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1

Ajith Kumar AS,

I read your letter on the Round Table India website that was addressed to "whomsoever it may concern" and being concerned, I choose to reply.

I can act all intellectual and Brahmanical over this or I can simply lay it straight. Your letter was a hatchet job on TM Krishna over his caste. You saw his caste in the manner in which he wrote and chose to attack him over it, with scant regard for his message that you were attacking in the process.

While contempt and a sense of being misappropriated or somehow lorded over by Brahmins that dalit fundamentalists promote for Brahmins is something that bothers me for the sake of dalits, this letter is not about that, it is as a citizen of India. I think I'll use that royal "we" as well, since it bugs you. Feel free to make an exception for yourself, but not dalits as a whole, because you have as much right to speak for dalits as TM Krishna has for Indians.

I don't think dalits will universally have a problem with a call to condemn violence being made to the Prime Minister, the way you seem to have. If they do, they are free to state it as well.

As a citizen of India, I do not think India's interests are served by discrediting a voice calling for sanity in the face of communal violence.

The only other thing I want to mention here is the absurdity of the allegation you make on TM Krishna in order to discredit him and thus devalue his message.

The privilege/power/social status of the Brahmin/caste Hindu self hides itself by claiming as "we citizens" who "have been abused, ridiculed and trivialized". This is how progressive upper castes confront the shame of the privilege they enjoy. Who among the "Indians" enjoy full citizenship? Who are denied citizenship? Why certain communities are always asked to prove their loyalty to the country or that they are "Indians"? These questions are never being addressed. By talking for the victims Krishna presents himself as a victim – the "citizen".

It may have escaped your notice, but people condemning the rising crimes by Hindutva fanatics are indeed across castes and religions. As are victims. Narendra Dabholkar, a victim of this fanaticism, was a Brahmin. As is Nikhil Wagle, who got threatened for questioning Hindutva zealotry. I am a Brahmin and have often spoken up for the rights of all sorts of citizens and faced the anger of the Hindutva brigade for it.

A reader recently pointed out that those opposing religious or caste discrimination among Brahmins face far more risk than dalit activists - who get more ignored, while we threaten to split the consensus fanatics count on and must be silenced.

Us suffering differently from you does not make us fake. Nor is a call to stop inhumanity a claim of personal victimhood.

As Brahmins, we have our own style of speaking, as do you. Attacking us because we don't speak like you does not make you inherently correct, it just is an ad hominem attack.

What you did, in effect was asserted your copyright to object to suffering for dalit by making it explicit that a Brahmin did not have the right to do it.

And you used a nasty personal attack as your weapon. The letter was not about TM Krishna's caste, his music or what you read into his inclusion. You could have objected to it upfront whenever he did it, instead of use it to discredit his words on another subject you wanted him to not have legitimacy on. Because, in your bigotted little narrow world, an unworthy Brahmin must be on the side of oppression whether he wants to be or not.

Your attempt to hold the copyright on victimhood was excellent, but I read your letter and unlike many others, I do not hesitate to confront fundamentalism regardless of the identity of the fundamentalist. To me, caste equality also means the same contempt for fundamentalists as upper caste or Islamic fundamentalists. I won't trivialize dalits by going "Never mind, what harm can a dalit do to a brahmin's reputation?" Because I listen to your voice, and respect it, I also have a problem when it is hostile or unfair. Because the harm you did wasn't to a Brahmin, but to the overall interest of India when you did a hatchet job on someone objecting to hate crimes. Incidentally, dalits also suffer from hate crimes from the same band of zealots you undermined condemnation of. Your action helped your real oppressors, as opposed to someone you attacked just for his caste.

TM Krishna was indeed abused, ridiculed and trivialized by the same caste and religion supremacists that killed and then defended the killing in Dadri. The idea that because you were harmed, others not you are faking and hiding among "real victims" has been done by Islamists and Hindutvawadis and KKK and a dozen agents profiteering from radicalizing communities they represent before you.

What you in effect did with your open letter was to neatly separate the dalits from a whole because a Brahmin spoke for it. Your validity to refuse inclusion of dalits from this group is no greater than TM Krishna's for including all Indians, dalits included. Being able to do a personal attack does not make you right.

