Reading, of late

Of late, I have been reading the way I like to-  a handful of books at the same time. Some of these are:

The Essential Writings of BR Ambedkar Edited by Valerian Rodrigues (OUP)
Behenji by Ajoy Bose (Penguin)
The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte by Karl Marx (one of my old favourite works)

I was also lucky to meet an old comrade, Dr Harjinder Singh Laltu few weeks back, and read his delightful collection of Hindi short stories, Ghugni

A few selected articles from online reading:
Why many Ambedkar statues in India?
Chavez’s gift to Obama: seems Chavez gifted him Lenin’s What is to be done?
How Chavez snubbed Mario Vargas llosa
Aren’t OBC women also women? at Kafila

Finally, if you not following that excellent blog India Chronicles, you are missing something !


Dalits in Punjab: Silent no more

Little over a year ago, this blog had posed the question:

There is a deafening silence on part of dalits in Punjab. One wonders why, and for how long.

To which a naive comment from a reader was:

Presumably if Dalit oppression was blunted by Sikh philosophy, if not absolutely at least comparatively, Dalits might not have felt need for a movement.

Over the last two days, my question as well as the comment to the post have been answered loud and clear.

Limited Social base of Indian Sociology

In the current issue of the EPW, Surinder S Jodhka has an exhaustive review of the book Anthropology in the East: Founders of Indian Sociology and Anthropology. He critically points out that the social base of the early Indian sociologists was rather limited (made up almost exclusively of Brahmin men) and correlates this with the concerns of Indian sociological studies.

My only (minor) crib with the review and possibly with the book is that there is no mention of Radhakamal Mukherji who pioneered the teaching of sociology in the 1930s at  Lucknow University, though the contributions of his colleague D.P. Mukherji are well recounted.

Incidentally, Surinder,  an old friend and now a prof at JNU, has earlier guest blogged here. Following is an excerpt from the review.

However, these life histories of pioneers also tell us about the larger social contexts in which sociology/social anthropology, and perhaps, other social sciences began to be practised in India during the colonial period, the kind of people who came to occupy positions in the university system and the kind of knowledge they produced about Indian society. With the exception of two “foreigners”, all the Indian scholars were upper caste Hindus. With the exception of one upper caste brahmin woman, they were all men. Continue reading “Limited Social base of Indian Sociology”

1857- A Dalit Narrative

Hindi writer Badri Narayan puts together a riveting narrative of the role of dalits during the 1857 revolt. As with any historical narrative, it is as much an attempt to re- write the past as it is to bring a historical perspective to contemporary struggles and claims to the nation.

Although we know that the colonial archive has been created guided by the needs of the colonizers, yet these narratives function as rays of light in the search for the role of dalits in the 1857 revolt. The narratives around dalit identity which the dalits are using to prove their role in the 1857 revolt are also based on the colonial archives that enlist the names of the people who were hanged for their role in the revolt, since the mainstream nationalist Indian history completely ignores the contribution of dalits in the revolt. For example Matadin Bhangi, a sweeper in the British army at Barrackpore, who is claimed by the dalits to have spearheaded the 1857 revolt since he was the first to make Mangal Pandey, the mainstream nationalist originator of the revolt, aware of the fact that the cartridges were greased with cow fat, has been overlooked by the official record of the revolt. However that he was not a figment of the imagination of the dalits can be proved by the colonial archives that show that he was hanged to death for participating in the revolt. In the same vein there is another myth about a dalit hero of the 1857 revolt which is popular in the oral memories of the region adjoining Kanpur and Bithoor. This is the myth of Gangu Mehtar who is also known as Gangu Baba. The people of that region say that Gangu Baba was a Bhangi who worked as a drum beater (nagarchi) in the army of Nana Saheb. He was built extremely powerfully and was also a wrestler. He himself owned a wrestling ring where many youths practiced wrestling under his tutelage. During the 1857 revolt Gangu Baba fought against the British along with his students at a place near Satichaura and killed many of them. After the revolt was quelled he was arrested by the British and hanged to death. The story of Gangu baba has transcended from the real world into the ethereal world and there is a popular story about him that is still circulated among the people in the region where he died which establish his supernatural qualities.

Link to Pratilipi via Publisher’s Post.

Caste, Class and Anti- Imperialism

Joseph D’souza reviews Anti- imperialism and Annihilation of Caste by Anand Telumbde.

Teltumbde is most provocative when he argues that the primary caste contradiction is between Dalits and all non-Dalits or savarnas and not between dwija and not-dwija. He also shows how one can and needs to perform a class analysis to show contradictions between castes. For example he boldly highlights Dalit and OBC class contradictions by showing how the dwija vs. non-dwija categories which place the large population of OBCs as allies of all Dalits, hide the real class contradictions between them. Thus, Teltumbde is not satisfied with opportunistic attempts to put together electoral formations of “bahujan” since these do not represent the “ground reality” of Dalits (218). Nonetheless, he is also careful to argue that each of these legalistic caste categories itself contains a heterogeneous class population.

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Demandalizing Mandal

When the implementation of the Mandal Commission Report was announced during VP Singh led National Front regime, my first reaction was to oppose it. This natural, even if a knee jerk reaction, was because it did not reconcile with the notions of class and in my view it actually was detrimental to formation of class consciousness. It was not that I was not aware of the caste system or its vagaries, however, I shared the unstated Nehruvian belief that economic development and education would do away with the caste system. The first pillar of belief that fell in those days, therefore, was that education could be equated with egalitarianism and humanism.

My views changed quite dramatically within a few days as opposition to the announcement gathered force and “upper” caste-ism came to the fore. This aroused my first doubts – if this Report is something that is so rabidly hated by those, who I agreed were relatively privileged “upper” caste folks, then something is amiss. What clinched the issue was the intemperate and insulting language the protesters employed against whom they considered to be the beneficiaries- the backward castes but also the scheduled castes who were more easily identifiable because they were already availing the reserved quotas.

In the early days following the announcement, it was difficult to even get hold of the Report. I managed to get a xeroxed copy from a local NGO’s social scientist. What amazed me was the sheer force of the arguments in the report that transformed my views within a few days, if not overnight. So, it is a bit disconcerting that even after nearly two decades, I am not able to find an online version of the Report, because I remember it went much beyond just making the case for reservations. In the process of implementing one of its recommendations, it’s thrust has been diluted, and hence “demandalized.”

However, I have been able to find this 2003 article by SS Gill, who was the secretary to the Commission when it submitted its report and where he points to the bigger picture painted by the Report.

Diluting Mandal

On the face of it, the radical change in the political landscape of the country marks the setting right of ancient historical wrongs. Or does it? In fact, to some extent, the Mandal Commission report was `demandalised’ during the very process of its implementation. Of the dozen or so recommendations, only one pertaining to reservation was picked up, as it had the highest visibility and attracted immediate attention. More far-reaching recommendations regarding structural changes in the land-tenurial system, and institutional reforms for the educational and economic uplift of the OBCs were not even noticed. The attention thus got focussed on the fruits rather than the roots and branches of the tree of affirmative action.

Related Post: Dr Ambedkar on reservations for OBCs