Dalit Mobilization: Interview with Dr. Kancha Ilaiah

Category: World Affairs Topics: Dalit, India Views: 10476

Q. Currently, the country is being force-fed a celebration of 50 years of independence. So basically just to open up, how do you see the last 50 years of the Dalit intellectual movement?

K.I. See first of all, the Dalitbahujan movement has been saying that there is a need for a second independence. The freedom that has been achieved in 1947 succeeded in transferring power to brahminical forces in all spheres of life, political, economic and cultural. But there is also a new intervention in the Indian freedom movement because of Ambedkar. He fought and tried to see that the whole question of reservation, which is an anti-caste agenda, goes into the constitution. Now, that has its impact over a period of time, what we call the process of Dalitization of the Indian system in so many ways is on. Freedom did not really come in that sense. But the whole Dalitbahujan consciousness, which was generated over a period of time is a very very powerful interventionist consciousness. One, the bahujan bloc formation is very strong now, which it was not earlier. The second, the cultural context ... there is a tendency towards Dalitization over the last 50 years. I mean, there is a whole cultural paradigm created that is neither brahminical nor Hindu. A particular mode of control on women's sexuality. But see, there is a move of Dalitization of women in a big way. The fact that women, brahminical women also, ask for divorce dilates cultural practice. If you go into any Andhra village, taking divorce from a husband who is oppressive has been a historical culture among the Dalitbahujan people. So, what I call it, there is a tendency of Dalitization in the last 50 years. Because Dalitization has the character or the tendency of the force of liberating the self. So, that is also on the increase.

Given that, we should also look at what happened from the point of view of the left movement. See, the left has brought in an ideology in the last 50 years, a kind of intellectual discourse. But in terms of transformative effect, left contribution is very minimal. In fact as some Dalit activist said, without the anti-caste struggles taking place, Dalitbahujans getting educated, becoming leaders, if there was to be a so-called proletarian revolution under the leadership of the upper castes, their understanding is that upper castes would have ruled over the Dalitbahujans for 500 years more in the name of proletarian dictatorship. Because, even now, the most conservative on the caste question is the Indian left, that is why I call them Hindu Communists. Now, these Hindu Communists are not understanding the Indian reality as yet whereas the Dalitbahujans have posed the question very concretely that India has to go through the phase of annihilation of caste. So, there are three milestones in the post-1947 50-year period. First, in 1947 there is a transfer of power to the brahminical forces but with the provision of social justice or the anti-caste agenda being put into the constitution. It is making its own dent. Second, the landmark was 1956, when Ambedkar converted himself to Buddhism and declared that the Dalitbahujans have common roots in the Buddhist tradition and not the Hindu tradition. Okay, this is a very important landmark in Indian history. With that, the Dalitbahujans have got a notion of history, a notion of a past of their own, a notion of a culture of their own, a notion of a language of their own ... the struggle between Pali and the Sanskrit tradition. The third landmark is the 1990

Mandal issue. In fact, the Babri Masjid issue was a fallout of the Mandal issue. So these struggles or setting of landmarks have something important to communicate to the world from the Indian side. That we won't keep India in the hands of backward looking Hindutva forces.

In the post-Mandal phase, there is a reformulation of the ideological basis of all these forces. If there is any serious rift within the class-caste formations of this country, the rift is between the SC, ST, and OBC minorities and the brahminical forces. This is a bloc. The roots of this bloc are common. Because the Hindutva ideology and the violence that Hinduism has inflicted has converted these forces. Now, this has come out clearly after the 1990 Mandal issue.

Q. To briefly interrupt, what is the nature of the distinction you are making between Brahminism and the Brahmin person itself?

