Publica: In one of your interviews, you spoke about how the present education system is not able to generate consciousness and the need to learn beyond the system. How do you see this to be a lacuna and what alternative do you propose?
I would like to point out that it is not only the present education system which has failed us all, but the foundation of education system in India since the transfer of power to the hands of Brahmins in 1947 had similar goal to reproduce the Brahmanical socio-political structure and ideology. It serves only one agenda, which is to strengthen Savarna Supremacy in this country and more precisely the Brahman supremacy. What we are seeing today is the shift of power from Congressi Brahman and Baniya (Social Smuggler, a term coined by Kancha Iliah) to BJP Brahman Baniya. The aim of education system in India since 1947 was never to generate consciousness among the Bahujan, the oppressed masses, but to generate the ruling caste consciousness among the masses i.e. Brahmanical consciousness and to erase the history, struggle and culture of the oppressed. From primary education to higher education, Savarnas have monopolized over institution and knowledge production which is anti-Dalit, Adivasi, OBCs and anti-oppressed minorities of the country. While seeing the emergence of hydra headed genocidal Brahmanism, it is difficult to believe that there is any hope in current regime to change this Brahmanical education and institutions. From Rohith Vemula to Payal Tadvi to Fatima Latif, there are a series of institutional murders, but there is hardly any talk of change in the education system or reform in the education system in the country. There is no hope for the oppressed minorities such as Dalit, Adivasi, Muslim in existing political establishment.
Publica: In the current Indian education system, Ambedkar has been reduced to ‘Chairperson of the Drafting Committee and the Poona Pact’ and we barely find the names of Phule and Periyar in the course books. As a student of history, do you feel that the elimination of Dalit history from the mainstream is a systematic design or is it just because of the lack of Dalit representation in academia to write their history?
Giving zero representation to the Dalits and systematic grand designed of erasure of Dalit History or even the history of Shudras (OBCs) from its education system is in fact meta-plan to which Kuffir calls “Manu-stream”(mainstream) created by the Savarna through Congress, RSS, BJP and others such outfits in the country. Mahatma Phule, Tanthai Periyar, Narayan Guru are the intellectuals and revolutionaries from Shudra communities, they have destroyed Brahmanism through the ideological attack and constructed a vision of liberty, equality and justice for Shudra-Atishudra of this country. But they have no place in so called Indian history, why? It is precisely because Brahman led Indian state fears that more than 50 percent of OBC population will rise to reclaim their rightful place in Indian society and they will go on for asking the redistribution of resources, destruction of Brahman-Baniya monopoly and annihilation of Caste System which pushed them to the edges in India’s history. Because of such erasure of Shudras memory, history we hardly see consciousness among the OBCs against their systematic oppression. It is Bahujan movement led by Manyavar Kanshiram and Behen Kumari Mayawati that we see some history which is alive today through the making of statues, parks of Mahatma Phule, Periyar, Narayan Guru and others such revolutionaries. Anti-caste movement have always preserved its history despite of “Manustream” vision of destruction of our history and struggle.
Publica: As the history of Indian republic suggests, the politics for and against dalits, both have intensified casteism in Indian society rather than annihilating it. In this background, what prospects according to you are there for Ambedkar’s dream to annihilate caste from India?
There is another way of looking at the history of Indian Republic in the context of Dalit community. Majority section of population shows its antipathy against the cause for Dalits. Various studies have shown recently that Dalits are still untouchables in this so called Republic or largest democratic country in the world. Entire Hindu population have kept their age old sickness of caste, and untouchability in society. On the other hand, a section of Dalit population is always fighting against caste oppression, atrocities and untouchability. They are nurturing the constitutional ethos and promoting the idea of liberty, equality, and justice, despite of the brutal crackdown they face both from the State and society. After the emergence of Manyavar Kansiram, there was shift in Dalit politics and this shift was from the agenda of annihilation of caste to the unity of the oppressed caste and minorities to fight against the Savarna. Kanshiram saw the vision that if we will achieve political power, everything will be solved. While seeing the politics of BSP in UP, it is hard to believe that power through electoral politics will change much for the oppressed. Indian constitution through the effort of Babasaheb Ambedkar has abolished untouchability. But Savarna politicians were not ready to abolish the caste, and denied its criminalization. So, caste system still thrives in India. In India, annihilation of caste is impossible. Because Savarna don’t want to destroy their caste system. If you see Dalit and Adivasi they are outside the Chaturvana system. And they are the victim of the caste system or Brahmanism.
