<link rel="stylesheet" href="//fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Open+Sans%3A400italic%2C700italic%2C400%2C700">Economic inequality Archives « Aam JanataSkip to content

Imagine a democratic protest where a million farmers, labourers and others march to the capital and compel discussion of the exploding crisis of the countryside in a special three-week session of Parliament

Farmer long march in Mumbai. Night at somaiya ground
Farmer long march in Mumbai. Night at somaiya ground. Photo: People's Archive of Rural India

 

India’s agrarian crisis has gone beyond the agrarian.

It’s a crisis of society. Maybe even a civilizational crisis, with perhaps the largest body of small farmers and labourers on earth fighting to save their livelihoods. The agrarian crisis is no longer just a measure of loss of land. Nor only a measure of loss of human life, jobs or productivity. It is a measure of our own loss of humanity. Of the shrinking boundaries of our humaneness. That we have sat by and watched the deepening misery of the dispossessed, including the death by suicide of well over 300,000 farmers these past 20 years. While some – ‘leading economists’ – have mocked the enormous suffering around us, even denying the existence of a crisis.

The National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) has not published data on farmers’ suicides for two years now. For some years before that, fraudulent data logged in by major states severely distorted the agency’s estimates. For instance, Chhattisgarh and West Bengal and many others claimed ‘zero suicides’ by farmers in their states. In 2014, 12 states and 6 Union Territories claimed ‘zero suicides’ among their farmers. The 2014 and 2015 NCRB reports saw huge, shameless fiddles in the methodology – aimed at bringing down the numbers.

And yet they keep rising.

Meanwhile, protests by farmers and labourers are on the rise. Farmers have been shot dead – as in Madhya Pradesh. Derided or cheated in agreements, as in Maharashtra. And devastated by demonetisation, as in just about everywhere. Anger and pain are mounting in the countryside. And not just among farmers but amongst labourers who find the MNREGA being dismantled by design. Amongst fisherfolk, forest communities, artisans, exploited anganwadi workers. Amongst those who send their children to government schools, only to find the state itself killing its own schools. Also, small government employees and transport and public sector workers whose jobs are on the anvil.

Vishwanath Khule, a marginal farmer, lost his entire crop during the drought year. His son, Vishla Khule, consumed a bottle of weedicide that Vishwanath had bought
Vishwanath Khule of Vidarbha’s Akola district, whose son Vishal consumed weedicide. Farmer suicides are mounting, but governments are falsifying numbers. Photo: Jaideep Hardikar / People's Archive of Rural India

And the crisis of the rural is no longer confined to the rural. Studies suggest an absolute decline in employment in the country between 2013-14 and 2015-16.

The 2011 Census signalled perhaps the greatest distress-driven migrations we’ve seen in independent India. And millions of poor fleeing the collapse of their livelihoods have moved out to other villages, rural towns, urban agglomerations, big cities – in search of jobs that are not there. Census 2011 logs nearly 15 million fewer farmers (‘main cultivators’) than there were in 1991. And you now find many once-proud food-producers working as domestic servants. The poor are now up for exploitation by both urban and rural elites.

The government tries its best not to listen. It’s the same with the news media.

When the media do skim over the issues, they mostly reduce them to demands for a ‘loan waiver.’ In recent days, they’ve recognised the minimum support price (MSP) demand of farmers – the Cost of Production (CoP2) + 50 per cent. But the media don’t challenge the government’s claims of already having implemented this demand. Nor do they mention that the National Commission on Farmers (NCF; popularly known as the Swaminathan Commission) flagged a bunch of other, equally serious issues. Some of the NCF’s reports have remained in Parliament 12 years without discussion. Also the media, while denouncing loan waiver appeals, won’t mention that corporates and businessmen account for the bulk of the non-performing assets drowning the banks.

Perhaps the time has come for a very large, democratic protest, alongside a demand for Parliament to hold a three-week or 21-day special session dedicated entirely to the crisis and related issues. A joint session of both houses.

Two women sitting at Azad maidanIn Mumbai, covering their heads with cardboard boxes in the blistering heat.
We can’t resolve the agrarian crisis if we do not engage with the rights and problems of women farmers PHOTO • BINAIFER BHARUCHA / People's Archive of Rural India

On what principles would that session be based? The Indian Constitution. Specifically, the most important of its Directive Principles of State Policy. That chapter speaks of a need to “minimise the inequalities in income” and “endeavour to eliminate inequalities in status, facilities, opportunities….” The principles call for “a social order in which justice, social, economic and political, shall inform all the institutions of the national life.”