K.I. When Buddha used the concept of sammana Brahmins, he was specifically referring to sanyas Brahmins. In fact there was a slogan in Buddhist time - "brahman hitaaye brahman sukhaya" -- it was a Brahmin slogan. But at that time the Brahmins as a social group had not crystallized itself -- many Aryans were joining it, many were outside it, but it was getting crystallized. At that time when this slogan was issued, Buddha issued another slogan - "bahujan hitaaya , bahujan sukhaya." In this notion of bahujan, Buddha included all those people who gathered food, or produced food, or basically those who do manual labor in various forms. He was trying to construct those who were outside the manual labor as the brahminical forces. So then, as time passed by when Phule encountered it, the whole caste had crystallized itself, and this caste was getting out of productive labor as a social group. And then meanwhile the whole concept of Dvijas had come up. Those who struggled with the classical Brahmins -- but who had physical power or the state power were also incorporated. So they became the Kshatriyas and then Vysyas, the Dvijas. When Phule used the concept of Brahminism, he used it in the sense of Dvijas -- those who were controlling state power, market power and spiritual power. He called them the sethji-batji forces. Ambedkar used the concept of Brahminism but did not define it. That is why in my book Why I am not a Hindu I tried to define Brahminism as anti-labor and anti-production. Those forces which constructed an ideology of anti-matti, "matti muttukonte papamu, Nagali muttukonte papamu, Cheppu muttukonte papamu dappu" (it is sinful to touch soil, it is sinful to touch a plough, it is sinful to touch footwear). This whole ideology of anti-labor and anti-nature and all those who work with their hands, in Telugu we call it "mattini guvvagu maarche vallu" (people who convert soil into gold), are all Shudras, Chandalas, Scheduled Tribes, or Adivasis. So all those forces which have got this kind of an ideology are brahminical. Those forces which hate matti, production, creative interaction with nature are brahminical.

During the nationalist period, when a lot of people were secularizing themselves entering into political parties and some of them joined the Communist Party, my question is those Brahmins and Baniyas who joined the Communist Party did not Shudraize themselves, did not Dalitize themselves. Being in politics itself is not Dalitizing oneself. They are still in the brahminical mode. Handling the political structure has always been their affair. You handle the political structure in the ancient period or today, it does not make a difference. So, by and large, these castes -- Brahmin, Kshatriya, and Baniya are the brahminical forces. Not many have Dalitized themselves. Morover, quite a lot of neo-Kshatriyas, the upper-caste Shudras - like Reddies, Kammas, Velamas, Jats are also getting brahminized. Once they were productive people, with the ideology of production as a great thing ... but gradually they have transformed themselves. So, when we use brahminical, we use it in the sense of anti-production, anti-human spirituality, anti-human knowledge system, anti-productive science and technology ... that kind of thing.

Q. You mentioned something about invigorating the self through Dalitization ... Do you see a difference in the way the Hindu self is put together... or how does the Dalitized self transform from the Hinduized self ?

K.I. I think it is a very important question. If you look at the Dalitbahujan life, their socio-spiritual discourse was rooted in production and attainment of spiritual knowledge. Now, spirituality for them is also a kind of process of productivity. Take for example, a Madiga. When he converts skin into leather, and makes a cheppu or dappu, he realizes that there is a material satisfaction and also a spiritual satisfaction in it. Now, Brahminism unlike all other religions in the world, has defined spirituality completely out of the framework of materiality. But Dalitism always worked out spirituality within the framework of materiality. Take, for example the gods and goddesses that they worship... Pochamma was a doctor who discovered neem as a medicine. This doctor cured patients and in the process was admired, appreciated and worshipped. A process of worship evolved like that. Take Kattamaisamma who was the person who discovered the tank bund and increased the agrarian production. She became a goddess. By and large, the Dalitbahujans have more women goddesses. The non-patriarchal structures are very strong among them. You may call them matriarchal in that sense. But they are post-matriarchal. The matriarchal system is pre-production in that sense. Second, materiality and spirituality are closely related, whereas in the brahminical mode, materiality is outside the spiritual domain.

