Round Table India
This is the second part of the transcription of Round Table India’s interaction with Prof Vivek Kumar, Professor, Centre for the Study of Social Systems, School of Social Sciences, Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), New Delhi, for the Ambedkar Age series of films.
In the interview, Prof Vivek Kumar touches upon a vast range of subjects, including the contours of Indian politics in the last four decades, the Bahujan movement, Dalit assertion and literature etc. He talks about the conceptualisation of the Bahujan Movement by Saheb Kanshi Ram, and its evolution and growth over the years. He also shares experiences from his own participation in the movement as a journalist, researcher, teacher, writer and public intellectual.
The interview was conducted by Kuffir along with Pushpendra Johar, a research scholar, and produced by Gurinder Azad. It has been transcribed by Khushahal Thool and Vinay Shende.
In the Ambedkar Age series of videos, Round Table India aims to produce documentaries, interviews, and talks on contemporary issues, and debates from a Dalit Bahujan perspective.
Kuffir: After Mandal phase 1 & phase 2, Rohith Vemula happens. It is nearly 70 years since SC/ST reservations have been implemented. I was looking at the latest All India Higher Education Report and in central universities (around 58 or so), the combined population of SC/ST/OBC students is around 23%. In places like HCU (Hyderabad Central University), it was more. It was reaching a danger mark for the upper castes. So it was only natural that Dalit student groups were attacked. But this has been incessant. This has been the only opposition to the Modi Raj. Even national political parties have been trying to place themselves in the company of these student movements. But they (political parties) don’t have not gone through any ideological challenge. They don’t pose any ideological challenge to Modi. How do you view this whole situation – students being used as fodder and as the only energy that has been directed towards the state and the Modi raj?
Vivek Kumar: There are two ways to understand this. One, that there is an oppressive state acting on the democratizing university. Because there is a brahminical/manuwadi ideology which doesn’t want that the lower strata, the suppressed, the excluded majority should be educated and there should be an emancipatory agenda of education. That is one way to look. Secondly, for me, which is more problematic is ‘university as a site of discrimination’. This discrimination is devoid of state. Whether the state wants or not, this Institution, which is (becoming) the new home for the SC/ST/Minorities/Backward classes; they are thronging to these universities, and they will, because numerically they are dominant.
Now, this is a new experience for the upper strata, which is more in administrative and in professorial posts, which is new because they are not used to it because they have not been socialized that society has been democratized. So they (the upper caste university staff) create hurdles for Dalit students at every level. Starting from the vice-chancellor of the university, to the registrar, to the deans, to the professors in the classrooms, to the classmates to hostel mates, at every level, there is this discrimination as well exclusion.
Who is telling the teachers not to sign the scholarship forms? It is not the state that is telling them not to sign. It is somewhere, the brahminical value system within them that doesn’t want them to do so. Who is telling students shouldn’t interact with each other? It is again the societal values – the in-egalitarian casteist values which don’t allow them to interact. Whether he has been subscribed as ideologically as Left but when it comes to the crunch the exclusion starts emerging because they want to monopolize.
The situation now in universities is like this, for the students have come after 1990s. I say this again and again that this whole iconography of Phule, Shahu, Savitribai Phule, Ambedkar has become a part and parcel of the vocabulary of the youth, which was not there in universities earlier. I am talking about the time when I entered university I could see only Marx, Stalin, Lenin, Bhagat Singh but there was no mark of these people. But after 1990s there started emerging a new kind of consciousness and people started saying “look, these icons should also be celebrated.” This has not been acceptable to the mainstream Left organizations also. Because they think that they are going to lose. In JNU, we formed United Dalit Students Forum (UDSF). Now this students’ forum wasn’t political, so they (Left) were very happy with UDSF. But they are not happy with BAPSA, Birsa Ambedkar Phule Students’ Association. Because now they feel that the progressive space that was for the Left is now being occupied by BAPSA.
On the one hand, the Rightist forces think that it is only themselves who have the right to do politics here in the campus; on the other hand, the Left also feels the same. So the real Bahujan space for students is being attacked from both the sides. One is very sophisticated and the other maybe very crude. But I must say that “the green snake in the green grass” is there and one needs to recognize that.
