Vivek Raj, a 35-year-old Dalit employee at Lifestyle International in Bengaluru, killed himself, after exposing the caste discrimination and atrocity at his workplace and giving a wake-up call to the corporate world: “Let it be me who will start this revolution in the corporate industry. To the honourable Prime Minister of the country who is silent on many things which are going wrong… wrestlers are protesting. I know you will not speak on that. At least I request you, to the Ministry of Corporate Affairs, SC/ST Commission, police to be more vigilant, to cooperate, to come up with a better grievance resolution system. If my sacrifice brings it, let it be, so be it.” Two municipal workers died of poisonous gases while cleaning sewer in Gwalior, Madhya Pradesh. A 26-year-old Dalit man, Thangasamy, who was arrested in Tamil Nadu’s Tenkasi, died in judicial custody, sparking allegations of custodial torture. Two police officers in Rajasthan’s Bikaner were suspended in the case of kidnap, gangrape, and murder of a 20-year-old Dalit woman. A 32-year-old Dalit man was brutally beaten up and his genitals were slashed by Thakurs because he objected to tree felling on his land in Uttar Pradesh’s Etah district. The minister of external affairs ate breakfast (in paper plates) at the residence of a Dalit booth president in Varanasi and got photoshoot done, many on Instagram responded by suggesting that a better gesture would be to invite Dalits to your homes now. While responding to a plea filed by a rape survivor’s father, Justice Samir Dave of the Gujarat High Court invoked Manusmriti to emphasize how girls in the past were married off by the age of 14 and had children. Dr Manish Narnaware, an IAS officer from SC community, came forward with a detailed account of persistent harassment, humiliation, and discriminatory treatment during his time in the Chennai Corporation. Zomato faced a backlash for airing a casteist advertisement depicting the Dalit character Kachra from Lagaan. Villagers in Kakoshi, Gujarat, assaulted a Dalit man, Dhiraj Parmar, and chopped off his thumb because his nephew had picked up a cricket ball during a match at a school playground. About 30 Brahmin and Thakur students obtained scholarship worth Rs 10 crore by submitting fake caste certificates claiming to belong to OBC, SC, and ST categories. In Rajgarh, Madhya Pradesh, the Mali caste-community imposed a fine of Rs 5000 on a youth of their ‘samaj’ for dining at a Dalit’s home. The Brahmin Union Minister for Railways, Ashwini Vaishnaw, attended Brahmin Mahapanchayat in Jaipur. Akshay Bhalerao, an Ambedkarite youth, was beaten and attacked with dagger leading to his death, for celebrating Ambedkar Jayanti in Maharashtra’s Nanded. Delhi University proposed to drop course on Ambedkar. Seven workers died of manual scavenging in septic tanks in 15 days in Tamil Nadu. In Raebareli, a Dalit youth, Ravi, was brutally thrashed for three hours by a wire hunter, to forcefully make him confess to a theft. In Unnao, Uttar Pradesh, two rapists of a Dalit girl, on bail, beat the survivor and set her house on fire which severely burned two infants in the family. Ambedkarite Student Forum at Ambedkar University, Delhi, demanded action over torn posters featuring Babasaheb and other Bahujan icons during Jayanti celebrations this year. In Rajasthan’s Barmer, a 30-year-old Dalit woman was raped and set on fire, killing her. A Dalit woman’s dead body was found hanging in Medical College hostel in Amritsar, Punjab; her family alleged that she was subjected to casteist slurs. A Dalit UPSC aspirant killed himself after accusing Lucknow police of harassing him. In Kota, Rajasthan, three workers suffocated to death while cleaning a 25-feet-deep sewer line. In Chhatarpur, Madhya Pradesh, stones were pelted at a Dalit man’s wedding procession by upper caste villagers, injuring the family and police. A Dalit auto-rickshaw driver, Raju Vankar, died in Gujarat’s Mahisagar after he was beaten up by an upper caste hotel manager and his accomplice following an argument over food order. A section of social media users blamed the horrific Odisha train accident on reservations in railway jobs. Parents of Darshan Solanki, a first-year Dalit student at IIT Bombay who killed himself, have alleged partial and unfair investigation of the case.
