Looking Sideways

What does an idealist do when her maid refuges to take out the garbage (citing her brahmin caste)?

She hires, a willing, low-caste, part-time servant for that particular job. She observes and analyses, imagining her book when the former maid reminds each time her ‘higher birth’ over the later.

Foreigners who romanticize India and Indian traditions become so overwhelmed by all of it, that they tend to accumulate and display the telltale signs of India pathology called, casteism. When Miranda Kennedy writes in the guardian,

Reading them – “Brahmin girl, 23, from well-educated, traditional family. Pure-veg household. Girl is homely, slim and fair-skinned” – I tried to imagine the partnership that would result.

I wondered, what exactly made her pick a brahmin. Was it her fairly reliable producer, journalist eyes, that made her pick the most well-known indian social category abroad? (btw, I wondered the same when Amartya Sen, in “Identity and Violence” wrote among many of his identities “Non-Brahmin”), or simply she had started to accept the brahmins’ (if not the brahminical) view of Indian traditions.

Reading on, her years-long stay in India and the book “sideways on a scooter”, I doubt have anything insightful to offer.


Women’s reservation bill is threat to Subaltern’s political emergence

It is hoped that the International women’s day centenary will bring cheers as Women’s Reservation Bill is expected to be tabled in the Rajya Sabha on 8th March 2010. It is anticipated to be approved as Congress and BJP along with the Left parties have joined hands, which is one of the rarest alliance to witness in Indian democracy owing to different ideologies each one adheres to projects. They have gone to the extent of issuing a whip in order to ensure enactment of the bill. However, it is conspicuous that there is no consensus on such a prime bill. It has been vehemently opposed by SP, BSP and Janta Dal United. In spite of intense political rivalry among SP, BSP, RJD and Janta Dal, there is a thread of commonality that binds them together. These parties represent voices of the exploited and the oppressed, they struggle for restoring human dignity, social economic and political rights , and have affinities in their subaltern identities. So we must ask, why the political parties which have been engaged into fighting for the rights of the marginalised are opposing “progressive women’s reservation bill’ and why congress, BJP and left are united to vote for the bill? Why BJP which mobilised people against reservation for OBCs, is supporting it? Is it just because, as Virappa Moili said, ‘they owe the bill to their mother”? Its too intricate to answer. Therefore, it is of prime importance to analyse it on historical as well as contemporary social and political grounds and try to understand the subaltern perspective.

When the first Lok Sabha was constituted, there were 369 Brahmin members out of total 540, whereas currently in Lok Sabha Brahmins are merely 69 in number. This reduction of higher caste representation in the Parliament and increase in the number of representative of subaltern categories can be attributed to enhanced political awareness, participation in the democratic processes and successful political mobilization in the electoral politics. Building political consciousness, increasing electoral gains and ability to influence legislations of the subaltern parties are largely perceived to be threat not only to the long maintained political hegemony of the upper castes but also to their status quoist stands. The increase in the political clout of BSP, SP, RJD is evident from strengthening of the exploited sections of the society and consolidation of their electorate.

It would not be ironic to state that against this social and political background, mainstream parties have come together and planning to pass Women’s reservation Bill in the parliament. Otherwise, why BJP which was antagonistic to Mandal Report implementation makes passing Women reservation Bill one of its priority? Passing the bill in the existing format will have adverse implication to the women belonging to SC, ST and OBC communities. The representation to the women will be at the cost of not only quelling political aspiration of the SC, ST and OBCs but also at the cost of representation of the women belonging to oppressed section of the society. The bill also conveniently ignores three fold discrimination (caste, class and gender) that women belonging to SC, ST and OBC background face. Therefore, the bill is socially insensitive. Isn’t the opportunity for representation of the most exploited SC/ ST / OBC females desirable? The bill is considered to be a vehicle for the political participation of the women in the decision making. This definitely is empowerment of women but  it stops short of being holistic empowerment. On the contrary this will ensure empowerment of the women belonging to the privileged section of the society and deprive deserving SC/ ST / OBC women of the opportunity in such decision making roles.

