August 19th, 2011
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Nothing changes in India fundamentally

Talk Circle/ R K Bijuraj

Teltumbde AnandMumbai-based Dalit intellectual, thinker, human rights activist and author of the book Khairlanji: A Strange and Bitter Crop, Dr Anand Teltumbde emails answers to R.K.Bijuraj’s queries on Dalit politics and situations. He critically examines the Dalit panther movement, Communists, Mayavathi and recent court verdicts.

What is the position of Dalits now in general? Do you think progressive changes are happening around? Or is it facing setbacks?

Dalits more than ever before are a heterogeneous mass. Dalit was an aspirational quasi class term used for assimilating all untouchable people. When it was conceived, it represented fair amount of homogeneity in class terms. But now it represents comparable heterogeneity to that found in larger society, thanks to the reservation system and some other modernist schemes of the government which aggravated inequality in every strata of the society. Notwithstanding, a vast majority of Dalits, surely over 90 percent, are in bad shape because of the elitist orientation of the neo-liberal state policies.

They do not have access to good education, any hope to get a job therefore, the reservation is virtually gone (although there is so much clamour around it), rural economy of which they are part is in shambles, and even the caste atrocities, which could be seen as the manifestation of power asymmetry and function of general crisis, has been fast increasing. I do not see any progressive change happening since the last two decades of globalization. What appears good is happening only to a handful of elite among Dalits. Like their caste counterparts, they are also happy reaping some ‘trickle’ of the prosperity accruing to the top layer. Dalits as I see are suffering a serious set back in every field.

How can the caste system be annihilated? How do we go about it, politically?

Caste system can be annihilated by firstly negating it and then combating its remnant expression. What does it mean? It means that caste can never be annihilated by hampering upon caste, whether with an alibi of caste struggle or as simple innocence. To annihilate it, it needs to be transcended. Caste is basically a divisive category; it seeks hierarchy and infinitum. It can never unite. The antidote to caste therefore is to use its opposite, class, which unites people in existential terms.

This may sound difficult but it is not so. It is the fact that Dalit could not be constructed by uniting all untouchable castes simply because we did not shun caste idiom. Once you bring in caste, you bring in caste consciousness and caste pride. These things will never let you unite. Stop using caste and try identifying people along class lines. You will find you can easily build a broader unity of people across castes against every social evil.

The practical way to achieve it, is to gradually expand the forces against caste. The Dalit movement should overtly imbibe class orientation through a basic realization that they can never annihilate castes on their own, least in the present mode when they are divided into numerous sub-castes. The left movement should see its role in anti-caste struggle through the fundamental realization that unless the vast mass of organic proletariat is liberated and joined to them, they will never reach their goal of revolutionary transformation of the society.

These movements have traversed along wrong paths so far and it should not be difficult for them to realize this in light of their failure. Their convergence itself will weaken the caste consciousness in society to a large extent. But it would still not completely rid it of caste, and would continue to manifest into some or the other caste atrocity. Such manifestation then should be combated by the Left unity with physical force. If the Left comes to the rescue of Dalits in their moment of crisis, it will dispel their misgiving about the Left and get them closer to the latter, in turn adding to the strength of the Left forces, which then could be used for suppression of caste expression. This spiraling increase of strength of the anti-caste forces should lead to eventual annihilation of castes.

Should caste struggles be violent or non violent?
Castes struggles historically have been internecine, in sense that castes fought in their vicinity for supremacy and left the exploiting upper castes unchallenged. Beyond this actual caste wars, the caste war becomes infeasible and hollow rhetoric. What is this caste war? Which caste is going to war against which? There has never been an instance in history of such a war. Those who speak of such a thing do not know what they are talking about. Violence or non-violence is immaterial to me.

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