Monday, November 16, 2009

[ZESTCaste] Feminism And Dalit Women In India

Feminism And Dalit Women In India

By Cynthia Stephen

16 November, 2009

Some Searching Questions

Indian women seem to be on a roll these days. Many important positions
are held by women – the President, CM of Uttar Pradesh, the President
of India's main ruling political party, and leading the main
opposition party in West Bengal; several women in the Reserve Bank,
ICICI bank and State Bank; our women sportspersons doing well in
several disciplines including "macho" ones like boxing, football and
weigh and power lifting; and several women including several of the
above and some NRIs figuring in international lists of "most powerful
women". But seen from another angle, India 's rankings on
international scales such as the Human Development Index (HDI), the
Gender Development Index (GDI) and the World Economic Forum continue
to drop steadily over the years. But the women's group continue to be
as active as ever, and women from India participate prominently in
international events and keep the flag flying. So where lies the rub?
Why are Indian women – despite very visible advances and many
activists and much enthusiastic promotion and empowerment-oriented
work - still not developing as they should?

As a whole-hearted participant and activist involved for about two
decades in the women's cause, one clear answer emerges to these
questions: that of leadership. The mainstream Indian women's movement
continues to be led by privileged dominant caste, upper-class, urban
feminists. The participation of women factory workers, dalit women and
urban poor are co-opted to make up the numbers. Overall, it has not
been very successful in capturing the imagination of wider society,
despite notable success in legal reform for women's rights, the
provision of some supportive services and to a certain extent in the
media – all areas of concern to the middle classes.

It is my impression that the Indian women's movement is in the
doldrums today due to the wholesale de-politicisation of the Indian
middleclass, one of the causes being globalization, which resulted in
the increased involvement of more and more numbers of professionally
educated young people from relatively privileged backgrounds who have
been hired to work on the women's issues which earlier used to be
groups led by affected women but (which have morphed into NGOs and
"research institutions" with international funding) and who are the
spokespersons for issues as diverse as girl child rights,
witch-hunting, dowry, pornography, HIV/AIDS, alternative sexualities,
etc – all of which are, in these post-modern times, seen as part of
the discourse on women's rights. In fact there has been some desultory
discussion around the subject of gender and how this concept has,
depending on how one looks at it, either widened the scope of the
debate or watered down the feminist agenda.

Thus, it is no longer considered desirable, or even politically
correct, to speak of access to basic health. It has to be couched in
language of sexual and reproductive rights. There is plenty of money
and media coverage for campaigns for redress to urban educated girls
who face violence at the workplace, but nothing, almost, for justice
to victims of caste-based atrocities faced by Dalit women, when they
are raped when working in the fields, but both kinds of violence are
lumped together under the term Violence against Women. I feel that
there is little willingness among feminists to acknowledge the reality
that violence faced by the middleclass woman is nothing compared with
the level and scale of structural violence that rural Dalits women -
the majority – face.

Dalit woman: the Perpetual Other?

I suggest that the widely held perception of the Dalit woman as the
OTHER is the distilled impact of centuries-long alienation generated
by ingrained patriarchal and Brahminical values at all levels in
society, which in turn causes the high level of exclusion, invisibity
and structural and domestic violence which is the experience of Dalit
women. Thus even among women, she is perceived as OTHER. She is at the
receiving end of a long, socially-engineered pecking order, which
asserts the relative 'superiority' of one category of human being over
another. She belongs to the 'lowest' category, as manifest in her
condition of total social, physical, economic and political

This is most clearly evident in the struggle for basic needs such as
food or water, and in the submission to sexual violence for the sake
of employment. Most Dalit families are landless and precariously
dependent on the dominant castes for wage labour. "There is no girl in
our cheri who has not been coerced or raped by the dominant caste men
when they go to the fields to fetch water or for work", confided a
young girl from Southern Tamil Nadu to a Dalit woman activist
recently. Which upper-caste young woman, rural or urban, has ever had
to brave repeated rape without to keep her family supplied with water?
And remember that week earlier in 2009 in which two horrendous tales
came out of, schoolgirls who died due to what happened in school – one
a girl suffering from asthma, student of an upper-crust institution
who died though she had received some basic treatment and taken to
hospital, and the other a little slum girl who died quietly at home
after being punished by her teacher to stand in the sun in the "murga"
position? Compare the media circus in one case and the almost total
silence on the other. The girl in the second story was Dalit, poor and
"beneath" general notice.

Hence there has to be an honest self-examination by the women's
movements about whether they can accept the equal partnership , if not
the leadership of women from grassroots Dalit (or adivasi or tribal)
backgrounds. Have they really tried to groom capable younger women
from the underprivileged, working class and Dalit and adivasis
sections for leadership? If so, have these women and affirmed
supported by those from more privileged backgrounds, and have they
accepted their leadership? If not, are they justified in their claim
to speak for all Indian women everywhere? Can they be exempt from the
criticism that they are as guilty of discrimination against their
sisters on the basis of caste and class as the society they are
attempting to challenge and change? If there is no real soul-searching
or an attempt to address the issue , there is every chance of the
women's movement becoming irrelevant, in the face of such developments
as the rapid spread of religious fundamentalism and jingoistic
nationalism in India in the present day, and especially as it is clear
that that they are also not fully in tune with the larger issues of
the marginalised women who form, with their children, the largest,
most diverse and underprivileged group in this country.

