Caste in Urdu Prose Literature (Part 2)

by Ajmal Kamal

Premchand (1880 – 1936) can be counted as a sympathetic voice against caste discrimination, although in recent times the Dalit circles in India are reported to have severely criticized him for being less than sensitive to the miserable life of the lower castes in the rural North India. However, in his writings one does not find much specific mention of the caste divisions in the Muslim society of the same geographical area. The writers belonging to the progressive literary bent, who tried to follow the tradition initiated by Premchand were sensitive to the class exploitation in the Indian society but were not willing to pay much attention to caste as one of the fundamental elements of the economic inequality and injustice. A notable exception is Abul Fazl Siddiqi (1908 – 1987) whose voluminous body of long and short fiction consistently deals with the role caste inequality used to play in the life of the predominantly Muslim UP rural milieu until 1947. Himself a zamindar from Badayun, though of an educated, enlightened variety, Abul Fazl had a sharp eye for the details of the injustices suffered by the members of the disadvantaged rural classes on the basis of caste. Also, he had managed to devise a language that was equal to his chosen subject. His style was deeply influenced by Premchand, especially the artistic finesse that he achieved in his last masterpiece “Kafan”, and had a refined sense of irony of his own that enhanced the objectivity and effectiveness of his fiction. However, the general drift of the Urdu literary criticism, given unabashedly to the idea of separation of art from its social relevance, has largely chosen to ignore these elements of Abul Fazl’s work. It is not possible to present here a selection from his fiction, but following are a few excerpts from his memoirs that bring out the caste relations in parts of the pre-independence rural UP:

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Response to P V Indiresan's “No quotas for higher studies, please”

by Thavaseelan G

[A former director of IIT Madras writes an essay which is featured in the Vision 2020 series of The Hindu Business Line. The title and the content reflects his racist, casteist and classist understanding of basic concepts of social justice, merit, testing, teaching and the responsibilities of a government funded teaching Institute. The Hindu Business line and its featured author are proudly advocating that IITs remain non-inclusive, genetically secluded Agraharams. -Thavaseelan responds with a few pithy questions for the retired 'educator'- Round Table India]

 

"Reservation at the university level is not the correct solution to the backwardness of communities. This is borne out by their poor performance. Instead, seats should be reserved at the primary school level. "says Prof. P. V. Indirasen.jnu_reservations_copy

 

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What actually happened in Paramakudi and how it happened

Karthik Navayan

[Karthik Navayan was a member of a fact-finding team that visited Paramakudi town on 19th and 20th September, 2011, and interacted with the victims and also with the district officials in Ramanathapuram. This article contains his observations and analysis- Round Table India]pkudi_13_copy

 On September 11th the police killed six among the several Dalits who had assembled in Paramakudi to observe the 54th death anniversary of their leader, Immanuel Sekaran. Another 30 were seriously injured and are undergoing treatment in various hospitals.

Among those killed were 1) R. Ganesan (65), 2) T. Panneerselvam (50) and S. Vellaichamy (65). It is the argument of the police and the revenue officials that these three old people had attacked the police and burnt their vehicle and were hence shot at and killed! Three youngsters called P. Jayapal (20), Theerthakani (25) and Muthukumar (26) were also killed. Among the older persons, 65 year old Vellaichamy was not killed by any bullets but died from the severe lathi blows the policemen had inflicted on him. Therefore around forty policemen accompanied his body to his village and threatened his family that his last rites should be completed within fifteen minutes and left the village only after the rites were completed, as ordered. R. Ganesan, also 65, who had gone to Paramakudi on that particular day with the intention of distributing his son's wedding invitation cards as he thought he would get to meet a lot of relatives and acquaintances on Immanuel Sekaran's death anniversary, was shot dead before he even realized that trouble was brewing in Paramakudi.

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I was in Paramakudi

 

Thamburaj Dharmaraj

 (part I)

I came back to Madurai after wandering in and around Paramakudi for the past two days. I have never really experienced such a disappointment and helplessness in my life. The entire trip was disgusting.

The way we construct our own history through oral and written sources as a political move saying that we were the ancient inhabitants and rulers of this land becomes meaningless to me after seeing the people in despair. I had seen posters on the walls in Paramakudi inviting Devendrar brothers to a 'Mallar Country/Devendrar land'. However they lost their meaning in front of the brutality of the police force on Sept. 11th.

In Paramakudi dry, hot air blows in fearful silence. The only source of income for the people living in the nearby villages is 'karimoottam' (preparing charcoal by burning the wood of karuvel trees). We could see lot of such 'karimmoottam'. It signifies the failure of the regular agricultural practices.

pkudi 19

The people whom we visited during the two days narrated their nightmares about the State police force.

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Casteism: alive and well in Pakistan

 

Raza Rumi

 

Obedience to hierarchies, conformity and identification with groups are central tenets of existing in Pakistan.