The right to work, to education, to social security. The raising of the level of nutrition and of public health. The right to a better standard of living. Equal pay for equal work for men and women. Just and humane conditions of work. These are amongst the main principles. The Supreme Court has more than once said the Directive Principles are as important as our Fundamental Rights.

An agenda for the special session? Some suggestions that others concerned by the situation can amend or add to:

3 days: Discussion of the Swaminathan Commission report – 12 years overdue.

It submitted five reports between December 2004 and October 2006 that cover a multitude of vital issues and not just MSP. Those include, to name a few: productivity, profitability, sustainability; technology and technology fatigue; dryland farming, price shocks and stabilisation – and much more. We also need to halt the privatisation of agricultural research and technology. And deal with impending ecological disaster.

3 days: People’s testimonies.

Let victims of the crisis speak from the floor of Parliament’s central hall and tell the nation what the crisis is about, what it has done to them and countless millions of others. And it’s not just about farming. But how surging privatisation of health and education has devastated the rural poor, indeed all the poor. Health expenditure is either the fastest or second fastest growing component of rural family debt.

3 days: Credit crisis.

The unrelenting rise of indebtedness. This has been a huge driving factor in the suicide deaths of countless thousands of farmers, apart from devastating millions of others. Often it has meant loss of much or all of their land. Policies on institutional credit paved the way for the return of the moneylender.

3 days: The country’s mega water crisis.

It’s much greater than a drought. This government seems determined to push through privatisation of water in the name of ‘rational pricing’. We need the right to drinking water established as a fundamental human right – and the banning of privatisation of this life-giving resource in any sector. Ensuring social control and equal access, particularly to the landless.

3 days: The rights of women farmers.

The agrarian crisis cannot be resolved without engaging with the rights – including those of ownership – and problems of those who do the most work in the fields and farms. While in the Rajya Sabha, Prof. Swaminathan introduced the Women Farmers’ Entitlements Bill, 2011 (lapsed in 2013) that could still provide a starting point for this debate.

3 days: The rights of landless labourers, both women and men.

With mounting distress migrations in many directions, this crisis is no longer just rural. Where it is, any public investment made in agriculture has to factor in their needs, their rights, their perspective.

3 days: Debate on agriculture.

What kind of farming do we want 20 years from now? One driven by corporate profit? Or by communities and families for whom it is the basis of their existence? There are also other forms of ownership and control in agriculture we need to press for – like the vigorous sangha krishi (group farming) efforts of Kerala’s Kudumbashree movement. And we have to revive the unfinished agenda of land reform. For all of the above debates to be truly meaningful – and this is very important – every one of them must focus, too, on the rights of Adivasi and Dalit farmers and labourers.

While no political party would openly oppose such a session, who will ensure it actually happens? The dispossessed themselves.

Midnight walk to Azad Maidan
The morcha of farmers from Nashik to Mumbai in March has to go national – not just of farmers and labourers, but also others devastated by the crisis PHOTO • SHRIRANG SWARGE / People's Archive of Rural India

In March this year, 40,000 peasants and labourers marched for a week from Nashik to Mumbai making some of these very demands. An arrogant government in Mumbai dismissed the marchers as ‘urban Maoists’ with whom it would not talk. But caved in within hours of the multitude reaching Mumbai to encircle the state legislative assembly. That was the rural poor sorting out their government.

The highly disciplined marchers struck a rare chord in Mumbai. Not just the urban working class, but also the middle classes, even some from the upper middle classes, stepped out in sympathy.

We need to do this at the national level – scaled up 25 times over. A Long March of the Dispossessed – not just of farmers and labourers, but also others devastated by the crisis. And importantly, those not affected by it – but moved by the misery of fellow human beings. Those standing for justice and democracy. A march starting from everywhere in the country, converging on the capital. No Red Fort rallies, nor skulls at Jantar Mantar. That march should encircle Parliament – compel it to hear, listen and act. Yes, they would Occupy Delhi.

