Tag Archives: IIT Madras

Times of India covered Dr. Ambedkar Caravan among Round Table India, NACDOR, APSC and Dalit Camera

Few months back, Al Jazeera show on Dalit History had mentioned comments from the Dr. B. R. Ambedkar’s Caravan. Today, Times of India covered about Dr. Ambedkar Caravan. Read from here –

In recent months, racial violence has been foregrounded in the US, with the Charleston incident in which nine black church-goers were gunned down and other incidents of police brutality that are no longer possible to deny. And all of a sudden, Black Twitter has become a preoccupation with the US media, reminding it of its own evasions.

Hashtags around race like #icantbreathe #Blacklivesmatter found their way into many feeds, pushed themselves into wider view, and forced a reckoning. The LA Times recently even assigned a reporter to cover Black Twitter, while acknowledging that “it is so much more complicated than that”.

African-American struggles have inspired and tactically informed anti-caste activism. But could Dalit-Bahujan Twitter exert a similar force, in India?

Take Round Table India, a forum of writers that aims for “an informed Ambedkar age” and sees caste as the primary fissure in Indian society. They aggregate news on politics, society and culture, they comment and critique, and try to be a hub for Dalit-Bahujan voices. ‘Unlike mainstream media, we aren’t casteist – we have many upper castes writing, at least as much as their share in the population,” says Naren Bedide, one of the founders.

It’s only half a joke. The media is scandalously unrepresentative – in 1996, Pioneer journalist B N Uniyal found that he hadn’t met a single Dalit journalist in his entire working life. In 2006, a Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) study found that 90% of the decision-makers at English newspapers and 79% of TV journalists were upper-caste.

In other words, the media frames national events, but does not include most of the nation. It speaks with near-unanimity on IIT’s “standards” when it pushes out Dalit students; it misreports caste-based violence as “farmers’ clashes” or lovers’ quarrels when it reports them at all; and it often misses the real import of events. “When others interpret the world for you, can you change it?” is the question that drives Round Table India. “We don’t have, and don’t expect access in the media. It’s a conscious decision to build spaces of our own,” says Bedide. As he sees it, it is a structural conflict, and one can’t use the tools of savarnas, like mainstream media, to dismantle their edifice of hierarchy.

There are blogs like Atrocities News that wrenched attention to the Khairlanji killings and continue to document caste-based attacks. But there are also blogs with entirely different missions, Facebook and Twitter accounts, mailing lists and Whatsapp groups – and to club them all together as Dalit social media flattens their diversity. Shared Mirror, for instance, is a platform for Dalit poetry, translated and new. Savari, a space by Adivasi, Bahujan and Dalit women, speaks with its own distinctive voice.

There are forums dedicated to history and to challenging narratives and erasures, like Dr Ambedkar’s Caravan, which has over 500 articles so far. In April, activists across the board celebrated Dalit History Month, creatively resisting the attempt to reduce Dalit history solely to one of atrocity. This was, again, a nod to Black History Month. Hashtags like #Dalitlivesmatter are often used to galvanize others.


Twitter, though, is still a hostile medium, say many of these writers. “It is full of either Internet Hindus or Congressis and left-liberals, there is no understanding of other issues,” says Bedide. Facebook, which nurtures more like-minded groups and longer conversations, is more useful, says Ashok Bharti, chairman of the National Confederation of Dalit Organisations (NACDOR). “If any incident happens anywhere, it is on my Facebook page in five minutes. It’s better than a wire service, though the stories are often raw,” he says.

“Dalits are still untouchable on social media; if I post anything about Dr Ambedkar or Dalit history in a general forum, I get blocked in a few minutes,” says Pardeep Attri of Ambedkar’s Caravan.

Of course, there is no unified Dalit social media, any more than there is a single Dalit politics across the country, fragmented as it is by sub-caste, region, gender, class and ideological preference. And yet, social media offers something new. Dalit Camera, a YouTube channel, records life “from untouchable eyes”. Bathran Ravichandran, who founded it, says that social media, with the many perspectives it offers, has “broadened the views and values” of Dalit activists around the country. Social media only supplements, in a small way, the grassroots work that goes on around the country, he says.

Others are skeptical of the reach and representativeness of social media Dalit voices. Political analyst and activist Anand Teltumbde describes them as “a small fraction of Dalits, who just talk to each other”. According to him, a sharpened sense of caste and sub-caste identity makes it harder to make common cause with others, and only props up their elite adversaries.

Meanwhile, groups like NACDOR prefer to engage with mainstream media and institutions, and use social media for direct access and advocacy. So does the Ambedkar-Periyar Study Circle (APSC) at IIT Madras, which has a vocal social media presence. Akhil Bharathan of APSC thinks that caste, as an all-encompassing framework of oppression, also compels one outwards, to think of gender, class, and minority justice, and to form alliances. While these voices may now be a “counterpublic”, drowned out in the din of powerful interest groups, the “ultimate aim is to be the public,” says Bharathan.

Source – TOI


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Einstein & Mumford: Locating Mumford’s letter in a larger historical context

A few days ago the distinguished mathematician Professor David Mumford wrote a letter to the Director of IIT Madras regarding the decision to ban the Ambedkar-Periyar Study Circle and emphasizing the importance of freedom of speech, especially in a university campus.

Professor Mumford’s letter has been met with widespread jubilation from Dalit and other progressive groups. However there have been a few who have expressed consternation, strangely many of them people in Indian academia who should have been the first to support every freedom on their campuses!

In this brief post, I would like to locate Mumford’s letter in a larger historical context by drawing a parallel with the famous letter that Einstein wrote to President Truman about the anti lynching law (which was delivered by Paul Robeson, the African-American poet).

Both Einstein and Mumford’s letters were written in response to a specific incident (the Tennessee lynchings and the ban on APSC respectively) but addressed the larger issue of human rights (of African-Americans and Dalits). Neither wrote their letters in ignorance of the history of discrimination that spawned these incidents. Einstein had, while still in Germany, lent his name to a letter in defense of the ‘Scottsboro Boys’ (along with Thomas Mann and others) and was well-informed of the violence of slavery in America. Similarly, Mumford, who has been a visitor to India for 50 years, is very knowledgeable of Dalit struggles for liberty and of the life and work of Dr. B. R. Ambedkar.

Both Einstein and Mumford argue that the action they propose is for the greater good of all; while Einstein writes that ‘lynching cannot be permitted to continue unchecked in a nation founded upon justice and equality’, Mumford writes ‘of the deep social struggles that quite possibly are coming to a head as India takes a central role in the world’.

Both letters are examples of taut tight writing that bring to bear enormous insight into the issue at hand. Both Einstein and Mumford had obviously thought deeply about the pre-eminent issue of our times – universal human rights.

Then, as now, were some people who ridiculed and who suggested that scientists confine themselves to their science and not meddle with issues that are not their concern. Human rights not their concern?! How uncouth and puerile seem Einstein’s detractors today! And may I suggest that the same fate awaits Mumford’s prejudiced detractors?

When people of the stature of Einstein and Mumford write on an issue, the rest of us should pause to listen closely and to think. Otherwise the loss will only be ours.

– Written by Shiva Shankar

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