Gandhi's Caste and Guha's Upper Caste Identity Politics


Nidhin Shobhana

n shobhanaIn today's editorial page of Indian Express, Ramachandra Guha has written an essay by the title 'Does Gandhi have a Caste?'[1] In the essay, Guha tries really hard to establish how Gandhi swept against caste, weaved against caste, sanitized toilets against caste, so on and so forth. He also quotes extensively from a White Jewish friend of Gandhi to argue how he was a Vaisya, Brahmin, Kshatriya and Shudra in his actions, all at the same time. What is interesting is how the White Jew and Guha seem happy with the basic Varna scheme and its fixed definitions for Brahmins (Teacher), Kshatriya (Protector), Vaisya (Entrepreneur) and Shudra (Servant).

If we were to apply Kancha Illiah's definitions to the Varna Scheme, a Brahmin would be a 'Spiritual Fascist', Vaisya would be a 'Social Smuggler' and Shudras/ Ati-Shudras/ Adivasis would be 'unpaid teachers, scientists, economists, social doctors, engineers and food producers'. So can we say that Gandhi was a spiritual fascist and a social smuggler and a food producer at the same time? A difficult proposition indeed.

Dr. B.R.Ambedkar in his reply to Gandhi in the aftermath of Annihilation of Caste (AoC) points out that the Varna Scheme, in whatever form, will degenerate into or produce castes leading to practices of caste-supremacy and untouchability.


Archiving the Complex Genealogies of Caste and Sexuality: An Interview with Dr. Anjali Arondekar


Anjali Arondekar

This interview emerged as a series of email exchanges between Rohan Arthur and Dr. Anjali Arondekar who works on the Gomantak Maratha Samaj archives, following Rohan's tribute essay on Kishori Amonkar titled Kishori Amonkar: Assertion, Erasure, Reclamation. The interview was conducted with inputs from James Michael and Akshay Pathak.

kalvant amonkar

Can you describe the historical origins of the Gomantak Maratha Samaj, its bifurcation into the Naik Maratha Samaj and Nutan Maratha Samaj? Most importantly, can you talk about the Samaj's complex relationship with OBC classification? Some news reports suggest that the Samaj did not want to be classified as OBC. Does this have something to do with the caste constituency of the Samaj? Was/Is the Samaj being ideologically driven by the relatively more affluent castes within its fold? What do the other lesser-privileged castes within the fold think of this conflictual relationship with the classification?

First, let me begin with some broad historical information, and then I'll get to the more weighty and thorny question of how caste mutates as an attachment within different regional formations of the collectivity. My sense (from now having worked in the Gomantak Maratha Samaj archives for over a decade) is that its history is an open secret (to borrow a phrase from sexuality studies!). Often referred to as Bharatatil ek Aggressor Samaj (an aggressive community in India), this collectivity is routinely lauded (by the left and the right in India) for its self-reform and progress. From the immortal Mangeshkar sisters (Lata and Asha), to the first chief minister of independent Goa, Dayanand Bandodkar, there are few sectors of Indian society where the presence of Samaj members cannot be felt. In other words, we celebrate the Gomantak Maratha Samaj's (henceforth the GMS) success as a collectivity, even as we disavow or simply erase the very histories of sexuality that produce its success in the first place. The recent passing of Kishori Amonkar is a case in point. While she has been memorialized as the stalwart musician and pioneer that she was, most of the articles I have read about her routinely elide her relationship to the GMS. Even when that relationship is cited (as it has been in the pages of this site as well), it is cast in the usual language of tragedy –- calling on readers to remember her as an OBC, via an iconography of loss and paucity. I have always found such tragic recuperations of the GMS troubling as the history I know, have studied, and indeed lived (as a member of GMS myself) speaks to more complex genealogies of caste and sexuality. Kishoritai, for example, was a very visible and supportive member of the Samaj, and I myself remember attending many Samaj functions in which she participated and or sang. In fact, the most recent monthly publication of the GMS (the Gomant Sharada) celebrates her many contributions and significance to the GMS in lively and joyful terms. The challenge here is how do we tell a history of caste, gender and sexuality that is not always a history of loss and erasure?


