Tag Archives: Anti-Caste

Arousing Compassion in Brahmins



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

Symposium announcement


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)


Dilip Chavan – dilipchavan@gmail.com

Caste and capital – the struggles ahead


I came across an interesting blog – observation on issues related to caste, and the struggles against it. I want to quote some of it.  from Beyond Capital:

the revolt against caste system (or casteism in a capitalist society) is a revolt against the material and ideological division of workers, against labour market segmentation, against the individualist-competitive ethic (a petty bourgeois tendency) among workers (which frequently takes identitarian forms). Only by questioning and destroying the whiteness of the “white” workers, a larger united working class movement could be posed in the racist societies like the US. Similarly in a casteist society like India, only by attacking the “upper/middle-caste-ness” among workers, a working class alternative could be posed. A drastic reorientation of the dalit movement (and therefore of the working class movement) is needed if it has to pose a real challenge to the caste system and casteism, as Ambedkar understood them. Dalit Movement has to re-emerge as the vanguard of the working class movement.

Caste as Human Rights Violation


The ongoing UN session has drafted a resolution which considers caste discrimination as a human rights violation. This is a welcome development considering India’s consistent opposition to allow internationalisation of the issue of caste. Foreign policy of a nation quite often is based on reasons of false pride. In refusing in 2001 a resolution linking caste to racism India had displayed the same pride. Now with Sweden (EU) and Nepal going with the resolution, let us hope that India wont manage to block it.

The TOI says:

The draft principles specifically cited caste as one of the grounds on which more than 200 million people in the world suffer discrimination. “This type of discrimination is typically associated with the notion of purity and pollution and practices of untouchability, and is deeply rooted in societies and cultures where this discrimination is practiced,” it said.

UN treating caste as human rights violation might help in drawing the attention of the international community to the ancient horror that still thrives. If this increases the visibility of the practice of caste system we can hope it will bring greater pressure on the Indian civil society to emerge out of complacency. You may want to read this on the same issue.

from: ambedkar.org

from: ambedkar.org

Unless caste system, as Ambedkar taught us, is annhilated there is no real progress for this country.