Q. Just to intervene again, and to connect this answer and the earlier one, there has been an entire tradition, -- the rationalist-atheist movement, Hethuvada Sanghamu, Justice Party and Dravidian movement, etc., who articulated a response to Brahminism at some level which is both rationalist and atheist. Now, your position and the intellectual project that you are engaged in, seems to be at a distance from theirs, partially because you are invoking the spiritual aspects of the Dalitbahujans. So the question I am heading towards is, is this project also in some way an attempt to rethink what secularism might mean in a country like India?

K.I. I think you are right. See, people have a notion of spirituality. So, if an intellectual tries to construct a theory of materiality that is outside spirituality, then he is constructing outside people, from his own mind. We should also look at people's consciousness and see all the interconnections between them. So, the rationalist movement tried to argue that it is only matter that satisfies human beings. It is not true. Now, the world over, because of the monolithic religions, there is a debate even in the working class about the existence of God. In India, there is no such debate about the existence of God. But there is a notion of spirituality. This roughly corresponds to the Buddhist mode of discourse. You know, when the Brahmins asked Buddha, "Do you believe in God? Can you prove that God exists?" he said there is no need for debate on that which is not provable -- there is no point of debate. So Dalitbahujans also don't debate on this. In fact, in one of my small articles, I tried to argue that there were two schools of thought even at the time of nationalism -- the Vedantic school and the Siddhantik school. The word sidh is very popular among people. Sidh means paddhardhamu. Siddhant is discovering the end of paddhardhamu. Understanding the very logical end of paddhardhamu. Understanding and reaching that stage. Whereas vedant is anti-production ... so this concept of ved and vedant does not exist among the Dalit masses. Whereas they know the term called siddhant. So, the point is, Dalitbahujan spirituality, as against the very abstract materialism of the rationalists, has a two-fold meaning. That people constantly interact with nature, and constantly learn and relearn from nature. They attain both the material and spiritual satisfaction within that constant interaction with nature. This does not go beyond that and construct heaven and hell later on. Whereas the old debate on rationalism is taking place in the terms of heaven and hell.

Q. So then, how does this affect our understanding of secularism as we are trying to debate it in Indian politics right now?

K.I. I have a feeling that the way secularism has been defined is absolutely wrong. Because, secularists are trying to talk in terms of equal treatment of each religion on a par with the other religions. Of the state not owning a particular religion or condemning other religions. That is, secularism for them is religious equality, or religious neutrality. Now in that sense, they are saying that if one is a Hindu, one should not maltreat a Muslim or Christian, or if one is a Muslim, one should not maltreat a Hindu. But all this is within the paradigm of the Hindu upper-caste, or rich Muslims or rich Christians. If a Brahmin is not touching a Madiga or Mala, or if a Baniya is not touching a Mala or Madiga, if there is no social relationship between them, is that relationship secular? Therefore my point is that Hinduism, which is a religion that has created untouchability within its caste structure, how can it talk about secularism in terms of religious equality? Now, how do Brahmin politicians, upper caste politicians become secular, who never address the concern of annihilation of caste and untouchability itself? For example, they have been giving a slogan of "Hindu-Muslim bhai bhai." But did they ever give a slogan "Madiga brahmin bhai bhai," or "behen behen"? The implications of this slogan are much deeper. Those people who are trying to organize a secular movement, it is not a secular movement without there being a caste question within that. It is absolutely criminal. Casteism is the most communal formation. That they never understood.

