Tag Archives: Dalit History

Remembering Mahatma Jotiba Phule on death anniversary

एक महान भारतीय विचारक, समाज सेवी, लेखक, दार्शनिक तथा क्रान्तिकारी सामाजिक सुधारक,

राष्ट्रपिता महात्मा ज्योतिबा फुले जी का आज के ही देहांत 28 नवम्बर 1890 को हुआ था,

महापुरुष की पुण्यतिथि पर उनको शत शत नमन !!!

Jotiba Phule

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Dalit History Month – Remembering P. K. Rosy

P.K Rosy holds the distinction of being the first heroine and the first Dalit heroine of Malayalam cinema.

Most accounts of her life and work are not based on actual meetings with her as she passed away in 1988 and was never acclaimed or even acknowledged during her lifetime. However, her extraordinary life, when examined is full of instances courage, struggle and passion. Before she was discovered by the director of her film, she was already a member of folk theatre groups and had experience acting in Tamil dramas in A Dalit art form called Kaakarashi. In 1928, she was “discovered” by the director J.C Daniel and given the role of an upper caste (Nair) woman in the movie Vigathakumaran (The Lost Child).

When the movie was released, members of the Nair community were enraged to see a Dalit woman portray a Nair woman. Upper caste riots ensued. They vandalized the theatre, tore down the movie screen and proceeded to hunt down Rosy. They burned down her house but she managed to escape the angry crowd. Reports state that she fled in a lorry that was headed to Tamil Nadu, married the lorry driver and lived her life quietly in Tamil Nadu.

Whatever the case, her abilities and her Pioneering work as an actress in a caste feudo-patriarchal society must be celebrated. Only 5 years after her film was destroyed and she chased away from Kerala, upper caste women safely began acting in Malayalam films without any objection or attack. this means more than ever that We must keep the memory of P.K.Rosy’s talented and powerful Dalit womanhood alive.

Dalit History Month - Remembering P. K. Rosy

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Dalit History Month – We salute the strength and resilience of a Dalit woman, Radhika Vemula

Today in Dalit History we celebrate the strength and resilience of a Dalit woman, Radhika Vemula. Born of Dalit parents, she was adopted by a Shudra couple when she was still a baby. Throughout her life, she experienced several confusing realities; as an adopted child in a non-Dalit home, as a spouse in a turbulent and inter-caste relationship and in her struggle to raise her three children with little support.

She managed the economics of her household with tailoring, embroidery, construction and domestic work. There were dire times for the family when it was difficult to pull together three square meals a day. Radhika and the children all worked wage labour jobs on the side but she still encouraged them to come back after their work and read too. She was a mother determined to educate her children and sent all of them to college.

Being bright children, they were all admitted into good schools. When both her sons were in college, she made the decision to further her own education. She began a Bachelors of Arts degree through a distance-learning programme offered by Sri Venkateshwara University. So while her children were students furthering themselves, she was too!

The family was proud of their exremely intelligent older son Rohith Vemula on his admission into University of Hyderabad (uoH). They also finally experienced some financial breathing room when Rohith began receiving a monthly scholarship at his PhD programme. Radhika and the family were deeply shocked when they discovered that UoH, in association with right-wing Hindu political forces, had institutionally murdered their son and brother.

In the hard days that followed, Radhika’s deep sense of grief has been seen to be matched only by her incredible resilience and commitment to obtaining justice for her son. Rohith’s death, had thrown her right in the eye of a storm. She has been protesting outside in the same location at UoH that Rohith had when he had been unfairly expelled by the administration. She has unflinchingly experienced police brutality along with the other student protestors. She bravely calls out Minister Smriti Irani as one of her son’s murderers and refused Prime Minister Narendra Modis’s fabricated sympathy. She stands tall, leading her other two children and all the other students fighting for justice at UoH. In a towering act of revolution, on the significant occassion of Babasaheb Ambedkar’s 125th birth anniversary, she renounced Hinduism and embraced Buddhism. She affirms that she did so in order to honour the memory of her son and to escape the root of their oppression.

In the face of the agonizing loss of her son, the defamation of their family, the breaches of her privacy, the continuous harassment she faces – there is one thing that is clear. Radhika Vemula is never a victim. She is a warrior obliterating every injustice on her path. We mourn with her and we honour the fierceness of a Dalit mother. Power to her struggle. Jaibhim!

Radhika Vemula

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Dalit History Month – Dalit, Queer, Proud

On 29th November 2015, three young queer Dalits changed the face the Delhi queer pride. Dhrubo Jyoti, a journalist, Akhil Khang, a lawyer and Dhiren Borisa, a doctoral student, held up beautiful signs that they had painted. The signs summarized in three powerful words, ” Dalit, Queer, Proud”. In one extraordinary moment, both their Dalit and the Queer identities were visibilized and celebrated. Their assertion also dealt a blow to upper caste hegemony over Queer spaces like the Delhi Pride.

