Jai Bhim in the times of Jai Ho and Jai Shri Ram

Remember, Willie Wonka and the chocolate factory? Or any one of those fascinating childhood visits to the biscuit factory or to the hand-woven carpet workshop? So, here’s your golden ticket to visit the critical, reflective workshop where ideas, issues, events are all spun into stories, you read every month.
This month too, like every month, it all started with us bouncing ideas off each other. Most of the times, aft er a little bickering, we come to a certain consensus, in terms of structuring the issue (it helps that we all share similar fundamental sensibilities, mostly). However, this month, the little bickering turned out to be an exhilarating exercise on methods of thinking, reasoning, analysing, concluding, story-telling… The idea was to analyse the socio-economic politics of Dalit issues in India, and although we agreed unanimously on our historical, ideological, cultural and political failings and the constant and crucial need to bring the ‘other’ narrative into our everyday consciousness, the debate that ensued raised many more fundamental issues of iconography, ideological trappings, macro and micro narratives and the ideal premise and perspective of reporting the past, analysing the present and predicting the future.
In between the passionate, enraged exchange of emails lies a fascinating and crucial discourse on how to look at, interpret and assimilate the world around us and hence, this month, the making of the story is the story itself.
I am writing this short note from the middle of the dense Sal forests of Madhya Pradesh, and the forest guide tells me, that these trees which seem to touch the skies and live for hundreds of years have roots which go twice as deep into the earth… Standing here, I realise that every idea, every story which grows upwards, and lives for a long time has to share this deep, deep organic bond with the ground they stand on, or they wither.
The story that follows is also an ode to the magical, deciduous forests… hope you enjoy the safari…
Pritha