I disagree with the popular idea that in hoary past, matrilineal
social organisation was the norm among Dalits. The fact is that Dalit
women have been victims of patriarchy as much as other women, and
still suffer huge impediments to a peaceful existence, let alone the
full enjoyment of their human rights. Under the circumstances, it is
rare to see a Dalit woman in a position of leadership, whether in the
home, at work or in social or political institutions. It is therefore
inconceivable to the mainstream that a Dalit woman should have power
or decision-making authority, and be free to exercise it. Hence, even
if such she manages to attain such a position, it is a most vulnerable
position - Dalit women sarpanches in Panchayats face often face
humiliation, threats and physical violence, because the community is
unable to accept a Dalit woman as a leader.

The Case for a Dalit Womanism :

Dalit women constitute almost half of India 's 160 million Dalits,
comprise about 16% of India 's total female population, and 8% of the
total population. However, there is little understanding of the
economic, religious, political and ideological isolation of Dalit
women. This is certainly true of their experience in the mainstream
women's movements, where most of them feel disillusioned and

Despite having worked with several women's groups as an activist for
over 15 years, I had been instinctively uncomfortable with defining
myself as a feminist but never understood the reason for a long time.
But I found myself, surprisingly, recoiling from the term "Dalit
Feminism", and took time to understand the reason for this reaction. I
understood after some thought that it was because, what Feminism and
feminists in India engaged with was far removed from the lived
experiences of Dalit women. The agenda of feminism, as set by its very
well-known, senior and experienced leaders, had little, if anything at
all, to do with the lives of Dalit and other subaltern women. There
was also some literature on the term Dalit Feminism but this to my
knowledge did not ring true to type, not least because the one who
wrote it was not a Dalit woman. Add to this the stereotype among
scholars that Dalits are good at practical things like mobilizing
crowds but not very good at theorizing, vividly satirized and
categorized by Prof. Gopal Guru as "Theoretical Brahmin and Empirical
Shudra", in an article published in EPW many years ago.

But perhaps this exclusion of Dalit women from the mainstream women's
movement is not such a bad thing after all: it has caused them to
start building their own praxis, identity and agency, and build
effective working relationships and their own platforms.

What was clearly needed in its place is an articulation based on the
consciousness of the Dalit women themselves, their experiences of
suffering, exclusion and thrice-removedness - isolation by virtue of
gender, caste, and class – not to speak of religion, if one were a
Muslim or a Christian Dalit. We have a right to be seen not as objects
but as subjects, who have to play an active role in the attempt to
better their own lives. Our voices have been muted and our issues
obscured thus far. Our attempts to communicate about condition, in our
own language, using our own mediums have not been given the hearing
and audience they deserve. For instance, that their voice has to be
heard not only at decision-making levels in policies, programmes and
funding for projects for economic or social development but also in
questions of identity formation, in struggles for the entire gamut of
civil, political, economic and cultural rights and their fullest
participation at all levels of in the institutions of society at
large. We have a greater right to be heard than the privileged ones –
in fact justice and equity make it imperative that our voices be heard
and our articulations publicized.

In searching for this alternative, I discovered that black women had
had similar experiences in the US and Africa . So they came up with a
new term – womanism – to distinguish their struggles and experiences
and used in a way that may be seen as tangential to feminism. It was
one where women did not only see males as oppressors but also saw them
as victims – of racism. Soon Hispanic women in Latin America had also
found a term – Mujerita – to describe their own struggle for identity
apart from feminism which appeared to dominate the academy and the
movement for justice among women. And with a visceral rejection of the
oxymoronic term Dalit Feminism, I feel the best way to go for us is to
call our struggle Dalit Womanism. I now feel that this term is a more
appropriate term to use, though it is not very well-known in India
given the uppercaste - upperclass biases that tend to define the
discipline of Women's Studies in India and which has also appropriated
the discursive space offered by the term Third World Feminism.

The Dalit Womanist paradigm will be invested with its own meanings
from its own political and geographical location, just as
Black/African womanism is imbued with its own meaning. Dalit womanism
will be broad enough to include the experience not only of the Dalit
women in general, but also sensitive enough to provide space for the
expression of the diversity of the experiences of religious
minorities, tribal and ethnic identities who are presently termed
subaltern, and there can be no stopping the process. It will not only
build and shape theory, it will also learn to mediate the spaces as
well as build solidarity between itself and the existing Feminist and
Womanist thought and theory. It will also negotiate its differences
with and build solidarity with men from Dalit and other subaltern and
marginalised groups. Anyone who see the imperative need to change the
paradigms of society from a caste and patriarchy-dominated ethos
towards a more inclusive and equitable society will realize its

In the year 2006, just such an attempt was made in a two-day
consultation entitled "Dalit Women's Movements – Leadership and
Beyond" at the United Theological College , Bangalore . It was a
gathering of about 50 activists, students, and academics to think
together on the vexed questions of Dalit women's existence, and the
need to build a strong and vibrant movement around their cause, which
in many material terms differed from those of other women. Certain
important things happened: One, it was decided that a Solidarity
network of Dalit women be set up, called the "Dalit Women's Network
for Solidarity (DAWNS)"; two, a statement (hereafter called the DAWNS
Statement) was drafted and issued, and three, it announced the coining
of a new term, "Dalit Womanism", and explains the need for this new