Why the secular congress and the progressive left has failed to gauge such adverse implications on marginalised section of the society? Contrasting Ideologies may blur, weather, be compromised and even collapse, the way it is apparent from present Congress, BJP and Left political consensus, against the rights of vulnerable SC/ ST/ OBC women in general and exploited and marginalised section of the society in particular. It exhibits how do different political ideologies and parties complement each other in protecting privileges of the upper castes. The bill and the consequent political lobbing across parties and ideologies seem keener on arresting political and social juggernaut of subalterns by swelling upper caste women’s representation over the years in the parliament.

This is an alarming political and social indication to the parties like BSP, SP and RJD who have been fighting for subaltern voices. It is a threat to their emmerging political strength as it is likely to turn the clock back to higher parliamentary representation of Brahmins to 1951 first constituent election. Similar political arrangement is most likely to occur when question of empowerment of SCs/ STs and OBCs comes for deliberation in parliament like reservation in the private sector, radical land reforms; welfare expenses and subsidy; prevention of the atrocity act. Secondly, bill in the present form would further strengthen the dynastic politics in India giving opportunity representation limited to political families. Thirdly, it is most likely to bring in more elitist and urban biased in the democracy. Last but not the least, the overtly intolerant media over reservation to SC/ ST/ OBC is giving wider publicity to Women’s Reservation bill. It speaks volume about existing contradiction in selectively protecting rights and interest of the privileged, which is enough to sense all is not well .

Nilratan Shende
Research Scholar
Dept of HSS
IITB , Powoi.
Date: 8th March 2010

Chandamama Morality

Chandrabhan Prasad does an uncool somersault towards the end of his column. Just when you felt Mayawati deserved a place not just among the great social revolutionaries, but also in Madame Tussads wax museums, he flips like a trickster.

So why this chaste beating and all-round condemnation on Maya´s monuments? While two-facedness of the mainstream society is rather well known, the question remains, who advised Mayawati to put up her own statues? Maya in stones has robbed the living Maya off the moral mandate the UP society her accorded on her. What a monumental mistake.

It is easier to label Chandrabhan Prasad a saffron stooge, or S. Anand a caste-hindu after all (criticism to Anand in next post to keep this one short). I often do that. But nobody would waste one’s hard-earned credibility appearing overly credulous supporter of Mayawati/BSP, at least no one whose commercial viability depends on it. That strange self-righteousness is also reflected by people who consider themselves thoughtful participants of Dalit movements and extend moral support to BSP. So, instead of asking, “How can we extend (moral) support to (immoral/ridiculous/immodest) act of installing her own statues” we- the people of Chandamama morality – should ask, “is this really such a ridiculous/immoral/immodest thing?”

  • In every ceremony of laying a foundation stone or inauguration, the invited guest, almost always a caste-hindu, unveils a plaque that bears his/her own name- in bold, gold and most important letters.
  • There are at least two departments in IIT, Bombay, which were set up with the help of two alumni –caste hindus of course, which bears their own name. The students who pass out will bear their name throughout their lives, even when these two benevolent alumi cease to contribute both to their lives and to the departments. There must be thousands of such examples.
  • Many of the celebrities run foundations of some sorts of their own name.
  • There are numerous legends, stories, purans, where the gods themselves order the kings/queens/common people to build their statues and temples, in dreams or through the Brahmins.

I could go on. No one ever questioned these large scale self-promotion. Was it because the magnified proximal utility of the projects, where they stood a chance – however minuscule, – to be benefited, makes the immodesty invisible? What is wrong, if Mayawati wants to be remembered, for creating those monuments, not to mention the credibility to Indian democracy she brought, not in letters carved in stones but in statues. To me this uneasiness is very Brahminical, a moral set up by them, exemplified by them, which no one is allowed to break. We Dalit must let it go. It’s time to quit Chandamama.

