The Power Of
By Goldy M. George
17 November, 2004
Dalit boy during his teenage witnessed caste oppression. His own beloved
grandfather, father, mother and people of his community were ill treated,
humiliated and beaten up by the so-called upper caste people.
This boy grew not with affection and care but amidst atrocities, discrimination,
oppression and humiliation. This childhood experience and exposure to
the Indian social reality of caste oppression later made him to take
very strong stand to vehemently challenge the oppression of the domination
With feeling of
burden, pains of oppression and tears in his eyes when one day he was
lying down in the dark corner of his dilapidated hut, he heard someone
singing a folk song at a distance. Slowly it grew louder and louder.
He realised that it was a song inviting all those who are broken and
humiliated in the name of caste. Soon he rouse from his mat, threw off
his patched blanket and ran to the street corner from where the voice
was coming. He found a team of youngsters at the centre of the street
playing a skit depicting the affliction of Dalits.
An hour of performance
was over without even knowing how the time went off. After the presentation,
this team initiated a discussion with the community, who were closely
observing the play. Many of them felt that their condition was nothing
less than what was presented there. That evening was the best gift in
his life. The open discussion encouraged him to have further discussion
with the performing ream and to know about them. Indeed it was a wonderful
experience for him to know that there are people who sing songs of suffering
of Dalits and perform street theatre that animated the poignant history
and distressed present giving it a revolting spirit.
boy, became a volunteer of this team called Sunanda. For
the next seven years he remained with this team gained exposure, knowledge
and skills, which motivated him in building up a process to stand for
equality and justice. Through the years of experience he realised that
among Dalits women are the most oppressed in the present situation,
particularly with the advent of globalisation.
Kolar district of
Karnataka, where from he hails, is infamous for Dalit atrocities, particularly
Dalit women. It is the same district where 8 Dalits were charred to
death in the wee hours of 8th March 2000. That was the black day in
the history of Karnataka. Besides these, there are other such incidences
of Dalit atrocities in the same district with various forms and appearances.
With this background
it is a big challenge to organise the womenfolk. But Narayanaswamy and
his team bravely took it. This led to the formation of Aadima
Shakthi a Dalit Womens Movement. Narayanaswamy in his early
forties says, the atrocities committed against Dalit women in
Kolar district is very high. Forces that strive to divide the community
into sub castes dominate the district. Recognising the fact they are
goaded to stay divided, Dalit women in the district have come together
as a Dalit womens Movement viz. 'Aadima Shakthi'".
It evolved through
the struggles of Dalit women of Kolar, Malur and Bangarapet Taluk of
Kolar district. At present Aadima Shakthi is efficiently
addressing the questions of caste oppression, landlessness, bonded labours,
agriculture workers and so on. Aadima Shakthi means ancient womens
power (In Kannada Aadi means ancient, Ma means Women and Shakthi means
power). Initially it was difficult to crash the internal untouchability,
but Aadima Shakthi had succeeded in achieving these feats.
born in Kerala who reached Chhattisgarh with the objective to serve
the church as a priest, has a long story to tell. Ordained as a priest
with the Catholic Church, he served various parishes within the diocese
before joining as the Director of the Diocesan Social Welfare Society.
This was the period when he got an opportunity to travel extensive to
every nuke and corner of Chhattisgarh. He noticed caste as one of the
major problems within the state that leads to poverty and other social
Later he was co-opted
to Catholic Health Association of India (CHAI) as Director of Community
Health. During this time he travelled across the country and interacted
with organisations and individuals working on similar lines of addressing
the question of caste and class. He found a co-relationship between
these two socio-political phenomena and therefore decided to work on
these lines in future.