It might take many months to get off the ground, a gargantuan logistical challenge. One that has to be met by the largest and widest coalition possible of farm, labour and other organisations. It will face great hostility from the rulers – and their media – who would seek to undermine it at every stage.

It can be done. Do not underestimate the poor – it is they, not the chattering classes, who keep democracy alive.

It would be one of the highest forms of democratic protest – a million human beings or more showing up to ensure their representatives perform. As a Bhagat Singh, if alive, might have said of them: they could make the deaf hear, the blind see and the dumb speak.

This article was originally published in the People's Archive of Rural India on June 22, 2018

On the 1st of September 2017, farmers of the Akhil Bharatiya Kisab Sabha called for an indefinite mahapadav or gherao of the various District Collectorates in Rajasthan. Like the farmer protests in Maharashtra, these too were sustained bouts of anger over neglect by the government. The farmers had very basic demands related to the very survival of agriculture itself. Proper implementation of the Swaminathan Commission recommendations,the greater allocation for MGNREGA, higher wages and more days of work, social security, MSP was another key area, removal of the absurd law on restrictions on cattle trade sinking the prices of cattle and protection for cattle traders, pensions of Rs.5000 for farmers and agricultural labourers over the age of 60. Here are their demands:

Demands of the Kisan Sabha in the Sikar agitation
Demands of the Kisan Sabha in the Sikar agitation

It is shameful that as farmer desperation and suicides increase and even suicides rise among the children of farmers, the government and their elite rent-a-pens remain indifferent and even dismissive to the plight of farmers. However the citizens of Rajasthan are not. The demands of the farmers found wide resonance among various groups of people who supported the protests in solidarity. Hundreds of members of the Kiln labour Union drove to Krishi Mandi, Sikar on red tractors in solidarity with the mahapadav. National leader of Jan Kranti Manch, Pooja Chhabra also reached the Mandi to convey solidarity. Veer Teja Sena of Sikar has pledged to support the struggle at every step. The Bakra Mandi Vyaparis have shown their support to the movement along with a contribution Rs. 11,000. Shaheed Bhagat Singh Law College, Sikar, bestowed Rs. 10,000 to the mahapadav. Sangliya Dhuni, a ‘saint’who claims to be a farmer at heart, gave monetary support and 2 quintals of wheat.

Dilip Mishra of the Auto Rickshaw Union expressed the willingness of auto drivers to go on strike in solidarity if called upon, as did milk suppliers. Milk Transportation Union of the state contributed Rs. 21,000; while the Amul Corporation Union gave Rs. 11,000 to the agitation. The Bus City Union took out a huge rally in support of the mahapadav. Dancing with the DJ, going through the city, the rally was welcomed by the citizens with flowers. The MR union put up a free medical camp to oversee the health of farmers in the rally and the ambulance union took out a rally in support of the mahapadav. [Source: Newsclick]

Protests raged for days with blockades at 300 points, as the government did what governments do. The internet was blocked in Rajasthan to prevent news from getting too much attention. However, this did nothing to dampen the flood of people out on the streets for their very sustainability. Protests continued to grow as the farmers declared the government of Rajasthan dead and carried out a mock funeral.

Finally, and unsurprisingly, like the protests in Maharashtra, the government was forced to bow to their demands. Amra Ram, Kisan Sabha leader and ex-MLA from CPI(M) speaks here about their victory.

And their press release thanking everyone for support in their victory.

AIKS Congratulates Rajasthan Kisans for Historic Victory!

Celebrating victory in Sikar agitation
Celebrating victory in Sikar agitation

The peasantry in Rajasthan under the Kisan Sabha banner have won a significant victory after their resolute struggle lasting 13 days. Since 1st September, 2017 lakhs gheraoed the different District Headquarters on the call of Rajasthan Kisan Sabha for a Mahapadav. For 3 days there was also Rasta Roko across the State bringing about 20 Districts to a standstill. Only ambulances and essential services functioned. The peasant movement received unprecedented support from all sections of the society making it a truly people's movement. The insensitive BJP Government led by Vasundhara Raje Scindia was forced to bow down and accept many of the demands of the peasantry after 13 days of struggle and talks with the Kisan Sabha leadership. The talks went on in 4 phases from 1:00 PM on 12th September and ended on 14th September at 1:00 AM.