Backstory of Statues

It is rather insipid, the incessant attack on Statues and Memorials, the newspapers telling us how many hundreds of crores are spent, as if the money is stashed away in the infamous “swiss banks”; how the CM’s pet projects never end, as if bridges and roads come up overnight in India-they rather go down; how the workers are paid minimum wage, as if there is a concept of ethical-structure/buildings in India; how some labourers died, thats serious i agree. The chattering class didnt just object the grand statues in lucknow because of the expenses, but also to the proliferation of blue jacket and glasses clad, constitution carrying Ambedkar statues all over India. This can mislead you, as to what are they really opposed to. I have tried to answer it in the light of BSP’s political strategy in this new blog Round Table.

But Chidambaram’s criticism was repugnant. To Chidambaram, I have this to say,

“Since no one will do it for a dalit, we got to blow our own trumpets. Since dalits don’t want to go to temples, we want to create our own pilgrim centers. Since this country hasn’t produced many wealthy dalit businessman and industrialists, we will use govt. money.”

And I am making a list of shamefuls in Indian politics.

Sharp Contrast

Indian express on a Dalit MP

Thirumavalavan is unlike the average Tamil politician.Even while addressing the lowest strata of society, this bachelor is always in black trousers with his shirt neatly tucked in.Besides his acerbic speeches, he writes extensively on caste issues and Lankan conflict. He maintains a blog that has links to his speeches hosted on YouTube. He has also acted in two movies, one incidentally as a Lankan militant.

It is called “subtle racism casteism of lowered expectations”.

Times of India on a Brahmin MP

The 36-year-old AICC secretary, who has also studied law, sailed through. “People told me to specify my community, Brahmin and all. But I never went on that approach. I advocated equal access to resources and maintained complete transparency. I think that worked,” says Meenakshi, who is part of Rahul’s core team.

Well, you know sweetie, just drop your caste name slyly enough on the front-page of a national newspaper and you wouldn’t have to  ‘specify’ it ever again. Besides, when did Brahmins ever have to specify their caste (isn’t it always all too apparent)? For them, always merit, transparency and all those self-righteous stuff works !!  Surprisingly, for others the same stuff don’t!!!

u pdate: some offending texts from original post are deleted.

Who are you kidding?

Ms. Sonal Shah, Obama transition team member, renounces her VHP affiliation in a statement given to NextGov and National journal.

In 2002, Gujarat suffered one of the most profound tragedies in its long history, when extremist political leaders, including some associated with the VHP, incited riots that resulted in the deaths of thousands. Had I been able to foresee the role of the VHP in India in these heinous events, or anticipate that the VHP of America could possibly stand by silently in the face of its Indian counterpart’s complicity in the events of Gujarat in 2002 — thereby undermining the American group’s cultural and humanitarian efforts with which I was involved — I would not have associated with the VHP of America.

Sadly, CounterPunch and Senator Santorum have suggested that I somehow endorse that violence and the ongoing violence in Orissa. I do not — I deplore it. But more than that, I have worked against it, and will continue to do so. I have already denounced the groups at issue and am hopeful that we can begin to have an honest conversation about the ways immigrant and diaspora communities can engage constructively in social and humanitarian work abroad.

Remember Graham Stains !! He was burnt alive along with his two boys of ages 9 and 7, in sleep. That was January 1999.  That was the crime of VHP and Co. she could not have missed.  It should have opened her eyes, if she was misled by the VHP of America. Because that was just one of the series of anti-christian (anti-tribal) violence that were happening long before that and still continuing  in Orissa, which drew national/International  condemnation.  And she raised fund for that.

Your renouncement Ms. Shah?  Its too little, too late.

Perspectives: Obama Moment

Obama certainly transformed political discourse throughout the world. In India, his election to the White house-the “Obama moment”, has become a comforting wish. For some, Obama represents a fresh breath in politics. His message of “Change” became an instant hit in the media, among youngsters. His unblemished rectitude, unquestionable academic career and previously-held university faculty position awestruck many. Many Indians and observers of India look forward to such a messiah, who would transform politics (for them), someone who would cleanse the political system(of politics and politicians-which they so hate). And they stop there, they look to Ratan Tata, Narayan Murthy with hope. It seems the elaborate resume and clean image of Prime Minister Manmohan Sing failed to precipitate ‘Obama moment’. I have serious doubt if these people understand what democracy is. Continue reading