Rohith Vemula: Indian Left and the Dalit Student Suicides


By Saswat Pattanayak (Written for CounterCurrents)

Rohith Vemula did not just commit suicide – he was murdered. And this murder was not committed by the right-wing ABVP – it was conducted by the left-liberals. The “Dalit problem” citing which Rohith gave up his life, is not the creation of any fringe elements among communal Hindus – it is sustained by the liberal Hindus who tremendously profit from the status quo it provides. None of this is an exaggeration – these comprise a reality that must be confronted. The entire Hindu society, the Savarnas, are the perpetrators – no one among them is eligible to be member of the jury.

This is so because, whenever the colonial masters have been credited with infrastructure and development, the critical thinkers have added to the discourse a very crucial aspect – that, the ruling class of any given era also deserves to be blamed for the maladies. For instance, it is often said that the British could not blame the Indians for Satti and child marriage practices – if the British could take the credit for building colleges and for educating the Indians, they should also take the blame for the prevailing societal violence against women and widows that took place under their rule.

The ruling ideas of any era belong to the ruling class, and so do the existing contradictions. The ruling class of Indian academia are not the British anymore. They are the left-liberals. And Vemula’s suicide is not the first one to have been committed by a Dalit student at a higher education institute of India. Quite the contrary; it is an alarming continuation. The only reason why Vemula’s news has so caught up the protesting landscape is precisely because there is a right-wing government at the center and its youth wing ABVP that is purportedly responsible this time. In a macabre parallel, the Occupy and the anti-war activists have re-emerged now that the liberals need to be salvaged. The truth is the left parties and their student bodies which dominated the academia ever since India turned a sovereign republic, have consistently downplayed caste discriminations on campuses. Reason why the Left is responsible for Vemula’s demise today is because it did not sufficiently critique the hostile environment its own student leaders and professors were/are enabling all these years.

If the education system in India takes pride in being predominantly leftist, then it must also accept the utter failure in practicing the tenets of progressive politics. The hypocrisy of the Indian left is exposed threadbare in its historical incapacity to take a principled stand against caste atrocities that are systemically flourishing across top research centers of India. From policy makers, to academicians, to vice chancellors – almost all the shining stars in Indian institutes are progressive intellectuals strongly aligned with the Indian Left. College campuses have historically been dominated by youth brigades of Congress and CPI/M. Textbooks are overwhelmingly authored by leftist historians. Open Air Theaters and Ganga Dhabba meetings and the IIT/IIMs are crowded by liberal intellectuals at both student and leadership levels. And instead of addressing the legacies of segregations, all these institutions of higher learnings in India, spearheaded by JNU have remained busy with earned accolades for being tolerant and diverse.

Just as they have been rightfully receiving laurels, they must also be made accountable for what systematically continues in a parallel manner in all the major universities across India. What is it that makes the deans and heads of departments invariably always upper caste Hindus? What is it that sustains a climate where “reservation” is treated as though it is a favor, and not a right? What is it in academic environment that encourages student politics of dissent, but the dissenting voices are indeed from the profiteering social classes? What is it that labels minority students “casteists” while the students whose ancestors invented caste system and passed it down as a virtue, are labeled youths for “equality”? What is it that produces so few scientists, engineers and doctors within the Dalit students? What is it that drives so many Dalit students to suicides and yet the pattern remains unreported in mainstream media?

The Left needs to answer why most Indian universities glorify Marx and Engels, but do not even admit Ambedkar and Phule in their midst. Expulsion of Rohith Vemula and other Dalit students need not have come as a surprise, therefore. The hegemony of left politics inside campuses remains without a dispute, but its consequences upon the Dalit students deserve studious attention. It is not Savarkar or Golwalkar whose presence in university curricula overshadows that of Ambedkar or Periyar. Gandhian and Nehruvian scholars are the ones who have for decades marginalized, if not silenced the voices of Dalit icons inside campuses.

More than just the historical battle between the ideologies, the prevailing animosity against Dalits in Indian educational settings have been nothing less than ghastly. All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) is a classic case in point. The Medical strike of 2006 had “merit” students holding placards in broad daylight of Delhi announcing their disdain towards a possibility that their own children may end up becoming cobblers if reservations are implemented. Being the most prestigious governmental institute in medical sciences, AIIMS has continued to offer such a casteist climate that the then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had to personally intervene and set up a three-member committee headed by UGC chairman Sukhdeo Thorat in 2007 to assess the situation there.

The findings at AIIMS pointed to nothing other than a climate of “Caste Apartheid”. 100% of Dalit students reported caste-based ragging, 88% complained of hostel isolation, 76% reported mess discrimination, 72% of Dalit students expressed bias in Cricket, 92% in basketball, 72% highlighted teacher bias in classroom. Regarding the caste-based ragging, a Dalit student said, “They would call us to their rooms and order us…’tell us 10 reasons why you should get reservation…if you don’t we’ll beat you.”

Despite media coverages of the above, neither the government nor any educational institute aided by powerful leftist student bodies established procedures to address the climate of segregation. Insight Foundation reported the suicide of Linesh Mohan Gawle, a second year PhD student from National Institute of Immunology, New Delhi on April 16, 2011, the suicide of Balmukund Bharti, final year MBBS student from AIIMS on March 3, 2010 and even recorded testimonies of family members in a documentary “The Death of Merit”. The complete report “On Suicides of Dalit Students in India’s Premier Educational Institutions” is available on Countercurrents.

The instances of suicide among Dalit students are too many to be blamed on “right-wing political student groupings like the ABVP”. This shifting of blame to an external agency, preferably “fringe elements” is a convenient method adopted by liberal Hindus who wish to retain the status quo while coloring it progressive only because they enjoy the privilege to see published their feel-good stances of meaningless empathies. A win-win situation where the protest is registered, self-respect enhanced, and the tag of being social reformers keeps giving. In a sickening parallel to charitable organizations that need a state of poverty to remain so they can stay relevant. Bizarre but true, political parties like the Congress and the Left need caste hostilities (and despondency among Muslim youths) to remain, so that they can occasionally support the politically correct positions as progressive political outfits. Appears like Caste in India must not be annihilated, but sustained, across the spectrum – Left to Right.

This double standard has been long exposed at the level of electoral politics, where the Dalits and Muslims are increasingly choosing candidates not aligned with either the Congress or the Left. But more crucially, it is also being increasingly realized among the Dalit students who are joining “study circles” to seriously examine Ambedkar and Periyar and the likes who are deliberately kept out of academic curricula.

Rohith Vemula was himself one of those who realized that the Left in India was “inefficient” to tackle caste issue and to unite the working class. Even as he remained an admirer of Marxism, Vemula was disenchanted with the left politics on the campus that was led by the SFI. He made a call to “resist the communal ABVP, reject the inefficient SFI and to support the UDA for a stronger union”. But he was not limited only to student politics on campus. More importantly, he had made a theoretical intervention that is worth analyzing. On August 13, 2014, Vemula wrote, “The shift of my political identity from Marxism to Ambedkarism is a conscious move into building a new future on the basis of more humane, more inclusive society. Thus compelling the present stratified society, perforce, to take off it’s elitist mask of generosity and solidarity in the name of seamless majoritarian cultural unity or nationalism. My core intention is to challenge and expose the upper-class hypocritical advocacy of progressiveness which shamelessly maintains it’s ties with the oppressive structures of class, caste and gender. To fight against the symbiosis of cultural chauvinism and communal politics, to popularize the subaltern, dravidian history and to shout out sharply the radical realism amidst the euphoria of freedom. With my basic world view conditioned by marxism, I dream and work for a society which Baba Saheb has always aspired.”

