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June 13, 2006

Book Review: Castes Cannot be Annihilated by Dalits Alone

A great book review. Have a look.

Castes Cannot be Annihilated by Dalits Alone

book review by Balmurli Natrajan

Review of "Anti-Imperialism and Annihilation of Castes" by Anand Teltumbde, Ramai Prakashan, Thane; 2005.

In the spirit of Marx's praxis, which requires us to understand the world in order to change it, Dr. Teltumbde highlights the major reason to study caste and imperialism - to eradicate both! Ambitious in scope, yet moving easily between the desirable and the possible, this book provides both intellectuals and activists with a roadmap (albeit a rough one) to attempt this task.

The book starts by interrogating a problem - the lack of a strong and widespread anti-imperialist consciousness in India. The answer advanced is that this problem is largely due to the acceptance of the caste system, which makes the "average Indian's social consciousness" his or her caste consciousness (87). This is not left to remain as a question of false consciousness of Indians. Instead, Teltumbde offers a complex argument for how caste is an imperialist institution working internally in India sharing similarities with the more conventionally accepted external imperialism of the multinational corporations. Both these forms of imperialism work through comprador elites in political, economic and social lives of India. Consequently, he argues for viewing the anti-caste consciousness expressed by Dalit proletarians (who form the bulk of all Dalits and the largest single social group among India's proletariat) as an expression of anti-imperialist consciousness. Throughout, Teltumbde locates his analysis of the current situation in India within historical and global contexts. The statistical evidence and analytical arguments that he marshals for this book make it invaluable for any serious discussion of the impacts of colonialism and imperialist globalization today.

Teltumbde speaks about the need for the annihilation of caste as an integral (not secondary) part of the anti-imperialist struggle. This means that the anti-imperialist struggle, which is the struggle for democracy and freedom of all people, must be worked through addressing the problem of caste in India - intellectually (to gain understanding of the context for imperialism in India) and organizationally (to unite all victims of imperialism in the struggle against it). Annihilation of caste then means the struggle against an economic structure and its attendant sociocultural superstructure (205) which primarily manifests itself through caste atrocities, caste discrimination and caste deprivation.

There is every likelihood that the ideological Left will dismiss Teltumbde's call to acknowledge caste as a part of class and consequently caste struggle as an integral part of class struggle. They may also be uncomfortable with the idea of taking caste as an imperialist institution. On the other hand, Dalit organizations too may dismiss him primarily because his entire analysis is very much Marxist, although a pleasantly heterodox and non-dogmatic one, and hence not appeal to them, and secondarily, since he characterizes much of their leadership as pursuing petty-bourgeois politics. Arguing that the Left movement and the Dalit movement have made historical errors in understanding Indian history, economy and society, Teltumbde is nevertheless able to foreground the need for their convergence, since in his analysis the Left and Dalit movement are both against imperialism - external and internal to the nation.

This is a carefully argued book. For example, Teltumbde does not simply view castes as mere vestiges of feudalism as Eurocentric Left analyses commonly make it out to be. Instead, he notes how Indian feudalism differs from classic accounts and how caste played a determining role within it. Here he echoes recent Marxist writers who argue that castes are a self-regulating exploitative system which operate as part of both, the base (infrastructure) and superstructure of society (40). Further, he shows how castes do change but still continue to organize production and politics in India today. It is especially noteworthy to see how Teltumbde shows how the Indian economy is embedded within society, a path that has a tradition in the scholarly literature deriving from Karl Polanyi in economic sociology and anthropology. This understanding is important to get away from an economistic reading of class in India. Arguing that India is primarily a semi-feudal and semi-colonial economy with different classes being positioned in different (and mixed) modes of production, Teltumbde asks us to view Dalit struggles against the caste system as indeed class struggles corresponding to the pre-capitalist modes (107).

