting a Pariah into a Brahmin

Awaiting another Father of the Nation
to produce this algorithm.

(Inconvenience caused due to inadvertent delay
is sincerely regretted.)

While this poem is a frontal attack, there is a nuanced poem which is rich in irony yet trenchant in its critique of the caste system – varna system.

TOUCH

Have you ever tried meditation?
Struggling hard to concentrate,
and keeping your mind as blank
as a whitewashed wall by closing
your eyes, nose, ears; and shutting out
every possible thought. Every thing.
And, the only failure, that ever came,
the only gross betrayal—
was from your own skin.
You will have known this.

Do you still remember,
how, the first distractions arose?
And you blamed skin as a sinner;
how, when your kundalini was rising,
shaken, you felt the cold concrete floor
skin rubbing against skin, your saffron robes,
how, even in a far-off different realm—
your skin anchored you to this earth.
Amidst all that pervading emptiness,
touch retained its sensuality.
You will have known this.

Or if you thought more variedly, about
taste, you would discount it—as the touch
of the tongue. Or, you may recollect
how a gentle touch, a caress changed
your life multifold, and you were never
the person you should have been.
Feeling with your skin, was
perhaps the first of the senses, its
reality always remained with you—
You never got rid of it.
You will have known this.

You will have known almost
every knowledgeable thing about
the charms and the temptations
that touch could hold.

But, you will never have known
that touch – the taboo
to your transcendence,
when crystallized in caste
was a paraphernalia of
undeserving hate.

Photo from: Meena Kandasamy blog.

Caste consciousness and the sociology of public culture in India

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In his book Mistaken Modernity Dipankar Gupta has an essay presenting a sociological explanation for the unclean public spaces in India. The apparent dirt in the public environs is something everyone comments on. Everyone notices it. Many attempts to clean up have been made both by the state and by the individuals. But the general habit of dirtying up the outside-the-home-environs seems to defeat all efforts to clean up our environment. Surprisingly, in our society with regards to inside-the-home, the general habit is the opposite of this: there is an excessive concern to clean the house.

This attitude finds itself expressed in public parks, tourist centres, bus and railway stations, hospitals, roads, and even cinema halls. Spitting and urinating in the public, littering the place with polythene bags and pieces of paper, tossing cigarette buts or food crumbs onto the road are all too common to shock us. You can rarely find a public utility place – hospital or a bus-stand – which is not spattered with the colours of pan or gutka.

Is this so because we are a dirty tribe? Such a characterisation can fall into the essentialist trap because what can explain a habit common in our society though across any recognisable commonality of social practice? Dipankar Gupta in fact gives exactly such an explanation by invoking that which is common across the country and that which inculcates a certain attitude to cleanliness in us. He contends that this has to do with caste consciousness. Gupta argues that the attitude to cleanliness in our society is related to caste. He points out that the idea of there being castes to clean up the toilets and the gutters meant that cleaning the public place is an inferior job meant, in the caste conscious mind, for the ‘lower caste’. This attitude leaves the responsibility of keeping the public places clean on the ‘cleansing castes’. In short, Dipankar Gupta, much more clearly and persuasively than my summary can do here, argues that the Indian middle class does not consider it their responsibility to keep their environs clean as they take it for granted (a) that it would lower their status to do so and (b) that it is someone else’s job (the cleaning castes).
This argument is very convincing. It also leads me to think that we should be able to find explanations for several of our social evils in this manner. Ambedkar in his “Annihilation of Caste” does a similar sociological analysis: he points out that the reason why there is so much political disunion is to do with the caste feelings in this society.

I think it is important that we conduct such a sociological theorisation explaining social phenomena with respect to caste because otherwise these tendencies will be seen as natural. For example, through the analysis of caste consciousness in the society we must try to find the reasons for such general habits as:

i. easily accepting inferior quality in any work

ii. easily resorting to destruction of public property

iii. failure of our education system, even in private sector institutions

iv. extreme disregard for environment in every endeavour

v. extreme disregard for public hygiene and health in manufacturing sector

vi. extreme disregard for public convenience or safety in our town planning

vii. etc.

Dalit Poetry in Kannada III – Moodnaakadu Chinnaswamy

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There are some excellent dalit poets writing in Kannada these days. I don’t have too good an access to the latest dalit poetry emerging in Kannada as my visits to Karnataka are not vary frequent. I try my best to get as much as my friends can send me. Continuing my earlier posts, here and here, I present a translation of another Kannada Dalit poet. This time another well known name: Moodnakadu Chinnaswamy. I am familiar only with a few of his poems and they are very good. Here is one ‘Footwear and me’ in my poor translation. I read it in a magazine and can’t find that copy around me. So I am a little unsure if this is the complete poem or if I managed to translate only a fragment. I am sorry, I haven’t done enough homework on this. But I promise I will soon rectify this deficiency. I also don’t have a picture of the poet M. C. If anybody has one, do share, please….

Footwear and me

* Moodnaakadu Chinnaswamy

When I go to the temple

The footwear is not left outside

It is I who is outside

Shoes on cobbler’s feet

Makes as much news as when

A man bites a dog

Taking off the shoes

Everyone’s feet

tread all over me

I am a plant:

and they just don’t realize

that under their feet are my roots

Like a crane craning her neck

to the dried up lake’s spring

I stand on my toes

and peep in to steal

as much of god’s form as I can see

Girish Karnad, Caste system, Hindu fascism

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In a response piece in The New York Review of Books Karnad says

I wonder if Mr. Griffin isn’t confusing the caste system with untouchability, which certainly could be described as “the greatest single evil in the modern world.” The two are distantly related but not identical, which tends to mislead many Westerners unfamiliar with India.

Since Mr. Griffin is interested in today’s India, he might like to know that it has been argued that, given that 88 percent of India is Hindu, the internal diversity resulting from the caste system may be our main defense against a Hindu fascist state controlled by the traditionally advantaged classes.

NYRB, Volume 47, Number 10 · June 15, 2000.

from: google images

from: google images

I for one didn’t understand this distinction, nor the rationality behind making such a distinction. I know that caste system is something far beyond untouchability, which is one of its sins. As a system it has  pernicious customary differentiations within the so called ‘touchable’ castes.

Yet, Karnad puzzles me.What is the benefit of suggesting that ‘untouchability’ and caste system are ‘distantly related’? Can we say it is not intimately maintained by caste system? What is more shocking is his statement that caste system has the benefit of defending against a fascist rule. He seems to ignore completely that caste system is equally evil as (if not more evil than) fascist rule. Defending caste system on the ground of the possible Hindu fascist rule is a very very strange idea. Caste system has been encouraging fascist practices for ages. Now to defend it as a defense against a danger being perceived in today’s society is weird.

But his plays visit caste issues interestingly. While his Fire and the Rain is one such play dealing with the issue of caste system directly, Taledanda, obliquely, there are other plays that deal with it symbolically.

Some of Karnad’s plays have the theme of metamorphosed beings. For example: Hayavadana (Horseheaded Man); Nagamandala (Snake-circle). These plays are seen as presenting the motif of shape-shifting, metamorphoses. I wonder if we could also see these mixed-species beings symbolically and relate these to the concept of ‘varna-sankara’ or caste-mixing. ‘Sankara’ within the brahmin protocols is the mixing of caste through certain kind of ‘touches’. In Karnad, the shape-shifted beings could be telling a story ‘between the lines’.

Any thoughts on the symbolic connection between Karnad’s metamorphosed figures and caste system? Share with me.