Fighting Caste through Film: Interview with Pratik Parmar & Somnath Waghmare


Vinay Shende

Vinay: Jai Bhim friends. Welcome to Ambedkar Age*. In this episode, we shall discuss the issue of film-making. In recent times, we have seen a number of people making films on the issue of Caste, from a Dalit Bahujan perspective - be it Nagraj Manjule or Pa. Ranjith. In continuation of this phenomena, we have two smart young filmmakers today who have made documentaries on Caste. We have Pratik Parmar who made Project Heartland and Somnath Waghmare, the filmmaker of Bhima Koregaon.

Jai Bhim Friends. So tell us about yourselves and your background.

somnath pratik vinay

Somnath: Jai Bhim. My name is Somnath Waghmare. I belong to a village called Malewadi on the Maharashtra-Karnataka border. My family stays there. They migrated 30 years ago because of unemployment. My parents are farmers and I have a brother and sister, both of whom are married. I completed my Graduation in Sociology with First Class at Islampur, a town in the District of Sangli in Maharashtra. After that, I completed my Masters in Media studies from Pune University. That was four years ago. During my Masters, I got introduced to filmmaking. I worked for some time at the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII), Pune, for their Community Radio. After FTI, my interest towards filmmaking began to increase. I made a documentary, 'I am not a Witch', which was about a landless woman. After that, I made Bhima Koregaon. It has been screened at many places like IIT Bombay, FTII, Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), etc.

Currently, I am studying in TISS, pursuing my integrated MPhil-PhD.

Pratik: My name is Pratik Parmar. I am from Ahmedabad, Gujarat. My family lives in Javaraj, which is 40 kilometers from Ahmedabad. My parents are Government Servants. From an Education perspective, I am a Mechanical Engineering dropout. I am working in the Gujarati film Industry and Bollywood for the past 3 years as an Assistant Director. Since two years, I have become more involved in making documentaries on caste issues. I am completing Project Heartland currently and previously made 'No More Now', which was a Documentary that spoke about violence against Dalit women.


Can principles of equality, justice and fraternity sprout from thin air?


Dr. Sylvia Karpagam

Sylvia pixA series of articles have appeared recently in several media outlets about the lack of representation from the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (SC/ST) in the Indian Institutes of Management. This is surely not an isolated occurrence and is highly likely to be the case in most national institutions. While numerous explanations are given for this, ranging from the boring 'lack of merit' to 'no one is applying', the end outcome is predictably the same.

This pattern of non-representation of SC/ST also resonates in large international NGOs such as Amnesty India, which I recently worked in and resigned from.Amnesty, as with the IIM's, has an astonishing preponderance of people from dominant caste groups particularly at senior management levels, ranging anywhere between 97 – 99%, in spite of their stated goal being 'equality and diversity'!

Another striking similarity between the IIMs and Amnesty India is the absolute and complete apathy of those in the senior management to very stark statistics on the lack of diversity within these institutions/organisations.The very same apathy is evident from the board members of these organisations in spite of their explicit roles being to question, challenge and hold these organisations/institutions accountable. It is important to understand where this complete apathy comes from. Can it even be addressed? If yes, how? If not, then what is one supposed to do?


'Saheb: The Man Who Became a Movement'-- Support the making of this Documentary


Round Table India

Saheb is considered to be an extension of Babasaheb Ambedkar in post-independence India. Such was his influence on Indian society, and especially the political arena, that Prof Kancha Ilaiah referred to him as representing a 'paradigm shift'. Ilaiah says:

'He made the Bahujans (not just SCs but SCs, STs and OBCs) a collective social and political force that need not look back. Whether some people agree or not in my view, after Buddha, Phule, Periyar and Ambedkar he will be the tallest socio-political reformer of India.'

kya gazab aadmi

Chandra Bhan Prasad sums up his unique contribution to Indian society: 'He overturned Brahminism upside down... In less than two decades, Kanshi Ram made UP Dalits walk with their heads high.'


Why Should Dalit-Bahujans and Adivasis Do Research?


Yashwant Zagade

yashwant zagadeDuring my masters programme, after class one day, I was having tea with my classmates. We were discussing about the research topic for our masters programme. An upper caste friend of mine expressed interest in working on the plight of Dalits. My other Dalit friend responded by asking, "Why don't you rather study your own caste? Why can't you see your caste as a subject of research?"