The statement has been in the public domain since mid-2006, having
been posted on the website of the Women's Studies Department of the
United Theological College , Bangalore . . In its Preamble, it states:

"At a time when nascent movements of the marginalised are under siege
in India from the forces of dominant ideologies including Brahminism,
majoritarianism, and globalisation, we feel the need to affirm that
the voices of the marginalised and their aspirations should be
reflected in the rich tapestry that comprises the Indian nation. The
voices of the women and children of the populations which are pushed
to the margins are rarely heard – specifically, the Dalit women. This
consultation dedicated itself to bringing to the mainstream discourse
their voices, aspirations, and visions. As no one movement can
effectively reflect the specific issues and situations of Dalit women
whose situations vary widely across regions, states, languages and
religions, we welcome the trend of a growing number of movements of
Dalit women to take up issues and work on their concerns.

"Therefore, we have decided to come together as a Collective, termed
the Dalit Women's Network for Solidarity (DAWNS) . It will work to
strengthen the voices of Dalit women through building knowledge,
working towards ideological clarity, and highlighting the values,
visions and aspirations of Dalit Women. It will strive to put their
agendas in the mainstream, thereby giving a new shape and direction to
socio-political and cultural discourse. It is a conscious effort to
break the existing stereotype of Dalit women as mainly activists
(doers) who have little to contribute (as thinkers) to ideological
discourses in society, politics, governance, ethics, economics, and
development. To this end, it will network and dialogue with societal
change agents including academic institutions, trainers, NGOs,
Government institutions, and development groups. It will provide a
platform for solidarity on these issues to grassroots activists,
students and other civil society actors with a vision of a
gender-just, non-casteist and equitable society."

Running into five pages, the statement articulates the visions and
aspirations of the members, and describes the unique vision of Dalit
women who have decided that their experience within Feminism has not
been positive, and that the climate within the Dalit movements was
also not as favourable as they expected. Hence they feel the need to
come together to articulate their visions and build their own praxis
and theory:

- "We have been denied the right to articulate our own visions of
emancipation. Our energies have been co-opted to working out the
visions of dominant others who have shown scant respect for our
world-view or philosophy of life, by not enabling us to articulate
them or work towards achieving them.

- We value the solidarity and support of the larger movements in
society including the women's movements, and express our qualified
agreement with Feminist thought and activism. Feminism's construct of
a patriarchal, dominant 'male' and a subjugated female 'other' to the
male is necessary, but not a sufficient reflection of our realities.
We experience not just gender and class oppression, but also colour
and caste oppression. While our men do oppress us, even they
experience domination, which has its own impact on our experience of
"otherness". Many of us have opted out of the traditional dominant
religious framework and profess various faiths which are in a minority
in India , bringing in an additional dimension to our "otherness". Our
analysis or experience of society does not figure very strongly in the
existing Feminisms, even though there may be some common features with
say Third World Feminism or Black feminism or Womanism, which are
attempts to include women's experiences other than those of the
originators of Feminism.

Therefore, in all sincerity we feel the need to develop our own theory
and praxis that will work for us as the 'most' oppressed and
marginalized in a highly stratified society, as well as contribute to
the analysis of our society and ways to transform it. We therefore
feel that we need a new language to define this state of being. We
therefore coin the term Dalit Womanism to better define and understand
our lives, because it affirms us in a more holistic way rather than
the term "Feminism" which comes with a lot of baggage and which,
further, fails to be inclusive enough of our aspirations and concerns.

- Further, and even more significantly, we see a clear need to evolve
a new and creative form of mobilisation, which will be truly
representative of our aspirations, needs and visions for ourselves and
our community and society at large. This mobilisation will focus on
Rebuilding, Restoration and Reconciliation of all communities, and
especially of those which have survived oppression for centuries.

- It will be shaped by the Core Values of Equality, Complementarity
and Non-Hierarchy. We eschew the principle of Vengeance and affirm
that we need to work together for new forms of Equality. We also
reject existing models of leadership in which power is sucked away
from the people and invested in icons."

Thus, Dalit women are slowly attempting to come to grips with their
invisibility in the discourse, and are beginning not just to speak
out, but also to theorise and build wider solidarities so as to earn
the place, hitherto denied, under the sun.

Cynthia Stephen (

Nov 2009

The term womanist was coined by Alice Walker in 1983. See her book:
_In Search of Our Mothers' Gardens_(NY, Harcourt, 1983).
African-American historian Elsa Barkley Brown explains that feminism,
by its design excludes the experiences and histories of
African-American women. Feminism, as she argues, places priority on
woman, while womanism, defined as a consciousness, incorporates
"racial, cultural, sexual, national, economic, and political
considerations". The Womanism of the Dalits will be based on the
lives, experiences and consciousness of Dalit women, and include
solidarity with other excluded and marginalised groups.

The full document can be accessed at . Click on the
"dalit women" link.


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[ZESTCaste] Apex court asks Mayawati why her plot was not acquired

Apex court asks Mayawati why her plot was not acquired
Calcutta News.Net
Monday 16th November, 2009 (IANS)

The Supreme Court has sought Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati's
stand on a lawsuit by a resident of the state's Badalpur village, who
alleges that while his plot was acquired by the government, the plot
owned by Mayawati in the same village was exempted.