Q. How do you reconcile the BJP-BSP alliance?

K.I. The BJP-BSP alliance is part of the political blunders that the Dalitbahujan leaders have committed. Not only that, the internal rift that the BJP-BSP alliance is creating, for example, take for example in the BSP, between the BSP and SP, or within the Janata Dal, there is a competitiveness that is emerging in the Dalitbahujan political setup. Power appears to be nearer to them, therefore the competitiveness. It is out of these tactical blunders that the BSP is aligning with other forces. So for this situation, I hold the Indian brahminical Communists responsible. Kanshi Ram once gave the slogan that brahminical BJP people are "white snakes in green grass". We see them very clearly out there. But the brahminical Communists are green snakes in green grass. So, the alliances now are working out in such a way that they see that the Dalitbahujans want to capture power from all corners. Now the BJP is a party which is giving more and more so seats to Scheduled Castes and OBCs because of its own reasons, and it is pushing people from that end. So there is a kind of nexus being worked out within Dalitbahujans with their own parties, and parties like BJP and so on. The left parties have not given such scope at all. There are no visible leaders there whereas Kanshi Ram can straightaway establish a rapport with Kalyan Singh or Uma Bharti or a Scheduled Caste here or a Scheduled Caste person there. The SC-BCs within the BJP are also planning to destroy the Hindu order from within. That is their agenda. For example, after Why I am Not a Hindu came out, I understand that a dialogue has emerged within the RSS intellectual core on this issue. They could not take a decision on that book, and they decided to allow it to go, because if they oppose it, the SC-BCs within RSS will also protest. So, the point is that from all corners, SC-BCs are planning to capture power. They are also using the BJP platform. This does not make BJP less Hindutva, but the point is how to educate SC-BCs about this is also our responsibility. In a way, now a realignment of forces is taking place. That wherever you are, you should capture power, overthrow Brahminism lock stock and barrel, irrespective of parties. This may appear to be reactionary in the short-term political process, but it plays a very crucial role in the long run because within these Dalitbahujans, you are going to see a very strong ideological dialogue. Within them, the progressive, left-leaning Dalitbahujans are going to fight the right Dalitbahujans. And this ideological battle will come up very soon. Those within BSP, SP and Janata Dal, the left-wing and right-wing are going to fight. And I think it is the right course, there is no other way.

Q. What about the Muslim consciousness, the relation between the Muslims and Dalits?

K.I. See, after Babri Masjid, the upper-caste Muslims realized they should establish a nexus with the Dalitbahujans, earlier they were avoiding it. But for the good of Indian history, there is a movement now among the Muslims they call OBC and SC Muslims. They are asking for reservations. There is a cultural nexus between Dalitbahujans and Muslims. Say for example, these people in their marriages eat biryani, and they also eat biryani. There is Darga relationship. There are lots of relationships between SC-OBCs and Muslims. If these relationships become politicized then their bonds will get tightened. And that will also form an electoral bloc over a period of time. I mean, to some extent Mulayam Singh has used it. It is going to come all over India, and the brahminical forces will be really alienated or cornered over a period of time. SCs and the Dalitbahujans who are not in any organized religions, Muslims, Christians, Buddhists and Sikhs, because of their cultural roots will unite very soon.

Q. Switching tracks, talking about these divisions among Dalits, recently people like Gail Omvedt on the left and people like Rajsekhar of Dalit Voice have been making the argument that liberalization is very good for the Dalits, and therefore promoting a pro-liberalization agenda. How would you respond to that?

K.I. My position has been very different from them, maybe because of my own understanding of the rural economy. With increasing globalization, displacement of Dalitbahujans from existing productive economies will take place. This is happening more and more in Andhra Pradesh, potters are getting eliminated from their pot-making. With shrimp cultivation coming up in the coastal areas, Scheduled Caste agrarian laborers are getting displaced. The toddy tappers are getting displaced from their kind of economy. For this, my own feeling is that there is a possibility of working out a Dalitbahujan anti-liberalization program. In fact we have been giving a slogan: "Down with toothpaste, up with neemstick". Neemstick is a Dalit symbol of teethcleaning. "Down with Coca-Cola, up with coconut water". "Down with beer-brandy, up with challa-kallu" (cool toddy). Dalitbahujans have to form a conscious bloc to fight the globalization process. And also establish an alternative for everything that is being produced.

Q. How does that notion of economics differ from the Gandhian notion of village economics, which also, at some level, opposes industrial production, or the Swadeshi kind of projects?

