By D Gopi
Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu seems to have no time to respond to the problem of the Dalit students of University of Hyderabad, who were rusticated by the University. People are still aware that Chandrababu Naidu had championed the cause of the untouchables and had led them to the temples in December 2001.
Since he is an able administrator, who compares himself with Bill Clinton, John Major and alike, felt that the problem of untouchablity has gone from the society as he led the Dalits to the temples and had lunch with them. He believed that the centuries old caste system was removed from the society, particularly the State of Andhra Pradesh after he held meetings for the three days and his party men and officers followed him. He believes that a world class leader like him voiced against the caste system once and the system should go. He is justified in his belief and confidence that he has in him. Because he lives above the society and in true words he lives in the clouds - his own imaginary world.
Society is different and Naidu can not change it overnight. There were several leaders who did even better work than him on this line. But the point is that with his commitment and living in his own imaginary world, Naidu had failed to look down and watch the poor Dalit students of the University of Hyderabad, who are on hunger strike. All just for one reason - seeking a chance to continue their education.
The society is so cruel to the Dalit students. People like Naidu move around with a mask covering their face. If the mask is removed, then one can see the real face of these people and read their anti-Dalit feelings on their faces. No leader like Naidu will allow a Dalit to speak about the caste system or the exploitation or the untouchability. As long as the Dalits do not speak about the untouchablity and caste discrimination, these leaders allow the Dalits to survive. Once they start speaking, these leaders feel that they are being unmasked and exposed. This makes them most uncomfortable and they react in a better organised way with the society's finest conspiracy, which no court of law can expose.
The conspiracy is framed and projected in the best possible way and they continue to enjoy the support of the rest of the society. More surprising is that even the Dalit intellectuals who keep serving the government and protect the interests of the people like Naidu, can find fault with the Dalit students of the Central University and not with the people behind the conspiracy. May be this is the reason why not a single Dalit bureaucrat from the State has lent voice for the Dalit students till now.
Whether these Dalit bureaucrats and intellectuals speak or not, the Dalit students would have to go a long way in fighting against the exploitation. Their fight may not help them today. But, I am sure, it will help the future generations. I see 10 Ambedkars in Central University today. And I see even more Ambedkars supporting them. With one Ambedkar, we could bring so much of change in the Indian social system. With these 10 Ambedkars in the Central University and many more Ambedkars across the State and the nation, I am confident that we would win this and unmask these Naidus, the champions of society.
'Lagaan', India's entry for the Best Foreign Film at this year's Oscars, has made it to the top five. This film has been lauded by critics and experts as "progressive, good cinema". However, Lagaan is extremely derogatory as far as dalits (India's so-called ex-untouchables) are concerned.
This aspect has been elaborated in an article in a little magazine 'The Dalit', a copy of which we are sending you below.
At a time when the dalit and caste issues are getting internationalised at United Nations forums like the World Conference Against Racism at Durban last year, it would be a setback to the Dalit Agenda and an insult to dalits in general, if 'Lagaan' ends up being adjudged the Best Foreign Film on 24 March 2002. We therefore wish to create awareness among people at the national and international levels about the dangers inherent in feteing Lagaan's apparently innocent celebration of nationalism through cricket.
But given the general ignorance regarding the casteism woven into 'Lagaan', we feel constrained to initiate this awareness campaign. We shall lobby in the media and other forums up to the Oscar Committee to make everybody see our point of view. Hollywood-Oscars itself has a history of racism by omission - no African-American has won the best actor/ actress/ director award till date. But at a time when Will Smith is in the race for Best Actor award (for his role as Muhammad Ali in 'Ali'), it would be unfair to further legitimise a regressive work like Lagaan on the same podium.
We the undersigned therefore urge you to take this campaign further and help stop the Oscar Committee from adding more insult to dalits than the Indian society and state have already done. The accompanying essay will hopefully convince you of our point of view. Please circulate this email and talk to friends about it and write letters to papers.
-- Ravikumar, president People's Union for Civil Liberties, Tamil Nadu-Pondicherry
-- Punitha Pandian, Editor, 'Dalit Murasu', Tamil monthy
-- Jeyarajarathinam, Editor, 'Thaimann', Tamil magazine
-- Pratiba Jayachandiran, Writer, 'Pudiya Kodangi', Tamil literary journal.