A bench of Justice H.S. Bedi and Justice J.M. Panchal sought
Mayawati's stand, issuing notice to her in her personal capacity and
not as chief minister. Notices were issued early this month to
Mayawati's father Prabhu Dayal and brother Anand as well.

On the lawsuit by Khazan Singh of Badalpur village in Gautam Budh
Nagar -- an Uttar Pradesh district adjacent to national capital New
Delhi -- notices were issued also to the state government, the Gautam
Budh Nagar collector and the Greater Noida Development Authority,
which had issued notification in June 2007 to acquire Singh's plot.

Singh has moved the apex court, challenging the September 2009 order
of the Allahabad High Court, upholding the state government's land
acquisition notification for the development of Greater Noida.

In his lawsuit challenging the notification, Singh has alleged that
the government is out to grab his 0.6410 hectare (around 7,000 square
metre) plot, while exempting Mayawati's land spread over 4,7433.36
square yards (39,369 square metre) where she is constructing a

The high court had dismissed Singh's lawsuit after the state
government and the Greater Noida Development Authority said the plot
belonging to the chief minister and her relatives were for residential
purposes and accordingly out of the ambit of the Land Acquisition Act.

Singh's counsel Ashok Mathur has contended that his client's plot is
also for residential purposes.

'This is borne out by the fact that Greater Noida Development
Authority has even fixed the circle rate of the area, where his land
lies, at Rs.8,000 per square metre. This clearly indicates the entire
land of the village has been considered as abadi (residential) land,'
said Mathur.

Complaining about the government's alleged bias in favour of the chief
minister, Singh said the government had gone to the extent of changing
the category of Mayawati's plot from agricultural to non-agricultural
to keep it out of the ambit of acquisition.

The conversion took place in May 2006, a year before the notification
to acquire land was issued, Singh said in his lawsuit.

Questioning the protection granted to Mayawati's plot, Singh has also
assailed the acquisition order on the ground that Badalpur village was
beyond the notified area of the Greater Noida Development Authority.

He has alleged that the authority has so far failed to develop 60
percent of the area it acquired after it came into existence in 1991.

Greater Noida Development Authority had issued the acquisition
notification of land in Badalpur in June 2007 under an emergency
clause. The Uttar Pradesh government wants to develop the area to
attract foreign investors to the region.

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[ZESTCaste] Understanding Existential Castes Through Atrocity Metrics (Anand Teltumbde)

Understanding Existential Castes Through Atrocity Metrics

By Anand Teltumbde

14 November, 2009

I make following five propositions:

• The classical caste system depicted by the four varna structure is
almost dead in India .

• The existent caste system in India is concentrated at the lowest
edge of the caste framework marking the division of caste and
non-caste people.

• While in urban areas the caste system operates as a system of
premium and discounts, its most insidious expression in the vast
countryside is caste atrocities.

• Caste atrocities are the best proxy measure of the operational
casteism and provide meaningful metrics to understand its contemporary
form and content. Ending them would effectively end the remaining

• Any attempt to present castes in a more complex manner amounts to
obfuscate their essential feature and only serves the interests of the
ruling classes.

Despite huge scholarly interest in castes since colonial times and
long history of anti-caste struggle, the discourse on caste still runs
in a stereotypical manner, taking them as amorphous continuum of
hierarchy, which is sourced from the Hindu dharmashastras. There is a
kind of romantic delight in amplifying the prowess of this vile
institution as defying the expectations of many, including the likes
of Marx, who expected that it would crumble under the onslaught of
capitalism and the forces of modernity.

The problem with this kind of understanding of castes is that it is
utterly useless in dealing with them excepting perhaps for academic
accomplishments and political opportunism. Firstly, such an amorphous
continuum is not amenable to break into the neat contending camps with
antagonistic contradictions, the resolution of which could be termed
as resolution of caste issue. Secondly, since this continuum is
supposed to exist with the religious authority of Hinduism, one is
misled to infer that unless Hinduism is destroyed, castes may not be
annihilated. Thirdly, the continuum, with its inevitable fluidity in
holding innumerable castes in hierarchy entails endless contention
between them and imparts it a kind of self-regulative perpetuity. And
fourthly, in dealing with them it impels people towards directionless
'social engineering' rather than aiming at revolutionary change that
this kind of deep rooted venom requires.

Castes are essentially hierarchy-seeking and hence pervasively
divisive. They cut across classes, tend to germinate reactionary
consciousness and hence cannot be used for articulating any radical
struggle. It is not to say that the caste struggles that have taken
place during the last century did not have radical content. They
indeed were waged with radical vision and even accomplished a
significant change in the lives of India 's shudras and ati-shudras,
the worst victims of castes. However, down the line, they entailed
rejuvenation of caste consciousness and enlivening of caste
identities, totally antithetical development as far as their avowed
objective of annihilation of castes was concerned.

In my analysis the main reason for this paradoxical result lay in
their lack of grasp of the essence of castes to begin with and the
failure to keep pace with their subsequent developments.

