Tag Archives: Caste

Anhey Ghorey Da Daan- A Review

It takes some time for the film to sink in, but when it does, Anhey Ghorey Da Daan (Alms for a Blind Horse) has mastery written all over it.

That Anhey Ghorey belongs to niche contemporary cinema is not insignificant, even more striking is that the film is in Punjabi. This is a dissonance- the film in every way is far removed from what one expects from a Punjabi movie, or even the Hindi movies that Punjabis make.

Isn’t any movie in Punjabi about a Jatt on a revenge spree? Isn’t every Hindi movie with Punjab in the background about lush green fields swaying with bright mustard crops? If not about the big fat Punjabi weddings, isn’t it supposed to be about the valour of militant patriots like Bhagat Singh?

Based on a novel of the same name by Gurdial Singh, Anhey Ghorey presents a contrarian perspective- something that isn’t found in the Bollywoodized versions of Punjab. The story is not about the revenge of the Jatts, it is not about a militant valour either. It is a life that at best is stoic, and at its worst is impassive in the face of hardships. It shows one day in the life of a Mazhabi Sikh family that lives on the fringes. The characters don’t jump into a frenzy of song and dance every few minutes- instead they eek out a  precarious existence against a a volley of brutal attacks on their daily existence.

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A Rendezvous with the Maoists, and other links

Arundhati Roy reports from her rendezvous with the Maoists:

It’s easier on the liberal conscience to believe that the war in the forests is a war between the Government of India and the Maoists, who call elections a sham, Parliament a pigsty and have openly declared their intention to overthrow the Indian State. It’s convenient to forget that tribal people in Central India have a history of resistance that predates Mao by centuries. (That’s a truism of course. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t exist.) The Ho, the Oraon, the Kols, the Santhals, the Mundas and the Gonds have all rebelled several times, against the British, against zamindars and moneylenders. The rebellions were cruelly crushed, many thousands killed, but the people were never conquered.

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Running away from Gandhi

Mahatama Gandhi’s posthumous adulation is in sharp contrast to the treatment that he received during his lifetime and even for many decades after his death. The Rashtriya Swayemsewak Sangh (RSS) criticized him for his perceived closeness to the Muslims, Muslims saw him as one who popularized Hindu symbolism in Indian politics, progressive Muslims opposed his support for the Khilafat movement and the communists opposed his advocacy of class collaboration. Even his closest followers like Pandit Nehru did not share his vision best laid out in Hind Swaraj[pdf].

Indeed, Gandhi’s politics was contradictory and invited criticism from many sides. His ‘non- violence’ has found support internationally- Nelson Mandela, Dr. Martin Luther King and more recently Obama‘s reiteration of the Mahatma’s message as being pertinent for our times. There seems to be a fatigue on part of his Indian critics, though. A section of Left nationalists like Bipan Chandra 1, Prof. PC Joshi2 and the communist ideologue Mohit Sen have come to admire Gandhi’s political vision, mainstream communists, particularly the CPI(M), ignore him. The RSS and other Hindutva outfits, except for an occasional outburst, too ignore him. Though this is in sharp contrast to earlier times. Golwalkar, for example, had commented thus on Gandhi (without naming him, though)3 :
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Caste, Racism and the UN Resolution

Hats off to the Maoists in Nepal for taking the caste question to the UN level. This is in sharp contrast to the stance taken by the Indian government all through. During the World Conference Against Racism in Durban (2001) India had opposed equating the caste system with racism and the then Attorney General Soli Sorabjee had gone on record stating that:

“There were misconceived attempts by some NGOs to equate racism with caste-based discrimination which is based on birth and occupation and has nothing to do with the race of a person.”

Earlier this year in April the Indian government had succeeded in having caste discrimination ignored in the resolution during the World Conference on Racism held in Geneva. Continue reading

Mayawati’s Iconoclasm and the statues

There is much self- righteous indignation in the media and others over the statues being installed by Mayawati all over the state of Uttar Pradesh. According to them, it is ‘clear’ to everyone with some common sense that spending Rs 1000 crores on the statues is a blatant misuse of public money.

What is missing in such ‘common sense’ perceptions is that Mayawati along with Kanshi Ram, like all innovators and path breakers, has been an iconoclast of the highest order. Between the two of them, they have created for the first time in Indian history a successful party representing some of the poorest and socially ostracized masses of the country. Like it or not, it is an unprecedented achievement. This has been done by technique and strategies that have made no sense to many because their politics is of a very different nature.