[The relief operations after the recent floods in Sindh have revealed the extent to which man-made structures of stratification remain entrenched in Pakistani Society. We thank Raza Rumi for sharing this article outlining his views on caste in Pakistan, in response to our request - Round Table India]  

caste pakistan 1

It is a cliché now to say that Pakistan is a country in transition – on a highway to somewhere. The direction remains unclear but the speed of transformation is visibly defying its traditionally overbearing, and now cracking postcolonial state. Globalisation, the communications revolution and a growing middle class have altered the contours of a society beset by the baggage and layers of confusing history.

What has however emerged despite the affinity with jeans, FM radios and McDonalds is the visible trumpeting of caste-based identities. In Lahore, one finds hundreds of cars with the owner's caste or tribe displayed as a marker of pride and distinctiveness. As an urbanite, I always found it difficult to comprehend the relevance of zaat-paat (casteism) until I experienced living in the peri-urban and sometimes rural areas of the Punjab as a public servant.

I recall the days when in a central Punjab district, I was mistaken for a Kakayzai (a Punjabi caste that claims to have originated from the Caucasus) so I started getting correspondence from the Anjuman-i-Kakayzai professionals who were supposed to hold each other's hands in the manner of the Free Masons. I enjoyed the game and pretended that I was one of them for a while, until it became unbearable for its sheer silliness and mercenary objectives.

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Caste in Urdu Prose Literature (Part I)

by Ajmal Kamal

 

[With excerpts in Urdu and Hindi scripts]

[I] 

The historical division of society in South Asia on caste lines is now an acknowledged sociological, political and economic fact. However, caste as a literary or social discourse does not, for several reasons, form a part of the predominantly Muslim culture of Urdu. Nor has there been much academic exploration of the role caste plays in the life of South Asian Muslim communities as against others. As far as the Urdu literary writing is concerned, it has traditionally focused exclusively on the lives and concerns of conquerors, their cohorts and their descendants, who typically prided themselves on their real or perceived foreign origins. Even after modern, socially committed writing began in Urdu around the 1930s, caste as a variable for social exploration was largely ignored in favour of economic class.

 

The professional interpreters of religion, on the other hand, as well as conservative Muslim social and literary critics, usually deny even the existence of caste divisions among South Asian Muslims. This is done in the face of an abundance of evidence to the contrary. Since the ‘social reformers’ of both the religious and less-religious types came from the upper castes of the Muslim society – Syed, Mughal, Afghan and Shaikh – they seem to have retained all the traditional prejudices and preferences of their castes. They strictly kept as their goal the well-being of the people of their own background in competition with their non-Muslim counterparts, and as such singularly failed to acknowledge, let alone try to address, the inequality in the Muslim society on caste lines. If anything, they actively supported the existing caste hierarchy. There were thus no such movements among Muslims as those initiated by Jyotirao Phule and other reformers in the Hindu society.

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Accrued Social Capital over Individual Merit

 

R. Ravi Kumar

The debate on merit has once again come to the forefront with the movie 'Aarakshan'. From various press clippings and debates on the movie one can come to the conclusion that the 'Aarakshan' team is much worried about the victimization of merit due to reservations for the disadvantaged groups. Though there was no scene in the movie derogating the rule of reservations, in summary the movie explicitly conveys the message that whatever may be the historic and social reasons to defend the rule of reservations, all that is null and void as the positioning of the candidates from the stream of reservations is fragile and hence questionable. That this is the stance of the Aarakshan team was clear from their arguments in various debates on TV.

a social capital

In one such debate that featured Shri Punia, the Chairman, National Commission for Scheduled Castes, telecast live on 11th Aug, Mr. Amitabh Bachchan and Mr. Prakash Jha had defended their movie by saying that, let's provide equal opportunities to every one and then judge them on merit considering various implementation flaws in reservations. Before judging the 'Aarakshan' team's wisdom on their choice of story line, I would like to depict some live examples which have sabotaged the merit among socially comparable groups in India. Also how individual merit becomes insignificant practically in a competition.a_social_capital

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Manufacturing complicity: Paramakudi killings

 

Kuffir

It was clear they wished to play down the enormity of the bloodbath from the beginning.

First, they said two were killed. Then the figure became three, and five. And then six. Now they say: seven. Have you seen any pictures of any of the seven? Or were their names mentioned anywhere in the English news stories? Brahminized 'national' media which breaks news about suspects even before bombs have gone off, has been uniformly imprecise and reticent on who exactly were killed in Paramakudi on September 11th. Two days ago, now. 

What is the media trying to do? It is not trying to whitewash the Paramakudi massacre. It is trying to tell you that it was necessary. What the police faced were a violent 'mob', and 'miscreants'. They were unreasonable 'protestors' who wouldn't 'negotiate'. They were anarchic 'agitators' whose cause was so vague that it wasn't worth mentioning. 