K.I. There is a basic difference. Gandhi picked up a very middle class symbol, the charkha. Suppose he were to pick up the cheppu (footwear) as a symbol, it would have been an anti-caste symbol, and cheppu-making has been a village industry. From village industry with the hegemony of the same cheppu makers, you can also convert it into a big-scale industry. We are not opposing industrialization as such, but industrialization with de-casteization will have the implication of indigenous science and technology. And my feeling is that the imposed technology, imposed goods or commodities will also cause psycho-sociological problems to the masses. Along with the industrialization process, consciousness should also grow simultaneously. How to use these commodities. Whereas globalization has been imposing all kinds of things in the villages today, such as toothpaste, cosmetics. People cannot buy them, but they have an aspiration. If only people were to develop them indigenously, they would develop an understanding of them.

The Dalitbahujan anti-globalization program or the indigenous industrialization program also combines with big-scale industries. We do not oppose industrialization per se. But there is an indigenous kind of industrialization possible. Second, Swadeshi is basically Hindutva. The Hindutva mode of Swadeshi is an anti-Dalitbahujan kind of industrial process itself. For example, a Baniya has never been selling shoes, cheppu. That has been a separate market. A Baniya has never been selling meat. A Baniya has never been selling fish. Because they were anti-hindu things as they saw it. Now, the Baniya economy believes in the notion of gupta. Gupta dhana is anti-capitalist. That is why the Indian economy has never developed into capitalism as such. Because of the gupta dhana market. So, if the Dalitbahujan forces come into the market and capture the entire market, this notion of gupta dhana gets destroyed. Then there can be indigenous growth of capital and development of industry from Madigas who make chappals, Kummaris who make kundal, and the Chakaalis who discovered soap powder.

Q. But none of this answers the question. The claim that Rajsekhar and Omvedt make is that liberalization produces a certain kind of a crisis within the political economy and creates certain kinds of spaces that Dalits can exploit. You are giving a political agenda that Dalits should produce an anti-globalization discourse, given all that you say. But that does not in any way answer as to whether globalization itself is pro-Dalit or anti-Dalit ?

K.I. The main point Gail has been arguing is that so far the Indian market and economy has been brahminical. The state sector we developed did not help the Dalitbahujan in any way. It was a brahminical state sector. Therefore it did not have any socialist dimension in it. Whereas liberalization will open up and the markets will become available for the Dalits. My question is that this is the phase at which the state is being captured by the Dalits. So at this stage de-statization process is going to adversely affect the Dalits. Second, when the brahminical forces between 1947 and 1990 used the state for their own economy, the so-called democratic socialist economy for their cause, it was a caste use -- brahminical community use. When the Dalits use the same state power and the budgeted economy, for the vast masses it will be an entirely different use. So the kind of urban economy that came into existence, the middle-class houses, the middle-class cars, a/c traveling for the brahminical forces from the state economy, will be shifted to the bahujans now. When they become the bureaucrats, when they become the ministers, when they become the teachers. That state will be different. So, at this stage when Dalitization of the state is taking place, the state should have to remain powerful. Second, the market for ten more years or twenty more years will be in the hands of the brahminical Baniya forces. At that stage this marginal space they get in the international commoditised market will not be really that useful. Instead, the state sector should really expand where a Dalit collector will be able to give most of the jobs to Dalits. The Dalit collector should allow them to become entrepreneurs, by taking the state money. I give a damn about the corruption process if the Dalits come to power and use it for their own communities. But the question is why is the Dalit political formation not openly opposed to globalization? Because if they think that they are opposed to globalization, that is more or less a tactical position like the West Bengal Communists. That is if you are opposed to them right now, they will not allow you to come to power. That is it. But if you come into power and establish a subsidized economy, as a central point that is going to be a globalization agenda. The subsidized economy for Dalits is an anti-globalization agenda. That is what Andhra has proved. Subsidized rice and prohibition are anti-globalization agendas. But when Chandra Babu Naidu came, the imperial agents again re-grouped. So, there should be a practical way of drawing boundaries. In a context where world Communism also compromised with one-dimensional international forces.