For instance, a party that claims to represent the socially oppressed, the BSP has never indicated any kind of social reform or advanced any social and economic programme for the Dalits. It’s party organization structure unique- it is neither cadre based nor does it have a hierarchy to accommodate aspiring next rung leaders. It has consciously abstained from agitation politics to focus only on creating a political machinery intent on winning elections.1 Indeed, were it not for its operation within a democratic setup, the single mindedness of its leaders is reminiscent of Lenin’s insistence on capturing state power.
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Breaking News: Firing in Vienna, riots in Jalandhar

While we were still watching television, the future arrived with the idiot box’s own version of twitter, called ‘breaking news’. In this Age, speed is God. Everything, but particularly truth and exactitude, can be sacrificed to propitiate Hurry, the God. Often though, such news turns out to be as much broken as it is breaking.

A case in point is the incident in Vienna, Austria last month where two priests of the Guru Ravi Das sect were fired upon. Within hours riots broke out in the Jalandhar city in Punjab. The media, both print and  electronic variously, and mistakenly, termed it as a clash between two rival Sikh sects, an attack on a Sikh guru or a Sikh priest and Sikh gurudwara without realizing that the Ravi Dasi gurus and gurudwaras are not Sikh institutions. It also showed how much the media is  tied to religious categories and is so little aware not only of a minority religion but also of contemporary ‘low’ caste movements and sects.
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Reading, of late

Of late, I have been reading the way I like to-  a handful of books at the same time. Some of these are:

The Essential Writings of BR Ambedkar Edited by Valerian Rodrigues (OUP)
Behenji by Ajoy Bose (Penguin)
The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte by Karl Marx (one of my old favourite works)

I was also lucky to meet an old comrade, Dr Harjinder Singh Laltu few weeks back, and read his delightful collection of Hindi short stories, Ghugni

A few selected articles from online reading:
Why many Ambedkar statues in India?
Chavez’s gift to Obama: seems Chavez gifted him Lenin’s What is to be done?
How Chavez snubbed Mario Vargas llosa
Aren’t OBC women also women? at Kafila

Finally, if you not following that excellent blog India Chronicles, you are missing something !

Dalits in Punjab: Silent no more

Little over a year ago, this blog had posed the question:

There is a deafening silence on part of dalits in Punjab. One wonders why, and for how long.

To which a naive comment from a reader was:

Presumably if Dalit oppression was blunted by Sikh philosophy, if not absolutely at least comparatively, Dalits might not have felt need for a movement.

Over the last two days, my question as well as the comment to the post have been answered loud and clear.

Limited Social base of Indian Sociology

In the current issue of the EPW, Surinder S Jodhka has an exhaustive review of the book Anthropology in the East: Founders of Indian Sociology and Anthropology. He critically points out that the social base of the early Indian sociologists was rather limited (made up almost exclusively of Brahmin men) and correlates this with the concerns of Indian sociological studies.

My only (minor) crib with the review and possibly with the book is that there is no mention of Radhakamal Mukherji who pioneered the teaching of sociology in the 1930s at  Lucknow University, though the contributions of his colleague D.P. Mukherji are well recounted.

Incidentally, Surinder,  an old friend and now a prof at JNU, has earlier guest blogged here. Following is an excerpt from the review.

However, these life histories of pioneers also tell us about the larger social contexts in which sociology/social anthropology, and perhaps, other social sciences began to be practised in India during the colonial period, the kind of people who came to occupy positions in the university system and the kind of knowledge they produced about Indian society. With the exception of two “foreigners”, all the Indian scholars were upper caste Hindus. With the exception of one upper caste brahmin woman, they were all men. Continue reading

