Dr Anand Teltumbde is renowned for his writings on dalit issues, particularly Hindutva And Dalits and Ambedkar In And For The Post Ambedkar Dalit Movement. His latest, the first of a series called Holocaste, is called Khairlanji, A Strange And Bitter Crop. The book will be in stores next month; but the author talks to us, keeping step with the judgment of the case on which it is based.
• Rural India is full of atrocity. How do you decide what is biased by caste?
Crimes aren’t committed only on dalits. Violent clashes do occur within the same caste. But when the clash involves dalits, violence gets an extra intensity, extra vicious with a tinge of extra hatred. Caste lies in that ‘extra’ and demands sensitivity to see it that way. If the Bhotmanges had not belonged to the Mahar caste, it is improbable that they would have met the horrific fate they did. The disputant may have beaten and harassed them but would not have been successful in mobilizing an entire village into gruesome violence. Every crime against dalits invariably has this ‘extra’ casteist dimension. It is precisely for this reason that the Atrocity Act has a simple definition of atrocity – any crime committed by a non-dalit on a dalit person.
• The perpetrators of the Khairlanji massacre were from OBC (Other Backward Castes). Those in the Chundur massacre were from Reddy and Telaga castes, and those in the Neerukonda massacre from the Kamma caste. Does the status quo of the perpetrator’s caste determine the build-up of caste crime?
The post-Independence development paradigm has created the contemporary phenomenon of caste violence by OBC castes against Dalits. While these castes benefited economically by land reforms, green revolution, and capitalist development in the countryside and politically by consolidating themselves into a constituency, the dalits, despite an assertion of their human rights, were left relatively powerless. This basic power asymmetry in the rural setting has been at the root of increasing violence against dalits. All the infamous atrocities have these castes as perpetrators of crime. Earlier the oppression of dalits was embedded in social process and seldom manifested into violence. Now because of increasing resistance of dalits to accept these processes and the aspiration of the OBCs to flaunt their new found baton of Brahmanism, and their relative lack of cultural sophistication, the caste order is enforced often by violence.
• The reservation allotted to SCs by constitution and laws allows for upliftment, yet imposes a stigma.
The paradox lies in the prevailing conception of reservation as a device of upliftment of dalits who are assumed to lack in ability. In the context of India, reservations ought to have been reckoned as the countervailing force of the state against the disability of society in treating its constituents with equity. The disability is with society, not with dalits. This simple alteration in conception would remove this paradox. Reservations then would become coterminous with society overcoming this disability and would even present a challenge to dalits to transcend its limitation.
• Do you think conversion to Buddhism succeeds in creating a separate identity that liberates a dalit from the chains of caste?
Conversion of dalits to Buddhism has certainly given dalits an emancipatory identity resulting in almost instantaneous increase in self-esteem and perception of self-worth. However, it could not liberate them from the chains of caste. The foremost reason is that dalits did not have an existing Buddhist community to get merged with and lose their caste identity. This was merely an identity transformation. They remained mahars or jatavs for others.
This article appeared originally in Mumbai Mirror, Times Of India: http://alturl.com/xaa9
SOME OTHER QUESTIONS THAT WERE NOT PUBLISHED DUE TO THE INTERVIEW BEING ABOVE WORDCOUNT:
Why do you feel the khairlanji massacre should have been addressed under the sc and st (prevention of atrocities) act, as it was not?
There is no additional justification required for Khairlanji massacre to be tried under the Atrocity Act than the fact that the victims were dalits and the perpetrators of crime were non-dalits. Any crime against dalit could be easily attributed to non-caste factors such as land dispute, poverty, gender and so on. This is a kind of self delusion to blind oneself to reality of caste. The early communists obsessed to see things in class terms had suffered this delusion, which their successors painstakingly try to overcome today. This tendency to deny the blemish of casteism is innate in the caste society. The very fact that Khairlanji like crime also can be painted as lacking in caste dimension, only shows this self-deceptive attitude. Precisely for that reason the Atrocity Act has adopted a very simple definition for atrocity on dalit.
There have been allegation cast on Congress, NCP and even BJP members for effecting a cover-up operation in context to Khairlanji… post your delving into the issue, who would you place the most blame on… and why?
All of these parties represent the establishment and they have stake in suppression of Khairlanjis. If BJP is seen responsible in cover up operation because the village largely belonged to it and that the local mla was seen actively performing dubious roles (in raking up a case of Ankita Lanjewar for instance by organizing an anti-dalit demonstration by the so called OBC Bachao Samiti), the NCP also did not remain far behind thereafter. Congress, though not as visible, also cannot be absolved from these acts of commission and omission because it is in power at the center as well as the state. Personally, I do not see them any different vis-à-vis the lower classes and castes. They never reflect contradiction on any policy issues relating to the interests of common masses of people. All have their share in whatever that has happened in Khairlanji.
Issues of casteism, like those of communalism, are tricky issues to write on. in trying to get justice, a writer faces the danger of propagating further reaction – and hence violence… how do you,as a writer deal with this dilemma?
No. I do not agree. No doubt, issues of casteism and communalism are somewhat tricky issues to write on. But they are too important to be shied away from. Unless some one comes forward to hold a mirror to the society to see its ugly face, there will never be any hope of the latter to rectify itself. Unless the likes of Phule and Ambedkar had written on caste, India would have never woken up to this revolting reality. Whether the writing evokes ugly reaction or furthers violence depends upon the kind of writing. If one writes for promoting communalism or casteism as protagonists of the Hindutva movement try to do, it will certainly provoke such a reaction. But, if one writes against these evils, as the source of violence, such writings could be a veritable mirror that impels people to introspect. These writings work as antidote to the disease of society. Frankly, I never faced this dilemma. I have always written against the contemporary reaction on behalf of people and found my writings getting great reception from them and activists working for them.