Saturday, 25 September 2010

What Path to Salvation? by Dr. B. R. Ambedkar

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American Chronicle | The Other Side of Personality of Babasaheb Ambedkar-The Maker of the Indian Constitution

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Peter Tatchell: India's Dalit community faces segregation and abuse | Comment is free |

Peter Tatchell: India's Dalit community faces segregation and abuse | Comment is free |

Thursday, 23 September 2010

India's New Buddhists

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Milestones, Dec. 17, 1956

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Taking on Gandhi

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'He's Up There With the Likes of Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King'

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Mayawati is letting down Dalits and Uttar Pradesh « Indian Dalit Muslims' Voice

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Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Dr. Ambedkar’s biggest self-admitted blunder: Surrendering to Gandhi’s blackmail on Separate Electorate « Rupee News

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Buddha and His Dhamma; Unpublished preface


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An Untouchable's Life in Politics

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Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Dr.B.R. Ambedkar-the champion of womens rights. | Samyukta :: A Journal of Women’s Studies ambedkar-the champion of womens rights. | Samyukta :: A Journal of Women’s Studies

Dr. BR Ambedkar’s Interview on BBC_2/2 - Watch Online Videos -

Dr. BR Ambedkar’s Interview on BBC_2/2 - Watch Online Videos -

Introduction: A New Buddhism

Introduction: A New Buddhism
Ambedkar and the Post-Ambedkar Dalit Intellectuals
Harish K. Puri
Desperate beatings on the drums of an imagined upper-caste past will produce no long-lasting victories. Gail Omvedt (Dalit Visions 1995:103)
The Dalit’s dogmatism about Ambedkar and his thoughts and philosophy may bring some immediate gains but may prove to be fatal in the long run for both the expansion of his ideas and philosophy and their own interests to be pursued through that.
Nandu Ram (Beyond Ambedkar 1995:80-81)
Are Brahmins still our Shatrus? . . . I very deeply felt that the thinking Dalit has somehow become a prisoner of the past, and for any successful battle of emancipation, the emancipators themselves must emancipate first
Chandra Bhan Prasad (The Pioneer 20.7.2003)
The consciousness and attitude of Dalit movements appears to have been frozen at its birth. It needs to recognise that the post independence reality presents a far more intricate complexity than in colonial times.
Anand Teltumbde (“Theorising the Dalit Movement”: 2000:27)
Dr Ambedkar is misunderstood on two crucial counts. One that he was merely a leader of Dalits, and two that he was anti- communist.
If others look down on me in their belief that my caste is low, it is their problem, not mine. I certainly don’t need to torment myself over it. I pity them, for they are the victims of their own obsolete prejudices. . . . Dignity, after all rests in the mind and heart . . . and soul. I have to reclaim it not from outside, but from within. And for that I must cut off the albatross of the caste system from my soul, once and for all.
Narendra Jadhav (Outcaste, 214)
The truth is that there are too many so- called leaders of Dalits who have actually betrayed Dalit interests.
Gopal Guru
The observations cited above point to the ferment among the Dalit intellectuals – the growing children of Ambedkar--- who were apparently dissatisfied with the course of Post-Ambedkar Dalit movement and searched for a clear direction of Dalit struggle for their emancipation. They looked up to Ambedkar for wisdom and direction. The challenges in the present context were different from those that Ambedkar had grappled with. His assessments and priorities changed, sometimes radically. Anand Teltumbde, in his book Ambedkar in and for the Post-Ambedkar Dalit Movement, for example, recalled Professor Upendra Baxi’s question, which he raised 14 years ago at the Ambedkar Birth Centenary celebration. There were many Ambedkars, wrote Baxi, and asked as to “which Ambedkar do we commemorate”? Teltumbde referred to the ambivalence reflected in Ambedkar’s sayings and doings. This, according to him, provided to the Dalit activists the scope to construct a variety of icons of Ambedkar and to interpret his teachings in a manner suitable to their own political agendas. There are among the Dalit intellectuals today clear signs of a critical review of their earlier positions in the light of the changed social and political reality. A call to move “from the abstract to the concrete” was, for example, raised strongly by Chandra Bhan Prasad. “The Issue for an intellectual”, as he argued, “is to balance the abstract by the force of the concrete”.( ) The participation of many in the Durban Conference and the World Social Summit seems to have made a considerable difference to the thinking of India ’s Dalit intellectuals. Their exposure to different kinds of struggles being waged by the oppressed people around the world and to the new kinds of challenges emerging in the wake of globalisation and liberalisation encouraged new thinking.
One such evidence comes from the ‘Bhopal Dalit Document’ of 2002 that emerged from the long discussions among a galaxy of Dalit intellectuals and activists representing diverse shades of opinion. On the agenda was Dalit response to the new openings and the challenges posed by the forces of international capitalism on the one hand and by the sectarian and revivalist agenda of the protagonists of Hindutva, on the other. This document makes a resolve to liberate the Dalit imagination from the stranglehold of some of the major and passionately held ideas about objectives and strategy of Dalit emancipation. It called for a serious review of the developments during the last 50 years. There was almost a consensus on the fact that Dalit bureaucrats and political leaders failed to make themselves into a social capital unlike those of the upper castes. One of the significant developments was the resolve not to remain tied to the discourse of “job–reservations”. The document asked for state intervention to ensure the de-casteisation of the economy, so that Dalits could become active players in the market. It was pleaded that private sector corporations in India should introduce “diversity principle” on the “American Model” to reserve a share of jobs for Dalits. There are problems with the impulse underlying the Bhopal Declaration and some of its assumptions, which we would discuss shortly. But one thing is prominent. There is serious effort to explore new ways of safeguarding and promoting Dalit interests. The new churning among the Dalit intellectuals also brought up the differences in their assessment of the past struggles of Dalits and about the vision and the strategy of action for the future. And these differences were sometimes sharp. That is a measure of the maturing of the thinking children of Ambedkar. Pride in Ambedkar’s legacy and gratitude towards his contribution became in this exercise a legitimate ground for “redefining Ambedkar”, understanding his core impulses and ideas, and for going beyond Ambedkar.
Babasaheb Ambedkar enjoyed an exceptional honour and love, as a liberator, among the Dalits. As Prasad put it, he was for the Dalit multitude a Prophet or “Christ plus”. No single leader, in the recent history of India , cared and did for them so much with love as he did to the transformation of the world of Dalits -–- in their perception of their self-worth and their destiny. Thanks to his vigorous and multi-dimensional efforts, the Dalits are today far more confident of themselves; they are far more politically conscious and assertive about their rights and about the need for struggle against oppression and exploitation than ever before. In fact, Ambedkar is perhaps the only one amongst the national leaders of India who seems to have grown immensely in his stature after his death, even among the non- Dalits.
The political priorities of Ambedkar and the interventions he made were, however, the responses to the problems he faced and the opportunities available to him in the specific historical conditions of his times. He launched a number of different kinds of struggles and established a variety of organisations. He was no less involved in working out an ideal philosophy of life. He grew with times and changed programmes and tactics accordingly. His prolific writings covered a wide range. But his primary concerns during the last years of his life were two. One was the project of establishing such institutions, rules and norms as would end untouchability and exploitation of his people and enable them to claim their rights to liberty, equality and human dignity. The second was the creation of a sensitive and civilised society in which there is a climate of fraternity. One of the most significant of his contributions for that purpose was the framing of the Constitutional Law of India. He had great faith in the rule of law. Given the clearly laid down objectives of the Constitution and the Directive Principals of the state policy, he had hoped (despite apprehensions to the contrary) that the state would be able to create the conditions necessary for social justice. Unfortunately, the apprehensions came to be true. The Indian state largely failed in fulfilling its constitutional obligations of social justice and the Indian people together failed in creating a civilised or caring society, where fraternity is possible.
Regarding how the intellectuals assessed the overall thrust of the state’s developmental and affirmative actions and its impact on the Dalits there were sharp differences among them. Some of them thought that such intervention by the state had, instead of empowering the Dalits, contributed to their subordination to a patronizing system. That point of view has been well articulated by S. P. Punalekar, himself a non-dalit. While there is recognition of the improvement made in the conditions of life of the Dalits it was viewed as a process which had, by giving to the small upwardly mobile section a few opportunities of personal advancement and a nominal share in political power divided the dalits. They distanced themselves from the vast section of their fellows. For the mass of dalits it created a situation of relative deprivation, making them to aspire for what the elites gained and tying them to a system of looking for benefits from above. ( ) Gopal Guru moved beyond this by looking at it as a negative process. According to him, the advancement of some sections, which facilitated their co-option and which trapped the Dalits in a “mobility syndrome”, contributed to a negative consciousness of looking for incremental improvement. The reduction of “absolute deprivation into relative deprivation” had the consequence of atomisation of an individual which “denies any community a collectively critical subversive consciousness”. (EPW April 3, 1993)
Anand Teltumbde largely agreed with Guru’s perception that such consciousness ‘emasculated’ the Dalits and denuded them of the revolutionary consciousness. Incremental change and improvement seemed to them to be counter-productive and harmful to their liberation. In a fundamental sense, the changes that occurred during the last fifty years of development and change had, according to them, further harmed and weakened them. In fact they tended to give the impression that absolute deprivation of the Dalits might have been better because that would have prepared them for bringing about a revolutionary transformation of society. One could recall how some of our Leninist or communist activists used to look for signs of the sharpening of class contradictions for the revolution to happen. Kancha Ilaiah, on the other hand, did not think much of “relative deprivation”. He believed that “Post-independent India has not given the Dalit-Bahujans anything except a saga of atrocities”. (The Pioneer January 30, 2000 )
Many intellectuals and perhaps a vast majority of Dalits, on the other hand, appeared to appreciate, howsoever grudgingly, the difference made in their lives, and were grateful to Babasaheb Ambedkar for making that possible through the Constitution. That was in spite of the sense of betrayal and anger over the state’s failure. In fact, most of today’s Dalit intellectuals are the product largely of state interventions --- ‘reservations’, education, and schemes designed for welfare of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes etc. The respect the Dalits had for ‘Babasaheb Ambedkar’s Constitution’ was evident when the NDA government initiated a review of the Constitution. No other section of society felt so incensed and angry, as the Dalits did, over the suspected “design to mutilate” the Constitution made by Ambedkar.
The overall changes in the country’s economy and society also made an impact on Dalit life. The end of jajmani relations, for example, helped in their liberation in the rural areas. A large section of Dalits moved away from the traditional caste-based occupations. It is correct that the Dalits still constitute the main strata below the poverty line and that caste discrimination and oppression of Dalits is very widely prevalent. Practices, such as those of the ‘two glasses’ system or separate cremation grounds persist in many parts of India, in violation of the law. The Dalits as a community continued to be more vulnerable to atrocities than others. The oppressors and criminals, both upper caste and OBCs, routinely succeeded in securing greater protection of the law and the civil society against the victims. But the practice of ‘untouchability’ has become an evil which could be referred to only in the past-tense. No social or political platform in India can today advocates or defends the injunctions of Manusmriti or the Varnashram, and still remains respectable or goes unchallenged. Over four million were employed in government or other public sector jobs. Chandra Bhan Prasad, for instance, argued in a article,
Now there are one million dalits with pucca houses, electricity, water supply, clean jobs, Television, fridge, scooter/car better colonies against only a few hundred of that kind in 1950. . . Can we not aspire to make the number 10 million and focus on education and self –employment for Dalits?