Celebrations as Rajasthan government is forced to accept farmer demands in Sikar agitation
Celebrations as Rajasthan government is forced to accept farmer demands in Sikar agitation

The BJP Government was forced to agree to loan waiver of up to RS.50,000/- which is expected to benefit 8 lakh farmers, assurance that State government will write to the Centre seeking implementation of Swaminathan Commission Recommendations on MSP in a time-bound manner by working out modalities, purchase of groundnut, green gram (moong) and urad at MSP at all District Headquarters within 7 days, withdraw hike in electricity rates for drip irrigation, payment of SC/ST/OBC fellowship with arrears immediately, relaxation in restrictions in sale of cattle, protection of crops from stray cattle and wild animals, increase of pension to Rs. 2000/month agreed in principle, insurance claim for failure of canal irrigation and stopping harassment of traders and farmers by the police. After agreement on these issues and on a mechanism to implement decisions AIKS President Com.Amra Ram announced withdrawal of the Mahapadav and reopening of roads that were closed for the last 3 days. Kisans across the State celebrated the victory with slogans, songs and dances.

AIKS thanks all who stood in solidarity with the movement. This inspiring victory shall inspire similar struggles across the country.

Message from Com. Drm. Ashok Dhawale, Vice President AIKS

Heartiest congratulations to all leaders and activists of the Rajasthan Kisan Sabha and to the fighting peasantry of Rajasthan for their massive 13-day struggle and the impressive victory that they won in prolonged talks with the state government.

राजस्थान किसान सभा के सभी जुझारू साथियों को महाराष्ट्र किसान सभा के सभी साथियों की ओर से लाल सलाम.

- Com. Drm Ashok Dhawale
Vice-President AIKS

Special mention must be made of the excellent coverage of the protests by NewsClick. Where most media carried token coverage at best, they have photos, videos and interviews from the ground as the protests progressed.

Manual scavenging is a brutal occupation often imposed on the most disenfranchised dalits. Hazardous and with poor income and dignity, it often kills manual scavengers entering toxic drains without protection. This is a problem, but the answer needs to see the bigger picture.

I am mainly talking of manual scavenging as people getting into sewage systems to clear them of blockages and such - because it is the most dangerous kind. Physically carrying excreta away or removing dead animals and such is also manual scavenging, and it may be humiliating but is unlikely to kill the way a modern sewage system can and does (unless of course you're a dalit removing a dead cow and run into her sons).

Another death in manual scavenging. People routinely die in sewage. Another outrage against manual scavenging. What a hideous death! As though dying in sewage is somehow worse than making a living working in it on a daily basis. Perhaps it is. It is a symbol of the extreme of living with filth to the point of not being able to live at all. It is a symbol of the oppression of castes. It is illegal. Humans should not do manual scavenging. It is not safe or against dignity, etc.

A country of so many people poops a lot. It has to go somewhere. Us elites have these nice systems where we flush it down and it goes to somewhere out of our sight and mind. Others have a bit more thinking involved with more conscious choices like composting it for fertilizer or producing bio-gas. Still others flush it out of sight only for it to emerge in a drain on the outside of the toilet. Still others have pits in the ground that get filled with time and new pits are dug for use. Still others fertilize the railway tracks with their deposits.

All these methods have one thing in common. Manual scavenging (unless you go to a place no one cleans).

There is quite a bit of maintenance work that goes on around human excreta and acceptance levels for it vary. Some, as Rupa Subramanian so eloquently put it consider those touching the excreta to be irreparably filthy from the contact. This, indeed is the basis of the caste system, where people who traditionally do work considered unclean are considered unclean themselves. Note, the caste system was formed way before soap and disinfectants and many have refused to live outside that outdated mindset. Is there merit in separating the food, health and other public contact from people who have extensively touched contaminants in the absence of methods of sanitization? Definitely. Do you have to be an asshole about it? No, not in any century. Do you have to be paranoid about uncleanliness in the age of effective soaps, disinfectants and disposable barriers to prevent infections? Only if you get a high from judging people as inferior.

Most of the regular humans, even when not actively engaged in troubleshooting excreta management problems aren't that extremely Rupa and will casually spritz some toilet cleaner around the bowl, scrub it clean for further use (with a long handled brush) and wash our hands when done. Others have had to face blocked toilets in an emergency (let it flow out and cover the floor or deal with it and save the floor?) and valuables dropped into toilet bowls by accident (that is why your mom tells you not to use your phone in the loo).

