Interview with Gowthama Sannah, Propaganda Secretary of the VCK

 

Interview with Gowthama Sannah, Propaganda Secretary of the VCK - Chennai, 26th September 2012

[This is the first part of the interview first published in Vol 2, No 1 (2013) issue of 'The South Asianist']

Hugo Gorringe

The compromised and 'failing' position of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and Republican Party of India, led one eminent commentator to urge Dalit activists and scholars to "look south because Tamil Nadu may offer some important lessons" for Dalit politics (Omvedt 2003: xvii-xviii). Tamil Nadu is indeed an interesting case study because it is one of the more developed states within India and has a long history of anti-caste politics and legislation. Despite this, it remains one of the more caste-divided regions as well.

Autonomous mobilisation by Dalit groups coincided with an increase in casteist violence designed to keep the Dalits in a subordinate position (Gorringe 2006). It is only in the past decade, therefore, that Dalit parties have achieved sufficient credibility to forge alliances with established parties (Wyatt 2009). No Dalit party has been able to emulate the success of the BSP in electoral terms, but the political context here is very different (Omvedt 2003). The primary aim of Dalit parties in Tamil Nadu, rather, has been to strip 'Dalit voters away from Dravidian parties' (Roberts 2010: 18). Omvedt's opinion comes in a book of speeches by the Tamil Dalit leader Thirumavalavan and she argues that the passion and vibrancy that characterised initial BSP mobilisation are captured in the fiery speeches and grass-roots mobilisation of Thirumavalavan and the Viduthalai Ciruthaigal Katchi (VCK – Liberation Panther Party) – the largest Dalit movement in Tamil Nadu. Roberts (2010) concurs with Omvedt's assessment and argues that the Tamil Dalit movement has a wider social and political significance that extends beyond the state.

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'The PMK is dangerous to the country, to democracy and the people'

 

(This Rediff Interview with Thol. Thirumavalavan was first published in Rediff.com in February 2001)

thiruma rediff

It was during the 1999 Lok Sabha election that the Dalit Panthers of India, under R Thirumavalavan, became a force in Tamil Nadu.

It was then part of the Third Front led by the Tamil Maanila Congress. That forum fared badly in the election, but the dalit outfits, Puthiya Thamizhagam and DPI, emerged strong.

The DPI was a response to the alleged atrocities on dalits by the Vanniyar community. Naturally, the Pattali Makkal Katchi, represented by the vanniyars of the north, was its major opponent. The PMK was then part of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam-led front in the state.

The Third Front under G K Moopanar became an ally of the All-India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam's Secular Front in the assembly by-election. But when AIADMK chief J Jayalalitha decided to have the PMK as a major ally, the DPI walked out.

The DPI recently joined Chief Minister K Karunanidhi's front after he assured that it was the DMK that was in control and not the Bharatiya Janata Party. Shobha Warrier quizzes Thirumalvalvan on his move:

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Warped in caste conundrum

 

Surendra Kumar

In early 1960s, at my college, Syed Mubarak Ali, the Art teacher, and Devi Singh, physical training teacher, used to be served food in white porcelain plates at teachers' lunches while others ate in brass thalis. I thought it must be a reward for their meritorious services; they were two of the most popular teachers. Years later, the retired principal let out the secret: it was an action in pollution control rather than recognition of their talent! According to him, the brass/copper was good conductor not only for transmitting electric current but also for pollution related to caste and religion. If Ali, a Muslim (Mleksha) and Singh a Scheduled Caste (Shudra) were served food in thalis, pollution of a Mleksha and a Shudra would have passed on to other teachers; they could have resigned. So, introduction of porcelain plate was a diplomatic solution: it avoided offending other teachers and also retained the much needed two teachers. I was left speechless at the genius of the scion of a family of Chaturvedis (who had mastered all the four Vedas!)

In late 1960s, at one of Allahabad University's hostels named after a great Indian educationist, there was no ban on admission of the Muslim/SC students if their marks met the criterion but the students of these two categories seldom opted for this hostel. Once, a Muslim student got admitted. On the very first night, during the harrowing ragging session, the seniors set fire to his pubic hair; he ran for his life without collecting his meagre possessions, never to return again!

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'Capitalism is changing caste much faster than any human being. Dalits should look at capitalism as a crusader against caste'

 

Shekhar Gupta interviews Milind Kamble and Chandra Bhan Prasad

 Milind Kamble chandrabhan prasad

Milind Kamble (left) and Chandra Bhan Prasad

In this Walk the Talk with The Indian Express Editor-in-Chief Shekhar Gupta, Milind Kamble, founder of the Dalit Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (DICCI), and Chandra Bhan Prasad, its mentor, say "the nation should know Dalits are not only takers, they are givers"

I am at Nariman Point, the heart of corporate, super rich India. At a time when the talk is of inclusive growth, my guests today are two faces of genuinely inclusive growth in India: Milind Kamble, founder of Dalit Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (DICCI), and Chandra Bhan Prasad, its mentor. Two Dalit leaders, who don't claim to be victims, who don't claim victimhood, and who don't ask for doles, reservations, favours, no complaints. So, are you oddballs? Are you trying to change the script?

Chandra Bhan Prasad: This has been the Dalit tradition—Ambedkar rose on his own, so did Guru Ravidas. There are thousands of such examples in history where Dalits have stood up and risen on their own. So there is nothing unusual about us. What has happened during the past 50 or 60 years is that the state's welfare measures or methods or reservations got slightly misunderstood and also slightly misused by the "victims".

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Caste control & FDI

 

Kancha Ilaiah

kancha ilaiahThe opening of the retail market for foreign entrepreneurs has invited sharp reactions from several quarters.

The main argument against it is that the livelihood of millions of small shop owners would be seriously affected as they would be handled by global marketing giants like Walmart and Tesco.

According to the opponents of foreign direct investment (FDI) in multi-brand retail, the small marketing sector will be devastated and this would lead to massive unemployment and hunger.

And the supporters of FDI argue that the inflow of foreign funds would create a lot more jobs and the small shops would suffer only marginally.

I, for one, welcome FDI in retail even if it would disrupt the chain of small shops as that is appreciable from the point of view of the likely social change it will bring about.

Certain systems are so well-entrenched in this country that a serious shake-up is long overdue.

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(Un)Touchable in Durban

 

Martin Macwan

(First published in the December 2001 issue of Seminar)

The UN World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance (WCAR) held at Durban had three major agenda themes among others: identification of the sources and causes of discrimination, identification of victims of discrimination, and working out a programme of action including possible compensatory measures to combat racial discrimination.

Racial discrimination has been broadly defined as discrimination based on grounds such as race, colour, descent, and national or ethnic origin. With a special reference to India that declined to accept 'descent' as a ground of discrimination intrinsic to the caste system, maintaining that the term is applicable only in relation to racial discrimination, the ICERD, in 1996 observed that, 'The situation of scheduled castes and scheduled tribes falls within the scope of the convention' (ICERD).

It needs to be reiterated that the issue of caste based discrimination has been raised by the National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights and others on the grounds of descent which, incidentally was incorporated in the convention on Indian insistence in 1964. The National Human Rights Commission of India has opined that all nations must respect treaty bodies, especially when they have signed and ratified international conventions.

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