An Exchange of Mails

Hi Saswat,
Was thinking if we could explore some of the issues of dalits in the country for the next issue…
Any ideas on how we can structure it…
Regards,
Pritha
Hi Pritha,
That’s a wonderful idea. A much needed, much relevant… And high time.
Before I throw open topics, here is what I would preach: Let’s not make it a pro-dalit/anti-dalit thing at any point. So yes Mayawati is at times evil and yes reservation is not the solution and many more such, but when you take up a theme that deals with a certain “minority” (political, gender, religious etc), there is no need to browbeat them any further. They have their own problems already to deal with in the outside world. In the present context, it would mean let’s not carry a comparative picture of Gandhi and Ambedkar and then justify why Gandhi was the Mahatma. In fact, quite the contrary… Let’s not prevent someone from painting Ambedkar as a bigger hero, without necessarily disparaging Gandhi. Gandhi can – and should be humanised though when it comes to the dalit history of India… the inimitable Hiren Mukherjee had delivered a couple of speeches relating Gandhi with Ambedkar which I have and if possible, we should publish excerpts from those.
The same goes for Mayawati. Whether or not we like her is immaterial. The truth is, she is the most formidable voice of the dalit/bahujans today in the world. And she deserves a special space in the issue simply for that reason alone. So either we should aim for a friendly interview – on general history of political solidarities, on Kanshiramji etc, or a favourable piece written by an expert (certainly by a social scientist rather than by a politician). There are tons of worthy criticisms of dalit communities, but we should leave them to do that self-criticism. As upper caste Hindus, our business is to look inside our own homes. So if we do an issue on them it should never sound condescending, patronising, or critical. It is a delicate issue, to say the least. We could write on dalit literature, dalit feminism, dalit environmentalism, pan-dalitism, dalit panthers, dalit mainstream politics, dalit student unions, dalit reservations. Certainly critiquing the Left vis-a-vis its Dalit stands. See, Gandhi wanted everything best for the dalits, except he was not letting go of his own religious heritage either. So if a separate piece on Gandhi were to be written, an informed criticism is a requirement if it appears in a dalit issue.
And before I forget, do not profile Mahasweta Devi as having anything to do with dalit feminism or environmentalism or education. She might be living in rural hinterlands writing about the downtrodden, but that’s not remotely what it is to be a dalit. I know, you know, but just needed to say this.
Try a profile of Savitribai Phule instead.
Lastly, pan-dalitism is an important component we should address. Ambedkar himself had felt the need for it. Racially oppressed people worldwide are the same. W.E.B. DuBois is a great reference and John Henrik Clarke was the greatest later on. Neither of them are alive, but I could try interviewing Sister Sybil Williams-Clarke for this issue if you want. She is the strongest force behind the rise of the much loved Dr Clarke, a phenomenal pan-Africanist and she is one of the elders who can speak on the need for the global indigenous to unite. I could also interview Dr Les Edmond, another pan-Africanist who was the master of ceremonies of the first and only meeting of the pan African organization Malcolm X founded before his death. These are people who think dalits in India are the Africans…somewhat controversial, but from a political perspective, entirely accurate. And in fact many dalit movements in India have grown aft er they were introduced to pan-Africanism. Likewise, across borders, pan-dalit feminism refl ects in organizations such as EDWON (Empower Dalit Women of Nepal).
Anyway there are so many aspects… and the tough decisions are yours to make…
Regards,
Saswat
Saswat,
Hmm… yes… there are tough decisions to be made…
Even though most of what we’ve discussed are on the lines of what you’ve suggested (Ambedkar as the greater hero, dalit representation in the polity and local governance, reservation issues etc), there are a few contradictory views, regarding Mayawati’s role as well as the role of the Left …
For e.g., most people think we should call the issue, ‘The Great Dalit Sharks’ and look at how Mayawati and some others have hijacked the real dalit issues… also, regarding the role of the left , there is a view that the Left was the greater champion… who worked for dalits even before Gandhi did.
Pritha.
Pritha,
You thought I would not have guessed it? That’s precisely the reason why I emailed you all those points to begin with. If you notice my earlier email, my points are coherent together. Meaning, one argument supports another. not to sound too harsh but your projecting Mayawati as the “Great Dalit Shark” and what-not, is a direct insult to most dalits. Do you really think when you say “most people” view Mayawati negatively, are they actually from Dalitstan, or are they just random upper caste left wing intellectuals from Kolkata? Can you just wear the dalit shoes and then look at the audacities of people who claim that Left was a greater champion than “even before Gandhi”? Neither the Left nor Gandhi had anything to do with dalit movements. Do you think the dalits needed some kind of upper caste help to make sense of what they wanted? They have led scores of revolutionary movements all along – against their