Pushpendra: Here I would like to bring in what you said earlier, about the rise of intelligentsia from marginalized sections starting in the 1990s. I would like to ask you about reservations. Lots of papers are being written stating “reservations have failed”. They are looking at it quantitatively and qualitatively. What do you think has been the role of reservations in the rise of the intelligentsia (from marginalized communities) and what is it going to be?
Vivek Kumar: One thing is for sure that the quantum of reservation is very meager, if you consider the population of Dalits. We should not equate the intelligentsia, the academia, and the rise of thinking power with reservation. Creativity and various type of expression have always existed. You can go back in history and come to Ravidas, to Kabir, to Dadu, to Phule, Ambedkar, Shahu – all were without reservations. So there was and has been an intelligentsia. But then people started equating that everything is going to come from reservation. That is not the case.
I am giving you this data. This comes from Indian Labour Commission. If I look at jobs, there are 1,97,00,000 (one crore ninety seven lakh) jobs in the government sector in India or in the organized sector – Class A, Class B, Class C, Class D. Out of these Dalits or SC/ST, would have got about 45,00,000 (forty five lakh) jobs, if I consider 15% SC and 7.5% ST Reservation, thus a total of 22.5%. Which means 45 lakh jobs for 25 crore people. So how can you reduce the whole population, their creativity, their assertion, their whole contribution to the nation’s economy? So there is this process of reductionism that we have to deconstruct.
Second is the process of stigmatization. Oh Dalit! Without any merit, dirty, drunkard! That again is a deterrent to the construction of a positive image of the Dalit community, we have to recognize that.
So I would say reservation is a very small part of the total assertion drive of Dalits. Yes it is a critical part in the sense that it gave legitimate space to the people. Otherwise there would have been more assertion, more fight, and more movements. But there was a legitimate constitutional space that they got. And because of that, they have reached those spaces where they could not even think of reaching. I have come to Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), because of reservation. And many of us reached these universities just because there was a legitimate opening. Otherwise, people would have erected many walls. Now, examination is one such wall. So in that way, reservation has proved beneficial in creating a critical mass among the vast population of the Indian society. But, you cannot say that the intelligentsia, the creativity is limited only to the reserved category students and teachers that you see in the universities.
Kuffir: Even the number of 45 lakh seems high, considering that many positions haven’t been filled. The actual number may not be more than 25 lakhs. This gives rise to the question of places like “Dalit Studies Centres”. With these centres and programs are they racializing Dalits instead of helping them?
Vivek Kumar: Any effort to create an academic endeavor of a problem always tries to blunt the edge. Because, as you yourself said they start rationalizing existing reality. Places like Dalit Studies, Exclusion centres, we need to ask who are the people teaching and researching there. This again has been monopolized by the oppressors. Where is the oppressed people’s paradigm to understand? We see that foreigners come much more to these places. I am yet to read a full-fledged study by a Dalit on Dalits which has come from a credible publication. The most acceptable works have come from Eleanor Zelliot, Gail Omvedt, O.M. Lynch and now you have people like (Christophe) Jaffrelot. Who are the people that are giving you this paradigm?
And in this context, if you see this creativity and the roadmap of this reservation, because it is not giving you the desired results, you see the number of shades of the movement which are taking place within the Dalit community. So there is this conversion to Buddhism every 14th of October or on Dusshehra day. Then you have the bureaucratic movement like BAMCEF which is going on for 36 years. Then you have political movement with different shades. For example Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), and RPI on the other hand, as well as other Dalit parties. I put it as “Independent Political Leadership” and “Dependent Political Leadership”. Dependents are those who are in political parties led by upper castes and they are in a closed group in SC/ST cells – Anusuchit Jati/Janjati Prakosht. They are never mainstream though numerically they may be strong.
After globalisation and liberalisation, we have this “NGO-isation” of the Dalit movement. There are so many Dalit NGOs that are working and they reached all the way to Durban and created noise about human rights ruckus here. Now there is an independent Dalit women’s movement that is trying to argue that there is Dalit patriarchy and we are not getting enough space, so Dalit Women’s Federation is coming up. Then there is the Dalit Diaspora movement, which is spread across the world. In 1834, when British abolished slavery, there were Dalits who went to Surinam to Mauritius to Trinidad & Tobago – anywhere you go, you will find them. And there are the new Diasporas after 1950s and 1960s – all are celebrating Ambedkar everywhere. All these shades of the Dalit movement show that there is unrest within the Dalit movement. There is a democratic deficit in the Indian society. And reservations have not been fulfilled the way they were envisaged. I will say reservation is a very miniscule part of Dalit assertion.