If we see through the brief history of encounters with castes, we get
varied conceptions of castes depending upon the intent of the definer:

Colonial rulers saw castes with their divisive potential and promoted
their conceptualisation in a manner in which India appeared sans civil
society and as a bunch of communities warring among themselves.
Towards this object, they built up huge information base through
district gazetteers from 1869, decennial census from 1871, provincial
statistics (1875) and encyclopaedic castes and tribes survey (1891)
that reinforced divisive consciousness among people. Anti-Brahmin
movement took castes as the contrivance of the outsider Aryan
conquerors, the ancestors of the present day Brahmans, for enslaving
native people and therefore targeted Brahmins and sought to discard
their customs and traditions. Dalit movement, particularly under Dr.
Ambedkar, while rejecting the racial theory of castes propounded by
the non-Brahmin movement and identifying the enemy in Brahmanism,
distinct from Brahman caste, along with capitalism as the contemporary
exploitative system, however came to the conclusion with regard to
castes that they were an integral part of the Hindu religio-cultural
structure and proposed renouncement of Hinduism to escape the caste
bondage. For the Communists castes were just a feudal relic, a part of
the superstructure, which would automatically vanish when the economic
base is changed through revolution. The contemporary Bahujanwadis (and
its offshoots such as Mulanivasis) look at castes as an asset to
mobilise the oppressed masses into a constituency of 85% to vanquish
the 15% upper castes.

All of these conceptualizations reflect varied degree of theoretical
confusion and miss out the essential character of castes. As a result,
while the non-brahmin movement and Dalit movement succeeded in some
degree in challenging the upper caste rule and alleviating caste
sufferings of the oppressed castes, they could not eliminate them
altogether. Castes have not only survived but have also grown in their
oppressive content.

Contrary to commonplace notion castes have been changing all through
history. One can easily note momentous changes in them during colonial
period, brought about by the imperatives of colonial rule. The
socio-cultural milieu of pre-colonial India principally shaped by the
family and kinship institutions that conditioned minds with a
religious and caste identity was severally impacted by the influx of
western liberalism, colonial culture and ideology. The early reforms
initiated by Warren Hastings, who was sent as the first governor
general of India by the British Crown in terms of Regulating Act of
1773, such as instituting private ownership of land and codification
of Hindu and Muslim laws according to their respective scriptures, had
vastly strengthened the upper castes. Integration of India into a
single politico-administrative unit and consequently institution of a
civil service, army, judiciary, etc. variously impacted the
socio-economic structure of the Indian society. Implementation of
uniform criminal law significantly weakened the caste panchayats.
Besides these and such other administrative changes, the advent of
capitalism during colonial times wrought significant changes in the
caste system.

It is true that unlike Europe capitalism in India did not have to
contend with feudalism; rather it saw feudalism as an important ally
in its supply chain. What however should be noted is that the upper
castes, mainly banias and Brahmins, from which the early capitalist
class (entrepreneurs and managers) emerged, largely lost the ritual
sense of hierarchy among them, which was characteristic of castes. The
capitalist culture certainly had a debilitating impact on the caste
culture and traditions of these communities leading to obliteration of
ritual notion of caste and promotion of social osmosis among them. The
capitalist class comprising entrepreneurs and managers belonging to
banias and Brahmins, and other business communities like Parsis,
Khojas and Bohras, largely overcome the classical caste hierarchy and
came closer as a class. They would however promote caste divide among
the lower castes, to keep their feudal allies in supply chain pleased
and to discipline the working class in their own establishments with
its fatalistic ideology and divisive ethos.

After independence, the bourgeois landlord state that came into being
in India adopted the modernist constitution. The constitution created
an elaborate structure of protective and development measures for the
dalits and tribals, the people technically outside the purview of the
caste system. The state settled for modernization because the feudal
classes also saw prospects for their advancement through it. The
Nehruvian modernist Project, significantly comprising Land Reforms and
Green Revolution, immensely enriched the traditional farming shudra
castes firstly by making them owners of land and thereafter bringing
them huge productivity gains. The erstwhile upper caste landlords
shifted to the urban areas leaving the villages under the lordship of
the shudra rich farmers. With their economic empowerment coupled with
their numerical strength achieved by consolidating all the middle-band
shudra castes, they soon became an important element in the political

In the context of castes, Green Revolution brought in capitalist
relations in the countryside through development of cash economy and
markets for agricultural inputs/ outputs and credit. On the positive
side for dalits, it broke the backbone of the balutedari system but on
the negative side, it abolished many of their traditional vocations.
Without any alternative means of livelihood, the dalits were
increasingly pushed to work on the shudra farms as landless labourers.
In absence of the traditional upper castes in villages, the baton of
Brahmanism was wielded by the neo-rich shudra castes sans cultural
sophistry of the former. They expected dalits to pay them obeisance as
they did to the upper castes in yesteryears. However, the
consciousness gained by dalits through their movement conflicted with
this expectation and contributed to building up grudge against them,
which could precipitate into atrocity with slightest provocation.

The shudra castes today dominate the political establishment of the
entire country and are fast coming up in entreneurship too. Although
the vaishyas and Brahmins may be very visible as leading the
capitalist establishment because of their first movers' advantage, the
shudra castes are fast catching up. The Gounders in Tamilnadu, a
traditional farming caste, creating a world's biggest knitwear
industry in Thirupur or the Nadars dominating the fire cracker
industry in Shivkasi and dominating the transportation industry, or
Marathas in Maharashtra controlling the sugar cooperatives and
education sectors or Patels in Gujarat becoming big businessmen and
industrialists are just a few examples. With their advancement in the
economic and political scale the ritual status of the shudra castes as
a classical inferior caste group has almost vanished.