own native rulers, against the upper caste landlords, against the British (not so much though, wonder why?). The Indian institutionalised Left came to being after Gandhi had learnt bitter lessons in South Africa. In any case, who cares if Gandhi or the Left helped the dalit cause or not? Does it even matter? Th e only reason why the Left can be mentioned in this issue at all is to indicate why the Left is so fucked up in its privileges so as not to be able to sway the kind of people it should have been aligning with all the time. Otherwise the Left can go to the garbage bin for all I know. Think of this…we had a Left issue recently, did we call Jyoti Basu names? For the sake of logic, do you really think all our communist leaders have followed the Communist manifesto? Quite the contrary, our Left ist leaders have been criminally opportunistic in getting rid of Maoist comrades, in aligning with Manmohan Singh on various core issues, in even aspiring to help sustain the kind of phony democracy India is today. And you are accusing Mayawati of hijacking the dalit issues? How about Arun Shourie writing a biography on Mayawati then? I am not being sarcastic at all. Why are upper caste Hindus so insecure about a dalit woman’s rise to power, glory and yes, personality cult. What is so damn wrong in personality cults? It is all fine when Gandhi and Subhas Bose have one. Or when Indira Gandhi has one. Why is Mayawati being singled out? Clearly not because she is “corrupt”, a convenient word that we know, can be selectively employed as a political tool to defame those we disagree with.
And what the f is a dalit shark? Of course, UP is the izzat of India and it’s screwed up by the dalits today. Why do you think UP has had the most number of governor’s rule there? When was the last time we called the “Great Brahmin Sharks” to describe over 90% of our prime ministers and presidents in this country? None of them was sacrosanct and we all know that. If India is such an inhumanely pathetic state today, it surely is not due to Mayawati wearing a garland of her supporters’ currency notes. In Orissa, there are over a hundred statues of Biju Patnaik. All over India there are thousands of statues of all kinds of politicians whose analysis can put us to shame. Why are we so resistant towards Mayawati’s rise? Surely she has not divided India up along caste lines… that is an utterly hilarious claim. You see, I could write a book depicting how villainous Mayawati is. But I could write another one about any other Indian chief minister as well. Except that unlike any other leader, Mayawati has singlehandedly awakened the political consciousness of the dalits to emerge as a force to reckon with. Really ask yourself, if not for Mayawati, would we be doing an issue on the “dalit movement” at all? She has forced us all to rethink our privileged roots and not on our terms. I remember how students in UP boycotted mid-day lunch when they discovered that the cook was a dalit. Their parents made a protest and immediately the next day the cook was changed, the school apologised and it all happened while Mayawati was the chief minister. As a country we have been unable to accept that we are racists to the core. We expect people from lower strata to gain power, yes, but yield to us when we demand it. We can accept Mayawati within the limit we set. She cannot transcend that. It’s not that she is corrupt that we are calling her a shark. It’s because she is a dalit woman who dared to adopt our upper caste indulgence that we call her a dalit shark.
Pritha, you are privileged at several levels, true. But you are oppressed at several others as well. As a woman, would you rather have your story told by yourself and other women who have gone through the struggles you have gone through, or you would rather have them told via well-meaning progressive men who have never experienced what a period is or what childbirth feels like? Sure Indian women’s rights movement has Raja Rammohan Ray as the biggest name, but isn’t that actually a ridiculous irony?
We have to get used to Mayawati and the likes of her already. Whether or not we like it, dalit student associations are going to give the left student unions some hard-hitting reality checks. Indian corporate media is full of brahmins trying to project what is good for Uttar Pradesh and Orissa and Jharkhand. It’s high time we got used to listening to dalit voices. Besides, they are not waiting to be educated by us upper caste folks about what is a true dalit movement. They are part of one already. They may not be doing everything right. They lack experience in managing the Indian democracy. It never was their historical vantage point. They will become corrupt and get exposed for every cheap interaction. They have not managed to sharpen their skills yet. Yes give them another fifty years and they will be adept at Indian politics like most of us are. Give them another fifty and they will even become the corrupt bureaucrats and start depositing in foreign accounts. But we got to give them those hundred years because they totally deserve entry into our filthy elite corrupt club. The way we have accepted our corrupt leaders, we have to accept their corrupt leaders. Yes, Mayawati deserves an attack in an issue on corruption where she will find place with other corrupt chief ministers of India. But in an issue celebrating dalit lives, let’s not preach how she, their behenji, is not dalit enough.
I don’t think men should be telling women if abortion should be legalised or not…
Regards,
Saswat

