Dr. Mudnakudu Chinnaswamy
Valedictory Speech delivered at Vidrohi Sahitya Sammelana held on 24-12-2017 in Shahada, Nandurbar district, Maharashtra
Hon. President of the Sammelana, the dignitaries on the Dais and the august literary audience before me.
I am extremely happy to be present here today for two reasons. One is my poems are getting published in Marathi and the other is, it is a veritable privilege for any writer to be honoured by the Maharashtra Vidrohi Sanskritik Sanghatan. I belong to the early generation of poets who started protest poetry in late 1970s consequent to the Dalit- Bandaya movement in Karnataka, which is interestingly the replication of the struggle that occurred in Maharashtra at the same time. My poetry has been translated into Spanish and English and anthologies have been published. Collections have so far been published in Hindi, Urdu, and Telugu and the Marathi version is in the offing. I thank wholeheartedly Sri Baburao Kamble, a poet well known to Marathi audience, who undertook the task of translation.
Today, I must remember Late Sri Shankar M. Patil who was a resident of Kolhapur and a Kannadiga. He was instrumental in bringing Vacana literature into Marathi. It was he who coordinated with Vidrohi Sanskritik Sanghatan for publishing this collection a few years back. I was more than happy to understand that a prestigious, progressive literary organisation is introducing me to Marathi poetry. But after his sad demise, I searched for the manuscript, ringing up to his relatives and friends, since my translator didn’t keep a copy of it. Finally, I found Prof. Raja Sirguppe was in possession of it and both of us rejoiced. He was graceful enough to agree to fulfill the ambition of our friend Sri Shankar M. Patil. I owe my sincere gratitude to all these noble personalities. Maharashtra and Karnataka were historically bound together and have shared a common cultural heritage. The first Marathi inscription was found in Shravanabelagola and the Chalukyas and Rashtrakutas crossed Godavari and ruled. Books have been written tracing the origin of the great warrior king Shivaji to the northern part of Karnataka.
The land of Maharashtra has been in the forefront in pioneering the progressive movements in India. It was Mahatma Jotirao Phule who first raised his voice against the oppression of low caste Shudras and women. He along with his wife Savitri Bai Phule imparted education to women and Untouchables against many odds. It was Shahu Maharaj of Kolhapur who first broke the Brahminical hegemony and introduced the reservation system in education and employment for the underprivileged. The unparalleled, legendary, iconic Dr. Babasaheb Bhimrao Ambedkar arose from this land. His contribution to the nation in general and to the downtrodden in particular is immeasurable. Being enthused by his ideology, post-independence India saw a new force striking the horizon of Maharashtra in the name of Dalit Panthers. For the first time, millions of voices chorused for social justice. The inspiration was, of course, the Black Panthers of America who were struggling for equality with whites. This historical social movement has spread across (the world )and Karnataka was the first to echo the aspirations of the subjugated class of people and the Dalit Sangharsh Samiti was born. As in Maharashtra, the new writers were the by-product of this movement in Karnataka also. A new form of literature called Dalita–Bandaya took shape in Kannada. After the initial rabble-rousing and fire-spitting anger, the dust settled and serious writers like me emerged.
The Dalit movement has heralded an alternative literary discourse. The rural Indian milieu started unfolding. The stories from the underbellies of the villages till then uncovered have been rolled out. I think a similar stream was flowing in Marathi. Who can forget the tales of Dalit autobiographies like Akkaramashi by Sharankumar Limbale, or the rebellion poetry of Namdev Dhasal, which go down the history of Indian literature?
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I think those days are gone. Writers, poets enjoyed their freedom. More skeletons have been pulled out of the cupboard. Having been an unequal society for centuries, India has had her share of negative human rights issues, black spots all over because of the practice of untouchability. The writers sprang from the bottom of the neglected societies and their stories abound with tales of exploitation and contempt. The State was tolerant though not regressive. But today with all the high-tech communication and speed in administrative machinery, India seems to be flinching backward with a dogmatic outlook. Writers, activists fear to speak. Free speech is the hallmark of Democracy. Leave apart the writers and activists, even a common man can be pushed into jail for a Facebook post. There is a glaring example here in Maharashtra. Way back in 2012, two young college girls were sent to prison for writing about a public inconvenience and one of them had just pressed the ‘Like’ button and endorsed it. Was it a crime? To quote a very recent example, one cartoonist by name Bala was arrested in Tamil Nadu on 5th Nov. 2017 and sent to prison for drawing a caricature of the Chief Minister and so were two other officials for depicting their failure in containing the death of a family by self-immolation due to harassment by a money lender. This is the murkiest example of infringing on the constitutional rights of an individual.
