Interveiw with V. T. Rajshekar, Revolutionary Journalist, Editor Dalit Voice
Interveiw with V. T. Rajshekar, Revolutionary Journalist, Editor Dalit Voice
An article was published recently in Marathi local magazine by Suhas Sonwane based on daily Loksatta. The following is a gist of it, translated from Marathi.
Mr. Babasaheb Gawande, the founder president of an Organization of Marathas from Bombay called “Maratha Mandir” was a close friend of Dr. Ambedkar. Mr. Gawande asked Dr. Ambedkar, who was then a Law Minister in Nehru Cabinet in 1947, for a message for the Maratha people to be published in the Souvenir of “Maratha Mandir”. Ambedkar declined saying that he had no relation with the Organization or the Marathas, but on persistent insistence, a message was given and published in the souvenir on 23rd March 1947. But unfortunately that special issue is not available in the office of the Organization today. But it was made available by Shri Vijay Survade recently and was undocumented till now.
Dr. Ambedkar said:
“This principle will apply not only to Marathas but all Backward Castes. If they do not wish to be under the thumb of others they should concentrate on two things, one is politics and the other is education.”
“One thing I like to impress on you is that the community can live in peace only when it has enough moral but indirect pressure over the rulers. Even if a community is numerically weak, it can keep its pressure over the rulers and create its dominance as is seen by the example of status of present day Brahmins in India. It is essential that such a pressure is maintained, as without it, the aims and policies of the state can not have proper direction, on which depends the development and progress of the state.”
“At the same time, it must not be forgotten that education is also important. Not only elementary education but higher education is most essential to keep ahead in competition of communities in their progress.”
“Higher education, in my opinion, means that education, which can enable you to occupy the strategically important places in State administration. Brahmins had to face a lot of opposition and obstacles, but they are overcoming these and progressing ahead.”
“I can not forget, rather I am sad, that many people do not realize that the Caste system is existing in India for centuries because of inequality and a wide gulf of difference in education, and they have forgotten that it is likely to continue for some centuries to come. This gulf between the education of Brahmins and non-Brahmins will not end just by primary and secondary education. The difference in status between these can only be reduced by higher education. Some non-Brahmins must get highly educated and occupy the strategically important places, which has remained the monopoly of Brahmins since long. I think this is the duty of the State. If the Govt. can not do it, institutions like “Maratha Mandir” must undertake this task.”
“I must emphasize one point here that middle class tries to compare itself with the highly educated and well placed and well to do community, whereas lower class all over the world has same fault. The middle class is not as liberal as upper one, and has no ideology as lower one, which makes it enemy of both the classes. The middle class Marathas of Maharashtra also have this fault. They have only two ways out, either to join hands with upper classes and prevent the lower classes from progress, and the other is to join hands with lower classes and both together destroy the upper class power coming against the progress of both. There was a time, they used to be with lower classes, now they seem to be with the upper class. It is for them to decide which way to go. The future of not only Indian masses but also their own future depends upon what decision the Maratha leaders take. As a matter of fact it all should be left to the skill and wisdom of the leaders of Marathas. But there seems to be a lack of such wise leadership among the Marathas.”
What he said about Marathas, equally applies to all OBCs, and still holds true after half a century. Dr. Ambedkar wrote much to educate the OBCs. It is only now that OBCs are awakening gradually. It must not be forgotten that the future of this country depends on them.
Dr. K. Jamanadas,
The democratic nation proved that the fears of lower castes were wrong. They enrolled into regional language education in a big way.
One bright morning in 1960, when I was about eight, a newly appointed single teacher came to my house. My mother had already cleaned our courtyard called ‘vaakili’ and was sprinkling the dung water all around the courtyard. I was about to assist my elder brother in untying the cattle and go along with them for grazing. The teacher asked my mother to send me and my elder brother, who was about 10, to school. What she told him shocks every one of us in retrospect: “Ayyaa — if we send our children to school to read and write devil Saraswathi will kill them. That devil wants only brahmins and baniyas to be in that business.”
For centuries the so called goddess of education was against the dalit learning, reading and writing in any language. She was the goddess of education of only the high castes — mainly of the brahmins and baniayas. But the lower castes, who were denied of education treated her as a devil that would kill their children if they go to school.
The notion that she kills us was so deep that my grandmother fought with my mother for she was terrified of our imminent death, after I and my brother — not my sisters in any case — were sent to school. She used to pray Pochamma — our village goddess — that she should protect us from Saraswathi. Within a few months after we were sent to school my grandmother died of a future shock that we would not survive at all.
