Q - Explain what is Dalit?
KI - The word Dalit actually came from the word "dalitha" which means petals of a flower, the petals linked together but yet separate from one another. Subsequently the word Dalit was brought into the Marathi literature. Later on Ambedkar used this word to refer to the Scheduled Castes (SC), the untouchables in India. The untouchables were historically called chandalas by the Hindu Brahminic authors. Chandalas were not supposed to even see a Brahmin face and not supposed to work or eat in public space.
1970s marked the beginning of a popular movement in Maharashtra called the Dalit Panthers Movement by a group of young writers challenging the Brahminical Hindu thought. These young writers were inspired from the writings and struggles of Ambedkar just as he was inspired from Mahatma Jyoti Roy Phule, author of the famous book called "The Slavery" (1861). The Slavery was the first major book in modern India which changed the discourse of Sudras as incompetent & brainless, to a group of productive and great people. The Dalits as we understand today refers to that historical untouchable people.
In my book, Why I Am Not a Hindu, I have used another term "Bahujans". Bahujan refers to Backward Class (BC), the socially and economically backward Sudras. Collectively, Backward Class (BC), Scheduled Caste (SC) & Scheduled Tribes (ST) constitute 72% of population in India today.
My primary argument is that the 73% of these people have nothing to do with the Hindu religion because (a) the Dalit-Bahujan children are not allowed to be initiated into the Hindu religion, and (b) the adults are not allowed to even read the scriptures let alone become a priest, regardless of however much one is educated about the Hindu scripture. In addition, the societal hierarchy facilitates Brahmins to control the Hindu temples. The wealth that is mobilized from all over the world is completely owned and controlled by the Brahmins and Baniyas.
But for political reasons and for electoral politics the Brahmins term all the non-Muslim, non-Christian and non-Buddhist people as Hindus. This is the crux of the problem.
The concept Dalit, as I define, are the people who are suppressed, oppressed and exploited by the Brahmins and Baniyas. So when I combine the word Dalit & Bahujan together as Dalit-Bahujan, I mean the suppressed, oppressed and exploited "majority" population (72%) of India.
India (soon) is going to enter into a civil war in terms of liberating these masses because that seems to be the goal of the masses now as they constitute an overwhelmingly large suppressed, oppressed and exploited majority of Indian society.
Q - There are couple of things that caught my attention - (A) Was the Dalit Panther Movement (in India) inspired by the Black Panther Movement of US? and (B) you also mentioned 72% of the people in India are DBs and if we add to them the 13% of Muslims, 5% of Christians and another 5% or so of other religions, we end up with a mere 5% of people who are "Hindus" - would you then say that the small minority of 5% of Hindus rule the remaining 95% of the people in India?
KA - That is what the main problem is. The Brahmins and Baniyas together in all India context constitute to no more than 5%, i.e. about 2.5% each.
Q - Pardon my interruption but can you quickly also add to your answer a bit about Baniyas - who are they?
KI - Baniyas are those who actually evolved themselves in historical terms into the business community. The Indian business caste were known as Vaishya caste. In the Hindu texts only Vaishyas are allowed to do business not only during the ancient but even in the medieval and modern periods. Prior to the Muslims coming into India, the entire business was in the hands of Vaishyas now they are called Baniyas.
Mahatma Gandhi belonged to Baniya caste. This caste, because of Gandhi's position and also because of their own socio-economic position, became the most powerful business caste in India, now controlling almost 50% of all Indian businesses.
So coming back to answer your question - both the Brahmins and Baniyas in terms of population constitute only 5%, but in terms of owning up the gold reserves, they own about 60% to 70% and in terms of housing assets, they own about 50% of the total rich housing areas. If you look at the car ownership about 50% to 60% of cars are owned by Brahmins and Baniyas and if you look at Air travel & Air-conditioned train traveling, 80% of the air travelers and Air-conditioned train travelers are Brahmins and Baniyas. The remaining 20% would be those Sudra upper castes who came into the political and economic realm after the freedom and the small Muslim leftover elite from the old ruling class and a small minority of Christians who have some international connections. In other words the Dalit-Bahujans and the tribal population component in the whole elite economy of India is zero.
