I, E.V. Ramaswamy

[On the occasion of Periyar's death anniversary (24th December), we remember him through some select quotes from his speeches and writings-- Round Table India]

Periyar

'I, E.V. Ramaswamy, have taken upon myself the task of reforming Dravidian Society so that it shall be comparable to other societies of the world, in esteem and enlightenment, and I am solely devoted to that service.

I express, plainly and openly, thoughts which occur to me, and which strike me as right. This may embarrass a few; to some this may be distasteful; and a few others may even be irritated; however, all that I utter are proven truths and not lies.

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Jotirao Phule: Shetkaryaca Asud (Part 8)

Translated by Gail Omvedt and Bharat Patankar

Chapter 4

We begin this chapter not by discussing at first the ruined and pitiable state of the toiling ignorant farmers who labour night and day on the land, but rather will give on the occasion an idea of the true condition of those arrogant parading, indebted ignorant Kunbis who, because of having some mother's grandfather's aunt or father's great-grandfather's daughter given in marriage to an excellent expensive son of the Shindes or Gaikwads, beat the drums of being "Maratha" among the farmers of Mali, Kunbi, Dhangar etc. castes. 

One landowner was returning to his village in great anger from the tent of the Collector Saheb's office, pumping his arms and legs furiously, clashing his teach and chewing tobacco as he strode among the thickly grown airy mango groves along the airy banks of the river. Aged around 40, his spirit showed few signs of breaking down. Though he had a white, well-wrapped turban on his head, a torn cloth was tied over it. He was dressed in breeches and an undershirt of khadi and old fancy Satari blunt-nosed shoes on his feet. A coarse cotton cloth was flung on his shoulder and a red cotton bag hung over that; nearly all these clothes were sprinkled with drops of reddish yellow Holi colors. While the heels of his boots were thick and strong, he was limping a bit because they had cracked open in some places from the heat. The bones of his hand were thick and his chest broad. His big mustache and beard covered his two decayed teeth. His forehead and eyes were expansive and his irises were a reddish brown color. He had a light skin and a fine overall countenance, though his face was a bit round. After reaching his house around two o'clock and finishing his meal, he went into the middle room with the intention of taking a little rest, and took a rug from the swing, threw it to cover the ground covering his face with linen, lay down to sleep with a coarse woolen shawl. But troubled since he had awoken in the morning, had met the Collectorsaheb, and "since he was stupefied in the throes of his tea and dining, he did not hear my true story and fix a time limit for my installment," he could not sleep. So lying supine with his two hands on his chest, he began to almost rave to himself in his mind: --

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The Self-creation of the Brahmans

Gail Omvedt

 

[An excerpt from the chapter 'The Background to Buddhism' in her book, 'Buddhism in India: Challenging Brahmanism and Caste']

Indian Brahmans as they have evolved over the centuries represent one of the most unique elites that any society has produced. They trace their origins back to Vedic times, where they were priests of the sacrifice, and it was as priests, intellectuals and possessors of the Vedas that they appear in the middle of first millennium BCE society. However, it would be a mistake to see the Brahmans, identified as a social group in the first millennium BCE, in 'essentialist' terms, as lineal descendents of Vedic priests, just as it is a mistake to take the Khattiyas as descendents of Vedic warriors or rajanyas. Both claimed purity of descent, but this was a self-serving mythologising.

Thapar has argued that Brahmans of non-Aryan origin were attested to in legends of sages such as Agasthya and Vasistha who are said to have been born from jars and of a Rig Vedic seer being described as dasiputrah or 'son of a slave' (Thapar 1984: 52). Some Pali texts, for example the Ambattha Suttanta (see Chapter 3) indicate that they may also have included illegitimate offspring of the Khattiyas. Even the Upanishads show that an occasional man of questionable birth could be accepted as a disciple and taken into the line of 'Brahmans'; for instance, in the Chandogya Upanishad, Satyakama Jabala's mother tells him, 'Darling, I do not know what lineage you belong to. I got you in my youth, when I travelled about a great deal as a servant' (Upanisads 2000: 174).

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Rashtriya Dalit Prerna Sthal

inscription_1_copy_copy_copy_copy_copy_copy

[What is the 'Dalit Prerna Sthal'? What is its purpose? Why was it built? The inscription shown in the picture above, displayed prominently in the  'Rashtriya Dalit Smarak' (picture below), provides many of the answers. We are publishing here the full text of the inscription for our readers. It was copied by hand, so some inaccuracies might have inadvertently crept in. We shall correct the errors, if any, as and when we get access to an official copy of the text. We thank Bhanu Pratap Singh for both the text and the pictures- Round Table India.]  