At this point Parnab Mukherjee,Kindle’s Roving Editor comes in aft er reading Saswat’s defence of Mayawati. Read on.

Hi Pritha,
This is where we get it wrong… I am Pro-Mayawati and firmly so (passionately so)… but there are two stances to this approach (and that is not the corruption approach)… and yes only two stances – one her ideological failing about identifying the iconography of the dalits, and the other- has she bothered about the micro-narratives? When you look at the passive resistance history in India, Gandhi is an important pivot but it is his foot soldiers and their impact which we don’t discuss. How much have we discussed Thakkar Bapa, how many economics teachers at the undergraduate level or any level bother to discuss J.C. Kumarappa, or how many chroniclers of Ambedkar , Phule, Periyar, Naryana Guru have bothered to get into a mass-oriented approach of deconstructing the rich lives of Uda Devi, Mahaviri Bhangi, Jhalkari Bai, Bijli Paasi, Sant Ram Udaasi, Daldev, Baldeo, Shambook from the Ramayana, Lochan Mallah, Samadhan Nishad, Avanatibai Lodhi, Ahilyabai Holkar. Let us look at a list. This incomplete list of Dalit suicides in premier national institutions reveal another kind of deep-seated prejudice that lead to the train of tragic suicides:
• M. Shrikant, final year, B.Tech, IIT Bombay, Jan 1, 2007
• Ajay S. Chandra, integrated PhD, Indian Institute of Sciences (IISc), Bangalore – August 26, 2007
• Jaspreet Singh, final year MBBS, Government Medical College, Chandigarh, January 27, 2008.
• Senthil Kumar, PHD, School of Physics, University of Hyderabad – Feb 23, 2008
• Prashant Kureel, first year, B.Tech, IIT Kanpur, April 19, 2008
• G. Suman, final year, M.Tech, IIT Kanpur, January 2, 2009
• Ankita Veghda, first year, BSc Nursing, Singhi Institute of Nursing, Ahmedabad, April 20, 2009
• D Syam Kumar, first year B.Tech, Sarojini Institute of Engineering and Technology, Vijayawada, August 13, 2009
• S. Amravathi, national level young woman boxer, Centre of Excellence, Sports Authority of Andhra Pradesh, Hyderabad, November , 2009
• Bandi Anusha, B.Com final year, Villa Mary College, Hyderabad, November 5, 2009
• Pushpanjali Poorty, first year, MBA, Visvesvaraiah Technological University, Bangalore, January 30, 2010
• Sushil Kumar Chaudhary, final year MBBS, Chattrapati Shahuji Maharaj Medical University (formerly KGMC), Lucknow, January 31, 2010.
• Balmukund Bharti, final year MBBS, All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), New Delhi, March 3, 2010
• JK Ramesh, second year, BSc, University of Agricultural Sciences, Bangalore, July 1, 2010
• Madhuri Sale, final year B.Tech, IIT Kanpur, November 17, 2010
• G. Varalakshmi, B.Tech first year, Vignan Engineering College, Hyderabad, January 30, 2011
• Manish Kumar, IIIrd Year B.Tech, IIT Roorkee, February 13, 2011
• Linesh Mohan Gawle, PhD, National Institute of Immunology, New Delhi, April 16, 2011
If we study each of these micro-narratives (be it the list of Dalit icons or that of students who took away their own lives), what would reveal all by itself is much more than a mere documentation or an anthropological collage, Th e powerful human testament that would emerge needed a much bigger manifestation. Be it a series of publications by the Uttar Pradesh government, be it a special memorial tablet (inside parks dedicated to the dalit cause) recording the names or be it a comprehensive magazine/ journal for the Dalits.
A record of these testaments would free our history of the binary-which specify whether it is the readings of the official leftists or a small group of informed rightists as both these categories have unwaveringly converged to spin a yarn of ideological convenience.
So, whether you look at Dalit heroes or Dalit suicides… these narratives must be put into public domain. Who better to do the job than a Dalit-led government in India’s biggest state? The failure to do that, yet reaping the fruits of that ideological convenience, makes Mayawati a shark in her own way. And the writing on the wall is clear to see. Look at the way, a number of smaller Dalit parties dot the UP horizon: Bahujan Sangharsh Party (Kanshi Ram), Ambedkar Samaj Party, National Democratic Revolutionary Party, Indian Justice Party, Welfare Party and Ambedkari Mahasabha. Now, don’t look at these names from the prism of seats and percentage of votes polled in the UP elections. But, the existence of the parties has busted