THREE SNEERS TO LAGAAN'S DALIT
Ashutosh Gowarikar-Aamir Khan's Lagaan is supposed to herald 'the arrival of the dalit' in Hindi cinema. Set in 1890, Lagaan is the story of how the residents of Champaner, a village in Avadh (modern Uttar Pradesh), master the game of cricket in three months and defeat the British cantonment team. The wager is that the British would not impose tax (lagaan) for the next three years if Champaner wins the match; if it loses, the entire province should pay a triple levy. Approaching cricket as the white man's pompous version of gilli-danda, the Champaner XI wins the game under the leadership of Bhuvan (Aamir Khan) aided by a white lady (sister of villainous British officer who challenges Bhuvan).
Lagaan is being celebrated by secularists, nationalists, subalternists, leftists, pseudo-secularists, BJPites, academics, critics and filmgoers alike. But the film, nominated for the Oscars, is dangerous as far as dalits (and women) are concerned.
Let's begin with the entry of the dalit. When Bhuvan's team is training under the supervision of the white woman, we suddenly spot Kachra standing on the margins - literally - as the ball rolls before him. Bhuvan asks Kachra to throw the ball back. A petrified Kachra, with a small broom in his left hand, his right hand handicapped, is sweating. Hero Bhuvan goads him to throw the ball and Kachra does it with his disabled hand. The ball spins wildly. Bhuvan is impressed and wants to rope Kachra in as the team's eleventh member. Predictably, the entire village from mukhiya (chief) to vaid (doctor) opposes the move to induct an achchut (untouchable). Bhuvan launches into a speech, saying even Rama had eaten the fore-bitten fruit of Sabari. Everyone is won over.
Besides sounding apologetic, the dalit is wordless; as if he is also dumb. Totally stripped of agency, Kachra (the name is Hindustani also means waste/ garbage) has to simply follow caste-hindu Bhuvan's words. The subaltern cannot speak. He never exercises a choice. Kachra - someone excluded from every other social-cultural-religious aspect of village life - is never asked whether he would like to be included in such a game. It is not clear whether Kachra is even aware of why the game is being played.
Champaner is initially depicted as a caste-free utpoia. Till the introduction of Kachra, dalits/ caste never figures in the cinematic village. The brahmin is conspicuous by his absence. No character is caste-marked. Only Kachra bears the burden of caste identity. Now, do Champaner's untouchables live in separate quarters? Who are the other untouchables in the village? (There can't be just one!) Do they approve of Kachra being part of the team? The rest of the villagers - Bhuvan, Lakha and others - are constantly referred to as 'farmers/ peasants' who own land (though they are never shown participating in any farmerly activity). Hence the lagaan (double, triple whatever) affects them. But what about the landless and rights-less untouchables? How does the lagaan or the cricket match that will liberate Champaner and Avadh from the lagaan affect the dalits? What is the problem that dalits have with the white coloniser-state? Are not their problems more linked to the caste colonialism sustained by the Raja (who, funnily, is a vegetarian) and the caste hindus of the village?
Irrespective of the game's result and Kachra's performance, their status will remain the same. Bhuvan's impassioned plea to the 'village elders' is also limited to Kachra's inclusion in the team - and this is decided by accident - and not about the larger problem of the untouchables. Besides, Kachra is a good spinner not because of ability, but because of his disability. The token dalit is further dalitised. When Kachra wants to throw the ball with his 'normal' hand, Bhuvan insists he use the disabled hand. Kachra being an untouchable is hardly the issue here; his disability is. Kachra's talent is not based on merit, the will to excel or determination to defeat an enemy (like Bhuvan's is). It, like untouchability, comes with birth. And it is Bhuvan who discovers this 'innate' talent. Kachra knows nothing.
Kachra's character is supposed to be based on Baloo Palwankar. But Lagaan is an insult to Baloo and dalits in general. Lagaan manipulates a dalit the same way in which mainstream society/histories/nationalisms have.
-- Siriyavan Anand
(originally published in 'The Dalit', January-February 2002)
'The Dalit' is a new Chennai-based journal that was launched in January 2002. For details contact firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com
For an exhaustive critique of 'Lagaan' please see www.himalmag.com, or the March 2002 issue of 'Himal', a South Asia journal.
The recent rustication of 10 Dalit students of the Central University, Hyderabad, is perhaps a case of `contemporary casteism'.
A report by the ANVESHI LAW COMMITTEE.
