"Only ash knows the experience of burning": An Interview with Dalit Writer Jai Prakash Kardam


 Dr. Jai Prakash Kardam, a prolific Hindi Dalit writer, was born in a poor Dalit family in Ghaziabad, UP. India. He worked as an un-skilled labourer in construction and factories. He worked in different capacities in State/central govt./ Bank, and in Central Secretariat official Language Service (Govt. of India) as Deputy Director. At present, he is the Second Secretary in the High Commission of India in Mauritius. He has been editing an annual magazine Dalit Sahitya (Varshiki) since 1999. As many as 15 research works for M.Phil / Ph.D. have so far been completed on him and some are going on in different Universities in India and abroad. This major Dalit writer talks to Dr. Nilanshu Kumar Agarwal about several issues of Dalit literature in a detailed and pedantic interview.

jai prakash kardam

Dr. Nilanshu Kumar Agarwal: Dalit Literature unfolds the seething discontent of the Dalits towards their age-old exploitation by the upper caste people. In a way, this branch of literature is a volcano of protest against the highly irrelevant and insignificant evil custom of untouchability. The dragon of untouchability has entered the sub-conscious/ unconscious layers of Indian psyche. It can not be easily eliminated. Dalit Literature may, in the long run, help in eradicating this caste-bias from the Indian mind. To be very honest, this literature of the marginalized has carved a niche for itself in Indian Literature. Where does this literature stand right now? What is its future? What should be done to promote it more? Your suggestions, please.

Dr. Jai Prakash Kardam: Dalit literature has become the central point of the Indian literature now. It has created an important discourse, which has raised the burning questions related to the problems of the Dalits and made the society awakened about it. In spite of the fact that there are so many writers, critics etc. who still do not accept or recognize Dalit literature, it has increasingly acquired the space in the world of literature. Today Dalit literature is included in the syllabi at under-graduate and post graduation level and a large number of research works have been done and are being done in different universities in India and abroad. In fact, Dalit literature has broken the silence and non-livingness of the literature and made it living and progressive. Considering the journey of Dalit literature by now, it can be said that the future of this literature is very bright. 


Memoirs of a Public Intellectual: Siddalingaiah

Review Article by Chandan Gowda  “Ooru-Kéri: An Autobiography,” by Siddalingaiah. Translated from Kannada by S.R.Ramakrishna, published by Sahitya Akademi, 2003. 115 pages1 Rs.60.


Siddalingaiah is a rare figure in contemporary India. A writer, poet, folklorist, academic, founder of Dalit Sangarsha Samhiti and former member of the Karnataka Legislative Council, Siddalingaiah is an exemplary public intellectual. First published in 1996, his autobiography has already been translated into Tamil. It is fortunate that he has become accessible to an English audience at least now.   The autobiography presents, in capsule form, events from Siddalingaiah’s childhood to the start of his adult career. Dates are absent in this book; they do not matter for this meditative autobiography.  Siddalingaiah was born to a poor Dalit family near Magadi in Karnataka. Fortunate in having helpful relatives, his family moved to the Srirampura slum in Bangalore when he had finished his second standard in school.  He soon developed an interest in studies and also became known for his oratory in high school. His unforgettable miniature sketches of his family relations, his hostel, his friends, his schoolteachers and the various characters in the slum are suffused with light-hearted wit and moral seriousness. Siddalingaiah’s wit holds us in splits while also reminding us of the absurdity of social hierarchies.  


List of Dalit students committing suicide in last four years in India’s premier institutions


by thedeathofmerit 

Here is the list of the Dalit students who have committed suicide in last four years. This is by no means an exhaustive list but covers only those cases which we were able to document and where parents and relatives have raised their voices and had accused the institutions of caste discrimination against their children that led to their suicides.

We are sure that the actual numbers of Dalit students committing suicide in country’s premier institutions in last four years will be much higher.