Publica: In the recent years empirical studies by Lokniti- Centre for the Study of Developing Socities and Christophe Jefferlot suggest that the support among Dalit vote bank for BJP which is basically a Savarna party, has deepened further. What according to you is the reason for such a shift in Dalit consciousness?
Can these state sponsored NGO-ised institutions such as CSDS answer why and how their Savarna communities mostly Brahman and Baniya have monopolized over the democratic institutions and all state apparatus to manipulate entire population? They can’t answer such questions because they never wish to conduct study on the powerful communities who are exploiting and looting the oppressed masses which they themselves belong to. And these same institutions treat us, Dalit- Adivasi as object of study, to sell us in the market place of academia. Also while analyzing the shifting vote patterns of urban middle class and mostly Savarna, Jeffrelot in his study of victory of BJP in 2014 analyzed that main BJP vote bank is these urban middle class savarna groups. We are living in such age where state apparatus have completely monopolized by the oppressors, the Brahman and Baniya. It is the Hindu populations who have been manipulated by these ruling classes. RSS, BJP is working to erase the memory, history and struggle of the oppressed masses. If you see Indian history after and more so from 1970 it is the Dalit communities who is challenging the establishment of this Savarna state and its ideology called Brahmanism. You have series of uprisings and movement against the dominance of Savarna communities, whether Dalit Panthers, DS4 to BSP, and recently Bhim Army. Ambedkarite movement is growing across the states despite of not having one centralized leadership. This is the force which is growing day by day which will challenge the Brahmanical establishment in near future.
Publica: Do you believe that Karl Marx can seriously be associated with Ambedkar in Indian society? Perhaps Ambedkar himself seems to have done it at both theoretical and practical level. If the answer is yes, how caste-struggle of India can can be conflated with class struggle. A criticism comes that Ambedkarites have lost vision of caste-class solidarity. What do you think of it? Or do you think there is a possibility of a new approach?
Brahman revolutionary (in fact they are reactionary forces) often make one mistake in understanding this question and in putting time and space into its center to understand where to start. Whether Marx would come to Ambedkar or Ambedkar will go back to Marx? The way time and progress has been visualized by priestly Brahmans the same visualization can be seen among the progressive Brahman. According to Brahman notion of time, there was Satya Yug but when oppressed rise they call it Kaliyug. So according to Brahman notion, time is moving backward. They apply same logic of time and progress in putting Ambedkar in their scheme of analysis and they propose that Ambedkar will go backward to meet Marx. According to Marxian understanding, time is linear. Human society will move from feudal mode of production to capitalist mode of production and the dictatorship of proletariat would establish communism. So what I want to point out here is that Brahmans have kept their Brahmanical understanding in all schemes in understanding Marxism. Marxist are in India are anti-revolutionary forces, they are reductionist to the core. That is why oppressed organization like BAPSA gave the slogans of “Laal Bhagwa ek hai Saare Comrade Fake hai.” Ambedkar in his one of speech told that the struggle of untouchables is a struggle of class struggle. Caste and Class struggle are not two different and separate things. We must not confuse ourselves like the way Brahman revolutionary are confused whether it is Caste, Capital or Marx. Ambedkarite movement has long history of fighting Caste and class demons. According to Ambedkar, Caste is “enclosed class”. People who are oppressed in the system must develop strategy to fight against this naked dance of Baniya capitalist and Brahman parasites. We must understand the nature, genesis and development of Capitalism we have in the subcontinent. In 1940s Ambedkar suggested that laboring class must strive to capture political power and he was upset that there was no such attempt from the working class population.
Publica: Given the presence of subtle form of casteism among Indian muslims and some obvious examples of disagreements between dalits and muslims, do you think they can be brought together electorally (The split of Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi and AIMIM perhaps proves otherwise)? Keeping in mind that Ambedkar had some critical views on Islam and that he had deliberately chosen Buddhism and not Islam?
Leadership needs to work out on the question of bringing these two communities together electorally. Despite of failures in electoral field there is new sense of belonging within these communities with the emergence of organizations like Bhim Army. There is a serious need of social reform movement within Muslim communities on the question of caste. It will be also interesting to see whether upper caste Muslim will accept the leadership of Pasmanda. It will determine the nature of movement we will have in near future. About conversion, Dalits have a long history of conversion before Babasaheb Ambedkar or before colonialism. Dalits have been converting to various religions. Islam, Christianity, Sikh, are the major religions on which Dalits are converting. The first and immediate thing we need to do is to leave Hinduism. I think today Dalits are in all religions; therefore struggle must be a united fight and giving solidarity to all the Dalits in all religions to overcome the caste oppression, atrocities, and untouchability.
