To Your Caste Blindness

 

Dhamma Darshan Nigam

Dhamma DarshanThis is for those social activists and political analysts who always feel the burden of justice on their shoulders and shout on the streets for democracy, but never make an iota of effort to see caste even once in their imaginations. When they cannot imagine caste then caste based inequalities and atrocities also become invisible for them. For such people, manual scavenging is just an occupational hazard and sewer deaths just another occupational fatality. Caste based atrocities are very normal and Dalit-Bahujan (identity) politics is the worst thing happening to India, caste based reservation are a loot of national treasures and Dalit-Bahujan scholars are 'weak', 'non deserving', and 'less meritorious', and the person who gave India its constitution, Dr. Bhim Rao Ambedkar, is a traitor.

These people further stridently argue that the principle of equality is a utopian concept. They naturally fail to grasp equality in their imagination—as their religion fails to teach them to do so, or they purposely do so to maintain the status quo, to maintain their privileges, to maintain the varnashrama dharma, to maintain the caste system. These are like of blind men of the story about 'the blind men and the elephant' who are happy in their own partial truth/s and do not want to know the complete truth. This is what Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie calls 'the danger of a single story'1. Such caste-blind people are a danger to India. And in their egoism they say that Dalit-Bahujan generally have a problem in agreeing with disagreeing. In 'Annihilation of Caste', which Ambedkar wrote for caste Hindus only, he says that:

That the social order prevalent in India is a matter which a Socialist must deal with; that unless he does so he cannot achieve his revolution; and that if he does achieve it as a result of good fortune, he will have to grapple with the social order if he wishes to realize his ideal—is a proposition which in my opinion is incontrovertible. He will be compelled to take account of Caste after the revolution, if he does not take account of it before the revolution. This is only another way of saying that, turn in any direction you like, Caste is the monster that crosses your path. You cannot have political reform, you cannot have economic reform, unless you kill this monster.2

You remain unaware of realities of Dalit lives and seem always ready to criticize Dalit politics. Like, by doing so you are getting some extreme enlightenment. You are one of those who are always on the roads to raise slogans to save democracy, and also if questioned sometimes, you very casually say that "I have not voted since years". Despite all this, you are also one of those who have anything to say on almost all the acts of Mayawati. Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) was established in 1984. On this Ambedkar's Jayanti, 14th April 2019, it will complete its 35th year. If, you are also of the same age, and if you honestly are always on the side of justice, then how could it happen that you have not voted for BSP, at least once? You should ask yourself why we should trust you. It is only because of your casteist mindset that voting for BSP did not came to your imagination at all. The way you can identify our caste, in the same way we can also identity your casteist nature.

The money which all Dalits happily give, even from their small incomes, to BSP's party fund, you call it "Ugahi"/उगाही (forcible collection of money, like some goons are collecting hafta/हफ़्ता). If you call it "ugahi" then you must also know that how this "ugahi" started. Kanshiram asked from his people 'one vote and one note' and that is how he started collecting funds for his movement (Kumar 2006: 125-27). People were too happy with this "ugahi" because they it brought them the the confidence of having their own political party, led by the person they trusted the most because they felt he won't mislead or cheat them. The thing you call "ugahi" is a happily given contribution of these downtrodden people. Prof. Vivek Kumar notes that people at the early stages "even sold whatever little property they had—the utensils, small patches of land, by-cycle, rickshaw, or their three wheelers" (Kumar 2006: 128). You must have many grounds to criticize Mayawati and her politics but the point to see here is that the assertive confidence which Dalits got that they even sold whatever they had to contribute or participate in the Dalit movement.

One more example I would like to add here is that in the month of April 2016, when I and my colleagues at Safai Karmachari Andolan (SKA) were distributing pamphlets for Bhim Yatra (a nation-wide campaign to make people aware of sewer deaths) in Mangol Puri, Delhi, one rickshaw puller, between 50 to 55 years old stopped us, inquired about us and then asked for a few pamphlets so that he could also distribute them further! He took a ribbon and tied it on his forehead, and he was also willing to contribute some money for the Bhim Yatra (SHAME ON YOU FOR CALLING MANY SUCH CONTRIBUTIONS "UGAHI"). This was a great gesture of confidence and recognition which one gets by being identifying his/her self with his/her own people, with the political party that represents them. Though at that time, we had nothing to do with BSP, it was simply the blue ribbon (with Bhim Yatra written on it) tied on our forehead which identified us, uniting one Dalit with another. And this is that identification or recognition of being something that makes the assertive and confident Dalit identity. Every single activity of assertion and protest by a Dalit individual or group is a part of the Dalit movement or is Dalit movement in itself. Dr. Gangadhar Pantawane rightly notes that "Dalit is not a caste, but a symbol of change and revolution".