the myth that the Dalit votes consolidate under the Mayawati umbrella. And then there is the brewing discontent among the Jatav community, who believe that the election engineers of BSP are so busy forging a nexus that they have forgotten the roots. One must understand that both Kanshi Ram and Mayawati (his chosen successor) began their journey from the Jatav/Chamar route and the sarvajan approach of Behenji results in misreading of the political climate including decisions like amending a major provision of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 (which needed a prima facia evidence of guilt before lodging an FIR) or a complete mis-reading of the ground situation and effects of welfare schemes on Muslims..
In my two-decade career in theatre and journalism, I have WORKED and that taught me much more WITH Dhasal (the man himself )….WITH groups working on PHULE… and I realise the Namashudra Movement in Bengal… the brilliant tea tribes of Assam… the dalit assertion in Manipur, Mizoram, Manipur are completely undocumented.
WHY?
Is the north east such a pariah that an armchair intellectual like Kancha…a dalit seller like Anand Teltumbde will not write about the north east? Why does their seminar tourism not take them to Karbi Anglong, Kokrajhar, Diphu (these places are in INDIA) and find out how dalits live (just how they live)… how the north Cachcar hills from Assam brings out a brilliant magazine on dalit assertion called ‘The Hudaang’… Don’t mistake a Shambuk killed by Ram as dalit assertion to stand up to the arrows… let’s go more. I am an idiot and a far lesser intellectual than any contributor in Kindle (theatre to me… which also I do in a fairly clumsy manner is an assertion but let’s not get into verbal gymnastics) but here are some facts:
1. In the 11th plan Rs 1,00, 215 crores has been denied to Dalits OUT of an allotment of Rs 11,99, 944 crores, as was recently analysed and brought out in a pathbreaking report by theNational Campaign on Dalit Human Rights… why this differential treatment?
2. Why are micro narratives of dalits ignored? Why is the super sprawling park in Lucknow shorn of micro narratives?
3. Dalit poetry, for example Samir Tanti of Assam (Dhasal has been done to death by EVERY dalit forum… I have worked extensively on Dhasal and Dhale, the two vanguards of DALIT panther movement… how about Samir Tanti… Sananta Tanti… Goggu Shymala (Andhra), Dutta Bhagat (Marathi dalit playwright)… let’s not have a dalit superstar list…that has the usual Dhasal, Dhale, Kancha, Teltumbde, Ravikumar, Gail Omvedt, V Geetha list… let’s grow up…
4. A news report filed by India Abroad News Service from Lucknow, on March 13, 2012, stated : Outgoing Uttar Pradesh chief minister Mayawati’s wealth has gone up by Rs. 23.64 crore in the past two years. The wealth also includes expensive silverware, jewellery and several carats of diamonds. As per her own admission, she has ornaments ‘gifted’ to her worth Rs.96 lakh.
The incumbent Chief Minister, who lost badly to arch rivals the Samajwadi party (SP) in the recently concluded assembly polls, has never been dismissive about her love for gold and diamonds. On many occasions in the past, including her lavish birthday parties, she has flaunted her diamond jewellery, inviting criticism from opponents. I think in the light of the above facts…even the word “shark” is a term that is inadequate. Finally let’s not have a Mahasweta overkill… she is the only one in our two special women issues… but YES…. she has worked on dalits EXTENSIVELY in Chotanagpur… in Purulia … not just with the TRIBALS, also with DALITS… this is just for the record and I am not a Leftist from Kolkata I am from Imphal… In the nation state reading on insurgent and resurgent India… let’s have a convergent India…where the convergence is neither standardisation fuelled by globalisation nor buying and selling of silence but a convergence of fi eld reports… a seminar czar is a seminar czar is a seminar czar…
Regards,
Parnab
Saswat,
So, in between these flying fits of rage and passion, you can well imagine my state of mind…
It has always been a tough call, walking the fine line between propaganda and taking a stand…
Ground realities are often so contradictory to our ideological stances that one is always left wondering…
Anyway, hopefully, after a few more discussions, all of us might arrive on a common ground and are able to finally give the issue a structure…
Pritha

