When the world danced to Suresh Lele
No, I would not like to describe how Heather M. Acs looked. The New York born girl has just crossed her teens. She is a White American, usually accompanied by her friend Mama S. Diouf, a Black girl of about the same age and appeal. Then there is the tall Brazilian girl Eleniw Ornisa. I wonder for what reasons have Indian women been winning beauty titles.
They and over three dozen young women, men-White, Black, Brown, Coloured- from all parts of the world, danced to the tune of Suresh Lele.
Suresh, a Telugu Dalit, is theorising Dalit culture. About six months ago, I had argued that the next breakthrough in Dalit movement would come from Andhra Pradesh. Telugu Dalits have not let me down, as it was Suresh under whose leadership they made a statement in Durban. This doesn't mean I am taking away contributions of his entire team, which is represented by Dalit women of Tamil Nadu, Gujarat and other states. Let us not forget the very special contributions of Gorati Venkanna and Masterji, who have been performing excellently.
Here in Durban, cultural teams from several countries have been performing every day. It was exactly 7 pm on August 28 when Suresh's drum was first heard at the gates of the Natal Cricket ground. There were about 1000 delegates from all over the world sharing their experiences, distributing literature and arguing their cases. Suresh's entire team played the music at high pitch. About two dozen Dalits began singing and dancing. Then I saw Eleniw dancing madly with Fr. Thomas Pallithanan, a Telugu priest, his personality defined by nobility and conviction. Heather and Diouf, too, joined Dalit men. It continued for about 20 minutes and by 7.30 pm, a large number of people had gathered, all enjoying the event.
The first round was over. While fully aware that Suresh was performing an anti-caste number, those who had joined did so only to explore their youthfulness and joy. Overwhelmed, I wanted to thank Eleniw for joining in. Only to realise that she didn't know English, and I didn't know Spanish. But she wrote her name and e-mail ID on a piece of paper, shook hands with me. We both stood cursing language barriers. Heather, who too was relaxing there, approached me asking if she could help me out. I grabbed the opportunity and thanked her for dancing with Dalits. "Oooh! Are they Dalits? I have been hearing so much about them," she asked. "Yes, they are Dalits. I am one too."
"Nice to meet you, but what is great in dancing with Dalits and why are you thanking me for that," she asked. Then I explained how the dance in which she had participated had anti-caste overtones. "Non-Dalit men rape Dalit women but their women can't dance with us, dine with us and this is a reality in most parts of rural India," I explained.
Before I could conclude, she hugged me. I felt a bit embarrassed as her hug was too tight, too long, and people were watching. She virtually screamed, exhorting everybody to dance again, this time to an anti-caste number. I requested Suresh to play the drum again and what followed was total euphoria. Word spread at lightning speed and everybody present there wanted to share their joy with Dalits. The celebration continued for some 40 minutes. What happened later changed the entire mood of the Durban meet.
The place where Suresh and his team performed is surrounded by a host of make-shift offices, where representatives from all over the world gather in the evening, assess their performance during the day and prepare for the next day. This is the first time Dalits have established a cultural contact with global delegates. By now, the term "Dalit" has occupied the minds of most.
They now have some clarity of Dalit agenda, and a fair amount of understanding as to how "untouchability' has deprived Dalits, including tribals, from access to anything good for an honourable human existence in India. Despite Thursday's setback, the caste question is gaining ground. Hats off to Suresh, on whose music, the world danced, symbolically though.