Posts Tagged ‘inter-caste marriage’

For Ilavarasan

In Poetry, Political statement on July 6, 2013 at 1:09 am

“The conclusion is inevitable that Endogamy is the only characteristic that is peculiar to caste

Caste, as I have explained it, is almost impossible to be sustained : for the difficulties that it involves are tremendous. It is true that Caste rests on belief, but before belief comes to be the foundation of an institution, the institution itself needs to be perpetuated and fortified.”

Castes in India, B.R. Ambedkar

Ilavarasan, a Dalit man, was murdered on Thursday for the crime of having fallen in love with and married Divya, a Vanniyar woman. The Vanniyar are classified among the Most Backward Castes. The Pattali Makkal Katchi(PMK), the party that represents Vanniyars, has been carrying out a systematic hate campaign over the last year, issuing threats against Dalit men who marry into the caste, orchestrating violence against Dalit homes and attempting to cobble together an alliance protesting inter-caste marriage. No action has been taken against the party or the leaders who have issued death threats against Dalit men or instigated violence against the community. We must now ask that the death of Ilavarasan, at least, be investigated seriously.

Some suggest that the ‘politicizing’ of caste is somehow to blame for the deaths of young people in love. It is not. The father who strangled his nine-months-pregnant daughter was not acting on the behest of a political party. Caste is responsible for these deaths. Caste is a social problem that is always political, it is always about access to power. The political assertion of Dalits threatens the existing distribution of power. It is different from the consolidation of power that Shudra parties like the PMK attempt to do.

Ilavarasan’s death is not exceptional violence. This violence is routine, normalized, a daily ritual. Through murder, humiliation, denying housing, water, right of access to public roads and education, through myriad forms of exclusion, caste is sustained through violence. The instances of bloody violence merely open a window and make visible the violence of the everyday.

Whether Ilavarasan died of his own volition or not, he was murdered, if not by people seeking vengeance then by a system that will resort to murder to maintain the hierarchy. Blaming the system is too easy though. In caste, the walls are built of human actions. They will be broken by human action. Fall in love. If you must marry, then marry outside caste. Remember Ilavarasan.

Love was his only crime. The punishment was murder. As red earth and pouring rain, blood must flow for caste to be kept alive.


What’s wrong with you, with us,
what’s happening to us?
Ah our love is a harsh cord
that binds us wounding us
and if we want
to leave our wound,
to separate,
it makes a new knot for us and condemns us
to drain our blood and burn together.

‘Love’, Pablo Neruda

What could be my mother be to yours?
What kin is my father to yours anyway?
And how did you and I meet ever?
But in love our hearts are as red
earth and pouring rain: mingled beyond parting.

Kurunthokai 40 – What He said, Translated by A.K.Ramanujan


See our leaders polish their manner clean of our suffering:
Indeed, we must confess only to bliss;
we must surrender any utterance for the Beloved–all yearning is outlawed.

Friends, come away from this false light.
Come, we must search for that promised Dawn.

“Dawn of Freedom” (August 1947), Faiz Ahmed Faiz, translation from Urdu by Agha Shahid Ali

Filming Caste – I

In Personal Narrative on August 12, 2011 at 3:45 am

Rupesh Kumar, dalit documentary director, writes about how he began documentary filmmaking and how he participates ‘both on the screen and from behind the camera, in dalit political debates’…

Like any other film personality, I too had an ambition towards mainstream cinema, but understood that it is hard to get into. Still, I decided to do something with the camera. From that dream and planning resulted my first documentary “Underworld memories of untouchables”.

Peringeel, a dalit colony where my father was born and bought up, has taught me compassion towards humanity and direct experience of agricultural and fishing life, even if I was not involved directly in it. My father told me that in his childhood days, they had to cook even their rice in salt water and walk kilometers to fetch some clean water. My father studied and got first class in SSLC in 1960s and got into a government job. From this platform, I got my English medium and college education and basis for political thinking and film making. The strong urge to move with a camera made me a documentary maker. My mother was also from a dalit colony, Chevidichal – derived from “Thevidichi Chaal”, meaning ‘land of prostitutes’. The name and the colony may be the creations of Savarnas.

In our personal experience, in the Kerala atmosphere, I experienced caste in the psychological realm rather than physically. Caste was experienced in schools and colleges in jokes, nicknames, blackness, body, friendship, language, dialects, etc. It was in questions like, “Are you a reservation student?”, a question asked in classrooms by classmates and teachers. We felt caste, colour and sexuality played a great role in receiving internal marks. And we realized that caste is the main hindrance to love. In campus politics and love affairs, caste played a decisive role. Even when I was working as a lecturer, caste played a great role in the psychological atmosphere of staff rooms and other places.

Though Kerala is archetyped as a casteless society, in different minute and complex realms we experienced caste and debated and tried to theorize it. Out of these complex debates, we reached our documentaries or video productions. After our first production, ‘Underworld memories of Untouchables’ was read as a dalit documentary, we felt it our responsibility to do more dalit video productions. We participate, through our video productions, both on the screen and from behind the camera, in dalit political debates and try to intervene in the critical realm also. It is funny (but also gives us confidence) that the savarna debates purposefully ignore our productions. We still communicate with different political and multicultural societies all over the world through the Internet.

“Underworld memories of untouchables”, our first documentary, was an attempt to politicize and use memory as a tool against the savarna-ist psychological gate-crashing into all dalit histories through their memories, writings and biographies. This documentary is a movement through conversations in which dalits in a village shared memories of caste oppression experienced throughout their life from history to the present. We shot this documentary in my own dalit village, Peringeel, the name which was derived from the term, ‘Perumkeezhil’ meaning extreme lowest.

Earlier, the people of the Pulaya dalit community were brought to this semi-island to work as slaves in agricultural lands. My father and grandparents lived in this village and worked in the fields here. We treat this documentary as a pay-back to a dalit colony where I got my political living as a human being with compassion and positivity. The documentary begins with my own memories of caste experiences in my education and working life that had psychological and structural impact. Our earlier generation had got education, but there was discrimination at the physical, verbal and psychological level in schools and other scenarios. The experiences of those three generations before include a lot of physical abuses as expression of untouchability from different realms. We received some comments from the local Communist leader that caste system has been evacuated and it is not practised in the present. We could not digest that statement, we thought it was funny, given our personal experience as a dalit. Mr. Krishinan, who passed away recently, asked us “What you know about history?” He explained the history of Peringeel and said it was a land of slavery. Mr. Sreejith Paithalen, journalist and my friend, clearly explained how caste is working in new ways in relationships, friendships, and how communists in Kannur play the politics of caste through their ‘love towards dalits’. Mr. Kallen Pokkudan, the environmentalist, spoke about the transformation of the “Communism of Kerala to BJPism”.