Next thing you are not able to digest are Ambedkar parks (Dr. Bhim Rao Ambedkar Samajik Parivartan Prateek Sthal in Lucknow and Rashtriya Dalit Prerna Sthal in Noida). Mayawati is also criticized for self-glorification and self-profligacy for making her own statues and for 'wasting tax payer's money'. And after Mayawati's resignation from Rajya Sabha in 2017 you suddenly came out of your coops and said that Mayawati's resignation from Rajya Sabha is a failed attempt. Do you even understand that she resigned for the people whom she represents? Her own people who helped her reach the national scene of politics—they had also made her chief minister of the largest state. They have always supported and are still supporting her. They were saying that she is the second leader after Dr. Ambedkar who resigned from parliament for the Dalit cause. But you were busy in attacking her. For H.L. Dusadh (2006) and crores of others she is a Dalit goddess (a living goddess)3--they find confidence and communal solidarity while looking at her big statues. Ajoy Bose notes that "for people denied any kind of religious symbol for centuries, this kind of totemism is very powerful and, perhaps, more relevant than material prosperity" (Bose 2012: 7). These Ambedkar Parks are our "char dham". Our politics, our movement is not just to get some economic guarantee, but it is a struggle to create such cultural symbols—our cultural capital. You can still very easily say that others are also building Ambedkar statues. Dr. Ambedkar is a national icon. There should be many other things installed in Dr. Ambedkar's name. Everybody should celebrate him. But these politicians are doing so only to get our votes. They have nothing to do with our socio-economic and politico-cultural position in society.

You have one more reason to not to vote for BSP—"strategic voting". Being liberal and on justice side it never struck you that strategic voting can also be done sometime in favour of BSP. In the name of strategic voting you have always remained attached with upper caste people in different political parties. In Delhi, your caste blindness was again proved when in the last assembly elections you supported another upper caste man, an anti-reservationist, over a 30 year old political party—BSP—the party which has good administrative record in the past in the most populated and 4th largest state of India, Uttar Pradesh. BSP was also increasing its presence in Delhi. It increased its vote share from 2.42% in 1993 to 14.05 in 20084. In next election it could have increased its vote share even more. But to stop a Dalit political party from continuously increasing vote share in the capital a new drama was started, a new party was launched. In the name of cheap water and cheap electricity almost every Delhi citizen went behind Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). BSP's vote share came down to 1.3%5. And you justified it with the argument of "strategic voting", because you did not want BJP to win and Congress was already surrounded by questions of anti-incumbency and had no chance of coming to power. You were strategic in terms of not voting for BSP also. Many of you also said that BSP visibility was not there. You will only be able to see BSP when you de-caste yourself. The caste in you made you ignore a Dalit party.

And the answer for why Dalit-Bahujan voted for AAP can be seen in Maslow's theory of hierarchy of needs—that we being poor—being stuck in poverty and always thinking of last two stages of physiological and safety needs—for food, shelter, health, family and security. More than that, your leader Arvind Kejriwal first, wooed all the poor castes-classes in the name of basic necessities—water, electricity, education, and anti-corruption policies. And specifically to get Dalit votes, he did a Gandhian drama of staying in a Dalit locality—so he settled down in Sundar Nagri for a few days. Why he did not do such drama in localities like GK one or two? The poor are always busy in looking for some labor to do, so that they can feed themselves and their families. And then they simply follow a person who promises them free water and cheap electricity. What else a poor wo/man wants in Delhi? But why can't you upper-middle caste-class people, being at the top two stages of esteem and self-actualization, even realise that people you support are perpetuating and strengthening the caste based hierarchy? Maybe because you also want such hierarchies to survive!

You call yourself defenders of democracy, but you don't think of voting for BSP at all, a party which is based on the principles of the greatest democrat, Dr. Ambedkar. Whenever  caste specific issues are raised, you portray them in a way that makes them general. Angela Y. Davis said that "In a racist society it is not enough to be non-racist, we must be anti-racist". Same way in a casteist society it is not enough to be non-casteist, you must be anti-casteist. But, liberals like you see the caste system as a systemic way of holding society together. Wow!! You don't even try to understand our politics, from our perspective. Do you know that the cheap trick of your leader fasting in Dalit localities to entice them to get their votes is called "Grammar of Anarchy"6 (an unconstitutional method) which has no place in democracy? Do you really think that after all this you really have a moral stand to comment on Dalit politics, to comment on Mayawati, to comment on Ambedkar Parks? Do you really know what Mayawati has done for Dalits? Do you really know or try to understand what does Mayawati mean to Dalits?

One of the examples of what Mayawati did for Dalits can be seen in the Ambedkar Village Programme. And when someone is a chief minister, it can never happen that s/he is only looking after the people whom s/he represents. But people like you will only say that she did not do anything for others. The examples below can explain better what Mayawati is for her people.