This discussion forced me to think seriously and reflect critically on research, research topics, and their politics. Sometime later, I read an article by Gopal Guru, 'How Egalitarian are the Social Sciences in India?' It further opened my eyes to the politics of doing research.

My journey in search of truth had landed me in Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) Mumbai, for a masters programme in Social Work, with specialisation in Dalit and Tribal Studies. Here, I took the first lessons in doing research. Before TISS, I was working as a full-time activist in a Left-oriented people's movement. I joined TISS thinking that I would go back to the field after completing the masters programme. But the first day of my masters programme began with an emphasis on the importance of doing research in bringing social change. This idea was new to me and my background as an activist did not allow me to take this idea seriously. But later, the entire academic culture of TISS and my faculty in particular: bodhi s.r, Alex Akhup and Suryakant Waghmore, influenced me to take up research seriously. As a result, I decided to continue with my higher studies in the field of research. We had to do compulsory research during our masters, which I did, but I was not happy with my efforts and desperately wanted to continue in research in order to do better. With this thought, I took admission for the integrated M.Phil-PhD programme.


Differentiating the Hindi subject: Bhojpuri experience


Asha Singh

asha singh 1Questions of linguistic autonomy and annihilation of caste-gender oppressions are crucial for the struggles of an emerging Bahujan public sphere in Bhojpuri speaking regions. Ali Anwar, the Pasmanda Muslim Parliamentarian from the Bhojpuri region has often been in the forefront of asserting Bhojpuri autonomy in the Parliament.

Within the Bhojpuri public sphere, Hindi is conceived either as a ‘colonizer’ or as a ‘nationalist’. These conceptions are often informed by the caste location and ideology of the conceiver. K.D. Upadhyaya, one of the foremost Bhojpuri socio-linguist, framed Bhojpuri as a language which would only strengthen the National Hindi. On the other hand, Bhojpuri has been also conceptualized as a language displaced by Hindi colonization. The latter view is gaining ground and strength. In this context, the Dravidian Movement does provide a historical and strategic text to further elaborate this position.

In such an exercise, it would become important to historically trace how Hindi was utilized by the native colonial elite in the so-called ‘Hindi’ heartland. The Vernacular Education Commissions of the late 19th century provides evidence of how the Brahmanical elite of Bihar (part of Bengal presidency) perceived Bhojpuri. George Grierson deposed that the upper castes of the region perceived Bhojpuri as a language of the ‘Doms and Dusadhs’ (lowered-castes) and thus incapable of greatness. On the other hand, Grierson held Bhojpuri and other Bihari languages as the gateway to the East and even categorized them separately. He even proposed the possibility of a common grammar for these languages.


Castes of Cricket in India


Rajesh Komath

This short write-up is motivated by the recent discussions in social media on the demand for reservations in Indian cricket team, put forward by the Union Minister for Social Justice Shri. Ramdas Athawale. The Minister's thrust of the demand was that the national cricket body BCCI should provide reservations to SC and ST sportspersons to provide equal opportunity in the international sport. He argued that "perhaps reservation to SC, ST persons in the team would have ensured better performance". As the minister for social justice, he also affirmed that his party would vote for a move to implement reservation in cricket for SCs and STs, if the Central government comes with a similar bill in the Parliament.

baloo palwankar

Baloo Palwankar

On July 2nd, a few newspapers and online magazines carried the news both positively and negatively. The positive headlines carried were 'Ramdas Athawale calls for reservations for SC, ST in Indian cricket team' (Hindustan Times, July 1, 2017) 'Ramdas Athawale demands reservations for SCs, STs in Indian cricket team' (The New Indian Express, July 2, 2017). However, 'Union Minister Ramdas Athawale Now Wants Reservations For SC, ST in Team India! What On Earth Is He Thinking?' (Indiatimes, July 2, 2017, Sports) connotes the negative attitude of the media. The emphasis on 'now wants' might be due to the Minister's earlier demand for separate Vidarbha state.


Why did Dalit become the mascot for the caste system?


Gaurav Somwanshi


 This piece is in continuation with its previous part, the fourth question in a series of seven, but it can be read independently too. This is going to be the longest question to attempt an answer.  