It was no small change that for the first time in history it was possible for a Dalit to be the President of India and another to be the Chief Minister of the biggest state in India. The Dalits have come to recognise their importance and stake in the electoral democracy. Each political party would like to woo them. None of these dare to take a position on public issues that was inimical to the interests of Dalits. Though their representation is still rather meager, we can find some presence of Dalits in practically all public institutions and occupations. What is more significant, the Dalits would not, any more, take insults without resistance or retaliation. And in their struggle against oppression they were no more friendless.
There were other changes in the overall environment which effected the options available to them at present. It is a long time, for example, since the Indians turned their backs on Gandhian Ram Rajya, which Ambedkar ridiculed as conservative and obscurantist. The modernist Ambedkar and his advocacy of a social and political order, based on liberty, equality, fraternity, and human dignity, has today a much wider constituency of supporters across barriers of caste, religion and even nationality. On the other hand, the faith in Nehru’s “socialist pattern of society or Ambedkar’s “state socialism” seems to be loosing out to the call for privatisation and free market. There is a crisis of welfare state and the state is fast withdrawing from its basic obligations of providing education, drinking water and medical facilities, or of prevention of disease and multiple kinds of pollution. The declining ability of the state to provide good governance hits the weakest and the poorest i.e. the Dalits, the most. The Dalit intellectuals are faced with a new context and new kind of challenges. That required critical rethinking on the worth of the achievements in the past, the vision for the future and strategy for the present
A number of questions have been raised during the last decade or so by a fairly large number of Dalit intellectuals such as Narinder Jadhav, Nandu Ram, Anand Teltumbde, Chandra Bhan Prasad, S P Punalekar, Gopal Guru, Gail Omvedt and Kancha Ilaiah. Besides the theoretical and other academic contributions made by scholars in publications and in presentations at conferences and seminars, there was evidence of wide participation in debates on a rich variety of relevant issues in popular magazines like the Dalit Voice, Pal Pratipal, Yuddhrat Aam Aadmi, and web magzines like and
One of the major issues related to the Dalit response to the ideology and forces of liberalisation and globalisation. There was an urge to understand what course of action and priorities Ambedkar would have followed in the present conditions of liberalisation. Many of Ambedkar’s followers were shocked when Narendra Jadhav observed that Ambedkar would have supported liberalisation; that he was in favour of material prosperity, private property and an open economy. Jadhav saw in globalisation and liberalisation new kinds of openings for Dalit emancipation. As the Principal Economic Advisor on Analysis and Policy in the Reserve Bank of India, he was one of the trained economists and one of the highest officers among Dalits. His credentials as a neo-Buddhist Ambedkarite were impeccable. His published biographical family history, Outcaste, created waves in many parts of the world, as an outstanding contribution to literature on Dalits. His observations could not be ignored lightly; not by Dalit intellectuals. No less important was the view of Gail Omvedt in this regard, even though she was shocked when Jadhav stated 15 years ago that Ambedkar would have favoured devaluation of the rupee. (1999: 275) On the other hand, some of the other well-known Dalit economists such as S K Thorat and Anand Teltumbde, disagreed with such an interpretation of Ambedkar and regarded liberalisation as a grave threat which may harm the Dalits the most. In fact, as Omvedt discovered, there was great confusion about Ambedkar’s economic theory. Part of the reason lay in his strongly propagated idea of “Brahminism and Capitalism” being the two enemies of Dalits. His advocacy of “state socialism”, including nationalisation of land and industry, has been a part of Dalit imagination of Ambedkar’s radical agenda. It was believed that Ambedkar was opposed to private agricultural property. In a recent issue of the Ambedkarite weekly paper Bheem Patrika, for example, a saying of Ambedkar about private property was published prominently as under.
If a murderer can be killed because he has killed a citizen, if a soldier can be killed in war because he belongs to a hostile nation; why a property owner cannot be killed if his ownership leads to misery for the rest of humanity. There is no reason to make an exception in favour of the property owner, why one should regard property as sacrosanct. (No.45 November 2004 (1) p. 2)
To deal with the confusion, Gail Omvedt tried to look closely at Ambedkar’s economic theory. She discovered a distinct shift in Ambedkar’s thinking during the last few years of his life. In his Buddha or Karl Marx, Ambedkar had articulated a distinctly new perspective, wherein he “rejects” state socialism, and nationalisation and turned to Buddhism as the “solution” to “economic exploitation”. He called it a “moral economy” solution. The distinct superiority of Buddhism over Christianity, as he argued, lay “precisely” in its rejection of Christian values of poverty and other-worldliness: “There is no Sermon on the Mount to be found in Buddha’s teachings. His teaching is to acquire wealth”.
Ambedkar cited Buddha’s sermon to his disciple Ananthapindika.
The disciple asked, “Will the Enlightened One tell what things are welcome, pleasant, agreeable to the householder but which are hard to gain?
The Enlightened One having heard the question put to him said ,
“Of such things the first is to acquire wealth lawfully’.
“The second is to see that your relations also get their wealth lawfully”.
“The third is to live long and reach great age” . . .
Ambedkar, accordingly argued that,
“to acquire wealth legitimately and justly, earned by great industry, amassed by strength of the arm and gained by the sweat of the brow is a great blessing”. (text in Rodrigues 2002: 188, also Omvedt, op.cit.)
He stopped talking of socialism and instead talked in terms of an ideal of “abundance and wealth accumulation”. Ambedkar’s faith in Western liberalism and perhaps the Fabian influence contained in the word “lawfully” speaks of innocence. After all the British colonial expropriation was followed according to their laws as much the practice of apartheid in south Africa; and the Morgans, the Fords and MNCs of today like Wall-Mart operated lawfully. Omvedt, however, thought that the above mentioned shift in Ambedkar thinking “presents some alternatives that will make both market and state work for the good of the people”. But she was not sure whether Ambedkar would have opposed privatisation or supported liberalisation. Most likely, as she believed, he “would have been pragmatic, looking for a combination of state, market and community”. (1999 : 284) She apparently looked for greater hope and opportunities for Dalits in the age of liberalisation. Many of the Dalit intellectuals who apparently felt more concerned about the Dalit poor, however, chose to ignore the later Ambedkar’s economic ideas. Or may be they were not well aware of the shift in his position? In any case, they preferred to rally the pre–1948 state-socialist Ambedkar to the support of their arguments and agenda. Ambedkar, therefore, served as the guiding prophet for the two opposing positions on liberalisation. The effort of enlisting his support for the new ideology of lawful freedom for money-making, as the route to good future for Dalits, is however, more likely than not, going to be an illusion.
Closely connected to the above was the issue of the character of the state in general and the Indian state in particular and the capacity of the Indian state to regulate, if not control, the operation of the market in favour of social justice. As the maker of the Constitution and during his days as Law Minister he appeared to have reposed great faith in the role and capacity of the state as an agency of social and economic transformation. His apparently well thought ideas formed part of the Memorandum of March 1947 which he submitted to the Constituent Assembly, on behalf of the Scheduled Caste Federation. In that Memorandum, which was published as The States and Minorities, he observed that basic industries shall be owned by the State and that
Insurance shall be a monopoly of the State. Agriculture shall be a State industry. Land will belong to the State and shall be let out to villagers without distinction of caste or creed and in such a manner that there will be no landlord, no tenant and no landless labourer
(Cited from Keer: 1995:391)
Teltumbde believed that even though Ambedkar’s thinking about state reflected some amount of autonomy from the hegemony of the ruling class, “his conception of the state is largely idealist”. The idea of class character of the state and the limits of state action vis a vis the ruling class-caste interests and the ruling custom and morality did not seem to be intrinsic to Ambedkar’s thinking. If things went wrong and the state failed in its obligations, it would only be so because “man was vile”, not because of the character of the state system or the structure of community power.
The consensus among the Dalit intellectuals and activists at the Bhopal Conference was, in the manner of the socialist Ambedkar of 1947-50, in favour of high expectations from the state and its command over the economy. The conference recognised that the reluctantly agreed social consensus at the time of independence had “by and large broken down”. There was agreement on the point that the system of discrimination and exclusion remained deeply entrenched in the civil society. However, they were evidently inclined to hope that the state may be forced to pursue a more proactive agenda for “redeeming the pledges of the founding fathers of the Republic to do justice to the Dalits”. Accordingly, practically each one of the “21-Point Action Agenda For the 21 st Century” spelled out concretely what the state must do. Interestingly, as Aditya Nigam points out, the relevant chapter of the draft of “Bhopal Document” contained a passionate call that
Every walk of life in India should be subjected to rigid state control till society attains civility and social democracy matures.
Nigam correctly observed that it was “contrary to all social scientific sense”, that the state may be regarded as the embodiment of social reform and as the guarantor against the discriminatory practices of the economic forces and the ‘civil society’. (EPW March 30, 2002 : 1192) And that too, at a time when the state appeared to be all set to go into the service of the free market and prepared to wash its hands off its basic social obligations.
The present time is distinctly different from that of the early post-independence period of “consensus” regarding the transformational and social welfare role of the state. Even at that time, however, Ambedkar’s frustration came within one year of the Republic, when he talked of burning the Constitution. That was, followed by his resignation from the cabinet over the Hindu Code Bill. It seemed, in retrospect, that the feeling of betrayal was perhaps no less attributable to the illusions about the State being a neutral or a benign agency and about the working of representative governments. The constitution and the State worked to the good of the ruling interests, as in the case of land reforms; and of the ruling caste, as in the case of Hindu social reform legislation. Given a semblance of understanding of the structure of community power or the class character of the state, one wondered whether the expected social transformation did not amount to erring on the side of illusion. That is to say, in spite of the commitment of a Jawaharlal Nehru and the presence of the alluded “consensus”.
One can, understand the pragmatism of Dalit intellectuals at Bhopal. Chandra Bhan Prasad, who played the most crucial role at the conference and who is presently the only Dalit activist who makes his presence felt in India’s predominantly upper caste media, and his colleagues. had their reasons. Prasad’s appreciation for what the Indian state had been able to do for the Dalits carried sense in the pervading repertoire of relentless denial. However, while moving on to a positive agenda, the final resolution tended to give the impression of placing inordinate faith in the role of the Indian state and government, particularly in the context of the ruling market rationality. Secondly, the above mentioned focus on the benefit to a section of Dalits also tended to ignore the consequences of the widening differentials even among the Dalits. It also refused to grapple with the problem of the fast decline in the ability of the state to deliver the goods, even in terms of routine governance. There is considerable weight in S. P. Punalekar’s assessment that in the age of liberalisation, Dalits would need more, and not less support and protection from the State. But we need to be cautious and remember that the State is under far stronger hold of the propertied interests today than earlier. It is turning into more of a security state primarily meant to safeguard the property and investments of the big corporations, particularly MNCs. The faith which the Bhopal Consensus reposed in rigid state control was more likely, than not, to go against the Dalits and the other poor. Unless the struggle is directed to, what Randhir Singh described as “transformation of the nature of political power itself”.
The role of religion and conversion to Buddhism, which Ambedkar emphasised on, was another issue that has been a subject of debate among the Dalit intellectuals. It is well known that Ambedkar had great faith in religion, particularly during the later period of his life. “My philosophy has roots in religion and not in political science”, he stated. He also stated that he derived the fundamentals of “liberty, equality and fraternity”, from the teachings of Buddha, not from the French Revolution. According to Dhanajay Keer, Ambedkar was unhappy that the men of his party were interested more in politics than in religion, while he himself was interested more in religion than in politics. (1995: 502). Conversion of half a million followers to Buddhism was his last major enterprise and he thought of devoting the rest of his life to propagation of Buddhism. His hopes of radical social change seemed to be focussed on making India a Buddhist country within ten to fifteen years. To quote again from Keer’s biography of Ambedkar, “he thought that he would achieve now for Buddhism what Shankracharya had done for Hinduism’. (Keer: 509) Economic interpretation of history was not Ambedkar’s forte. Not many of his followers considered it crucial to understanding how politics happens. To many of them as teltumbde commented “Buddhism was the culmination of ambedkar’s mission and hence the true Ambedkarite not only had to be a Buddhist but also had to work for the spread of Buddhism’ ( 1997: 18) It is no wonder that some of them, including leaders like Udit Raj, considered conversion to Buddhism as the key to the emancipation of Dalits.