Most of us are not too paranoid about this and will generally do the needful and address our distaste with various levels of vigor ranging from a casual swipe down the back of your jeans (you didn't need that visual, did you? I saw someone do it once and thought you should know.) to a complete hot water bath with multiple applications of soap and dettol in the water and throwing away of clothes worn.

On the other end of this spectrum are those that deal with excreta professionally, on a daily basis. I once saw a man standing in a sewer casually ask his colleague standing outside to hand him a bottle of water to drink. Doesn't sound that alarming, does it with water in the bottle still being clean, till you realize these people can't afford disposable bottles of mineral water - they likely fill their bottle at whatever tap daily. (I bet you didn't need that visual either)

Modern plumbing has brought with it the need to maintain the system of what goes on once we have flushed things out of sight. And if there is one place women must solidly shoulder condemnation, it is here. Among the biggest reasons of clogged sewage is menstrual cloths and sanitary napkins flushed out of sight and made someone else's problem to handle. Ask anyone who lived on the ground floor when sanitary napkins were newly introduced to the market and flushed away by those who lived on the floors above them. It is less common among us educated folks now that we know they clog sewage. But there are still plenty of embarrassed women who'd rather someone fished their menstrual evidence out of the sewage than them walking out of the toilet or leaving it on the floor for someone to know that they menstruate!

How many? Lots. Ask manual scavengers.

Of course, women can't be solely blamed for blocked sewage. Plenty of other things get into it too. Ill designed drains are eagerly looking for stuff to trap, it seems, which is why some sewers need cleaning more regularly than others. Some quite inexplicably. I have seen it and would definitely torture you with the details, if I could identify them. There is also necessary maintenance, dead rats and what not. It is quite an educational experience to stand and watch when blocked sewage gets cleaned. And for every 100 people who gingerly tiptoe past the grey-black oozing mess that gets shoveled out of the drain, there is one person wading in it fearlessly, shoveling it out, till the contents flow once more.

Coming to the point on manual scavenging

I have come to the conclusion that it is necessary. Unless of course we are willing to let civilization collapse in on itself and live in the filth they produce. It is necessary till it is no longer necessary. Which will be a long, long time in a country with a shortage of funds and power and an abundance of very poor and unemployed people.

What the condemnation of manual scavenging misses is the functuinality of their recommendations. "Stop manual scavenging" is an answer only if you live in a place where the drains don't clog and don't crap anywhere else. The fact is that sewage systems can get messed up in complicated ways in India. The need is to reduce problems in the entire chain that leads to the block that requires a skilled human to physically troubleshoot it.

How to "end" manual scavenging?

I am not sure it can be completely eliminated. The most developed of countries will need people willing to brave the sewers when something goes wrong. It is exactly what happens in India, except things go wrong more often. The key is to reduce instances where humans are put at risk and provide a dignified and sustainable existence. I have some ideas.

Prevent blockages to avoid sending manual scavengers when things go wrong

It is surprising how little attention robust sewage systems get when it comes to preventing manual scavenging. Manual scavenging has become a function of the system rather than service support and troubleshooting. This is hazardous and unsustainable.

Upgrade sewage systems

Create improved sewage systems designed to clog less and transport waste more efficiently. Process waste locally rather than transporting it over long distances to dump into rivers and the sea. Use technologies that allow recycling of human waste into fuel or fertilizer. Employ manual scavengers in their production so that they earn a lot more (both fuel and fertilizers are profitable products) and will still troubleshoot the fewer problems that arise.

Implement alternative methods of disposing sewage

If excreta will remain in place to clog the system without adequate water, the system is bound to fail where water availability is a problem. Develop and implement alternative methods of sewage disposal that require less water to maintain.

But this will be a time-consuming evolution for the country. Till then, while manual scavenging is inevitable...

Encourage responsible use of the sewage systems

Broadcast public service messages on not introducing objects that could prevent the efficient functioning of the sewage system. Lay stress on not flushing menstrual cloths, sanitary napkins, toilet paper and other non-excreta objects into the system.