Afterwards he resigned
from CHAI and was appointed as parish priest in a small village of Bilaspur
(now in Champa-Janjgir) district. There he began direct community work
with Dalit women. According to him, our aim was to work with the
oppressed among the oppressed. Dalit women are triple oppressed and
exploited first by her caste, secondly by virtue of poor economic
status of Dalits and third is because she is woman. Hence we decided
to work with these women
This process sowed
the seeds for the initiation of a Dalit womens organisation, which
was committed to raise issue of caste oppression, economic exploitation
and womens atrocities. Chhattisgarh Mahlia Jagriti Sanghatan had
successfully developed a band of Dalit women from this region as leaders.
Today it is fully run by these Dalit women. In the later part of this
work two more people a medical mission sister and another a priest from
the same church joined him.
In this process
he had to confront with the church to the worst experience. It was similar
to the experience of the priests in liberation movement in Latin American
context, the sort of confrontation they had to experience from the church
hierarchy. However they didnt cease to work with the people.
Due to the tireless
effort of Sebastian and his colleagues, the band of Dalit women had
taken up the responsibility of the organisation and is now the vanguards
of a wider struggle for equality and dignity in Chhattisgarh. This movement
had established itself as a major force in this region in recent time;
the evidence to this is the recent Assembly elections last year in which
no person could win without the support of the local womens organisation.
Soon after the elections,
another concocted issue of attacking one SDM under which sections like
307 IPC have also been included. The local administration is after this
team particularly after the state Assembly elections when BJP came into
power in the state. BJP has been consistently targeting all democratic
and peaceful organisations. Fr. Josey the colleague of Sebastian is
also implicated in this under the aegis of instigating people. Police
is still searching him. Yet they havent let their spirit down.
The womenfolk also extended their complete support and solidarity.
known as Bade Guruji in this area, in his late fifties still
rides 25-30 kms a day on his bicycle. The amount of spiritual and moral
energy that this man carry with him is enormous, which he transfers
to each and everyone since the day of his transition. This is the uniqueness
of a genuine character essential for the building up of authentic peoples
initiative and struggle.
Born of the border
of Orissa and Chhattisgarh Shankar Mahanand belongs to Ganda community.
Right from his childhood he had faced different natures of discrimination,
poverty and hunger. I remember he once telling me that he along with
his parents stood in queue to attain the food being supplied by government
and other agencies due to utter starvation. But this didnt slay
In his youthhood
he came across a good number of friends and well-wishers, who guided
him to think about the root cause of discrimination, poverty and hunger.
His search for an answer reached him to various levels most importantly
as a cultural activist in Orissa and Chhattisgarh and then as an organiser
and motivator to many.
This paved way for
new searches about his own community. A community with endless stories
of repression and prosecution and sufferings and toiling has also got
a much brighter part, which is mostly hidden. That is the cultural treasure
and history. He along with a group of friends discovered the fact that
history of all downtrodden community originates from a common origin.
A crucial part of
this finding was related with a crucial myth establishing the fact there
is a certain amount of co-relation and co-existence among all the lower
castes and outlaws ones. The myth is that the eldest son of Ádi
Debatá Lákhan Bhándi Nág dynasty king
Dungi Chuhán had eleven sons. They were Gajpati,
Debhog, Sabal Sahe, Kalbhoj, Manbhoj, Jhánke, Mánke, Degan,
Kolbhed, Pitáshree, Ediá. Kalbhoj Raja had four sons;
they are Gang, Gágarba, Jadu and Kadam. Now-a-days they are known
as Gand, Gandá, Gauda and Kandha etc. Before arrival of Arya
these four brothers were ruling over the Mahanadi valley region (presently
part of Chattishgarh and Orissa).
During the period
of their reign, it is obvious that the culture, tradition, dress, God,
Goddess, festival etc. were similar in their area where the four brothers
were ruling. On the other hand there was strong social organisation.
It was difficult for the Aryans to rule over this area, demolishing
the Chuhán administration and fight social cohesion. Therefore
they applied the divide and rule policy over the Chuhán brothers.