Perhaps you see a part speaking for the whole as an appropriation because that is what you are trying to do with a blog called "Round Table India - for an informed Ambedkar age"? It isn't called Round Table Dalits. Is that your subtle psyops agenda which is why you interpret someone else doing it as sinister? Because TM Krishna clearly did not even explicitly try to represent dalits or any specific identity beyond citizens.

In effect, what you achieved was saying, TM Krishna, speak for yourself and your caste when you demand the condemnation, we and our castes demand no such thing. It wasn't TM Krishna looking down at dalits, it was YOU who went out of your way to invent a suppression based on his caste and refused to be included.

What would you call someone who explicitly excluded themselves from a condemnation of crimes against dalits? That is what I think of you when you exclude yourself from a condemnation of a crime against an Indian. A Muslim in this instance.

And no, I don't recognize your authority to exclude dalits when Indians as a whole are mentioned. Nor would Ambedkar, I think.

Vidyut

Blogger. Indian. Brahmin.

22

With Hardik Patel ratcheting up the decibels on a daily basis, there is a growing multi-layered, highly organized effort at building public opinion against caste reservations and a beautifully architectered amnesia on the fact that Hardik hardly challenges the state when he demands that elites get reservations or they be removed for all. It is the exact BJP agenda he is parroting, that an elected government cannot, publicly. BJP and RSS have always been on the "remove" side of the caste debate and demands to remove it being promoted as a challenge to Modi's authority take extreme gullibility to believe... or an audience age below 20 with no real understanding of caste, reservations or their public history in India.

Regardless, this is not a post about all that. It is a post describing my views on the issue because I'm tired of saying the same things over and over to people who think they are making wholly original arguments by going "hey why not remove caste based reservations". So here is where I am.

Reservations cannot fix caste discrimination

Agree. Reservations are not meant to fix caste inequality - which is an effort all those wanting them abolished haven't even managed to start, for all their talk. Reservations are meant to prevent caste supremacists from outright denying the less privileged their right to learn altogether. That it works is seen from the fury of the supremacists over the "injustice" to them that they cannot occupy all the opportunities and must share. Reservations cannot end caste prejudice, but they can and do prevent denial of rights till someone bothers to do it. They have been doing exactly that. Which is why the upper castes are pissed.

Reservations are against the idea of equality

Sure. I agree. I think reservations should be done away with too. AFTER ensuring discrimination has ended. Not one moment before. Till then, anti-reservation demands are a weapon of inequality masquerading as a noble hogwash of equality.

No one excludes lower castes anymore

Well, they do, but they cannot do it on a massive scale because.... reservations. Which is exactly why they want the reservations removed - to be able to discriminate and use the reserved seats for elites as well.

And, even with reservations in place, stories abound of colleges keeping reserved seats empty rather than admit dalits, college canteens with separate "thalis" for students according to their caste, colleges with separate canteens altogether on the basis of caste and even midday meals served in schools feeding dalit children poorer quality food or seating them separately from the rest of the students. If they were allowed to deny education to lower castes, make no mistake they would do it in a flash.

If you ban discrimination, you don't need caste reservations

Discrimination is already illegal in India. In fact, so is murder. Yet court after court is acquitting self confessed brutal mass murderers of dalits. There is no outrage, no pressure on the government to bring them to justice no questioning of those exposed for providing material support to the murderers as they continue to hold positions of power. Do you really think anyone is going to give them justice for being refused a seat?

Reservations should address economic vulnerability, not caste.

This is like saying we will fight one kind of inequality but not another. In my view, both should be addressed, not only one. Discrimination of denial of rights must be combated by ensuring that a proportional space in the whole is reserved for the people at risk of being denied on account of prejudice. No, not the Patels. Poverty, on the other hand does not necessarily need reservations. Lack of economic resources can be fixed with free tuitions and funds to enable study. Particularly worthy students from economically backward sections of society could even be paid to attend college so that they don't have to drop out in order to earn. This may have an overlap where backward castes and economically backward students overlap, in which case they should benefit from both, of course. Removing protections to one kind of vulnerable group in order to assist another is not a better method, it is fundamental stinginess that refuses to take responsibility for the whole range of assistance needed.