Pushpendra: This brings us to the point of these Dalit Studies Centres not just in India, but in many parts of the world. Is there an economy around it? If you look at the faculty members, even if they are from India, they will be from a particular caste/class location – primarily brahmins and invariably savarnas. Starting from Germany to Australia to the US, which is the biggest funding agency now; what do you think about that?
Vivek Kumar: So what is the social and political arena in which things are happening? Who are the people that are really asserting? There is a sociological phenomenon which is very ripe, and is taking place and there is something happening. Whether at the experiential level or assertion level, any level you want to see. I think this is where the whole academia gets energy from. Where is the phenomenon coming from? There are others who have become stale. There is nothing happening in the other (upper castes) society. They are so status-quoist that they want to preserve their own political structure. But here, there is turmoil. There is a lot of assertion. There is a lot of conflict taking place. This is the phenomenon that people want to understand. They don’t want to understand because they are organically linked to it, but for their own career advancement. That becomes one of the foremost understandings when you start literally going inside. Just like Urdu poets, who have made Shers (couplets) on every part of the woman.
Clearly Dalit society is being studied from every angle. It is so inhuman sometimes that you are dissecting a society from right, left, and centre. But is there any emancipatory agenda for them? It is for their own career advancement. The people who write are not even aware of realities. I told you that one woman wrote on BSP, but she didn’t even know the full form of BAMCEF. One of my professors was once talking to me when I was presenting a paper on Dalit identity. I said that in UP, Jai Bhim is being pitched against Jai Shri Ram. He was so naïve, he asked me – “Vivek Kumar, you are talking that Jai Bhim is pitched against Jai Shri Ram. What is different? They are both religious identities.” Then I had to explain to the learned professor that this Bhim comes from Bhimrao Ambedkar. This is not the Bhim of Mahabharata. So this is the level of their understanding and that is why it becomes only career oriented, instead of real production of knowledge in the society, which becomes an emancipatory agenda for the whole community. And here, I am not talking only about Dalits where the real knowledge of emancipation comes from. Here I would quote something very important – “biography and history, their interaction in the society creates real knowledge.” You have to look into the social background of the person who is producing knowledge. You will have to see the audience for whom they are producing knowledge.
You take three examples of the founding fathers of Sociology. First is Emile Durkheim. 1857. Durkheim was a Jew, he was writing for the French society which wanted order. So he’d talk about social solidarity every time. And he is writing for university students and therefore he writes ‘Rules of Sociological Method’. So his writing is very sanitized which doesn’t create any revolution. But you try to understand society through that. Status quo is maintained! Similarly Max Weber, he writes ‘Methodology of Social Sciences’. But, again, see the background and the audience he is writing for. But what about Karl Marx? Karl Marx is not writing about the university teachers. He is not talking about the university system, and he is not writing for the university audience. And therefore he writes the communist manifesto. Because he was socialized within the labor and he was looking into the exploitation of the people.
So in biography, you check who is writing for whom and why? That is an important thing. And if you put biography and history into society, you will see that these ‘Centres’ which have come, they have not produced any knowledge which has become emancipatory. They have tried to make sense for themselves and learnt how to cajole (Dalits). That was the perspective when D. E. B. Du Bois was writing for the US Blacks, he put forth functionalism as a perspective. He explained how every society member comes together and makes equilibrium. That is only for the justification of the Society. The system is justified. So you try to justify. And when somebody speaks louder, people say “No, No. This is not academics. This is politics!” The vocabularies, the body language all become important. I told xyz once that your vocabulary is so sanitized; and the reality is so crude and exploitative. And you want to tell me that I should speak in a sober, calm, quiet language? No, your language doesn’t empower me to produce the reality that I have suffered. So you will have to understand things from my body language as well. My anger is not like that. My emotion is not like that. This ‘sanitization’ within the ‘centres’ has to be understood by the production of knowledge of the upper strata.
Pushpendra: How different are upper caste academicians from the colonial anthropologists, in that sense, because they are producing knowledge in the same way?