Several other intellectuals, such as Prasad and Teltumbde, for example, however, correctly regarded it as a useless distraction. Perhaps it was little more than thumbing one’s nose against Hinduism. Prasad ridiculed the choice of Ambedkar’s Buddhist radicals: “why this mad euphoria about conversion to Buddhism? It is no help’. The key thing, according to him, was the change in occupation. Teltumbde , who is a votary of revolution, was amazed that his followers projected Ambedkar as the Bodhisatva that inspires Nirvana – the state of total detachment from worldly matters. He believed it was a serious mistake that Ambedkar made Buddhism a substitute for Marxism. His excessive religiosity towards the last years of his life seemed to him to be a manifestation of “ frustration” of his efforts in the political domain. (1997: 64). “It is paradoxical that a person who is rational enough not to bind the posterity with his vision, volitionally binds himself with what is said 25 centuries before”, he said. The Buddhist orientation towards inwardness, according to him, “dis-oriented the Dalits” from the material world where their real problems are located. “Without the ideology of class struggle, the Dalit movement could never come to grips with the real problem of Dalits or comprehend the means to solve them”.
There was appreciation for the absence of irrationality in Buddhism and also for the value of moral force in social life. It was also felt that Ambedkar’s turn to Buddhism was meant not only to provide a new religion to his people but also a new cultural identity in place of the discarded Hindu identity. It is different point, however, to examine why do issues of social transformation sometimes end up as issues of identity. In the event, Mahars in Maharshtra were the only major section of Dalits who converted to Buddhism. Further, the growing emphasis on ritualism, mythology, or the controversial Vipasana, the pechant for more Buddhist temples, statues, religious congregations --- known aberrations in any organised religion --- made it no different from other religions in practice. A Buddhist Dalit remained as much a Dalit as a Hindu, Christian or Muslim Dalit. Mandelsohn and Vicziany referred to another negative dimension. According to them, the emphasis on Buddhist identity itself became a divide, between the Buddhist Dalits and the Hindu poor and oppressed communities. ( 2000: 217) In fact it also walled out other Dalit communities. To the Mangs in Maharashtra , for instance, it became the religion of the Mahars ; just as for the Bamikis in U P and Punjab that of a section of the Chamar. No wonder that most of the Dalit activists, including Kanshi Ram and Mayawati were not attracted to it.
That ideology free penchant for acquiring political power has been another subject of rethinking among Dalits intellectuals. Ambedkar’s followers were perhaps the most inspired by his call for “making Dalits the ruling race”. No one has as skillfully utilised that slogan to the advantage of his movement as Kanshi Ram did. Most of the other kinds of statements and observations of Ambedkar were not relevant. Teltumbde thought that Kanshi Ram ignored Ambedkar’s vision and instead propagated an image of Ambedkar as a master strategist, for whom electoral victory and acquiring seat of power was in itself the key to Dalit liberation. The focus of BSP and factions of RPI on somehow winning the largest number of seats in an election made the ideological thrust of Dalit struggle less relevant. It was alleged that instead of empowering the Dalits, such no holds-barred pursuit of political power robbed them of their little self-esteem and their potential optimism of will to change the social and political system. Questions were therefore raised whether such power was for Dalits an end in itself or means to a radical social transformation?
Closely connected to this issue, for the Dalit intellectuals, were the questions of adequacy of caste identity and Bahujan solidarity. Mere caste identity, as Teltumbde argued was bound to be dysfunctional. The question of Jati identity obstructed even Dalit solidarity. The fact that the benefit of reservations and other affirmative measures went more to a few advantaged Scheduled Castes favoured what Gopal Guru described as “politicisation of relative deprivation” among the others caste groups. The Mangs, for instance, positioned themselves against the Mahars. Educated Dalits like Jagannath Pani insisted that “‘jati identity’ can not be sacrificed for the sake of ‘Dalit unity’ “. ( Dalit Voice, April 16-30, 1999) The Balmikis insisted on their separate identity against the Chamars. Interestingly, some of the latter publicly declared their objective to be achievement of a “Chamar Raj“.
The question of Dalit unity with the OBCs and the religious minorities in the broad based struggle for social justice has been another issue of interest to the Dalit intellectuals and activists. Organisations such as Bahujan Samaj Party and BAMCEF were founded on that principle. Of late a certain rethinking has started on whether the interests of the Dalits Dalits and OBC are common or conflicting and contradictory. Chandrabhan Prasad has pleaded that the concrete reality pointed to a fundamental conflict of interest between the two. In his weekly column in The PIoneer and his book Dalit Diary he argued that after independence the Brahmins had been gradually replaced by the shudra or the OBC castes as the immediate and ”real tormentors of the Dalits”. The shudra castes (OBCs), according to him benefited the most from land reforms and became the landowning castes. Following Mandalisation and the strengthening of their clout in electoral politics they emerged as the most violent caste-class enemy of the Dalits. Instead of abstract ideas of broader class unity, the concrete reality, according to him, demanded a complete rethinking on the issue. In fact, writing under the title “Are Brahmins still our Shatrus? he argued that in the changed context, “Dalits and dwijas are destined to form common political coalition against marauding shudras”. (The Pioneer, July 20, 2003)
The differing perceptions and agendas among the Dalit intellectuals, pointed to the dichotomy between the selective directions from the”Ambedkar of faith” and the “essential Ambedkar”. In terms of essentials, his vision was that of creating a social and political order pervaded by values of liberty, equality and fraternity. For that purpose, the Constitution of India included besides the apparatuses and procedures of governance, a rather conspicuous text , what Upendra Baxi described as “Justice text”. Ambedkar had no doubt in his mind that it was not possible to conceptualize Dalit emancipation without the state committed to “a redistribution of resources and “redirection of the market”. No less important to him was the creation of a sensitive and caring civil society? He saw the civil society as the “conscience-keeper of the political sphere” which determined the course of governance. Perhaps that was part of the reason why he devoted all his energy during the last days of his life to explore and articulate the importance of Buddhism to the creation of a sensitive and responsible civil society.
The task before the Dalits in this age of liberalisation, privatisation and globalisation, is far more difficult and challenging. One of the problems, it seems, lies in the thinking of what K. P. Singh termed as “Dalit Bourgeoisie”. It was amazing that those who drafted the Bhopal Dalit Document waved the flag of “American Model” for seeking space for Dalits in Business corporations. It stated, for example, that the “American society has undergone a sea change in its attitude”; that “The U S has evolved into a thriving democracy”, which is”now an enthusiastic advocate and practitioner of equality of opportunity, affirmative action and diversity policies in every sphere of life “. (p.67, cited from Nigam, op.cit.) Sure enough, the blacks have been, following a dogged and hard struggle for decades, able to secure space in the big companies. But does that mean that this appearance social justice should be allowed to blind us to the general thrust of the ruling market rationality?
Liberalisation and globalisation tend to yoke the state and community to the service of the market. Market operates for profit. Chomsky explains the logic of international capitalism under an eloquent title of his book -- Profit over People. The lesson which economists like J K Galbriath drew from their own experience of the working of the said combination in USA are important. During the 1940s and 1950s, as Galbraith argued, the big business was used to lobbying to pressurise the agencies of state for such policies and legislation as would be favourable to their business interests. Now, as he finds, the big business are directly a part of the government.
There is another logical consequence. The small section of the rich and prosperous get disconnected from the society. A Harvard scholar Robert Reich described it as “Secession of the Successful”. It is no surprise that even the Dalit intellectuals “ in search of a Dalit Bourgeiosie” appeared to be getting disconnected from their less fortunate kinsmen. One has to take into account another related and serious problem liberalisation has posed, that is, the general disabling of governments. Political scientists have observed that in the present context, even when the people may be able to elect the representatives and the party which they liked, it was not sure that such an elected government would be free and able to make and implement decisions which it promised or even liked to make and implement. There is a tremendous global pressure for rolling back the welfare state and for limiting the intervention of the state in the social sector. On the other hand, consumerism and obsession with individual self-gratification, which is the hall-mark of liberalisation, tends to ridicule compassion and social morality. It is pertinent to remember that possessive individualism of the market strikes at the root of community feelings or “fraternity”, which was so central to Ambedkar’s and Mahatma Gandhi’s concerns.
It is necessary to understand that it is not possible in today’s context to conceive of Dalit emancipation outside or independent of the vast masses of the poor and the oppressed of diverse castes and religious affiliations. Ambedkar’s politics was not ethnic politics, but politics for the whole of Indian society. His politics was not of caste but for end of caste. Nagesh Chaudhry’s lament must make the intellectuals sit up. He said,
“ All are followers of Babasaheb Ambedkar, but divided, They hate each other more than the upper castes. . . Our numerous organisations are like the tribes, organisations for each caste” ( Dalit Voice Aug.16.2000)
How could the intellectual refuse to take note of I. P. Desai’s empirical observation that there existed a phenomenon of “untouchability amongst untouchables”. The comment by Dipankar Gupta made sense that instead of thumbing their nose at Hinduism by conversion to Buddhisn, they would do better “if they thought a little more deeply about combating caste among Dalits instead of wanting to be priests in a new religious order”. (Dipankar Gupta 2003)
Further, it is time to examine whether continuing to bewail the setback of Poona Pact or the fad of bashing of Gandhi served the causes in the context of the problems that face us in the 21 st century. Let the primary focus be Babasaheb Ambedkar’s larger vision. That can never be realised in an order of politics and economy driven by lust, greed and profit – by polution of the enviroment and of minds. There is no alternative short of the one directed to negation of Capitalism. The fate of centralised party-state bureaucratic route to socialism provides a lesson. The hope for an order of social justice and human dignity in an environment of fraternity can be realised only if the people secure real power, not the mask of power; when such politics, not market mystification, is in command. The task is far too big and complex. Dalits have to be part of the bigger struggle. The present ferment among Dalit intellectuals --- the readiness for ruthless criticism of old beliefs and ideas ---- may be viewed as a sign of confidence and hope. Appo Deepo Bhava .
Ambedkar, B. R., “Buddha or Karl Marx “text from Valarian Rodrigues, (Ed.) The Essential Writings of B.R.Ambedkar. Delhi: Oxford University Press
Bheem Patrika, No.45 November 2004 (1) p. 2)
Dalit Voice, April 16-30, 1999 ; August 16, 2000 ;
Gupta, Dipankar , “ Killing Caste by Conversion”, The Hindu, November 13, 2003
Guru, Gopal, “Mobility Sydrome”, in S.M. Michael ed.Dalits in Modern India: Vision and values, New Delhi: Vistaar Publications, 1999.
_______________1993. Comment. Dalit Movement in Mainstream Sociology, Economic and Political Weekly, Vol.XXVIII, No.14, April 3, 1993.
Jadhav, Narendra 2003, Outcaste: A Memoire, Delhi; Viking.
Keer, Dhananjay 1995. Dr. Ambedkar; Life and Mission. Bombay: Popular Prakashan.
Mandlesohn and Vicziany 2000. The Untouchables, Cambridge University Press.
Muthalaly, Shonali 2003. “An Emerging Voice”, Interview with Narendra Jadhav , The Hindu, Nov. 10, 2003 .
Nigam, Aditya, “In Search of a Bourgeoisie: Dalit Politics Enters a New Phase’, Economic and Political Weekly, March 30, 2002 .
Omvedt, Gail 1999. “ Dalits and Economic Policy: Contributions of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar”, in S.M. Michael (ed) Dalits in Modern India : Vision and values, New Delhi : Vistaar Publications,1999.
Prasad, Chandra Bhan2003. “Are Brahmins Still Our Shatrus?” The Pioneer, July 20.
------------------------2004. “Posers for Intellectuals”,The Pioneer May29.
---------------------------- Diversity Directorate, Letter to the Prime minister, Manmohan Singh from website
Punalekar, S. P.1999. “Development Against Empowerment of the Poor” in S.M. Michael (ed).Dalits in Modern India: Vision and values, New Delhi: Vistaar Publications.
Ram, Nandu. 1995. Beyond Ambedkar: Essays on Dalits in India, New delhi : Har Anand Publications.
Teltumbde, Ananad 1997. Ambedkar in and For the Post- Ambedkar Movement, Pune: Sugawa Prakashan,
________________ 2000. “Theorising Dalit Movement: A Viewpoint”, Dalit e-Forum,”