Saswat’s response to Parnab’s mail

Pritha,
I don’t see a common ground for this issue, because it’s already planned out from what I see from Parnab’s email. So let me instead address the ground realities you mention, and just as a reply to you – not with an aim to influence the magazine plans in any way. First, there is no fixed “ground realities”. Ground realities are different for different people. That is why objectivity as a principle in journalism is squarely rejected. I recall how we are often told not to philosophise or argue and if we have to change the world, just go “do” it because ground realities are diff erent. Th e ground reality argument is an archaic excuse to ignore opposing arguments. It just so happens that your ground reality will be different from my ground reality which will differ from the ground realities of those living in other parts of the world. They are always subject to varying ideological interpretations depending on who views them wearing what lens or shoes.
For almost half of my life I grew up in the villages of Tigiria and Athagarh in Orissa and went to public Oriya schools without access to bathrooms and benches/desks. Lest our rooms get dirty, we would leave the shoes outside the rooms and sit down on the floor to get educated. Back home without electricity we would use kerosene lit lamps to study until we acquired much later, a government quarter in Bhubaneswar. Between the village and the city, I lived a couple of years in Cuttack, where I was raised with ‘halias’ and ‘adivasis’ who used to stay in our house in return for taking my sister and me to school everyday. I had quite a substantial daily interaction with “authentic” rural poverty amidst the outcasts. When we did better and my mother was transferred to the Bhubaneswar environment, I was immediately sent to an English medium school to get “real” education in class 9 where I was not just surprised at the textbooks I failed to follow, but more at the classmates I interacted with. I am not trying to romanticise this, but just saying that I have had different doses of ground realities. I used to serve lunch to my father inside the Athagarh jail during my recess time in school, and he used to be arrested numerous times as a political prisoner fighting as a Communist (at times as official, at times unofficially, but most times as representing labour union at the industrial tribunal and taking the agitation too far) on behalf of the caste oppressed workers. Yes, my literally growing up with the dalits of Orissa in various tribal districts or my understanding of my caste privilege when my first girlfriend converted to Christianity under gruelling circumstances of a conservative society would affect my worldviews, but nothing should come in my way when I imagine the dalits of UP and Bihar or the North-East, or of the dalits in Harlem here in New York. Extension of personal locations to understand and empathise with social realities is what makes heterogeneous ground realities relevant. Currently I live in a multicultural Astoria, but that is because I cannot afford to live in Manhattan. Again, if I did live in Manhattan, it would not prevent me from understanding Bronx, the worst aff ected region here in the city. When I was referring to Kolkata intellectuals, I was merely being symbolic, not literal. No matter where we are from, what socio-economic backgrounds we belong to, what political realities engulf us, we should be able to extend ourselves beyond our own. I have never voted for the BSP, nor do I agree with their politics and I had made it quite clear in my earlier email. But that is not what we are discussing when we talk about Dalit politics in India. Of course there are Dalits in Imphal who would not care what Mayawati is fi ghting for or against. There are hardcore Hindu and Christian and Muslim Dalits who would not agree with Mayawati either. Considering she has chosen Buddhism (yes, blame Ambedkar for that short-sightedness) as a tool to emancipate Dalits, do you really think every oppressed category will agree with her? Hell, even if she were not a Chief Minister today or such a powerful politician, I would still have been projecting her humanely because she is fi ghting a battle not many are willing to take up.
I have no issues with what Parnab is saying regarding the footsoldiers and the need to highlight them. Did I ever say no that idea? Of course not. In fact, I wrote about Rama Devi as a foot soldier of Gandhi in my last article. But going by his logic, if “we” failed to discuss the footsoldiers of Gandhi, does that make Gandhi a shark? How on earth does Mayawati become a shark, if we in the media fail to provide ample space to discuss Dalit activists? Forget about activists, we are paranoid about their leaders. All this mumbo-jumbo just to project Mayawati as a shark fails to make sense to me. I can add another hundred relatively unknown names to the list of unknown Dalits, but that still does not take away the “merits” of Mayawati. Why must we bury this argument under the garb of ground realities? Does Mayawati not face ground realities everyday of her life? And sure, we can write about the dalits of the North-East, of Nepal and even of America and Africa as I was suggesting. But where does that conflict with Dalits of UP?
Among black leaders, there were many stalwarts, but why demonise Malcolm X to highlight Dr King? Or even to highlight any of the innumerable lesser known black activists? Romanticising the unknown dalits and introducing them to the world is a noble and virtuous work from us upper caste folks, no doubt. But demonising the well known powerful Dalits may well speak of our own sense of insecurity than their lacunae. Our assumption that somehow Mayawati is responsible for purging from the public memory the lesser known Dalits is gross, when we have not yet given even someone like her a safe space within our media yet. Anyway, here is Professor Kancha Ilaiah, when he is writing for a dalit non-neutralising publication that is not searching for the sharks.
“The middle class intellectuals and the media have tried to project Mayawati as a selfish and corrupt woman erecting her own statues, accepting money in public in the shape of garlands and displaying her own wealth. But Dalits see her as a self-asserting heroine and Dalit history builder. The upper caste intellectuals who praise Hindu spiritual centres like Benaras, Kashi, Mathura and Ayodhya as historical heritages, though they were built while masses were starving and dying in diff erent phases of history, cannot convince the Dalits that what their leader is now doing is not going to be their proud history in the future. In Hindu culture of idol worship, Mayawati’s idol will become their own – perhaps a Buddhist female icon, as Ambedkar’s idols did. This nation cannot be proud of Taj Mahal, which was built while hundreds were dying of hunger, and condemn Mayawati for building Dalit-Bahujan historical places.”
PS: Pritha, I have the highest of respect for Parnab. So my emails, although they may sound so, are not personal attacks or anything remotely like that. I have no issues with micro narratives at all. Th ey have their places in any political movements but stopping at romanticisation of micro movements will yield anarchist nothingness. History is shaped through power relations and the history of class struggle has been the history of controlling of power. Marx, whom we all the time keep invoking and Parnab invokes him too with Irabot’s Marxism, was no micro narrator. In fact, Marx more than anyone else in the world, can be accused of creating the grandest of narratives. History of Communism is replete with icons, legends, myths, leaders and grand visions. Irabot might be a micro narrator elsewhere, but as a founder of the Communist party in his state, he was as iconic as were Communist leaders from other states in India and elsewhere. About the seminar czar vs field reports, there are biases in both. I worked as a field reporter for several years in Orissa and in Ranchi when Jharkhand came into being. I was not free of my biases as a field reporter while covering Maoist insurgences and as a seminar “czar” now, I am not immune to biases either, although here too I am a field reporter for various other causes affecting entirely different sets of oppressed and marginalised people. But regarding shitty grammar and bad English, they can become a magazine policy if you want. Even Gonzo journalism. But there is no need to be especially shitty when we address dalit causes. Ambedkar never wrote lousy English. I may be missing the point here altogether, but I am just saying that we should not use ignorance as an excuse at any step while informing people. As Chomsky once wrote, intellectuals have great responsibilities. Gandhi wrote eloquently and with precise care as well. Lenin theorized his works with academic excellence in volumes of his works, not to mention Marx and Engels or even Trotsky. Not all who attend seminars or follow academic style sheets are czars. Quite a lot of them have been responsible in toppling czars. Knowledge is vastly empowering, if appropriately employed. Complete dismissal of academic endeavours is a reflection of an anti-intellectual climate pervading our world today. The field reports and the grand narratives – both have space in resistance movements. A grammar-less freestyle has as much a place as the master compositions of Neruda. Paul Robeson was a Jazz artist too.
Take care,
Saswat