Watch Underworld memories of untouchables

“Love stories in Black letters”, our second documentary, was the filming of a travelogue to a tribal organization called Thudi, in Vayanad, to hear a song of love composed by a group of tribal students. We made this journey an enquiry into the politics of inter-caste marriages in India. Caste experiences/inter-caste marriage experiences were brought out through interviews. It was strange to find that dalits blocked inter-caste marriages among themselves. This was a new revelation in our political thinking. There was a clear caste system prevailing among different communities of dalits. Mr. Hanu, who has an inter-caste marriage, opined that there should be an eradication of caste borders within dalits. He strongly believes that there should be inter-caste marriages among different communities of dalits themselves. I – being a dalit married to a Nair girl – admitted in the documentary that I couldn’t perform my marriage in a fully political style. Mr. Ravi, a Professor in Malayalam, said there is a lack of political consciousness even after different inter-caste marriages. Lovers and inter-caste marriage couples mostly take shelter in Hindu life realms and no dalit politics is formatted or developed after their life together and the offspring are brought up in the Hindu style only. Mr. Jayasurya said that in campus life, in politics, in jokes, in love, and in other experiences there is a clear underlying racism, and dalits are the victims. Love affairs are filtered and partners are selected through the norms of the Hindu caste system. Mr. Arun, research scholar in Hyderabad University, explained to us how Ambedkar put forward inter-caste marriage as a tool against the caste system prevailing in Hindu community of India.

Watch Love stories in Black letters

“Caste has been annihilated in Kerala” is the biggest lie that is heard from different social, cultural and political spheres of Kerala. Those who preach that ‘caste has been annihilated’ can’t really understand what caste is. It is the psychological suppression of dalits in various instances, stages and spheres of life and expelling people from power, money and knowledge in the present world. The people who enjoy all the benefits of caste system avoid debates against caste in Kerala and hold the classic idea that “Untouchables are now no longer untouchables”. This has been proved wrong in a Nursery school in Malappuram.

To be contd.

In the next part, Rupesh Kumar writes about how caste in taught to children, how the media can respond to portrayals of caste, of his other productions – both successful and failed, a documentary that took him back, again, to his village, the resistance encoded in rituals (and how these can be hijacked by Brahminical narratives) and the lessons learnt along the way…

Marrying for love – II

In Interview, Personal Narrative on July 28, 2011 at 8:09 pm

Priya* works as domestic help. She washes vessels and clothes, sweeps and swabs floors, chops vegetables and performs other housekeeping chores daily in three houses in Madurai, Tamil Nadu. In conversation, she shares her experience of marrying outside caste. Translated excerpts from an interview dated 15.07.2011. Read the first part here

We moved to the area next to one my parents were in. They would look at me but they wouldn’t talk. After I became pregnant, a year later, my father would come and talk to me. My father-in-law wouldn’t accept us. ‘They filed a complaint in the police station,’ he said, about my parents, and refused to let us into the house. Then I said, ‘I had a reason to write and give that I don’t want my parents, if I hadn’t given in writing, they would have beaten you up. Now when my parents come of their own accord and talk to me, I can’t refuse them. When I said this, he asked ‘Don’t you want your husband?’ Both of them started fighting. I said, ‘I won’t visit them if you don’t want me to but I definitely will talk to my parents.’ After my oldest son was born, they started visiting and talking. My mother-in-law would also talk a little. After a year, these problems were solved.

People appreciated that I had taken a stand at this young age. ‘Others would have been afraid and given up their love,’ people told me and started encouraging me. Friends were good to me. Only my parents’ relatives refused to accept me. They would stand on the road and talk to me but they won’t come into the house, they won’t eat, they won’t even drink water because we were SC. When we went to their house, they would take care of us. But they would never eat in our house.

My mother’s friend’s daughter was also my friend. She fell in love and ran away with her lover. They came and asked me, ‘Where is Manjula? She was your friend. Did she tell you anything?’ I hadn’t even known that she was in love. She had loved within her Parayar  caste only but they didn’t accept it. They said, ‘Why should she choose that boy?’ She refused to come home and married that boy. Her in-laws looked after her well. She started going to work and she is happy now.

Please ask all parents to let their children marry whoever they want. Please write that very strongly. If they give their consent, there will be no problems. Most of the problems that happen in love marriages are because the parents don’t consent. Tell parents to stop clinging to caste.

Now my oldest son is studying for his degree by correspondence. He is also a photographer in a studio. He is of marriagable age and he is also in love. We know about it. We told him about all the difficulties we faced. We told him to marry the girl we find.

After we married, there was opposition on both sides. My father-in-law chased us away. ‘Let me see how you will survive, I cannot give you food,’ he said. They caused lot of difficulties. My son says, ‘What would you have known at 15? I am 22. I can take my decisions. That girl is also 19.’ I told him, they would face difficulties. The girl is Servar caste (a Thevar sub-caste), we are SC. We cannot face any problems if they should arise. I told the girl this also. She said, ‘I can face any problems that come. I know you are SC. Its not like I  didn’t know when we were in love.’

I have told my children these things, they should know the problems I faced. The other three are in school.

If people should fall in love, they should have parental consent. Running away is difficult. You will only have the clothes on your back. My younger mother-in-law and I were pregnant at the same time. They would not make food in the morning. I would have to starve till evening. I was struggling for a few years. They did not feel that I had come away from home, that they should look after me. They felt that they should give food only when we give money. My husband was plying a rickshaw then. I was 15, working in a school as an aayah.

Earlier work used to be divided by caste – people who wash clothes have to come only by the back door. They could not drink water in the same tumbler, employers would ask them to drink water from the tap. Now it’s not like that – people of all castes – Konar, Servar, Nadar, – all come for housework. Employers are also better now. In some places, work is still divided by caste. In the 15-20 years since I started doing housework, people have also started treating us as human beings.

