Illustrious Son Challenges The Hegemony Of Knowledge
And Merit In India
By Vidya Bhushan
13 April, 2007
Reservations are back in debate.
Every body is talking of brain drain with All India Institute of Medical
Sciences and its upper caste doctors taking the lead to denigrate and
question the merit of others, it is time to respond with hard fact.
While the 'liberals' try to explain how the Dalits have fared and that
they too are 'human' and 'meritorious' students, they are quickly countered
by the castiest petty fellows who feel that everything related to Dalits
is not only clumsy but ridiculous too. So merit is basically a problem
with the Hindu mind in India which refuses to acknowledge that Dalits
too can possess that. Perhaps not many of them knows the hard facts
that in most of the cases Dalit's marit as defined by the caste Hindus,
is better than them. It is time to bring some hard facts to the front
where merit defined by the caste Hindus is also conquered by the Dalits
despite all the obstacles they have proved themselves better than any
one else. This is the situation when opportunities do not come easily
and caste bias remains intact. Imagine, if the caste hurdles are done
away with and prejudices remain a thing of past, Dalits would do wonder.
Lives of people like Dr Bachchu Lal Valmiki brings immense knowledge
and understanding of what ails our system and how can we tackle the
situation in our country. Despite all our ill wills, America and Europe
still provide us better opportunities with out a caste bias which Dalits
have to face regularly in the name of merit.
Dr Bachchul Lal Valmiki is
a faculty in the Faculty in the Department of Neurology, Johns Hopkins
University, Schools of Medicine Neuro-Oncology Lab, Kennedy Krieger
Institute Baltimore, USA Not many have known his struggle who is now
inspiring thousands of expatriate Ambedkarites to combine their energy
and contribute jointly for the welfare of Scheduled Castes in India.
Yes, Dr Lal was one of the founder members of the newly formed Dr Ambedkar
NRI Association, in the United States, which has now decided to work
to strengthen Ambedkarite movement in India and abroad and provide Dalits
a new socio-economic vision to face the challenges of 21 st century.
Born on July 1, 1954, in
a scheduled caste, sub-caste Valmiki, family, living in one of the slum
areas of Lucknow, Dr Lal's parents were totally illiterate and were
doing menial jobs. In a family of four brothers and three sisters it
was very hard to survive without strong financial support. It was his
mother who was certain that education of the kids would bring real change
in the lives of children and she did her level best to provide them
the same but it was beyond her capacity. In 1960 his family moved in
a small village in a government hospital, Lakhimpur Kheri, a nondescript
town in the Tarai region of Uttar-Pradesh when his father got job of
His elementary education
started there along with other brothers. For the middle education he
and his brother were moved to his grandmother's home in Sitapur district.
His grand mother was working in a school named Ujagar Lal Inter College,
as sweeper. It was hard to survive during my elementary education but
he passed class 8 th in 1967 as average student in second division.
Again he passed class 10th in 1969 in second division as a science student.
Those days Second division was itself a rare phenomenon in the UP Board
examinations and for a boy coming from the Valmiki community, it was
The caste discrimination
was rampant those days and he has to face it with great courage though
with deep disgust and disappointment. "When I was in class 5 th,
in a remote village, one teacher tried to use me to do some menial job
in the school but instead of obeying teacher, I ran to home and my father
came immediately to beat the teacher in the school. Although my father
was sweeper but he had some kind of strength to handle these kinds of
situations. When I was studying in class six in city Sitapur, then an
art teacher who was a caste Hindu, was not touching my copy to check.
He asked me to hold the copy in my hands and open the pages to let him
check or mark the copy.'
The ideas of Dr Baba Saheb
Ambedkar inspired him to take education seriously as it is the biggest
weapon to strengthen your community and to achieve this he felt that
economic independence was essential. It was equally important for him
to delink himself from his traditional occupation, which had degraded
the community. Therefore, he opened a bicycle repair shop in 1970 with
the help of his brothers, in a hand made wooden box on the side of road,
under open sky. With an investment of Rupees Fifteen they soon started
getting Rs.10 – 15 per day and this money was a good financial
support for the family. Within three months they were able to upgrade
it with a wooden shop and started earning Rs.20 -40 per day. He diligently
pursued his education and passed class XIIth in 1973.