The democratic nation proved that those fears of lower castes were wrong. They got into regional language education in a big way. The goddess of Sanskrit education was adopted by lower castes as their goddess of regional language education too. Several school teachers across the country — many of them were OBC teachers — installed Saraswathi photo even in government schools, ignoring the fact there could be a muslim or a christian or any other minority students in the schools.
It is a known fact that there were several hindu teachers who made humiliating remarks about muslims and christians that they do not have goddess of education like Saraswathi and hence inferior in educational values. Saraswathi Shishumandirs have cropped up all over the country. In the ’70s and ’80s the aggressive ownership of ‘matru bhasha’ (mother tongue) theory and adoption of Saraswathi as goddess of Indian education had acquired a nationalist overtone. So militant was that nationalism that any opposition to installing Saraswathi’s portrait in the schools and colleges would only invite fist blows.
The right wing student organisations started installing her portrait in the university departments. The regional language departments made Saraswathi an educational-cultural symbol. Unmindful of the secular constitution of the nation even the university teachers — mainly of regional language departments sporting a visible saffron tilak on the forehead, began to treat others who operate outside that cultural norm as inferior.
A walking goddess
With the increase of women teachers in schools, colleges and universities Saraswathi was made almost a walking goddess in the nation. Buddha, Jesus, Mohammed, Guru Nanak whose life though revolved around education to all humans never appeared on the nationalist map of education.
While the majority OBCs, some dalits and tribals began to worship Saraswathi in regional educational centres — of course on the real pooja day the priest talked to her only in Sankrit, in spite of the fact, that under her sharp and well decorated nose that language died to a point no return, except that soliloquous priest nobody understands the slokas, she has become goddess of all Indian languages.
While the historical backwards were enjoying their new status of proximity to mythical Saraswathi, the living Saraswathi in the company of her cousin Laxmi shifted her real operative base to the other world, called colonial English world. The backward class people of India, as of now, have no entry so far.
The recent decision of the Central government to introduce English teaching from class one in all government schools will enable all the lower castes of India are going to enter into a new phase of English education. Though this method of English teaching does not take the dalit-bahujan and minority community children to the level of convent educated upper castes, it makes a new beginning of dreaming for egalitarian education in future.
English education is the key for adopting the modernist approach suitable to the globalised India. The upper castes have handled the contradiction between English and their native culture quite carefully. But when it comes to teaching English to the lower castes they have been proposing a theory that English will destroy the ‘culture of the soil’. Having realised the importance of English the Central government has taken a right decision.
However, the next stage should be moving towards total abolition of the gap between the private English medium schools and the government schools in terms of both infrastructure and teaching methods. Even about the language both the public and private schools must be brought under two language formula of teaching 50 per cent syllabus in English and the other half of the syllabus in the regional language across the country.
NEW DELHI: A separate caste census exercise will begin in June, and be completed within four months, by September.
Announcing the timeframe during his Budget speech, finance minister Pranab Mukherjee, said, “In response to the overwhelming demand for enumeration of castes other than Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in Census 2011, it has been decided to canvass caste as a separate time-bound exercise.”
Funds in the Budget for census surveys and statistics, therefore, saw a substantial increase — from Rs 2,793.62 crore in 2010-11 to Rs 4,123.62 crore in the next fiscal year. It is meant for both the ongoing census as well as the separate caste census later. At present, the 15th Census exercise is being conducted. Enumerators across the country completed the headcount on Monday. Compilation of statistical data on different socio-economic parameters will be done over the next few months.
|By Kancha Ilaiah|
|Our democracy is not only fragile but corrupt. But that does not absolve any dalit leader indulging in a massive corrupt practice.|
|The Indian nation is reeling under corruption of all varieties — financial, moral and ethical. Unfortunately former minister Raja’s corrupt contracting of the communication networks called 2G spectrum scam has not only shaken the UPA government but affected the moral credibility of DMK politics and more so that of the dalit ideology.
Raja is not only a dalit but has grown up in the Dravidian ideological framework. Why did he pursue politics of this level of corruption? Did he do it at the instance of the DMK leadership or on his own? I cannot imagine that a politician of his age and background could do it without the knowledge of the top DMK leadership.