Vivek Kumar: I have a theory. If you see the society, the society is a pyramid. There are people at the top and there are people at the bottom. Those people at the top – they have a very different construction of consciousness. Their construction of consciousness comes from accumulation of social capital, cultural capital, economic capital – all kinds of capital. So there is an accumulation of capital and with that their consciousness has been constructed. Out of this consciousness, the production of knowledge takes place. And there are people at the lower rung. Their construction of consciousness is due to exclusion, every kind of exclusion. So when they produce knowledge, their language, their vocabulary, their production of system is different. That is the same difference as when Babasaheb writes and when Gandhi writes.
Babasaheb is talking about Hindu Social System, Riddles of Hinduism, Village, Caste, Nation, Women’s situation etc. Why couldn’t anyone else write that? And that is why things like Dalit autobiographies have come up today. The experiential reality! Sociologists like M.N.Srinivas, Ghurye, Andre Beteille, A.M. Shah – they saw villages in solidarity. They saw large green fields and village solidarity. But what about those biographies that have come now? Right from Jhoothan to Murdahiya. All are talking about same things, that villages are exploitative. Can’t they see that? If you cannot see this exploitation, suppression, exclusion, if you cannot see this hegemony in villages, where will you see? So that is the difference between where they come from and what they are looking for. There is a ‘need’ there. There is a bilateral relationship.
One woman, an American journalist named Sabrina Buckwalter, who raised the issue of Khairlanji and has not got the visa again. There was one more person James M. who had written about similar stuff in high hills of Himalayas, he too didn’t get a visa. So they cannot offend you ultimately. Because there is a sanitized, sophisticated language with which they write. But if you really want to understand the reality, it is so heinous. Can you use the abuses hurled on the Dalits in the day to day lives in your classroom? You cannot even write that. Right from mother abuses to invoking every family member. Can you spell it out? So I think the education system, when they produce knowledge which is very “sophisticated”, but doesn’t have the real meaning of suppression, exploitation & exclusion, then it becomes only knowledge for knowledge’s sake, rather than being an emancipatory agenda.
Kuffir: Talking of movements and all this consciousness building up and also because you were referring to the different shades of the Dalit movement, we have to be thankful to Kanshi Ram Sahab. Stepping out of the structures, he built a social and political movement. He said I don’t want social justice, I want social transformation. You have been one of the most articulate exponents of the Bahujan consciousness, especially in the media and in the academia. How far have you travelled on the path of the Bahujan movement? How do you sense the rise of the BSP? You being from UP is also significant since Kanshiram Sahab has worked there, and Behenji (Km. Mayawati) has risen from there. It has injected new energy among the marginalized classes.
Vivek Kumar: I would differentiate between the Bahujan movement and Bahujan politics. When Kanshi Ram started, it was purely a movement, wherein he created new ideology, new iconography, new slogans, new ways of mobilization. Before that, no Dalit or Bahujan movement had a cadreised movement. He started the cadreised movement. He started working on positive agenda politics. He never went for reactions. He said I don’t want to create reactions, I want to bring my people together, and create my own movement and that’s why he never went for any dharna/pradarshans (sit in/protests) but he did big rallies. Gradually people started coming in. His slogans were very clear, very democratic. For example “Vote se lenge PM/CM, hum aarakshan se lenge SP/DM”, “Jiski jitni sankhya bhari, uski utni bhagedari”. These are some of the most democratic slogans I have heard- which means each according to its population. He is talking about proportional representation.
Then the clear-cut demarcation against the opponent, against whom the battle can be pitched – “Thakur, brahmin, baniya chhod, baaki sab hain DS4”. He had a clear cut democratic agenda and political organization through which he started mobilizing and that created fervor. He went to the end masses. He had this clear formula. N*S*D = C. Which means Need x Strength x Desire = Change! He said that there is a need, but is there any desire in you? If desire is zero, then product will be zero. You need to have the need and desire. But also, do you have the strength to lead the change? You need to have all the 3 elements. Then he had another formula M*M*M. That is money, mind and manpower. These have to be there. It cannot be only one. It cannot be that we have mass, but don’t have money and mind. He also said “Dil mein aag, dimag mein thandak”. If you have burning desire in your heart you can lead a movement but if you don’t have burning desire in your mind (it’s useless); otherwise it will lead to a blast. So he made it clear that you have to keep your mind calm and quiet.