Recognize manual scavenging as an important service

When it comes to keeping people healthy and safe, manual scavengers are probably at least, if not more important than healthcare workers. However, they face far more risks and are accorded far less dignity in their profession. This lack of respect exposes them to additional risks that can be avoided.

Manual scavenging is a profession necessary for society

People employed in this profession should not be considered any less than the far less life-essential professions like teacher or postman. Their income must reflect that. Their acceptance in society must reflect that.

Offer hazard pay and benefits

Manual scavengers face enormous health hazards so that the rest of the society is not forced to face them. Their profession brings with it physical and psychological stress as well as increased health risks. They should be accorded free healthcare (including at least some portion of it in their local private hospitals that they help keep safe as CSR). They should be offered hazard pay to help them address expenses they face because of their profession. They should have life insurance by default.

Treat all deaths on the job where inadequate protection is found as manslaughter

Manual scavengers who are not offered adequate protective equipment and die on the job should be considered to be killed, not accidentally dead. Just like a soldier shot in combat dead due to a lack of a bulletproof vest would be the responsibility of the government. This must result in convictions that include jail terms.

An argument I heard by a pro-government person recently on the subject was that "they will start asking for all kinds of perks or claim to be unprotected at work". Let me put it like this. If they ask for perfume because of the smell, and the employer isn't really economically capable of catering to such demands, it isn't going to result in dead people. Treating deaths due to lack of protection at work as manslaughter will obviously mean life-essential protection, unless anyone thinks people will die for want of perfume to make the government look bad.

Caste and manual scavenging

Manual scavenging in India is traditionally tied in with specific castes that are considered to be the lowest in the social hierarchy. This is because manual scavenging is not profitable, so they are not rich enough to influence anyone. I believe that improving dignity and income for the profession will automatically have the result of the entry of other castes. In my view, it is a superior way of indirectly detaching specific castes from specific humiliating work as well, without making it explicitly about caste.

Please leave your ideas in the comments.

When a village decides to wash roads with water during drought, because the Chief Minister is to visit.

Yavatmal: Roads in drought hit Yavatmal district were washed with water because the Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis was going to visit! Thousands of liters of water was wasted in order to do this.

The Chief Minister was to visit Sarul village in Babhulgaon taluka. The whole village was decorated in preparation for his arrival. The village gram panchayat office, school and dispensary were decorated. However the public works department decided to wash the road with drinking water.

In many villages in drought struck Yavatmal, it is a struggle to find drinking water. In such a situation, they wasted water by pouring it on the roads using tankers - not once, but four times!

 

Translated from report in Marathi on ABP Majha

6

There is an article in a blog dedicated to Dalit rights activism titled "How should a Brahmin-Savarna respond to a Dalit voice?" I took exception to it on Twitter and ended up breaking India's "laws" on how Dalits should be spoken to. This apparently means I am a Brahmin supremacist.

Some things upfront. I have a problem with the term "Dalit-expert". For me, Dalits are people, and I have not seen the term "expert" used with people unless they are an anthropological rarity. It is mostly used for objects, methods, etc. I think it dehumanizes Dalits and I'm hoping it is the author's sarcasm, because I have no idea what the Dalit intellectuals are up to (just like Brahmin intellectuals). I don't follow their writings beyond the occasional whatever strays my way.

Secondly, I have a problem with the identity of Dalit being reduced to "oppressed" just as surely as the Hindutva agenda reduces Hindu to "attacked". To reduce Dalits to "oppressed" is in many ways worse, because it denies that they bring anything valuable to the table (other than Dalit literature). Hindutva at least makes some effort to showcase Hindus otherwise. A lot of knowledge in the world has survived because of its Dalit custodians. Dalits live, laugh, love, make meaningful contributions, do crimes, thrash their wives, get drunk, die to save another, exploit or nurture their children, are great or terrible neighbours and more. To reduce them to the "oppressed" creates perfect helpless victims out of them to blame someone for, but denies them any value of their own.