If the Indian Left needs a wake-up call, this is it. Yet another occasion to own upto the utter failure on its part to align with the working class interests of those who are most exploited in India. Luckily for them, despite pointing out the “upper-class hypocrisy” represented by the Indian Left, Rohith Vemula never quite gave up his hope in communism. With his astute and critical observations that shall comprise the legacy of Rohith Vemula, he refused to fall for political polarization and bourgeois opportunism. He called for the revolutionary unity of the working class instead, and for a much more efficient and radical Left that would spark revolutionary spirits.

Almost a year after his analysis on shift in his political identity, Vemula would assess and hail Marx as “one of the greatest of minds that ever lived on this Earth.” He wrote the tribute on Marx’s birth anniversary on May 4, 2015, “He (Marx) along with Engels produced the fierce theory of revolution. He explained the capitalist exploitation and gave a scientific sense to out anger. His dialectical materialism proletariat revolt idea, historical materialism and class conflict concept will forever help the oppressed sections in revolting against the oppressive systems. Long live Marx..Long live Marxism…Long live Revolution.”

No rest in peace.

Jai Bhim, Comrade Rohith Vemula!


Meritocratic Jury

(In the backdrop of Supreme Court of India’s bench comprising Justice Misra and Justice Pant citing national interest to scrap quota in higher education institutions)


Looks like you have the merit –
Birthright of the nationalist.
Wearing that Sacred Thread.
Making a call to daddy’s
old boys network every now & then.
Misra uncles and Pant uncles
And their colleague uncles.
Uncle’s uncles. Bhagwat uncles.
Generationally scholarly.
Proud Indian Hindus.
Feeling the national interests
Merit runs in their veins.

Your access not denied
to the temples.
Of gods and sacred texts.
Interpreted by
sacrosanct gatekeepers.
High Court
Jagannath Temple
Supreme Court
Meenakshi Temple.
Looks like you have the merit
To determine the fate
of those you get to oppress.
Cannot reverse the caste,
whose virtues and vices –
are determined at birth.
No automatic entry
Into life of dignity.
But Hinduism is not religion.
Just a way of life.
Savarna – Salvation.
Dalit – Damnation.

No fault of Brahmins –
Just born that way.
Conspiracy of the galaxy
Coming together of forces
To offer them higher birth
infinite inborn meritocracy.

Being born a Brahmin
Is it a reservation –
Or is it a merit?
Who gets to answer?
The Brahmin himself.
The enlightened one.
So, end of argument.
Dialogues among his peers.
Their judicial reviews, their revisions.
Recommendations. Directions.
Judgements. Death penalties.
Fake penalties. Bail penalties.
End of reservations.

High priests of justice
Enlightened enough
to believe in no caste.
They create caste, they dispose caste.
Just a state of mind.
Situationally enlightened sign.

Unlike, those that decide
to liberate themselves,
for their own interests.
Not for the Brahmin nation’s –
sacred temples
sacred cows
sacred courts
sacred definition of merit.
A nation of monopolists
over professions of science,
law, medical, engineering,
historical lies.
All things intellectual,
no things scavengential.

Looks like you have passed
the Brahmin-Savarna IQ Test.
Standardizing the merit –
since the founding of
the Hindu religion,
not the disease.
Working to promote
the national interest,
not nepotism.
Feeding the country’s
collective conscience,
not meritorious lynching.


– Saswat Pattanayak, Peoples’ Poet, 2015

The need for Political Correctness

Saswat Pattanayak investigates what it means to be politically incorrect in contemporary times. Is it a ploy to maintain the status quo and further the capitalist cause or is it to give a voice to the truly marginalized?
– Kindle Magazine

If the concerns over free speech are due to AIB controversies, then there is a possibility that those are perhaps not valid concerns after all. The problem with free speech is that the freedom to espouse the contents belongs to those who own the means to circulate them. The question then would be if Bollywood celebrities ever lacked their platforms to express politically incorrect statements.

Whereas political incorrectness must be allowed to be expressed without reservations, the idea that it has somehow lacked platforms in India or elsewhere in the world today could be purely hogwash. In fact, the culture industry in capitalistic societies thrives on political incorrectness – both monetarily and spiritually. Usage of sexist slangs, rape jokes, fat-shaming or skin colorism are not exceptions to Bollywood; they are the mainstay. Although what AIB has aired was deliberately orchestrated to come off as controversial, a careful inspection of its content would reveal a mere continuation of dominant on-screen norms.

An enormously fat child as a reject is not an AIB discovery – it is evident in the industry’s obsession with “six-packs”. A dark-skin being the same as illegal money in Swiss banks is not a surprise statement – even male actors like Shah Rukh Khan endorse fairness as key to their successes. Jokes on how someone “ugly” does not deserve to be dated is not a shocking revelation for the majority – as the leading actors have to inevitably exceed the standards of beauty. Alia Bhatt may not take offense to being called ignorant and silly by her male co-stars – but women across the globe are anyway proclaimed as intellectually inferior by the male academic superstars. Deepika Padukone may be used to humors that reduce her to be a “good thing that Ranveer Singh was in” – but commodification of women is among the most profiteering industries today. Parineeti Chopra may have genuinely got scared of getting metaphored into a gang rape victim that night – and yet, rape as a funny metaphor is a constant that refuses to die – from usage by stand up comedians to supreme court judges. Raghu Ram being imagined as a wife-beater, Karan Johar imagined as a casting couch enabler, Ranveer Singh imagined as the pervert photographer of an actress who in her erstwhile feminist standpoint had pleaded the country to stop humiliating her – suddenly all this is good humor now, because the industry bigwigs are expecting us to get matured. Shouldn’t we have also matured into accepting Mulayam Singh Yadav’s “boys will be boys” statement regarding rape, if it is alright to laugh at the manly Ranveer Singh getting a hard-on from pepper spray by his next conquest?

What is amiss in the mature argument is that, none of these are objectionable because they are simply politically incorrect or because a society lacks a sense of humor. They are objectionable because a bunch of elitists continue to find these funny at the expense of those who are victimized by actual acts of domestic violence, sex discriminations and standards of beauty that effectively and unjustly exclude majority of people from the mainstream culture industry. AIB is no big deal though, only because it was not a breakthrough – it was just more of the same. It was just as objectionable as was Yo Yo Honey Singh’s poetry in his “Choot” volumes; little surprise that the rapper was instantly embraced by the industry that met its match in avowedly celebrating misogyny.

Roots of Roast:

Political correctness and political incorrectness are different shades of the same spectrum. They are not rigid, fixed unchangeable notions – indeed quite the contrary. Like culture itself, they form an unending line. What used to be politically incorrect a few decades ago is perhaps politically correct today, and vice versa. It is the content, the impact, and most importantly in the Marxist sense – the beneficiaries of certain consciousness that should determine what is to be considered politically correct or politically incorrect. It is upto the artists themselves to decide their directions, and to that extent raising hue and cry over AIB is redundant at one extreme and reactionary on the other. But to surmise that AIB discourse is in a victimized state crying out to be heard by the people, lest artistic freedoms will meet untimely deaths, is a ridiculous exaggeration.

Contents aside, the form also needs to be reexamined. Roasting might be a new phenomenon to hit Indian consciousness, but so has been rap. The tragedy is we perhaps have imported the worst of both forms while showcasing them to be the best we can be, that we need to the urge to defend what went for roasting on AIB. What was on display without anyone paying tribute to the roots of it (Bollywood surprise!) has been historically called “signifying”, “joining”, “snapping” and “playing the dozens” – deeply rooted in African-American heritage. Actively participated by the enslaved to amuse and distract themselves, they have accumulated political coinage and unique underground significance over the decades among the oppressed of America. Just like the use of N-word, some of the snaps may have derogatory feel to them, but the cultural usages by the specific groups of people lend them the context that needs to be respected, especially if the media are all agog over the novelty of this art form.

