‘From Jai Shri Ram to Jai Bhim’ – Thoughts from my good friend

I used to interact quite a lot with Anoop Kumar on Facebook, strongly arguing our respective stances.

Anoop is very active on issues concerning Dalit Jatis and Janajatis and has inspired plenty of students and initiatives. Please do go through his blog and website and feel free to offer comments.

He has recently posted a very perceptive article (reproduced below) in which he charts his journey from being a Hindu Nationalist to being a Dalit Nationalist. He feels there is a difference. I don’t.

– Namaste

In context with my ongoing discussions on Face book with some of my friends, I am reproducing one of my articles published in our Dalit students’ magazine INSIGHT (Jan-February 2005 issue of Caste and Nationalism).

I am not particularly very fond of this piece as many of our friends, particularly non-Dalit academicians, looked at this piece with their ’secular’ lenses, read it in context with ‘Hindu-Muslim communalism’ and praised me for writing on ‘poor Dalits getting communal’ – a sort of an apology piece.

I strongly feel that this was not exactly what I was trying to say. I was trying to say something more than mere locating Dalit within secularism debates. I might have failed to impress this, when I look back now, through my little naive piece as this was the time when I was just learning to write, in English or otherwise. I am sure if I had to write it again, I will be much more clear.

—–

From Jai Shri Ram to Jai Bhim

During 1991-92, in my school days, I was an ardent supporter of the Ramjanam Bhumi Temple Movement in Ayodhya. I went to the main chowk of the city to watch the Ramjanam Bhumi Rath Yatra. I felt pain when I read in newspapers that ‘hundreds’ of Karsevaks were killed by the police and their bodies thrown in river Saryu.

I was very excited and exhilarated when the Babri Mosque was destroyed. I pestered my parents to vote for the ‘Hindu’ party. Ifought with my father when he said that ‘Hindu’ party would bring back ‘Manusmriti’.

I was aware of ‘Manusmriti’ and its provisions. But this Hindu political party never talked about caste, they never said that they were ‘manuvadis’, they opposed untouchability. But my father was not convinced nor was he able to convince me. He did not argue much and mostly kept silent.

His silence was very intriguing to me because otherwise he used to have debates on each and every topic. I thought of it as a bad influence of Kanshiram and Mayawati.

“Yes, caste system is bad but religion has nothing to do with it. At least Ram was not involved nor did he practice untouchability. More so, when one’s country is in danger we should leave all our differences and unite”.

All around me were as excited and extremely happy about the outcome of the Babri demolition. It was the same excitement when we used to watch ‘India’ beat ‘Pakistan’ in the cricket match. We used to burst crackers on such occasions. But more often than not, it used to end in disappointment as it was the Pakistani team which use to comprehensively beat our team.

On such nights, if we heard anything burst, we assumed it was the Muslims who were bursting crackers and we used to abuse them.

I was not a religious person. I never prayed except during exams or just before the declaration of exam results. But I was patriotic. I believed that India is great. Indian culture is great. All the scientific discoveries had their origin in India. Muslim rule in the medieval period devastated the great Indian civilization and brought all the ills in this great motherland of mine. They destroyed temples and converted Hindus forcibly to Islam.

At the same time I was also grappling about the status of my being ‘Harijan’ or ‘Scheduled Caste’ (Dalit word was used only by BSP activists those days and was not in popular usage).

Queried by people on my caste, I pretended to be from Thakur (caste-Hindu) caste. I used ‘Singh’ as my surname which is a caste-Hindu title. I am the only one from my family using the title. I don’t know why I forced my parents to use this title.

Today when I ask about it they say that it was my choice. The title was added when I was admitted to school. Why did I insist on being called ‘Singh’ not ‘Lal’ which is my father’s title?

Thinking back now, I think it shows what was the value associated with certain names (in this case maybe with valour and bravery), what was the normality and acceptability of certain names.