• M. Shrikant, final year, B.Tech, IIT Bombay, 1st Jan 07

• Ajay S. Chandra, integrated PhD, Indian Institute of Sciences (IISc), Bangalore – 26 Aug, 07

• Jaspreet Singh, final year MBBS, Government Medical College, Chandigarh, 27 Jan 08.

• Senthil Kumar, PHD, School of Physics, University of Hyderabad – 23 Feb 08

 Prashant Kureel, first year, B.Tech, IIT Kanpur, 19 April, 08

• G. Suman, final year, M.Tech, IIT Kanpur, 2nd Jan, 09

• Ankita Veghda, first year, BSc Nursing, Singhi Institute of Nursing, Ahmedabad, 20 April, 09

• D Syam Kumar, first year B.Tech, Sarojini Institute of Engineering and Technology, Vijayawada, 13 Aug, 09

• S. Amravathi, national level young woman boxer, Centre of Excellence, Sports Authority of Andhra Pradesh, Hyderabad, 4th Nov, 09

• Bandi Anusha, B.Com final year, Villa Mary College, Hyderabad, 5th Nov, 09

• Pushpanjali Poorty, first year, MBA, Visvesvaraiah Technological University, Bangalore, 30th Jan, 10

• Sushil Kumar Chaudhary, final year MBBS, Chattrapati Shahuji Maharaj Medical University (formerly KGMC), Lucknow, 31 Jan, 10.

• Balmukund Bharti, final year MBBS, All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), New Delhi, 3rd March, 10

• JK Ramesh, second year, BSc, University of Agricultural Sciences, Bangalore, 1st July, 10

• Madhuri Sale, final year B.Tech, IIT Kanpur, 17th November, 10

• G. Varalakshmi, B.Tech first year, Vignan Engineering College, Hyderabad, 30 Jan, 2011

• Manish Kumar, IIIrd Year B.Tech, IIT Roorkee, 13 Feb, 11

• Linesh Mohan Gawle, PhD, National Institute of Immunology, New Delhi, 16 April, 11


Read the discussion here.

Our Demands

by thedeathofmerit


 The large number of suicides by Dalit students in Indian educational system, especially in premier science and professional colleges and universities, are a mere pointer towards the widespread prevalence of various forms of caste-discrimination and humiliations that our students have to undergo on a regular basis while pursuing their higher education.


Echoes of stillborn histories

by thedeathofmerit admin

What can we learn from this documentary, ’The Death of Merit’?

Bal Mukund Bharti was determined to become a doctor. And his teachers were also very determined: ‘you’ll never pass MBBS’, they told him.

Bal Mukund didn’t give up, nor did his family. Father, mother, married sister, uncle, aunt– they were all determined to support him in his ardent journey, which was steadily converted into an uphill struggle by AIIMS, to become a doctor. They scraped, pooled together whatever meagre resources they could to send him to AIIMS.

Uncle says they invested everything they earned in his education. Sister who made only 2,500 rupees a month helped whenever father, who worked in a job which sometimes made him wait 3 long months for wages, couldn’t. It wasn’t a small dream; if realized, it could have become a source of hope and pride for many more people outside the immediate family.

As Bal Mukund’s proud father says, ‘he was the first one from our community to become a doctor in fifty years!’. Bal Mukund’s intelligence and superior scholastic record instilled that kind of confidence in the family, stoked such high hopes.

Imagine: the first doctor from a community in fifty years, or in two millennia, possibly. Also imagine Rakesh Sharma or Kalpana Chawla, people of the ‘wrong’ race, being told by the Russians or the Americans: ‘you’ll never go into space’.

But AIIMS was determined it would see Bal Mukund only as a ‘harijan’, as a person from the ‘wrong’ caste. Imagine history being snuffed out in the womb. That shouldn’t be very difficult to imagine if you step two years back into history and think of Senthil Kumar of the University of Hyderabad. 


‘The Death of Merit’: A Documentary


On Suicides of Dalit Students in India’s Premier Educational Institutions

Linesh Mohan Gawle, a second year PhD student from National Institute of Immunology (NII), New Delhi, committed suicide in his hostel room on 16 April 2011. He belonged to a Dalit family from Dindori Tehsil in Jabalpur (Madhya Pradesh).