The media is trying to tell you: how can anyone point fingers at a regime and its policing arm for trying to defend themselves against such faceless, nameless, irrational agitators?

A full day after the killings, read the Hindustan Times, or NDTV, or The Times of India, or DNA, or Zee News. Do the 'agitators' remain any less nameless, faceless and inexcusable? Do you see or read about any of those who had been killed, or injured or detained? Do you hear the other side at all? Do you see the victims?

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Remembering Immanuel Sekaran

Even if we do not have freedom, we should stand up with valour for our rights: Immanuel Sekaran.

 

'How much repression to keep his memory down!'

It is strange that a  man whose memory attracts over a million people, and increasing every year, on his death anniversary to his memorial in a village in interior Tamil Nadu over half a century after his brutal murder should only attract concerns over 'security' and 'tension' in the mainstream brahminized media. Over the last couple of years, Round Table has linked to five news items that referred to Immanuel Sekaran, and each one of them revealed the ruling classes' attempts, and barely concealed anxieties, to throttle his defiant spirit and message. To re-enact his assassination again and again, year after year. As a fellow contributor remarked, 'How much repression to keep his memory down, amazing!'

Repression hasn't managed to kill Immanuel Sekaran's memory, but mainstream discourse, especially in the English language media, has carefully weeded out any but the barest references to him. Every exercise to make them forget Immanuel seems to have only strengthened the resolve of the Dalits of Tamil Nadu to remember him, cherish his memory. And today, yet again, they've braved bullets to prove how priceless his memory is.   

Today, on Immanuel Sekaran's 54th death anniversary, repression seems to have struck again, with renewed force. Police firing on participants observing the memorial day in Paramkudi has claimed three lives. We condemn this brutal act of repression. We mourn the lost lives. We shall remember those martyrs. We shall remember Immanuel Sekaran. We shall never forget. 

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Mayawati and WikiLeaks: How Media lies to you

by Dilip Mandal, translated from Hindi by Ritu Ranjan Kumar

[A set of unverified gossipy statements about the UP Chief Minister Mayawati from unnamed journalists forms the basis of the WikiLeaks cables released a few days ago. Yet, the Indan media went to town about the contents being the truth. For, it only extended the Indian media's sustained gender, caste, class stereotyped campaign on the UP Chief minister, Mayawati- Round Table India]

Look at what is in the Wiki cable and how media misinterpreted it:

(Some journalists from UP supplied several pieces of information to the US Ambassador and based on that information, the Ambassador sent a report to Washington, which is now shamelessly being projected as a major leak by WikiLeaks. This is not a leak by WikiLeaks: instead it's a set of statements made by the UP journalists in the year 2008.)

Assessing the political atmosphere in Uttar Pradesh just before the (2009) Lok Sabha elections, the US Political Consul to India wrote a report. Later, he sent his confidential report to the US Government. The report is dated 23 October 2008. This confidential cable got leaked by WikiLeaks on 30 August 2011. Immediately after realizing that Mayawati is mentioned in the leaked cable, the Indian media gathered together like hungry wolves and started spreading sensational and misleading news about Mayawati. The most observable headlines in media are as follows:

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Jan Lokpal Bill Contains Draconian Clauses

Press release by Citizens for Social Justice  

Jan Lokpal Bill Contains Draconian Clauses.

Team Anna’s Civil Society Does Not Represent the Nation.

Let 2014 General Election Decide on Jan Lokpal Bill.

Citizens for Social Justice consisting of Prof Kancha Ilaiah, Dr. John Dayal – member of National Integration Council, Dr. Joseph D’souza – President of All India Christian Council and many eminent leaders from Muslim, Dalits and OBC address a press conference held at Hyderabad on Jan Lokpal Bill. 

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No Lokpal, says Kancha Ilaiah

[ A Round Table India report]

August 30: At a public meeting at the Hyderabad Press Club today, Kancha Ilaiah emphasized that the Team Anna sponsored Jan Lokpal bill was a direct attack on representative democracy and the constitution and it should be opposed vigorously. 'No Lokpal' should be the Dalit-Bahujan demand, he said.

The well attended meeting, organized by the Andhra Pradesh Scheduled Castes Welfare Association and Andhra Pradesh Ambedkar Yuvajana Sangham, to discuss 'Caste, Corruption, Constitution' threw up a wide range of dissenting views on the proposed Lokpal bill, particularly the Jan Lokpal version. Bojja Tharakam, senior advocate, human rights activist and Dalit intellectual, G. Shankar and Bharat Bhushan of the Andhra Pradesh Scheduled Castes Welfare Association, D.C.Rosaiah, retired IAS officer, Asifuddin Mohammed of the Islamic Academy for Comparative Religion (IACR) apart from Prof.Kancha Ilaiah, were among the key speakers at the meeting. Present at the meeting were many activists, students, employees and others.IMG_2457_copy

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