The area I lived – Ponnaandi Veethi – was an SC street only. It was supposed to be for the people who burned corpses. There was also a ‘Nadar Compound’ on the same street – the really poor people lived there, mostly SC people like Sakkiliar, Parayar, Kuravar, also Nadar and Muslim were all there – but it was called Nadar Compound only.

When we look for houses for rent, they ask for caste. SC people could only ask SC houseowners. Things are changing now. In the house I am in now, the owner is Kallar. Recently when we went house hunting, I told the house-owner that I was Nadar. That house-owner is Konar. He said ok. He knew my husband, knew he was SC. AFTER we came and set up house there, he made it a caste issue. We had to vacate the house. The older people are like that, middle-aged people like us don’t bother much. The older people cling to caste. My relatives still won’t take food from us.


*Name changed on request

Marrying for love – I

In Interview, Personal Narrative on July 27, 2011 at 8:54 am

Priya* works as domestic help. She washes vessels and clothes, sweeps and swabs floors, chops vegetables and performs other housekeeping chores daily in three houses in Madurai, Tamil Nadu. In conversation, she shares her experience of marrying outside caste. Translated excerpts from an interview dated 15.07.2011

I was born in Madurai. My parents are from the same place. I had a love marriage. So I married and settled in the same town. I am 40 years old. I have four children. My husband drives an auto.

I had a carefree childhood. I would ride my cycle and roam around like a boy. After I had my period, things changed. My father would not mind me much. My mother would say I should not cross the threshold of the house. I did not like school much either. So I would stay at home. But it was difficult being cooped up. I would go out with friends immediately after my mother left and get back just before she got back. If she came back before I did, she would grab me by my hair and thrash me. She would say, ‘Why did you go? I told you not to. Why do you keep company with those children? Don’t you have brains? You have become a big girl now.’ As she said this, I thought ‘Why are my parents are talking to me like this?’ Then the thought came to me that I should fall in love, choose my husband. There was my neighbour’s son. I knew they were SC, I chose to love him.

I knew about my caste from when I was a little child. My parents would say ‘We are Nadar’. When they told us not to talk to people of lower castes, my parents will tell me this. They will say ‘Don’t talk to people who don’t have huts, they will go the wrong way.’ Whenever my mother said this, I would go and play and talk with those children only. My parents changed me. Then the thought came to me, my thought to love.

I fell in love with my neighbour’s son. He loved me too. I used to go to their house and talk. My elder brother used to visit them also. I used to talk to his parents very well, but not to him. We did not get to roam around or go to theatres or do things like that. We used to look at each other and smile, we didn’t even talk much. I was 15, I had been of age for 2 years. He was 19.

He was thick friends with my elder brother. He would not come to my house. Because he was of lower caste, they wouldn’t allow him into the house. My brother and I used to go to their house. I used to go without my mother’s knowledge, my brother went with my parent’s knowledge.

My family came to know that I was in love. My husband’s name is Duraipandi. I had scratched his name ‘Durai’ with a safety pin on my arm. Another neighbour saw this while I was filling water at the tap. It was the government tap only, where everyone came to take water. They told my father and he started beating me. He said ‘You know what caste they are. They are of lower caste. You have gone and loved him.’ He began torturing me and beating me. Even my other neighbours (of the same caste) started beating me after my mother told them to look after me when she went to out to work.

Then I thought, ‘See how they are humiliating me. I had only felt what anyone of that age would have felt, maybe a little earlier, that’s all. Why should they humiliate me like this?’ The entire street knew by now. We still saw each other but did not talk. In our street, they started to say that I was pregnant. Talk went in that direction. My father said, ‘They say this. Let your uncle come, I will make him beat you. If you haven’t done anything wrong, why will people say such things?’

Then I thought my uncle is also going to humiliate and beat me, and I went to see my mother-in-law. I told her ‘They are saying things like this. My family has come to know that I am in love. Please take me away, please marry the two of us.’ My husband said ‘No, this is not right. We are not old enough, go home.’ He came to beat me too. My mother-in-law had now begun to desire that I marry him. She said, ‘Let us not worry about age’ and she took me away to another village where they had relatives. They finished the wedding there. We were there for a day.

When my mother-in-law and father-in-law returned, my parents immediately filed a complaint saying they had taken me away under false pretences. ‘They are SC. Why will she go with them? We are nadar,’ they said. My in-laws brought us back. In the police station, the sub-inspector(SI) asked ‘You are not old enough. What do you say about this?’ I told him ‘Sir, it is true that I am not old enough. But they have disgraced me. Even if I go back, this disgrace will not leave me. Even if I should be married and bear children to another man, it won’t change. I will stay with this man’ ‘Don’t you want your parents?’ they asked. At that time, I said ‘I don’t want my parents. These people are my parents. My husband is everything to me.’ They asked me to give this in writing. The SI himself asked ‘Do you know what caste they are?’ I said ‘I know. I know they are SC. I knew when I was in love too.’ Then he said, ‘You know they are SC. If you have a child later, will you give your child in marriage to such a family?’ I said ‘I will give my child in marriage to an SC person only. I don’t look at differences like that, even if you scratch an SC person you will find the same red blood, even for a high caste person you will find the same red blood,’ like this, I told the SI. Then my father brought some people he knew. They took me to a separate room and said ‘You don’t need that boy. He is SC. It will become a problem later.’

My father-in-law had seven wives. So, they were worried at home. I told them, ‘That man might be like that. My husband is not.’ They said, ‘Let that boy go. We will marry you to someone else right away’. I said ‘I didn’t do this out of a desire to marry. I have been disgraced, I cannot continue to live on that street. That is why we married at this age’

We gave this in writing and came away and finished a registered marriage also.

We had to come back and live on that same street. We lived in another area for a while. It was an unknown place and it was scary at night. Both of us were very young. So we came back to the same area.

In the next part, Priya* talks about her married life, ponders the pros and cons of marrying for love vs. marrying for caste and shares her son’s blossoming love story.

*Name changed on request

Buffalo, Our Ancestor

In Critical Writing, Folklore, Personal Narrative on July 21, 2011 at 3:53 am

MC Raj has written about how he became an author in two parts – part one and two. Here he writes about the significance of the buffalo in Dalit culture and about the work of REDS in preventing rituals that sanctify free caste labour.