Thirdly, he asked ‘what is your agenda’? And that’s how he laid down the agenda based on which he gave these slogans. It was “Social Transformation and Economic Emancipation”. He realized that there are five powers in society. One of them is political power, which is only one aspect. There is economic power, there is social power, and there is military power. He was so meticulously organized that he knew how many guns Indian government had, how many tanks they had, so you cannot be having a militant movement, thus you need to have a democratic movement. If you have the numbers, you can bring people together. He also saw potential. He first organized people who had regular incomes, people with a regular flow of ordering and then people who were having desire. He said “I knew that first time learners have gone to bureaucracy and nobody listens to them. They are feeling alienated. So I want to form a platform.” This led to the formation of BAMCEF, Backward and Minority Community Employees’ Federation.
In the most hierarchical caste ridden society, he challenged the caste system and he made a political party. People would tell him “oh you aligned with so and so”. He would say – “Ruki hui gadi pe koi nahin chadega. Ruki hui gadi chalne ke liye maine alliance kiya. Ki dekho bus chal rahi hai (no one would get on a halted bus, so I formed the alliance to get my bus moving, to show that the bus is moving). When I started with the alliance, more people came and sat down. So I said that this is working and then again I aligned. Then more people came. That’s the way I made them realize that look, you can form your own government with your own leadership.”
That was a very different experiment and he was successful in demonstrating that a Dalit/Scheduled Caste leader can form a Bahujan coalition with Backwards, Dalits, and converted minorities together. In that way, he challenged the upper strata in the caste-ridden society. So that is a very new experience for us to understand and I think people can learn lessons from this that you can form a big coalition under your leadership. When he did that, there were very few educated people. There were very few millionaires. There were very few people who were literate. Today we are many more. But today we are not able to come together to support. I think if we can come together, political movement can definitely be much stronger. As far as Uttar Pradesh is concerned, since I have not done much study elsewhere, it can be repeated again. Also it can be done in different parts of the country.
Kuffir: You were talking about the few millionaires among Dalits. Now, there are probably more, but we don’t know. Nobody has done any survey on that. There is this new ideology/politics that is being proposed, a social agenda is being proposed of ‘Dalit capitalism’. You have done a point by point critique of it in an interview recently. Could you speak more on that?
Vivek Kumar: What I see is that there is this Dalit entrepreneurs’ mobilization which is taking place. I do not see it as a self-driven and self-propelled movement. It is much more stage driven. Its roots go back to 2001, when Bhopal document was released in Bhopal, under the aegis of the political party Congress, as well as their leader, Digvijay Singh. That was the seed which was sown. Later on, it was galvanized by the same person Digvijay Singh and then Montek Singh Ahluwalia, because they wanted to prove a point that “Look, globalisation is helping Dalits.”
Now, I ask what is that ‘Dalitness’ in a Dalit entrepreneur? What is the Dalitness that has helped him/her accumulate money? He/she is an entrepreneur. He/she is as enterprising as any other. Only thing is that if you want to say Dalits are more faithful, hardworking. Fine! That’s like any other person. That’s what long ago Max Weber wrote in ‘Protestant Ethics and the spirit of Capitalism’. Everyone was working very hard. And he said that once you are working, you are furthering the glory of God and therefore people worked. Which means if you really want to work then hard work is the only way out. What is the Dalitness in that?
Secondly, what did they do about it? The mechanism goes like this – people who were earning in lakhs and crores were called and made into a group. So what has Dalit Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (DICCI) contributed into the making of Dalit entrepreneurs? Have they really contributed by developing acumen, by providing assistance and money? I do not see anything like that. They have grown like any other general person. And it is a general outcome of any phenomenon. If it is taking place then it is happening as a natural phenomenon. There is nothing deliberate as a movement to it. So I don’t adhere to the view that DICCI in any form is a movement. This is only a mobilization propelled by the state and neo-liberal economy.
Now the third part – whether capital is going to decimate caste or is it going to be a mediator in between? I find it hilarious that capital will decimate caste. Never, because caste has its own genesis in society and that is a social phenomenon. Economy is capital based, driven by the market. If two phenomena are driven by different origins and sources at the epistemic level, then how can one decimate the other? And that has not been the experience of India. Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar was much richer, much educated. Jagjivan Ram was much richer, much educated. Similarly, K.R. Narayanan, and our Chief Justice of India (K. G. Balakrishnan). And yet the epithet ‘Dalit’ was used.