The rise of the shudras has led to the emergence of regional political
parties by 1970s, which made politics fiercely competitive and
impelled parties to increasingly make use of caste and communal
identities. It culminated into formation of the first coalition
government at the centre in 1977 which changed the complexion of
politics permanently thereafter. The very discourse on backwardness of
the backward castes, reflected by Mandal Commission also is a product
of this process. This discourse could be clearly seen as responsible
for opening the floodgates of caste identities in the name of
backwardness. It is not that there are no poor or backwards among the
shudras. India where 78 percent people subside on the earning of about
40 cents a day and suffer various deprivations is naturally fraught
only with poor and backward people strewn across the castes and
communities. Caste however is not about secular poverty and
backwardness; it is about the socio-cultural, quasi-racial prejudice
against certain people.

Thus, there is no socio-cultural prejudice among the castes within the
formal caste system. If there is not enough intercaste transaction
among them, it is partly because of the cultural drag and partly for
the class difference. The caste prejudice however exists only against
dalits. The existent caste system therefore reduces to the divide
between dalits and non-dalits. While it is pervasively experienced by
dalits, its most menacing manifestation is seen in the form of
atrocities on dalits in rural areas.

The empowerment of the shudra castes and relative disempowerment of
dalits in countryside coupled with the latter's cultural assertion has
been responsible for caste clashes and caste atrocities. While dalits
were always wronged, the phenomenon of caste atrocities could be
marked by the increased power asymmetry between dalits and shudras in
villages by the late 1960s. O ne of the first grave atrocities took
place on 25 December 1968 in Keezhavenmani in old Thanjavur district
in which 44 dalits, mostly women and children were massacred by the
landlords and their henchmen. It was followed by spate of atrocities
all over the country. Initially, as even in Keezhavenmani, the
atrocities came as a consequence of class struggle waged by the
communist parties, firstly the parliamentary parties and later the
naxalites. After Keezhavenmani, it was Purnia in Bihar which saw the
first caste massacre in 1969. Then there were spate of killings all
over Bihar over three decades. It only stopped when Dalits began to
retaliate with the help of naxalites by the late 1990s.

Atrocities mirror the intricacies of social dynamics vis-à-vis caste.
As for instance there has been a qualitative difference between
atrocities earlier and now. Earlier, atrocities were committed as a
routine with an assumption of absolute right over Dalits, with no
sense of wrongdoing. Now atrocities are committed with a sense of loss
of that right, with a sense of being wronged. Earlier, atrocities were
committed in arrogance as Dalits would not speak out; now they are
committed in vengeance against Dalit assertion. Earlier, atrocities
were the manifestation of contempt for Dalits, today they are the
manifestation of resentment against the privileges Dalits get from the

There has also been a difference between the nature of atrocities
earlier and now. Earlier, they were committed as an integrated part of
the interaction between Dalits and non-Dalits and hence tended to be
casual, more of humiliating in nature than of physically damaging.
Today, they are far more violent and are in nature of vengeance or
punishment. They are therefore not only humiliating but also
physically destructive; far more brutal than before. Earlier,
atrocities were mostly committed by individuals, in a huff of rage.
Now they are committed collectively, somewhat in a planned manner, in
a mode of demonstrative justice; teaching a lesson to the entire
community. The increasing number of atrocities against Dalits in
recent years has been alarming enough but this change in their
intensity also is noteworthy.

Atrocities, data on which incidentally are maintained by the
government, can serve as the best proxy measure for the existent
casteism. The intensity of atrocities, the area in which they take
place, their frequency, their time series growth and even the data on
the subsequent process of justice delivery system provide good metrics
to understand castes and caste dynamics and for strategizing combat
against them. Many a myth gets exploded in their wake. For instance,
the myth that only the upper (brahmanical) castes are the oppressor of
dalits and in corollary the shudra (backward) castes are their allies;
the myth that economic development dampen castes, the myth that the
caste atrocities are the correlate of feudal economy, the myth of
representation logic dearly upheld by Dalits that if their caste-men
are represented in administration, the latter would take care of their
interests; the myth that atrocities are committed only on the weakest
of dalits, the myth that there exists a vibrant anti-caste Dalit
movement that is vigilant about the dalit interests, the myth that the
formal political opposition represents contradiction among the ruling
classes (castes) and which helps dalits in fighting their oppression,
the myth that political action of dalits is leader-centric, the myth
about the independence of judiciary and impartial media; the myth that
there exists a sizable progressive civil society, which is against
casteism and the greatest myth of state being the friend of Dalits or
at least impartial mediator between Dalits and others, had all
crumbled at Khairlanji, as variously in other atrocity cases. It held
out mirror before us and showed us what needs to be done. All
atrocities unambiguously exposed that casteism is no more confined to
civil society; it is well supported by the state apparatus, implying
thereby that the anti-caste forces necessarily have to deal with the
state too.