During my schooling, my title defended me whenever a question of caste arose with classmates. They presumed that I was ‘highborn’ like them. I also felt relieved on their assumption about my caste. But I was never at peace whenever this topic was raised. I always tried to change the topic. I felt so humiliated at the mention of the word ‘caste’.

All my defences were broken when I left my home for Lucknow to do my 10+2. Here the categorization was intense; I had not only to tell my caste but also the ‘gotra’ I belong. This landed me in deep trouble as I did not know about ‘gotras’ at all. I was caught very easily. Then I tried to learn the name of the ‘gotras’ but most of the time I faltered on this question.

I tried hard to run away from answering this question but in playgrounds, classrooms, trains, buses, everywhere ‘caste’ never left me alone. No one had trained me about how to deal with such questions.

Even in the home there was a silent acceptance of caste and almost no active discussion or strategies to help me engage with this. The only way, my parents told me, to combat this was to stick to education. Education was the panacea for all ills. All the trauma that I was under going through was very natural to them. It could be that they had survived even larger and more brutal forms of what I was facing.

Then there was issue of reservation and the rise of BSP. Dalits were openly abused; special epithets were reserved for Dr. Ambedkar, Kanshiram and Mayawati. They were seen as dividing Hinduism and bringing caste into politics. Dr. Ambedkar got maximum abuses as he was the ‘original sinner’. I had no sympathies towards the Dalit movement but felt humiliated. I was quite incapable of giving any type of reaction.

Having experienced untouchability myself, there was an innate attraction towards the Dalit movement as it was talking about my experience. But their attack on Hinduism pained me. The fear of losing what little defence, being a Hindu afforded me, prevented me from joining the movement.

I did not know of the social and cultural strength that the Dalit movement drew upon. I used to wonder why they cannot fight for our rights without being critical about Hinduism. Why did I have to disown my ‘cultural’ heritage?

So my youth was occupied by these two shelves, being Hindu as well as Scheduled Caste. One I wanted to cling to but could not, the other I wanted to run from but could not.

Till my 10 +2, I had the opportunity to get educated in an English medium school. Though I got a better education than others in government schools, I had to pay a great price. I only knew one student who was Dalit. All students and teachers were from diku* background.

Many a times there were discussions and debates in the class rooms as well as among students outside the class. This was the time when students started talking about their careers and the issue of reservations was inextricably linked to this. I would constantly avoid taking a stand on the issues of reservations; sometimes I would even say that they were bad. In this process, I lost whatever self confidence I had, living one life and speaking about another.

The turning point in my life was my admission in graduation. Here the ‘reserved category’ tag was thrust upon me. There was no way I can evade it. Till then I did not know much about reservation but now whenever anybody criticised reservation or talked about ‘merit’ I started taking it personally as if that person is criticising and insulting me. I tried to avoid this feeling but was unable to ward off this sense of being insulted.

Graduation also institutionalized my caste. Not only my caste, but my sub-caste was now a matter of public record. My name in the admission list was posted on the notice board under the SC list. This categorization smashed my confidence in the public sphere. My first few months in the college were spent in a shell. Class performance was zero. I was marked and I could not do anything about it.

However, I also began to recognize a shared sense of belonging with the other SC students in my class. Five people excluded. Our exclusion automatically was our solidarity. I did not have to make any kind of effort to belong.

In college, everyone bands together in groups. Mine formed on its own. I found an outlet where I could share my experiences, problems; I could begin to speak about caste, reservations without being humiliated, without any sense of inferiority, without being someone that I was not.

If till now I had tasted what it meant not to be fit, then now I was beginning to realise who were my own, who have been made my own. This also led to the gradual erosion of the resistance to talk about Dalit identity.

Even though we had begun talking, still there was no clarity of thoughts. Our discussions were limited to reservations, whether they were good or bad, what was their use. We began to talk of exploitation and historical wrongs. But we were still unable to move out of the overwhelming Hindu discourse. Culturally we were unable to find our feet as Dalits.