Dalit students ... Waiting for justice
THE rustication of 10 Dalit students of the Hyderabad Central University (HCU) on charges of violence is an incident surrounded by controversy. It raises questions that have serious implications for higher education in India, as well as for Dalits as they assert their right to education.
If we were to overlook the high attrition rate of Dalit students, the HCU would appear to be the university of the future. In 2001, the University Grant Commission's (UGC) NAAC awarded it five-stars and it was named one of five new centres of excellence in the country. Moves have been initiated to "improve" its academic and infra-structural functioning. One of these reforms, the constitution of a central purchasing committee (CPC), primarily to check alleged corruption in the student-managed hostel messes, precipitated the incident.
On January 10 this year, a group of senior students went to the chief warden's office with a list of grievances regarding increasing mess charges and the demotion of a Dalit warden to the care of "sanitation and gardening". The discussion soon became unpleasant: the chief warden and another warden said that they were not answerable to the students and instructed the security staff to ask them to leave. A melee ensued.
The next day, in response to demands from the teaching, non-teaching staff and students' associations, the vice-chancellor summoned some of the local executive committee members. The wardens presented their report. Within hours, the 10 students were rusticated "forever". The police had already taken away six of them to the Chandanagar police station, where they were detained. When the first fact-finding teams arrived on the evening of January 12, they found around 30 students huddled in a park taking stock of the situation, glancing warily at a police jeep nearby. "This is sheer injustice," the students said. "There was a minor scuffle which started because the warden abused the students and held one of them by the collar. How can the administration expel the students without an inquiry? Some of the boys rusticated were not present at the warden's office. This is a `casteist' decision — the boys expelled were Dalits, they were leaders of the Dr. B.R. Ambedkar's Students Association (ASA)." The faculty felt that though no one had been injured, the assault on a faculty member constituted a serious offence. There had been a history of rough behaviour by the ASA. It was time the university took a firm stand. "What makes the Dalit students so angry." "Perhaps the memory of historical oppression." How is it that all the students who were rusticated were Dalits? "It's just an unfortunate coincidence," said the vice-chancellor. "I am not casteist. Please don't give this a casteist slant. The assaulted warden also belongs to the SC community."
Who are these students? What is the social capital that they represent?
Talking to six of them was a revelation. All of them are children of agricultural labourers and first generation university students. Five have passed the University Grant Commission's NET, with four of them being UGC/CSIR fellows. While two have jointly authored papers in international journals, one had stood first in the graduating batch in his college. Most of them have done menial work throughout their student life to help see them through university.
Despite hardship, they were proud of their accomplishments. One remembered how his father had got an electricity connection for his hut to celebrate the boy's entry into college. Another recalled how during the holidays, four of them — friends in the village — one SC, one BC and two Muslims — would cycle to his hut and share a meal. However, all this was overshadowed by problems in the university; each is embittered by the way he has perpetually been "on probation". They were resented just for being there, watched while they ate, suspected for their corruption, hounded for their misuse of State facility. Their angry response has been seen as violence. Ignored in the classroom, mocked by teachers as well as students, it was as if the notion of adolescence that mitigated the boisterousness of their more fortunate counterparts, did not apply to them.
At the beginning of their downward academic spiral, they were granted the relaxation in the marks required for admission. Next, curricula tailor-made for the urban upper-castes left them stranded. The main hurdle was English. Try as they might, they were never able to improve. What was this metropolitan norm which made these competent students "unteachable"? This question is important since several upper-caste mofussil students do manage to bridge the language gap. Part of the answer is a new form of ostracism. The Dalit students' experience of university life is one of being admitted only on sufferance. Omnipresent resentment at their presence in the classroom, mess halls, in the evaluation process, assignment of research topics, and not least, administrative fiats. One of them said nobody had spoken to him for a year. Another said that all his assignments had been rejected.
Even more painful has been the kinds of epithets hurled at them by some student groups. Notices calling them "pigs and uncivilised, violent brutes", adorn the walls.
Is this not the secret life of caste prejudice in our times? The greatest perpetrator of contemporary casteism, it would seem, was — not so much their village pump, high school or mofussil college — it was the metropolitan university! This violence has left its mark on Dalit students. Yet to the unreflecting eye they can appear as isolationist, self-serving and even criminal.