Actually I did not mean to write another blogpost. However, it is difficult not to write now as there are a few things that are welling up in me. The name that you have chosen for your site [the blogger's name in Tamil] is ‘Buffalo’. This is a fascinating aspect for me. Let me explain.

When we started discussing seriously and researched into the history and culture of Dalits, we discovered, in our Movement, the close affinity we have with buffalo. I started writing and speaking about it. When REDS organized a national conference on globalization in Tumkur, I presented a paper in which I spoke at length about the significance of buffalo in Dalit culture. Within a few months, there was a book from Kancha Ilaiah. The title of the book was Buffalo Nationalism.

Much later, when we met Kancha, he presented the book to us and wrote with his hand that he drew inspiration from us for writing this book. We are happy that our thoughts worked like a spark to bring out a book. We were sad that I had to give up the idea of writing a book on buffalo’s significance in Dalit culture.

However, we continued the discussions with our people in our Movement. Every year, in Karnataka, Dalit people celebrate the festival of Maramma. In Tamilnadu, Maariamma is termed as a Dalit goddess, as I hear from friends. But in Karnataka, we have a different myth. Maramma is a Brahmin girl who fell in love with Kadaraiah, a young and robust Dalit boy. Both loved each other immensely. Maramma only looked at his body and its beauty with strong muscles. She was blindly in love with him. She also took it for granted that such a handsome young man could only be a Brahmin. Kadaraiah hid his ‘Madhiga’ identity for fear of losing his ladylove.  They married and lived happily. One day the mother of Kadaraiah went to see both son and daughter-in-law. Maramma was very happy and prepared good food for her mother-in-law, as she wanted to get into her good books. But it was all vegetarian food, grass-eating was the habit. They had a mouthful of all the preparations of Maramma. It was time for dessert. She had prepared ‘Kadubu’, a delicacy in Karnataka. In Tamil it is called ‘Kolakatte’.

She asked mother and son to have a taste of Kadubu and went to fetch water. Kadaraiah was full of fascination for his young love. At the end of the recitation of his love, he asked his mother about the taste of the food that Maramma prepared. He very casually asked her about how she liked the Kadubu that his wife had prepared. Kadaraiah’s mother was still having it in her mouth. She opened her mouth and said that it was very tasty and added: ‘However, Kadariah, it is nothing when we compare it with the taste of the bone that we bite during our meal’. The Kadubu in her mouth was laughing loud as it saw Maramma standing at the door before mother could close her mouth. Now Maramma knew that her husband was a beef-eating Madhiga Dalit. She opened her mouth wide and began to curse Kadaraiah for having married a Brahmin girl. She killed him and sent his ‘atma’ (soul) into a buffalo.

Today every year the village caste lord dedicates a buffalo to Maramma and gives it to the Dalits to rear it during the year. He becomes a sort of god for having gifted the buffalo to Dalits free. In return, he and other caste fellows extract free caste labour from all Dalits throughout the year. On the festival night, the buffalo is sacrificed and its head kept at the entrance to the village (now at the temple entrance) to remind all Dalits that they should never dare to even think of marrying a Brahmin girl or any other caste girls. More than the myth, it is the perpetuation of free caste labour that is unconstitutional.

Even as I am writing this, in Tharur, there are 8 policemen to prevent this festival tonight. This year, it has been a revolution in Tumkur District. Village after village, we have stopped this sacrifice of buffalo. No ordinary effort can achieve this. But we are very proud that we have stopped it even in big villages where ministers and MLA have supported the celebration and have hated us for stopping the festival. But this is being stopped all over the District. We have a big Movement, I told you.

In my latest novel Yoikana that has been published in the US, I have started it with Reindeer, which the Indigenous Saami people consider as their ancestor. I have brought buffalo and reindeer together as ancestors of two ancient peoples, the Saami and the Dalit. I was under the impression that this pride behind buffalo had not caught up in Tamilnadu. For the first time, I came across this in your website and it excites me immensely. Shiva’s wife Adishakthi incarnates as Chamundeshwari (We call her Chee Munde Eeshwari) to kill Mahishasura, who is Mahesh, the buffalo. This myth forms the background for the celebration of Dusserah.  I recollect that Dr. Badal Sen Gupta often used to narrate to me very proudly about the novel Mahesh that he relished reading. It is also about a buffalo written in Bengali language. He was not a Dalit. But he knew that I am and was happy to narrate it to me again and again.

I am sure one day when some others write Dalit history they will definitely refer to the way we have stopped this festival in our District in such large way. Am I so happy to send this blogpost to you! Our struggle is completely blended with the pride and dignity that this has brought in the lives of our people.

- MC Raj, Tumkur

Manickam Casimir Raj was born in Tuticorin and lives in Karnataka. He has a B.Ph. (Philosophy), B .D. (Theology), M.A Sociology. He has studied Tamil, English, Kannada, Malayalam, Latin, Greek and French. He has extensive work, travel, study, research, writing and consulting experience.  He works with the Rural Education for Development Society.

Caste Discrimination in Britain

In Critical Writing, Interview, Research excerpt on May 31, 2011 at 4:35 am

via the Anti Caste Discrimination Alliance, UK

“The National Institute for Economic and Social Research (NIESR) were commissioned by the government in early 2010 to carry out research into caste and caste discrimination in the UK. This has been completed and their results have been published in a Report on the GEO website. This report has found that caste discrimination is occurring in the UK and as such, it support and vindicates the research that ACDA carried out in 2009, when participants in the focus groups informed ACDA of the many instances of caste discrimination they had experienced. The then government had said that the ACDA examples were anecdotal but now that their own independent commissioned research has produced its own numerous examples, this government have had to accept that Caste Discrimination is occurring in the UK.

To download a copy of the NIESR Research Report click here to open the Report directly from the Government Equalities Office website. “


Excerpts from the report titled Caste discrimination and harassment in Great Britain by Hilary Metcalf and Heather Rolfe

National Institute of Economic and Social Research, December 2010

8.4. Public behaviour

Certain public behaviour was seen as offensive and harassing or stirring up caste discrimination. They all illustrate prejudice. Some may constitute harassment, although not as covered by the Act.