 

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Religion: Untouchable Lincoln

"Hinduism is not a religion; it is a disease."

One of the few men who have risen from the malodorous sink which is below the lowest caste of India is Dr. Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, No. 1 Untouchable. This plump, cheery, bespectacled man of no caste, whose very shadow would outrage high-caste Hindus, managed to get a good education in Indian Government schools, was staked to courses at the University of London and Columbia University by the highly democratic Gaekwar of Baroda. Dr. Ambedkar is probably the only man alive who ever walked out in a huff from a private audience with the Pope of Rome. His Holiness Pius XI having heard from Dr. Ambedkar about the miseries of Indian outcastes, replied: "My son, it may take three or four centuries to remedy these abuses, be patient."

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Jotirao Phule: Shetkaryaca Asud (Part 7)

Translated by Gail Omvedt and Bharat Patankar

After that the Arya Brahmans began to treat with disdain all the Kshudra peasant slaves who had come under their control. They completely stopped giving them education and brought their condition below the level of animals. And since they became illiterate and completely without access to knowledge, the Arya Brahmans plunder them so much on religious and political excuses that even today, compared to them, it can be easily proved that even the condition of the violently enslaved Abyssinians in America was better. However, more recently, some centuries ago the Muslim regime here had with compassion forcibly converted lakhs of Shudras and Atishduras of this country to Islam and made them fellow Muslims, freeing them from the snares of the Aryan religion. This is clear because reports show that among them many ignorant Muslim mullas and bagvans do their marriages according to the custom of the Shudras and Atishudras here. In the same way, the Portugese government had made thousands of Shudras and Atishudras and Brahmans into Roman Catholic Christians by force, freeing them from the fabricated Arya religion and making them happy. That is why we find among them so many have family names like Gokhale, Bhosle, Pawar and other surnames like Brahmans and Shudras. Today with the help of Americans and others, thousands and thousands of moaning Shudras and Atishudras, disdaining Brahman religion, have consciously and willingly struck a blow by accepting the Christian religion, as we have seen with our own eyes. Perhaps you are not certain of the sorrows of these Shudras and Atishudras; if you only take a little thought of what calamities have befallen even such great Rajas and Rajwadas from among the Das farmers as Satara's Shivaji Maharaj, Baroda's Damajirao Gaikwad, Gwalior's Patilbuwa, Indore's Lakhya Bargir, Yashwantrao and Vithojirao Holkar, because of being illiterate, you will get an idea of the situation, and with this I finish this part.

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Why do we choose to forget our past?

 

Mallepally Lakshmaiah

 Is there a single village in India which has no Dalit? There could be a few exceptions but we do find Dalits in most parts of India - who have fought the system relentlessly. Every village has produced its very own Dalit social revolutionary but is there any Dalit reformer with a pan-Indian identity? And how exactly does one acquire a pan-Indian identity? Does one go around the country reforming society or can one confine oneself to a particular area and still acquire a pan-Indian identity. And does one become a national icon either of these ways. What matters most is how mainstream media and academics project a reformer.

BHAGYAREDY VERMA

 Amongst non-Dalits, we have icons in every field. But from amongst the Dalits, barring Dr Ambedkar, it is difficult to think of even one reformer who is famous all over India - even though reformers from within Dalit communities may far outnumber reformers from non-Dalit societies. Dalits don't own any part of the media, they don't own academic institutions, they're not part of the English educational setup and, therefore, they are unable to push forward their own icons. Thus, most Dalit icons remain local phenomenon - a Telugu or Tamil reformer remains a Telugu or Tamil legend forever. The same goes with the Hindi heartland.

The hostile attitude of mainstream society can best be illustrated by citing the great Dalit social reformer and teacher Bhagyareddy Varma's case. He was born on May 22, 1888, and named Bhagaiah. The family guru, a learned man belonging to the Shiva Cult, visited the untouchable family in November that year and renamed the child Bhagyareddy. The father, Maadari Venkaiah, asked why. The Guru argued that the so-called untouchables had been rulers prior to the Aryan expansion towards the South - hence the term "Reddy," from the Telugu word "redu", which means "ruler."

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