Parnab replies to Saswat

Hi Pritha,
No… dalits in north east of india are different from dalits in Angola, Ivory Coast, El Salvador, Bronx… Kindle is a national magazine, coming out of eastern India and as such as it defi nitely has and will have an international feel… it has to root itself into a certain discussion on its readership group and of course the nation… so let us not brush the north east with the Africa carpet… north east is an Indian reality (whatever be the conception of our idea of nation state) and in a magazine we CANNOT deny the north eastern reality… sorry I am a north-east reality pimp… at least that is the only private part of the soul I can sell without contraceptives…
It is obvious that the superstar I am talking about are the usual academic mafi a that monopolised dalit writings…I can name AT LEAST a 100 dalit writers BEYOND Kancha Ilaiah, who are being published in regional languages…let’s translate them from Marathi, Konkani, Manipuri, Asomiya, Nagamese, Tamil… let’s commission translations,.. vibrant ones… why are we afraid to open up to those dalit writers who will not be given space by the English subaltern mandarins who know no phone number beyond Kancha…
I neither have the depths of Saswat’s knowledge, nor the range of Amit’s metaphors, nor the ability of Paranjoyda to juggle through reports and numbers and write some brilliant incisive pieces…what do such shallow self-pitying half baked, blurb reading depthless theatre makers like me do… sustain myself through collecting and translating voices of the young ones in Naharlangun, Ziro, Itanagar, the young without hand Chakma refugee kid, whose hands were chopped off in the camp….we take these monologues in our body and perform… we change nothing,.. not even ourselves but as their monologue hits the tongue, I know what shitty, fundamentally theoretical perverts we are…we coined subaltern to suit our academic needs to frame resistance that needs a far more humane framework and methodology to study…
As for Mayawati, in a Rs 685 crore dalit prerna sthal budget, across 33 acres in Noida with Dholpur- Mirzapur stones… and Rs 1350 crores for Ambedkar park in Lucknow… I am not talking of corruption…I am merely saying in Rs 2000 crores….can’t we fit in micro-narratives and local heroes to be put in a total space of 200 acres across 2 parks? EVERY major dalit regional hero of SOUTH ASIA could have been fitted in… that is the point… Mayawati’s selective reading of that history…
And no, I would not believe that India has known all about Ambedkar… let’s not bullshit ourselves over the fact that most of the urban people who read our magazine know the wide ranging socio-political dimension of Ambedkar and his foresight in conceiving the nature of the caste cauldron that we would create for ourselves and also his failure to read the tribal ethos while defining the dalit ambit… I refuse to be drawn into this email… Imphal is reeling with power cuts… whatever be the ground realities… the frontline is different from a seat, laptop, screensaver and quality internet time to write long mails… no I do not have that privilege in north-east… I have to fi ght my battles on the road and streets, bylanes and paddy fi elds of north east India and that reality needs to be presented pan India… and yes Gandhi taught me that… Mayawati did not.
My list of sharks will diff er from Saswat’s and Saswat… I would not dream to have… either his range or his erudition… his depth of writing in long emails each of which deserves an EPW space… mine is that hyphenated half broken piece of shit writing…
So, I think Saswat should have the totalitarian call to structure the issue. I maintain criticising Mayawati’s ideological moorings does not make me somebody who does not understand her strength working in Azamgarh, Ballia, Maghar…gave me enough material to also understand her inspiring presence as much as her ideological shortcomings… I do need Kancha to lecture me on that… Mayawati ISN’T Gandhi, Ambedkar, Narayan Guru, Kabir, Salbega, Bhima Bhoi, not even the brilliant foot soldier Atmaram Rathod who wrote ‘Agyankosh’… and Rathod did not have to go school to write one,.. and he too is a people’s man… in fact Mayawati isn’t Kanshi Ram… the brilliant Kanshi Ram was one of the architects of the electrical bahujan identity through a very relevant and astute reading of micro narratives… yes Mayawati to me is a shark… Kancha or no Kancha, she is a shark to me…
As a Kindle office help, my submission is let’s make this a Mayawati fan club issue…that is the ground reality…we don’t need to entertain informed criticism about her (informed criticism, not upper caste criticism).
take care…
Parnab