A number of the qualitative interviewees mentioned problems that they had in pubs. They reported other customers speaking loudly to laud their own caste (the cases reported were Jatt) or making derogatory remarks about low castes (using the words Chamar and Chura). The immediate problems with this reported by low caste respondents were, firstly, discomfort, offence and fear and, secondly, the development of arguments and violence, with either the respondent or others participating.

X was in a group in a pub. One of the group, a Jatt Sikh, started saying ‘bad things about untouchables’. The Jatt said that he knew X was a Christian and so probably an untouchable. This shocked X. (Case study 15)
X said the only other discrimination or harassment he had experienced was in pubs, with Jatt Sikhs taunting lower caste Indians or talking loudly about Jatts and Chamars. When this happens, his friends who are also Jatt Sikhs and he leave, to avoid trouble. (Case study 20)

8.5  Violence and criminal activity

Some of the incidents reported in the previous chapter, notably school bullying, and the incidents in pubs reported in this chapter resulted in violence. The qualitative interviews and the literature report violence and other criminal activity resulting from alleged caste discrimination and harassment. Whilst these alleged manifestations and consequences of caste prejudice fall outside the Act, they provide important contextual information about the nature, perceptions  and consequences of alleged caste prejudice, discrimination and harassment in Britain.

One of the women who had suffered perceived caste bullying at school reported that her locality was dominated by teenage gangs. For Asians, these were caste and religion-based and excluded low caste people. This made low caste teenagers more vulnerable. ACDA (2009) also said:

  • ‘You get gangs in places like Southall and you get stabbings and it’s related directly to caste.’

One person in the qualitative interviews reported a burglary allegedly due to caste:

X set up her own radio station. It was criticised for promoting the Ravidassia community. She received telephone threats from, by their accent, Indians born in the UK. The radio station was burgled. Because of the threats and because nothing other than the radio station equipment was stolen, she believes this was to stop it broadcasting, i.e. that it was caste inspired. (Case study 6)

Obviously, if the purpose of this burglary was as alleged, it is unclear whether it was caste or religion inspired.
The issue of the police taking action was raised by a number of respondents. For example, one said:

X believed that, while the majority of fights within the Asian community involve caste, when people go to the police they don’t understand it, and don’t know that ‘Chamar’ is perceived as an insult and is inflammatory. (Case study 12)

Other reports of violence were related to inter-caste marriages and relationships, resulting in the low caste man being beaten up  (Chahal, undated;  Meeting on Caste and the Equality Bill – Committee Room 4a, HOL, 4th February 2010). At the extreme, pro-caste legislation organisations claim that  the majority of so-called honour killings related to hatred caused by the caste system (discussions with pro-caste legislation organisations; Meeting on Caste and the Equality Bill – Committee Room 4a, House of Lords, 4th February 2010 Minutes).

Inter-caste marriages in Nepal

In Critical Writing, Interview, Journalism on May 30, 2011 at 5:23 am

Excerpts from an article on the Global Press Institute website

Article found via the Inter-Caste blog intended to ‘end inter-caste and intra-caste caste apartheid in Nepal’

Inter-caste Newlyweds Face Eviction, Discrimination in Nepal

by Tara Bhattarai, Senior Reporter, Tuesday – August 17, 2010

KATHMANDU, NEPAL – “Love recognizes no barriers. It jumps hurdles and leaps fences,” says Sunita Sahi, 19, as she looks out the window of a bus. Her gaze falls on a young couple, kissing. “We were also in [an] affair,” she says, gesturing to her husband who sits next to her, caressing her hand. “But our families and society did not accept us.”

Sahi married Bimal Auji, 22, one year ago.

Sahi has a fair complexion, an oval face and a slim body. Her looks give away her caste. She is a member of the Thakuri caste. Sahi is from Kanchanpur in the far-western district of Nepal, nearly 400 miles from Kathmandu. Today, she and Auji live in Kathmandu. Auji is also from Kanchanpur, but he comes from a different background. To Sahi’s family, he is “untouchable.”
When news spread that a lower-caste man had proposed to an upper-caste woman, Sahi says her parents were determined to prevent the wedding.

“But our love was like an unbreakable chain,” Sahi says. “Nobody could separate us despite [the] torture,” she says as Auji shows the scars on his arms and hands — remnants of a fight where a group of villagers, including Sahi’s brothers, attacked him.

“I don’t care about the attacks by her family, I only care for her,” Auji says.

One year ago, Sahi and Auji left home without informing their parents. They eloped in India. Both families found out about the marriage a week later when the couple returned to Kanchanpur. Immediately, Sahi and Auji began receiving threats from Sahi’s family.

“I was physically attacked by relatives of my wife’s maternal home three times,” Auji says. “They even threatened to kill [me] if I did not leave Sahi.”

Auji says his family members are not against the marriage.

As the threats continued, the couple decided to leave their village.

“I sobbed my heart out for days when we left our village for a far-off place, leaving all our relatives,” Sahi says. “Had my family not gone against my will to marry the guy whom I loved to bits, we would have happily stayed there.”

The couple moved to Kathmandu and found themselves in a position similar to many other inter-caste couples – evicted from their homes and villages. Jagaran Media Centre, JMC, an NGO working for Dalit rights, recently released a report that revealed that dozens of couples were forced to leave their homes and villages in 2008 after marrying a member of a different caste. According to the report, there is no data available about this issue on the national scale.

*After the publication of this story, both Sahi and Auji got jobs and their case received national attention. A television documentary was made on their story and the prime minister’s special cell on violence against women has taken this case.