• When one 'upper' caste man tried to rape a Dalit woman, she took out a knife and castrated him. Next morning she went to the police station with the knife and amputated penis, and surrendered. Later this man was also arrested. When asked by a reporter what made her do this she replied that 'I thought, now that Mayawati is in power, she will save me' (Bose 2012: 281-82).
• A sweeper in Lucknow said that 'We trust Behenji because she knows when to fight and when to make peace. That is why she has been so successful' (Bose 2012: 285)
• On telling some Dalits that Mayawati was betraying them by joining hands with so called 'upper' castes, they answered with 'simple and emphatic 'NO'. Behenji could never betray them' (Rajasvi 2011: 75).
• Similarly Vivek Kumar notes that 'today no 'upper caste' can take Dalits for granted in UP. Dalits retaliate in whatever manner they can'. Dalits are forcing the landlords to increase their wages and also raising their arms against them and other forward castes whenever needed (Kumar 2006: 186).
• Respondent to Vivek Kumar said that 'for the first time in the history of the state, the Chief Secretary was a Dalit and so was the Director General of Police. Whether they did anything for us positively or not but they will not do anything negative for us'. And, when Mayawati visited Pasis who were attacked by Thakurs, Pasis and other Dalits exclaimed that 'This gesture of Behenji gave Dalit a tremendous boost. We were convinced that there is someone to protect Dalits at the highest echelons of the administration, which was not there earlier' (Kumar 2006: 155-57).

Your leaders come to our localities and beg for votes to make up their political career, and people like you come to our organizations, to use our name and then to build your CV. Or you also sometimes come to get a certificate to show how sensitive you are, to get a big job in the "social service sector". Try to think and question yourself, why do you not take an hour or a day or a week or a month or even a year to doubt the doings of Modi, Yogi, Kejriwal or Yadav, but you become very quick and shrewd in judging any of the Dalits' and their leaders' work. This is like when Dalits just started entering the education system and the job market, you and people like you were the first to say that Dalits' entry will decrease the efficiency. This is nothing but your old strategy of demoralizing Dalits' efforts whenever they make any.

Be aware that the more you speak, more your casteist mindset will appear. But, if you really wish to act like a critic, then act like a critic. Then as a critic, for example, you will have to read Kancha Ilaiah's 'Why I am not a Hindu' with the same eagerness with which you read 'Why I am a Hindu' of Shashi Tharoor. Reading only Tharoor's book and not Ilaiah's is the sign of your casteist mindset. Kill the casteist mind inside you first. Then criticize the untouchability which is perpetuated by you and your leaders in different spheres of life (job, education, social, religious, political, spiritual and psychological). If you are able to even identify all the differences which you perpetuate in your whole life then try to end them from inside you. And then if some of your life is still left after questioning all kinds of untouchability, and yet you want to come and join our caravan then just follow our footsteps—follow our voice. Do not even try to be our voice or our leader, because of your "cultural capital" and proficiency in articulating things.

And also stop saying that identity politics is resulting negatively for us. We know what identity politics is. And our leaders also know better when to use it and when to drop it. Prakash Louis notes that, 'especially for a group of people on whom a negative identity was imposed, self-determination and self-definition become the central and crucial factor of identity formation' (Louis 2003: 133). Identity politics is the only tool which can counter your justification that we are just victims of economic exploitation, not of caste. Identity politics is helping us resist the forces which are pushing our people towards Hinduism. Identity politics is resisting your dream project of appropriation of Ambedkar.

Dr. Ambedkar said that:

It is no use seeking refuge in quibbles. It is no use telling people that the Shastras do not say what they are believed to say, if they are grammatically read or logically interpreted. What matters is how the Shastras have been understood by the people. You must take the stand that Buddha took. You must take the stand which Guru Nanak took. You must not only discard the Shastras, you must deny their authority, as did Buddha and Nanak. You must have courage to tell the Hindus that what is wrong with them is their religion—the religion which has produced in them this notion of the sacredness of Caste.

~

Notes

1. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D9Ihs241zeg

2.http://ccnmtl.columbia.edu/projects/mmt/ambedkar/web/readings/aoc_print_2004.pdf

 3. H. L. Dusadh wrote this book, Ek Jinda Devi: Mayawati (A Living Goddess: Mayawati)

 4. http://eci.nic.in/eci_main1/ElectionStatistics.aspx#

 5. https://www.hindustantimes.com/delhi-news/mcd-election-results-delhi-s-voters-leave-no-play-for-fringe-actors-swaraj-bsp-and-jd-u/story-Se6ub9UBRiuIyCQu5ZZ7gN.html

 6. https://scroll.in/article/802495/why-br-ambedkars-three-warnings-in-his-last-speech-to-the-constituent-assembly-resonate-even-today

References

Bose, Ajay. 2012. Behenji: A Political Biography of Mayawati. New Delhi: Penguin Books India.

Kumar, Vivek. 2006. India's Roaring Revolution: Dalit Assertion and New Horizons. New
Delhi: Gagandeep Publications.

Louis, Prakash. 2003. Political Sociology of Dalit Assertion. New Delhi: Gyan Publishing
House.

Rajasvi, M.I. 2011. Mayawati. New Delhi: Manoj Publications.

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Dhamma Darshan Nigam is an active member of the 'Safai Karamchari Andolan' and a writer. He can be contacted at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.