In the present dispensation, such incidents are on the rise. Fundamentalism is ruling the roost. Right-wing activists are charged with the tacit power of the State. The main planks of the Govt. such as development etc., are so undermined and what surfaces day in and day out are the horrific incidences of attacks on the secular minds. A government runs based on the constitution in a democratic republic like ours. Any ruling party will formulate its own developmental agenda within the framework of the constitution. The language may be different but there cannot be drastic differences in the agenda of any political party since our country is yet to overcome poverty, hunger, illiteracy, malnutrition, homelessness etc., Therefore, what makes people to think differently when a political party takes over the reign is its ideology. This in effect, is outside the ambit of the constitution. As a result, as of now the secular nature of our culture is under serious threat.
There is a systematic attempt to disturb the social harmony on the following grounds.
a. Protection of Cow and the ban on beef eating
b. Spreading Hindutva in the name of Nationalism
c. Provocation of anti-reservation movement among youths.
Article 48 of the Constitution says that the state shall “organise agriculture and animal husbandry on modern and scientific lines and shall take steps for preserving and improving the breeds and prohibiting the slaughter of cows and calves and other milch and draught cattle.” This has become handy for the self-styled vigilante outfits to monitor the movement of cattle. They seem to be under the impression that the cow slaughterers and beef eaters are invariably Muslims and they indulge in this business. But the truth is something else. India topped in exporting beef and high-caste Hindus dominated the market.
The houses and kitchens of Muslims are inspected at random to see what they are eating. A mob attacked the home of 52-year-old Mohammed Akhlaq with sticks and bricks, suspecting him of storing beef at home on the night of 28 Sept. 2015 in Bisara village near Dadri, Uttar Pradesh. He died in the attack. The government’s inquiry concluded that he was not storing beef but mutton in the refrigerator for consumption. Another gory incident to recall is that, on July 11, 2016, in Una, Gujarat four Dalit youths were flogged by the ‘cow vigilantes’ in public, allegedly for cow slaughter, but it turned out to be a dead cow. It would have after all ended up in their community (untouchables) feast as usual. The video of their brutal thrashing had gone viral and triggered shock and horror across India. It also led to widespread protests.
Influenced by the ideology of the ruling party, the fringe groups in the street are playing dirty with non-Hindus. Someone’s beard is pulled and another’s skull cap is removed forcing them to chant Vandemataram or say Bharat matha ki jai and things like that. The murder of a boy named Junaid khan on a train in June this year, calling him and his family anti-national over an argument for a seat is a classic case of intolerance. The non-Hindus are silenced by creating a fear psychosis. There is also what is called moral policing. The women are told what to wear. The Hindu culture is being redefined by vagabonds in the street and the people are expected to oblige. To add fuel to the fire, another sinister move from the authorities at the helm is that most of the premier academic institutions now are filled by right-wing intellectuals who were all the while decrying Macaulay’s education system. They forget that British have given education to all. The universities which were considered to be the pride of the nation are being bullied for closure. They are named as anti-Hindu. The history books are being rewritten obviously to include blatant lies. How do we expect our children to develop the secular behaviour? Where are we heading to? Is Fascism knocking at the door?
When it comes to providing reservation in education and employment for the underprivileged and downtrodden, the very same people cry of merit. A section of the intelligentsia still feels that post-independence India is backward because of reservation policy (affirmative action) and not because of the caste system. How do we make them understand that the caste system is the ugliest form of reservation where a few enjoy the nature’s bounty and a large section of the people have been kept in the dark and treated as worse than animals for centuries by coercion under the guise of religious sanction? The baggage that we have carried is still a stumbling block for the development. Now that the upper castes are feeling deprived and started clamouring for reservation in all spheres. In fact almost every State is extending the reservation facility up to 50% as per the norm fixed by the Supreme Court of India covering almost 85% of the people and the other 50% is kept open for remaining 15% upper castes! Therefore don’t the meritorious have more space? But the impression created is that only Scheduled castes and tribes are entitled to this constitutional right.
