Need to redefine Dalit Movement: Rajni Tilak


An Interview with Rajni Tilak

Neel Kranti Media

(First published in the Dalit students' magazine 'Insight Young Voices' in 2005)

Rajni Tilak is Executive Director of Centre for Alternative Dalit Media (CADAM) and Founder Member of NACDOR. She is one of the prominent Dalit rights activists and India's leading voice of Dalit feminism as well. The interview was conducted by Moggallan Bharati.

rajni tilak hcu 2

To begin with, please tell us about your family background.

I was born in old Delhi, on 27th May, 1958 in a family having very limited means. I came from a family that was badly and wholly oppressed by Hinduism. My father was a tailor whose ancestors migrated to Delhi from UP to earn a steady source of livelihood. With all the then-persisting problems my parents gave the best education to all seven of us siblings – four boys and three girls. But because of severe poverty our higher education got shattered, especially mine – being the eldest girl in the family I had to take care of my younger brothers and sisters. Once I aspired to become a nurse but ultimately I had to change track due to the absence of appropriate financial support.


Rape and Murder of Dalit & Minority Girls in Kandhamal - Fact Finding Report


Interim Report of the Fact Finding Investigation of Rape and Murder of Dalit & Minority Girls

January 10, 2013 in Kandhamal, Odisha


[Via Asha Kowtal]

The National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights with allied organizations like NAWO, Odisha Forum for Social Action, human rights activists and journalists conducted a fact finding visit to investigate into the recent cases of rapes in Kandhamal district.

The members of the team include:

1) Asha Kowtal, General Secretary, All India Dalit Mahila Adhikar Manch, New Delhi.
2) Namrata Daniel, National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights, New Delhi.
3) Manjuprava Dhal, National Alliance for Women Organisation (NAWO)
4) Bigneswar Sahu, Journalist
5) Bijayalaxmi Routray, Secretary (SAHAYOG), Bhubaneswar, Odisha
6) Divya Raphael, Odisha Forum for Social Action.
7) Rajesh Kumar Jena, Advocate & Human Rights Activist
8) Mahendra Parida, Child Right Activist
9) Dhirendra Panda, Civil Society for Human Rights

The team has put together the interim report, which includes major observations, recommendations and brief case studies of the cases that were investigated, on Jan. 10, 2013.


Contemplating the Delhi Phenomenon


Priya Chandran

The rape and murder of 23 year old student Jyoti, in Delhi, which has brought out a tremendous response from the middle class Delhi public and later from similar urban categories across the country also gained considerable media attention. When the immediate affective reaction of this public varied from demanding capital punishment for the rapists, to demands for providing better security for women at all times, a few articles that came in newspapers and blogs tried to deal with the issue at relatively deeper levels. Along with these voices, feebly though, another voice could also be heard which asked the new infuriated public where it was when the dalit and lower caste women were brutally attacked?

syama 5


The Protests in Delhi and the Nationalist Paradigm


Jenny Rowena

On a broken tar road in a rather remote area in Kerala (where I am right now), someone has scribbled this with white chalk:

Sister, For You, Bad New Year
(Sahodari, ninakkuvendi, bad New Year)

This statement is addressed to the girl who passed away recently after being brutally raped in a bus in Delhi. It clearly reproduces the language of the regional newspapers, which is bursting with the news of the Delhi protests and which repeatedly addresses the Delhi girl as the 'daughter' and 'sister' of the nation. However, in spite of the way it has made its presence felt even in distant places, one cannot help seeing that these protests are very superficial or cosmetic in nature. They do not really engage with the urgent issues concerning a majority of women and might have no real impact on their lives.i ii

bharat mata nehru shankar

That we are able to produce a national debate on rape without involving those who are most affected by it – the Dalit, Adivasi and other minority women - and by focusing on those who have the greatest protection against it, is indeed a moment of failure for all. From this sleepy village in Kerala, which is strangely affected by what is happening in distant Delhi, I feel there is an urgent need to think more about this failure.


Don’t cry for me


Cynthia Stephen

(Cynthia shares her reflections on the recent debate over violence against women through a poem and a short note)

Don't cry for me.

Don't cry for me.

Don't cry for me.