There are other issues at stake. New Dalit students who have to "adjust" to campus life find a cold upper caste faculty and students. These students have no assistance when it comes to using the library, understanding administrative procedures, learning hostel culture or tackling the myriad problems that confront a newcomer in an institution and in a city.
This is where the ASA plays a crucial role. Many of the younger Dalit students will vouch for the fact that had it not been for the support they received from the rusticated students they would have discontinued their studies. The ASA claims that it first tries to solve problems through negotiations. But an unsympathetic and biased response sometimes pushes the ASA to adopt an uncompromising stance, especially on issues that have a vital bearing on Dalit dignity. Sadly, they point out (for it is they who have paid the real, considerable personal and academic costs for this), only aggression seems to ensure results. This has proven ground enough for the university's interpretation of ASA assertion as a manifestation of rowdyism, violence and criminality. The January 10 event involved another such focus of "ignoble" political activity: food, mess costs, dignity and corruption.
If we look at our universities through the lens of this incident, the picture that emerges is disturbing. Dalit students arrive with a degree of self-respect and considerable competence.
Years of social labour and community investment have gone into making each of them. The history behind this incident of rustication shows that these students' capabilities are being systematically annihilated by contemporary casteism. The challenge for our universities is to put together the resources to recognise that Dalit students represent new social forces that are a valuable national asset.
DH News Service
RAICHUR, March 4
Around 19 women turned Devdasis, even as police were present and several womens' organisations protested against the practice, at the Neeramanavi Yellamma Devi fair in the district on Sunday. More than 30 thousand devotees from Raichur, Koppal, Bellary, Bagalkot, Bijapur, Gulbarga, Bidar, Belgaum and various districts of Maharashtra, Andhra, Madhya Pradesh and Goa participated in the fair and the car festival.
While the celebrations were on in the village, the process of offering the Devdasis to the Goddess had started in the outskirts. Nine-year old Yamunavva of Santhekallur village of Lingasugur taluk became a Devdasi without her knowledge by wearing Devis' mangalsuthra and toe-rings, a part of the initiation ritual. Later, all of them were taken to the temple where the ritual was ceremoniously concluded.
Earlier, it was speculated that 42 people would become Devdasis. However, some of them withdrew as they were pressurised to do so. Around 19 women from Gadahanglaj, Solapur, Thane in Maharashtra, Muktal in Andhra, Shahpur from Gulbarga, Mahalingapura in Bijapur, Mudhol and other districts became Devdasis.
Although a practice where women are taken out in nude in a procession was stopped since two years, the Devdasi system had continued to be a part of the fair. Earlier, the women used to become Devdasis in the sanctum sanctorum of the temple. But due to the government law, threats from police and opposition from women's organisation, rituals are held in the outskirts of the village while they come to the temple to seek the Devi's blessings, temple sources said. It is said that women's organisations were successful in creating awareness among people and stopped 26 women from adopting the system.
ANIMAL SACRIFICE: More than 1500 goats and rams were sacrificed to the goddess at the fair. As animal sacrifice was restricted in the temple premises, the ritual was held outside.
The animal sacrifice, which started at 9 pm, went on till 4 am the next day. This was done in the presence of police.
DH News Service
GULBARGA, March 4
The district unit of the Buddhist Society of India (BSI), an association formed by the Neo-Buddhists', today took out a protest rally in the City, demanding the Union government to concede to their many demands.
The members of the BSI, under the leadership of Dhamma Bhanthe Kerthi Rathna, Republican Party of India (Aitwale) national Vice-president Shivram Mogha, Dalit leader Vittal Dodmani, BSI District President Bheemrao Tegaltippi, Secretary R S Dargi, Convener Vithal Chambal, Mr Jai Bheem, Mr Gurushanth Pattedar, and others gathered at the Dr B R Ambedkar statue at the Jagat Chowk in the City, and after garlanding the statue, took out the protest procession. Going through the main thoroughfares in the City, the procession passed through the Sardar Vallabhai Patel Chowk, and concluded at the Mini-Vidhana Soudha. Addressing the protesters, Mr Mogha stated that BSI had demanded a separate personal code for the Buddhists', as it is there for the Hindus, Muslims, and Christians. He stated that since last many years, the BSI was urging the Centre to concede to their many demands, but nothing had been done till now.
Stating that the today's protest rally in the City was a part of the rallies being taken out by the BSI throughout the country today, Mr Mogha, who is also the founder of BSI in Gulbarga district, said that, even though Buddhism was entirely different from Hinduism, yet there was no separate personal law for the Buddhists', and the Hindu personal law was applicable to Buddhists' too.
