The 128th birth anniversary of Babasaheb Ambedkar and 10 years of Round Table India was the perfect occasion for friends to meet and celebrate with books and conversations. Phule-Ambedkar Center for Anti-Caste Thought hosted this meeting on April 20th, at Gaithersburg City Library, Greater Washington Area.
Local friends and old friends from several states flew in, came by train, drove in or joined via video conference. We all gathered around an improvised roundtable to talk. The following is a short report containing excerpts from presentations and discussions.
Pradnya welcomed the attendees to the event, noting how we were continuing the legacy of Ambedkar and Phule in knowledge production, and celebrating 10 years of Round Table India, the release of the first three titles by The Shared Mirror publishing house, and the release of Volume 3 of Prabuddha Journal. Naren Bedide (Kuffir) addressed the gathering via video conference, followed by talks and presentations.
Kuffir: ~ Jai Bhim to all. Thank you all for coming here… Obliged and happy that all of you have been a part of Round Table India, in one way or another, for these 10 years… Our principal has been Babasaheb’s own experience in starting 4-6 magazines and newspapers… with minimal resources and minimal support, and against a lot of opposition… Babasaheb said, we must shape our course ourselves and by ourselves… So, our primary goal was to build a platform that would survive, and produce content consistently… To last, it has to accept everyone… The Bahujan does not know himself or herself beyond the village. This has become a space where he can recognize the Bahujan from elsewhere… All of you, all the community of writers, have taken it very far. ~
Pranathi: ~ I could talk a little bit about my research … I go to school in Howard County … I have been looking at news articles … mostly on caste-based hate crimes… many brahmins and citizens in India believe that one of the root causes was the affirmative action policies or caste quotas… that it negatively affects them and the rest of the population because it results in decreased effectiveness in the workplace… in my research, I discovered that these policies are actually benefiting those who are in need of education drastically … these little steps in increasing the basic rights that they have, is needed in India. The argument that affirmative action policies are disadvantaging everyone is truly false. ~
Pradnya: ‘Caste and Environment from a Bahujan Perspective’
~ I will broadly contextualize the environment justice movement in India … Phule… ties the questions of resource management, farmers’ misery, exploitation of labour, landlord dominance, as central to the caste structural oppression. After independence, discourse mostly dominated by brahmin-savarnas, invoking Gandhi’s thoughts about village economy and spirituality, which has such undertones of caste supremacy… then global North versus global South, no real discussion about caste, and Bahujans getting impacted because their livelihoods and living conditions depend on it… then neoliberal governance… then we see Hindu nationalists… clean Ganga, purity reinforced … then urban, bourgeois environmentalism … Bahujan struggles have been about resources, water, and land… we have to begin articulating in the mainstream public discourse. ~
Anand: ‘The importance of telling your story’
~ Babasaheb said, “Ours is a battle, not for wealth or power. It is a battle for freedom. It is a battle for the reclamation of the human personality.” … You reclaim something that you have lost. How does one lose one’s human personality? … We lose it when we give up on our own humanity. That happens when we start believing that we are indeed inferior … when I came face-to-face with my own caste-location, all those negative narratives came to define me in some way. That is how I lost my human personality… The way I regained my humanity was by writing down my story. The process required me to re-examine the events of my life, ask questions now that I couldn’t ask before… When I published my story online, I was helped further by finding people who’d had experiences similar to mine. It gave me a sense of belonging I’d never felt before. That was the point from which I could go down the constructive path of self-education and paying back to society… ~
Anu: ‘10 years of Round Table India: What I learn everyday’
~ Round Table India is one website. It is one data point in millions of ongoing efforts by nameless people, and thousands of organizations working to annihilate caste… Content-wise, it is one of the major repositories of contemporary writings in the subcontinent. It is not funded by anyone other than a few individuals, for the most part by founding members, and the costs are only towards domain charges and for few security features. There are no salaries, no infrastructure, no overhead. We value autonomy over everything else, as a result, we have something so uniquely Bahujan, so uniquely beautiful. RTI is collectively owned and everyone takes ownership.… Who are the writers? They represent communities from across the Bahujan working class… we work with a very large group of voluntary editors, translators, transcribers, fact-checkers. RTI has no reference model, I cannot think of another comparable attempt in other parts of the world with histories where significant sections of the societies who have been disallowed from writing and expressing. It is also a model that is not very easy to be co-opted as it defies predictability, no one, including the RTI’s editors can predict what kind of submission or topic will come in, which new writer will make their appearance.[…]
I’d like to finish with saying, Babasaheb has charged us with this noble task, annihilation of caste. Nothing is more sacred, nothing is a bigger purpose than to work for a world that ensures human equality. Jai Bhim. ~
Sundeep: ‘Shared Mirror: Bahujan enterprise’
~ Shared Mirror… why are we doing it? We want to break this whole thing about somebody telling us what to do or not, putting us in some kind of boxes… we do whatever we want, and we will be judged by the people on those terms… We can complain about the barriers, which we have to do and it is important, but what is the way out? We do our own thing … when we look at what our folks have built for us, nobody can stop us now… Shared Mirror is one example, you want to be a publisher, you want our books to go out… how are we going to make it happen?… it’s not like I know how to do it, but that’s ok … we’re going to have fun doing this and we’re going to make this big, let’s figure out how to do it, together … Three books published so far, all available in the market now. We want to publish 10 books in 2019… ~
Noel: ‘Bahujan Assertions & Black Self Determination as a learning community’
~ … As bahujans, our legacy of scholarship must be a continuation of the trajectory set by Baba Saheb, Phule and others who educate, organize and agitate bahujans towards annihilation of caste and social equality through their writings, actions, assertions and commitments. And therefore, through our collective enterprises such as RTI, Savari, Shared Mirror and Prabuddha, our literary production is an emergent response that determines truths to constantly resist and dismantle structures of oppression. These formations are our institutions through which we dignify, respect, learn and build as bahujans. To us, this is a loving responsibility… ~
Suresh: ~ Sometimes we go to some places where we feel inspired, and meet some people, after which we feel very charged up… This has been one of those days about which I could talk, to my kids, my friends in the future, that I was at this place which changed the course of what I am about to do… I believe you can think of doing podcasts, taking all these voices further, and occupy the social media like no one else … Jai Bhim and thank you for all the wonderful work you do, hopefully I will say ‘we’ and will be doing my part. ~
The talks were followed by discussions that carried on until the library staff politely reminded us it was time to wrap up. We went over a little bit, to give everyone a chance to grab their copies of the books and pose for the group photo.
Attendees: Akash Gaikwad (Maryland), Anand Swarna (Maryland), Madhurima Tikkisetty (Wisconsin), Prashant Khadse (Virginia), Suresh Ediga (New Jersey), Sanam Roohi (Germany), Pranathi Charasala (Maryland), Prasad Charasala (Maryland), Paramjit Mahey (Virginia), Anand Silodia (New Jersey), Pradnya Mangala (Arizona), Noel Didla (Mississippi), Sundeep Pattem (California), Anu Ramdas (Maryland), Naren Bedide (Kuffir, Hyderabad, via video conference).
Organized by the Phule-Ambedkar Center for Anti-Caste Thought
On April 20 2019. At Main City Library, Gaithersburg, Maryland USA Video
Photos and video recording of the event by Madhurima Tikkisetty
The full transcripts of the talks and the videos will be uploaded in the next few days.