4. You can only be destroyed by believing that you really are what the white world calls a nigger.” ~ James Baldwin1

Before we take up the question, let us look at how one engages with one’s own identity of belonging to an oppressed background, and though I speak from a personal angle I hope it will be relatable. My own assertion of who I am, and also a rejection of who I am not, takes place in response to the strains of casteism around me. Let’s look at two such strains.

In the first case, there will be a constant onslaught by the caste society of who they think I am, like an “SC with no merit”, and this is most readily relatable when your surrounding society is orthodox upper-caste. In such instances, rejection of what they say I am is my assertion. In the second case, the situation isn’t so different when your surrounding is liberal upper-caste. In this second strain of casteism, as I became more vocal on caste, there was a constant downpouring of “we’re all humans”, and an acknowledgment of my social location will be denied. Past is past, they’ll tell me. This happens because a major part of the Brahminical ploy has been to erase the history while keeping everything else intact, and as Kuffir wrote, Indian history is such a colossal crime because by depriving the Dalit-Bahujans of any past, it steals their future too. So, quite often, we find ourselves alienated in our own country, as Babasaheb spoke to Gandhi, Gandhiji, I have no homeland2. And not knowing how much we have been and still are been wronged and robbed off, we tend to locate any problem or incapacity within ourselves, in our abilities, in our own capacity to be humans. In such instances, the assertion of one’s social location is paramount to rejecting the caste-society’s erasure of you.


Bahujan students' language and education


Tejas Harad

tejas haradWe don't have to take special efforts to learn the language that's spoken in our homes. Going to a school is not a precondition for a person to learn to speak and understand a particular language. But if one wishes to learn reading and writing, there is no option but to go to school. Our school system lays a stress on reading and writing. A student's evaluation depends on a great deal on how well that student can read and write. Because if one wants to score good marks, a student has to read textbooks and write well in the examination. Therefore language becomes a crucial factor in education.

My mother tongue is Marathi and I also studied in Marathi medium school till 10th standard. But the Marathi I spoke at home, and the Marathi of the textbooks were not the same. Our dialect does not have the letter ळ (ḷa). In our dialect the word Kamaḷa (कमळ) is spoken as Kamala (कमल), Śhāḷā (शाळा) as śhālā (शाला) and bāḷa (बाळ) as bālā (बाला). The letter ṇa (ण) also doesn't exist in our dialect. Therefore, phaṇasa (फणस) becomes phanasa (फनस) and bāṇa (बाण) becomes bāna (बान). I learned to pronounce the letter ळ by third–fourth standard. But by the time I learned to make the distinction between न (na) and ण, I was already in 9th standard. Some of my classmates never learned these extra letters. They probably did not even feel the need to. As with letters, it's the same with some words. In my dialect lagna (लग्न) is lagīna (लगीन), rakta (रक्त) is ragata (रगत) and vihīra (विहीर) is ira (इर). Since the local dialect didn't exactly match the textbook language, students faced a lot of problems.


Seven Questions


Gaurav Somwanshi  


In this piece, I seek to outline some questions that arose in my life or I have seen them arise around me, questions which may contain within them their own pitiless answers that form the weather and climate of this caste society. While for some questions, I may not have any answer. I do not wish to be merely rhetorical because I find myself entangled in the cobwebs that hang among these question marks, and I think many would relate to the conditions outlined below. Many others, with more experience and clarity than me, could help to define them more clearly if not resolve them.

1. There was a ‘tradition’ in Maharashtra (and I hope I’m justified in saying ‘was’) wherein, before beginning the construction of a building, a waada, or any large structure, a person belonging to the Mahar or Matang/Maang caste would be buried alive in its foundations.1,2,3,4 They would be made to swallow a mixture of oil and shendur (a mixture used for religious offerings) rendering them voiceless, lest their screams disturb the decorum of the happy gathering, and brick after brick would be laid around them while the person would be buried alive. Why? Because there was a belief that the strength of the Mahar or Matang/Maang would be absorbed by the building and it would last longer. Such beliefs weren’t even considered to be derogatory in a sense as the perpetrators sincerely believed that they’re ‘acknowledging’ the ‘strength’ of the Mahar or Matang/Maang even if it meant dehumanizing them to the point where the human being was indistinguishable from cement or brick. So there was this 'evolved' societal sentiment and force where they could openly murder humans as an acceptable cultural practice, by making them into a product and consuming them. My first question has its roots here.