Now how do we compare the Dalit Panther Movement with the Black Panther Movement of USA. In fact when the Dalit Panther Movement started, it was with the inspiration from the Black Panther Movement in America. And, you also notice that in early 60s all over Africa the freedom struggle started, the slogan "black is beautiful" came about and that slogan inspired many of us when we were in colleges.
You know in early 70s I was in college and the Dalits, OBCs (Other Backward Classes) and the Tribals, saw themselves as the Dravidian race which is a black race of India. So the blacks of Africa, who are now being called as Afro-American, and the Africans themselves; their struggles are comparable to ours. Many of the slogans that we have adapted today are evolved over time from our collective struggles.
But there is a fundamental difference between the Afro-Americans, the Africans and the Indian Dalit-Bahujans. And, that is the Afro-Americans at least in the modern period entered into religious society on the principle of spiritual equality. Many American blacks could become Christians, could become priests of the churches. I remember the famous case of Malcolm-X who later became Muslim. They were operating from the Mosques and Churches as liberating centers. But in our case, since the Brahmins invaded (as Aryans) the Indian land, the most unfortunate situation is that we do not have any space in any organized religion in spite of being 72% of Indian population today. And in our battle against this brutal oppression, there is neither a church nor a mosque or a temple with us to support. And these Brahmin people call us 'Hindus' shamelessly without giving us any space in the temple.
Most tragically, in the name of nationalism these Brahmin-Baniya groups educate their children in IITs (Indian Institute of Technology) IIMs (Indian Institute of Management) and Engineering Colleges and send all of them to Europe and America. These young Brahmin-Baniya men and women begin to think that Hinduism is a great positive religion, a great human religion but here is a religion who continues to deny 72% of the people the very right to religion.
Will they give us the right to religion today and immediately allow us to take care of the temples and the head priesthoods of these temples? Will they allow a Dalit or an OBC to become a priest of the Ram Temple that they want to build at the place where the Babri Mosque was destroyed? No, certainly not. These VHP (Vishwa Hindu Parishad) Brahmins (Ashok Singhal & others) want the SC, ST, OBC & Adi-Vasi (tribal) labor to construct the Ram Temple and to work as their slaves (like Hanuman worked as a slave of Rama in Ramayan) but not worship inside the temple, let alone assume the priesthood of it.
So this is our situation and this is where our situation is historically different from the blacks of the world and the Afro-American people living in US.
During the September 11 tragedy, from the cathedral in Washington D.C., I saw a black priest reading out the sermon, a black woman priest presenting herself in the church (as one of the leading figures) in the presence of some of the past-presidents of America and the current one - all sitting there. Is there a temple in this country or is there a Hindu religious meeting where a Dalit priest can read Vedas and other scriptures and Brahmins will sit and listen to the Dalit priest and touch the feet of that Dalit priest ... not only it is never going to happen but they will never allow this to happen ... they will simply kill anybody who dare do that ... and that is the main difference between the Afro-Americans in America and us in India.
Now the Afro-American friends must understand our position. The Afro-Americans were taken as slaves between 16th and 18th centuries but we are the native Indians much before the Brahmins invaded this land as Aryans.
We built this economy by sheep breeding. I come from a sheep breeders family. My great grand mother and father were sheep breeders. They made the sheep and goat economy as a central pillar of this nation. But they have nothing in this country now.
So the Scheduled Castes who make this country's economy of leather, who started the first industry of the country, the leather industry, the leather buckets, bags, shoes, made the civilization stand upon its legs and yet the 17% of Indian population (SCs) even today are untouchables.
By fluke I came into the higher education field but there are not many of us in the institutions of higher learning. We are as untouchables as any one else in the village except that we fight and write today but that's the marginal space that we got.
So this is the crux of the problem. This is the difference between Afro-Americans and us. I don't think Afro-Americans are as untouchables as we are in this country.
Q - That is true. The Afro-American community certainly do not seem to have been subjected with that intensity as the Dalit-Bahujans are subjected to by Brahmins and Baniyas in India. I also see myself as a victim of fallacy that India is a Hindu country. But when we dissect that India with these numbers, that we have just discussed, we clearly see a very minute minority of the Indian population is ruling an overwhelming majority of Indian population subjecting them to physical, mental and otherwise subjugation. Is there any effort or is there any movement to expose this, whereby "the Hindu" and the "largest democracy of the world" is exposed of the wrong doings being committed in the name of Hindus, Hinduism & Democracy, for so long?