Consider rapper Biz Markie’s snap: “Your mother’s hair is so nappy, she has to take painkillers to comb her hair”. Or, actor Doug E. Doug’s snap: “Your family is so poor, they go to Kentucky Fried Chicken to lick other people’s fingers.” Or, comedian Nipsey Russell’s: “Your family is so poor, the roaches have to eat out or go hungry.” Not only are these legendary acts by the blacks, they are also reflective of a need to speak to the societal realities in the most cutting-edge manner.. For one “Your father is so poor, he can’t afford to pay attention,” a brilliant joining could be, “Your family is so poor, when I asked your mother if I could use the bathroom she said, ‘Sure, pick a corner’”.

Instead of exploring the historicity of this tradition, or of the underground political hip-hop that are emancipatory for a purpose, we have now started off on a wrong foot, with a bunch of narcissistic celebrities that are misappropriating a subculture to falsely portray themselves as victims of sorts. Strictly from the standpoint of a review (considering an important film reviewer was a panelist), what AIB came up with were just gross. One “roast” that met with laughter was that of a person being so black that a white cop got away with killing him. Another one caricatured Santa Claus giving away gifts to wrong kids only when he is Muslim. Nothing to laugh about racist justice system and Islamophobia unless one is actually a victim of those and chooses to make light of the situation. Sadly, the panelists were not. Certainly not enough to cry for their freedom to be politically incorrect.

It is not the politically incorrect that are tortured in a society like India. It is the political correctness that is still looking for outlets, amidst the prevailing platitudes of glorified incorrectnesses.

Whose Freedom?

The core argument of free speech advocates that art must be allowed to exist for the sake of it – and not as a means to a certain social purpose. But is that really a concern, going by the trends? When was art not existing for the sake of it in India? Barring a few socialist filmmakers, when have the huge majority of directors and producers made anything other than art for the sake of art? Most of the blockbusters celebrate themes that sustain on the absolutely irrational, illogical and impossible. Same is true of the prevailing dominant Hindu festivities across the states, regardless of the political party in power. What is politically correct about Durga Puja celebrations in the land of the Party Line? For all its shocking disclosures, what AIB aired was hardly more than a religious rhetoric that knows quite a few things about the free flowing use of “choots” as a liberating phrase. Did they even utter a fraction of “roasting” that is done while pulling the carts of Lord Jagannath in Puri every year at Rath Yatra? Sexist slangs and rape jokes comprise mainstream religious India’s constant preoccupation – a major factor that contributes to success of Bollywood movies and to the prolonged marital success stories of decent majority Hindu households.

Majoritarian supremacist speeches are so taken for granted in everyday life that we often assume them to be struggling for representation when rarely they are even slightly choked – akin to the predicament of an upper caste student who occasionally does not get what is automatically due, because some new movements are demanding reservations in education and employment. To grasp its scope, we may just need to consider the religious cultural givens and the atmosphere permeated by them. For atheists or minorities in religious beliefs, that climate is neither conducive nor desirable. If one were to raise a child as an atheist, where would that option really be? And yet somehow that lack of possibility is not considered as a systematically stifled right to free speech and expression. Only when the religious folks are not allowed to perform a public ceremony that they have historically been doing, is there a major hue and cry about human freedom being throttled.

When was the last time objections were raised because indigenous peoples of the lands were not allowed to address to a global audience to express how the State has been exploiting them? Let alone that, we even do not let someone from among us – Priya Pillai – board a plane. It is not simply the freedom of speech that is at stake – the question that needs to be asked is, whose freedom? The Solzhenitsyns, Rands, and Nabakovs were perhaps politically incorrect, but the freedoms of those they were representing are what must guide the discourse as to which ideology is inherent in artists’ works. Are they the purveyors of an oppressive status quo, or are they the champions of the underrepresented and the despised. Standing up for the freedom of affluent kulaks, greedy individualists and child rapists are not about desirable ways to justify political incorrectness – they are indeed necessary components of feudal and capitalist societies.

Art for the sake of art is not some unfulfilled remote possibility worth a struggle – it is the status quo in our political economy. The demand to prolong it in the name of “free speech”, where freedom is a byproduct of plutocratic enterprises is a needless lamentation. Most artistic endeavors today are rewarded for gearing towards “entertainment, entertainment, entertainment”; what is perhaps needed is for the politically correct artists to emerge – the ones who according to Ritwik Ghatak have the nature to “bring forth collective feeling…to seek not only to utter the reality but also to learn the cause of it and the remedy of it.” Like Frida Kahlo and Picasso, Guthrie and Seeger, Zinn and Chomsky. Langston Hughes and Neruda. These politically correct figures rooted in struggles for social justice are the marginalized – without a need for corporations and industries to carry forward their works. Yet they are the organisers themselves who have as Robeson once stated, “taken their sides”.

Artists choose their sides through their works. Whether or not they are suppressed, by whom, and for how long – these are not the real questions. The real questions investigate what sides they have taken. Are they using a platform to end religious intolerance or to promote it? Are they using satire to condemn a misogynistic order or to encourage it? Are they glorifying individual liberty at the cost of social equality, or vice versa, in their quest for free speech? Are they refusing to articulate historical privileges of propertied class, or are they exposing the contradictions with a vision to end that culture, instead of perpetuating it in the name of good humor?

Political correctness did not evolve because artists wanted to submit to the whims of some oppressive ruling class; quite the contrary – it emerged out of a need felt by progressive artists to go beyond individualism. It emerged when the duties of an artist prevailed upon the rights. When the idealists turned realists in the face of the “proletarian culture”, which to Lenin was the “result of a natural development of the stores of knowledge which humanity has accumulated under the yoke of capitalist society, landlord society and bureaucratic society.”

Philosophical premises:

Progressive artists are rightfully disdainful of bourgeois art. Even as Robeson and Picasso were themselves victims of censorship and travel restrictions, they were vocally unsympathetic towards reactionary works. The battle of ideologies is a constant where the ruling art form and historical narratives are representative of the ruling order. That point is lost in these times, when bourgeois art is suddenly celebrated as some sort of beacon for human freedom – where liberty and equality are not seen at odds. Thereafter, at the very least, this marketplace of free speech undermines the effects of hate speech and silencing of the religious, racial and sexual minorities.

The advocates of free speech principles employ “pressure valve” argument in justifying the status quo with the assertion that casteists, religious fanatics and misogynists are just blowing off steam that is harmless. It’s a paternalistic justification that overlooks the fact that hate speech indeed harms the minorities more. For instance, rape jokes are not going to make a victim of sexual violence feel empowered because she still has access to that same pool of free speech rights.

“Same pool” argument is also used to project free speech rights as especially beneficial to the minorities – conveniently forgetting that ruling powers do not employ the same set of rules when it comes to the dissenters. For instance, Maoist sympathizers do not enjoy the same level of freedom as do the sympathizers of corporate monopolies – even if it is erroneously assumed for a moment, that both these groups have similar vested interest in exploiting the natural resources of India.

Finally, the argument that more speech is better for democracy rather than regulated speech is also seriously flawed. It is presupposed at the peril of the oppressed that “talking back” will earn them rewards, while that is rarely the realistic scenario. Nonviolent protesters are routinely lathi-charged and imprisoned by the same system that prides itself on right to free speech and expression of the powerful elites.