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India has never been an inclusive society under the Hindu fiefdom. The caste system divided people and they are tuned to live their life as the Hindu culture (Caste System) expects them to. Even under the modern day democratic rule, the most visible practice of caste system is the consolidation of ‘caste power’ at the time of elections. The majoritarianism in Indian democracy means the majority of a caste in each constituency. Caste invariably restricts the selection of the candidate. Merit naturally takes a back seat at this stage itself (the merit here is not discussed but conveniently ignored by the elite class). When the power is garnered by a caste, the money automatically flows in and the candidate will invest it for buying the votes from the people of other smaller castes. This mass of people has no other choice but to vote for the candidate of a majority caste and the money or bribe is a necessary concomitant in exchange. From this, it can be concluded that India being a sovereign Republic is wedded to a manipulative Democracy.
A political party openly practising exclusive politics was unheard of, in history. What has happened in the 2017 elections in the State of Uttar Pradesh is appalling. The Party which has refused to give the ticket to a single Muslim candidate has won the elections with a huge majority. What does it say? Communalism can overturn democracy! If the principle of reservation in politics is withdrawn as agreed to, initially restricting it for ten years, the Dalits and other low castes will have no place in politics. The caste Hindus can conveniently sideline these people and win the elections. It is now time to take notice of the three warnings Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar gave in his speech delivered in the constituent assembly on 25th Nov. 1949. One of them is that we have achieved political democracy now, but we must have social democracy also, otherwise people will revolt and blow up the structure one day.
Recently, a conference called ‘Dharma Samsad’ was held in Udupi, Karnataka under the stewardship of Sri Vishweshwaratheertha Swamiji of Pejavar matt. Hindu zealots from all over the country assembled. The seers strangely spoke about the need to eradicate untouchability in Hinduism. But, they also utilised the opportunity to add a new narrative to the age-old stigma: that untouchability was the invention of the Muslims after the 10th century. Who else can dare to lie? Another noted Kannada writer had once said that the ‘sati’ (wife falling into the funeral pyre of her husband and ending life) came into practice only after Muslim invasion! If they rewrite the history many more interesting things may come out. Hinduism is studded with inanities. The Hindu grand narrative cannot be constructed with lies. Caste is so deep-rooted in Hindu society that even now a father killing his daughter for marrying a man from outside caste is no strange news. The major cause for disturbing social harmony in this country is caste pride (Dalit massacre in Saharanpur, UP- 2017).
A developing country having rich men ranking among top ten in the Forbes list does not speak of the good economic health of the country. The top 1% of the people holding 58.4% of the total wealth speaks volumes of the disparity between the rich and the poor. What India needs today is to focus on bridging income inequality, which is said to be at the highest level since 1922. India scores very badly in human development indices. It is estimated that there are 950 million people going for open defecation in the world and among them, 569 million are in India! Who are they? They are mostly Dalits and low caste people. Infant death is linked to open defecation. Manual scavenging is still in practice as reports say. India stands fourth in the slavery index (1.8 million). The bonded labour system, though abolished by law like untouchability, still exists. Casteism and communalism are the twin enemies within. India needs to address the core issues such as above instead of drumming outside that we are big and great, we are spiritual, blah blah blah. I am speaking from my heart as a conscientious writer for the sheer love for my country and not to offend anyone here.
Finally, I sincerely thank Samyak Viddrohi Prakashan for publishing my book of poetry in Marathi and my friend Prof. Raja Sirguppe for making this happen. Thank you.
Dr. Mudnakudu Chinnaswamy is a poet and writer and a noted public speaker. He is a vocal advocate for eradicating the caste system, the inhuman practice of untouchability and against fundamentalism. Poetry is his passion but he has worked in other genres of literature as well, besides having a wide range of interests in social work, theatre and cinema. He has brought out 33 books so far which include 6 collections of poetry.
His poetry, translated into Spanish by Rowena Hill as ‘Poemas: Mudnakudu Chinnaswamy’, has been published by the Venezuelan Govt. (CONAC) in 2005 under ‘World Poetry Series’.
He has been a participant at many International Poetry conferences. He recently presented a paper on ‘Dalit Literature in translation’ and read his poems at the University of East Anglia, Norwich, England conducted by AHRC in June 2015.