Q. Shifting tracks again -- recently you have been talking about creating a mass base for consciousness-raising about civil rights. How do you intend to do that in the process of Dalitization ?

K.I. I am glad you asked this. Hinduism is a religion of violence. All Hindu gods killed their enemies and became heroic images. This is the only religion in the world where the killer becomes god. Whom did they kill? From Brahma to Krishna, those who were killed were Dalitbahujans. Now these images and the stories and narratives and everything is out there in the civil society. Now, because of this, the consciousness of worshipping the killer or worshipping violence did not give any space for human rights. So my question is the human rights discourse must start with an anti-warrior position. Now, your Communists, especially the M-L groups argue that their violence is counter-violence or a defensive violence. Why do I say that we should give up that kind of violence?

My own study of Indian history shows that when a hegemonic violent system is operating, a small counter-violent force does not really corner the enemy. The enemy has to be morally cornered. Buddha did that. What was his achievement? The fact that during his period both the state and the civil society came under the control of Buddhism. There was Ashoka. A whole lot of kings came under his influence. Hinduism had to face a 500-year setback. Then at the time of nationalism, Ambedkar was arguing for the championing of rights in the sphere of anti-violence. That was different from Gandhian non-violence. He picked up symbols, which were genuinely anti-violence. What I am saying is the transformatory agencies in India have to first establish the notion of human rights in an anti-violent mode. Now, for example once we asked the Human Rights Commissioner to India, can you preserve the human rights notion among children when there are gods in temples with weapons on their bodies?

Is it not important that these kinds of images are removed from the public scene? Secondly, look at it from the point of view of women. See the obscenity is not only there in cinemas, along with violence. The obscenity is there in the temples. The obscenity is there in the Gods' legends. If you carefully study Krishna's legend, the whole culture it creates. If you take Bharatnatyam, the whole Bharatnatyam, episode after episode, you know Radha's efforts to meet Krishna, and his refusal to meet her. The culture it creates is a kind of culture where sexuality is suppressed. This kind of a story/narrative has to be reconstructed. In a sense, the whole Hindu divinity has to be reconstructed. They should be removed from the public scene. Some of these symbols have to be removed -- you know gods with weapons, Gods sleeping on snakes, women pressing the feet of Gods. These are the symbols. Therefore, I'm saying that the left should also speak in terms of anti-violence. Anybody. Now, does that mean that you also do not use a self-defensive kind of violence? No, you can. Dr Ambedkar said that Buddha was always for using violence as energy but not as creed. Hinduism always used violence as creed. For Hinduism, for Hindu dharma, resolving of a conflict is only by killing. There is no other discourse. Debate is not there. You have to kill the enemy. Whereas Buddha believed in discourse and resolving the conflict. So in a system where you have the two streams of thought, debate and discourse, human rights and anti-human rights, even the left has to take that historical tradition and examine its potential and use it for its propaganda systems. It is in this context that I have been saying that there is no use if you simply borrow concepts from the West. Christianity has a different ethic; it was an ethic of sacrifice. Christ's crucifixion is a symbol of sacrifice, it is not a killing symbol. The lamb is a productive symbol. Christ himself comes from a carpenter family. So there is a productive root in that. There you know what happened -- you cannot just impose it here, and never look creatively from your point of view. Therefore I've been saying that you should Indianize the human rights notion and look at this notion in a history of conflict between the positive and the negative, the Dalitbahujan or Buddhist and the Hindu tradition.

Q. The only small quirk I see in this is that the notion of human rights and the popularity that it has suddenly gained, I think, is linked to the agenda of globalization in the sense that human rights is a concept that is newly being promoted in the West. What is the nature of distinctions that one can make between how human rights is being promoted in the West, for instance, how human rights as a weapon is being used to especially focus on countries like China and India.