Thirdly, reducing Brahmin-savarnas to oppressors conveniently dehumanizes them as anything beyond what you object to. As though they don't live, laugh, love, create art, worry about inflation, get humiliated by poverty, face marital rape and honor killings and more. Like what Hindutva does to Islam. It conveniently ignores tremendous caste prejudice among Dalits - which when pointed out results immediately in a shifted goalpost to "Brahminism". But I have not noticed any contempt that calls a Dalit evil for oppressing another Dalit. It is a very effective weapon for carpet bombing hate, as though to be born a Brahmin is something haters choose, while poor Dalits are helplessly born in their caste. Fact is, most Brahmins don't meet enough Dalits to have an opinion, and most of those who do lack any real power to oppress, even as it is true that those who do discriminate go unchecked.

I oppose extremism without discrimination, and I do Dalits the respect of reacting to fanaticism among them with the same contempt as for Hindutva or Islamism instead of "jaane do, they don't matter".

I have several problems with this article and the overall fanatical thinking that some Dalit activists promote. Ironically, I had a few dozen handles ganging up to fling accusations at me, and I was the oppressor because.... I am Brahmin. That is the towering perception I have got every time I tried to engage with any Dalit intellectual - not that I make a habit of engaging with identity warriors, but the few times I did. That I am not good enough, that I don't think well enough like "them", that I represent oppression and to basically fuck off. Why? Because I never hide that I was born Brahmin from those who hate Brahmins. That is all it takes. It is the same. I'm a "sickular" to Hindutvawadis and "atheist" to Islamists. Never fails. Mere existence is a problem.

Responding to specific quotes in the article:

...do I have the right to suggest how the Brahmin-Savarnas should respond to a Dalit voice? That is, can I build an ethics for the Brahmin-Savarnas? I think I can. I think I should.

Sure. Everyone has a right to an opinion on whatever and whoever you choose.

In fact, the question I am trying to formulate in this article is a question of 'how to engage with the Other'. The Other here, of course, is the marginalized Dalit community.

But do Brahmin-savarna writers writing in support of Dalits and against discrimination, marginalize Dalits? To the best of my knowledge, NONE of those who speak against caste discrimination practice it. From top journalists to random tiny twitter handles and people in real life. To us, Dalits are as good as anyone else. We aren't engaging with an "Other", YOU are. I am Brahmin, you are Dalit and it is fine. We are both products of our birth which we did not choose. But we can get along fine, including shared goals and mutual respect. It is you who is even dividing writers on a similar subject on the basis of their birth and assigning legitimacy on the basis of that. Not saying don't do it, only saying don't assume your imagination is our reality.

Even more contemptworthy is to take potshots on the basis of identity and then duck behind laws. I refuse to infantalize Dalits by ignoring hate as though their opinions have no consequence anyway. File your cases or whatever.

Backstory: The Dalit activist outrage is about me retorting to the title of this article by calling Dalits "unclean". Apparently, they have not figured out what savarna means. So, "Brahmin-savarna" is not casteist to them. But "Dalit-opposite-of-savarna" is an outrage. You cannot really call people savarna without implying that others not them are not. Why do you say "Dalit-bahujan"? Why not go "avarna" "asprusha"? Think about it. Inequality isn't unidirectional. Sneering or respecting privilege or lack of it is all inequality.

how should a Brahmin-Savarna respond to a Dalit voice?

"With great reverence" appears to be the summary of the paragraph that follows. Something like "Be aware of it constantly, never dismiss it no matter what, read the Bhagwad Gita/Quran/Bible/Ambedkar's works. Understand how you are inherently an asshole and need to be very careful to fix the Dalit version of the Biblical original sin of being born at all."

First: the self-appointed academic Dalit-experts should aim to strongly facilitate the Dalit's right to articulate himself. Otherwise they would end up committing the same epistemic violence usually committed by the 'non-experts'.

No idea what "Dalit-experts" should do, but no amount of logic will explain lack of facilitation as violence - epistemic or otherwise as though any subject to do with people can have one correct voice. Dalits as an island unto themselves serves none.

Second: the Brahmin-Savarna Dalit-experts should constantly ask themselves: how do the Dalits themselves, and not how some academicians, think about the expert's academic interpretation of the Dalit experience? Do the Dalits agree to the kind of representation of their reality put forward by the academicians?

Fair enough, as long as they are not expected to parrot the same as own view. Do Brahmin-savarnas agree to the kind of representation of their reality put forward by Dalit intellectuals? Should their agreement matter? Should the lack of agreement by Brahmin-savarnas mean that the Dalit intellectual's opinion is invalid?