Anonymous I may be to you, but

I have a name, a self. I too get thirsty

But when I go to drink they say the well is not for me.

I go to work in your field but you think my work is not worth paying for.

You pay me a pittance. That man asked me to go with him last week but I refused.

Now I just might, because I have to pay the doctor to treat my child. His father, the wastrel,


Delhi Protests and the Caste Hindu Paradigm: Of Sacred and Paraded Bodies


Madhuri Xalxo

I am a bit shaken by what outrages the mainstream media on rape. The incident is horrifying and yet so very familiar to us dalit, bahujan and adivasi women.

In the same Delhi, hundreds of adivasi girls are taken as domestic slaves and get raped, and go missing. Why doesn't the mainstream media even consider that newsworthy? Why is there no uproar for the death penalty for these upper caste men from elite backgrounds raping us? Is it because we are born to get justly raped by the others?

delhi rape protests

The present protests and silences only endorse the caste hindu paradigm that the upper caste woman's body is sacred and its violation requires the highest retribution while the bodies of dalit, bahujan and adivasi women and women under military regimes such as Manipur and Kashmir are 'rape-worthy' and the men's sexual depravity on these women need no correctives.


'Feminist movements were sympathetic, but never took up caste related issues'


- An interview with Du Saraswathi

(First published in the Dalit students' magazine 'Insight Young Voices' in 2005 as "Coalition is the philosophy and need of the hour")

Du Saraswathi is a Bangalore-based writer, poet, artist and an activist. Since her student days, she has been involved with women's groups, the DSS, peace movements and the struggle of the farmers and the labourers. Here she interacts with Vijay on various issues.

Could you tell us about your experiences as a Dalit student, in your college life?

I studied in a predominantly brahmin college, there were only brahmins around. You could only see Dalits who had come through the reservation category, other wise we could not even step inside the college. Caste exists very subtly in urban areas, and is quite discreet in the cities. For instance, the brahmin girls avoid eating the food which we offer, I never understood that previously. They would say 'no, we don't taste other homes salt'.

kasturba savitribai

How did they come to know you are a Dalit?

By my caste certificate, they all knew about that. I never talked about it. I first opened up about my caste when I was in my 2nd year of pre-university college. Jenny and Dr Siddalingiah (from Karnataka Dalit Sangarsha Samiti) came to our college for a talk. Jenny sang and later Siddalingiah joined in. That opened me up and I started to feel proud about my caste.


In solidarity with all rape survivors


Anu Ramdas

We stand in solidarity with the gang raped student in Delhi, fighting for her life in the hospital.

No, we are not going to say why no outrage for the rape and murder of the 8 year old dalit girl in Bihar, and why no outcry for the series of horrifying gang rapes on dalit women by upper caste men in Haryana. Dalit and adivasi girls and women are raped, gang raped, mutilated and murdered all over the country by upper caste men, dominant caste men, men in uniform, and some of them, like women in all communities across castes and classes are raped by their own husbands and other relatives. Rape is not used just as an instrument of violence; it is used to perpetually define both the gender and caste vulnerability of dalit and adivasi women. You see, our battle appears to be a different one.

No, all the coverage that the Delhi rape incident gets is not excessive attention; the amount of expressed outrage never needs to be quantified for crimes such as these against women. But expression of societal outrage should lead to social reform, and the key for this is the media machinery, which in India is exclusive for certain classes and remains unavailable for rape survivors from marginalized communities. Can a society that ignores the existence and struggles of large groups of rape survivors effect transformation of gender relations? There is a deeper problem for dalit and adivasi women, expression of outrage also needs a degree of safety. The probability of being chance victims of gang rapes is not a given for dalit and adivasi women, as repeat assaults are an ever present threat to rape survivors from our communities. Cold silence is sometimes our only resistance. You see, our struggle is a different one.


Kaushal Panwar: My teacher's casteism and sexism became my motivation


Neel Kranti Media

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

Born and brought up in a Haryana village, Dr Kaushal Panwar teaches Sanskrit in Delhi University. Her life is one of the most remarkable testimonies of human grit and determination towards achieving one's goal despite insurmountable odds.

kaushal 2Kindly tell us about your family back ground.