Replacing caste based reservations with those that are economic capacity based will have an extremely predictable result of filling seats with high caste poor people and disenfranchising the lower castes while pretending that this is a more just system.

Understand this. If you understand nothing else.

This is a simple process of taking the resources (educational/employment capacity is a resource) of a country and saying that those who are in a better position to monopolize them.

Where access to something that ought to belong to all is defined in a manner that prevents use by some so that the remaining may appropriate their share.

But isn't competence important? I wouldn't want to be treated by an incompetent doctor

I don't think India has any laws forcing you to be treated by a doctor not of your choice. Feel free to check out the surname and prefer to die than be treated.

Competence is indeed important. Here's the thing. Our education system does precious little to inculcate it and the admission system makes no effort to measure it. Examination marks are not competence. They are merely a reflection of your memorization skills in an age where everyone can look up information in an instant in any case. Even then, a few percentage points does not make anyone clever or stupid. No seriously, you are really not more competent than your friend who got 5% less marks than you, or a stranger you'd prefer to snatch a seat from. To get an idea, in professions not limited by access in terms of percentage, find out the marks the most successful individuals got in their examinations. Most of the time you will find that their education is irrelevant to their chosen profession and that the range of examination scores is more likely to be between 60% and 80% than the high 90s. While it is fine to use it as a uniform method to share the limited resource of seats, arguing that it means that a person getting 80% marks is too stupid to study or be a professional is plain absurd, which you would immediately spot if your head weren't enveloped in a castesist fog.

The myth of 'competence' is another elitist fiction created to instill a bias in favor of those with the ability to spend considerable resources on an ability to memorize and reproduce quickly.

It is not fair that students study hard and are denied seats and dalits can get them if they just pass

Another elitist myth. That idea that the number of seats reserved for dalits are so vast that any dalit with a whim gets admissions. In reality, dalits too have to work to get admissions and they too get cut off like any other student. Also the idea that low caste people are lazy and not interested in education is an upper caste myth where the lower castes are so objectified as unworthy, that the idea that they too study to create careers simply does not occur to the thoughtless hordes taught to resent their very presence.

And oh, the real reason students struggle to get admissions is not Dalits - they too struggle to get admissions. It is your oh-so-very elite classes that run your country and have not bothered to create educational facilities that are adequate for the population size. This serves all, as the demand and supply rule results in nice fat bribes donations to... not dalits.

Caste reservations keep caste discrimination alive

This is bullshit. There are no seat reservations in college canteens that serve people separately by caste anyway. If a college can have separate canteens for dalits, and yet screams outrage that there is a separate admission quota for them, all I can conclude is that they basically want the dalits to vanish and abdicate all the opportunities to the privileged classes.

Caste discrimination is when a news organization fights to show the impunity with which mass murderers walk free, acquitted by courts one after the other and yet, none of the supposed equality supporting people find this an outrage enough to raise a voice for accountability. There is no caste quota for mass murder, in case you were curious.

What about lower caste people who are already privileged? Why should they get donations?

Feel free to create a rule that goes "people richer than XYZ must seek admissions through the general quota" and not occupy seats meant to protect the deprived. That would be the logical move, yes? But that will not happen, because last thing the elites want is for more competition in their "merit". They'd rather point out to the privileged few and use it as an excuse to deny all.

Wake me up when this bunch of jokers points out to the richest people in India - many of them doctors - many of them running businesses on black money that deprives the country of its due and argue that children of doctors or otherwise rich people must pay the real cost of education of a doctor instead of the massive state sponsorship of the training for all. Yes? No? Why not? We're talking about people who can afford it still using government provided benefits, right?

Well, a lot of medical students who are in "doctor families" so to say will wade through money to reach the college, learn on massive government subsidies meant to make the training affordable for far poorer people, and then go abroad and sell their services cheaper than doctors there who had to invest a lot of money in their careers. Wake me up when someone has a problem with that and goes children of the rich must pay the real cost of education ...

But we can't have caste reservations forever! What is the answer?

If we can discriminate for thousands of years, we can still go a few hundred years without worrying about reservations being continued too long. That said, the answer to this lies with the elites. If there is no discrimination, the reservations will not matter and can be removed - frankly if there is no discrimination, removing them will not create enough of a difference for anyone to get worked up about it.