KI - Not much exposure is done about that. One of the main reason is that the foreign scholars who come to India basically interact with the Brahminical scholarly world and the clergy class or they talk to some of the Muslim & Christian scholars. And each one of these people talk about their own religions not us. The Brahmins would naturally project 80% of the people are Hindus because they want themselves to be shown as majority.
Dalit-Bahujans in India probably rank the highest in the global illiteracy. Countries in Africa and South Asian region are overcoming illiteracy but we still suffer illiteracy. This is because people fought illiteracy by the religious texts and thru reading of the religious texts at home, people became literates. Christians starting from Jerusalem to all Euro-American states educate their children to read Bible. Similarly, Buddhists educate their children to read Buddhist texts and the Muslims educate their children to read Quran.
As a matter of fact, the very Brahmins who claim us to be Hindus have cut the tongues of those (Dalits) who dared touch the religious texts and lead was (literally) pored in their ears. Even today if any Dalit becomes a priest in a temple he would be simply liquidated.
So the question before us is this that the 72% of Indians whom we call Dalit-Bahujans are living in spiritual darkness. There is no spiritual book for them to read. Their children do not know what is their religious book. In my view the political democracies of the world are based on the spiritual democracies that came into the world. When I say spiritual democracies, I mean book-based religions. Each wanted more and more people to know about their religion, the book about God and about Prophet who mediated between God and people. But here is a religion which is called a Hindu religion which did not want to let the people know anything about religion. In fact it kills people if they try to read the books. So now we are left illiterates because there is no organized religion to initiate a literacy campaign to read either the religious book or secular book. So this is where the problem arises - the world thinks that we are Hindus & the Brahminical forces go on campaigning that we are all Hindus but we have no right to read the book and we have no right to become the priests and we have no right to know the light of the God, so therefore my argument is that we are in spiritual darkness. But, what is the way out?
I think this is where the spiritual democratic religions have a role to play. The Islamic world which became organized became scientifically oriented and went into civilization. They had the Quran as its essential text and that very reference point (Quran as a book) made them one people. The Christians have bible as a reference point and more the people read the clergy class feels happy with the service that they were rendering so they have a reference point and that they can read and interpret the book in relation to their lives. The Buddhists have their Buddha's own image, and scripture (Brahmapada) but what do we have ...
Can we take Bhagwad-Gita as our book .. you know I am said to be coming from the caste that Krishna was said to have come, the Yadavas. Krishna is said to have been our God and we areYadavas in that larger group. Krishna had 8 married wives and 16,000 relations with Yadava women .. there was not a single Yadava wife to him .. all his wives were Kshatriya women ... now this is the situation ... even the God image that is being projected .. did not relate to us. It did not have that communicative channel with us.
Therefore my appeal to the world community living across the religions is that here is a community which has not seen the light of the World and the light of the Divine and light of the Book. The illiteracy level among them is very very high therefore the world has to now come to the rescue of these people either in the form of religious charities or in the form of giving them a literacy base. And then the world should be made known of this community who does not have the right to religion but they are being claimed to be part of a religion where there is no right to religion at all.
Now this puts us in a very peculiar situation . We do not have it and we are claimed to be that. And this is because, very surprisingly, we have a right to vote today and in order to get our votes into their fold, we are called Hindus again. But if I ask for Hindu right, the Hindu priesthood right, the Hindu Temple right and the Hindu scripture right, they will simply attack us.
See, RSS is running about 40,000 Gurukula schools, these are schools like Madrassahs, which Musharraf is now banning in Pakistan. And in these Gurukula schools there is not a single Dalit teacher, there is no OBC teacher. All these teachers are Brahmins, Baniyas or upper castes and they tell these children that being in the caste system and living like slaves to the Brahmins is their religious Dharma (obligation). So what's the responsibility of the world community. Is it not their responsibility to liberate these suppressed, oppressed and exploited people? When world is living in high tech and global village culture, where are we? I think this issue is to be addressed by all people belonging to all religions of the world today.