Linesh’s suicide is just one more addition in the growing list of Dalit students committing suicides in the country’s educational institutions, especially that of sciences and professional courses in recent times.  Most of these institutions are considered to be ‘top class’ and have ‘All India character’.

The number of students committing suicides in Indian campuses is in itself a big cause of worry for our society and points towards lacunae in our higher education system, proving it to be completely feudal and insensitive towards the students to say the least.


Dr. Suryakant Waghmore: Subalterns have a role in making of civil society


Dalit and Adivasi Students' Portal

suryakant waghmore(First published in the 'Dalit and Adivasi Students' Portal' in 2010)

Dr Suryakant Waghmore is an Assistant Professor, Centre for Social Justice and Governance, School of Social Work, Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), Mumbai. He has been recently awarded with his Doctorate degree from University of Edinburgh, Scotland where he was studying as one of the recipients of prestigious Commonwealth Scholarships.

In this interview, Dr Waghmore shares about the scholarship, opportunities for Dalit and Adivasi Students for higher education abroad together with his area of research - Caste, Civility and Civil Society in India.


First of all, let us congratulate you for the Doctorate degree that has been recently awarded to you at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, in Sociology.


You were a recipient of the prestigious Commonwealth Scholarship while pursuing your PhD there. Can you please tell our readers about this scholarship?

Commonwealth scholarship is an annual scheme made available to all Commonwealth countries by the Commonwealth Scholarships Commission. The India programme is managed jointly by the Association of Commonwealth Universities (ACU, UK); Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD), Government of India and the British Council.


The Black and White of Life

"I had neither kith nor kin

Only as much ground as I walked upon

The shelter of shops

And the free muncipal pavement, always open

As I moved through this rootless life given to me.. "

-- Narayan Gangaram Surve, My University


Dalitizing History: A New Paradigm in South Asia


Chinnaiah Jangam

[Reviewed by Chinnaiah Jangam (Wagner College), Bhagavan, Manu; Feldhaus, Anne, eds., Claiming Power from Below: Dalits and the Subaltern Question in India. H-Asia, H-Net Reviews. December, 2009.]

Over the last two decades, the South Asian landscape has experienced a resurgence of untouchable voices challenging the dominant social, economic, political, cultural, and epistemological structures, and questioning the traditional mechanisms of oppression. Even though Indian society and its traditional institutional structures have been critically interrogated throughout its history, the perspectives from the most oppressed sections of the society, like the untouchables (Dalits), did not form a part of mainstream intellectual discourses and analyses.

Historically, criticisms of caste, gender, and other oppression and exploitation are as old as the institutions themselves--a fact that has often been discounted or glossed over by the dominant, largely Brahmanical, canon. Read More To a certain extent, the colonial (modernist) intervention provided a distinct ideological and institutional framework for the oppressed, like the Dalits and women, to contest their subordination and oppression, one in which the most oppressed sections of society envisioned anti-caste egalitarian ideas and strove to build an alternative world free of exploitation and inhumanity. However, the mainstream writings focusing on colonial and postcolonial South Asia did not integrate Dalit visions and their articulations as part of the South Asian experience of colonialism and modernity. Because of their own social location and ideological limitations, even many caste Hindu scholars refused to accept and dwell on caste-based oppression and exploitation.


Why Dalits in West Bengal are on protest


Manohar Mouli Biswas

(First published in World Prout Assembly site in August 2007)

Dalits are perhaps by their birth communist in nature. They are born in the graded inequality of the society and as a result what happens they have to face the lot of sufferings in their daily life. They are by birth poor, illiterate and landless labours of the soil. These toiling masses very easily become followers of the communist party and they sometimes become the active members also. While they become active members they have to undergo certain limitations. What are those limitations? They are used to actively work amongst the Dalits and Adibasis. Dalits are used to convince and persuade more and more Dalits and Adibasis. The people at home and abroad may know this fact that the Indian communists did not any time talk of the Cultural Revolution in India. Why? The answer of this question is very simple. The socialism, if anytime it is planned to be set up in the caste-divided society of graded inequality like India, needs the pre-occurrence of the Cultural Revolution and this Cultural Revolution should have the single point agenda. What is this agenda of the pre-occurrence? It is nothing but the annihilation of the caste system of the society for which Dr. Ambedkar advocated to the modernizers of the society.