A self-help tool called the Johari window, looks at perception of self by self and others is often used to help people resolve conflicts in being "misunderstood" (among other things), where their view of themselves and that of others creates dysfunctional conditions that don't allow them to thrive and cause distress. It looks at information available about a person, and categorizes it according to what the individual knows about self, what the others know about the individual, what both know and what no one knows.

The tool goes something like this:

johari window
johari window - self-assessment tool

If we look at this in terms of the Dalit identity, the "Arena" would contain the obvious oppression. The "Dalit voice" the author speaks of, that "Brahmin-savarna" writers are oblivious of, would go into the "Facade" (this is not a demeaning term, it merely implies the projection of self). What the Brahmin-savarna writers see, that Dalit intellectuals appear to be unaware of would be the "blind spot". And the unknown, of course is what none of us know. It will take dialogue for the blind spot and facade to eventually consolidate in the Arena and empower the individual/entity. In this sense, dismissing the non-Dalit voice about Dalits, does not serve to end Dalit oppression. It merely refuses to recognize any view other than own and prevents a shared understanding that helps to resolve conflict. Obviously, some views will never meet (those elaborate theories of genetic superiority, for example), but the deliberate alienating of all except own serves no useful purpose either.

Third: is the expert more interested in occupying a place in the academia? Or is he interested in concretely contributing to the emancipation of the Dalits, in helping to remove the obstacles in the way of the Dalit's development?

Yeah. The RSS hates intellectuals too. It is a common target for all identity based activism/politics. Are the two goals (academia and emancipation of Dalits) mutually exclusive as implied, or is this merely an attempt to have sole control over what is defined as Dalit interest? Is the Dalit interest helped more by any and all voices opposing discrimination, or by voices catering to a specific manner of opposing that ghettoizes Dalits as a special case perpetually?

Fourth: the Brahmin-Savarna Dalit-experts should be careful in not antagonizing the Dalits at the cost of befriending the casteist non-Dalits. That is, they must guard against all forms of casteism as nurtured mainly by their fellow Brahmin-Savarnas. In their attempt to work for the cause of the Dalits, the Brahmin-Savarnas might have to antagonize their fellow Brahmin-Savarnas.

I think it is far more urgent that the "Dalit-bahujan" Dalit-experts not antagonize others fighting discrimination over fashion sense in activism. There are lives being lost, justice being denied and problems continuing to devastate, which could do with a united opposition than hostility over differences of views or methods.

Fifth: the Brahmin-Savarna Dalit-experts should learn to 'speak with or along with' a Dalit voice rather than 'commenting on' a Dalit voice. Such experts should work hand in hand with the Dalits in spreading the positive kind of caste consciousness for the annihilation of caste.

A "Brahmin-savarna" has his/her own voice that is no more or less valid than a Dalits. This argument is like "to talk about the RSS, first join a shakha". It is a perspective. It can be wrong, in which case it should be debunked. The idea of having it at all being unacceptable is narrow minded. Generally an outside perspective is valued for bringing a fresh look when problem solving (assuming the author sees caste discrimination as a problem needing solving).

**************************

There is a massive misunderstanding in general that "Brahmin-savarnas" fight caste discrimination because of the experiences of Dalits or injustices against them. Most Brahmins don't encounter enough Dalits to have any kind of a "Siddhartha" moment about them. Most "savarnas" fighting discrimination just don't like to be assholes and do it for ourselves - to live more congruent to our ideals, which are not the same as those preferring to discriminate, obviously. They do it because their own experiences with discrimination teach them the vile nature of it and they are able to extrapolate it to other ways it occurs. That is how you find the same few heads objecting to gender discrimination, caste discrimination, religious discrimination....

Telling them to stop discriminating is like telling gay men to not rape women. They weren't planning to.

The ones who are planning to aren't interested in your recommendations on how to talk, and it won't change how they act. All that is achieved is telling allies to shut up or devote massive time and effort in their lives to your interest.

To me, this isn't Brahmin superiority, it is plain common sense, which perhaps I may have seen due to my "privilege" of being a "wayward woman" in a Brahmin orthodox moral policing family that are almost uniformly bhakts of the Hindutva agenda. You fight something large, you have to pick your battles. Patronizing allies for not being your puppets is not the way - in my opinion.