The DMK has its origins in the socio-political culture of Periyar Ramasami Naikar’s movement. The DMK has moved far away from it. We have been haunted by the corrupt image of Lalu Prasad and Mayawati for quite some time now. The scope to justify their deeds as individual aberrations tainted our ideological vision also. Of course, we cannot write off such corrupt practices of the dalit-bahujan leaders as some historical inheritance of the same brahminic practice as the practice sustains outside the realm of ‘sramanic’ practices.
Gautham Buddha gave us a moral code that one’s own property should be an external image of one’s labour power that must get invested into it in varied forms. He was not totally opposed to private property but opposed to private property accumulated by exploiting the labour power of others.
Periyar, Mahatma Jotirao Phule and Ambedkar inherited the moral ethics of Buddha. DMK and Bahujan Samaj Party are the political expression of these great leaders of depressed classes. When these parties are heading the state institutions what ethical, moral and financial policies should they follow?
Marx also believed in a similar theory that the private property of a person should not go far beyond one’s own family labour power. Any property accumulated in any other form outside the realm of labour power of one’s own family is nothing but exploitation. The kind of political corruption that Raja or Kalmadi or Ashok Chauhan or Yeddyurappa got involved in amounts to plundering of the national resource that got generated with the investment of mass labour power of the nation into it.
If it were to be China or any other western democratic system, such political leaders either would have been hanged or they would have been jailed for their entire lifetime. In a country like the USA the jail term may be 120 years or 140 years whereby whatever could be the life span of that particular individual, he/she cannot come out of the jail till he/she dies. The Indian laws of punishment do not follow such a course. Life sentence at best means one would be in jail for 14 years.
Of course, the present market economy seems to force every section to get into the network of corrupt accumulation of private capital. The culture of massive corrupt accumulation of family wealth seems to have become a normal mode of political life of politicians. May be this is part of third world democracy.
Our democracy itself is not only fragile but corrupt at the very base of it. But that does not absolve such massive corrupt practice of a dalit leader who emerged out of the political formation of the kind that DMK is.
B R Ambedkar thought that the Indian corruption is imposed by the brahminic intelligentsia, as they lived off the ‘dakshina’ economy. Those politicians who have come from the productive communities have acquired an ideological education that more you earn more respect and stature you acquire irrespective of the means you adopt for acquiring the wealth.
If Ambedkar and Jagjivan Ram, having come from the dalit-bahujan background provided one kind of example, Raja, having come from the same dalit background and having grown from the ranks of Periyarite party seems to set another example.
Culturally we have lost a moral ground that Buddha, Phule, Ambedkar and Periyar handed down to us. The political formations that emerged out of their ideology and practice must reset on a course of fresh debate about the political and social morality they set in motion. If these political parties along with communists also do not observe the cultural ethics of non-corruptibility where will the nation go?
Fusing Phule And Ambedkar
Kanshi Ram redefined and expanded the scope of parliamentary democracy in India by successfully fusing Phule’s advocacy of the bahujan with the Ambedkarite idea of negotiating space for a communal minority in a political majority.
In 1971, when Kanshi Ram was an employee in the munitions factory of the DRDO in Pune, he picked a quarrel with a senior officer, and allegedly struck him, over the non-appointment of a young, qualified Dalit woman. This led to his eventual quitting the government job. There is this great Indian myth that once the Dalits or other backward classes enter the realm of modernity and become a part of the apparently seamless middle class, caste would disappear, caste would wither away. Urban Indians are not casteist, it is believed, except in matrimonial columns. By 1965, Kanshi Ram and his fellow Dalit and backward class employees realized that was hardly the case. Dalit employees were routinely humiliated on an everyday basis at their workplace. And Kanshi Ram deeply resented that. If this were the fate of an educated, employed Dalit, what would her fate be in the feudal-rural scenario? Even in his early 30s, as an organiser, he nurtured his support base among the Dalit and Backward Caste government employees; the very first organization he established with his colleagues in 1971 was the Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, Other Backward Classes and Minorities Employees Welfare Association in Pune. The objective: to counter the harassment the shoshit (oppressed) employees faced.
In 1996, in New Delhi, Kanshi Ram slapped a TV journalist and BSP workers assaulted other members of the media. What the provocation was we shall not know, for there was no one to report that, as Kenneth J. Cooper, then the Washington Times correspondent in New Delhi, discovered. He was shocked by the manner in which the Indian media had reported the happenings at Kanshi Ram’s residence. Cooper, a witness, wondered: Is there no one to report the Dalit side of the story? He then asked senior journalist B.N. Uniyal, among others, if there were no Dalits in the capital’s media. Cooper went on to write an article in Washington Timesabout the absence of Dalits in the Indian print media. Uniyal made a search for Dalit journalists and even published an article about his vain search in The Pioneer. Not much has changed in the last ten years, as a survey by Centre for the Study of Developing Societies in May 2006 indicated.