Given the obscure origins and the resilience of the caste system, the
viable strategy for combating caste could be seen in curbing its
manifestation. In contemporary times, atrocities being the most
dominant manifestation of castes, the strategic focus should be to
arrest atrocities. As seen before, the root cause for atrocities is
the growing power asymmetry between dalits and non-dalits in villages.
It may be interesting to recall that more than seven decades ago Dr.
Ambedkar, while explaining the rationale behind his declaration to
renounce Hinduism to his vanguard activists in 1936 had exclusively
focused on the issue of atrocities and diagnosed exactly the same
thing. He proposed the solution in terms of supplementing
dalit-strength by merging dalit community with some existing religious
community through mass conversion. Although his religious conversion
in 1956 did not confirm to this prescription, the futility of
communitarian solution or religious conversion is not difficult to
see. In the then communally charged atmosphere, it might have been
thinkable to speak in terms of communitarian solution, but today when
the classes have sprouted out of the bellies of each caste, they would
be utterly useless. The power asymmetry between dalits and non-dalits
can be effectively overcome only by their class unity with others,
transcending the caste idiom. While it may appear as the distant dream
to many today for historical and other reasons, it is the only
effective solution to the caste problem worth pursuing. The initiative
in this respect shall have to be taken by the Left forces. The
beginning can always be made if they join dalits with ideological
clarity in retaliating atrocities. As the experience in Tsunduru and
the Gaya-Aurangabad belt indicated, retaliation is the only effective
way of curbing the atrocities and in turn castes. The shockwave
created through it can not only deter the perpetrators of crime but
also detach the oppressed masses of the shudra castes from them. The
same can also impel desired cultural change and accelerate class unity
of the oppressed masses across castes.

Contrary to commonplace view, the problem of castes has become much
simpler today than ever before. The existential castes are confined to
a divide between dalits and non-dalits, quite like the racial divide
between blacks and white or the class division between capitalists and
proletariat. No time in history, castes rendered themselves as easy
for combating against as they do now. The historical project of
annihilation of castes is accomplishable now, provided the forces
swearing by it are ready to act.

Dr. Anand Teltumbde is a Mumbai based human rights activist and writer
on the issues related to peoples' movement.


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[ZESTCaste] Promotion list for SC/ST power engineers

Promotion list for SC/ST power engineers
TNN 16 November 2009, 06:01am IST

LUCKNOW: With UP Power Corporation Limited (UPPCL) finally releasing
the seniority list for promotions, stage is set for promotion of large
number of engineers belonging to SC/ST category.

Glad with the move, the UP power officers association comprising
engineers from the category thanked the chief minister for paying
attention to their plight. "UP has become the first state in the
country where a list of promotional seniority has been released,'' the
association said in a statement.

Official sources said that the finalisation of the list comes within
days of departmental promotion committee (DPC) meeting to decide the
fate of engineers. Sources said that as many as nine DPCs were held
before the UPPCL finalised the list.

Sources in Lucknow Electricity Supply Administration (Lesa) said that
about three dozen assistant engineers are set to be promoted to the
level of executive engineer in the days to come.

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[ZESTCaste] Two faces of English

Two faces of English
Pramod K Nayar / DNA

Sunday, November 15, 2009 3:15 IST

That English is a unifying and divisive factor is something we have
all recognised. The nature of the accent sets you apart in terms of
your ethnicity, race and nationality, and the prose style can locate
you within a distinguished tradition. Alok Mukherjee's book This Gift
Of English is an ambitious attempt to map the shifting politics of
using the English language in India.

Mukherjee opens with his personal story: of how he came 'into'
English, his studies, and research, all the while arguing that his is
a symptomatic case. He presents, via his own experiences, the
dissemination of English literary studies in 1960s and 1970s India --
the period of the great 'modernisation' of the country. He then
outlines his theoretical framework, adapted from the work of
sociologist Pierre Bourdeiu and the Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci.

In order to map the early moments of English education in India,
Mukherjee does a time-shift into the 19th century. He examines the
Anglicist and the Orientalist debates: whether English alone is
necessary -- as the Anglicists believed -- or should the vernaculars
also be encouraged, as the Orientalists argued. Mukherjee proposes
that English language arrived in India as a means to create Babus for
the empire.

It was to aid in the training of Indians to think and administer like
the British, and thus extend their hegemony over the subcontinent.
Interestingly, the Englishmen were supported in this project by select
sections -- mainly Brahmins and upper classes -- of Indians
exemplified by people like Raja Rammohan Roy. Mukherjee suggests that
these sections of Indians saw in English a chance to enforce their own
dominance over their fellow countrymen.

That is, English was seen as an instrument of social power and
dominance by both the British and the native elites. The enforcement
of English values was to be achieved through a study of English
literary texts. These were read through the aesthetic and critical
prisms developed by Europeans, where both the frameworks and the texts
were distant from the students' daily lives and cultures.

Turning to post-Independence India, Mukherjee argues that the
stranglehold of the elites over social and cultural realms was
facilitated by the use of English. Reading the autobiography of CD
Narasimhaiah, the doyen of English studies in India, Mukherjee argues
that this generation of English teachers was attempting a
Sanskritisation and Hindu-nationalist appropriation of English. He
also notes that this begins to change in the 1990s when affirmative
action enables Dalits to enter the university and acquire English.

This brings Mukherjee to his key argument. In the post-Independence
era, English is the language of emancipation and hope for the Dalits
who, for a long time, have been denied access to any instrument of
power. Using the works of Dr Ambedkar, Kancha Ilaiah, Sharan Kumar
Limbale and other Dalit writer-activists as examples, Mukherjee argues
that the Brahmanical dominance that was achieved through English is
beginning to erode.

