Blood on our dance floor

Remember how Rajiv Goswami, the student who lit himself in protest of Mandal report, had moved India across the nation? There was no social media. We weren’t living in an informed age like this. But still it moved the country. A young man burning himself was more than enough to move our senses back then even if some people didn’t know what Mandal meant.

Rohit Vemula was a passionate young man too. He didn’t kill himself on the road, but silently in a hostel room. His last words were that of a man who has seen it through, that he went about writing ‘do not trouble my friends or enemies on this’.

It is unlikely that Vemula will move India like Goswami did. Because beyond the protests and our keyboard activism, many of us who stand at the top of the caste ladder, still are not sure of the larger topic – caste and the reservation – though Vemulas of our time validates it.

We are all Dathathreyas. We are all manu vaadis in that regard. And no Facebook/blog posts can take that guilt back, including this one.

A dog here, a dog there

No, I don’t think that the weight of caste is on BJP alone. It is on every one of us here in India – regardless of parties, religions, gender or region. It is on us who secretly take pride when we have to mention our caste, while we try our best to make it sound like it doesn’t matter to us. It is on us, when we laugh at those ‘harmless caste jokes’ when we have our fellow upper-caste friends around, yet so proud how modern and caste-less we are. So, no, the news of those two little ones being burnt in a casteist attack doesn’t surprise me. That is everyday India for you. Though it breaks my heart to see those two small bundles of white cloth; ironically, we call children the bundle of joy, don’t we?

But what makes me so helplessly angry is the faux pas (that’s how Firstpost calls it so casually) made by V K Singh, country’s minister of state, about the killing that compares the incident to stoning a dog. To think that this man was once the army chief of the country makes me shudder. And as usual, the prime minister who used to accuse his predecessor for being silent on issues is still busy shuttling between international terminals without a word.

The ‘traditional’ attire of Keralam

The photo above is from the inaugural function of the International Theatre Festival of Keralam (ITFoK). There was a heated debate in Facebook about the scene highlighted in this photo. The debate was about how settu mundu is being touted as the traditional attire of Keralam when it represents only the upper-caste traditional attire. The discussion was initiated by someone called Abdul Kareem and I got to see it when Sudeep Ben re-shared the photo in his FB page. After following up on the debate in the FB pages of Sudeep, Abdul Kareem and BRP Bhaskar, I posted my thoughts in one of the posts. Here it goes:

1) It is important that we ask questions about what is being celebrated as ‘traditional Kerala attire’. Every community/caste/tribe has had a different attire so it is impossible to define what is traditional and what is not. And just because one of them is being commonly celebrated as ‘traditional’ (which has happened long before the ‘disturbing’ questions about caste arose) does not mean that it must be accepted without a question.

2) Wikipedia says that ‘Mundum Neriyathum’ is “one of the remains of the pre-Hindu Buddhist-Jain culture that once flourished in Kerala and other parts of South India” (Ref: It is also said to be an adaptation of the Graeco-Roam costume called ‘Palmyrene’. So I am not sure how ‘Hindu’ it is. Upper-caste Hindus might have adopted the dress-code because they could afford it while the lower-caste being the working class couldn’t have afforded the attire.

3) The Sangeeta Nataka Academy function is a less harmful example if compared to the inaugural function of the TV programmes like Idea Star Singer which seem like a Hindu religious ceremony.

4) The remaining question is which identity we should use as a common cultural identity. Now it is dominantly upper-caste Hindu and not many have questioned this, so it continues. Whether we need to have a common pre-set cultural identity when it is projecting only one cultural identity is the next question. In this particular case, whether an ‘international’ theatre festival needs to have a local identity stamp on it is a third and more relevant question. I think it will be good to let people wear what they want to wear rather than giving a false notion of a common cultural identity.

Anna Hazare and the Great Indian Middle-class

First of all, I do support the Jan Lokpal Bill. Many Indians would, because we have seen corruption from small to large scale here in India and got tired of it. I do like the fact that there is this one man, Anna Hazare, who could mobilize people across country to join in support of him against corruption. I thank him because not many would have been aware of this Bill if it wasn’t for his efforts. In the end, at least it seems like this could be a beginning of change though the irony is that the government in charge is the most corrupted one in the history of India.