Those SC students, who stayed away from us, refusing to identify them with us, had it even worse. Although they hung around with diku* guys, they were never included, legal aliens. This exclusion was palpable, even to us who were outside the group. It is difficult to imagine what the boys themselves were going through. Their efforts were phenomenal, but no matter how much they tried, they were still ridiculed outsiders, having to swallow insult after disguised insult. This reinforced my belief in the need for a separate group.

Some of the SC boys were more politically conscious than most of us. They came from the rural UP background and have been exposed to the BSP ideology. They did not have any hesitation about their identity; they did not suffer the anxiety (at least to the same extent) that the anglicized among us did.

Discussion with them brought out many ideas. When I used to defend Hinduism culturally, they would cross question me about Eklavaya, Ram and Sambuka. They used to openly abuse Hinduism, they openly abused their gods.

This was still too crude to appeal to me completely as it did not address my need for my own cultural identity which was not negative. I was not satisfied defining myself as a victim, for I was not ready to shoulder the burden of thousands of years of subjugation.

It had become clear to me that I had to fight back, it was clear that I had to answer this constant public attack. But I was not sure from which ground I could talk back, without portraying myself as a victim, without portraying them as bad and of course not falling into the trap of “caste was in the past, why are you raking up now”.

It was around this time that I came across a book “Why I am not a Hindu”, written by Prof Kancha Ilaiah. This changed my life. It filled the gaps in my mind. I was able to think differently about myself, about my family, about our struggles, about my self-worth.

Suddenly, I was the productive one and they were the ones who were eating off the fat of the land. Suddenly I was claiming what was mine, not taking what was theirs. I was no longer asking them, I was no longer talking to them, seeking justifications, having to explain myself. I was talking about myself. I was not like them. I was different. I was not Hindu. And it made sense. My kind of sense.

This country is mine. I was patriotic. But the country I was patriotic about earlier was not mine. Now it was mine. My patriotism made sense. My patriotism doesn’t mean that I would toe the diku line. They had no right to define how or what the country would be like. They did not possess the imagination to do so.

I got my culture back, my productive culture back. Even more important than this was the strength of the feeling that I was different. No matter how hard I try, I could never be a Hindu. There was no longer any reason to try.

This totally changed my relationship with god. The ambiguous fear that existed about god was beginning to disappear. This was still in the mind, but the fear was housed elsewhere, it was almost visceral in the body. I needed something concrete to convert this idea into energy.

It was only after breaking the murthi (idol) that I took the thought into mind. I could act. Not that I was a Hero, but that that I was no longer trapped by fear. The confidence that it was my country and that I will not be afraid here.

For me the Dalit movement is to fight with myself, my own inferiority complex. Whatever contribution I am making is the result of the desire of regaining my self-confidence of being a normal human being with no ‘divine’ infirmities.

I am still thinking about what it means to be Indian and Dalit at the same time.

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4 Responses

  1. Evocative post by Anup.Come to think of it i wouldnt blame him for making the choice that he made

    I find record of Hindu vanguard organisations on confronting vexatious caste issues very mixed -leaves much to be desired.In fact Leftist group(not the Bengal ones but in South India) appear to be playing an important and instrumental role in temple entry movements and fighting despicable practises like social untouchability

    Instead of micro-managing democratic political movements ,Hindu organisation are better advised too work on building on Savarkarite impulses present in many Hindus

  2. Prasanna, I don’t believe Anup is talking about confronting Jati in the same manner as you are.

    His argument is in terms of acceptance of Dalit Jatis and traditions without having to be defensive about them/selves.

    The Savarkarite discourse of elimination of Jati identity in favor of a Hindu identity (consisting of what?)was always bound to fail because it typically mirrored anti-Jati reformists of yore – who failed in their stead. I might add that they failed not because of a lack of effort or appeal…but because their premises were wrong.

    Anup is strongly articulating a demand for self-respect.

  3. I think education and urbanization is way forward. Here is an old article/short book which I think is relevant to the discussion [Do read if you already have not]

    http://www.hvk.org/specialrepo/mms/index.html

  4. Intriguing!

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