In reality, poor and especially trans and genderqueer Dalitbahujan contributions surpass upper caste efforts at queer liberation. They are the ones who create queer communities, protest enmasse and bear the brunt of the beatings, torture, rape and murders by society and the state. The criminalizing of the lives of queer folks through oppressive acts like the Section 377 (colonial anti-homosexuality law) also disproportionately affects poor, queer Dalitbahujan individuals, who cannot afford the price of privacy or rely on sex work for a living.

The prides in major cities however, had become reflective of upper caste queer activism whose proponents have strived to create “caste-less” spaces to dissociate queerness from caste. In Dhrubo’s pride speech, he states his reply to an upper caste individual asking him why Dalits felt the need to “bring caste into everything”. Dhrubo replies ” We bring caste up because caste is everywhere and in my everything, Caste is in my shirt, Caste is in my pant, Caste is in my sex, Caste is in my being and Caste is in every part of you too!” Together, their compelling Pride statement affirmed that the invisibilization of caste, erased Dalitbahujan struggles, history and identity

Their statement was not met without hostility. The majority of dominant castes accused them of derailing conversations of queerness with caste, but they made clear their position was one that was not posing to ease upper caste fragility but one that would help nurture inclusion.

They continue to engage by being conscious of their own privileges, by being a part of the interrogation of power structures and by opposing the prevailing silence around caste and queerness that shames Dalit queer folk into silence.

Today in Dalit History, we honor the energy of these three resolute young individuals and celebrate both their queerness and their Dalitness as they continue to enlighten us and make us proud!

Dalit History

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Dalit History Month – Reverend Dr. Evangeline Anderson-Rajkumar

Today in Dalit History, we honor the Reverend Dr Evangeline Anderson-Rajkumar, a Dalit spiritual leader whose struggle and contributions have revolutionized the Church’s approach to religion, gender, caste and sexuality.

Dr. Evangeline grew up in a family of 8 children raised single-handedly by her father following the early demise of her mother. Her father was a key influence in her life, planting the seeds of Dalit consciousness and Dalit spirituality in her young mind. He encouraged her to dream big and transcend the boundaries drawn by caste and gender.

Walking the path of his lessons, young Evangeline, at 21, found herself the only girl in her divinity class. On the day of her interview, she was asked, “Why did you choose theological education as your option, when you know that the Church does not ordain women to be priests?” Evangeline’s answer challenged this logic of impossibility: “Perhaps, I will come back to teach in this College!”. And she did. Evangeline came back to teach in the same college where she gained that critical perspective.

In 2006, when the United Evangelical Lutheran Church in India made an amendment to let women into their ministry, Evangeline became the first woman to hold office as the Vice President. Evangeline recalls the different painful glass ceilings that had to be shattered during that climb in life. She was told, “Evangeline, you may have secured the prestigious award for being the outstanding student of your theology class, but what will we, the male pastors do, if women opt for ministry and take away our jobs in the church? Women have enough work to do at home!”

In her attempts to revolutionize the church’s relationship to gender, she asserts that the acceptance of body and sexuality is key to faith in God. Her fiery sermons ask why it is so difficult to find acceptance for effeminacy. She asks that we break free from the understanding of women’s bodies as polluting, leaking, bleeding and sexual. She says that the image of God as cis, male, and one who condones racism, sexism, classism, casteism and ethnocentrism has damaged not only the oppressed peoples’ self-esteem but has seriously curbed our communities’ larger possibility for liberation. Her ideas have stood tall and have shook the status quo of both church and caste patriarchal society.

Today the Reverend Dr. Evangeline continues to be a theological juggernaut. She teaches at the Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary, Columbia, South Carolina and focuses on building a network of struggle and resistance between Dalits and other people of color.

Reverend Dr Evangeline Anderson-Rajkumar

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Dalit History Month – Remembering the genocide of Dalits at Marichjhapi in West Bengal

Today in Dalit History, we defiantly tell the genocide of Dalits at Marichjhapi in West Bengal. The events involved The Namashudras, Who at that time were a politically powerful Dalit community. It was Because of the Namashudras, under the leadership of Jogendranath Mandal, that ensured the election of Dr.Ambedkar from the Bengal province to the Constituent Assembly. Their firm allyship with the Muslims formed a vote-bloc that deeply threatened the Hindu upper-caste opposition in Bengal.