Friday, 10 September 2010

Rich Heritage of Punjabi Dalit Literature and its Exclusion from Histories

Raj Kumar Hans, Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla
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Exploring histories of Dalit literature in different languages of India is to encounter the deserts of neglects, silences and exclusions. The ‘Progressive Punjab’ is no exception to this sub-continental reality despite claims that Brahmanical ideology and its resultant social structures had considerably weakened in the Punjab due to the impact of long waves of religious egalitarianism of Buddhism, Islam and Sikhism. The virus of Brahmanism had so afflicted the Indian mind over the millennium that it would spring back the demon of untouchability from time to time even in the areas of its weakest linkage. After the establishment of Ranjit Singh’s rule and more so after the British conquest of Punjab the Sikhs became easy prey (or conversely speaking, the ‘high-caste’ Sikhs themselves became hunting partners) to the hovering vulture of Brahmanism and its cardinal practice, the ‘untouchability’. The making of Punjabi society, a frontier society, for at least last three thousand years, has been a story of complex paradoxes though the elitist historiography of all hues has denied it its colourful multiplicity. If dalit saint poets as part of this tradition offer paradoxical response of devotion and dissent till the first quarter of the twentieth century, the next eight decades yield a rich harvest of Punjabi dalit literature with clear dalit consciousness. Indeed, the established and dominant literary and historiographical tradition is hardly aware of this rich array of dalit intellectual practice and even when it is known, it is not recognised. The first section of this brief article surveys Punjabi dalit writings while the second part looks at the historiographical practice from a dalit perspective.

The Punjabi dalit literary tradition begins with Bhai Jaita alias Jeevan Singh (c1655-1705) who was very close to Gurus’ household as he was the one who had carried the severed head of Guru Teg Bahdur from Delhi to Anandpur and in his late years composed a devotional epic ‘Sri Gur Katha’ around Guru Gobind Singh’s life somewhere around 1699-1700. Historical significance of this epic lies in the fact that Bhai Jaita provides an eyewitness account to a few centrally important events in the life of Guru Gobind Singh and Sikh history. That he was not just a poet but a thinking poet is attested from his composition when he says:
Jal bin jeevan hohe na kabhun,
Garab maih jeev kau gyan na hohe hain.
Jiv chintan bin cheet na hoye hain,
Ar chintan bin janam na koye hain.
Iv janani dharni chintan ki,
Chintan jeev kai chit ki loye hain.
Ar sab chintan dharan te hoye hain,
Ta kar dharni janani hoye hain.
(There can be no life without water and a human being cannot have knowledge while in mother’s womb. As there cannot be any knowledge without thinking, there can be no life without ‘thinking’. As this earth gives birth to all knowledge, thinking is the light of the living being. Since all thinking grows from the womb of Earth that is reason it is called the Mother.)

Our second dalit saint-poet Sadhu Wazir Singh (c1790-1859) attained the status of ‘Brahmgyani’ and prolifically composed philosophical and cultural poetry, both in Punjabi and Braj bhasha. A small part of his published poetry as selected by Shamsher Singh Ashok in ‘Siharfian Sadhu Wazir Singh kian’ is a window to a wide range of his knowledge, from religious and spiritual to social and political. He questions all religious establishments and argues for a non-dualistic approach to life. Since he was engaged in deep thinking and in giving creative expressions to his thoughts numerous disciples including poets joined his dera. All the five of his identified poet disciples including two young widows came from the high castes. One of them is veer Singh Sahgal while Nurang Devi turns out to be the first Punjabi poetess groomed under his tutorship. His assertion on going beyond the established religions is well captured in his 12th Siharfi where he says:
Kaaf- kade Koran di lod naahin, vekh pothian thothian paarde han.
Rehras namaz di khahash naahin, dharamsal masit nun saarde han.
Gang, Gaya Pryag nun tiyag keeta, gor marhi niyaz na chaarde han.
Hoye aap nirpakh Wazir Singha, pakhan dohan di khed nun taarde han.
(We don’t need Koran as we also tear the empty granths. There is no desire for Rehras (referring here to Guru Granth Sahib), as we burn temples and mosques. We have abandoned the Ganges, Gaya and Pryag as we also do not worship the Dead. As we have become non-sectarian O! Wazir Singh we keep a watch over the game both sides play.)

The next dalit intellectual writer Giani Ditt Singh (1852-1901) emerged as a poet, teacher, polemicist, journalist, orator and ardent Sikh missionary who turned out to be the pillar of the Singh Sabha movement. Ditt Singh’s scholarly talents came in handy for the Sikh movement. Lahore Singh Sabha floated a weekly newspaper, the Khalsa Akhbar in 1886. He assumed editorship of the paper in 1887 that he continued till his death in 1901. Meanwhile, he was also appointed as a professor of Punjabi at the Oriental College, Lahore. He wrote more than fifty books and pamphlets on wide-ranging subjects, from love-lore to Sikh traditions, from history to ethics, from heroes to charlatans as he also produced polemics. Even being a leader in the limelight he could not escape the overt and covert assault of untouchability from his fellow and follower Sikhs.

Our next dalit intellectual poet is Sadhu Daya Singh Arif (1894-1946) who came to master the Gurmukhi, Urdu, Persian, Arbic and Sanskrit scripts and languages with the help of several non-formal teachers who were stunned by his sharp intellect. Not only that he had studied Vedas, Puranas, Smritis, Granth Sahib and Quran during his teenage, he also had read wide range of secular literature and as also reached the stage of ‘Brahmgyani’ through meditation and contemplation like Sadhu Wazir Singh which is apparent from his assuming the title of ‘Arif’. His first poetical work ‘Fanah-dar-Makan’ was published when he just turned 20. This was written in sadh bhasha and emphasised the quintessential element of mortality in human existence. Due to somewhat difficult language and style of composition he was advised by Baba Sawan Das, his Sanskrit teacher, to revise it and write in simple language. He was bursting with so much of creative energy that he altogether produced another kissa entitled ‘Fanah da Makan’, first published in 1915, which became very popular throughout the Punjab while a household reading in his own region of Malwa as it was sold in several hundred-thousand copies. The work which made Daya Singh a household name through the width and breadth of the Punjab was Zindagi Bilas which was completed on 23rd August 1916. It is in this work where his vast religious, spiritual and secular knowledge is manifest. Following the ancient wisdom that average human life is of 100 years, Daya Singh composed lyrical poems on each year. Overall it is a touching didactic poetry that caught masses’ imagination which became the most published, read or heard poetic creation next only to Waris Shah’s ‘Heer’.