The censorship argument just as the artistic expressions themselves needs to be politically correct – the position must spring from the point of raised consciousness where the needs of the times – taking into consideration various locations of exploitations and associated struggles for social justice – are well understood and articulated. For the freedom to be equally distributed, the downtrodden should be able to express dissent, while the rights of privileged need to be moderated. What needs to be a matter of concern is not the occasional inconveniences faced by celebrities for being just their usual selves, but what begs an answer is a probe in the Gandhian terms – whether a civilized society passes a test in the degree of protection it affords its most marginalized.

Beyond the Judiciary – Reservation as Reparation

Written for Radical Notes
Thursday, 19 April 2007
Saswat Pattanayak

“The ruling ideas are nothing more than the ideal expressions of the dominant material relations, the dominant material relations grasped as ideas; hence of the relations which make the one class the ruling one, therefore, the ideas of its dominance” (Marx and Engels).

The recent Supreme Court of India decision imposing a stay on the implementation of the 27 percent reservation for the “other backward classes” (OBCs) in elite institutions is a desperate attempt to secure a few public institutions exclusively for the ‘meritorious’ few, whose merit rests on accumulated wealth, connections and opportunities. This is also an attempt to draw a limit to the concessions that a neoliberal regime can admit (for the sake of public legitimacy) against capitalism’s Malthusian values which it is supposed to protect. Already the ruling classes in India – the capitalists and their political and institutional henchmen have been troubled by the growing demand for affirmative action in the private sector. The SC decision comes as a relief for the executive and the legislature, who are formally bound to local interests and pressure. On the other hand, the judiciary is above and beyond every democratic and institutional binding, thus can be more consistent in its approach. Even if the Indian government’s attempt to solicit the opinion of a constitutional bench to overrule the two judges bench decision result in the implementation of the reservations, the present judgment comes as a clear warning – this far and no further!

Here we will address the above issues from two disparate quarters: one, from the lens of the Supreme Court itself, since it appears like the judiciary might have acted here almost independently (considering all the criticisms it has been receiving from political parties), and two, from the perspective of the class society in India, at a more micro level.

Judicial Elitism

If we agree that despite all the technological progresses that should have made life for everyone way easier in the planet, the world is still in a despicable state suffering from unjust social order where majority of the human population is at the receiving end-afflicted by poverty, unemployment, homelessness-across countries, then something somewhere has gone really wrong. And perhaps to set things correct, to offer not mere sacred guidelines but forceful means to implement them, the societies have formed relatively autonomous judicial systems, which are considered essential for establishing the much-revered rule of law. Apparently the judiciary comprises the wiser of the lots deciding over how we are all going to lead lives, when there are disputes and conflicts.

However, the reality is that the revered judiciary for most comprises either people who are close to power structure (when they are selected by the government), or people who get there through sheer academic elitism (by virtue of their access to top law schools). In either case, the judiciary then does not necessarily, and very rarely comprise people, enriched by their varied experiences of social failures in life through which they understand the complexities of living conditions. Often times they are fed through to good schools and better jobs by utilizing their family’s Old Boys Networks. Most often the judges then reflect the interests of the upper social strata of the society – becoming in themselves, the rich, creamy layer. Hence, even when they seem charitable, it is charity that is expected ‘normally’ from these strata.

The basic agenda before the judiciary is to deliberate on what is the best way of maintaining the status quo within a given legal and institutional framework. Revolution cannot be enacted by the judges – on the contrary, when a revolution or any grand change seems imminent, it rests upon the judiciary to make it jurisprudentially ‘normal’, legal and systemically palatable.

On the other hand, one of the basic elements in the conception of peoples’ movements, howsoever moderate, is their challenge to the institutionalization and alienation of rules from popular scrutiny and control, even if they are not explicitly against them. This aspect puts them in conflict with the ‘rulers’, i.e. those who oversee the implementation of these rules. Naturally, every time the activists land at the court’s door for justice, by this very act itself they fail their cause, upholding the ‘sanctity’ of the court or the jurisprudential policing. The court as the arbitrator appointed by the system to negotiate between the system and peoples can legitimately do anything. It has famously disgraced millions of people attached to their landless movements time and again. It is because of the court that displaced peoples (a la Narmada) do not receive any justice. It is because of the court that the high-rises are still allowed to exploit reservoirs worldwide. It is thanks to the court that no ruling has ever banned the police from attacking the workers when they stage a protest against the exploiting bosses. In fact, it is the court alone that has prevented the working class strikes from being legal.

If the society has made any headways in its civilizational history – if it has forced even a faint “sense” of equality among men and women, and among the races of people-it is because of the thousands of movements outside the courtroom-and, always against the prevailing social order. A court merely observes the situations outside to safeguard its own interests inside, because the court often consists of the same class of people that become the object of protests. As the agreements are reached outside, the rulings are made inside-which is why the court is always for months (or weeks) delayed in taking decisions. In the present case, let’s wait till August, the judges have cautiously remarked.

Who’s Afraid of the Class Society in India?

For, it is outside the courtroom, the realities are more apparent, as they are unmediated by the jurisprudential exactitude, which trims down the realities to fit them in the judges’ learned sense. After all, most people do not pretend to be either wise or learned. In a country like India, where fifty percent of women and 35% of all people are sheer illiterate, people have been even instructed that they are not learned. And since wisdom in the age of information warfare is constituted of how much one succeeds in reading books and rulebooks, and not in reading people and situations, the large majority of Indian population is considered to be object, not subject of knowledge, of power.

How else can the country still be managing itself to be riding a racist power ladder since six decades of its “independence” now? How else can one rationalize why the judges could have ignored what the world could not any longer – that casteism in India is racist in nature. Just one week prior to a display of the Indian Supreme Court’s learned ignorance, the United Nations had already recognized in no uncertain terms that India carried on a tradition of racism against the lower castes of people. The UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) voiced its feeble protests against India being a country that “systematically denies Dalit rights at home”, even as the “learned” creamy smart bunch of Indian delegates at the UN debated over the difference between caste and race, confirming that they can be moral “pundits” over race matters, but will disown their roles in caste oppressions.

The seemingly unwise, ignorant fools of India – that comprises most of us who do not appreciate the fact that getting an entry into one of the elite institutions like an Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) or Indian Institute of Management (IIM) has anything whatsoever to do with one’s ability to showcase more merit than others – are obviously adopting a regressive path somewhere. How else can one justify the almost complete and continued monopolization of upper castes in India’s power corridors, even as they constitute a tiny percentage of the population? Whose country did we wrest for when the struggle was against colonialism? A country that would have gone back to the elite bureaucrats of the Raj or a country that sought for social equality among classes of people – divided along the line of castes and religions by historical ruling elites?

A mantra of India’s Independence has been well played now – and one can say enough played now – to evoke ringtones and create a thriving industry called Bollywood. But it sure is a sense of humor we could do well without. India continues to be oppressed by a small elite which is a mirror image of their counterparts during the colonial period – a group of people who believe that only a certain segment of population can be allowed to flourish. A group that thrives on a class society that makes impossible to bridge the gap between mental and manual labor. In fact, it thrives because it maintains a relationship of slavery – in which the manual workers are the slaves. In a land predominantly agricultural, India is in fact a sorry country of its slaves-where by its own official estimates, 111,000 peasants committed suicide last decade-even as the slave masters continued to climb corporate ladders in their age of “globalization”. Definitely, this slavery is modernized today – with such a big number of slaves in reserve, you are not required to feed them continuously. The capitalist “hire and fire” machine is very convenient, indeed.