So that means, any level of training, education, economic development, or mobility will not decimate caste. The epithet always remains. And therefore the best example that capital has not decimated caste is DICCI which is outside FiCCI. Had capital decimated caste, DICCI should have been a part of FICCI. It is a glaring practice of casteism that you have been forced to go out and evolve as an Institution. Reservation has not done that. Reservation has brought people inside the main Institutions. Reservation has put people in judiciary, bureaucracy, university; in all these institutions. Dalits have become a part & parcel of these institutions. This (DICCI) is the only institution that is being excluded, making it antithetical to the democratization process. You are creating an exclusionary institution, though economy has never been exclusionary. Nobody asks what money is being used, whether it is a scheduled caste note or scheduled caste money? But now they are being asked if it is a scheduled caste venture or not? This is all legitimized by the state. And only then you will get money. So I think it is anti-thesis to democracy, rather than actually bringing a level playing field.
Kuffir: Sir, you talk about Dalit as an epithet and you have written more than one book on that. Your thesis itself was on Dalit assertion. You also spoke about NGOs exploiting it, the academics exploiting it. What stage has the Dalit assertion reached? How far have they gained anything in their assertion?
Vivek Kumar: One thing is for sure that they have made their own community. It’s like “If you don’t accept me, I will write my own literature”, so there is the Dalit literary movement. “You don’t want to read me, fine, I will also not read you. I will write my own biography. I will write my own poem, my own short stories.” And that’s what is happening. So if you see, there are a string of Dalit autobiographies coming up. Dalit films, documentaries coming up. That is why I am slightly afraid. I want to apprise the other side to be aware of it. If you don’t mend your ways, you will be in a minority. If Bahujan start writing their own literature, your literature will be in a minority. That’s what is happening.
Who is reading all this upper strata literature? It is Dalit literature which has market and is being written. And that is why the upper strata is coming and writing. Otherwise they never wrote. Before Jhoothan who wrote the biography of a Dalit? I am talking about long back. After that there was a lull. It is only now that the (Dalit) assertion that is making them write on Dalit issues. So one thing is for sure that they have made a community of their own. Now you don’t want to accept me in your temple, let me then go to Buddhism, and you can see that Buddhism is rising. You have not given me space in any political party, I will make my own political party. It might be very small, but I have made my own political party. You are not giving me space in your NGO, I am making my own NGO. I have gone to United Nations Human Rights Commission. I am actually having International Solidarity network and thus I will go around. If you have not made me a part of your Diaspora, I have my own Dalit Diaspora.
I have put Babasaheb’s bust in Columbia. I have put Babasaheb’s bust in London School of Economics (LSE), in Toronto, in San Fraser University, in Australia and now a statue has come up in Japan. Now Cosimo Zene is comparing Gramsci’s philosophy with Babashaeb Ambedkar’s. If you do not accept, things will not wait. They are spreading. But the problem is of reductionism. People reduce everything. They create divisions. They say “Oh Dalit movement, it’s a divisive movement.” As intellectuals, we have to change the vocabulary. It is not divisive, it is democratic. It is not casteist, it is assertive. That is the way the paradigm has to be changed. To make better sense, Indian Dalit/Bahujan movement has democratized the country more. Because democracy wanted that the last man should be heard. Last man should receive the right. It is this politics that has given them the space. It is the literature which has given the voice. It is the Diaspora that has given the international appearance/visibility. Now, you cannot stop.
Now, the last point I am trying to argue is the New Media Movement, a new social movement. Can you stop now? The way the new generation is writing. You go on National Dastak – lakhs of people are watching. People are using Whatsapp. Dalit Dastak, the magazine in Hindi, which is doing very well. So I think the society should ponder and look into this multi-faceted approach, which Dalits themselves have acquired, without any assistance or outside support. That will give them strength and courage to move and see that how we are in the process of nation building. We have contributed much more in the nation building process than any other society. Nations are not only built with maps, it is with the contribution of the labor of people.