Daya Singh comes to the theme of prevailing communal division again and again. Listen! What he says in his discourse on 56th Year in ‘Zindagi Bilas’:
Unity I see all around, wherever my eyes rove
Superior claims of faith, Hindus and Muslims fight over
Mere jugglery of words, Essence of Ram and Rahim the same
Of Castist belief untouchability born, both made of the soil same
Children of same parents, if they just see Origins
Forsaking God, they worship false objects, get astray into aimlessness
Give up evils for salvation, devils you remain sans praxis
Daya Singh has left partisanship, in every sector, every deed

Daya Singh was aware of all the competing revivalist tendencies and religious polemical wars around the turn of century as he says in the ‘Fanah da Makan’:
Varnas and religions all, exclusive claims of purity
Hindus with Har Narayan, hold their principles True
Pastors and Dayanandi Aryas pronounce, no deliverance without them
Exclusive rights in Heaven say Muslims, no place for Hindus there
God has no enmity with Hindus, keeps no exclusive place for Muslims
Fight they all over religion, without knowing the Unknown
Filthy n empty sans good deeds, paupers they are, without a penny
Daya Singh false claims the world may make; no recognition without actions

He holds Brahminical ritualism with same contempt as did bhagats and Sufis. He is deadly against idol worship. The Islamic influence on his mind is quite obvious as he has used 18 aayets in his 3 kissas. Similarly, Sufi influence is manifest in his insistence on murshid, guru without whom the seeker cannot reach the Divine. The concept of ishq is present at several places in Daya Singh’s works. Towards the close of ‘Zindagi Bilas’ in ‘Uttam Updesh # 39’ he says:
Creator is happy loving his Creation, be happy in the service of that creation
No knowledge without guru, beseech murshid for the purpose
Death is premium for lovers’ union, emboldened you be like true lover
Be reformed thoroughly before counselling others with confidence
Elated be not with worldly joys, be soaked in ishq’s spring
Reads He your heart’s letters, send your sweetheart an urgent telegram

The importance of Sadhu Daya Singh is manifold. First and foremost, he is the first Dalit Punjabi poet to attain the widest possible popularity, the kind of popularity enjoyed by Waris Shah, in the undivided Punjab. Secondly, he reinforces what was moral and what was ethical when it was desired most. Thirdly, Daya Singh’s poetry is free from any kind of sectarianism and is thoroughly secular in the prevailing communal environment. His concern and message was universal in content; it is libertarian rather than restraining. Lastly, Daya Singh not only produces good poetry but emerges as an intellectual of his age. Through the study of scriptures and traditions of major religions of the land, he arrives at his own understanding of human existence that he corroborates from his practical life and keen observation. He lays great stress on practice than theory, on deeds than the scriptural knowledge. Here his background of labouring class provides him insights.

The rise of Ad Dharm movement in Punjab in the 1920s unleashed the most virulent opposition to caste under the leadership of the Gadharite Babu Mangoo Ram Mugowalia. The autonomous movement drew inspiration from the Dalit poet-saints Ravidass, Kabir, and Namdev and assailed the brahmanical structures of social inequality and domination. The Ad Dharm movement aimed at securing a distinct identity for the Dalits, independent of both the Hindu and Sikh religions. In addition to political mobilization, the Ad Dharm movement brought about cultural transformation in the lives of Untouchables in Punjab by its emphasis on moral principles for bringing a sense of self-respect among them. It also attempted to forge unity among the different Untouchable castes by bringing them under one banner of Ad Dharm emphasising they were the original inhabitants of the region. Two weekly newspapers played a significant role in raising Dalit consciousness in Punjab: Adi Danka in the 1930s and Ujala in the early 1950s. Gurdas Ram Aalam and Chanan Lal Manak set the trend of radical Dalit poetry in Punjab via Adi Danka’s prestigious columns.

Gurdas Ram Aalam (1912-1989), who was born in a poor Dalit family of Bundala village in Jallandhar district, happens to be the first Punjabi poet with dalit consciousness. Aalam was not able to go to school and learnt basic Gurmukhi letters from his friends. Even though illiterate, Aalam emerged as one of popular folk-poets of stage before the Partition. All the four books of his poems were full of social and economic issues of the deprived and oppressed caste-communities. On political and social issues, Aalam wrote like a revolutionary. No wonder, even Pash (who has become symbol of Punjabi revolutionary poetry) considered Aalam the first revolutionary poet of Punjab.

Hazara Singh Mushtaq (1917-1981) was different from his predecessor dalit poets. He was an ardent nationalist, flag-bearer of Indian National Congress and was also jailed a few times during the late-colonial rule for his nationalism. Of his seven books published, Kissa Mazhbi Sikh Jodha (1955) directly reflected his dalit concerns. Though he does not chide ‘Independence’ in the context of the poor dalits like Aalam, he expresses his disillusionment with the post-Independence developments, brings in socialist ideology to disparage the social and economic disparities, and calls the dalits for a revolutionary rise in his 1977 Noori Gazal.

The revolutionary rise that Punjab witnessed in the form of Naxalism in the late 1960s produced two dalit poets with revolutionary as well as dalit consciousness. These were Sant Ram Udasi (1939-1986) and Lal Singh Dil (1943-2007). Sant Ram Udasi was born in a dalit Mazhbi Sikh landless labour family. He grew up with a strong dalit consciousness and had tried to see dignity in Sikh religion, but soon he experienced that caste discrimination and untouchability had struck deep roots in the Sikh religion. During 1970s he emerged as one of the powerful radical poets and published three books of poetry, viz. Lahu Bhije Bol (Blood-soaked Word), Saintan (Gestures) and Chounukrian (the Four-edged). He was arrested, jailed and tortured for his Naxal connections. The tortures to him were far more severe than were meted out to the high-caste Jatt Naxals only because he happened to be a dalit. Another dalit Naxalite poet Lal Singh Dil was born in a Ramdasia Sikh (Chamar) family in 1943. He was training to be a basic school teacher when Naxalbari sucked him in. In the dream of a society free of caste and class, Dil saw a new dawn for the oppressed. He was arrested, incarcerated and tortured, more tortured because he was a dalit, while his tormentors belonged to the dominant high castes. Dil was a sensitive poet and his poetry was true to life and the experience of poverty, injustice and oppression was so real and told so well that he was hailed as the bard of the Naxalite movement in Punjab. A great poet he was undoubtedly, and his collection of poetry Satluj di Hava (1971), Bahut Saare Suraj (1982), and Sathar (1997) as well as his autobiography Dastaan (1998) enjoy an exalted place in Punjabi letters. It is remarkable that Dil’s Dalit consciousness and identity was free from feelings of hatred, vengeance and malice. Though he remained and died a faqir, Dil has come to be acknowledged as the one of the few best Punjabi poets of last half a century.

The two powerful revolutionary dalit poets were an upsurge on the Punjabi literary stage which had remained dominated by the upper-caste, upper-class litterateurs and they became a major source for the bursting of dalit literary energy in 1990s. If their poetry was looking for a revolutionary class change, it had the vivacity of dalit identity which was capable of challenging the hegemonic discourses. Sukhdev Singh Sirsa puts this change in perspective:
The question of dalit identity has given a new ideological context to the contemporary Punjabi literature. The new Punjabi poetry has given a new expression to the dalit concerns of existential and social identity. This new perspective disentangles itself from the class-conflict approach to the understanding of dalit identity in the varna system and looks at the changing dalit philosophy. Hence, this poetry does not only reject the established assumptions and hypotheses but also produces an alternative. (“Dalit Punjabi Kavita: Itihasak Paripekh” in Hashia, I, 1(Jan-March 1908), p. 27 (my translation)

Contemporary poets include Balbir Madhopuri, Siri Ram Arsh, Sulakhan Mit, Gurmeet Kalarmajri, Madan Vira, Manjit Kadar, Bhagwan Dhilon, Buta Singh Ashant, Manmohan, Mohan Tyagi, Mohan Matialvi, Jaipal, Iqbal Gharu, Harnek Kaler, Sadhu Singh Shudrak. They are assertive about their dalit identity as dalit political assertion in the past few decades has empowered them to re-read historical traditions and situate themselves by providing a pride of space in the otherwise historical trajectory denied to them. This is obvious from the following lines of two contemporary dalit poets.

Manmohan in ‘Agaz’ raises his voice:
It is said to me
The colour of your poem is black
Flat features
Tattered dress
Full of patches
Asymmetrical rhythm....
Sorrow appears before pleasure does
Pains peaks before peace....
Tell me now
If i don’t write poems like this
What should i do?

Listen what Balbir Madhopuri has to offer in his ‘Bhakhda Patal’ (Smouldering Netherworld):
For smoked skinned people like me
I do want
My poems
Should be part of that anthology
That contains
Stories of Eklavaya and Banda Bahadur
Struggle of Pir Buddhu Shah
Sensitivity of Pablo Neruda

The Punjabi short story had remained a story of the dominant Jatts or the urban elite for long time, although stray empathetic notes could be seen in the second generation of story-writers in the 1950s-60s. It is only in the 1970s with Attarjit’s ‘Bathlu Chamiar’ that Punjabi short-story weaves a complete dalit character from dalit perspective. His collections of story ‘Maas-khore’, ‘Tutde bannde Rishte’, ‘Adna Insan’, and ‘Anni Theh’ construct the assertive dalit consciousness. Similarly if Prem Gorkhi and Bhura Singh Kaler bring vitality to the dalit short story, Lal Singh and Nachhatar’s stories give a distinct personality to dalits. During the 1980s and 90s dalit story consolidates itself with Makhan Maan, Bhagwant Rasulpuri, Ajmer Sidhu, Des Raj Kali, Jinder, Gurmit Kadialavi, Sarup Sialvi, Gulzar Muhammad Goria and Mohan Philoria who declare themselves as dalits with pride and élan as they are inspired by Ambedkar’s ideology.

The Punjabi novel was the product of the early twentieth century and its nature was religious in context and content. It is only after independence that its scope gets widened. From Gurdial Singh’s dalit character Jagsir who is still seen in the dominant-subordination landed relations, the novel enters into different terrain of dalit consciousness. Gurcharan Singh Rao’s ‘Mashalchi’ (1986), Karnail Singh Nijhar’s ‘Sarghi da Tara’, Surjit Sokhi’s ‘Aurat te Aurat’ (1983), Karamjit Singh Aujhla’s ‘Ooch Neech’ (2000), Nachhatar’s ‘Buddhi Sadi da Manukh’(1988) and ‘Nikke Nikke Asman’ (2004), Gurmel Madahad’s ‘Dulla’ and Des Raj Kali’s ‘Parneshwari’ (2007) have chartered a speedy journey of producing the fulsome dalit novels. Gurcharan Rao’s Mashalchi holds untouchability practiced by high castes responsible for educational backwardness of dalits. Nachhatar’s weaves a progressive story of dalit march onward as compared to some of the jatts who sometimes come to them to borrow money. Even on the question of sexuality one finds role reversals where girls from upper castes fall in love with dalit boys especially the educated ones. Madahad’s protagonist in ‘Dulla’ is a dalit woman Tej who does not consider herself less than any man. Not only that she adds to the meagre family income but by igniting the dead body of her mother to cremation, otherwise prohibited to women by social practice, she raises the status of women in general. Tej emerges as a courageous, strong and intelligent woman who shows independence of character. She is conscious of good living, struggle to progress in life and does not succumb to anybody. In Parneshwari, Des Raj Kali looks deep into the Dalit past, seeking to lend them an identity when the contemporary social realities fail to respond to their aspirations. His work is rooted in Punjab’s legacy of Sufism and Buddhism and challenges the cultural hegemonies of Sikh religion. The novelist creates his own style of writing and one needs to discard the old practises of reading Punjabi literature when one reads Kali.