The official Republic of India is the country of slaves and untouchability – one in which discriminations used to be part of an unofficial public policy (until now – after the court decision, it is already official). That is, the Nehruvian dreams had drafted on its mammoth constitution certain sections along the line of abolishing untouchability. In doing so, the racists of India also smartly got rid of their age-old guilt trips arising out of their practice of untouchability. They created cultural images of untouchability existing only in the village lines of drawing water from the well. And silently they went on creating domestic slaves of the manual servants from the lower caste people in their high-rise buildings. They declared that in rural schools, now everyone was free to study and anyone who discriminates against others based on their caste will be penalized. Because they knew they would never enter those schools anyway-schools without blackboard, furniture and most of the times a teacher. Instead they created their own private English medium schools and created a reservation policy for students to enter into their elite technical institutes.

Who deserves reservations?

The progressive reservation policies – be it for SC/ST or OBCs; for the women, or for the people with disabilities-are of course different from the other form of reservations that exist without a debate – for the Non-Resident Rich Indians who call themselves “India Inc” and for the Indian Rich who are invited to buy the seats reserved only for those who can afford them.

The rest of the seats, they call comprises for the students with ‘merit’. No surprises to be here, considering that among other grand narratives of India’s entity (such as independence, liberalization, software giant, knowledge powerhouse, superpower for 2012 etc), this merit proposal fits rather beautifully. After all how can a country claim itself to be a “giant” without saying it has done so through merit!

India is indeed a giant-only one that has surged forward through perishing under its wheels of fortune, the millions of hungry and homeless it always chooses to ignore. After all, giants emerge only in this vicious manner – by gulping down anything that comes on their way. India has almost perfected that art by now, in refusing its people the land they deserve, by refusing its students the access they require, by eliminating its dissenters from its public and private press discourses.

The current discourse around reservations is quite interesting. Indeed no political party seems to be agreeing with the judiciary. So, suddenly have all the political parties gone progressive in India? What is at stake here?

In a simplistic fashion, possibly it is true that the political protests are in part to their apparently temporary loss of power. After all, even with legislative approvals, how could the court nullify the government decision? These protestors still have not got over the shock over this tacit powerlessness, far from realizing that it is they that hold the court to be a sacrosanct institution where they could run to every time they had a conflict over state water policies. Every time the government utilized the court to replace peoples’ protests into policy matters. So whenever in India (or elsewhere in the world likewise) people took up a movement to destabilize the government system, the ruling party and the opposition together rushed to the court in the pretext of granting people justice, whereas all they do is to convert the revolutionary spirits into a “wait-n-watch” policy matter. They took away the issue from the people and gave it to the court. And here we have to realize that this “powerlessness” is actually as much a gimmick as any other power rationales are.

Remember how the Kings used to rule over their states in the bygone days. They would address their resenting masses that the Brahmins will decide the issue, and get absolved of the responsibilities thereon. The Brahmins of course were always in the King’s favor. It would be quite unnatural otherwise-except in cases where the Brahmins themselves resolved to be the kings.

The high priests of those days have now occupied the IITs, IIMs, and National Law School at Bangalore. These are the ones now advising the Kings – the political parties. That is their assigned role (being part of the “three pillars”) because they want the desired positions of security, money and power. It’s true that we know what the priests want. The question, is what do the Kings want?

The political parties of Indian parliament are not in difference with each other. After all, with all the chair-flinging incidents they still are together under the same roof. This is because what brings them together is of a greater value than that, which could force them separate. What values does their unity bring? Why the political parties – despite their most fundamental differences in their agenda sheets-stay together along with their pillar partners – judiciary and the press – is because they can form their so-called “democracy” system only when they stick together. If the “executive”, “legislature”, “judiciary” and “the press” do not stay together who will each run to when they face peoples’ wrath? Who will play the Brahmin when the time comes?

Officially, a prime minister of president or Supreme Court judge or mainstream media editor or any of their corporate investors are claimed to be different “check and balance” corridors of power. In fact at this mass deception too, they play out the acts very well. They have a question hour (get paid for asking questions on behalf of people), they have public interest litigation (what has public interest got to do with the court, anyway?), they have a letter to the editor (views that are of no consequences whatsoever), and they have corporate social responsibility (what’s that?). These are conscious and deliberate efforts to normalize their operations in the interest of the ruling system of which they are a part. No matter if they change political parties or newspapers or corporate houses or departmental bureaucratic divisions – they are the cohorts of the same batch of rulers that must “swim together or sink together”.

Of course they would prefer to swim together. And in this larger context of reservations, especially so.

What is important is not why the judges came up with such a decision (which is a natural class-alliance issue), but the more pressing question is how did they get away with making this decision? Were they not afraid of the people outside – that majority of people in whose favor a contrary decision was supposed to be taken? Were they not taking a chance with the Parliament-that sacred body of legislators who had already taken a decision? The answer is neither.

And in fact, quite the contrary. Judiciary has been once again used by the government to do what it always wanted to: to provide an illusion of equality while maintaining the status of inequality. The parliamentary decision last December had come with pressure to answer back to the constituencies of OBCs. Once the pressure was off, the government rushed to the judiciary with ill-filled papers of 1931 (as an excuse) to reverse the legislation. And the two-bench committee did exactly as per the governmental wish. Like the Brahmins of the royal era, the judicial priests knew that they were the last resort of blinded wisdom.

Such macabre dramas play out in our life everyday. One needs no reading of Arthashastra or of The Prince to learn the art of governance. We are acutely aware of the true faces of power accumulating politicians, corrupt judges, greedy business houses and the corporate press – and we are well aware how despite the façade of apparent disagreements, they all gel so well as to unite together against the majority of people by creating an elite commonsense.

The opposition to reservations in India is part of the elite commonsense. The judges got away with such decisions because they knew they would be protected only if they do so. The larger Indian media have been harping on the need to abolish reservations, so also the top administrators and corporate kingpins. From the editors, to bureaucrats to industrial leaders-majority of them do not just incidentally happen to be belonging to the higher castes, in fact they are there only because of their trampling over the hopes and aspirations of the lower caste peoples.

Just as economic classes developed the race paradigm, they also created the caste structures. Historical alliance between class and caste is no mystery today. What needs exploration is beyond the academic understanding of the alliance, and more of a social revolutionary movement towards destabilizing that alliance.

At this stage, the commonplace dominant narrative insists that the SC/STs were granted reservations by the well-meaning leaders of India. This is entirely false. The “backward” castes of India were not granted anything. They fought along the lines of demands and protests to earn the reservations-and by the sheer proportions of their success in relation to their historical dispossession-they proved worthy of every bit of that. It’s entirely wrong to imagine that a government or its judiciary wing will donate anything in charity. Such a misplaced imagination can only lead one to the corridors of a court.

The fight to go on has to transcend its own limited imaginations. Knocking the door of judiciary is appealing to the hearts of the Brahmins. It is not the Brahmins who need to be blamed after all, considering that they have a share of power. What is important is to revitalize the movement taking place outside to make it entirely impossible for a regressive policy to be crafted either in the Parliament or in the Courts. And that is just the beginning. It’s not a question of reservation issue. It’s a question of revolution issue. The majority of people do not want nominal reservations. They deserve the entire institutes. They do not wish to work for the structures. They want the structures to work for them.

Ultimately reservation is not just a demand, but historical reparation obligation. And at its heart lies not the questions regarding the efficacy of reservations. At its heart lies the question of social order maintenance that thrives on discrimination. The sick medical students and arrogant doctors that went to strike last year are the questions to be solved. The reactionary right wing NGOs like Youth for Equality (who forever fail to understand that they are the root cause of inequality) are the questions to be solved. The judicial system that has no business with social justice is the question to be solved. The question to be solved is the question of our times: how long will people silently suffer at the hands of a political system that uses unofficial policies to maintain authority – pimping press, and a free market. The question to be solved is how to snatch the power from these sugar-coated, superpower-dreaming elites of one-nation Indians and replace the feel-good plutocracy with a truly working democracy driven by the will of the real majority, where the difference between the manual labor and mental labor would have subsided enough to make the issue of IITs/IIMs and their reservation policies quite irrelevant. And any wishful thinking, any pleading politics is not going to ensure that the striking doctors will accept the wage of their domestic servants – no matter if the servant cooks wonderfully to serve the rich master and the doctor lets hundreds of slaves die because he has to stick to the Apollo and the thriving corporate hospital industry.