Read the full article here

Notes on my brahmin self

In Personal Narrative on April 23, 2011 at 1:21 am

S. Anand originally wrote this for “INSIGHTYoung Voices of Dalit Assertion”, published 10 Sept 2005; Also available here

I was born a Tamil-brahmin (of the iyengar caste) and had my upbringing mostly in Hyderabad and other parts of Andhra Pradesh. My early upbringing was under the totalizing spell of the Tamil-brahmin sub-culture—in terms of language, food, circle of friends, aesthetics—so much that my access to other social worlds was cut off by sheer prejudice nurtured by the family. An extended spell of hostel life since graduation helped me escape familial colonialism, but I carried with me all the unearned privileges and the earned prejudices of a brahmin birth. College and university life (1990-1997) exposed me to a burgeoning student dalit movement in the post-Ambedkar centenary phase, though I did not make immediate sense of Mandal or the Ambedkarite movement. While working on my M.Phil. With the English Department of University of Hyderabad, I took up my first journalistic job—as a subeditor—with Deccan Chronicle, Hyderabad, in 1996. I literally walked into the job, unalive to the fact of how brahmin privilege works in unstated ways. While on my first job, I acquired some political and cultural perspective on the several ‘caste issues’ I faced in university life, and in my own life, on reading Kancha Ilaiah’s Why I am Not a Hindu: A Sudra Critique of Hindutva, Philosophy, Culture and Political Economy (Samya, 1996). I wrote a full-page review of the work in Deccan Chronicle, which I began by introducing myself as a brahmin, quite like Ilaiah foregrounds his shudra-OBC identity. I then discovered the writings of Ambedkar. Around the time, my marriage to my non-brahmin partner also caused a rupture in my caste self, and forced a rethink on my own undying brahminism. I began writing occasionally on caste in Deccan Chronicle, and also commissioned others to write, and this did not necessarily mean writing about dalits. The fact that I was a born-brahmin enabled me to express a few anti-brahmin ideas with ease.

Starting 1998, I was with the copydesk of The Indian Express, Chennai, for a year where I did manage a few analytical pieces on caste against several odds. I was still not a reporter. In 1999, I joined the brahmin-dominated desk of The Hindu. I had always considered The Hindu as my last option since my grandmother used to say after I completed my M.A., “Wear a namam [a caste mark worn on the forehead], and tell them you belong to such and such iyengar subcaste; who knows we may be related to The Hindu editors! They will certainly give you a job.” I was utterly embarrassed by this frank advice, but also knew that there was truth in this claim since The Hindu had a fair share of namam journalists. After circumstances forced me to quit The (New) Indian Express, when I did seek employment with The Hindu, I did not use the caste card like my grandmother would have wanted me to, but I do realize one’s brahmin-ness is not necessarily or always inscribed on one’s forehead or caste tag (which I did not bear). The advantages of being born in the ‘right caste’, I think, equally helped me with my other jobs, as also in other spheres in my life, sometimes without my even being aware of these advantages.

Since mid-2001 I have been working as the Chennai correspondent of the weekly Outlook—my first reporting job. Here, to my own surprise, I have had greater success in writing occasional analytical articles and news-reports on brahmin hegemony than in writing about oppression of dalits. Again, my being a non-dalit, a born-brahmin, has, I think, enabled me in several invisible ways. Perhaps this has partly enabled a tolerant reception to some views extremely critical of brahmins in a mainstream media forum.

After marriage, I moved away from my parents in Hyderabad, to Chennai in 1998 and exposure to the mostly debrahminised (yet strangely anti-dalit) Tamil political and intellectual cultures heightened my brahminical guilt and pressured me to seriously rescript my sense of the ‘personal’—this was almost a conversion sans a formal change of religion. This primarily involved two issues.

i) Unlearning the brahminised variation of Tamil that I spoke: Tamil-brahmins speak a Tamil that is markedly different from that of nonbrahmins; it carries a heavy dose of sanskritic influence. I speak, read and write Telugu as well; and though Telugu brahmins sometimes have a stylistic inflection distinct from nonbrahmin Telugus, they do not attempt to fundamentally change the language like Tamil brahmins tend to do. Within Tamil Nadu, given the penetrative thrust of the periyarite nonbrahmin movement, some brahmins self-consciously use a slightly debrahminised variation in their public sphere–usage while relapsing into the unselfconscious comfort of a brahminical register in the domestic sphere. Several brahmins do not even bother to effect such a switchover and unabashedly speak a brahminised Tamil all the time. However, increasingly in Tamil Nadu today, with the nonbrahmins seeking to imitate the brahminical register, certain brahminical modes of expression have crept into the nonbrahminised mode of speaking.

Being born and bred outside Tamil Nadu, I had never really been exposed to the nonbrahmin way(s) of speaking Tamil. The only Tamil I knew was what my parents and circle of relatives made available to me. In Chennai, with active support from my wife, who belongs to the land-owing Tamil shudra community of gounders (classified as OBC), and a few other friends, I gradually weeded out the brahminical expressions I was prone to. After six months of conscious efforts, I could speak a decent, nonbrahminised Tamil. Even then, the brahminical Tamil embedded in my subconscious would occasionally slip out and cause me embarrassment. This continues to happen, but rather infrequently these days since my interaction with the brahmin community now is almost negligible, given that I am estranged from my family and relations.

ii) The second crucial change effected in my personal self was with respect to food habits. The family I was born into ate only vegetarian food. Egg, boiled, was a rare indulgence, that too as a dietary supplement since I played tennis during my childhood. This too had to be done secretively by my mother without my grandparents coming to know of it. I knew how to cook, partly because I helped my mother, and handled kitchen duties whenever she menstruated. After marriage, it was I who cooked and was in charge of the kitchen. In our early days in Chennai, when my partner sought to eat meat, mostly chicken, she would buy it from hotels. At her behest, I used to try it occasionally, but did not enjoy the taste. Since I approached the issue politically, I understood that my inability to appreciate the taste of meat owed not to an inherent, ‘natural’ repugnance to it, but rather to the fact of my lack of exposure to its taste. For the first eighteen years of my life, my tongue had been colonised by vegetarian home food. In my six years of hostel life, I was too conservative and brahminical to have tried meat. Most crucially, I was not politically conscious those days. Not liking the idea of my partner having to buy oily meat from hotels, I decided that I would at least cook it at home. Soon, I began tasting it. Over the years, I have come to really enjoy it and realise what I had been missing all these years. What really got me hooked to the taste of meat was my liking for kebabs—burnt mutton. (In 2003, I also savoured succulent beef kebabs at Bade Miyan in Mumbai thanks to my friend Sharmila.) Since 2001, I have turned quite a decent meat-eater. Yet, nonbrahmin friends would point to how I am a bit clumsy in my inability to clean up the bones dry. Today, we cook mutton, beef, all kinds of seafood and chicken at home. I have not yet conquered pork, though I love bacon the way it is served continental style.