One important genre used by dalit writers that becomes an explicit expression of dalit consciousness is autobiographical writing. It authenticates the real world of exclusionary orders and practices; of social ostracism, caste discriminations, economic and sexual exploitation, and political subordination; of wants, miseries, insults, humiliations but also the world of dalit dreams, aspirations, struggles, sacrifices and rise. Understandably, the dalit autobiographies appeared late on the Punjabi literary horizon. The first such work happens to by Pandit Bakshi Ram’s Mera Jeevan Sangharash [My life Struggle], hardly known and referred to as it was not published by any established publisher but by Punjab Pradesh Balmik Sabha, Jalandhar, a caste-community organization, in 1983 and Balmiks happened to be the lowest of the low, mainly working as scavengers in the towns and cities. Lal Singh Dil’s Dastan is a poignant account almost poetic (essentially being a poet, his prose in Dastan reads like a poem) of his life as a dalit, as a revolutionary, as a person on the margins of every facet of life. He goes into those issues of everyday life where he felt humiliated, neglected, ignored, despised, dismissed and tortured as he also records those who befriended, encouraged, stood by, helped and consoled. Balbir Madhopuri’s autobiography Chhangia Rukh (The Lopped Tree) appeared in 2003 and stirred the Punjabi literary world by baring the real rural social life the way it was not done before. It is a powerful portrayal of dalit life-world. Equally important is the 2007 autobiography by another dalit writer Gurnam Aqida called Kakh Kande: Nij ton Haqiqat Val [Blades of Grass and Thistles: from Self towards Reality]. Said in a novel stylistic prose it is a poignant account of rural-urban continuum as far as the dalits’ position is concerned. It challenges the dominant strains and takes dalits’ story forward in a progression. He looks at the changing times with a positive glare where a silent ‘revolution’ seems to be taking place with the dalits’ movement from villages and getting free from the upper-caste’s day-to-day exploitation and oppression. His account hints at the steady rise of dalit consciousness and assertion. Being an upright and honest journalist he had to face the caste prejudice and attacks where he came to be considered as a kanda (Hindi kanta-thistle) by his corrupt superiors and jealous colleagues. The autobiography of Attarjit adds another dimension to the dalit life-world of Punjab where dalits match the dominant jatt community on the question of self-respect even engaging them in fights including murders. It was known in the surrounding villages that people should be careful confronting dalits of Attarjit’s village especially his own family. Thus, the dalits have come a long way.


The essay had begun with a comment on state of literary histories that how the elitist approaches in history writing have systematically excluded dalit writers only because of their caste and social marginalisation. We have seen above a rich heritage of Punjabi dalit writings, the vitality of dalit creativity and the best informed in Punjabi literary circles and historians are either just ignorant of these fascinating figures or they feign ignorance. Even when one can understand ignorance about writings of Bhai Jaita and Sadhu Wazir Singh as they came to light only in the last three decades how one makes a sense of this neglect when one talks of Daya Singh Arif’s poetry which ruled the Punjabi minds for a century? This section would take account of writings on histories of Punjabi literature even while focussing on Daya Singh’s case.

The first ‘path-breaking’ ‘A History of Punjabi Literature’ in English was written by Dr Mohan Singh Dewana in 1932. Dr Dewana was a sound scholar with facility in Gurmukhi, Urdu, Persian, Hindi and English languages besides being a creative writer. Sadhu Daya Singh was Dr Dewana’s contemporary and by the time the latter wrote his history the former had made a mark as one of the most popular poets of his times. It is unlikely that Dewana would be ignorant of Daya Singh’s work, and yet he does not mention his name even in his chart of minor poets of the British period. One can give him the benefit of doubt in his first edition. But omitting Daya Singh in the second edition of his history published in 1956 is not easy to understand. Here, Tejwant Singh Gill’s observation seems to be apt about “his haughty temperament that led him to deal arrogantly with his contemporaries.” (“Studying Punjabi literature of the Past” in Muse India (e-journal), In the case of Daya Singh, Gill’s further assessment of Dewana appears to be problematic when he continues: “So much so, while dealing with the modern period, he had the audacity to ignore them altogether, and mention only those who wrote in the commonplace idiom and did not have claim to literary achievement worth the name.” One does not know whom he has in mind when he talks about Dewana’s ‘ignoring them altogether’ because Dewana talks very highly of Bhai Vir Singh (1872-1957), Dhani Ram Chatrik (1876-1954) and Puran Singh (1881-1931) and celebrates them as ‘three pioneer Lyricists-Intellectualists’. He surely accommodates several such who to Gill ‘did not have claim to literary achievement worth the name’. Daya Singh could surely be counted among ‘those who wrote in the commonplace idiom’, and yet he does not even get mentioned in Dewana’s list where only writers’ names and their works are given.

Dr Mohan Singh Dewana was a pioneer, the trend-setter in the historiography of Punjabi literature. While he wrote in English, the English the English would write, those following him in this respect and writing in Punjabi followed him literally as a revered authority. If Dewana included or excluded someone in/from the history, his successors would not do otherwise. This is remarkable for the culture of history writing in Punjab. After a decade of Dewana epitome, Gopal Singh came up with ‘Punjabi Sahit da Itihas’ in 1942, Surinder Singh produced the same title in 1950, Piara Singh Bhogal wrote ‘Punjabi Kavita de Sau Saal (from 1850 to 1954)’ in 1955, Heera Singh Dard came up with the tried out title ‘Punjabi Sahit da Itihas’ in 1976 while Jeet Singh Seetal produced ‘Punjabi Sahit da Alochnatmak Itihas’ in 1979, to count only the major ones. And host of scholars of Punjabi literature paid their attention to the developments in the history of Punjabi literature. Most of them have followed the Master of the genre and have not bothered to look at poor Daya Singh in their histories. Tejwant Gill says that they “were so overawed by his scholarship that they did not acquire confidence to gaze critically at the nomenclature, methodology, explication and evaluation provided by him.” Selection, of course, is a necessary methodological device and also a prerogative of the author that could also be called ‘subjectivity’ which incidentally is in abundance in literature. Dr Dewana quotes Andrew Lang of ‘History of English Literature’ in the first edition of his history:
The writer would indeed have willingly omitted not a few of the minor authors in pure literature, and devoted his space only to the masters. But each of these springs from an underwood, as it were, of thought and effort of men less conscious whom it were ungrateful and is practically impossible to pass by in silence. (History, 1956, p. V)

Dewana adds to what Lang was saying: “The reader has his orthodoxies and heresies; so has the writer and it will be much good if both recognize…” Surely, Dr Dewana had right to his ‘orthodoxies’. But if he was pitching in Lang as an authority on history of literature one would expect him to follow the master of the game in spirit if not in details. Even if Daya Singh was a ‘minor’ poet in Dr Dewana’s eyes, which he was not as highlighted above, Daya Singh certainly wielded capacity to ‘spring from an underwood of thought’ not to be bypassed ‘in silence’. Yet Daya Singh was indeed silenced as if popular lips who sang him in bazaars and in the fields were being stitched together.

It is in 1971 that Kirpal Singh Kasel in the 2nd volume of his ‘Punjabi Sahit da Itihas’ takes some note of our neglected poet. At least he writes 3 lines about Sadhu Daya Singh. The historian admits that Daya Singh wrote so well that he has been very popular among common people. But even in these 3 lines Kasel errs on the titles of both the works that he cites. He writes ‘Jindagi Bilas’ as ‘Jindagi Vilas’, a minor error, and ‘Fanah da Makan’ as ‘Fanah da Muqam’.

Dr Diwana’s exclusion is carried through decades to an authoritative work of historiography of Punjabi literature produced by Sahitya Akademi in 1992. Sant Singh Sekhon and Kartar Singh Duggal like Dewana do not mention Daya Singh even as a minor poet in their ‘A History of Punjabi Literature’ although in the interregnum a well-researched monograph on the poet had appeared in two prints (Atam Hamrahi’s Sadhu Daya Singh Arif was published by the Publication Bureau of Punjabi University, Patiala in 1970. The book was out of print in the late-1980s; hence a second print was brought out in 1990).

There should be no doubt that Sant Singh Sekhon was a towering Marxist figure of Punjabi literature. In the last phase of his life, he also turned to writing history of Punjabi literature. There is a gap of nearly 60 years between Dewana’s and Sekhon’s histories. Much water had flown in the river of Punjabi literature in the interregnum. Sekhon in his 2nd volume of ‘A History of Punjabi Literature’ (1996) shows no less generosity than Kasel had done in 1971, a gap of 25 years towards our poet under discussion. It is another matter that he seems to have just picked up from Kasel and commits the same errors in the titles of two works of Daya Singh. It is surely an improvement on the 1992 volume jointly edited with Duggal produced by a national body on Indian literatures, viz Sahitya Academy. A slightly better space is given to Daya Singh in the most recent work in this trail of histories on Punjabi literature since the appearance of Dewana’s path-breaking work. Rajinder Pal Singh in his ‘Adhunik Punjabi Kavita da Itihas’ (2006) (which is 8th volume in the ‘series of History of Punjabi Literature’ brought out by Punjabi Sahit Akadmi, Delhi) gives 8 lines information on Daya Singh. It is a remarkable correction over the earlier histories in the sense that he gives full name of the poet, viz. Sadhu Daya Singh Arif and that also with correct dates of his birth and death and also with correct titles of all his works including ‘Sputtar Bilas’.

This in short, is the history of ‘coverage’ of Sadhu Daya Singh and his works in the 70 years of historiography of Punjabi literature. Indeed, it is a history of selective ‘silence’, of neglect and above all of exclusion. Not that Daya Singh’s contemporary ‘minor’ poets and writers get the similar treatment at the hands of historians. In the first place, Daya Singh is not a minor poet as discussed in this paper. He is one of the most popular poets of the first half of the twentieth century. But obviously he gets shadowed by the much lionised and valorised trio of Bhai Vir Singh, Puran Singh, and Dhani Ram Chatrik. Undoubtedly the three were towering literary figures, and are held at high pedestal not without foundation. But all of them also happened to be very rich as also they hailed from ‘upper castes’. On the other hand, Sadhu Daya Singh was born in an ‘untouchable’ poor family of labourers where social stigma and heaps of insults in daily life were surely detrimental to any comfortable creative activity. Being born a Dalit was a sufficient reason to be excluded from the charmed circle of high-caste writers. And surely, this treatment was not only ‘reserved’ for Daya Singh alone. Another popular Dalit poet chronologically following him has also been treated in the same cavalry fashion, in this respect without discrimination. Gurdas Ram Aalam was born in a poor Dalit family of Bundala village in Jallandhar district. Even though illiterate, Aalam had emerged as one of popular folk-poets of the stage before the Partition. He used to share the stage with the better known names in the Punjabi literary circles, viz. Kartar Singh Ballagan, Vidhata Singh Teer, Nandlal Nurpuri and Dhani Ram Chatrik. Unlike Daya Singh who focussed on moral and spiritual crises confronting the universal man, Aalam clearly grew up with Dalit consciousness and composed his poems and lyrics on the working people. All the four books of his poetry were full of social and economic issues of the deprived and oppressed caste-communities. He wrote with commitment and convictions and publicly presented his poetry powerfully on stage. On political and social issues, Aalam wrote like a revolutionary. Such a widely known, popular poet like Daya Singh was also written off from the pages of histories. There must be social structural and psychological reasons for their exclusion. An attempt needs be made to unravel the sources of such silences, neglects and exclusions.