To snatch the reactionary power of the ruling elites, the task is not to appeal to the rulers. In fact, quite the contrary. Let me end the passage that started this reflection, by quoting Marx and Engels again: “The existence of revolutionary ideas in a particular period presupposes the existence of a revolutionary class.”

That’s the only task that needs to be done: to build the class that snatches its reparations by revolutionary means, not through appeals to courts and parliaments that ride on the waves of social injustice.


[The above article relates to the following decision by apex court of India:
(Case No: Writ Petition Civill No. 265 of 2006 (With WP Civil No. 269 & 598 of 2006, 35 & 29 of 2007))
Ashoka Kumar Thakur Petitioner versus Union of India and Ors Respondents
Date of Decision(mm/dd/yy): 3/29/2007.

The Subject Index reads:

OBC reservation policy — prayer for grant of interim protection in the writ petition — the policy of 27% reservation for the Other Backward Classes (in short the ‘OBCs’) contained in the Central Educational Institutions (Reservation in Admission) Act, 2006 is the subject matter of challenge. The primary ground of challenge is that the Union of India has failed in performing the constitutional and legal duties toward the citizenry and its resultant effect. Consequentially the Act shall have the effect and wide ramifications and ultimately it shall have the result in dividing the country on caste basis. It would lead to chaos, confusion, and anarchy which would have destructive impact on the peaceful atmosphere in the educational and other institutions and would seriously affect social and communal harmony — concept of creamy layer cannot prima facie be considered to be irrelevant. It has also to be noted that nowhere else in the world do castes, classes or communities queue up for the sake of gaining backward status. Nowhere else in the world is there competition to assert backwardness and then to claim we are more backward than you — the creamy layer rule is a necessary bargain between the competing ends of caste based reservations and the principle of secularism. It is a part of constitutional scheme. Therefore these cases have to be examined in detail as to whether the stand of Union of India that creamy layer rule is applicable to only Article 16(4) and not Article 15(5) is based on any sound foundation — court not staying operation of the Statute, particularly, Section 6 so far as the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes candidates are concerned.]

Capitalism’s Standards of Success

Once you hear the details of victory, it is hard to distinguish it from a defeat.

—Jean-Paul Sartre

I apologize for the delay in posting this entry, but I guess I had to wait till the mainstream media no more confused readers with the “hot topic” any longer. I had to wait until after they would have well done away with the headlines and sensations and the matter were allowed to be relegated to backburner. And I realize now is such a time when suddenly the matter of “Reservation” is not being brought about any longer. Its no more being contextualized, as yet again a socio-economic defeat on part of the lower class struggle of India.

However, I will begin with the comment of a long standing reader of this blog. In my last post, Friend Sanjay has kindly posted a comment worth introspecting over. I will do it here.

While thanking him for his continuous critical appraisals for posts here, let it be stated that despite staunch opposition to some of his views, I have always held them with utmost respect. Many a times I have felt like some views that are reactionary to the point of resulting in further ambiguity in progressive views must be discouraged. But truthfully, I have never “censored” a single view so far.

There are certain difficulties in indulging in intellectual discourses when one relates to the self. While walking down the less taken roads, one always feels tempted to stop by more often, and ask the critical questions, “Could I have been wrong throughout the trip? How come the journey is so lonesome? Is it because this road is not going to provide any solution? Am I merely dreaming that things would take place, whereas in reality the road that most people have already taken is the one which is fulfilling dreams every passing moment? People are making records, breaking records, appearing on prime time shows, winning applauds, gold medals and Hollywood breaks. And I am here philosophizing against the notion of success and dream of a society sans “individual successes”. But then how is it logical to state that “their” dreams are any inferior to my own? Am I the sole custodian of notion of what constitutes “societal good”? Where do I intersect, accept, and carry on, because if the struggle is for all, at least majority needs to approve me at some point.”

I am not indifferent towards these series of questions which challenge the roots of my thoughts, opinions, views, and actions. I have known all the while, that in fact, views that are opposing one’s own are the only views that have any intrinsic values worth cherishing. Only through opposing tooth and nail most existing views, have I learnt anything in life. And now why the resistance to be opposed, when it comes to my own worldviews?

Sanjay provides the answer already: He says, “As you are not part of the society which is opposing reservation, I too refuse to belong to a society which develops selective amnesia in attributing traits.” It merely implies that in the nature and process of forming views, we choose sides. At times we are flexible in the face of new facts to change our views. At times we are not. Personally for me, I have changed many of my views (on God, on Salman Khan or on Indian Cricket team) several times in life basing on newer facts or facets. I am sure all of us do the same too.

Then is the struggle to impose (or you may say, influence) views a struggle to win non-members into one’s side? For a professional politician it is a desirable thing to do (hence I have problems with people who think ‘vote bank politics’ is a bad thing. I mean that’s the whole point of politics in a democracy). But for those, including myself, who do not aspire to be political candidates, what sort of struggle would that be? A struggle, which Sanjay refuses to be with me in?

This is a struggle to ‘understand’ opposing viewpoints. Now the word ‘understanding’ is more complex than it looks like. We need to give time to, contextualize, empathize, agree with reason, disagree with justification—all of these and more, in order to merely understand someone or someone’s views.

On a public forum like this, the purpose is just this: to understand each other and each other’s views depending on where we come from.

Sanjay’s concerns are obviously genuine. Are reservations going to be the solution?

A right-wing political solution?

The answer is, I do not know. But the only alternative which nays the reservations has at least proven that it would mean further systematic marginalization of the dispossessed. When reservation proposal was being discussed, I was not exulted either. I knew for certain that it is a move to pacify, not to agitate. It was a step to bow down to reactionaries, not to give vent to the oppressed. It was actually so reactionary a step that all we found out after the bill being tabled was an unforeseen unity among the upper castes, a unanimous media support to their causes, a never-before-seen coverage of their strikes, and most importantly an organized efforts by the opportunistic elites in such an organized fashion, that it must have put the neo-nazis to shame. Reservations debates, if at all helped the elites to recognize each others’ needs all the more and made them get united so much that right wing parties gaped. What BJP could never achieve in terms of uniting the upper castes (since half of them did not want any of Advani yatras anyway), the Congress at the center had achieved: notwithstanding their party affiliations, in fact notwithstanding their political standpoints or lack thereof, irrespective of the states they came from (not Gujarat or UP, but entire India, South and the North, East and the West), upper caste peoples showed solidarity with each other that must have prided the supremacists. Clearly BJP is going to win the next poll. Thank the communists for that this time!

myWPEditImage Image(Racists of India, Unite?)

Whose Identity?

It is important to understand that the contemporary history of India is not that of a struggle for Individual rights or liberty. It is struggle for group rights. This is a slightly different scenario than ever in the past. The group identity struggle that the SC/ST/OBCs are going through is because of their conferred identity. They are being discriminated against, not because they are merely poor, not because they are merely uneducated, not merely because they overwhelmingly reside in states of India which are sidelined, BUT because of their caste status. It’s an identity struggle. It’s going on not just in India today, but all over the world. Indigenous people are fighting to reclaim their lands. To reclaim their lost dignity. There is a heartening gesture here, though. The demand to ‘reclaim’ is a demand that should have been logically bloody. Simply because their loss of land at the first place was done at the cost of bloody dominations of oppressors. But unlike the oppressor classes, the indigenous people are not predisposed to violence (else they would win hands down any day in organizing efforts at dethroning the minority upper castes). Secondly, they have proved to be more law-abiding than the oppressor classes themselves. Let me elucidate.