The support that Anna Hazare has got from the public was praised as the beginning of Indian middle-class involving themselves in national issues. Media celebrated a more politically active middle-class and it’s youth. “War on Corruption”, “People’s Victory” – the new headlines kept popping up in the news channels every hour. People were tweeting, changing their Facebook profile picture, putting Gandhi caps and some even did fasting for a day in support of Anna Hazare.

But there is something that stinks about this middle-class political activism. It is because the selective issues that the Indian middle-class and it’s youth choose to fight. From the days of “Youth for Equality” to “War on Corruption”, it is quite evident that the Indian middle-class activism is centered on an India where they have an upper hand. Where they will have their future built (and it is this middle-class India that the upper-class can also bank upon hence the support from the top notch CEOs, Industrialists and celebrities). That is why corruption, terrorism and reservation are the favorite subjects of these middle-class crusaders (yes, corruption is an evil that all classes of India would want to root out, but for the middle-class and their nationalism, corruption is a shame before international community, not an evil in itself). And issues like North East India, Dalit, Tribal, etc never come to their focus.

There is a Manipuri woman who has been fasting for the last 10 years here in India, but those who shed tears for Anna Hazare chose to ignore her and her cause. Why? Because she is not a proclaimed Gandhian and she is not from the mainland India. Her cause is often described as anti-India while what she fights for is justice to the common man. This proves that the Indian middle-class ignores everything that is propagated as anti-India. Their morale is not built around human values, but a pseudo-patriotic feeling. In their quest to bring “justice”, they do not care about the details of the human right fights. So they easily tag the fights of Manipuris as separatism, Binayak Sen for them is a naxal apologetic and every single tribal who complains against the government is a naxal.

What we see right now is a biased urban Indian middle-class fighting “their” cause and trying to downplay the larger issues exist in India. For some of them, it is just a passing-over exhibition that is inspired by the authentic fights of Egypt, Tunisia and Libya. An attempt to do a cinematic remake of these other movements worldwide. After all, our activism is always inspired by Bollywood (Munna Bhai style Gandhigiri, Rang De Basanti style candle light vigil etc) than life and it’s reality.

PS: After a fight that is said to bring more “power to people”, comes this comment from Shanti Bhushan – “Ultimately, the power is with Anna, so whatever Anna says has to be accepted.” Birth of new demi-Gods in Indian system?

Perks of brahminical upbringing

Hrishikesh Kanitkar has a calming presence on his surroundings. The way he bats, the way he leads his side out on the field, the way he stands in the middle, even the way he answers questions from the media. Everything he does is composed and collected, the mark of a traditional Konkanastha Chitapavan Brahmin upbringing.

From Abhishek Purohit, of ESPN Cricinfo. Offered without comments. (bold emphasis by me)

The Unreported World

I’ve just gone through a series of videos by Unreported World and two of them struck me so much because it was shot here in India. You MUST checkout their series of reports from world over and particularly the following:

The Broken People
“We’re forced to eat rats, because we cannot afford to buy food”

The Land of Missing Children

Racism and Casteism

Raped Dalit girl kills self as cops let-off the accusedThe girl was raped by an upper caste youth on February 12 in their village.

The above news item shows up in the front page of IBN website. Whenever such news come up, there is not much rage in Twitter or blogs like it happens when Indians are attacked in Australia. Not many are condemning Casteism, like they condemned Racism. Not many concerns of security and the criminals being left unpunished because this is just another day and just another news item in India.

When Australians attack Indians, it is seen as a racist attack. When Indians attack Indians, people insist that it should be seen purely based on the crime aspect that caste and class have nothing to do with it.

Such is our time.

What has made DHRM possible?

On September 23rd, a 61 year old ordinary citizen from Varkala went for his usual morning walk and was brutally killed by a group of militants with swords. By evening, the police arrested a member of DHRM (Dalit Human Rights Movement) in connection with this murder, which was followed up by the arrest of 6 others from the same group. The victim had no proven political links and the police stated that this murder was done by DHRM “to get public attention and to prove their strength in ranks“. Police also said that they are inquiring to see if DHRM has any terrorist links.

