Sixty years have passed since the Nazi Holocaust has been reportedly over. But for thousands of years, an invisible holocaust has been un-reportedly going on in this country. It is the kind of violence the Brahmin-Savarnas have done to the ‘backward’ castes of this country, who have been differently called the ‘untouchables’, ‘depressed class’, ‘scheduled castes and scheduled tribes’, ‘other backward classes’ and so on but who like to identify themselves as the ‘Dalit-Bahujans’. This violence has different forms and shades – physical, cultural, ideological, epistemic, and so on. Some of these diverse violence are visible and some invisible. History of thousands of years would give us ample instances of these kinds of violence; but some current happenings would suffice here. There are visible instances of violence, like beating the Dalits to death for entering temples, stripping the Dalit couples naked in market places, or burning Dalit children. But there are other, invisible instances of violence against the Dalits, like making a Dalit kill himself either making him commit suicide or pushing him into the domain of trauma. It seems in West Bengal, casteist violence takes place in the latter way.
How many budding intellectuals and revolutionaries in Bengal have heard of Chuni Kotal? This lady from the Dalit Adivasi community of Lodha Shabar tribe had to commit suicide after years of casteist harassment from the Brahmin and upper-caste officials and teachers. Even after she struggled all her life to prove herself, even after she became the first graduate from her entire community, she was neglected and harassed. Chuni Kotal’s suicide due to depression on the face of caste based violence is not just one isolated event. Hundreds take place every year. It’s just that those silent killings (suicide or traumatised survival) are never considered to be worthy of attention by the Brahmin-Savarna dominated media or by the Brahmin-Savarna dominated revolutionary spaces.
As a student of Presidency University, I see a sort of parallel hovering around my teacher Professor Mandal who, however, has always shown he would fight back and would no more let anyone from such communities kill himself or herself silently. In my conversations with him I have found how his fight is against these silent killings, against the fear and slave mentality induced into the Dalit-Bahujans by the Brahminical upper-caste ideology.
Professor Mandal was bitten by a dog. To students at Presidency, ongoing discussions are about the several possibilities here- True, False, Maybe. Here, understanding that postmodern magnetism has led to contingency, I feel the necessity to quote from another Facebook post to shed a little more light on the situation. A student from PG2 of the English department had made the claim that he was “there when the dog-biting incident took place and (he himself) saw at least 4-5 students there who told the professor that the dog had bitten them too and they had to take injections for security”. Next Mahitosh Sir ‘suggested’ to the administration or perhaps ‘demanded’ that the animals be encaged. For students again, True, False, Maybe. However, some confusion has again, as far as this possibility is concerned, been diffused by Professor Kalyan Das who has made it clear that Professor Mandal played no such role. The professor wrote, “For a long time my students knew that Mahitosh and Prof. Dutta suggested that an enclosure be built in the campus to contain these dogs. This is absolutely false”. Finally there is a dog in the campus named after the Professor. Only one option here. No “legitimation crisis”. True. From what I myself gathered, there is indeed a dog associated with Mahitosh Sir’s name.
It seems that most of the people trying to diffuse the issues with the idea of ‘other side of the story’ are high priests of postmodernism. A fine work of dialectical montage in real life. But see, even with Rashomon, there is a problem and you should try punishing yourself for not having noted it. There are four stories (at least), four perspectives of truth, but there is also a common element – the murder. And it should be noted that Mahitosh Sir’s narrative was written after three long years of experience.
And the most important thing, as I understand it, is that this naming cannot be seen as an isolated incident. Those, who are participating in this naming, have mostly no idea how this naming is related to some other glaring instances of casteism against him that took place earlier.
Students give names to teachers all the time and doing that is fun. I do that very well myself. Having studied in more than half a dozen campuses myself, I know that students everywhere give names to teachers on the basis of how they look, how they teach, and so on. This is not only normal but this is ‘fun’. There is something spontaneous about it. However, I fail to see what spontaneity lay in calling a dog by the name of a Professor or the other way round, which, from the information I have collected, doesn’t even have the shadow of a doubt.
I am not an animal lover but I love loving animals. No one is a dog, I feel, no one. Not a dog, not a man. If speciesism is what you are against, it follows then, that, you are against casteism as well, by natural necessity. I sincerely would like to know what cultural theory or philosophy balances animal love and selective rhetorical violence against the Dalits.
On Facebook, a serious attempt is being made to attenuate the claim that the professor has been given the name of a dog. Here, I want to point out that such attempts have shown us the far side of many people. One person, with a rare talent for ‘tolerance’, has invented a game called “jyamon khusi Dalit maaro”. The word “maaro” in Bengali slang can be used in brutal and sexual contexts, but even after considering that the inventor of this game is a saintly person, the translation, very much in his favour, is at best “Kill Dalits as you like”. Here, of course, I appeal to the entire dalit community and human-beings more generally, to request him to demonstrate the game in public. In addition to this ‘tolerance’, some comments against the news post (on Facebook) by the newspaper “Ebela” has shown how that ‘higher-caste’ people think that since the professor has reservation, he must learn to tolerate such atrocities. As if some upper castes have done some charity to him. As if to be a reserved category candidate is to be necessarily dumb. As if to be a non-reserved candidate is to be necessarily a saint or a genius. As if the Dalit Bahujans can still be fooled by such glaring instances of strategic essentialism.
If only, these upper-castes only knew the Constitution of India! If only they had read the alternative histories of this country!
Professor Mandal is a representative of his community – a community which has been stampeded and which remains stampeded by the ‘upper-castes’. If you are a sceptic, remember that "Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth." It is a quotation from what is surely one of your favourite books so please reciprocate your love by doing what it says. If this is allowed to go on, the rhetorical association of the dog and the Dalit will be eternalized. It will pass into the institutional unconscious and some of the finest minds of the future will be defeated and manipulated, deep inside, for the worst. This is a holocaust. Only a silent one.
I did not know Chuni Kotal personally; I have heard and read about her. But I know my teacher, Professor Mandal. I know he is a fighter. I know he struggled all his life and I know he will leave no stones unturned. He will fight with his pen; he would fight for himself and for his community. And as a fellow fighter I think he would not let himself be forgotten so easily. And I would like to declare here publicly, echoing other students, that many, many love, respect and admire him. He is an excellent teacher, scholar, and human being. And this is my humble request to my teacher: Sir, please take into consideration not what a few prejudiced minds say but consider the love and support many of us have for you.
Ritwik Balo is a student at Presidency University, studying Part 1 of the Masters degree in English.