Its only natural for the society ruled by oppressor class, to already frame certain laws to rule out any bloody struggle as ‘illegal’ because the ‘evolution’ of the oppressor classes have metamorphosed into a consensual class. Consequently, this society to garner its position of power, takes onto itself the mammoth sense of generosity to either ‘grant’ or ‘dispel’ the need to let its prisoners-0f-wars a chance to compete with itself. When it finds, as in areas of agriculture that the lower class people cannot stake claim to superiority in face of industrial society, it makes no issues. When it finds, as in areas of primary education or adult education, where the lower class can learn how to get empowered, (but in reality are never so…its like knowing how to draw rockets does not land one in the moon…one needs to be part of a multi-billion dollar industry for that actualization), there is no problem either. Only when the matter is evaluated at par with elite positions (medical or physical science as education or administrator and priest as profession), that there seems to be unwavering difficulties.

All’s well that ends well?

Reservation will never be the solution. But it is a definite challenge to the status quo thought process of taking the majority of people for granted. And that is why it’s important to revisit the issue of reservation. At the core of it, some of my friends are absolutely right about the upper-caste students. Sure, they do not think like the politicians. They do not think in terms of castes. Students in the classroom today do not consider any group as untouchables. Quite accurate in some cities of India.

But the grim reality is that it breeds something more dangerous. At least where untouchability is practiced, there is a caste consciousness that translates into class struggles or similar identity struggles. As we know from experience that opposite of love is not hate, but indifference; what happens among the highbrows is that they profess a caste-blindness that’s so indifferent to caste issues that it glorifies the oppressor class as the egalitarian tolerant group!

While practicing the caste-blindness, the issue of historical oppression is bid goodbye. Essentially whole generations of students are going to graduate (and their children in future) from schools and colleges without an iota of knowledge in field of caste struggles in India (except those who are interested in studying Sociology or History as subjects—that too if the Saffronites don’t take over NCERT). Rest of the students are not going to be studying the unique tribal history, the unique Dravidian struggle, the unique struggles of the OBCs, who are at times depicted as part of the Dalitbahujans. The struggle that is not religious, but caste-based. A history where people still do not think they are Hindus, only that they think they are Kurumaas, and Chakaali in the South India or Bhandari, and Goudaa in East India.

Caste-denial: In whose interest?

Although Hindus would love to include all these peoples as belonging to the most “ancient” religion, and although the Brahmins and upper caste people do not go around talking about their castes, there is need for a complex understanding here. Upper caste people of India need to realize that the caste-structure had been shaped by the upper castes themselves for “their” own convenience. And hence they take it quite for granted without having to feel burdened by the weight of caste on them. By actually not talking about their castes, they absolve themselves of their well-deserved “guilt”. For the Dalitbahujans, however, it’s quite a different type of struggle. This struggle for caste assertion is one of an identity, not one that they can take for granted. This is one that’s not going to make them live easily. It’s a painful daily reminder, and they have no other course except to assert their snatched rights. The surnames are their characters. They have to live upto them, and yet surpass them. It’s not a privilege, but a burden. Like a wealthy person taking money for granted, the upper caste people carry their surnames without having to think about it twice. But like a poor person valuing the small thatched cottage, the lower caste people even will look at universal wind as enemy to their rooftops.

In India or elsewhere, there needs to be more studies of caste and race, precisely because the oppressor classes have almost taken it for granted. In America, Critical Whiteness Studies need to take place more vigorously to make most white students realize the invisible burden they have imposed on the people of color by means of color discrimination. In India, the Critical Brahmin Studies need to be institutionalized for the upper caste people to understand complexities of caste and socio-economic well being that are influenced by their stoic silences, if not outright display of prejudices. Minority studies are fine to “understand” a differential culture (Asian-American Studies, or Black Cultural Studies), but what we need also is the Brahmin Studies or White Studies, just to “teach” the history of their oppressive culture.

Currently to the powerful White males of the world, there is just a big fuss about need for affirmative action or of assertion of rights of colored people, because according to them, most of the issues have been resolved, now that “marginalized” people have attained “success” already in many spheres. Likewise the Brahmins or upper castes of India think there is no need for reservation because so many Dalit and OBC people are becoming successful. They cite the incidents of chief ministers, sportspersons and plain rich men among “lower castes” who have rode the ladder as examples to justify doing away with any proactive reservation policy.

What, then, is the picture? Have these traditionally marginalized people not attained success enough so as not to need any more reservation or affirmative policies in place? The mainstream answer is yes. Alternative cries are no. What’s the deal?

                                                      <strong>Part II</strong>

The anti-reservation lobby cites success of lower caste people as examples to denounce reservations. If the progress is being done anyway, what is the need of further reservation? The initial period when lower caste people should have been given a chance, has passed already. So there should be no more extension of such scope, let alone any proliferation of further reservations. Such run few arguments on the right.

On the left front, some even justify reservation as means to attain more success just as a form of ripple effect. Some arguments favor reservations because it will alone let the lower caste people to become successful in life, because the competition is indeed tough otherwise. We must build more access to the people with disabilities, after all.

Although I would still support the Left mainstream argument, I tend to think both core arguments primarily are dealing with the same question. And once the question is pre-determined, we are not going to find a radical solution to that. After all, as Audre Lorde had so rightly said, “The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.”

I think the question needs to be reassessed entirely. The alternative question I pose about this whole issue (and thereby my peripheral arguments) is about the concept of “Success” itself. As we know already, success in capitalistic society is not just determined, or competed for, but also ‘defined’ by owners of means of production. This is because Capitalism is that phase of human history which aims to suit the least number of people. Prior to capitalism, there were phases of history, possibly more draconic: that of kings and slaveowners and feudal lords. But there were constant competitions, and rivalry among them. Some kind of ‘balance of power’ was always being maintained. There was no clear cut class division on a world scale. The working class and the ruling class were ill-defined.

But with Capitalism, arrived Monopoly. Only a few hundreds of people in the entire world ruled over the rest of us. They own not just wealth, but also own the yardstick to value the wealth. They not just own the knowledge economy, they also own the yardstick to value what passes on as knowledge. They don’t just own managers, they own the philosophy behind creating managers. Not just doctors, but also the rationale behind entrance tests to medical profession.

Capitalism, unlike every other previous stages of human societal development established the yardsticks, which we shall call here as Standards. Earlier there were hundreds of Emperors. With Capitalism, it had to be just one! Earlier there were hundreds of kingdoms. With Capitalism, it was reduced to just a G-7. Earlier there were skilled people respected in every corner of the world. With Capitalism, they began to be respected only in certain professions at certain corners while working for certain sectors. Earlier phases of history were horribly bad. Capitalism became merely grotesquely inhuman.

What are the Standards?