K.I. See within the globalization forces there are contradictions. The left-wing elements within the globalization forces are willing to promote a human rights attitude because there is a tendency to spread the notion of equality along with capital also. That is one school. There is another school for whom equality does not matter and where profit is its main agenda whether it is the US, Japan, Germany or France. However, we could notice that within the past 6-7, or even 5 years, the left-wing trend is again picking up in the globe -- see the Russian or French elections. Now, in the case of the Indian human rights struggle, though the Government agency entering into human rights is linked to globalization, establishing a human rights commission, etc, the struggle for human rights is actually a post-Emergency period situation and is also related to politics. But see what I am saying is that there has been a continuously different Dalitist tradition of human rights which we have never looked at, and which is not related to the globalization process but which is basically India-centered. It was Phule who first read Tom Paine's book The Rights of Man and translated it into Marathi. Later on it was Ambedkar who propagated the "liberty, equality, fraternity" concept and this is reflected in every writing of his. So there has been a Dalitist perspective of human rights and that perspective has never been addressed. For example, is the fight against untouchability a human rights struggle or not? People have been fighting for those rights but we never recognize it in the human rights discourse. The right to water, the right to touch, the right to be touched, the right to inter-marry has been a major battle in the villages. Several inter-caste marriages were entered into by Dalitbahujan boys and girls and they fought the battles. But we have never brought that into the human rights literature at all.

Q. Yes, because the human rights literature, as propounded from the west, always gets framed as rights of an individual, whereas it does not necessarily bridge the rights of an individual to, let's say, questions of social justice.

K.I. But there also the rights of the individual were always examined in terms of capitalism and in terms of feudalism, socialism and mode of production. Here, the rights of individuals within the caste system have to be examined in relation to feminism. See when a Dalit boy is trying to marry an upper-caste girl and fighting a battle, he is fighting as an individual also, against the brahminical order. And that boy or girl or the parents of that boy or girl are being punished -- how do you look at it? When the feminist movement came, the whole issue of women was constructed in terms of the movement of human rights, but why don't we construct the whole issue of caste in terms of human rights? We never did that because human rights discourse does not exist in an autonomous space. It always exists in terms of broader economic and ideological structures -- capitalism, feudalism. Then I've been asking these people, why don't you ask whether you are born in a brahmin family. I'm born in an OBC family, some others are born in a Dalit family, shall we not make Brahminism a point of attack in discourse as we did feudalism and capitalism?

Even the Communists and the feminists said we can't do that. I said why, is it because you are born in that or is it because of something else? They do not accept this whole question of birth but my feeling is that feudal lords like Sunderaiya, Nagi Reddy, Pulla Reddy -- all of them are feudal lords -- they came into Communism and attacked feudalism but it was not directly related to their birth. Because feudalism is an abstract concept in India. If you had attacked Reddyism they would not have been in the Communist movement because that is closely related.

My point is that having been born in a feudal family if you could attack feudalism, having been born in a brahmin family why could you not attack Brahminism also? The point here is that Brahminism as an ideology gets consolidated in childhood formation. It is a caste notion. Therefore they are not

willing. So long as you do not attack Brahminism as an ideology and Hinduism as a system of oppression in every human rights meeting. How do you do that? This has now to be repeatedly done. This is also related to the question why the Indian communist party did not critique Hinduism so far? Marxism has critiqued Christianity ruthlessly --take the writings of Engels. Until today there is no major book -- until Why I am Not a Hindu came -- with a serious critique of Hinduism from a Marxist idea and this book is not being owned by Indian Communists and not being appreciated. Why? What is this relationship between you and Hinduism and you and Brahminism? Why don't you own this book, take it up and promote it? They are now afraid that it also raises a question of the organic intellectual. That you cannot do it because your consciousness is bound by your childhood formation. It is only the Dalitbahujan organic intellectuals who should come and lead these movements. They alone can take it up. This is very inconvenient for the Communists -- then this is not Marxism. This is the crux of the problem within the Indian Communist movement.