They insisted, motivated and applied fear psychology in the pure mind
of innocent Dalit and told that Lord Brahmá is the creator of
this universe. He has created Chaturvarna i.e. Brahman have
born from mouth and Kshytriya from arm, Vaisya from thigh and Sudra
from feet of Brahmá. Applying this kind of God phobia and hypnotisation
over the ancient innocent Dalit brothers, they could succeed to destroy
their unity and divide them politically.
Gouda (Yadav) and Kandha etc. in real sense they are not caste as in
the present day they are counted, rather the Vansh (clan)
or origin father or Dumá. To prove the similarity
or relationship of the above Vansh or Duma, if we go back
to the pitar or Pidar of each Vansh, it can be visualised
that they were brothers and their origin was same, for the reason their
culture, tradition are exactly similar to each other.
Since the realisation
of this myth, he had been industriously working to build up people in
order to create a cultural unity. As a part of this he in association
with some more developed a group of cultural activists under the banner
of GoGaJaKa Sanskritik Manch. With Shankar, a powerful actor,
a prolific lyricist, a melodious musician, as the team leader this groups
intents for a cultural swing in favour of the Dalit cause from a historical
purview. It is a process of cultural revival of Dalits and establishing
the cultural unity and integrity. The understanding of Dalit is more
a collective and larger unit than small dispersed ones.
in Janjgir district of Chhattisgarh is where Motilal Jhalaria is born.
Born in a family of Suryavanshi he had been faced with social as well
as economic discrimination since his childhood. After intermediate he
had thought of stopping his education, but with the help of some well-wishers,
he finished his graduation. But then the whole problem began.
With the death of
his father the whole responsibility of his family rested on his shoulders,
as he was the eldest son. As in every Indian family the eldest son is
expected to take up the onus of nurturing the family after the death
of father, particularly when you are grown up. That was the case of
Motilal. With very little land being barren and unproductive and even
what was available was only a small plot, Motilal turned out to be a
migrant worker along with other labourers from his countryside. He worked
in Delhi, and other places as construction worker, casual labourer,
and directly confronted the direst form of bonded labourer. He found
that many of the workers were from the surrounding villages. He remained
with this status of semi-bondage for 2-3 years after which he returned
back to his village only to find himself in more debt trap of contractors
middlemen and his family reeling in complete distress.
But he realised
that vested interests always encumbers the path of the poor and oppressed.
Back in village the various situation helped him to recognise that many
of the Suryavanshis are in bondage. He again went back to Delhi to those
areas where many of the Chhattisgarhi Dalits were living under sub-human
condition. He worked for their upliftment and liberation by introducing
new schemes and programs, but this brought in a new understanding that
they are fully in an unrealised bondage. This is the renewed appearance
of the historical bondage imbibed by feudalist Brahmins. It is also
that Zamindari system still exists in almost every region of India even
today, which is dominated by the caste Hindus.
Once again Motilal
returned back to Parsapali, this time with a determination of fighting
against the new forms of caste oppression. He along with a few other
concerned rural friends together constituted the Dalit Seva Samiti for
this purpose. They went in search of all those who had been from their
area working away from their home with the same status of labourers
or workers. The result was stunning. Nearly it was four fold from their
initial assessment. They were not only in Delhi but also in Mumbai,
UP, Hariyana, Punjab, J&K and other parts of the country.
He started visiting
those places only to discover that his fellowmen were in bondage. He
intensively worked for the release of these bonded labourers. Since
then he succeeds in mobilising the district administration in the identification
and release of the bonded labourers. Once they are back he starts putting
up the demands for the rehabilitation with the district administration.
Along with all these
aspects he had been instrumental in organising and mobilising a large
section of Dalit youths in this area in building alternative cultural
units. Gammat one of the prime means of performance is being utilised
as a method to highlight social issues and problems. A terrific fighter,
who keeps inspiring people with his social and cultural stands, always
remains with the people in their time of distress and disputes.
Sundaresan is from
Tirunalveli district of Tamilnadu. Since his childhood onwards he had
been confronted with the caste system in his village. A Dalit from Pallar
community, he and his family had faced severe atrocities and brutalities
of the caste Hindus throughout his life.