As usual, this was time for
parents to intervene and his father started looking for a suitable match
for him. Ultimately, he married in 1974 to a community girl Sumitra
Devi, whose father Mr. Lalta Prasad was a social worker and first educated
Valmiki person of Lucknow. Lalta Prasad ensured that his daughter got
education for her better future. Sumitra Devi had completed her 10 th
standard before marriage. No doubt it was a revolutionary step by a
father whose social concerns and commitments got him termination from
his job. Marriage therefore opened a new horizon for Bachchu Lal. He
moved to Lucknow along with his wife, to pursue his bachelors in science.
Not to be considered as a burden on the in laws, Bachchu Lal started
teaching kids from level zero to class X. The money they earned helped
them sustain in Lucknow and his wife too started taking teacher's training
courses. Before he completed his B. Sc., he got a Job in Industrial
Toxicology Research Center Lucknow as Laboratory Technician, in 1976.
Now, he dropped the idea to finish B.Sc. and joined job. Finally, he
passed B.Sc. in 1977. With strong support of his father in law, his
wife too passed teacher training and class XIIth.. With her huband's
support and her own indomitable spirit Sumitra Devi completed her graduation
from Lucknow University.
Bachchu Lal had always dreamt
of becoming a medical doctor but poor finances could not help him. Though
always a serious student, he got scholarship till his graduation days
but medical education was too difficult to complete without financial
support. Yet, Bachchu Lal's determination to conquer all the horizons
made him focused on his study. He completed his Master's in Science
while working in ITRC, in 1983 and Ph.D. in July 1989. Discrimination
did not leave him as a teacher put his PhD degree on hold for 13 months.
Says Dr Lal , "One very important incident happened with me, when
I submitted my thesis (April 1988) for the award of Ph.D. My thesis
was send to Allahabad University to an Associate professor. He was high
caste. As my name looks like scheduled caste name, So When I did not
get the report of the thesis in six month then I went Allahabad and
met with this professor. Instead of giving my report he invited me to
attend a meeting in his University and also assured that he will send
the report soon. I went to attend the meeting and again requested him
to send the report. Even then he did not send the report. After 13 months
delaying my report by this professor, I became really angry and the
used my way to get the report, and then he gave the report by hand and
I got awarded Ph.D. in July, 1989".
In September 1989, he was
appointed as scientist B, in ITRC in an open selection, (none of the
permanent employee of ITRC got post of scientist B in open selection
in ITRC history till today, he was the only who did this). The caste
remarks hurled at him because of the job further strengthened his resolve
to prove his credentials and scholarship. It also gave him ideas to
respond to upper caste contempt. " Yes it was true that it was
a reserve post but I was qualified for this position compare with any
general candidate. The reason was this that for the post of Scientist
B, basic qualification was M.Sc. First class or Ph.D. When I was M.Sc.,
second division, then, I did not get even interview letter for the post
of Scientist B. After doing Ph.D. and having several years experience,
I was a perfect candidate for the post of Scientist B. These comments
provoked me to get POST DOCTORAL POSIATION IN USA and I did. I came
USA in December 1992 at Johns Hopkins University that is number one
in the world. In conclusion, I would like to say that during my service
in ITRC, I learned to handle these so called high caste people and still
I do have very good reputation in ITRC.'
In December 1992 he moved
as a Post Doctoral Fellow, in Department of Neurology, Johns Hopkins
University, School of Medicine, Neuro-Oncology Lab, Kennedy Krieger
Institute, Baltimore, MD 21205, USA, but came back India, in 1994. Joining
a prestigious institute in USA was not on his agenda but the continuous
upper caste remarks related to his merit and caste were perturbing and
he decided to respond by his own way. If in India, he was condemned
as a reserve category student, in USA he went by dent of his hard work
The red tapism and caste
bias force Dr Bachchu Lal to return to USA in 1998. He himself explains,
'I came USA in December 1992 and went back India in October 1994. When
I went back in 1994, from USA then I was happily working in ITRC but
I was also affiliated with departmental employee associations. During
this period, I had dispute with Director of ITRC and then I decided
to again go back to USA and settle in USA. During my first visit of
USA, I noticed that India is still far behind from USA especially in
science. In USA you will get the benefits if you are a good worker compare
to India where most of the positions will be filled on the basis of
recommendations and bribery or cheating. People from all over the world,
working in Johns Hopkins University, they never discriminate any one
on the basis of caste or religion but if we meet with Indians then they
will ask about the caste and will discriminate. Yes I have faced discrimination
several times when I told Indians that I am from a sweeper community.