Eating meat should hardly be considered a means of running away from one’s brahminic identity. Historically, the brahmins consumed all kinds of meat—including beef. Pulao made of veal (tender calf) was a delicacy served to the guests during the vedic period. It was only Buddhism that forced the brahmins to swing to the other extreme and give up on meat altogether. Just as my dalit friends who rediscover and revert to Buddhism, and hence turn vegetarian, are not ceasing to be dalits by refusing to eat meat, I would not cease to be a brahmin my merely eating meat. It is not a certificate of progressiveness or regressiveness. But when the choice of not eating or not eating certain foods is not based on self-made decisions but based on irrationally inherited caste culture, then as rational human beings we need to rethink and question the same.

Why this conscious effort at making, and now marking, these changes in my personal self? Do I want to pass for a nonbrahmin? Does one cease to be a brahmin just by speaking a different register and by eating different kinds of food? I have seen several brahmins in the modern, urban context assuming progressive postures—as liberals, marxists, feminists, poststructuralists, radicals of various hues. These are largely public postures. In the private sphere, they tend to remain true to their castes. They tend to marry within caste (even accidentally falling in love with a person of the same caste), sometimes even go through traditional marriage rituals and justify it as meant to satisfy parents/ relations, they even indulge in some rituals for the dead, they continue to eat what they have been used to eating. In the personal sphere, the language of modernity takes a backseat and the premodern caste self is allowed a free reign. In other words, not much changes in their personal lives. My fundamental problem was: how can one don a progressive hat in public and continue to indulge in practices inflected by one’s caste in the personal realm? How can one be modern and feudal at the same time? I was convinced that the personal and political had to be made compatible and complementary. I could not be someone who keenly engaged with Ambedkar’s ideas, interacted with the dalit movement, benefited a lot intellectually from my interactions with dalit and nonbrahmin friends, and yet keep intact a brahminical core.

Not that a conscious rescripting of the ‘personal’ makes me cease to be a brahmin. For all effective purposes, I shall remain one. I cannot erase the unearned privileges being born in this caste have given me. I believe caste will continue to function for me not as an originary identity but as a social location that I cannot often exit. Since both the identitarian and hierarchical aspects of caste function in a relational, relative sense, I cannot individually cease to be a brahmin. I cannot annihilate my identity as a brahmin unless all individuals belonging to all castes begin to do so. Who I am will continue to be defined in relation to what others are.

Of late, I have come to be deeply skeptical about my brahminhood as an originary identity. Castes are essentially maintained by patriarchy. My father and grandfather (father’s father) claimed that we belong(ed) to the ‘Kousika gotra’. Kousika is another name for Vishwamitra, the mythical sage who figures in the Hindu myth Ramayana. Vishwamitra, a kshatriya by birth, aspires to be a brahmin, a brahma-rishi (super-brahmin) in fact. The brahmins, led by brahma-rishi Vashishta, resent Vishwamitra’s aspirations. Today, I see the entire Vishwamitra story in the light of my reading of Ambedkar, especially his ‘Revolution and Counter-Revolution in Ancient India’ (see Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar Writing and Speeches, Vol. 3, pp 151–440, especially Chapter 15 titles ‘Brahmins Versus Kshatriyas’ pp. 392–415). Ambedkar describes Vishwamitra as someone who was ‘anxious to become a brahmin’. Vishwamitra was probably someone who was the first to question the birthright of the brahmins to be the interpreters of the vedas and sanskritic knowledge that the brahmins monopolised. He goes on to overcome the various obstacles that Vashishta and other brahmins throw in his path and finally becomes brahma-rishi. If my father, grandfather, great grandfather and so on trace their lineage—their gotra—from this mythical Vishwamitra, then by default they are admitting to having had nonbrahmin origins. The Vishwamitra story is of course myth, not history, but since most Indian history is spiked with a heavy dose of myths, we have to give such myths some credence, especially since identities claimed today are based on sustaining and believing in such myths.

What I am saying here could of course be interpreted a clever, brahminical way of trying to claim a ‘nonbrahmin’ origin for myself! Far from it. The myth/story has not been completely told. If Vishwamitra is being discussed, how can Menaka be forgotten? This dancer from heaven should have been the devadasi equivalent of those mythical days. Vashishta and his cohorts are supposed to have sent Menaka to distract Vishwamitra from the meditation/ penance he had undertaken to become brahma-rishi. In what comes in storybooks, and even TV serial interpretations, Menaka dances an ‘item number’ and seduces Vishwamitra (on TV Meenakshi Seshadri as Menaka seduced N.T. Rama Rao who played Vishwamitra’s character). Menaka bears Vishwamitra’s child as well. What is the guarantee that the patriarchal lineage that my father traces does not lead to Menaka? I could well claim to be a Menaka-putra! If Vishwamitra could be ‘tempted’ by Menaka, how many men, over several generations, in such a patriarchal clan, might not have been tempted by various women? Similarly, brahmin women could have had affairs with nonbrahmins. What about my mother’s gotra? Before she married my father she claimed to belong to ‘Koundinya gotra’ of her father. But the patriarchal marriage system changed her gotra to my father’s. What about my father’s mother’s originary gotra? If women have to always lose their father’s gotra with marriage, how reliable can these gotra lineages be? Besides, when we can be definitive only about motherhood and since patriarchy is largely inferential, why should we believe patriarchal lineages? Where would all this lead brahmins? How far should we dig?

My contention is that all stories/ myths/ beliefs about caste identities can similarly be interrogated and demolished. Caste—and the caste system—sustains itself not because there has not been enough miscegenation. There should have been several intercaste affairs and marriages in history; yet the newly emergent miscegenated groups are fitted into some caste or the other. Sometimes, new castes were created, new myths/stories woven. While Vishwamitra, a nonbrahmin, upgraded himself, some castes would have been degraded. After all, Ambedkar, and before him Iyothee Thass in Tamil Nadu, had argued that today’s untouchables were former Buddhists. From brahmin to dalit, there cannot be any ‘pure’ castes. Yet, in the given moment, caste identity operates strongly and effectively as a social category. Therefore, I could theoretically have had nonbrahmin origins, but what matters today is my brahmin identity and the benefits and privileges that have accrued to me from it. My brahmin identity today is as real as a dalit’s identity is.