However with all
these experience he become very strong and he was determined to work
for the liberation of people belonging to his community. As a beginning
to this process he completed his studies at the school level and then
enter college for graduation and then for post graduation. As he puts
up his experience and understanding of caste system in these lines,
to me caste is the most brutish system of human relationship on
earth. Unless caste is removed from its very edifice, our people and
country wont be liberated in the real sense. I have personally
faced the rough and harsh part of it. Even my parents faced it and many
more of our descendants will face it if we are reluctant to work towards
its eradication from the very surface.
While working for
the cause of Dalits, he came across vital facets of it. One is the internal
casteism widespread among the Dalit communities. Certain Dalit communities
were considered to be higher than other ones and hence enjoyed higher
degree of social and political space within the structure, whereas others
remained as subdued. Another trick and tactics of the Brahmins. This
brought into light the need for unified struggles by ending the existing
rift within these communities. But it couldnt happen in real.
His own Pallar community objected to that and considered the Arundhatiyars
as unsanctified and lower than them since this community were scavengers.
the scavengers and began to organising and mobilising them. Seeking
support from external friends often happened but many of them turned
back saying that he should stop working for the scavengers. But they
were the oppressed among the oppressed. They had no right to land, work,
food, clothing, and what not. Whatever they had with them were all with
the mercy of their caste lords, even Dalit communities like Pallars,
Pulayars also acted as their maters in many cases.
With immense efforts
Sundaresan succeeded in organising them into an organisation viz. Arundhatiyar
Vidudalaya Munnetta Iyyakkam in one block of Tirunalveli district,
which had now spread to nearly 3 districts. It was not easy to organise
them. Arundhatiyars themselves had a feeling that what is available
is the best option left for them. Many of them were not willing to break
this caste jinx, even though violence and attack on this community was
very frequent. It took him nearly 11 years to organise them only because
of his strong determination. There was time when the caste lords attacked
him. Many false cases were lodged against him in different courts. The
police and district administration looked him upon like a criminal.
But this couldnt differ him from his stand and determination.
He continued to do what he was aiming towards.
In this process
they have succeeded in raising the issue of land rights of the scavenger
community. They had succeeded in putting an end to manual scavenging
in many parts of their district. They have resisted the counter attack
through cultural means of the caste Hindus and other communal forces.
Faced with scores of violent attack on their community for defying the
caste laws, they are now determined to take up it at all levels. As
Sundaresan puts it, we are not afraid of attacks anymore. Those
days are over as we had been resisting it with counterattacks. We realise
that violence of any type is injustice, but if we dont prepare
ourselves to those levels at least mentally there is a
severe threat that our resistance would fall apart. Hence we are compelled
to adopt a strategy of blood for blood and life for life. This had really
brought the level of attacks and atrocities against us to higher level,
even beyond our expectations.
Today the district
administration is taking up a positive stand. They are inviting the
Arundhatiyars for dialogue in cases of disputes and clashes. There is
a change in the overall outlook since they have become a decisive force.
Scope for Hope
"To us hope
is very much essential part of life, since there are already all other
dark forces active around us to deviate us, allure us and to crush our
integrity. Hence hope to many of us is not an unnatural phenomenon but
a natural one that generates from each action and attitude of people
at the grassroots. Hope is a process of enlightenment that keeps all
of us going. Hope is something that gives our morale a boost. Hope is
something that inspires every moment. It is the power that sustains
us; hence it is vital for us to remain conscious and cautious about
all other forces.
However from the
above experience of many friends and comrades, there is still scope
for us to state that people at grassroot level are in the process of
resistance amidst chaos and confusions. It is certain that in a process
of globalisation and fascism, it is going to happen and we all need
to anticipate it in the fight for justpeace. Hence in short hope that
grassroot people can lead the struggle for justpeace consists of new
understanding about the socio-political system, understanding the forces
and actors, formulation of strategies and revival of community life."