After partition their Power was threatened for their Ancestral home was in East Bengal and in the newly formed Pakistan many were pressured to Leave. In the face of increasing religious violence Many sold everything they had to escape into West Bengal. However Once in India, the State of West Bengal controlled by Upper caste Communists shuttled the Namashudras into deplorable state work camps.The Namashudras protested, organized and 30,000 of these refugees reached a compromise resettlement area in Marichjhapi in the Sundarbans, a marshy mangrove forest. Over the course of a couple of months they finally restablished a viable beginning to a thriving community.

This was when the real violence began. The Communist and Upper caste State forces of Bengal, under the guise of protecting the local tiger population, sent in forces who began encircling the island, tear-gassing villages, burning down huts, sinking boats, and destroying fisheries, wells and farms. Scholars Estimate Thousands were Murdered, Tortured, and RapeD and yet there are no records because of the complete blackout of Media Coverage. Survivors However, report the indiscriminate dumping of Masses of dead bodies in tiger territories to be eaten and into the rivers until the smells were unbearable and the entire ecosystem was destroyed.

The press, upper-caste Bengali academics, and the communist governments of Bengal continue to shroud the massacres at Marichjhapi in darkness. The Government Officials involved have never been reported to the international courts. police and state perpetrators have been retained and promoted. But the survivors Will not be silenced. They assert the killings amount to nothing less than genocide of the Namashudra community. Today we remember their sacrifice and stand with the NamaShudra community in their demands for justice.

आज दलित इतिहास माह के दिन हम डट के कहानी कहते हैं पश्चिम बंगाल के मरीछझापी जिले में हुए दलितों के नरसंहार की। घटनाकर्म में वह नमशूद्र समाज जुड़ा हुआ है जो उस समय एक शक्तिशाली दलित समाज था. इस समाज ने ही जोगेंद्रनाथ मंडल के नेतृत्व में डॉ आंबेडकर को बंगाल राज्य से चुनाव जिताया.

बटवारे के बाद उनकी ताक़त खतरे में पद गयी क्योंकि उनका मूल पूर्व बंगाल में जो अब पाकिस्तान का हिस्सा बन चूका था और उन पर देश छोड़ने के लिए दबाव डाल रहा था. धार्मिक हिंसा के चलते बहुत सारो ने अपना सब कुछ बेचकर पश्चिम बंगाल की ओर अपने कदम बढाए। लेकिन भारत में पहुँचने के बाद उच्छ जाती के वामपंथियों ने इन् लोगो को बेहद दर्दनाक कैंपो में काम करने के लिए जमा दिया. दो-तीन महीनों में इस समाज ने फिर से अपना जीवन स्थायी कर लिया.

यही समय था जब असली हिंसा उभर कर आई. शेर बचाने के बहाने, बंगाल के उच्छ जातीय वामपंथी शक्तियों ने इस समाज का घेराव सिपाहियों से किया. तथा उन्होंने गाँवों में अश्रु-गैस फेंका, बस्तियों को जलाया, नाव डुबो दिए, मच्छी व्यापार को नष्ट किया। वविद्वानों का कहना है की हज़ारों की मृत्यु , बहुत लोगो का शारीरिक उत्पीड़न और बलात्कार हुआ. फिर भी इस घटना का कहीं भी कोई नाम-ओ-निशाँ नहीं तथा मीडिया में इस विषय को पूरी तरह दबा दिया गया है. जो लोग बच गए कहते हैं की बहुत सारे शव जंगल में शेर के भोजन के लिए छोड़ दिए गए, और कुछ शव नदी में फेंके गए. इस सब से जो बधबू उमड़ उठा वह बर्दाश्त से बाहर था और पूरे वातावरण को नष्ट कर चूका था.

पत्रकार, उच्छ जाती के बंगाली विद्वान, और बंगाल के वामपंथी सरकार आज भी इस घटना पर पर्दा दाल रहे हैं. सरकारी कर्मचारी जो इस नरसंहार में जुड़े हुए थे कभी अंतर्राष्ट्रीय अदालत में पेश नहीं किये गए. पुलिस और सरकारी अपराधी सरकार से जुड़े रहे और प्रोन्नति करते गए. लेकिन जो जीवित रहे वह चुप बैठने वाले नहीं हैं. वह इस बात का दावा करते हैं की इस मात्रा के हत्या को नरसंहार ही समझना चाहिए. आज हम इस नमशूद्र समाज के बलिदान को नमन करते हैं और उनके न्याय के इस लड़ाई में उनके साथ खड़े रहने का संकल्प लेते हैं. जय भीम!

Dalit History Month - Remembering the genocide of Dalits at Marichjhapi in West Bengal

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Dalit History Month – Remembering Advocate Eknath Awad

Today in Dalit History we remember Advocate Eknath Awad, who is also known as “Jija” fondly, (meaning “the respected”). he was born in Maharashtra on 19th January 1956 in a Potraj (Mang) family. Potraj is an oppressive profession assigned to some Dalit castes. They grow long dreadlocks, smear vermillion on their forehead, wear a multi-coloured cloth around the waist and a whip in hand, whip themselves as they dance.