Let’s begin with Gods. After all, Capitalism thrives on the belief that God created the universe and made it a standard assumption. The biggest testimony of that can be found on every dollar bill. “In God We Trust” is the single most famous used slogan in everyday exchanges of capitalism. But with thousands of tribal gods, nature gods and no gods, there used to appear quite a competition. And with majority of people either not believing in a single God or believing in their personal Gods, it had invariably become difficult to conquer the lands populated by such unrestricted folks. God needed to be standardized. In name of spiritualism or in name of organized religions, godmen and gods had to be proclaimed on ranks. Consequently what happened were multi-fold. One Christianity spread throughout the globe as it had been hijacked into becoming the religion of the oppressing White man. “Missionaries” were established in most parts of the world to propagate this religion. Based on Biblical myths, a religion which had absolutely no cultural commonality with indigenous peoples (in terms of names of characters or nature of redemption), this soon emerged as the standard religion. Two, basing on it, other oppressive religions (according to geographical peculiarities) also took charge in their lands to standardize beliefs. Hence for example, in India, when it’s about Gods, the standardized Gods stand out everywhere. They are themes for mythological television programs. They are Gods after whom national holidays are observed. They are the designated Gods. Brahma, Vishnu, Laxmi, Parvati, Shiv, Ganesh: these dominant Hindu Gods were used in the process to kill the Other or Lesser Gods. Gods worshipped by lower caste people in India (who the Census includes as Hindus) are entirely different, unwept, unsung and almost condemned by the general society (that make up the law, media, schools and parliament).

Kancha Ilaiah, a Dalitbahujan activist says in his book “Why I am not a Hindu” (Samya, 1996),

“Even a Brahmin family might talk about Pochamma, Maisamma or Ellemma, but not with the same respect as they would about Brahma, Vishnu, Maheswara. For them Pochamma and Maisamma are ‘Sudra’ Goddesses and supposed to be powerful but in bad, negative ways. A Pochamma according to them does not demand the respect that Lakshmi or Saraswathi do, because Lakshmi and Saraswathi are supposed to be ideal wives of ideal husbands, whereas no one knows who Pochamma’s husband is, any more than they can name Maisamma’s husband. This is the reason why no Brahmin or Baniya child bears the name of Pochamma, Maisamma or Ellamma, whereas in our families these are revered names and we name our children after these Goddesses…. It does not strike an average Dalitbahujan consciousness that these Goddesses do not have husbands and hence need not be spoken of derogatorily. This is because there are many widows in our villages who are highly respected whose stature is based on their skills at work and their approach towards fellow human beings…”

After establishing a standard in religion, and the icons representing the ‘legitimate’ religions (the history of Native-American experience should not be lost on us either, where they were on gun points forced to convert to Christianity, in their very own lands), the religious principles themselves are standardized. The hierarchy of families, the sanctity of marriage, the importance on child-bearing might all seem as comfortable as the essence of any religion or God. But just like the religions, these “value systems” help perpetuate the male dominance of women, in which male property ownership becomes the key. Single or divorced women, unwed mothers, and people of alternative sexual orientations are systematically exploited on economic grounds and the laws to that effect are set on the justice walls even to this day. Conservation of traditional hierarchy, male supremacy, Christian ‘family values’ etc continue to dictate the value system.

In such conservation movement, God (or the justices or president’s addresses) becomes pretty much irrefutable. A former president of Harvard (who stepped down recently) University whose tenure saw the reactionary findings on affirmative action, and whose personal understanding of causes behind women’s underrepresentation in Math and Sciences echoed that of many elite professors of India who attribute similar causes behind lower caste peoples’ ‘failure’ in technical field, also found need to conserve the conservative thoughts around the issues. Lawrence H Summers said to his defense, “My point was simply that the field of behavioral genetics had a revolution in the last fifteen years, and the principal thrust of that revolution was the discovery that a large number of things that people thought were due to socialization weren’t, and were in fact due to more intrinsic human nature, and that set of discoveries, it seemed to me, ought to influence the way one thought about other areas where there was a perception of the importance of socialization.”

“Intrinsic human nature”? Summers thinks it was a recent scientific discovery. Perhaps true. But it is so recent because the community of those elite scientists themselves could have been driven by agendas, their research funding agencies more so, and people like Summers for believing in them and citing these studies, even more so. The agenda is simple: to not diversify the field of science and engineering in order for women to come and shake the male hardcore foundation. Similar cases exist exactly in India where upper castes have had problems with lower caste people rising up from shining shoes to claim that given better climate to make up for their social loss, they can challenge the ‘scientists’ off their mindsets.

Capitalism while working on the superstructure of culture, politics and society takes help of first ‘Standardizing’ even before influencing. Standardization helps in dispelling any authoritarian tactics. It works smoothly and creates necessary illusions that are comforting and numbing at the same time.

Hence when the standards of beauty are envisaged, Capitalism dictates the norms of blue-eyes, 36-24-36 vitals, the designer clothes. So much so that the terms it devises to further normalize thought process are “Fashion”, “Model” etc. Model is a term that goes unquestioned. I mean in a way, everyone wants to be a Model to others. Or for that matter no one wants to be “unfashionable”. Standards of ‘good’ and ‘desirable’ are carefully orchestrated, pretty much like the way the term “Black” connotes everything negative (Black days, Black march, Black-out, Blackmail, Dark Age) etc., as opposed to White which denotes ‘fair’ness.

In terms of country, it’s the Western Europe and the US which become the Standards. From Greenwich Mean Time where world begins at London, to the ‘Super Power’ of the US, the notion so pervades minds that they become a standard. It becomes difficult to pursue the US as a country having poverty or illiteracy or exploitation. Hence more often than not, it’s the people who are brought to task for being ill-informed than the system of governance which has somewhat made a mark at keeping people ill-informed.

And this system of governance, the western Democracy model which is infamous for promoting ignorance by emphasizing on monoculture, single language, single god, unitary value system, disproportionately high ownership of things by a single race, religion and gender, a citizen privilege syndrome etc has also been made a standard in governance. Based on ballot box competition, driven by high fund-raising efforts by the old Men networks, so-called democracy rules. to the extent that any country that does not practice western democracy, is offered strange looks and armed intrusions.

Capitalism, which works as the seed for corporate sector to prosper, demands that human labor be mindlessly replaced by machines and turn both against each other. It thrives on breeding alienation, creating divisions among workers by refusing unions any intrinsic power to organize and call off work. It promotes certain brands of education that supports its machinery. Professionals from technical background become the only ones who are needed to run capitalism, since labor force becomes the most dispensable factor. Efficiency becomes the key word and it merely goes unquestioned since it basically means that the bosses need to get most out of the workers by making them work for as less as possible so as to make higher profits. In such a setup, the workers tend to think of the welfare of the company bosses (‘we should work even harder because if the company goes on loss then boss will fire us’). The bosses accordingly do not give any two hoots to workers’ welfare. Because apparently, the workers are less educated and hence they are dispensable. Education becomes a promoter of class society, not an instrument to bridge the access and control gap.

Class society in turn preaches the idol god, but in reality worships only one God, universally seen. The Money God. Success is calculated in terms of money. Achievements in life are translated in terms of recognition by money (after all, what is Nobel Prize, if not a committee of Trust money?), parameters of in-group and out-group status are financially drawn. Money determines who will be in politics, who will hog limelights, who will be on television, who will have luxury to watch television. That’s the reason why Indian reactionaries cite Dalits are successful when they become politicians, or corrupt bureaucrats, because they understand their own language of what constitutes success. Success then means one’s access to money, one’s ability to worship money and one’s capacity to overcome monetary needs. Being rich becomes being successful becomes worthy of being emulated. Being a celebrity, a politician, a TV star. “Hot Happenin n Rockin”.

This entire discourse rests on economic systems of capitalism where capital, not community, becomes paramount to judge standards of society, culture and politics. And that’s why everytime we indulge in “Merit”, and “Success”, and “Achievement”, and “Ability”, we are basically using the words that help the capitalism’s arguments stronger.

For one, let’s change the question. Rather, let’s turn it upside down. And we will see the need to revisit our privileges and celebrate the “failures” as treasures that keep the world from getting reduced to a competitive turf of mindless warfare. And when it comes to give back to them for their great tolerance and display of peaceful silence, Reservation needs to be just a primary offering.