What Learning do
we take from the above Experience to Substantiate our Hope?
One is that in a complicated society like the Indian where there is
a crucial phenomenon of social fabric, it cannot be understood as a
class society in a classical Marxian analysis. This is what often the
Marxists in India forget or are just unwilling to understand and acknowledge.
Here the class structure exists only through sustain caste. Hence my
personal understanding is that in the South-Asian sub-continent the
question of class is complimentary to class.
at large have been co-opted by the mainstream social and political systems
to a larger extend. Even when there is the upcoming of a Dalit leader;
he/she gets lost in the whirlwind. It has to a large extend affected
the Dalits unification, since the cream layer goes straight into the
enemy camp. One has to cleverly escape the trap of political co-option,
as this is one of the most effective traps unfolded by the Chauvinist
Hindus. It is not an easy task, however not impossible even. Unless
we conceive new forms of co-operation, emergence of Dalit force is unimaginable.
Thirdly, inter community
relationship should grow, unlike the present situation. Currently it
has been co-opted and got rotten within the present political games.
The minimum of having inter-community dialogue among Dalit communities
at various levels is also not there. This at large is due to the co-option
strategy that keeps the community further fragmented. Similarly a sense
of domination has also outgrown within certain communities. This needs
to be rectified. Indeed this is a process of identifying the enemy from
within. This is also a part of understanding the community as an organic
living unit. Forces of fragmentation are everywhere but what are the
basic elements that could unify us should be identified and acknowledged.
of Dalits in no way connotes to homogenisation as propagated by certain
Dalit groups. Then there wont be any difference between Dalit
unification and the basics of Hinduism. It has to grow from within the
diversity; otherwise it would be just insensitive. Maybe we are unwanted
and unrecognised, filth and scraps as denoted by the caste forces. But
we are human beings; we have a history, a culture and life. We need
to grow from there and with the scraps we have to rebuild it. Hence
one has to think in terms of co-operation rather than getting fouled
or entangled within the mainstream political peripheries. There are
signs of it in many parts of the country one has to carry forward
it from there. Various Dalit organisations are addressing the issue.
Mobilising a movement is much easier than building organisations and
heading towards a big struggle.
living has been the core of the Dalit culture and history. Even during
the days of terrible repression and oppression, there was life within
the community. This is what has withered away with the upcoming of the
present formula of fascism and globalisation. Consumerism is dominating
and infiltration of upper caste culture has laid an unabated of communion
of the community. Both these are consummated to compliment each other.
It is taking terrible forms. Nevertheless, Dalits have a rich history
and heritage of living together, the culture of sharing, caring and
of collective life was expressed through the art and art forms, which
has been corrupt in the present context. Collective has been ruffled
in the current process of consumerism and Hinduisation. This cannot
go like this.
That is why it needs
a revival. Culture is not just the forms of life, but also the elementary
rhythm of life, the harmony among human being and the melody of living
with nature. This is also expressed through our art forms too. Hence
lets re-search our songs, our dance, our lore, our stories, our
harmony, and our rhythm. Unless this harmonious culture is reinstated,
it wont help mankind to survive for longer period. This is what
a major challenge before us.
The Emergent Vision
of Hope is
- Of a just, egalitarian,
peaceful, fraternal and harmonious society. This is the creation of
a casteless, classless society.
- A society of equals,
neither unequal nor more-equals, beyond the strings of caste, class,
gender, race, etc. that often leads to social oppression, political
exploitation, economic deprivation, cultural domination, gender discrimination,
class isolation, deliberate exclusion, etc. We believe in a society
The revival of Dalit culture, art and art forms bereft of Brahministic
domination and intrusion of consumeristic norms and values.
- The rebuilding
of society through cultural expression and values.
- To give space,
respect the diversity and promote the culture of love, compassion and
- A society with
socialist, secular, democratic and decentralised norms.