In capitalism, you can buy a Merc and hire a Brahmin driver

 

Arati R Jerath

The launch of the first Dalit venture capital fund was a red-letter day for Dalit entrepreneurs. But can the rise of a handful of Dalit billionaires empower a historically oppressed and exploited community? Dalit intellectual and writer Chandra Bhan Prasad believes it can. Defending the market as a liberating force, he tells Arati R Jerath that despite its drawbacks, capitalism, not quotas, is the way to go.

Black capitalism in the US is the inspiration for Dalit capitalism. But statistics show that African-Americans continue to languish behind on all socio-economic indicators. So how will Dalit capitalism benefit Dalits?

Black capitalism has brought visibility with recognition to the Blacks. If you compare their situation today with their immediate past, there is a landmark change. In absolute terms of course they remain unequal to the Whites. In India, capitalism is emancipatory because in capitalism, nothing is fixed by birth. The only permanent thing is competition and a Dalit has the opportunity to move ahead through competition. In the caste order, you cannot buy Brahmin status. In capitalism, you can buy a Mercedes and hire a Brahmin driver. That's the difference capitalism is making.

But you will agree that capitalism introduces a different set of inequities. And Dalits are the worst sufferers because they are still at the bottom of the ladder.

Capitalism may have class-based problems but these are radically different from caste-based problems. A caste-based system is a system of humiliation. In capitalism, there is poverty of course but that is universal to everyone regardless of his birth. Anyone who is lazy, who doesn't want to compete, will face the problem of poverty but minus the humiliation.

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Interview with Gowthama Sannah, Propaganda Secretary of the VCK (Part 3)

 

This is the third and final part of the interview with Gowthama Sannah, Propaganda Secretary of the VCK - Chennai, 26th September 2012

(Please read the second part here and the first part here)

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

Hugo Gorringe: Where was this?

Gowthama Sannah: In a village near Dindugal. There are such problems in many places, but it is only when we become aware of these issues that everyone realises that the problems exist. There are so many villages which have not come to public attention, what can we say about them? Now we in the VCK need to tackle court cases, protest, lead struggles, stand against caste- Hindus, stand against exploiters, stand against the police, address the concerns and doubts of party comrades, address the concerns of non-Dalits in the party – it is within this multitude of concerns that we have to address any problem. We cannot directly confront any problem, but have to be mindful of all these in finding a solution. In some areas we get an immediate resolution in others – like in Munjanoor (Namakal District) – it took 20 years to get a solution. In those 20 years what will the people have said? They will have said: 'this lot come and go, and come and go', that is what they will have said. Today we were successful on the back of continued protests – this was not a one-off demonstration or a problem that arose the other day. Caste is an issue that has been ongoing for thousands of years and you cannot resolve that in two or three days. It takes years of sustained protests. If the VCK back off from such protests then you can condemn us. If they accuse us of selling out even when protests are ongoing then it is our job to help them understand the ground realities.

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Interview with Gowthama Sannah, Propaganda Secretary of the VCK (Part 2)

 

This is the second part of the interview with Gowthama Sannah, Propaganda Secretary of the VCK - Chennai, 26th September 2012 (Please read the first part here)

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

Hugo Gorringe: Just a quick question. Is it right that parties like the RPI never contested on their own symbols but on those of their allies like the DMK or ADMK?

Gowthama Sannah: Yes, in the early stages (in 1952 and 1957 elections) the Republican Party did stand independently on the Elephant symbol, and on same elections period stood in Assembly election with the Commonweal Party on another symbol – the rising sun- which the DMK later inherited. After that as Dalit parties were unable to muster a large enough vote bank to stand alone they were not able to contest on their own symbols. Since their opportunities were so limited – 1 or 2 seats – if they stood with the ADMK they campaigned on the twoleaves, if they stood with the DMK they adopted the rising sun; this is how their movements were suppressed.

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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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