Kuffir: Now we come to this much needed question. You have been associated with the current Dalit Bahujan movement, which has been the most stringent opponent of the Modi Raj, their discourses around it, right from saffronisation to militant hindutva to beef bans. There are very few from the mainstream parties that have posed an ideological challenge to Modi Raj. You have been the spokesman for it as well. So how do you view Modi Raj and what are the challenges you see for us Bahujans and Dalits?
Vivek Kumar: One thing is for sure. I have talked about how monopolization of power has been taking place with the upper castes. And I am talking about brahmins per se. Therefore, democratization has stopped. That is a great danger. Second thing of this part is there is no representation of Dalits. In the cabinet, there is one Dalit from BJP quota and he too is in Empowerment & Social Justice Ministry, who has not spoken a single word on atrocities on Dalits. Now, there are 123 atrocities per day, according to NCRB data.
In this context, when there is no representation in the government of the day, then there is no representation in judiciary either. In the highest bureaucracy, there is no representation. Then you go to central universities – 41 of them. Not even one vice-chancellor is Dalit. In Delhi, there are 80 colleges; there is not even one principal that belongs to the Dalit community, except one Dalit woman who was there earlier. You go to industry. Which industry is owned by Dalits? I am also talking about sports now becoming an industry. From kabaddi team to kho-kho team to cricket, everything is being bought and sold. So where is that representation? MNREGA – where is the representation of the Dalits?
In that sense, there is this great danger of self-representation. And I am a votary of Babasaheb Ambedkar’s thought when he said that – a good government is not that which gives representation to aspirations only, a good government is that which gives self-representation also. Why self-representation? When Babasaheb was talking about self-representation, he quoted Gopal Krishna Gokhale. Gokhale had given a memorandum to the Public Service Commission in 1885, stating British Service Commission doesn’t represent Indians. And because of that, Indians are losing their manhood. Dwarfing and stunting of Indians is taking place. They are not able to achieve their creativity and capacity. Babasaheb drew a parallel line and said, look, Britishers have come over to rule you only 150 years back. And within 150 years you are losing your total manhood, creativity and capacity, what about Dalits? You have not given them self-representation for thousands of years.
Therefore, self representation in the highest echelons of institutions of governance, production, and education is a moral question. Moral in the sense that it poses questions on how to help the vast majority to harness their capacity & creativity and contribute in a positive manner in the making of this nation. So the challenge is that how to have a representative society and representative institutions that help in nation building?
Kuffir: Sir, this is the time for the last question. We hope to meet you in the future also. But for now the last question is – it is almost one year after Rohith Vemula’s suicide or martyrdom (as many perceive it). Same issue of HCU has come to JNU. Our students are being suspended for very arbitrary reasons and with very arbitrary procedures. Will this keep happening?
Vivek Kumar: My hunch is that it will increase. I am also a votary of trends. As more and more Dalit-Bahujan-Minority students throng into universities, though not yet in places like IIMs & IITs, they will assert & reflect. A conscious mind, a reflexive mind, a questioning mind will always reflect. And once they reflect, they will challenge the status quoist forces. And once the status-quoist forces are challenged, they will not like it. They will not take things lightly. Worst part is that when our students, Dalit-Bahujan students assert, they do not have any institutional mechanism and patronage. Kanhaiya was saved because he had patronage. He had political patronage, he had advocates in the court and of course there was the whole organizational set up. But what about Rohith Vemula?
He did not have any patronage or any institutional mechanism to help. Our BAPSA people do not have that. And therefore, I will always suggest to them: I want to create a critical mass in a big manner. If they really want to have a movement, they need to create a big mass in the university. Because our students that come to activism are very few in number. And because of their numbers the administration doesn’t pay heed to them. And that is why they (university) unleash this terror. If they have big numbers with them, the administration will be afraid. And therefore, before launching any movement, they should think of three stages viz. action, reaction and counteraction. What will be their counteraction? Unless and until they have decided, they should not start the mass type of movement. A student movement is different from a mass movement. They sit on hunger strike. Who is going to help them? That is my question.
Kuffir: Let’s hope what you say will happen in future. Thank you very much for this insightful discussion.
Please read the previous (first part) of the interview here.
Khushahal Thool is pursuing his PhD in IIT, Bombay. Vinay Shende is an Ambedkarite working in the Corporate Sector.