Be it in 1971 when he struck a higher official or in 1996 when he slapped an overbearing journalist, Kanshi Ram was animated by the same spirit to defend the self-respect and dignity of Dalits . In 1973, he established the All India Backward and Minority Employees Federation (BAMCEF), and in 1981 formed the came DS4 (the Dalit Shoshit Samaj Sangharsh Samiti), a precursor to the Bahujan Samaj Party founded on Ambedkar’s birthday, April 14, 1984.
Since 1919 when he made his first political intervention on behalf of the Depressed Classes in the Southborough Commission till his death in 1956, B.R. Ambedkar tended to articulate the Dalit issue as essentially one of a ‘minority’ problem. In positing Dalits as India’s biggest minority group that needed political and societal safeguards, Ambedkar was reacting to the Muslim self-perception in colonial India. The British adjudication and manipulation of the politics of numbers, using Census figures, were crucial for these early debates on the scope of democratic representation in India.
Kanshi Ram, unarguably the biggest leader to emerge from among Dalits in the post-Ambedkar period, and someone who succeeded in the realm of parliamentary democracy in which Ambedkar repeatedly failed, drew heavily from Ambedkar’s political resources. However, he decided to deploy a different strategy at the ground level. Surely, the consolidation of Uttar Pradesh’s 22 percent or Punjab’s 28 percent Dalit populations alone would not ensure victories in elections; but such a consolidation would force the tormentors and opponents of Dalits to come to the bargaining table.
Kanshi Ram realized that if the Dalits had to wrest their share in political power on their own terms, they needed allies. In this sense, he was more a follower of Jotiba Phule (1827–1890). At the heart of Kanshi Ram’s politics was the concept of the ‘bahujan’—the oppressed majority, a quintessential Phule formulation that believed in the organic unity of the Sudras (BCs and BCS) and Atisudras (Dalits and Adivasis); (something with which Ambedkar differed since he saw the Sudras as essentially erstwhile khsatriyas and the untouchables as fallen Buddhists). Following Phule, Kanshi Ram believed that the Sudras and Atisudras needed to join hands with Muslims and other minorities to combat the Brahmin-Baniya-Rajput combine. The logic that drove this postulation was that if democracy was the rule of the majoritarian voice, then why was it that in Indian democracy only the voice of the dwija castes was heard? In the early phase of his political career, Kanshi Ram believed that the Dalits and their immediate tormentors in the rural landscape—OBCs—could join hands. The mastermind of coalition politics in Uttar Pradesh sought to first forge an alliance at the societal level before seeking to fortify it at the political level. This was not easy, as we shall see.
The birth of the BSP in 1984 did not happen in the most conducive circumstances. Rajiv Gandhi swept to power on a sympathy wave. The BJP’s hindutva agenda was looming large and Rajiv played along, allowing the shilanyas and the telecast of Ramanand Sagar’sRamayana. Not the best of times for a man without any previous political foothold in Uttar Pradesh—born on March 15, 1934 is a Raidasi Sikh family in Khawaspur village, Ropar district, Punjab and bred on Phule and Ambedkar’s ideas in Pune—to pose a challenge to both the Congress and BJP. The challenge could bear fruition only when the OBCs and Dalits joined forces, Kanshi Ram reckoned. One of the early DS-4 slogans was ‘Brahmin, Bania, Thakur Chor, Baki Sab Hum DS-Four’ (meaning, Brahmins Banias Thakurs are crooks, the DS-4 are their victims). In the 1993 UP assembly elections ‘Tilak, Taraju, Talwar. Maaro Unko Joote Char’ was on every BSP worker’s lip. This slogan to give the boot to the oppressors was not just imbued with anti-caste sentiments but anti-hindutva as well; the tilak invoking the Brahmins, the taraju the Baniya and the talwar the militant Kshatriya, all in the service of hindutva. This was essentially an inversion of anti-Dalit traditional rhymes that equatedchamars with chors (thieves).