1857- A Dalit Narrative

Hindi writer Badri Narayan puts together a riveting narrative of the role of dalits during the 1857 revolt. As with any historical narrative, it is as much an attempt to re- write the past as it is to bring a historical perspective to contemporary struggles and claims to the nation.
Although we know that the colonial archive has been created guided by the needs of the colonizers, yet these narratives function as rays of light in the search for the role of dalits in the 1857 revolt. The narratives around dalit identity which the dalits are using to prove their role in the 1857 revolt are also based on the colonial archives that enlist the names of the people who were hanged for their role in the revolt, since the mainstream nationalist Indian history completely ignores the contribution of dalits in the revolt. For example Matadin Bhangi, a sweeper in the British army at Barrackpore, who is claimed by the dalits to have spearheaded the 1857 revolt since he was the first to make Mangal Pandey, the mainstream nationalist originator of the revolt, aware of the fact that the cartridges were greased with cow fat, has been overlooked by the official record of the revolt. However that he was not a figment of the imagination of the dalits can be proved by the colonial archives that show that he was hanged to death for participating in the revolt. In the same vein there is another myth about a dalit hero of the 1857 revolt which is popular in the oral memories of the region adjoining Kanpur and Bithoor. This is the myth of Gangu Mehtar who is also known as Gangu Baba. The people of that region say that Gangu Baba was a Bhangi who worked as a drum beater (nagarchi) in the army of Nana Saheb. He was built extremely powerfully and was also a wrestler. He himself owned a wrestling ring where many youths practiced wrestling under his tutelage. During the 1857 revolt Gangu Baba fought against the British along with his students at a place near Satichaura and killed many of them. After the revolt was quelled he was arrested by the British and hanged to death. The story of Gangu baba has transcended from the real world into the ethereal world and there is a popular story about him that is still circulated among the people in the region where he died which establish his supernatural qualities.

Link to Pratilipi via Publisher’s Post.

Caste, Class and Anti- Imperialism

Joseph D’souza reviews Anti- imperialism and Annihilation of Caste by Anand Telumbde.

Teltumbde is most provocative when he argues that the primary caste contradiction is between Dalits and all non-Dalits or savarnas and not between dwija and not-dwija. He also shows how one can and needs to perform a class analysis to show contradictions between castes. For example he boldly highlights Dalit and OBC class contradictions by showing how the dwija vs. non-dwija categories which place the large population of OBCs as allies of all Dalits, hide the real class contradictions between them. Thus, Teltumbde is not satisfied with opportunistic attempts to put together electoral formations of “bahujan” since these do not represent the “ground reality” of Dalits (218). Nonetheless, he is also careful to argue that each of these legalistic caste categories itself contains a heterogeneous class population.

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Demandalizing Mandal

When the implementation of the Mandal Commission Report was announced during VP Singh led National Front regime, my first reaction was to oppose it. This natural, even if a knee jerk reaction, was because it did not reconcile with the notions of class and in my view it actually was detrimental to formation of class consciousness. It was not that I was not aware of the caste system or its vagaries, however, I shared the unstated Nehruvian belief that economic development and education would do away with the caste system. The first pillar of belief that fell in those days, therefore, was that education could be equated with egalitarianism and humanism.

My views changed quite dramatically within a few days as opposition to the announcement gathered force and “upper” caste-ism came to the fore. This aroused my first doubts – if this Report is something that is so rabidly hated by those, who I agreed were relatively privileged “upper” caste folks, then something is amiss. What clinched the issue was the intemperate and insulting language the protesters employed against whom they considered to be the beneficiaries- the backward castes but also the scheduled castes who were more easily identifiable because they were already availing the reserved quotas.

In the early days following the announcement, it was difficult to even get hold of the Report. I managed to get a xeroxed copy from a local NGO’s social scientist. What amazed me was the sheer force of the arguments in the report that transformed my views within a few days, if not overnight. So, it is a bit disconcerting that even after nearly two decades, I am not able to find an online version of the Report, because I remember it went much beyond just making the case for reservations. In the process of implementing one of its recommendations, it’s thrust has been diluted, and hence “demandalized.”

However, I have been able to find this 2003 article by SS Gill, who was the secretary to the Commission when it submitted its report and where he points to the bigger picture painted by the Report.

Diluting Mandal

On the face of it, the radical change in the political landscape of the country marks the setting right of ancient historical wrongs. Or does it? In fact, to some extent, the Mandal Commission report was `demandalised’ during the very process of its implementation. Of the dozen or so recommendations, only one pertaining to reservation was picked up, as it had the highest visibility and attracted immediate attention. More far-reaching recommendations regarding structural changes in the land-tenurial system, and institutional reforms for the educational and economic uplift of the OBCs were not even noticed. The attention thus got focussed on the fruits rather than the roots and branches of the tree of affirmative action.

Related Post: Dr Ambedkar on reservations for OBCs