I am proud of my self and my caste.'
Dr Lal is still working as
scientist in Johns Hopkins University, on brain tumor therapy and developing
new treatment strategies for incurable brain Cancer.
Dr Lal is worried about the
growing differences among various Dalit communities and feel that inter
caste marriages could play an important role in uniting the society.
As far as the political leaders are concern, with the sole exception
of Late Kanshi Ram, most of them are at the mercy of their party leaders
and have been corrupted and co-opted.
On the question of his identity
Dr Lal proudly inform every one that he hails from the Valmiki community.
Yet he explains his philosophy, " I will call my self as Scheduled
caste (dalits) and human who believe in humanity because if I call my
self Ambedkarite, then I will be separated from others because every
one is not Ambedkarite. The reason is this that still lot of dalits
do not know that what Baba Saheb did for the community specially in
scavenger community. If I call my self as Buddhist then, I will be talking
about one religion. We need to distribute a book on Dr. Ambedkar's life
history and his work, in brief, in all languages free among dalits so
that they can understand about that what dalits need still to do in
On the condition of his community,
Dr Lal feels that ultimately it has to come from with in the community
and education is the only tool. " Scavenging is very big problem
and question at this time and answer is only illiteracy and lack of
confidence. I also proved in my life that if I did not want to do menial
job then no one could force me. My brothers and sisters are not highly
educated but they are not doing menial jobs. Education is the only tool
that can help us to stop scavenging."
It is essential for the Valmiki
community to join the Ambedkarite movement and for this, Dr Bachchu
Lal feel that the people have to spread the movement otherwise the community
will remain in dark. He says, "My feeling is that this community
was most oppressed and illiterate compare to other dalit communities.
I am sitting in USA and reading about the Dr. Bhagwan Das now otherwise
I was never told about Dr. Bhagwan das. Valmikies are still in Hindu
folds because they go and clean the houses and get food easily from
all high caste community, so they were not caring for any thing. Now
things are improving in the big cities but in the villages, conditions
are still worst. Valmiki people should move in ambedkarite movements
and focus on their kids education and give up alcohol and meat.'
He wants the community people
to develop alternative for themselves. Education is the biggest tool.
Those who have not been able to get enough education must shift to technical
jobs where no food touching is involved. Says he, 'If you are auto-mobile
mechanic then no one will ask about your caste but if you open a restaurant
then every one will inquire about the caste. So the Valmiki community
people must focus on education and technical businesses.
Dr Bachchu Lal says ' Women
are the back bone of the society, especially in valmiki community because
while living between our valmiki communities, I noticed that most of
the illiterate men were coming home in the late evening, after drinking
alcohol whereas women were coming home early after work and were cooking
food, doing shopping and taking care to the kids. I would like to say
that women must come forward in the education, so that they can better
care to young generation.
He is ready to provide his
guidance and particularly to his community people. His idea is the formation
of Women's saving groups so that they are not depended on loan from
outside. 'Women must also form small societies within their community
to save some money every day for the future unknown emergencies. Let's
put it like this, if 10 women make a society and save only one rupee
per day, so they will save rupees 300 per month and rupees 3600/= per
year. Once if one society have this much money, they can use it at any
emergency without any interest and they can return money at their convenience.
So this way they do not need to go to the money lenders and if they
will keep saving money like this then after some time they will be able
to save laks of rupees and then they can spend this money to start business.
I am willing to match the same amount up to 10 societies each year.
It will cost me Rs. 36,000/= per year.'
Dr Bachchu Lals' life is
an inspiration for all those who aspire to rise high despite all the
disabilities of caste and community. He comes from the lowest of the
low community among the untouchables in India and yet his determination
has resulted in his current position as one of world's premier Nureo
institutions. His message to new young of his community is-' Young boys
and girls of Valmiki Community must take an oath that they will do best
in his studies and will keep away, them self from bad elements in the
school. After getting education we will also think about the progress
of our community and family. We will also teach our new generation to
provide respect to our older people.'
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