The brief discussion on reservations is very sharp and usefully identifies the flaw in the anti-reservation argument that bases itself on "economic needs." Instead, as Teltumbde painfully points out, reservations are primarily a countervailing measure against societal disability or socially-produced disability, and not any intrinsic Dalit disability. This is a salutary move that prevents a naturalization of the social on the Dalit body. Put simply, Teltumbde argues that it is because of casteism in society that caste based reservations are needed. His book draws attention to how caste-based humiliation and discrimination does not go away with class mobility for Dalits (242).

Teltumbde is most provocative when he argues that the primary caste contradiction is between Dalits and all non-Dalits or savarnas (111) and not between dwija and not-dwija. He also shows how one can and needs to perform a class analysis to show contradictions between castes (215). For example he boldly highlights Dalit and OBC class contradictions by showing how the dwija vs. non-dwija categories which place the large population of OBCs as allies of all Dalits, hide the real class contradictions between them. Thus, Teltumbde is not satisfied with opportunistic attempts to put together electoral formations of "bahujan" since these do not represent the "ground reality" of Dalits (218). Nonetheless, he is also careful to argue that each of these legalistic caste categories itself contains a heterogeneous class population. As OBC groups emerge as new economically powerful classes in the countryside, and also enter positions of power in the state machinery in urban centers (as bureaucrats and politicians), the caste-class analysis too must reflect this. This means that we also need theories to show how forms of alliance and collusion are built between intermediary powerful castes (OBCs) and upper castes who are now increasingly in charge of more urban, private and modern machineries of coercion, capital and ideology. In this context, Teltumbde's reminder that "class analysis should embed caste realities not in a salutary terms but in order to make caste struggle as an integral part of the class struggle-for the latter, taking principle contradiction as between dalits vs non-dalits" is timely and crucial.

Perhaps the most underdeveloped area in the book is an engagement with the question of caste-based identities and the question of how to annihilate caste identities that have acquired a real basis in Indian politics and social struggles. While three material manifestations of caste are addressed in the book - caste atrocities, caste discrimination, and caste deprivation, these are only the most visible and strong manifestations of caste and need to be surely annihilated. Yet, caste also exists in non-dramatic ways for creating caste-based identities through caste-based marriage alliances, in celebrations of caste as cultural difference, and in creations of social or network capital that is caste-based (e.g., old boys network). We are not given any indication how to engage with these manifestations of caste and whether this needs to happen at all. Perhaps Teltumbde thinks that class struggle (involving dalits and non-dalits as a class) against the hegemonic caste manifestations will go a long way in
dampening caste identities, so that whatever remains of them would be inconsequential for a class struggle like many other identities such as those based on region and language.

Nevertheless, it will be useful to note that these non-dramatic signs of caste are key for reproducing caste as patriarchy because arranged marriage inevitably means control over women's sexuality, cultural displays always operate through control over women's bodies and actions which are supposed to maintain "caste traditions," and caste networks typically means women's exclusion. Here Teltumbde's insistence on keeping caste distinct from other non-class forces while salutary for caste does not do justice to the growing literature on how gender and patriarchy are at the heart of caste.

This silence also extends to the possibility of inter-caste marriages as having the potential to annihilate caste consciousness. Of course, entering such a marriage does not automatically lead to the end of caste consciousness. This is made possible only through constant vigilance against casteism and caste-based thinking by those who enter such marriages. Are such marriages not seen anymore as a powerful ally of anti-caste struggles as Ambedkar himself viewed it not too long ago? Not engaging with this issue prevents the book from raising a more interesting question: Can there be castes (social groups of identity, i.e., communities) without casteism (atrocity, discrimination, deprivation)? It seems highly unlikely given that castes usually enter into a relationship of hierarchy via difference. Caste identities therefore also need to be annihilated in addition to caste discrimination and atrocity (sociopolitical) and deprivation (economic).

Raising the question of the annihilation of caste identities will however surely produce the most vitriolic objections from all castes and their so-called leadership - all of whom are invested in continuation of caste as identity-marker (in hierarchical and non-hierarchical ways). The phrase "annihilation of caste" has gone out of fashion nowadays, either suspected of being an upper-caste response to caste (seeking to wish it away rather than address its roots which lie in the economy as much as in the sociocultural relations of everyday life) or of being an impossibility (presumably by those who know what is possible and what is not). It remains unclear how to best address this issue since community consciousness is also used by those fighting oppression.