An alliance with Mulayam Singh Yadav’s Samajawadi Party followed. This remained an uneasy alliance at the core because the OBC mindset was such that it would never accept a Dalit as leader. Sharing power with OBCs proved a tough task. Be it a Brahmin like Lalji Tandon, or OBCs like Mulayam Yadav or Kalyan Singh, they resented the idea of being headed by a Dalit . (Even an MBC of Nishad caste like Phoolan Devi preferred to join the Samajwadi Party, a reflection on how the Kanshi Ram-Mayawati leadership could not be stomached by most non-Dalits .) Moreover, in rural UP, the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes Prevention of Atrocities Act of 1989 (PoA Act) assumed meaning whenever the Mayawati-led BSP was in power. While the media preferred to highlight only her excesses with Ambedkar statues and parks, under her regime the PoA Act came to be termed the Dalit Act and UP became the only state where it was not possible to casually insult a Dalit and get away with it. To refer to a Dalit with contempt—which caste Hindus had done as matter of convention and traditional right—became a crime that could result in a FIR and booking under Section 3 (I) X of the PoA Act. Police officers were given instructions to fearlessly implement the Act, both unprecedented and never emulated in any other state under any other regime. The implementation of the Act went a long way in recognising and restoring a sense of self and dignity among the Dalits of UP. This was seen by the caste Hindu society and the media—inured by routine, everyday humiliation of Dalits —as the registering of false cases in the name of the Dalit Act. (According to a study, the UP Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes Commission says 80-85 per cent of the cases brought before it are genuine.) In these cases, the OBCs were named as the primary tormentors of Dalits . The Dalit -OBC political alliance in Lucknow could not be translated into a Sudra-Atisudra social harmony. The slew of FIRs, with OBCs shown as aggressors, strained the BSP-SP alliance. This was a fundamental societal contradiction that Kanshi Ram could not resolve. The echoes of the free and fair use of the PoA Act could be heard in faraway Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh where the BC and OBCs groups demanded the repeal of the Act.
It is an irony of our times that in her last term as CM, Mayawati sought to dilute this very Act in order to please her ally, now the Brahmin/Thakur/OBC-filled BJP. In July 2002, the Mayawati government issued a directive signed by chief secretary D.S. Bagga and special secretary Anil Kumar with respect to the PoA Act which instructed the entire administrative machinery, to prevent ‘misuse’ of the Act and asked them to direct the state’s penal and executive bodies to be ‘extra careful’ about registering the cases under the Act.
How and why did Kanshi Ram ally alternately with BJP and SP and even the Congress—in other words, with BCs and OBCs, as well the Brahmin-Baniya-Thakurs? Here, we need to invoke Ambedkar on the place of minorities in the midst of communal and political majorities. He argues in his neglected, late work Thoughts on Linguistic States:
People who rely upon majority rule forget the fact that majorities are of two sorts: (1) Communal majority and (2) Political majority. A political majority is changeable in its class composition. A political majority grows. A communal majority is born. The admission to a political majority is open. The door to a communal majority is closed. The politics of a political majority are free to all to make and unmake. The politics of a communal majority are made by its own members born in it. How can a communal majority run away with the title deeds given to a political majority to rule? … This tyranny of the communal majority is not an idle dream. It is an experience of many minorities.
Kanshi Ram understood that what was being played out in Indian democracy was the rule of communal majority in the name of the rule of the political majority. For a communal minority like Dalits , the only way to democracy was by kneading its way into the forces that constituted political majority in electoral politics. Dalits could not join the communal majority constituted by Baniyas, Thakurs and Brahmins, for, as Ambedkar says, the door to communal majority is closed. But they sure could join the political majority, since the class and caste composition of the political majority could change. This was manageable through alliances. Under Kanshi Ram’s stewardship, the BSP practically demonstrated what Ambedkar had theoretically formulated. In this sense, Kanshi Ram redefined and expanded the scope of parliamentary democracy in India.
If Kanshi Ram did not ally with one force, it was with the Left. The Left of course had hardly a presence in Uttar Pradesh. At the national level the CPI and CPI(M) preferred to do business with the ‘secular’ Mulayam, Karunanidhi or even Jayalalitha, but refused to engage with the BSP.
Kanshi Ram painfully realised that Phule’s bahujan concept would not work under Dalit leadership. Kanshi Ram therefore successfully wedded Phule’s advocacy of the bahujan with the Ambedkarite idea of negotiating space for a communal minority in a political majority. With this premise, within a decade he managed to build a national party that became the sole challenge to the supremacy of the Congress and the BJP in the Hindi heartland.
crtsy: OUTLOOK, Oct 14 2006