Mission Impossible: RSS Goal of Hindu Rashtra by 2023


Mangesh Dahiwale

mangesh dahiwaleIt has become clear recently that the RSS/BJP is making its agenda open. The agenda is to make India a Hindu nation by 2025 to mark 100 years of foundation of the RSS. One of the outfits of the RSS, Hindu Janajagriti Samiti (HJS), the offshoot of infamous Sanatan Sanstha founded by Pandurang Athawale is holding a seminar to this effect: the point of discussion is how to make India a Hindu country. The readers who might be unfamiliar with Sanatan Sanstha should know that this is the terrorist organisation that gunned down Dabholkar, Pansare, and Kalburgi. It claimed the responsibility of the killings. This organisation brainwashes the youths and makes them terrorists.

 What would the Hindu Rashtra look like?

 When the RSS/BJP talks about Hindu nation, they ultimately talk about the rules of the Smriti, particularly Manu Smriti. They abhor the idea of India for all. For them, India belongs to the Brahmins, it was a dying wish of Tilak that he wanted the rule of the Brahmins back. He opposed the rights of the OBCs and SCs tooth and nail. The Hindu Rashtra will be run by the deep state in the form of RSS. Actually, though on the papers India is not a Hindu Rashtra, in practice, it is a Hindu Rashtra. The RSS is right at the centre of all powers. It is running the Government and it provides a steel frame to further its hidden agenda.


बाबासाहिब की विरासत


ललित कुमार (Lalit Kumar)

lalit kumarभारत रत्न डा. भीमराव अम्बेडकर का एक प्रसिद्ध कथन है जिस तरह मनुष्य नश्वर हैं. उसी तरह विचार भी नश्वर हैं. एक विचार को प्रचार-प्रसार की ज़रुरत होती है, जैसे कि एक पौधे को पानी की. नहीं तो दोनों मुरझा कर मर जाते हैं.ये इस देश की और खास कर उस दबे कुचले अश्प्रिश्य समाज की विडम्बना हि कही जायेगी कि जिन डा. अम्बेडकर को अमेरिका के पूर्व राष्ट्रपति श्रीमान ओबामा ये कह कर याद करते हैं कि अगर डा. अम्बेडकर हमारे यहां जन्मे होते तो हम उन्हें सूर्य कह कर पुकारते, जिन्हें विश्व प्रसिद्ध कोलम्बिया विश्व विध्यालय के अब तक के 100 शीर्ष विध्यर्थियो में स्थान प्राप्त है, उनके विचारों की बहुमूल्य विरासत को भारत में उसी तरह मर जाने के लिये छोड़ दिया गया जैसे एक पौधे को बिना पानी के अपनी ही मौत मरने के लिये छोड़ दिया जाता है. ये इस देश की उस एक चौथाई आबादी का कैसा दुर्भाग्य है जो डा. भीमराव अम्बेडकर को श्रद्धा से बाबासाहिब कहती है, अपना मसीहा, अपना भगवान मानकर पूजती तो है लेकिन मानसिक दासता, सामाजिक और आर्थिक असमानता, शोषण और अत्यचार को धूल चटा कर रख देने उनके विचारों की शक्ति से बहुदा अनभिज्ञ है.


Understanding the Intersections of Gender and Caste Discrimination in India


Kamna Sagar

kamna sagar 1The caste framework in India has stood out as the biggest element of social stratifications. Caste, class and gender are indistinguishably associated, they speak with and overlap each other. Numerous parts of the human condition are profoundly influenced by the stratified examples of rank framework. Alongside Gender stratifications that characterize numerous social relations, caste based position framework is profoundly established in numerous parts of our life.

The Caste development is a part of the social structure that goes before Independence. It is an express arrangement of separation in the administration of the mastery of financial assets, social power etc. Caste capacities as standard law combined with a socially overwhelming confidence in its 'truth'. Extensively talking there are three frameworks having an effect on everything in my mapping: Caste development, class structure and the state. I have portrayed each of them as indicated by their belongings as far as social inclination, personal involvement and working of the state.