The truth of the matter is that the people who always oppose caste reservations have also been implicated in caste crimes. The removal of reservations is just another front of attack to strangle the rise of castes they wish to subjugate in an ongoing caste war. The claims of equality are bullshit as you would see if you scratched even briefly under the surface. This mythical Hardik Patel protest against the state over reservations is speaking exactly the BJP line. BJP has wanted caste reservations gone since before Hardik Patel was born and now there are protests "against" the BJP to "force" it to do exactly what it wants to do. Who are we kidding?

BJP leaders are also implicated in support to dalit massacres that ranged from money, assistance in procuring weapons, getaway vehicles when surrounded by police during a massacre and political impunity including intimidation of investigation and inquiry proceedings.

These people are going to allow equal opportunity to those whom they helped kill? Who are we kidding here? The minute caste reservations are gone, exclusion on the basis of caste will rise. Your "underprivileged" will overwhelmingly be from privileged castes. By design.

So you tell us what can be done

Recognize caste discrimination for the disease it is. And like any other disease, eradicate it from the country. Monitor cases of caste violence. "Treat" them with justice and social reform. Reduce incidences and when caste discrimination ends or reliably gets justice in judicial process, remove the reservations. Just like the disease it is.

Your move, caste supremacists!

 

Note: This post is likely to get updated as I encounter more creative arguments on Twitter.

8

Dear Anonymous,

Congratulations on your first successful protests in India, and what a way to begin - a dozen cities at the same time!

June 9 happened and Internet Freedom Activists protested in several cities of India.Astonishingly, the call sent out by Anonymous India survived the considerable propaganda machine and made it to the real world. This is no mean achievement for an entity that has just come into bring and spent two weeks or so in promoting their first protest. An entity without any financial or organizational backing to enable protests anywhere.

Considering this, it is amazing that volunteers from various cities organized protests at their own expense and initiative. I also applaud the courage of those who protested. It is very easy to protest in a crowd. You go with the flow. When your group is small, and your goal is already under systematic attack, it takes exceptional courage to be the few men (or women) standing in the spotlight.

Not only did these organizers promote the protests and convince increasing numbers of people to join in, they managed to fund it too. In a few cases, small local groups supported voluntarily, in other places, the protesters didn't know each other at all. It is a tribute to Anonymous striking a note of inspiration that this is possible, and I applaud the call you took and your success in its manifestation. I admit that I was one of the few very skeptical people who thought that the protests would either not happen, or worse happen with really few people in very few locations.

I supported your cause, no doubt, but I didn't think India was ready to speak out on censorship to this extent after struggling to raise support for the Freedom Fast in Delhi recently. I didn't think it possible, but true to the advice I got in one of the interviews, I, being one who thought it was not possible, did not get in the way of people doing it. And it was good advice. Thrilled to be proved wrong.

The response was mixed. The earliest sign of trouble came when the police in Cochin "arrested" six protesters after their protest was done. There was much anger (including by me) but it later turned out that the Cochin police not being informed of the protest had detained them for questioning about the protest and let them go after taking their personal details and making a few veiled threats about them being questioned if there was further trouble.

The worst response of the state happened in Hyderabad and Kolkata. In Hyderabad the protests were supported by the Free Software Movement of India. Protesters were threatened by a senior police officer with arrest and confiscation of protest materials including T-Shirts. They were forced to negotiate when the activists stood their ground and the protest was relocated to the nearby Indira Park with a police escort.

Mamatadidi's Kolkata shines once more - not. About 200 protesters arrived for the protest, and were confronted by the police who allowed them 15 min silent protest. Varying accounts on exact methods  agreed that Police noted details and allowed to protest as a split group to look less visible. There were worrisome accounts of indirect intimidation and veiled threats. It says much about the paranoia in Kolkata over dissent that when the police started noting personal details of protesters, the number dropped to a fourth of what it was. Further, after they were forced to leave, when they assembled at a nearby park, plainclothesmen started taking photos of them without any regard to their refusals. At which point they disbanded. But the cops weren't done. They started making individual calls to the numbers they collected interrogating them about their intent and questions like how long they were "gathering online to make protests". Very insane. Mamata Banerjee is increasingly looking like a very worrisome dictator.