Sunday, 5 September 2010

Dr. P.K.Pokker
Now it is a well-known fact that the post-structural and postmodern theories paved the way for developing analytical tools to look into the cultural constitutions of the oppressed and marginalized communities. Even before the advent of post-structural theories Frantz Fanon (1925-1961), the Algerian revolutionary and psychiatrist wrote from the perspective of a colonial subject. His writings had asserted the need to formulate culture based resistance to overcome the colonial hegemony. He placed the cultural (including literary) aspect of colonial and post-colonial history at the center of his discussions. His two books, The Wretched of the Earth and Black Skin, White Masks? opened up an enquiry into the culture based politics with emphasis upon local and marginalized cultures. Marxism conceived human identity as the ensemble of social relations. Accordingly it is the class relation, which in the ultimate analysis determines the identity of the individual. In this sense human being in every part of the world regardless of his caste and religion exhibits the same kind of identity under capitalist system. Indeed the economic exploitation is more or less same everywhere and human beings in general share the hardship of alienation in almost all parts of the world. At the same time colonialism has paved the way for western hegemony in the realm of culture. It was the experience of the cultural contradiction between the white centered western way of life and the black centered African way of life which persuaded Fanon to formulate a culture based resistance.

Fanon explains the formation of colonial subjectivity and thereby the rising up of the anti-colonial resistance. Before Marx philosophers explained human identity as mere transcendental phenomenon. Marxian interpretation of history helped to wipeout the mystification inherent in the philosophical explanation regarding human identity. Accordingly human essence was explained as the ensemble of productive relations. In this sense it was the class relation, which in the ultimate analysis shapes the human individuality. However the collapse of Soviet Union and the developments thereafter leads one to enquire further into the question of identity because we are bound to see the different factors which shape the individual identity. It does not mean that we can ignore the economic factor, which plays a dominant role in the formation of identity. Indeed the structural and post-structural developments in philosophy have created an atmosphere conducive to slightly stretch the Marxian interpretation as Fanon suggested to develop an effective mode of interpreting human identity. According to Fanon an intellectual living under colonialism passes through three stages. Let me quote from Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth;

“In the first phase, the native intellectual gives proof that he has assimilated the culture of the occupying power. His writings correspond point by point with those of his opposite numbers in the mother country. His inspiration is European and we can easily link up these works with definite trends in the literature of the mother country. This is the period of unqualified assimilation…
In the second phase we find the native is disturbed; he decides to remember what he is. This period of creative work approximately corresponds to that immersion which we have just described. But since the native is not a part of his people, he is content to recall their life only. Past happenings of the bygone days of his childhood will be brought up out of the depths of this memory: old legends will be reinterpreted in the light of a borrowed aestheticism and of a conception of the world which was discovered under other skies….
Finally, in the third phase, which is called the fighting phase, the native, after having tried to lose himself in the people and with the people, will on the contrary shake the people…hence comes a fighting literature, and a national literature.”(Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth, Penguin, 1967, 178-179.).

So Fanon speaks about the subject who realizes the need to counter the ruling colonial culture. The formation of such a subject is made possible by means of two factors. One is the acquaintance with the modern colonial education and the other is the memory of one’s own lived culture. The revolutionary thoughts of Fanon influenced many writers like Ngugi wa Thiong and produced a good number of activists and literature. However from 1970s left intellectuals all over the world turned towards new studies based on Freud, Lacan, Althusser, Barthes, Christeva, Raymond Williams, Derrida and Foucault to interpret the cultural formation. This in turn produced the dictum, ‘turn to the subject’. It was Lacan who showed the way in which the ‘other’ get constituted in culture. Similarly Althusser’s doctrine of ideology explained the process of interpellation, which constitutes the subjectivity. The ambition of Raymond Williams to create a common culture was indeed the outcome of a socialist outlook. At the same time the logic of domination in the realm was not fully revealed by the effort of Williams. There is no doubt that Williams could analyze the material basis of culture. However the difference in the construction of one’s identity plays an important role in the domination/subjugation of different people. Lacanian mirror phase is the stage, which a native or a colonized subject realizes when he/she recollects the past from the new perspective. In a multi-cultural society instead of a common culture different individuals could recollect different cultures because he/she was born and brought up in different cultures. Actually it is not the individual variation but the social strata, which constitute the difference. Lacan insists that the experience of the unconscious operates in terms of a ‘synchronic’ time (where past, present and future can interrelate and overlap in all kinds of unpredictable ways) rather than in the ‘diachronic’ linear time of sequential punctuations. So the individual identity is not something, which is the creation of past or present in isolation. His/her lived experience meant that which the individual faces in the present world in the light of his/her conscious and unconscious past. Despite the monolithic structure of economy the cultural differences retain and maintain different identities in social life. Even when we share the common economic pleasures and pains we have different cultural identities with respect to the culture of which we belong. As Edward Said suggests, ‘all cultures are involved in one another; none is single and pure, all are hybrid, heterogeneous, extraordinarily differentiated, and unmonolithic.’(Edward W. Said, Culture and Imperialism, Vintage Books, New York, 1994, p. xxv.).

Nowadays we are bound to recognize the cultural differences and the fragmented nature of individual subjectivity. So a human being is inerpellated as a worker whose work as well as consumption is a necessity to maintain the capitalist system. He or she is also interpellated as a Dalit or female or as a black or as a Muslim in the present world. In the ultimate analysis a Dalit also belong to the class of the proletariat in the present world because he or she is destined to share the sufferings of high capitalism. For instance in India he or she loses the caste-based reservation as a result of economic reforms, which result in the closure of public institutions and withdrawal of the government from welfare activities. When the government decided to close down the government or aided schools which are identified as uneconomic following the dictates of international monetary agencies the lowest strata of the society mainly scheduled castes and scheduled tribes loses to opportunity to study and work in such institutions. So economic liberalization has direct consequences in the life of Dalits in Kerala as elsewhere.

At the same the Dalit individual has a different identity from an upper caste individual as his/her past and present differ from those belonging to the upper castes. In this respect culture has a very important role. As Althusser has shown different ideological state apparatuses function in order to constitute the individual subject as an obedient member of the civil society. The feudalism of the Indian kind propagated the ideology of caste hegemony in order to exploit the working class. It is the mechanical interpretation of class, which wiped out the possibility to identify the role of caste oppression in the realm of culture in Indian society. The early Marxist thinkers identified the economic factor, which created the caste oppression. As a corollary they believed that the caste domination could be erased with the changes in the realm of economy. If we accept this interpretation caste system will disappear with the advent of capitalism. So the left as well as Nehruvian socialists put forward the idea that the capitalist modernity itself will remove caste difference. The left intellectuals could not either undertake objective studies with respect to Indian condition or follow left writers like Antonio Gramsci who put forward ideas about ideological continuity of the feudal society even in developed societies. In order to make clear the function of ideology and its continuation in the present Indian context we should follow the theory of hegemony put forward by Gramsci.

“In England the development is very different from France. The new social grouping that grew up on the basis of modern industrialism shows a remarkable economic-corporate development but advances only gropingly in the intellectual-political field. There is a very extensive category of organic intellectuals –those, that is, who come into existence on the same industrial terrain as the economic group-but in the higher sphere we find that the old land owning class preserves its position of virtual monopoly. It loses its economic supremacy but maintains for a long time a politico-intellectual supremacy and is assimilated as “traditional intellectuals” and as directive (dirigente) group by the new group in power. The old land-owning aristocracy is joined to the industrialists by a kind of suture which is precisely that which in other countries unites the traditional intellectuals with the new dominant classes.” (Antonio Gramsci, Selections from Prison Notebooks, London, p.18.Italics my own.)

So the role of intellectuals and the politico-intellectual supremacy explained by Gramsci is nothing but the ideological supremacy of the dominant group. In India the land owning aristocracy together with the newly evolved industrial class managed to capture power from the British rulers. After independence they could retain the ideological supremacy especially in the realm of culture. Even when we talk against caste oppression and untouchability we are inclined to admit the supremacy of the upper caste. In United States of America the government is at present very much disturbed by the deconstructionists as they undertake the task of undermining the core culture by establishing different cultural identities. Samuel Huntington who once stood for culture politics has now turned against deconstructionists with his new book, Who are We? Actually it was a mock war which Huntington put forth in his The Clashes of Civilization. Much confusion was created in the minds of intellectuals who stood for the cause of the oppressed since the right wing supporter of US attack on Iraq and Afghanistan propagated the idea of culture-war. I say it was a mock war because it misinterpreted the cultural contradictions of the world with the clear intention of humiliating the marginalized cultures. Huntington produced the reverse side of what Edward Said produced in culture studies. The actual colour of Huntington has come out with his new book, which opposes all marginalized cultures and even proposes procedures to topple culture-based reservation and other considerations given in the academia to the hitherto underprivileged. Since the space in this article does not permit me to go into the details of Huntington’s paradoxical position at present I leave it for the readers to guess what kind of civilization will emerge from the vision of Huntington. Anyhow we should distinguish the politics of cultural identity from the politics of civilization, which Huntington proposes. The notion of civilization itself is a Western construct and it knowingly or unknowingly devalues native cultures in the erstwhile colonies. On the other hand culture stands for ‘whatever is humanly constructed rather than naturally given, then this ought logically to include industry as well as media, ways of making rubber ducks as well as ways of making love or making merry.’(Terry Eagleton, The idea of Culture, Blackwell, 2000, p.33.) Culture is the way of life or the style of life itself. Derridean deconstruction of hierarchy has toppled the preference given to certain culture over the others. Above all the deconstructive phase has created an occasion to deal with the rationale behind the preferences and privileges given to certain culture. In the whole world the West is treated as the model for high culture where as in India it is the Brahminical Savarna culture, which is treated as the model for ‘cultured life’.