Caste, Shambuka and Marginalized Reinterpretations of The Ramayana


Emma Leiken

 Emma Leiken profile.jpgA tapasvi is to be venerated, whoever it may be. ~ Kuvempu, (Shudra Tapasvi)

For many staunch devotees of Rama within the Hindu tradition, the Shambuka incident within The Ramayana is an illegitimate part of the canon. This is the case, because for many, the Uttarakanda of Valmiki's standard Ramayana telling (which contains this episode) is an interpolation – a non-sacred addition to the text added by a subsequent author. Attributing the writing of the Uttarakanda to a later and unknown author allows many to circumvent issues of caste in readings of The Ramayana.

Likewise, those devotees who go off of Tulsidas's Hindi re-telling, The Ramcaritmanas: Ocean of the Deeds of Rama, do not address the Shambuka incident at all, as it is only present in Valmiki. Despite these loopholes, if we are to acknowledge the legitimate place of the Shambuka episode in the ever-evolving Ramayana tradition, we find ourselves having to grapple with caste and its implications as they relate to the epic. In the traditional Shambuka incident, a Brahmin comes to King Rama, weeping over the unprompted death of his son. The Brahmin then declares that his son would not have died prematurely had King Rama been ensuring that each subject was performing his or her proper varnasrama-dharma (caste-specific duty or ritual profession). Ultimately, a sage named Narada explains to Rama that indeed, a deviation from dharma has taken place. A Shudra is transgressing his varnasrama-dharma by practicing tapas[1] deep in the forest. When Rama finds Shambuka in the forest practicing asceticism and learns that he is infact, a Shudra, Rama beheads him. In this telling, the moment Rama beheads Shambuka, the Brahmin's child is restored to life. This is the original telling of the Shambuka incident in Valmiki's Uttarakanda.[2]


The Piano Man outrage: Calling out casteist mentality in elite circles


Jyotsna Siddharth

jyotsna 3Them and Us

I, me, mine, we, us, ours
You, them, they, theirs, those people.

"It's just a band name" is what the tombstone should read when the Calgary post-punk band, Viet Cong, finally decides to put the offensive and self-confessed dumb band name to rest. It was those exact words from lead singer and bassist Matt Flegel that revealed their flippant attitude towards the Vietnamese community and their complaints that detail how the name is a reminder of the atrocities committed by the real VC. It also convinced a concert promoter to cancel their show at Oberlin College earlier this year."1

This piece is centred around an event at The Piano Man, a popular jazz club in Delhi. For those who are unaware, the club hosted a music band's event called Bhangijumping. Bhangi is a lower caste engaged in manual scavenging practice in India. When brought to the notice, the owner of the club shushed it as unintentional and covered it as "art and supporters of artistic expression." The issue escalated into a series of exchanges via social media arguing that this was a casteist slur with serious connotations, causing humiliation to the dalit community.2


'Perspectives’: Social Experiment or Caste Conservation?


Kanika Sori 

In February this year, a young Savarna woman from Srishti School of Art Design and Technology, Bangalore, created a photo-project that went viral. It was hosted by fifty different kinds of media portals. Recently it was recycled by an e-zine called Storypick for public consumption. Its creator called the album ‘Perspectives,’ and it was meant to be an assignment submission for a course she was taking. Her college happens to attract the most elite of the Brahmin-savarnas from all over the country as both teachers and students. So, these expressed ‘perspectives’ of fear and safety in the public spaces come from the Savarna women's gaze, with the vast majority of working castes being used both as the canvas and the drawn monster. 

syam DV

In the photo-project, the female protagonist seems to have left the ‘safety’ of her modern house in one of the exclusively upper-caste colonies to step into an ‘unsafe’ open neighborhood with differently dressed unsuspecting Bahujans going about their daily business. Her friend clicks her photographs as she poses deceptively with them in the frame. An outlandish activity for these other people in an otherwise uneventful day of usual, ungrateful labour for a meagre living. This was a local street bazaar that can be seen hosting very small shops and stalls, the kind which are not frequented by Savarna women unlike, say, Khan Market or Brigade Road. Her bizarre placement in their everyday work scenes evoked expressions of shock and curiosity, as it would have in any Savarna ‘middle-class’ person who might have been there, simply because these aren’t the caste locations for Savarna socializing. These expressions are then captured on camera and published without consent. This exercise is projected as the ‘difficulties of being a girl’ in the streets.