I belong to Balmiki community in Rajour village from district Kaithal (Haryana). My father who died in 2001 was a landless labourer. I have two older brothers. All my family members worked in jat landlords' fields. I also used to work in the fields along with my family and had also worked as manual labourer in road constructions.

My elder brother could not clear class X and joined Punjab police as a sepoy but due to some reasons he left the job. Today he is unemployed. I am the only one from my district Kaithal, from Balmiki community, who has reached to this level. Otherwise our community is still mostly engaged in scavenging and manual labour.


“Lack of strong Dalit movement in Gujarat gives RSS-VHP-BJP a free run”


Anoop Kumar

Prof JaffrelotGujarat assembly elections are here, and Round Table India takes this as an opportunity to post an interview of French Scholar Dr. Christophe Jaffrelot that was first published by the Dalit students' magazine 'Insight Young Voices' (Feb-March, 2008). This interview was taken by Anoop Kumar for the magazine on the eve of the  last Gujarat assembly elections, on 27th Novemeber, 2007.

Dr. Jaffrelot is Director of CERI-Sciences Po/CNRS in Paris. He is the author of 'India's silent revolution: The rise of the lower castes in North India' (2003) and 'Dr Ambedkar and Untouchability: Analysing and fighting caste' (2005); both books have been published in Delhi by Permanent Black.

You have been consistently writing on the rise of 'Hindu' nationalism in the country. Recently, we all saw Tehelka's expose of the involvement of the state in the Gujarat pogrom. The whole country felt the shock, however, the Congress government did not respond at all. Even the Left gave a much muted response. Most of us have been outraged. We knew everything, nothing new came out in this expose and yet, it was shocking for us.

Yeah, the Left and the Centre have remained silent, except, Sonia Gandhi and Digvijay Singh who spoke about the "Hindu terrorists". I was in Ahmedabad recently to investigate about these issues. Talking about Tehelka, talking about Godhra and the riots, infact, helped Narendra Modi. Dallying with these issues has polarized the electorate and made Hindus vote more for the BJP.


Chaityabhoomi : A self-conscious stream of class and political consciousness of a misfit amongst misfits


Javed Iqbal

cb 1

From the train, all I did was started to follow a young boy with Jai Bhim tattooed on his arm, and I was soon in a sea of humanity, a blue of Ambedkar, the white of the saris of women, and the currents pushing towards the islands of activity in the middle of Shivaji Park.

cb 3I have to confess. This was my first visit to Chaityabhoomi, and I realize that when you're surrounded by over 10,000,00 people, it's hard to have a singular narrative that can do justice to what the event really is and who the people really are. I had gone without questions, and only came across them when I started to speak to people: 'are you involved in any movement?' 'how long have you been coming to Chaityabhoomi?' 'how did you get politicized?' 'where have you come from?'


Vivekananda’s Ideological Yatra


Gopika Nangia & Aashish Gupta

It is not a mere coincidence that Narendra Modi had labelled his tour across the state of Gujarat "Vivekananda Yatra". In a context where Vivekananda has been posited as a "leader of the youth", it is pertinent to remember the principles the man stood by – casteism, racism, slavery, patriarchy and xenophobia. He is considered by many as the first Hindutva ideologue. It is no wonder then that the right wing finds Vivekananda so useful in its agenda of "Cultural Nationalism". At first, we thought we would paraphrase his words to show this, but then we realised that we could not put it better than the man himself did. We have barely scratched the surface of his obnoxious views, and we recommend that you read him, for every paragraph in his writings is a gem of distasteful views.

Vivekananda on Race and Slavery

Vivekananda mourned the abolition of slavery and reminisced about the days when slaves were property.

"The history of the world teaches us that wherever there have been fanatical reforms, the only result has been that they have defeated their ends. No greater upheaval for the establishment of right and liberty can be imagined than the war for the abolition of slavery in America. You all know about it. And what have been its results? The slaves are a hundred times worse off today than they were before the abolition.

Before the abolition, these poor Negroes were the property of somebody, and, as properties, they had to be looked after, so that they might not deteriorate. Today they are the property of nobody."1

Vivekananda is strikingly similar to Hitler here in his description of the supremacy of the Aryan Race, much before him. The Master Race theory of Aryan supremacy endears the Brahmins and the other fascists to each other.


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