These are some prominent headlines over the past few weeks. We celebrate April as Dalit History Month. Many on the social media expressed their shock and disgust at how every year, after April, there seems to be a vengeful rise in caste violence and atrocity cases all across the country. This is the everyday face of caste violence which is normalized as tensions among communities. Violence is a necessity to dominate and maintain the caste hierarchy. It is a scripture-sanctioned, extra-judicial mode of sustaining the orthodox privileges of upper-caste groups. Caste communities operate in both violent and subtle ways, in a conscious collective manner as well as with a passive despotic instinct, in traditional and modern forms. They gatekeep temples and public tanks as well as academic and government institutions. They humiliate, torture, kill and they simultaneously rejoice and celebrate a golden heritage. Are caste communities (samaj), then, compatible with a constitutional view of the society? How do we resolve the paradoxes of modern, egalitarian, democratic citizens of India and their lived/ self-perpetuated experience of caste violence? We must ask ourselves, who we really are, when we proclaim: WE, THE PEOPLE …
How is it that casteism continues to flourish and renew its forms in a society that claims to uphold constitutional morality? How are we not shocked and deeply wounded as modern human beings in the face of such atrocities? How do casteist practices ground themselves in a democratic republic? In The Culturalization of Caste in India (2012), anthropologist Balmurli Natrajan argues that one of the reasons is we conflate the categories of caste with that of culture and continue to uphold practices in the name of validating multiculturalism within a democracy. Our practices seem to form our socio-cultural identities and we assert an equal recognition for all kinds of practices under the justifications of multiculturalism. So, a corporate worker might claim that they individually do not discriminate at all in the public sphere, say at their workplace or in other such settings; while they practice their faith and “culture” in their private and mutually shared spaces. It is not unlikely to imagine such people marrying endogamously invoking the convenience of shared culture, which entails food habits, purity-pollution norms, auspicious observations, and so on. It is also very likely that such people will not be appalled at the suggestion that sanitation workers in their apartments be excluded from using regular elevators. Indeed, caste-based residential housing societies are quite an unchallenged norm in many smart cities of India. Is discrimination merely about explicit slurs and derogatory behaviours? One might often come across arguments that these are rural incidents or they happened 30 years ago but not anymore. The cultivated apathy and deliberate indifference of the urban individual enable these horrendous crimes and their normalization. Perhaps, even when a co-worker screams to their death that they were humiliated and discriminated against, it is glossed over as a lack of mental strength to survive the corporate competition. After all, who doesn’t suffer in the system? But is that enough to numb your conscience? Is it all the reason you can muster to keep yourself from being engulfed in the chaos of political realizations?
Dalit-Bahujan-Adivasis of today are prepared to create their own spaces and tackle all challenges together as a community. We are creating support networks and resistance on multiple fronts to help our people survive and prosper. The majoritarian cultural politics needs to confront the crisis of its foundational ethics. The absurdity of caste in the face of Constitution needs to be faced with the greatest urgency. It is not an anomaly. The headlines above are not exceptions; they are routine expressions of an immensely vulgar and rotten society. As long as you let your culture shield your capacity for introspection and critical evaluation of your local social fraternities, you will risk the wrath of a future that is bound to dawn soon. The so-called tensions among communities will boil to rage and seek revenge if justice is denied. Perpetrators of caste violence must overcome their deeply ingrained cultures of subjugation and abuse. You must overcome your will to make the other bow to your caste heritage and show them their place. We know our place: we belong everywhere you do. And we demand nothing more and shall settle for nothing less. We shall educate, organize, and agitate; we’ll watch you overcome your sedimented privileges guarded in the books of culture.
The current issue contains a very short fiction capturing in vignettes the glaring refugee crisis, a global concern for which we do not find adequate resources or the political courage to address. One short story invokes the feeling of lack and insecurity within a family; while another paints in translation a beautiful tale in an agrarian landscape. The poets in this issue are talking about walking, dreaming, and praying, as they deal with a broken heart or death or simply a spider. A poet expresses his angst against oppression in lyrics of despair, “and humour will point its finger/ on all things we never understood/ we follow guidelines and stanzas/ as law abiding residents,/ and those who vote on the epics of literary sense/ will point their fingers at the next elected president.” Another responds to a Marxist thinker, “In a certain autumn, you will sit down with me and watch the colorful butterflies roaming around a garden that has grown right there. There, where the banks had collapsed.” A poem lends itself to praise Charulata, the Tagorean protagonist, memorialized on screen by Satyajit Ray. Another poem hums alongside a classical composition of Siddheshwari Devi, invoking queer affections and lives.
gulmohur stands in solidarity with the jailed activists and intellectuals of the Bhima Koregaon case; the victims of communal hatred and of state violence; the victims of caste and gender violence; the victims of fundamentalist oppression anywhere in the world; and with all those who dissent in the spirit of democracy to safeguard our ever-diminishing freedoms. We deeply mourn the lost lives in Manipur.
We’re happy to announce that our Translation Collective has started with promising participation and we hope to open up for new members regularly. As usual, we would like to express our profound thankfulness to our readers and well-wishers everywhere. We are immensely grateful to all our friends (on and off social media) who have helped us reach out. We also thank our contributors for trusting us with their submissions.
We hope you enjoy reading Issue 10 of the quarterly. Please do comment your feedback to the authors on the webzine; and share the writings you like with people around you. Finally, despite the exhaustion of these trying times, we wish you all a happy and revolutionary Pride Month!