Trucked: A Comic


Favita Dias and Anjora Noronha

TRUCKED e-version F.Dias and A.Noronha-01


Ravidas, Thakur arrogance, and the Double Game


Mangesh Dahiwale

Judging by the influence and popularity of Ravidas, he was perhaps India's most influential saint-revolutionary. He stood for the annihilation of caste and his impact reached all over the Hindi belt. The geography he impacted was vast and the society he influenced was diverse and huge. He was the king among the saints. If history is to be believed, he defeated the Great Kabir in debate. Though Ravidas came from the so called Chamar caste, his disciples included Meera, the poet from Rajastan. He envisioned "Begumpura": the land of no sorrow, the vision of an exploitation-free world. Bur Ravidas was the career of the great message of the Buddha. Both Ravidas and Kabir had roots in Buddha's teachings and vision. A lot is written on this aspect. Also Ravidas has emerged as the symbol of pride, particularly among the Chamars of Punjab, and they pride themselves in being called Ravidassia. It is natural to feel pride in one's ancestors.


One of the reasons that instigated the Saharanpur riot was the arrogance of Thakurs to play their loudspeakers loudly near the Ravidas temple during a procession to celebrate Rana Pratap, the local warlord, whose contribution to community's welfare is unknown. However, the thakurs are looking for symbols to assert their pride. This is true all over India, the dominant caste try to assert through their ancestors' work. Sometimes, such an assertion leads to violence. The perpetrators of the crime were the Thakurs, the caste that Adityanath represents and mobilised militantly through Hindu Yuva Vahini. In the aftermath of the violence, over 400 members of the Bhim Army have been held in policy custody by the whimsical Thakur Adityanath. They are looking out for Chandrashekhar, the founder of Bhim Army.


क्या भारत सभ्य है?


संजय जोठे (Sanjay Jothe)

सोशल साइंस की एक कांफ्रेंस के बाद एक स्विट्जरलैंड के प्रोफेसर मित्र से बात करने का मौका मिला। बैठक के दौरान हमारी बात हो रही थी अलग अलग देशों की समाज व्यवस्था पर, वे मध्यकालीन यूरोप के सामाजिक ताने बाने की बात बता रहे थे। सामाजिक मानवशास्त्र के विशेषज्ञ के रूप में उनका यूरोप, साउथ एशिया, अफ्रीका और मिडिल ईस्ट का गहरा अध्ययन रहा है।

nature caste hindus

उनकी बातों में जनसामान्य और 'नोबेल्स' (श्रेष्ठीजन) की दो श्रेणियों का जिक्र निकला। असल में बात यूँ निकली कि क्या यूरोप में वर्ण व्यवस्था या जाति व्यवस्था जैसा कुछ रहा है? चर्चा में उन्होंने बताया कि अमीर गरीब और सामान्य, नोबेल का अंतर जरूर रहा है लेकिन कोई भी सामान्य व्यक्ति या गरीब कारीगर किसान मजदूर या कोई अन्य पिछड़ा आदमी या स्त्री अपनी योग्यता के बल पर ऊपर की नोबेल श्रेणियों में प्रवेश कर सकता/ सकती था/थी। इन श्रेणियों के विभाजन पत्थर की लकीर की तरह कभी नहीं रहे जैसा कि भारत मे होता है।


The difference in being a Babasaheb and a Pandit


Tejaswini Tabhane

The following tweet has made all my nerves rebel. I am restless. I am constantly wondering what my identity is. I am not able to digest this hatred. I am surprised how anyone can carry so much hatred in their belly. Many Twitter users, just like me, saw that meme. They moved on, but I am not able to. You may say I am overreacting. But I can't help it. My mind isn't allowing me to stay calm!

babasaheb pandit

We encounter many casteist abuses everyday on social media. The Twitter user who shared this meme is just another Twitter troll who calls himself 'Anpadh (illiterate) Hindu'.


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