The obvious reaction of the public to all this was the utmost anger towards such outfits which use the measures of terror to gain publicity. But then I read this article in last week’s India Today (Malayalam edition) about the Varkala incident. I was surprised, because it is not in India Today’s nature to present a view that is contrary to the public opinion and I read that weekly for their local news section in the first couple of pages and then the ‘masala’ section in the last pages. Saritha Balan, a reporter of India Today (Malayalam edition) has written in detail about the backdrop of the murder in Varkala. She says it is important to ask how such an organization like DHRM could influence a majority of the Dalit communities in Ernakulam, Kollam and Thiruvananthapuram districts.

Highlights of the India Today report:

  • DHRM stood for the well-being of Dalits as per some of the residents of Dalit colonies
  • Hundreds of families in the Muthaana, Thoduve colonies are living without the basic facilities
  • There is not even one cent of land for one house in Thoduve colony, where there are more than 600 houses
  • A family has to live in a ‘house’ that we can hardly call a ‘room’ by the public measures
  • Even the primary education is luxury here
  • There is not even a radio set for ‘luxury’

DHRM came to the scene in such a situation. As per some of the colony residents, DHRM gave them hope and they taught them to live responsibly. Most of the Dalit men were under the influence of drugs and alcoholism but DHRM conducted study classes for them. Saritha reports that an 8 year old Sandhya told her that DHRM study classes ask the children to study well and look after their parents.

“My husband would drink all day and was a total waster,” 29-year-old Kochumol, a mother of three, says. “He turned a teetotaler after attending DHRM study circles.” Soon, she followed him to these Sunday gatherings where, over five hours, Ambedkar’s life would be recalled and advice given on daily affairs. Cultural shows at the end were a big hit. Despite their meagre earnings as wage labourers — they call themselves ‘coolies’ — everyone would gladly pay Rs 30 for the events. [via]

The India Today report also quotes the colony residents and says that Shivsena activists have been threatening them. We can understand the concern of the political parties here. Communists who have been benefiting from the Dalit communities in Kerala since a very long time would not like another outfit to take the leadership of Dalits and contest in the elections. BJP and Shivsena alike would not like such a Dalit uprising as they have been trying hard to place themselves as the alternate shelter for Dalits in Kerala.

The DHRM has a notable influence among the Dalit community and they have contested elections from Attingal constituency and won 5217 votes in the last parliamentary elections. The question to ask here in this context is, did they (DHRM) have to do such a brutal murder in order to get public attention? They were already popular among the community that they work with and would they go ahead and make such a stupid decision to kill someone and get negative publicity? If it is not the DHRM, then who did that brutal murder? The questions remain unanswered until the final verdict on the case comes out. The DHRM members say that they trust the judiciary like we do and they hope the real culprits would be sent to justice.

Also read:

What is DHRM and why do they kill?
Ambedkar’s Lost Boys?

(Image courtesy: Tehelka)

They love Dalits

It looks like the news of Dalits and Tribals forming a larger political alliance has got the Congress and Communist parties worried in Kerala. Tribal leaders like C K Janu and M Geethanandan have joined hands with Kerala Pulayar Maha Sabha (KPMS – a Dalit organization) to become a political pressure group in Kerala because they have understood that, in India you have to counter caste politics with caste politics. I could see some changes in the mainstream political arena after this news got out.

On the way to my office in Thiruvananthapuram district, there is a board with the headline that says, “Congress strengthens those who have been sidelined” and it shows a picture of party’s newly appointed KPCC General Secretary and former minister M A Kuttappan, who is a Dalit. Then comes the news of P K Biju, a Dalit youth, being appointed as the national president of SFI, the students of wing of Communist party. It is quite interesting, because people affiliated to the trade unions of all major political parties (Communists, Congress and BJP) were allegedly involved in harassing women, blocking food, medicines and other essentials of the protesting tribals and dalits in Chengara. And all of a sudden, they seem to love Dalits.