Teltumbde's book is a useful intervention that needs to be defended by all progressives. He is very clear that "...castes cannot be annihilated by Dalits alone" and calls for the active participation of all castes, especially upper castes (213). In this context, the critique of Dange (and the problems of the social consciousness, more than the social origins) of upper castes in the anti-imperialist/anti-caste struggles is very useful to foreground for progressive Left anti-imperialists. To speak of the annihilation of race in the USA is today not viewed as progressive, since the current consciousness and political-economy of race has made it possible to fight against racism but not against racial identity. I believe, however, that the possibility of annihilating caste still exists in India. This book shows us how to think of annihilation without making familiar mistakes. Every once in a while we see a work of intellectual power that pushes debates forward with clarity and courage. This is a book of that kind.

Posted by klajja at 05:24 AM

June 11, 2006

Survey Says... India's 'National' Media Lacks Social Diversity

In an earlier paragraph I told the story about the media bias in India and how heavily it is influenced by the upper caste elite. No wonder that in the case of reservations/affirmative action for Other Backward Castes (OBCs) and Dalits there has been this major media bias. Pro-reservation rallies and gatherings have not been carried by the media. Audiences in the TV talk show rooms are heavily biased toward the upper castes and even when an interview is taken from Bihar or some interior part of India, the person interviewed more often than not is an upper caste representative.

I have maintained that the Indian reality has been interpreted to the West by the upper caste media and spokespersons. This is the reality the West knows and understands. The Indian reality according to the majority oppressed and downtrodden is not known in the West.

Now here is an important piece of actual research of the heavy upper caste domination of the media in New Delhi carried by some serious researchers. Read it for yourself and look at the tabulations and come to your own conclusions as to the reality of who holds power and influence in India. Is it wrong therefore for the majority to ask for proportional representation in all walks of Indian life?

India's 'national' media lacks social diversity, it does not reflect the country's social profile.

Survey designed and executed by Anil Chamadia, Feelance Journalist; Jitendra Kumar, Independent Researcher from Media Study Group; and Yogendra Yadav, Senior Fellow, CSDS.

§ Hindu upper caste men dominate the media. They are about 8 % of India's population but among the key decision makers of the national media their share is as high as 71 %.

§ Gender bias rules: only 17 % of the key decision makers are women. Their representation is better in the English Electronic media (32 %).

§ Media's caste profile is equally unrepresentative. 'Twice born' Hindus (dwijas comprising Brahmins, Kayasthas, Rajputs, Vaishyas and Khatris) are about 16 % of India's population, but they are about 86 % among the key media decision makers in this survey. Brahmins (including Bhumihars and Tyagis) alone constitute 49% of the key media personnel.

§ Dalits and adivasis are conspicuous by their absence among the decision makers. Not even one of the 315 key decision makers belonged to the Scheduled Castes or the Scheduled Tribes.

§ The proportion of OBCs is abysmally low among the key decision makers in the national media: they are only 4 % compared to their population of around 43% in the country.

§ Muslims are severely under-represented in the national media: they are only 3 % among the key decision makers, compared to 13.4% in the country's population.

§ Christians are proportionately represented in the media (mainly in the English media): their share is about 4 per cent compared to their population share of 2.3 %

§ Social groups that suffer 'double disadvantage' are also nearly absent among the key decision makers: there are no women among the few OBC decision makers and negligible backwards among the Muslims and Christians.

§ These findings are based on a survey of the social background of 315 key decision makers from 37 'national' media organizations (up to 10 key decision makers from each organisation) based in Delhi. The survey was carried out by volunteers of Media Study Group between 30 May and 3 June 2006.

Posted by klajja at 07:39 AM

Nepal - An Untouchability Free Country

Please read this article I picked up in a blast email on June 6, 2006, from the Dalit Solidarity Network - UK.

