Nimma dabbalike mattu damanagalu
Namma bidugade na tadiyalaravu . . .
Your dominance and violence
Can never halt our liberation …
~ Dalit Sangharsh Samiti slogan in the 1980’s, across Karnataka
The caste animals never cease for a moment to unleash violence against us, whom they constantly prey upon. It is a rabid gaze armed with the power of dominance with which they pounce upon us. Our bodies, our blood, our flesh feeds the bellies of these caste animals who have been hungry and lusty for way too long.
Watching Bollywood movies as a child, I would cringe with fear at the sight of the bloodshot eyes of the overpowering burly evil villain. The way he would move his body, the tone of his loud voice, his evil laughter and everything about him would make me recoil with terror. Everything about the Bollywood villain was so fierce and aggressive. He seemed like a violent predator.
Today as an adult, when I think of the ‘caste predators’, I cringe with fear. I am afraid of the overwhelming use of brute force on us. I fear the attacks on our youngsters who dare to fall in love with one amongst the predators. I dread the violent silencing of our assertions. I dread the violent mockery of notions of democracy, of peace and justice.
The ‘caste predators’ need us to fill their greed and maintain their power over us. They are similar in some ways to the Bollywood villain but also different in many other ways. The ‘caste predators’ do not necessarily look like the Bollywood villain but in fact they are all around us – lurking around the street corner, studying in the universities, as employers, as colleagues, delivering justice in courtrooms, sitting in the parliament, in places of worship, in corporate houses and just about anywhere.
These ‘caste predators’ can maim us, hurt us, rape us … even kill us. These predators can also strip us of our self-respect and dignity. They can also steal our knowledge and our history. These ‘caste predators’ can appropriate our entire identity.
Some of the violent actions of the ‘caste predators’ are recorded in the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB). Abductions, kidnaps, rapes, murders, arson are a few of the incidents which count towards the average of 33,600 odd cases recorded every year. What this indicates is that, even with this unreliable data, we would need to read, share, write and discuss about almost a 100 cases every single day!
As individuals concerned about social justice, we read about several such cases, we track them, we monitor them, we try to follow up on the cases, we support the survivors, we protest, we cry, we scream, we shout, we fight, we fail, we fall …. but we get up and fight again.
But the ‘caste predators’ need not do any of this. They can rape us and return to intimidate us. They can set our houses on fire and come back to threaten us. They can kill us and get away scot-free. The reality is that blood is on their hands, but we are shown as weak human beings who choose to take our own lives.
The ‘caste predators’, infused with caste power and dominance, know only one language. It is the language of violence. This violent appropriation of land, of resources, of bodies and of lives continues across the land. This is visible right from the site of the violence to the institutions of justice, which are again infested by the same violent ‘caste predators’. It is through this inter-generational, cyclical violence reinforced by impunity that caste hegemony and power continues. A wide range of perpetrators are culpable – all of them who speak the same language of violence.
History is witness to the range of responses and interventions by Dalit movements to incidents of violence. Our language has always been one of struggle towards seeking justice. Our language includes articulations of resilience through grief and searching for hope in the darkness.
We conduct fact-finding investigations and build evidence. We organize and we protest. We sing revolutionary songs and we seek inspiration from our leaders and from our people. All of our actions speak the language of tolerance and hopefulness as opposed to the language of the ‘caste predators’. Can the language of hope and the language of violence be heard and understood together??
We take our petitions and pleas to the institutions of justice with hopefulness but the ‘caste predators’ within the institutions of justice hit us back with the language of violence again and again. Are we reaching the crossroads of defining a new language to counter the ‘caste predators’?
Dalit struggles and assertions may seem fractured and splintered, but the inherent power and strength of the community will rise like a roaring lion in a valiant battle to wipe out the ‘caste predators’ in a language that is our own.
That day is not far away.
Asha Kowtal is the General Secretary of the All India Dalit Mahila Adhikar Manch (AIDMAM).
Cartoon by Unnamati Syama Sundar.