Q - Racism was the focal point of deliberations during the recent Racism Conference in Durban, South Africa, and this is probably because the issue of Racism is quite well exposed in the international media and forums. What forum do you have in India and if not what forum can Dalits go to in the international arena where you can take the issue of untouchability and the genocide of Dalit people in this country (because this is happening in an institutionalized fashion not by accident where 80% of the people for centuries together are being subjugated intellectually, physically & emotionally & so on and so forth) where the world may wake up and realize its responsibilities and secondly if you do not mind to add to that, a very specific awakening call to those enlightened Hindus and Muslims from India who have migrated elsewhere such as in US where they represent an affluent class influencing different aspects of Hindu politics, socio economic order and so on and so forth. What specific message would you give to Hindus and Muslims from India and to the International community?
KI - Yes, now you have rightly raised the whole question of Durban conference. I was in the Durban Conference at the time with the Dalit delegation, about 150 of us went there and we asked the Indian Government to include the Caste question in the UN agenda. And we formulated that UN Agenda, not directly as Caste but as work and dissent group ... discrimination based on work and that dissent should be allowed across the world and more so in South Asia.
Very interestingly the Indian Government headed by BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) did not allow this to be included in the UN charters. The reason is if the UN decides to take up this issue, a world campaign may take place and there will be a global awareness about caste system which the Hindutva parties thought will put them in bad light. So our entire effort in Durban failed but we succeeded to the extent of putting this across the NGOs of the world. So today the NGOs know the whole question of untouchability in India and the question of oppression of the Hindu religion.
So what we are asking for us is that the world communities have a responsibility to see that the untouchability and caste system gets abolished in India. The formal democracies that exist today must call for the basic rights of the masses who are being forced to live as agrarian labor, shoemen, leather workers, and bonded labor ... this kind of slavery continues to exist all over the country. And secondly we thought that the global agencies can come to India as they did in the case of Africans to start educational institutions as part of their global democratic and civil liberties libertarian concepts, that NGOs are spreading. But now the Indian Government seems to be opposed to that kind of entry of NGOs.
But what would I request (for your second question) for the global community is that the global community charity institutions whether it is religious or secular I think they must focus on the Indian Dalit-Bahujan communities in two areas (1) they must put a global level campaign that these people must be allowed to take to and practice any religion they want. Because the right to religion is a fundamental right and any religion who like to liberate them must be allowed.
The recent problem has been that the Christian networks have started schools, rural area campaigns educating the lepers, starting age old homes, orphanage homes, etc. They are being attacked by RSS and VHP (the Hindutva forces) because they are in power at the Central Government level and now even that small relief the small NGO organizations were giving, has stopped. We have a Home Minister who is an absolute fundamentalist although the Prime Minister says he is liberal but he is opposed to all these masses being liberated into spiritual realm.
So the global organizations can really mobilize. There is a lot to do in the education area and in the health area. Because I strongly believe English is a language of liberation today and very interestingly the Indian upper caste and the elite, while they keep abusing the colonial process and the western system, all their children study in English medium in the missionary schools. Then there is the question of money also but for the children of DBs and Tribals they are giving education in a poor atmosphere in the regional languages so our children cannot compete against the upper caste and Brahminical forces so my appeal to the global communities is that if they really work out and bring in quite a bit of charity money in this country and start English medium schools among the SCs and OBC, within 20 years there will be a liberation. In any case almost there is a civil war situation exists in India which many people do not realize. It is a war of noise. It is not a war of weapons. So the SC, ST & OBCs (DBs) are really fighting at every level but being oppressed at every level so it is important to take up a very very strong global level campaign about our very right to liberation right to religion, education and to health. We are really in very bad position on these fronts.
Q - It is touching to know of a people in today's modern and civilized world, close to a billion people at the brink of extinction. You have spoken up courageously and have exposed this myth and fallacy of Hindus versus untouchables. You have also mentioned earlier that such radical voices were silenced by the majority dominating forces. You are currently teaching in an institution and you have written a book that is radical, provocative and intellectually challenging. Do you foresee any threat or danger to you personally?
KI - Well, there have been different kinds of attempts to suppress my voice. The Hindutva forces in various ways forced the Osmania University to give a letter to me asking that I should stop writing. The university served the letter through its Registrar but the Dalit-Bahujan movement all over the country fought it back. Given that the DB masses are involved in the battlefield of electoral politics, civil rights movement, Dalit movement in which I am also involved in various ways, one cannot say what can happen to oneself in personal life and that's not very important.