In November 2003, my friend Ravikumar, a leading dalit intellectual based in Pondicherry, and I started a publishing house called Navayana. We focus on caste as an issue, not just on dalits. One of the forthcoming titles from Navayana is called ‘Narrating the Brahmin Self’ where I have invited several brahmins from across the world to talk about their brahmin selves. Several brahmins are uneasy indulging in such a reflective exercise. Many pretend that caste does not matter for them. Some see no point in such an exercise. Some think they have risen beyond caste. In the contemporary context, dalits and other ‘lower’ castes are being made to bear the burden of caste; as if caste exists only in them. It is time brahmins and other privileged castes started reflecting upon their own caste selves.

[At the time of writing, S. Anand was the Chennai-based Special Correspondent of Outlook newsmagazine. He is also the cofounder of Navayana Publishing.]

Casting the caste-card

In Personal Narrative on April 22, 2011 at 3:15 am

Gayathri Bashi writes about the practice of caste across generations, how it impacts her life now and what needs to be done to make caste a thing of the past.

My experience of caste? I can say its degree is dismissible; so minute is its impact in my life. I haven’t had to labour under the weight of a tag that has declared what my opportunities are or way of life can be. My closest communication with caste was educational red tape that involved trying to get myself a community certificate that the Tamil Nadu Government required. It showed itself in seemingly insignificant ways, like entering my caste in mundane board exam papers in school and college application forms. But it stopped to make me think momentarily. Enough to make me ask my parents. And then my grandfather.

Ezhavas. Also called Thiyyas and a variety of other names. Anyone who knows a little more about the intricacies would know that we weren’t even technically a ‘caste’ in the brahminical scale. Subsequently, we were placed into the OBC slot according to the categorization system of the Indian Government.  The origins of the Ezhava community is a murky terrain. There are theories ranging from being an offshoot of a group from Tamil Nadu to us having traveled down from Bihar. And my favourite one: that we came from Sri Lanka as Buddhists, didn’t want to accept Hinduism and were forced into a lower caste category. It also explains my affinity for dark skin, sultry beaches and seafood.

But when I asked my grandfather he told me when he was a young boy he had distinct memories of jumping off a road into the bushes on the side when a Brahmin man came up walking behind him. We couldn’t even walk in their shadow. We were untouchable. Ezhava women were made to walk around topless, wear just a loin cloth and served the sexual appetite of raunchy, horny Brahmins. We weren’t allowed to enter temples till the Vaikom satyagraha. We had no access to religious texts. How so many people in the community adopted different names so as to not be identified as Ezhavas and subjected to humiliation. I have uncles whose names are Singh, friends whose are Salim and know of others who have very obviously Christian names. And if it wasn’t for reservation, my father, the hardworking son of a poor farmer, would never have had the opportunity to go to medical college. However, he had to have the necessary academic results to even get the chance. What is less meritorious about that? In the nuanced battle that has been decades of conscious and determined thinking about caste, in a judicial system that has upheld reservation because of the irrefutable fact that it has to be accounted for, don’t talk to me only about merit.  Deserving people deserve to have an even playing field. Don’t sit on the other side and talk to me about equal opportunity. This is equal opportunity.

My maternal grandfather, on the other hand, is a physician and Ayurvedic doctor who for generations has had the added advantage of being an educated Ezhava. And of course, because he was learned in Sanskirt, a language which hardly any other people of his community had access to, he was revered and seen as a source of knowledge on Sanskritic texts. I wonder what the learned world would have to say if he was born to a humble toddy tapper. But wait. They wouldn’t know him then. He is an example of someone who has managed to ‘escape’ his caste shackles. He stands as a symbol of a space that wasn’t inherently given to him; one that he fought to find membership into and gain respect from. A place that he’d be a source of pride to his fellow Brahmins who would commend him on his knowledge of ‘their’ texts.

I don’t come from a traditionally religious family. There were the odd pujas. We never went to temples and the visits mostly happened on our holidays to Kerala. I never grew up chanting a multitude of prayers and having religious celebrations. The only two things we celebrated were Onam and Vishu which were the harvest festival and Kerala New Year, respectively. I’ve had people gasp at me knowing I’m Hindu and that I eat beef. I take great pride in first, smiling, and then responding. I’d give details if interested, otherwise judging the response I’d just relish the thought that they’re horrified. Most of all I take pride in my name. My non-casteist name. That nobody can even tell which part of the country I’m from. I’ve been asked if I’m Muslim, if I’m from ‘North India’. And then I smile. I smile because I am proud to carry a name that no one can place me in – place me in brother/sisterhood-ly  groups that appear on Orkut for ‘Menons’. Be ashamed. It’s not, as you might very simplistically believe, just a name.

I was so sickened at the idea of marrying in my community that I once made a vow to myself that I wouldn’t. I didn’t. And that I wouldn’t marry a Brahmin. This, I did. But make note, my child will not grow up without knowing these nuances. Because if she/he does, they will never be able to contribute to a larger understanding of history, society, religion and most importantly, inequality as a result of a number of these factors. They won’t just know that I’m a Malayali and that my husband is a Tamilian. My child will know if that its mother is a backward caste Ezhava and its father is a forward caste Tamil Brahmin. They will be aware of their caste so that they will not be casteist.  So when people can truly believe that they are ‘higher’ than somebody else, it makes me feel nauseous. When they pretend that they can’t see it, it makes me angry. The guilt that comes with this identity I’m sure is hard to grapple with; decades of injustice that you have to shoulder and answer to. But the point is you must. And you must labour with it. Because shunning it is being blind to it.

And for it to ever become a thing of the past it HAS to be a thing of the present. For it to not be an issue in our future, it has to be now. Sections of my community over generations have overcome this injustice in many ways. But the primary way was dissent. Dissent at the situation, and then followed social reform. People who spoke up. History is that. Changes are that. For Ezhavas, one of them was an intelligent, insightful man called Narayana Guru. He wasn’t happy that people weren’t equal. So he fought, and he taught. Which is why the only person we sing ‘prayers’ to over an evening velakku set out on a porch at 6 pm in the evening is to this saint of sorts. That it was a picture of him, and not a god, that sat in the mandapam in which I got married. He was a seer. Of foresight. Of change. Of equality. And everybody has a right to those voices.


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