And then our President Pratibha Patil shines once more for being anti-people and possibly without even being aware of what gets perpetrated in her name. Protesters in Pune were refused permission to protest anywhere in the city because the President was in the city. Now Pune is huge. Surely there was one corner the President was not Occupying that the common man could Occupy? No such thing. While they did not deny permission on record, they did not give it either (classic Indian red tape). Pune decided to go ahead anyway, but the response was reluctant.

I am interested in knowing how you plan to work around such blocks, because these are important to address, and they hit a lot of citizens routinely if they want to protest anything.

From all accounts, the protests in other places went well. The most life affirming response came in Mumbai, where a protester actually reported that one of the senior officials at Azad Maidan recommended that they repeat their protest soon, if they did not get a good response first time. Win, Mumbai, this is how you win hearts. Hoezaay attended the protest both to support and to report and has a heart warming account of Occupy Mumbai on his blog. A rare worldview, where he staunchly supports the movement, and acknowledges disagreements including areas he doesn't support at all without letting it undermine his firm assertion of the value of the protest in any way. Worth reading.

Occupy Bangalore, Occupy Delhi looked very fun too. The support to the Bangalore protests by FSMK (Free Software Movement Karnataka) who had a parallel protest against the IT Rules was also very appreciated.

Specially worth mentioning is that I was astonished to see that the protests in less publicized places like Calicut, Chandigarh, Jaipur or Manipal go so well. I heard that there was a small protest at Chennai too. They hardly got any attention, but it needs to be acknowledged that they not only have internet users, but they have internet users willing to own a stake in shaping the country's access to the internet. I think this speaks well for our future.

I missed information on Nagpur, Indore, Ahmedabad. I don't think protests happened there.

The response to the protests online was one of initial skepticism followed by a section of people enthusiastically following and spreading news of the various protests. Contemptuous comments about the size of the response persisted, but frankly, I don't give them any weight. In my view, the Anonymous protests were a roaring success. We, of the masala expectations want to see oceans of people to count a protest as successful, since that is the new "benchmark" since the JanLokpal protests. However, the popcorn gallery needs to get a reality check, in my view. Team Anna's protests are coordinated from a central point, backed by organizations with grassroots networks in large swathes of the country. They have funding. They ran SMS campaigns, and did a thousand other things. The handling of the protest is a study in promotion and it was fueled by outrage in the population over corruption.

In comparison, the Anonymous protests are ad hoc. You have no iconic figures, no centralized decision making, no organized reach into the population. Additionally, while almost everyone who understands our IT Act and Rules is outraged, in the physical world, the population of internet users is about 10% and over 99% of those have little awareness of issues like censorship. They will wake up when something they took for granted will not work anymore, or if something they said gets wiped out. Until then, the issue of censorship is not something they expect. Indeed, most Indian users of the internet actually assume Freedom of Expression as described in the US constitution for all intents and purposes. They are not even aware that they could be silenced for being something as subjective as "offensive". Even fewer may be willing to make the effort to actually go to a place and voice support for an idea that their government wants to criminalize. Considering this, the numbers are nothing short of a miracle.

It is a mark of the call of Anonymous capturing the needs and imagination of the people that they can go from being unknowns to having protests in over a dozen cities within a few weeks. A person discounting this has failed to see what is happening among people. Kudos!

That said, I have a few suggestions for Anonymous:

  1. Don't use privately owned public locations (like Malls) for protests unless you know and trust the owning entities as supporters of freedom of speech. It is too easy to evict protesters from private property (even under "inspiration" from the government). Ideally, it should not be so if the protest is not disruptive, seeing as how anyone can enter a mall, and wearing masks is not illegal in India, but remember what we are fighting? Censorship. We have an environment where raising voice against the status quo is almost criminalized by default. We can fight this, but it has to be a separate fight, or it will sabotage this one.
  2. Don't ask for permissions. I have been following your protests with avid interest (including lurking with a nick and being kicked for it) and I have seen that the biggest hurdle to organizing the protests was permissions, which were difficult to get and often for inexplicable reasons. Naturally, if you don't want to break laws, you will have to plan protests that won't need permissions. Smaller groups, other ways of being visible, whatever... and keep the large protests on the ground for special occasions.
  3. Not to mention the fact that apparently you can't protest as an individual in India. Only organizations get permissions to protest. This is very strange and a whole subject in itself. I suggest formally using Anonymous as the name of an organization and if needed, getting someone to register it in some form, so that all future individual protests in the country can simply put Anonymous as the protesting organization and reclaim their freedom to protest - regardless of whether they are Anonymous or not. This will directly make you heroes for many.
  4. The information needs to be documented and organized for easy reference. I know that since all of you are individuals, this is not easy to manage. I will try and help you with this. If/when I get time, or you should ask bloggers and other internetizens who may have time to volunteer and create timelines and archives of links.
  5. While we haven't had much success overturning censorship so far, there are several individuals and organizations working hard to get the IT Rules revoked, for example. They already have in depth and very responsibly conducted research in place, as well as plans on how to make it happen. Anonymous should consider following news on this and throwing their power behind such efforts, since this is one of your goals too. For example, the recent Stop IT Rules Campaign and the Freedom Fast. There are other efforts being made. If you wish, I can try and find out information on this for you. Or, I suppose you have your ways.
  6. While DDoS or defacing attacks are your chosen method, I think if you must break laws and risk your safety for it, then the payoff ought to be higher. In your place I would certainly not risk my safety over blocking access to a site, that too temporarily. Instead, you should focus more on releasing information pertaining to corruption and other damage being done to the country. Information that would otherwise not be accessible to people.
  7. You should consider creating an RTI archive, where people can send you copies of documents they receive through RTI and you make them public - after a certain delay if needed, if there are stories being released on their basis. Such documents should be carefully tagged with all related keywords and be searchable for people needing information. This will propel the country's struggle toward transparency and accountability, provide activists with far larger quantities of information than they can from individual efforts. They will help provide a layer of safety for the lives of RTI activists as well as resist all attempts at silencing. Operation RTI, may I recommend? Additional bonus, you will get a lot of volunteers because it will be totally legal. I can help you with setting it up if needed. I am also willing t host or admin it, but this project cannot be run by a single individual. It will become too large. I will need volunteers.

That I support Anonymous is no secret. I support all efforts at creating a change toward freedoms and inclusion. I supported Team Anna, I support Satyamev Jayate, I support women's rights advocates, I support the campaign to get rid of the IT Rules, I think all these ways collectively add to the momentum. I am not bothered by the flaws of any method as long as they don't harm life and limb, because I have not yet encountered any call for change that was perfect. In my view, change comes through continuous improvement, not perfect solutions. We are a living culture, and we learn from our experiences. To block change for fear of imperfections is a symptom of a defensive mind that fears failure. In my view, rather than block something "because it will not work", it is far more useful to allow it to try and work, and if it doesn't work, it can't be used anyway. In that sense, I may not be a hacker or support some of the methods used by you, but I certainly accept that there is a very real need you are trying to address, and I respect that.

Or in other words, I don't appreciate the idea of servers being attacked. I don't think it is legal, but I think our situation on censorship is far worse. If that is what it takes, I would compare it with stealing the codes of a nuclear bomb to defuse it. Sure, it is stealing, but heck yes, it helps.

I also accept and understand when you say that the advantages such protest offers you may be the only way the protest can be sustained. Words from the interview remain in my mind. You can't be silenced or defamed. Therefore you will be heard. I think you have a point there, when all kinds of dissent is not allowed to stand by personal attacks and discrediting of anyone raising questions, perhaps it is necessary to let the questions stand on their own without anyone to sabotage attached.

There are many things to say. The idea of Anonymous has always fascinated me ever since I heard it. In fact, this blog is founded on a similar idea, though opposite in many ways. You leave behind identity, I use identity as an expression of one reality in the country. But the focus on ideas being the driving force for change is the same. You are the idealism of a generic, nameless human, I am an example human standing as an expression of the reality of many such people. The same idea, abstracted in different ways.

So Anonymous as an idea is very precious to me. And I do believe that it is possible to do great things if we are able to leave behind our identities and image obsessions and work purely in the realm of valuing ideas regardless of source, on their own merit.

I wish you the very best.

With love,

Vidyut