They are dead against my writing and my work but fairly I must say that the Indian press had positively responded to my writings. After I published "Why I Am Not A Hindu", my second book "God as a Political Philosopher - Budha's Challenge to Brahmanism" has come into the market and is doing very well in India. I think it would also go across the world now.
The issue at hand is that the in the next decade or two India seems to be moving toward a civil war just as the civil rights movement during 60's in USA and also what happened in France and also in Britain in terms of struggle for people rights. And now this situation certainly makes the Indian upper caste to organize more and more. The Indian minority religions are not really openly coming to support us in a big way except that the All India Christian Council has taken up a massive national campaign owning up the Dalit cause. The Muslim organizations, for historical reasons that they will be easily accused as anti-national, keep within their shell. But in any event the movement is expanding fast and I am part of that movement. The question is, historically unlike the Afro-American and Africans even in a country like South Africa, we lack in the literary struggle we do not have much texts except that of writings like Phule, Ambedkar, Periyar and what some of us are now doing.
What I request to the international organizations is that in order to understand the situation of Dalit-Bahujans in India, as a beginning it is important that they read "Why I Am Not A Hindu". I appeal to different countries and the small publishing agencies to really bring out Why I Am Not A Hindu and make it cheaply available to the masses because it is very important. In United States you have lots of upper caste Hindus, some of them are liberals and some of them are conservatives, and while living in US they think that Hinduism is their religion and that they should strongly identify with it and they also support the caste system.
My whole argument in this book and my next book and further wirings is that Hinduism has become a religion against productivity and scientific development. Neither the Vedic text nor the Brahminical mind appreciates the scientific discovery and productive processes that the Dalits have discovered. For example, hair cutting was discovered by the barber community but the Brahmins never respected it as a science, but in my view it is the greatest health science we discovered in India. We also had the leather science converting skin into leather, leather into skin instruments and that was a great scientific process but the Hindu religion condemned it as the most unworthy act. We then have a great washer-people community who discovered soil soaps as far back as seventh and eighth centuries, they were called Dhobis here in India. And if there are any people to claim patenting of soap, it should be the Dhobi community of India.
But not a thing is written about them so the Brahminical mind, the Brahminical religious text, the Brahmin religious divine spirits, condemned all producers and material makers. They too have their own spirituality ... they too have their gods and goddesses. In fact the Dalit-Bahujans have combined spiritual and production of material and work simultaneously. Hinduism condemned this and as a result Hinduism killed the dignity of labor in India. So my own theoretical battle today is how to put the dignity of labor in the centrality of the Indian educational institutions and mind. Because in the temple, dignity of labor is untouchable, labor is untouchable ... in the book it does not exist in the average Brahmin mind it does not exist at all.
Why I Am Not a Hindu is the first book that shows how Brahmins were alienated from production processes during the last 4000 years. So the Brahmin community leading the nation is not leading India toward development to compete with China, Japan and Euro American countries. It is Dalit-Bahujans who can come to the top with their roots in the production provided that proper education is given but that is also linked up to the spirituality question.
My parents as shepherds were spiritually very happy and enlightened. When my father helped deliver a sheep and when the young lamb was coming out he was feeling both spiritually and materially satisfied. And, when my mother after hauling hay and feeding the livestock and then milking the buffalos and cows she enjoyed that feeling and was spiritually feeling very happy about it.
This spiritual feeling lacks among Brahmins and I tell you why Brahmins say cow is a national animal and cow is a sacred animal and that Muslims should not kill the cows and eat their meat, etc. The truth is Muslims are just 13% people. 50% of Indian population are cow-beef eaters. All Dalits in South eat beef. Many OBCs in South eat beef. All tribals are beef eaters. Now why is it that they are calling Cow a sacred animal. Why do not they accept that buffalo is a sacred animal. Cow is not a specific Indian animal but if you look at buffalo it was domesticated in this part of the world and it was transformed into a milking animal. It is a household animal today from rich to poor. Even poorest of the poor at the least will have one buffalo in their house. Having a buffalo in the house tied up to a pole is considered to be sacred in a home of divine space. The Brahmins hate buffaloes. 75% of Indian milk comes from buffaloes & not from cows. Brahmins as Aryans hate black color. Buffalo is a black animal therefore today my slogan is we believe in buffalo nationalism and not cow nationalism.