manohar mouli biswas

After thirty years of leftists' rule in West Bengal the inequality has vigorously been sharpened in the field of economy, education and health-care. It is seen to vigorously increase in the field employment opportunities in particular. Are not all these against the ideology of communism? Who cares for? History speaks that the thought of communism was brought into India by Mr. M. N. Roy and his other associates who mostly all were Brahmins and at that time living in Russia. From the initial stage of its spread in India and very particularly in West Bengal it is seen to be in the hands of the Brahmins as leaders and the total control is, by hook or by crook, maintained by the social hierarchy. In West Bengal while the history repeats the same path resultantly whatever the benefits have come in West Bengal out of the land-reforms, reforms of education, reforms of health-cares, job-opportunities etc. have gone of its larger shares to the social hierarchies. Whatever the shares the Dalits and the religious minorities have got are very less in comparison to their population and definitely in violation of their constitutional rights.


Karthik Navayan: A Scholar. An Activist. A Role Model


Dalit and Adivasi Students' Portal

karthik navayan(First published in the 'Dalit and Adivasi Students' Portal' in 2010)

Advocate Karthik Navayan, age 33, is one of our mentors for law students. Based in Hyderabad, he is an activist-scholar who is instrumental in organising various campaigns on the issues of Dalit students, child labour, land rights and caste-atrocities and has authored two books on the above issues. In this interview, he is sharing with us his life struggle and his ideals that kept him motivated to not only excel in studies but also to contribute towards the empowerment of our community.


Please tell us about your background.

I am from a village Morriguda, in Adilabad district of Telangana region in Andhra Pradesh. Both my parents are agricultural labourers. We are five brothers and sisters. My elder brother is an activist whereas two younger brothers and sister are still studying.

What about your schooling?

I did my schooling from a government school in Telugu medium, living in Scheduled Caste Welfare Hostel, not very far from my village

How did you get admission in this SC welfare hostel?

SC welfare hostel is run by state government and provides residential facilities for our students at very minimum expenses. There were many Dalit families in the village that had sent their kids to this hostel as they were unable to bear the expenditure of their studies. Probably my father came to know about this through them and decided to admit me and my elder brother together. I was in the 2nd std then.


Narinder Jakhu: I want to motivate our students to join Universities


Dalit and Adivasi Students' Portal

narinder(First published in the 'Dalit and Adivasi Students' Portal' in 2010)

Narinder Jakhu, age 31, is pursuing his PhD at Department of Political Science, Punjab University, Chandigarh and is also teaching there as a guest faculty. He is a JRF scholar working on the issue of Dalit Assertion, Mobility and Atrocities in Haryana.  Apart from his academics, he is passionately involved in mobilizing and creating various support systems for Dalit students in the campus as the President of Ambedkar Students Association, Punjab University.


Please tell our readers about your background.

I am from a village name Shakarpura that lies in Tohana tehsil of district Fatehabad, Haryana. I belong to a family of leather tanners that brings dead cattle from village and then produce leather from their skin and sell it in the market.  My father studied till primary and mother is illiterate.

I have three sisters – all younger than me.  The eldest among them is now married and could not study much. But both my second and third sisters are now pursuing graduation. One of them has completed her diploma in polytechnic too.

What has been your educational background?

I have quite a diverse background. I completed my 10th with 46% marks and then chose Commerce stream to do my 10+2. But I took Computer Application as one of the majors for my B.A. at DAV College (Nakodar, Punjab) along with History, Political Science, English and Punjabi. Then I joined Punjabi University, Chandigarh for my Post Graduation in Political Science and later completed my Mphil there too. Currently I am pursuing my PhD in the same department.


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