Nepal decleared untouchability, discrimination free country

Kantipur Report

KATHMANDU, June 5 - A meeting of the House of Representatives (HoR) on Sunday declared Nepal as an untouchability-and-discrimination-free country.

The historic declaration came after a discussion on a proposal of urgent public importance tabled by CPN-UML lawmaker Parashuram Meghi Gurung. The declaration is expected to act as an important breakthrough in creating an equitable society by bringing together dalits and backward groups into the national mainstream.

The proposal, passed unanimously by the HoR, will ensure a fair representation of dalits, comprising almost 22 percent of the population, in the process of forming the constituent assembly and a new constitution.

The proposal was seconded by Hari Acharya of People's Front Nepal (PFN), Ram Hari Dhungel of Nepali Congress (NC), Tanka Prasad Rai of NC-D and Govinda Bikram Shah of Rastriya Prajatantra Party (RPP) while MPs Lila Mani Pokharel, Tara Meyangbo, Janak Raj Giri, Yadav Bahadur Rayamajhi and Bhakta Bahadur Balayar participated in the discussion supporting the proposal.

"The practice of untouchability will now onwards be considered as a social crime and the government will enact laws in such a way that the inhuman and discriminatory practice is more punishable," Minister for Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs Narendra Bikram Nembang told the House prior to tabling of the proposal for decision. He also assured the House that a new Bill will soon be introduced in this regard.

He also assured that the government would make special arrangements for dalits in education and employment sectors, besides the ongoing provision of scholarships for dalit students in schools and reservations in higher studies.

Posted by klajja at 07:36 AM

June 01, 2006

The Rediff Interview of Dr. Udit Raj

Please read this important interview of Dr. Udit Raj on the reservation issue.

The Rediff Interview
Udit Raj, Chairman, Confederation of SC/ST Organizations

from http://rediff.com/news/2006/may/16inter2.htm

"What more do the upper castes want?"

May 16, 2006

Dr Udit Raj (formerly Ram Raj) is the chairman of the All-India Confederation of the Scheduled Caste/Scheduled Tribe Federations.

In 2001 he embraced Buddhism. "Conversion is a rejection of whatever caste stands for. It is a great walkout from Hinduism," says the man who is now a follower of Dr B R Ambedkar and supports conversion as "a healthy process."

In an interview to Managing Editor (National Affairs) Sheela Bhatt on the current anti-reservation movement favouring reservation for Other Backward Classes, Dr Raj spoke about why reservations are important for Indian society.

Question: How do you see the vigorous protests of medical students against the reservation policy for OBCs?

Udit Raj: I don't think it is very vigorous. Few medical students are doing it. In fact the media is helping them.

On May 2 and May 10, we had our agitation which was much more bigger but the media didn't report it or gave little coverage. This shows that the liberal voice in India is shrinking.

Unfortunately, the Indian Medical Association is also going on strike. On May 11 students and IMA protestors disrupted traffic at India Gate, New Delhi. We never do that. We restricted ourselves to the Jantar Mantar area assigned to us by the police.

It seems the doctors want to draw more attention. It shows the protestors' mindset. Medical students were protesting with brooms and trying to say that some (kind of) labour does not have dignity. Every labour has dignity. This is unbecoming of doctors.

If professionals like doctors behave like this it shows they are not interested in academics. The doctors' protest is illegal and against the spirit of the Constitution.

Question: There is a background for their agitation. There is a big change in the law.

UR: In the last winter session, Parliament amended the Constitution. It was the 93rd Constitutional amendment where Other Backward Classes have been given reservation in IITs, IIMs and universities.

On August 12, 2005 the Supreme Court delivered its judgment in the case of P A Inamdar & Others versus State of Maharashtra and others that the state can't impose its reservation policy on minority and non-minority unaided private colleges, including professional colleges and medical colleges.

My organisation, the Justice Party of India, Left parties and many others strongly protested at a huge public meeting. It was attended by leaders like (Janata Dal-United leader) Sharad Yadav, (Communist Party of India-Marxist MP) Nilotpal Basu and (Communist Party of India Secretary) D Raja.