Mr Mogha said that their main demand was a separate personal law for the Buddhists', and that Buddhism should be separated from the Hindu religion. Their other main demand was, he said, the caste certificates issued to the Neo-Buddhists', that is, those members of the Scheduled Castes who had embraced Buddhism should not use the caste names to which the members earlier belonged to. "Also, the reservation being provided to the Scheduled Castes should be extended to the Neo-Buddhists', but, their previous caste names should not be mentioned in the caste certificate," he added.
Mr Mogha also called for Buddhists' to be appointed as members to the executive committees of the Buddhists' temples, especially at the Buddha Vihar at Bhodgaya in Bihar. He urged that construction of Hindu temples, going on in many Buddhists' places, should be stopped. MrMogha stated that the Centre had recently increased the entrance fee for the historical sites, including those pertaining to Buddhism. This hike should be withdrawn, he said, adding that the Neo- Buddhists' should also be considered as Scheduled Casts during the census.
Stating that the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) had recently changed the water mark on the Rs 500 denomination notes form the National Emblem to that of a portrait of Mahatma Gandhi, Mr Mogha said, the RBI should revert its decision, and continue with the National Emblem as the water mark on these notes. Moreover, he stated that the Buddhist discourses should be telecast for an hour daily on All India Radio and on Doordarshan.
Their other demands were, Mr Mogha said, the birth and death anniversary of Dr B R Ambedkar should be declared as a holiday throughout the country, renaming Dadar railway station in Mumbai as Chaityabhoomi, nomination of Neo-Buddhists' to the minority commissions, establishing a Pali (language) Academy, directions to the Government offices not to display photos of Gods or Goddesses, scholarship amounts being given to Neo-Buddhist and SC students should be increased for time to time, and payment of stipend to the unemployed Neo-Buddhists'.
They later submitted a memorandum to Gulbarga Deputy Commissioner M Laxminarayan, addressed to President of India K R Narayanan and Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee.
DH News Service
GULBARGA, March 4
Home Minister Mallikarjun Kharge would be inaugurating the Scheduled Castes/Tribes Students' Convention, being organised by the Gulbarga University, tomorrow (March 5).
In a note here, Gulbarga University Registrar P Bhupal Reddy said that the purpose of the convention was to provide a systematic agenda for the developmental of intellectual pursuits in the exploited sections of people living in the backward region of Hyderabad- Karnataka. The convention would concentrate on the themes like personality development, preparing one-self for jobs, facing interviews, etc, he added.
Stating that the convention was being held for the benefit of SC/ST students from the Gulbarga University and its affiliated colleges, Prof Reddy said, more than 800 students from 150 affiliated colleges, post-graduate centres of the university, and from the main campus would be attending the convention.
He said that a cultural procession was being organised on the occasion in which dignitaries and students would be taking out the portrait of Dr Ambedkar in a procession from the Dr Ambedkar Hostel to the Karya Soudha, where the convention is being held. Prof Reddy said that the inaugural function would be followed by two technical sessions, and a session for deliberations among the students. Speakers including Gulbarga Divisional Commissioner G K Lokhre, Mr B Krushnamurthi, Mr B M Bain, Mr Suresh Mane, Mr K M Koti, Mr S P Melkeri and Mohammed Seyauddin would be participating in the two sessions, he added.
Also on the occasion, Social Welfare Minister Kagodu Thimmappa would be inaugurating the Dr Ambedkar Hostel for the SC/ST students in the university premises. Cultural programmes would be held in the evening, he said.
DHARNA: The members of the Karnataka Dalit Sangarsh Samithi (Mavalli Shankar faction) would be holding a one-day dharna in front of the Krishna Gramin Bank in the City tomorrow (March 5), in support of its agitation pressuring the Union government to fill up the nearly 10 lakh backlog of vacancies.
In a note here today, KDSS District Convener Dattatraya Ikalki said that they were demanding the Centre to fill up the backlog of vacancies which were pending since last many years.
As the KDSS has begun agitations throughout the State for the filling up the backlog of vacancies, he said, the KDSS had already held a one- day dharna in front of the Railway Office in the City recently. And continuing with these agitations, the KDSS members would be holding a dharna in front of the Krishna Gramin Bank in the City tomorrow (March 5).