You see I am very very sorry to say that that all of our youth are looking towards America and Europe as their permanent living. It is not a great merit of India. The children going there have no business to claim patriotism for this country. We know our struggles. My patriotism would be that I will ask my young people to stay back in this country and to transform this country into equal to that of any powerful country in the next 25 years. And how do you do that ...
Not with Brahmanism and Hinduism. We must establish a spiritual democracy in India where dignity of labor is equally accessible to all divine forces whether a shoe maker, a cattle rearer or a cloth washer or a barber. They all have equal rights before the God. And they should have the right to become a priest before the God in a church, temple or a mosque.
The Brahmins and upper caste living in America & Britain for the sake of their own realization must read Why I Am Not a Hindu. It is not a book that abuses ... let me just read the last paragraph from the introduction of this book .. "My request to Brahmin, Baniya and Neo-Kshatriya intellectuals is this: For about 3,000 years you people learnt only how to teach and what to teach others, the Dalit-Bahujans. Now in your own interest and in the interest of this great country you must learn to listen and to read what we have to say. A people who refuse to listen to new questions and learn new answers will perish and not prosper."
This is the transcript of an interview with Dr. Kancha Ilaiah, a Dalitbahujan intellectual and professor of Political Science at the Women's College, Osmania University in Hyderabad, India. Dr. Ilaiah is author of the book Why I am Not a Hindu. The interview was conducted in February 2002 by Shakeel Syed. Mr. Syed's E-mail is [email protected].
MAY ALLAH THE ALMIGHTY BLESS YOU AND SHINE HIS LIGHT OF WISDOM ON ALL.
I LIVE IN INDIA AND UNDERSTAND THIS COUNTRY
MORE THAN ANY OTHER COUNTRY. SO, LET ME STATE THIS
WITH AUTHORITY THAT WHAT MR. KANCHA ILLIAH STATES
IS BIASED . YES , THERE ARE ALL SORTS OF PROBLEMS
AND TROUBLES IN INDIA BUT THEN EVERY COUNTRY HAS IT. INLCLUDING ISLAMIC COUNTRIES. TO CONDEMN AND CRITIZE ONE COUNTRY BECAUSE THE MAJORITY HAPPEN TO BE NOT OF GLORIOUS ISLAM SMACKS OF HYOCRISY AND IS AGAINST THE LOFTY PRINCPLES OF HOLY ISLAM. EVERY RELIGION IS PATH TO ONE AND ONLY ONE ALMIGHTY ALLAH. TO CONDEMN THE PATH IS
TO INSULT THE INTELLIGENCE OF ALMIGHTY GRACIOUS ALLAH. WHILE THE ALMIGHTY ALLAH IS GUIDING AND WATCHING US HIS CREATIONS WHO ARE WE TO CONDEMN HIS CREATION. BETTER WE STRIVE TO LOVE AND LIVE IN THE PATH SHOWN BY ALLAH. REMEMBER EVERY NATION AND RELIGION HAS GOOD AND BAD PEOPLE .
mr. Iliah give us a break. If the situations were same you wouldn't have come across to this position of being a Prof: I respect your Profession but not your thought.
DO not blame BRAHMINS for being outcasted now. Karsevaks in AYODHYA are NOT "EMPLOYED" looking at their CASTE but their BELIEF.
Since you gota chance to say something, please do not talk some B.S.
If you look at ancient history... ARYANS are from present Germany... you know where GERMANY is in Technology..... Owe gratitude to History... do NOT use to make ur NAME nad BREAD.
GOD BLESS YOU Knowledge.(
Excellent article, but more information is needed, specifically on 3 topics:
1. the plight of women (especially of the lower castes) in this race/class based feudal system.
2. some data on the ethnic makeup (which states are most of the lower castes concentrated and why?).
3. Statements/quotes of famous indian leaders upholding this system.
Indeed, the fact that the caste system still exists in Indian society belies the claims by Hindutvas that Muslims came and wrecked their "advanced civilization".