However, Mukherjee is also quick to add that the adoption of English
cannot be a mindless acceptance of the 'West', as he sees some Dalits
like Chandra Bhan Prasad doing. As Mukherjee puts it, such a
glorification of the West in Prasad puts him "in the company of the
early high caste Hindu proponents of English education."

Mukherjee's is a useful historical account of the way English has
arrived and spread in
India. He is right to point to English as the language of emancipation
and empowerment for Dalits.

Those who moan the disconnect between their 'local' cultures and
languages when Dalits take to English -- a common feature of social
commentary today -- are in fact proposing a ghettoisation: that upper
castes will keep English and the Dalits will keep their local
languages. This hierarchy has to be broken and, as Mukherjee shows,
English is a means to achieve this dismantling.

Mukherjee is also critical of the use of English in the present
context which "produces an army of workers for the multinational
corporations, such as call centre operators, computer program writers,
journalists and middle managers."

This, he claims, is reminiscent of the early stages of English
education in India where colonial and indigenous elites used it to
reinforce their hegemonies. This is a harsh indictment of youth and
workers who need English to survive in contexts not of their choice or

If I might intrude a personal note, I have heard Professors of English
make disparaging remarks about 'accent training' for call center
workers, all the while ignoring the fact that these critics have made
their fortunes teaching certain accents and writing textbooks on
'English language teaching', but would hypocritically deny this act
born of economic necessity to the new generation.

This Gift Of English demonstrates how English becomes a double-edged
sword, for dominance and emancipation, for the hierarchic organisation
of society, and for dismantling hierarchies. Anybody interested in the
history of the language, or its literature in India and the cultural
politics of education will find Mukherjee's book a useable starting

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[ZESTCaste] Mayawati defends statues of Dalit icons

Press Trust Of India
Noida, November 12, 2009
First Published: 19:16 IST(12/11/2009)
Last Updated: 19:49 IST(12/11/2009)

Mayawati defends statues of Dalit icons

Unfazed by ongoing cases in the Supreme Court on the issue, Uttar
Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati on Thursday said the controversial
memorial for BR Ambedkar and BSP founder Kansi Ram being built in
Noida was a symbol of respect for the Dalit icons who fought against

"Keeping in mind the sentiments of the people of western UP, a
memorial is being constructed in Noida as a mark of a respect for
great leaders and saints who have fought throughout their lives
against inequality and casteism," Mayawati said.

She also charged successive governments in the state with "ignoring"
the contribution of such people.

The BSP chief was speaking to the media after inaugurating the
extension of Delhi Metro service to Noida.

The Centre had recently told the Supreme Court that there was no need
for environmental clearance for the controversial project of UP
government for building memorials and statues of Dalit icons,
including Chief Minister Mayawati, in a park in Noida.

The Centre had earlier opposed the Rs 650-crore project on
environmental grounds.

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[ZESTCaste] BSP releases list of Legislative Council candidates

BSP releases list of Legislative Council candidates

Press Trust of India Posted online: Monday , Nov 16, 2009 at 0630 hrs
Lucknow : The ruling Bahujan Samaj Party has declared the names of its
candidates for all the 36 seats of the UP Legislative Council from the
local body constituencies.
According to a release issued by the party, prominent among those who
got the party ticket are Manoj Kumar Singh from Faizabad-Ambedkar
Nagar seat, Dr Swadesh Kumar from Agra-Firozabad, C N Singh from
Pratapgarh, Hargovind Singh from Barabanki, Kailash Nath Yadav from
Azamgarh and Mau, Ganesh Shankar Pandey from Gorakhpur and
Maharajganj, Jayesh Prasad from Pilibhit-Shajhanapur, Jitendra singh
Yadav from Badaun and Rakesh Singh from Sitapur and Sanjeev Dwiwedi
alias Ramu Dwivedi from Deoriya.

CM Mayawati has given clear instructions to the party functionaries to
remove all such workers who are not active in the party. Earlier, the
CM held a meeting with the party functionaries on Sunday.

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[ZESTCaste] Dalit girl gangraped in Balasore

Dalit girl gangraped in Balasore
TNN 14 November 2009, 09:59pm IST

BALASORE: Tension gripped Balasore's Nilagiri area after a Dalit girl
was allegedly gangraped and murdered on a temple premise here. A
police squad rushed to the spot on Saturday and has started
investigation into the incident.

The body of Swarnalata Dalai (23), daughter of Bhagaban Dalai of
Banpur village within Nilagiri police limits was found inside the
temple campus on Friday evening. Her family said, she had gone to
fetch water from the temple tubewell.

"When she did not return home, we started looking for her. I found her
lying dead in the temple campus. We suspect some people hidden inside
the temple raped and killed her by suffocating her with her chunri,"
her father Bhagaban said.

Following complaint police have started investigation. "From the
condition of the body, it seems the girl has been raped and then
killed. Her clothes were torn and there were injury marks on her neck
private parts. Semen stains were also found. So it can be said a case
of rape and murder," additional SP (Balasore) Ramesh Sahu said.

Sahu said the post mortem report is awaited. "We are yet to ascertain
whether it was a gang rape. We are interrogating local people and some
students of a mess. No one has been arrested," he said.

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