During the period of struggle for independence there evolved a national consciousness to oppose the British rule. The national consciousness was an historical necessity to make an end to the foreign rule. At the same time it either dissolved several cultural identities or produced the notion of a Hindu nation. This was made possible by means of two factors. One was the sense of Hindu culture as the dominant culture of the nation or cultural nationalism, which emerged with the politics of nationalism under the Indian National Congress. Definitely the Hindu fundamentalists like Savarkar and Hegdewar poured oil to the fire. But it is pity to note that even Mahatma Gandhi was responsible for that in spite of his secular outlook and tolerance for other faiths. The concept of Rama rajya hails Rama whereas marginalizes Shambhuka. It created a sense of ‘other’ in the minds of Muslims. This easily turned to polarization based on Hindu/Muslim religion. The second factor was the division of the country and the formation of Pakistan, which helped to carry on the project of cultural nationalism by always treating the Muslim community as the ‘other’. Actually the construction of Muslim as the ‘other’, served the purpose of upper caste ideology. Even after independence the ruling ideology continued to dominate the minds of the citizens in the form of a savarna consciousness. Our media even coined the term ‘national Muslim’. Our intellectuals failed to ask why don’t we refer a Hindu as national/non-national Muslim where as he or she is treated in such a way when belongs to Muslim by birth. Hence the construction of Muslim as the cultural other was used even as a disguise to liquidate the Dalit and other non-savarna communities. We find the culmination of the same practice in the Gujarat genocide.

Dr. Ambedkar on the one hand followed the logic of Western modernity and on the other hand converted to Budhism to escape the caste menace. With respect to the period in which he waged the war it was praiseworthy and deserves much attention. It is noteworthy that it was the period when Gandhi spoke for the untouchables with Bhagavad-Gita in his hand. This type of contradiction was everywhere because the tradition haunted the intellectuals, writers and activists in the form of dominant ideology. Not only Arya Samaj and Brahma Samaj but also the very national movement represented by Indian National Congress could not address the differences with in the so-called Indian identity. The organic intellectuals belonging to non-savarna communities failed to go back to their own memories to establish their identity. Like any other society they argued for change either following the paradigm of the West or the mainstream national tradition, which was Brahminical or savarna. To a great extent Dr.Ambedkar was exceptional for he identified Budhism as the alternative. But he also could not put forth a Dalit alternative.

In the newly evolved situation the Dalit and Non-Savarna intellectuals have started to realize their identity and began to question the hegemonic ideology of the caste-based hierarchy created as a part of the Indian feudalism. Even after the formation of industrial capital in India the ideological apparatuses used to assimilate the individuals and even intellectuals into the caste based tradition. The traditional intellectuals as well as organic intellectuals asserted the core culture as the tradition. In philosophy Dr.S.Radhakrishnan started this venture by way of interpreting the Hindu way of life. (Even our supreme court could resort to Radhakrishnan�s interpretation in order to justify the politics of Hindutva in the verdict) At this juncture it is necessary to put forth the identities of hundreds of communities who do not share the mainstream core culture. Not only scheduled castes and scheduled tribes of India but all other communities who share the nom-Brahminic culture should come together and redeem their literature, which is on the brim of disappearance. Kancha Ilaih shows the way in which a Dalit should come forth. In his article, �Productive Labour, Consciousness and History: The Dalitbahujan Alternative�, Ilaih says;

�I therefore feel quite strongly that the time has come when we must make our statement as to what we really are and how we really differ from them. Not as different in the way they have shown us to be; meek, merit less, unskilled, foolish, �others�. We differ from them because we are skilled producers, productive-instrument makers, and creative builders of the material basis of the society. We must also show that today we are determined to prove that Hinduism and Brahminism represent the world views of the atrocious �others� who have been parasites and whose role has never been positive and constructive.� Ilaih further shows the difference from his own memories of school days.

�Brahmin-Baniya temples were not only far from us, but the Gods sitting, sleeping in those temples were basically set against us. Brahmin-Baniya houses were within our villages, but the very same houses built up a culture inimical to ours. The Brahmin-Baniyas walked in our village over the corpses of our culture. They were the gluttons while our parents were the poor starving people producing all that were necessary for other people�s comfort. Their children were the most unskilled gluttons, whereas our children were the real contributors to the national economy. The notion of life was unworthy of life itself but they repeatedly told our parents that we were the most useless people. Having passed through all the stages of life, having acquired the education that enabled us to see a wider world, nothing but anger and anguish burn in our hearts when we reflect back on our childhood and its processes.� (Subaltern Studies 1X Writings on South Asian History and Society, Ed. Shahid Amin&Dipesh Chakrabarthy, Oxford University Press,1997, p167,180) As Fredric Jameson says culture is always an idea of the other. When an intellectual is bound to enquire into his/her own past naturally he or she understands the way in which his or her identity was constructed. A member of an avarna community was cultural �other� in the Indian context. So culture becomes a weapon in the hands of the untouchables to defend themselves. Now that we have demolished the good/bad (utkrishta/apakrishta) binary the culture of each community means the style of their life, which is neither superior nor inferior. Pokkudan, a worker and environmentalist belongs to the Pulaya (scheduled Caste) community in Kerala. Recently his autobiography has come out. In it he remembers his past. He admits the fact that caste oppression has decreased in Kerala compared to his early days. At the same time the reminiscence of his early days gives a grim picture of caste prejudice. Pokkudan could obtain higher social status under the landlord by producing a false identity of a Nambiar. The material condition of a Dalit except in the case of Adivasis is much better in Kerala compared to neighbouring TamilNadu. This is evident from the writings of Thirumaavalavan. In his Talisman Thirumaavalavaan explains how the caste-fanatic frenzy prevents the Dalits from filing nomination papers in the reserved Panchayat constituencies of Pappapatti, Keeripatti, Nattarmangalam and Kottakatchiyendal. Thirumaavalavan explains a lot of such harassments and oppressions.

Although there is rare possibility for such harassments in Kerala we have to be afraid of the recent discussions focusing against caste based reservation. This type of discussions is made possible by projecting the false arguments based on meritocracy and equality of opportunity. Recent Supreme Court verdict in support of Un-Aided Management also curtails the opportunities of the oppressed castes especially scheduled castes of India. In the context of Kerala this will lead to lose what the Dalits have gained in public life. Caste or community based reservation is always explained as the compensation for the past atrocities. This is sheer non-sense. Caste-based reservation is meant to obtain political and administrative power, which was denied to the members of such communities. The sharing of power by different sects of societies is an inevitable way to eradicate culture-based prejudices. In the case women also this is the one of the important ways to root out gender-based prejudice. In August 1990, Prime Minister V.P Singh announced that 27% of central government positions would be set aside for the other backward communities in addition to the 22% set aside for scheduled castes and scheduled tribes. The Mandal commission recommended reservation for about 400 caste spread over India on the basis of the following observation. The report said; �If a tree is to be judged by its fruits, equality of results is obviously the most reliable test of our aspirations and efforts to achieve a just and equitable order. A formidable task under any circumstances, it becomes particularly so in a society which has remained segmented in a finely graded caste hierarchy for centuries.�(Report of the Backward Classes Commission, New Delhi: Government of India) In this article on Dalit identity I mention the above factors related to reservation of the backward communities to remind about the way in which the Upper Castes of the country reacted to this announcement. It is noteworthy that it was the Mandal announcement, which led to the consolidation of the Hindutva forces. The same �otherness� was used to consolidate the upper castes of India. Just like US imperialism placing Muslim �other� to attack and conquer smaller countries, in India the savarna ideology places the Muslim �other� to muster power over the non-savarna. Without addressing the issue the Dalits of the country cannot workout their resistance against the upper caste onslaught.

Before concluding the essay I like to mention some of the recent writings of the Dalits from Kerala for showing the process of evolving culture-based identity, which counter the hegemonic ideology. Above all they spring from the postmodern political scenario. And in the final analysis they too serve the interest of the poor and oppressed. C.K.Janu�s auto/biography explains the identity of an adivasi who belongs to the scheduled tribe. Accordingly the tribes who had to depend upon the forest for their livelihood suffer from poverty as their right to possess forest has been denied. She remembers her early days and constructs her own identity in the light of her new understanding. She came in touch with the mainstream life by way of participating in literacy work and left politics. Later she deviates from the left to focus on tribal issue, which is only one among other issues for the left. However the social movements such as literary work and left labour union activities led her to identify her own social position.

This in turn helped her to undertake struggles for the cause of tribes. When a tribe goes back to the memory of the past it paves the way to identify oneself in relation to the nature of which he/she belonged. It helps not only to protect the tribe but also to protect the environment. In one of the stories Narayan explains the grievance of his family when his son sold out the honey-sweet jack tree. Narayan who belongs to Adivasi community became a writer, as he happened to see the misrepresentation of his community by others in the mainstream print media. Narayan who attained formal education at school level and got a government job could become a writer and invite the attention of others towards the plight of his community. One of the collections of stories, Nissahayante Nilavili (Sigh of the Helpless) contains stories, which depicts anguish over the way in which the main stream treats the tribes. Meanwhile he reveals the grief over the way in which the living environment is being destroyed by the new generation. The honey sweet jack tree talks to Ayyappan before it was being felled.

�For generations I had warded off a family�s hunger, provided shade, maintained water-reserves, and kept the surrounding soil fertile. Are not these acts crimes according to the new law? Your son thinks that the jack tree is an impediment to the growth of rubber. He obtained money for selling me.�

The story ends as follows; �Surendran, you don�t know the relation between trees and the earth. If you cut down a tree, the roots will dry up, and the soil will be eroded by the rain and blown off by the wind. Stones that do not secrete water will emerge. Can�t you leave this place and go somewhere else?� �Whereto, Father?�(105-110, Indian Literature, 224.)

Select Bibliography

1. Thirumaavalavan, Talisman, Translated from the Tamil by MeenaKandasamy, Samya, Kolkata, 2003.

2. Shahid Amin &Dipesh Chakrabarty, Ed. Subaltern Studies, Writings on South Asian History and Society, Oxfor University Press, Delhi,1997.

3. Eagleton, Terry, The Idea of Culture, Blackwell Publishers, Oxford,2000.

4. Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of The Earth, Trans. C.Farrington, Penguin, 1967.

5.Gramsci, Antonio, Selections from Prison Notebooks, Trans. Quintin Hoare, Lawrence and Wishart, London, 1991.

6. Lacan, Jacques, The Language of the self, The Function of Language in Psychoanalysis, John Hopkins University Press, 1968.

7.Althusser, Louis, Lenin and Philosophy and other essays, Monthly Review press, New York and London, 1971.

8.Williams, Raymond, Problems in Materialism and Culture, Verso edition and NLB, London, 1982

9. Huntington, Samuel P., The Clashes of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order, Penguin Books, 1996.

10. ----------, America’s Great Debate Who Are We? Penguin Books, 2004.

11. Janu.C.K, Bhaskaran, Januvinte Jeevitha Katha, DC Books, Kottayam, 2004

12. Pokkudan, Kandal Kadukalkidayil Ente Jeevitam, Editor, Thaha Matayi, DC Books, Kottayam, 2005

13. Kancha Ilaih, Why I am not a Hindu, A Sudra Critique of Hindutva Philosophy, Culture and Political Economy, Samya, Calcutta, 1996.

14. Carl Olson, Indian Philosophers and Postmodern Thinkers, Dialogues on the Margins of Culture. Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2002.
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