Saswat’s rejoinder

Pritha,
This debate also reminds me of the “Are we too black for Africa” issue, where we indeed came up with a black “superstar list”. I know because I was asked to write that piece. My black friends here were laughing at the innocence of that issue because they have certainly grown up beyond all the black celebrity thing. But they understand why it was an important list because Indians were perhaps not even initiated to their superstars. This is why it becomes important to highlight Dalit superstars to the mainstream Indian urban audience which remains uninitiated to Dalit achievements. If we can write about Ambedkar and can again celebrate Mahasweta Devi, then why hesitate to literally “introduce” actual living dalit superstars? Just because Dalit Panther poets have been “done to death” in EVERY dalit forum, “we need to grow up”? Grow up and go where? To Ambedkar and Mahasweta Devi? Parnab also mentions “Kancha” as a usual superstar. Is Kindle a dalit forum? How many of Kindle readers are well versed with the dalit superstar list, he has mentioned here? And superstar? Like who? Gandhi, the superstar? Tagore, the superstar? How many trees has Kindle destroyed to sing glories of Tagore? I mean…should I laugh or should I cry? Let’s just exoticise the Dalits and grow up? Does it even matter who these superstars are, or not? We are talking about the issues here which they have most prominently raised. Why Gandhi made an impact was not because everything he said was original but because he was the most recognised, symbolised “legend”. So we are happy to keep projecting our Gandhis and Tagores but when it comes to their usual suspects, they are superstars and we need to grow up. You see, I unequivocally agree with Parnab on every point he makes, but that is within the conversation between ourselves. When we extend the conversation to “include” the “other”, – in order to introduce to the Other to the rest of us, we have to be more sensitive than sensationalising their icons as sharks or dismissing them as superstars. As I wrote earlier, the oppressed always need their icons or, as Arun Shourie denounces them as “the false gods”. We folks, not so much. Privileged people often say “My parents” when they are asked about their heroes and inspirations. Oppressed people keep looking for someone larger than life. Ambedkar provides a clutch. Imagine why some dalits get so irate and take it personally if someone insults Babasaheb. Hell, whereas upper caste people were thinking ‘Aarakshan’ was a pro-reservation movie, dalits were demanding to ban it. We need to be sensitive about why is it that they need their heroes, even if there are so many imperfections. Why do we assume it is the role of Mayawati to make everything right in Dalit lives? She did not create Dalit problems. We created the mess and now comfortably we declare it to be “their” problem. Lastly, do you think Black Panthers or Malcolm X were accepted by all black people? Hell, no. They were always a tiny minority, although the most visible political voices. But imagine Huey Newton or Malcolm X being demonised (even rightly so, for their utter violent and conservative Islamic misdirections) – and that too by the white press claiming to project a progressive history of black struggle…Trust me, I am not making this up. It has happened numerous times in the past. In fact allow me to say this; it is the only approach the liberal white press has always taken up. Anyway I think by now you know where I stand on this issue. I will merely sound repetitive if I go on. If you asked me, the title of the issue could be “Upper Caste Sharks” and the issue could celebrate Mayawati’s rise as the only sign of progressivism in post-1947 India. Because, trust me that is exactly what I imagined you wanted Kindle to project when you fi rst asked me to help structure the issue. Because, that would be truly different,and truly emancipator, a stance.
But there I can see you smiling…
Saswat.

Parnab writes to Saswat

Hi Saswat,
Just read your second email which Pritha shared… the internet lines in north east are a little choppy… have already written a response to the same mail which she read to me over phone…the mail reached late… servers here are more pathetic than our historic apathy to non romanticised necessary inclusion of micro-narratives. My apologies for being so tastelessly unfocussed… I need to read more, learn more, imbibe more, understand the dialectic and then attempt to construct even a decent attempt at replying…
Pardon the inconvenience, the problem with the so-called artistes like me is we just react and reveal our lack of knowledge rant.
Warm regards and in solidarity with the force, power and range of your responses now and always.
Parnab.

Saswat replies

Dear Parnab,
No need for apologies because I have not taken any of your arguments as personal attacks on me nor do I think you ever intended them that way. Hypothetically speaking, if they were, then also I do not think we need to feel remorse about some fundamental and some not so fundamental disagreements among all of us. Besides, all of us are way overprivileged compared to the ones we are trying to write about. Even as a theatre activist with a slow internet connection, you are; even leading a life of anonymity on an obscure roach infested dingy apartment, I am. Our everyday life problems are so negligible that we can hardly afford to complain except to soothe bruised egos at best. Sure I get passionate about my stands on several topics in life, but I am constantly conscious of other exceptional privileges I am bestowed with. Apologies I do not deserve to receive. Thank you once again for writing to me. I shall always treasure your kind words and thoughts. As such, for me it is a big honour to be personally interacting with you, a hero of my time, for me and for my friends.
love and regards,
Saswat

Saswat Pattanayak is a New York-based journalist, photographer, atheist, third-wave feminist, LGBT ally, black power comrade and academic non-elite who refuses to give up his association with Kindle. A true comrade.

1 Comment

Leave a Reply