Caste Capital: Historical habits of Savarna Academicians and their Brahmastras


Sumit Turuk

sumit turukGrowing up as a child in the Dom caste in a village in Odisha made me a close witness to some of the most dehumanizing and filthiest jobs my community that were imposed upon us by the Hindu caste society. Dom caste considered to be one of the lowest in the caste society and has historically been engaged with enforced caste occupations such as manual scavenging, skinning dead cows, bonded labour, burning dead bodies etc.  My place was no exception to this.

There are a few scenes from these surroundings that are still stuck with me. One of them is the whole process of preparing funeral pyres and cremation. Considering the cremation ground was very close to our segregated basti, we some of the young ones were frequent witnesses and participants in the funeral marches. When the fire was lit, the dead body doesn't immediately start burning. The fire gradually starts spreading throughout the body.

In the meantime a certain phenomenon happens, the muscles of the dead body start contracting while pushing the upper half of the dead body to rise up time and again just like a living human being. When this happens, a few people with the use of thick wooden bats try to strike the dead body down to the initial sleeping position. Why am I telling this story? I am narrating this to draw attention, and create a parallel, towards an often repeated historical pattern in the discursive spaces of this country. The dominant discourses controlled by the upper castes have historically always made attempts to crush, exclude, erase and burn into ashes the transformative discourses and autonomous assertions emerging from below. Whenever the discourses from below rise up, the upholders of the dominant discourses use their thick wooden bats (weapons of intellectual abuse) to strike it down.


No Mr. Tharoor, I Don’t Want to Enter Your Kitchen

Tejaswini Tabhane

tejaswini tabhaneShashi Tharoor is an author, politician and former international civil servant who is also a Member of Parliament representing the constituency of Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala. This write-up is a rebuttal to his three-year-old article Why Caste Won't Disappear From India, which I came across recently. While three years' span is too big and my scholarship too small in comparison to Tharoor's stature, I am still venturing to write this response because I think this intervention is necessary.

The headline of Tharoor's article raises a question as to why it is impossible for caste to disappear from India, and I was expecting him to answer it or at least analyze the forces responsible for its perpetuation. But he doesn't. Tharoor mainly focuses on two things: (i) the outrage senior journalist Rajdeep Sardesai faced when he expressed his joy on Twitter over the elevation of two members of his Gaud Saraswat Brahmin caste to the cabinet, and (ii) how he was born and brought up unconscious of his own Nair caste.


Why are the Debates on Menstrual Taboo One-sided?


 T. Sowjanya

sowjanyaIn a nutshell, the answer is, the views expressed in the online protests are of women belonging to a particular set of social groups!

This is a response to the recent online protest against the taboos on menstruation in Indian society launched by some students and middle class, educated men, and women. Ananya Johar's show on 'Period' in this context raised several questions on the taboos associated with the natural bodily change like menstruation and even celebrated menstrual bleeding as the only bloodshed without any violence. While it is a commendable initiative by the youth and students across the campuses to openly discuss the linguistically prohibited area of menstruation and related rituals, it is also important to point out the gaps in such debates. My own observations might also be limited to the Andhra Pradesh region and certain social groups and I would be committed to learning from the margins and the centers of other social and regional locations as well in this context.


Other Related Articles

Rohingyas and Origins of the Caste System
Sunday, 08 October 2017
Umar NizarHow foolish it would be to suppose that one only needs to point out this origin and this misty shroud of delusion in order to destroy the world that counts for real, so-called 'reality'. We... Read More...
The curious case of Indian psychoanalysis
Saturday, 11 February 2017
 Umar Nizar  Marxism has been critiqued variously for its occasional elitism and casteism. But the Freudian establishment in India, a flourishing one at that, has escaped criticism. Ashis... Read More...

Recent Popular Articles

Rohingyas and Origins of the Caste System
Sunday, 08 October 2017
Umar NizarHow foolish it would be to suppose that one only needs to point out this origin and this misty shroud of delusion in order to destroy the world that counts for real, so-called 'reality'. We... Read More...