Publica: Odisha is the state with one of the highest Bahujan populations (24% SCs, 18% STs). However, since the independence there have been only two Dalit CMs (for a combined term of 16 months) and no tribal CM. The story of upper-caste hegemony over Odisha politics is endless but it seems to have intensified under BJD rule. It appears that a caste-based mobilization like that of UP or Bihar hasn’t worked in Odisha. What do you think can break this hegemony?
I have strong disagreement using the term “caste mobilization” when it comes to the politics of Bahujan or any other anti-caste movement. You see, mostly Savarna academics use such terminology and tell you that it is caste based mobilization. But in real it is anti-caste based mobilization which talks of uniting all the oppressed caste to fight against caste hegemony and monopoly. Yes, it is BJD which has solidified the Savarna hegemony in Odisha politics. It has blocked all the possibilities of emergence of anti-caste movement. However, because of Ambedkarite movement there has been new churning among the SC and ST population. Only a solid Ambedkarite movement with region specific mobilization without emulating the North Indian or Maharashtrian style Bahujan politics will break the hegemony of Savarna in Odisha. It will take more than fifteen years to change the dynamics in Odisha. Though, Mahima movement emerged in colonial time to fight against Brahman hegemony. Later on, it failed to emerge as an organized force with modernized way of fighting like the way we have seen in Ambedkarite movement in Maharashtra, Ayappan movement in Kerala or Periyar, Ayothi Thassar movement in Tamil Nadu.
Publica: Ambedkar personally converted to Buddhism and also proposed it as a way out. How do you think converting to Buddhism will help escape caste-society? Do you think atheism and non-religiosity can be a better option?
Conversion is a part among Dalit and Shudra lives. Even before Babasaheb Ambedkar, people have converted to many different religions. In Indian history, Buddhism emerged as a revolutionary force against Brahmanism. Ambedkar in his seminal work ‘Revolution and Counter Revolution in Ancient India‘ suggested that Buddhism in ancient India was no less than a revolution. In this sense, Babasaheb thought that the message of Buddhism will give powerful voice to the Dalits to form a new identity. In fact Babasaheb proposed a theory that untouchables were once Buddhist. About atheism, the problem with the people is that they think Atheism or non-religiousity is solution. Atheism can be tool to be in this world as an individual, but as groups for Dalits, it can’t do anything. In fact if you study modern Buddhist or Neo-Buddhist they are more likely atheist in their approach, most of them don’t believe in God and propagate science. This is my observation for more than six years. One of the aspects why Babasaheb Ambedkar converted to Buddhism is because of the scientificity of Buddha’s approach towards understanding human beings.
Publica: You were one of the founding members of BAPSA. Considering the United Left’s incessant criticism of BAPSA’s politics (even calling it a B team of ABVP) , what plan of action do you have for the years to come for BAPSA?
As one of the founding members of BAPSA, I have seen the politics of left and ABVP in very close proximity. We have seen this anti-revolutionary, anti-Marx left in JNU and their corrupt and casteist politics. But today SC, ST, OBCs and minority students are understanding their own politics and they no more want to be represented by some saviors. They are emerging as their own saviors. We have seen this in 2014 BAPSA, in later phase many other organization such as OBC forum, SIO, Fraternity, and Muslim Students of JNU (recently) emerged as an autonomous voice for themselves. BAPSA emerged as strong force in JNU and at the same time it has spread beyond campus. BAPSA is formed by many oppressed students in many universities and states such as in Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Maharashtra, Gujrat and people are eager to open BAPSA in various places.
Publica: You are the very example of resistance in flesh against the structural caste violence in university campuses. As a motivational teacher, what would you like to convey to Dalit students trying to ‘live’ in casteist campuses?
As a fellow community member, I would say that caste is inevitable in Indian society, as long as we stay with the vicinity of Hindus it will haunt us, wherever we go, to village, to city, to educational institutions to the work place. There is no escape from it. The only thing that will save us is ourselves, try to stick together, organige yourself, support each other morally, academically, materially and politically. Resistance is the only thing which will save us. Having our own political groups in various campuses will give us strength and power. People who think silence is option in anyway, they are wrong. Silence will only give impunity to the oppressors. They will think that we can’t do anything, so they will discriminate, exploit us more. I have been victim of my silence. Two things we need to do, one is don’t be silent, and second make your groups and organizations wherever you are.
Dalit rights activist, ex Presidential candidate from BAPSA for JNUSU and a Research Scholar at Jawaharlal Nehru University, working on “History of Identities and Exclusion: Ambedkar and the Marginialised “,Jitendra Suna in an interview with Publica.