Q. I want to slightly change the topic. I see that in the way we are discussing Brahminism the role of women is very important. And the way that it succeeds is by a certain way of controlling sexuality and by objectifying women in a specific way. The Indian feminist critiques have had to contend with that and that has been the most important thing to deal with and I don't know if that succeeds, whether it has been successful or not. But is it possible to say that in your articulation of the Dalitbahujan critique you have made use of some of the feminist conceptual space that's been made available?

K.I. Yes. But in fact of late, I've also been thinking that while it is true that the feminist ideology has given us a very important methodology to understand the caste system.... It is a struggle for freedom, freedom not only of sexuality but also of productivity, of the whole human formation, of the whole human being getting liberated from all modes of oppression. For that Dalit feminism provides a different scope. I've been repeatedly giving one example of a caste practice. In Andhra there is a caste called Chakaali, the dhobi caste. In this caste both men and women collect the clothes, they go to the dhobi ghat, wash there and bathe there. Both men and women bathe there in the open, then come back and distribute the clothes. There is no concept of cooking in them, taking food from all families. Then, though, the woman became the midwife and the dhobi became a small doctor in the village. The goal of the feminist movement should be to feminize men, to make men understand the body, the sexuality and the equality of women, to share work. Except for the procreative stomach of women, men and women should be equal in everything. Now, when you talk to a Chakaali man and inquire about how he views the act of his wife bathing in public so openly, the Chakaali man asks what is wrong with it? This other caste people cannot say. There is a feminized man in the Chakaali community and that should be our ideal. That community should be our ideal. For any transformation cannot be undertaken at the level of abstract thinking but it must be related to some kind of existing practice. This kind of Chakaali feminism is a very important model for reshaping our understanding. I think we have to look at these practices very carefully and study them to see what kind of theoretical and structural practical signals they give us. This, I think is very much absent in the upper-caste feminists. They never problematize their own self... their own unproductive sexuality -- the sexuality remains unproductive in terms of tilling, in terms of seeding, and a whole range of agrarian or industrial processes. What kind of liberation is it ultimately linked to?

Q. Just a question to wind up, coming back in a certain sense to the first question about 50 years of independence. One of the ideas that was dear to Ambedkar especially as he came into the Constituent Assembly was to find a way to treat Dalits as non-Hindus but to create them as another minority within the Indian state. But that idea was something that was lost in the negotiations that unfolded in the Constituent Assembly. Do you think that had he been able to stick to that these past 50 years would have been different?

K.I. No. See Ambedkar's view kept on changing over time. He first constructed them as a minority then depressed classes. But from a minority, in the post-Ambedkarite period has been constructed a notion of majority -- the bahujan. I do not really think if that kind of notion of minority had been given a place something concrete would have emerged. One demand was that let there be a separate Dalit state - a third state that would have given some kind of solution to the untouchability problem. But the whole question is changing the Indian thought process, the whole Hindu ethos itself, and constructing a new model for the whole world from this base would not have been possible with that. I have a feeling that if a Dalitist state gets established it will be a far better Socialist model for the world than the other models which were already established because Dalitbahujan society was never so religiously fundamentalist, there is no such constructed religion like that, it has been much more spontaneous, and they have lived for such a long time with that kind of a thinking. So from that to a kind of conscious educated Dalitist socialist system, I think that the productive forces would get released a thousand times, and equality will come much better but it should be under Dalit leadership. Now if under Dalit women leadership if a Dalitist state and society is established I think we will see a very bright future for the whole country.

This is the transcript of an interview with Kancha Ilaiah, a Dalitbahujan intellectual and professor of Political Science at Osmania University in Hyderabad. Ilaiah is author of the recently published book Why I am Not a Hindu. The interviewers are Chris Chekuri and Biju Mathew. The interview was conducted in July 1997. Transcribers: Vamsicharan Vakulabharanam, Radhika Lal and Mir Ali Raza.

  Category: World Affairs
  Topics: Dalit, India
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