'Get off our backs and fight your own battles'

Nameless Dalit

university cartoonThere is a reason why I am preferring to remain anonymous but I will come to that shortly.

I am a student at a college in Delhi known to be a hotbed of feminism. To be honest, as a daughter of first-generation literates, I learned much about feminism, global movements, theory and philosophy only here. However, as I learned more, I also painfully realized that many of my theoretically fluent and politically vocal classmates were deliberately silent on something that I have learned through a lifelong experience – caste humiliation. When they were not silent, they trivialized it or mocked it.

Not some time back I had told such a radical classmate, who is a very active member of the PinjraTodgroup, that I was applying for higher studies in another prestigious university in Delhi. To which she replied spontaneously "oh, it is easy for you people to get in." I was shocked and traumatized by this statement. But I bit my anger as she was a friend with whom I have participated in many protests together.

In February 2019, a group of Dalit-Bahujan students raised a protest against the blatant casteist attitude of PinjraTod and put out a statement against it. I supported the same publicly. When my radical classmate heard about this, she promptly began harassing me. At one instance, she and a group of 5 other students sat me down and gave me a two hour long class on feminist activism. It is another matter that everyone of this group were Savarnas. They were angry with me for breaking the unity of women and doing narrow identity politics. Only a few days back I was "you people" to these Savarnas, and now I was a "woman" like any other, without caste, without location. How easy it is for savarna women to become "women" above caste! And how easy it is for them to lecture to Dalit women to become "women" without caste!

I must admit that PinjraTod's position on Dalit-Bahujan women's struggle has somewhat changed. Earlier, they had no position, now they have a tokenistic position. But any attempts to question this, and one becomes an outcaste. Savarna feminists have a great history of ignoring and silencing Dalit women's voices. Now, some of them have evolved – they appropriate Dalit voices and make us fight their battles.

Just consider the publicity that Raya Sarkar's "List" received in the media. It is tough to speculate on Sarkar's identity, because she is at once a Dalit, a Bahujan, a Dalit-Bahujan, an Ambedkarite-Buddhist. But I know as a Dalit woman that it is near impossible for us to shift identities and which is why we are wary of messiahs who use our identities as labels. Black activists in the US have strongly resisted white saviors roleplaying as Blacks, and I think it will take some time before the Dalit-Bahujans wake up to this too. We should also remember how easily Raya Sarkar and her friends branded the whole of Round Table India and the Dalit-Bahujans who supported it as "misogynists". When Dalit-Bahujans cannot enter savarna spaces like universities, news rooms, and art circles, we should never give any savarna group the power to shame and destroy the spaces that we own.

The men on the Raya Sarkar list were largely left-liberal savarna Hindus (the one bahujan thinker on the list was dead and thus not around to defend himself). The list was criticized by a group of savarna women who were friends of the alleged savarna sexual harassers. The list was defended by savarna women who claimed to fight male privilege. A few Dalit women supported them too. I empathize with my Dalit sisters when they say that campus spaces are largely bastions of power of savarna men. But that shouldn't mean that we should become allies of savarna women and their politics, because it will ultimately be at our expense.

I would also say that savarna feminists of all political colors, pro-list or anti-list, have also contributed to shaming us in these spaces. Vocal facebook trolls have spewed utter casteist venom at BAPSA while also appearing progressive supporting the list. But what is irritating is that savarna students, writers and activists are dragging Dalit-Bahujans into what is essentially a fight between one section of savarna feminists and their allies and another section of savarna academics and their allies. South Indian Brahmin writer Geetha defended the list in an article on the Caravan on 24 May 2018 and spoke out against another South Indian Savarna journalist. I will just highlight three of her arguments to show how opportunistic the pro-list feminists are.

"Our educational institutions are steeped in named and unnamed equations of power, flowing from caste, class and gender." This is true.

"These powers infuse mentorship with a trust that is anchored in dependence and obedience. To speak of a breach of trust is almost impossible—it might invite retribution, or affect a student's academic prospects." This is also true.

"This quandary is complicated further by a student's own social power or lack thereof—specifically, for those students that belong to oppressed groups of caste, gender, religion, and sexuality." THIS is brahminical twisting. Geetha has just used caste oppression to score points for herself.

I will explain. Students from oppressed caste groups find it hard enough to get into a decent college for the social sciences. If they manage to survive the everyday humiliations in higher education, it is still tough for them to clear entrances in good universities for higher research. Even if they do, it is next to impossible for them to find high-profile academics (almost all of whom are savarnas) to be their supervisors. And if you are a Dalit woman, the difficulties multiply manifold. The spaces inhabited by these scholars accused of sexual harassment might be legitimately unsafe for their women students and colleagues, who are all again likely to be only from savarna backgrounds. But for Dalit students, these are spaces that we cannot even enter.

Several savarna scholars have now started writing about Ambedkar. Most of this is non-understandable jargon to those of us without the social capital. When we could not even understand what these savarna men are talking about OUR leader, what possibility is there for Dalit students like us to have someone like Dipesh Chakravarti as an advisor? Where a savarna feminist might worry about whether space for "women" around these scholars is safe or not, Dalit-Bahujan women in the academia cannot even enter these spaces for a simple conversation, let alone academic mentorship.

I am sure my anonymity will irritate those who I have accused in this article. But you have defended anonymous accusations and you will be hypocritical if you deny me that right.

I am anonymous because I do not have the patience to fight the angry savarna women who become avenging kaalis if their casteism is challenged.

I am anonymous because I am a nameless Dalit.

I am anonymous because shameless brahminical feminists stamp on our backs to wage their battles.

I am anonymous because, without dismantling Brahminical feminism, any fight against patriarchy will be a victory only for the brahminical feminists.

I am not going to fight our men for your politics.

I am also not going to be a foot-soldier in your fight against your men.

Get off our backs and fight your own battles.

Our battle is against you too.

~~~

The author wishes to be identified as a Nameless Dalit, as one of the many Dalit women in colleges who are forcibly silenced by savarna feminists.

 

Image courtesy: The Internet