Eknath’s difficult childhood was steeped in these humiliations of caste, untouchability and poverty. However, Awad was a bright young man, he finished his schooling in village schools and went on to attain his Bachelors of Arts (BA), graduated with a Masters of Arts (MA), Masters in Social Work (MSW) and later LLB.

During his time in college, he was exposed to Phule-Ambedkarite ideology. He became an active member of the Dalit Panthers. As a politically empowered Dalit man, he was at the forefront of Namantar (renaming) struggle of Babasaheb Ambedkar Marathwada University that unleashed violence against Dalits of Marathwada affecting more than 25,000 people in Marathwada.

His time in this struggle exposed him to the understanding of oppressive structures holding caste-marginalized people hostage. He realized that dalits lived as bonded laborers and as slaves in the fields of dominant castes generation after generation. If they asserted for their rights, upper caste landlords countered with gruesome atrocities. Awad realized that tackling just the issues of human rights was inadequate, these issues had to be complemented with economic and social overhaul. With these things in mind, he established Rural Development Centre (RDC) in 1985 with the vision that reform could be effective only if it was supported by peoples’ movements. In 1990, Manvi Hakka Abhiyan or Campaign for Human Rights (CHR) was born inspired from the struggles of Ambedkar, Phule, Annabhau Sathe, Shahu Maharaj, Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela. This movement worked to legalize barren land in villages under as property of Dalits. More than 24,607 Dalit families submitted grazing land ownership claims from 1100 villages. Awad’s struggle managed to free more than 70,000 hectares of land.

He had a broad vision for Bahujan well-being and worked on not only Dalit rights but the issues of child rights, education, gender justice, conservation and sustainable agriculture in drought-inflicted Marathwada. He advocated for peoples’ to be free of the shackles of caste, patriarchy and superstition. between 1995 and 2012, he started the satyashodhak (truthseekers), debrahminised congregational marriages. in an act of liberation, Along with his thousands of followers in 2006, he also converted to Buddhism in Nagpur.

We honour his work and legacy that are celebrated in Maharashtra and nationwide.

Credit – Nilesh Kumar First published in Round Table India

Advocate Eknath Awad

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The Pasmanda Movement – Bihar and Beyond

Today in Dalit History we bring to forefront a contemporary anti-caste struggle of Dalitbahujan Muslims in India –the Pasmanda Movement. “Pasmanda” is a Persian term meaning “oppressed” in and encompasses those who make up more than 80% of the total Muslim population in India – Dalit and backward castes Muslims.

The Pasmanda ideology first took shape as a social movement in the 1990s in the state of Bihar. It challenged the authenticity of a monolithic Muslim identity in India by underscoring the existence of three Muslim caste-groups; Ashraf (upper castes), Ajlaf (middle castes) and Arzal (lower castes).

It asserted that although Islam does not recognize hierarchy based on birth, in practice, caste has persisted within these communities for centuries. The realities of the low caste Muslims like Julahas (weavers) and Lalbegi (scavengers), existence of caste-based endogamy and the Ashraf domination in Muslim religious forums and leadership were beginning to be seen as unacceptable. Pasmandas demanded the political space, discourse and power that had been historically denied to them.

With the formation of two key organizations; the All-India United Muslim Morcha in 1993 and then the All India Pasmanda Muslim Mahaz in 1998, the Pasmanda movement was ready to break Ashraf hegemony. The main goal of these organizations was the constitutional recognition of affirmative action for Pasmanda communities .

Under the Government of India Act of 1935, a list or schedule was drawn up of castes that were recognized as extremely backward. These castes had both Hindu as well as Muslim members and provisions were made for their collective socioeconomic upliftment. However, in 1950 a presidential order was passed according to which these special benefits would be available only to those Scheduled Castes who professed to be Hindu. With one stroke of the pen, non-Hindu Scheduled Castes were henceforth denied the benefits that the 1935 Government of India act had provided for them.

The work done by the Pasmanda movement has quickly spread from Bihar and has so far convinced the assemblies of Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, and Andhra Pradesh have all passed resolution supporting the demand for inclusion of Christian and Muslim Dalits among Scheduled Castes.

Although anti-caste struggles are not new to the Muslim communities in India, the Pasmanda movement is working with a rapidly shifting political landscape. Its has expanded its resolutions from affirmative action advocacy to forming socio-political alliances with other Bahujan communities as well as extending support to labor and strengthening the policy framework for Pasmanda women.

The Pasmanda Movement

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