We protested that we will not accept the Supreme Court judgment. Later, the 93rd Constitution Amendment was brought and passed unanimously by all the political parties except two members who abstained. The OBCs were given 27 per cent reservation but at that time nobody opposed it.

Question: Why didn't the doctors oppose it then?

UR: Because the media is playing a greater role now. When Arjun Singh gave a statement nobody opposed it for a week. But the media started going to campuses for stories and reactions. The media took up the role of agitators in this issue by opposing the government's move and the protests gained momentum before television cameras.

In Bangalore more than a lakh supporters of reservation came out on the streets but no television channel reported that. How do you explain it? Dalits and OBCs are coming together and supporting the government that is not taken as news.

Question: What are your arguments for having quota in higher education even for OBCs?

UR: First, wherever reservation is implemented in the southern states it is working well. In Mysore state in 1921, reservations were implemented. In Kolhapur state it was introduced in 1902. In Tamil Nadu reservations are up to 69 per cent but nowhere have you seen a law and order problem.

Two, in Tamil Nadu, the education standards and administration are not compromised. What these students are protesting about is the issue of merit. What is merit? They are talking about something that is achieved with the help of cramming, tutoring, support by public schools and knowledge of English.

India doesn't have to its credit in the international arena any great invention of modern times achieved by students in general categories. They get higher marks to get into big universities. But these big institutions don't think merit should also consist of patriotic feelings, hard work, honesty and a humble aptitude.

For our society these are not element of merit. Not many Dalits or OBCs have the money to fit the current merit criteria.

And just give me one answer: Why are these doctors not opposing the colleges who disregard merit and take money in form of capitation fees?

Why are they not opposed to the NRI quota?

Why are they not opposing those inferior students of private medical colleges who are rich? Is it not affecting the medical profession?

The medical students should call off their strike because it is not in the interest of the nation. The integration of society is more important than any other thing.
Reservation is the method to integrate society; it will take time but have patience.

Question: Facts don't support the argument that it will integrate society.

UR: Till the reservations were given, Dalits in Indian society were totally isolated. They were living on the outskirts of villages and were humiliated. But after reservations they are sitting side by side with the upper castes.

They are now in state assemblies and Parliament only because of reservations. How are you forgetting that? Similarly, the OBCs will gain now. Although it will shrink the privileges of the Dalits for the sake of justice we the Dalits want reservations for OBCs!

Reservation serves the purpose of social harmony.

Question: If quotas are introduced now, eventually there will be reverse discrimination. How will it bring about social harmony?

UR: For long, in many places 70 per cent to 80 per cent seats were open in the general category. The upper castes were using it. Right? Now they have been given 50 per cent of the total seats whereas the upper caste population is just 15 per cent. I think that is good enough. What more do the upper castes want?

It is a good deal that 15 per cent of India's population has 50 per cent of the seats. Do you want India's majority on the streets agitating against this 15 per cent? What do you want us to do? Do you want the majority population initiating the demand that let reservation be given on the basis of the proportion of the population of each caste?

Question: Whatever reservation now exists for the Dalits and tribals is not filled up by them? OBC reservation may also remain underutilised.

UR: Blame it on the mindset of the upper castes. Many Dalit medical students are suffering because during internal assessment, they become victim of biases. The Dalit student's identity is known and the supervisor knows he is poor in English and that creates a bias.

Only in India are Indians victims because of their lack of knowledge of English. It is not just lack of sophistication, it is the mindset of the upper castes that is a hurdle in filling up posts.

Question: Why don't you understand that (Human Resources Development Minister) Arjun Singh's action and politicians' support to him is nothing but vote bank politics?

UR: They will have to support reservation otherwise a majority of India will throw them away in the coming elections.

Even if politicians don't support reservations from their hearts electoral equations are such that they have no option.

The agitators must understand the combination of Indian society and where they stand! They should part with the pie of cake they have!

Posted by klajja at 07:13 PM