On 26 January, during a literary festival in Jaipur, Ashish Nandy told the audiences what he really feels about the majority of the country (dalits, adivasis, and bahujan), who have been kept at the bottom, and out of the social order for the last four thousand years. Here is his statement:
“How should I put it. It is almost a vulgar statement on my part. It is a fact that most of the corrupt come from OBCs and Scheduled Castes and now increasingly the Scheduled Tribes. And, as long as this is the case, Indian republic will survive. I will give an example. One of the states with the least amount of corruption is state of West Bengal when the CPI (M) was there. And I must draw attention to the fact that in the last 100 years, nobody from OBC, SC and ST has come anywhere near to power. It is an absolutely clean state.” (Here is the video where he makes the said statement. His statement starts at 00:54)
It would had been fine if Nandy, and his liberals had acknowledged what he said was wrong, and called out on his casteism. Instead, they chose to blame us for infringing Nandy’s ‘freedom of expression’. Moreover, when late that night Nandy was booked under SC and ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act 1989, their joy knew no bounds. They finally could legitimize their outrage by calling the act draconian, and us the uncouth oppressors of Nandy’s rights.
Most of Nandy’s defenders are caste hindu liberals themselves. They occupy the same wavelength, and academia corridors as Nandy. To save Nandy, and their own caste privileges, they very slyly changed the conversation from Nandy’s casteism, to the violation of his freedom of expression. They were aware that pitted against Nandy’s freedom of expression, the violation of Dalits’ and adivasis’ dignity would be forgotten. It has happened before; why would it not happen this time too?
Thus, Nandy’s militia of liberals have continued to stay on their rhetoric that Nandy should not have been booked under this act, and every time conveniently forget to mention that Nandy’s comments are wrong. If they do, then they justify by saying that Nandy should not have made his comments in public. For them it is okay to be casteist as long as they are not on a public platform. Curb your casteism in front of television, right? Let it come out only in classrooms, and dinner parties.
The comments made by Nandy are not hurtful alone; apart from being completely untrue (just google corruption & Bengal) they are the propagators of casteism. We, dalits, hear them on daily basis, and we are not inured to them by any choice. But in a society where we have been kept down for thousands of years, we have limited resources to respond. We have no presence in the media, and if we get any representation we are presented in the most offensive way possible (always the cleaner, and manual scavenger, from Lagaan to Delhi 6). The comments that Nandy made are nothing new to us. We are told in our classrooms, our offices, at places of worship, and even at our homes, how dalits and adivasis are uncivilized, unhygienic, dumb, and how we are everything that is vile and impure .
Thus, to curb such casteist statements (apart from other forms of violence) SC & ST (Prevention of. Atrocities) Act 1989 was created. If we have no social standing to rebut offensive behavior, we should at least have the right to legal action. Or, at least we thought so. Instead of understanding the gravity of Nandy’s casteism, these caste hindu liberals are now telling us to be tolerant, and calling us ‘holy cows’, who are ‘oversensitive’, and are ‘brokers of victimhood’ (sic).
Well, if you still can’t understand what it means to be abused, violated, and killed in this country for just being dalits and adivasis then you may never get to know intensity of our outrage.
The support of People’s Union for Civil Liberties, and Kafila.org, and other caste hindu liberals to Nandy is not intriguing at any length. They may get infuriated at every irreverent comment by Modi, Bhagwat, or Subramanium, and even call for punitive actions against them in the defense of secularism. But when it comes to casteism, they have no external enemy to fight but themselves, and their caste privileges. They know if they support action against Nandy then they too have to accept their inherent casteism. Thus, instead of fighting their inherent castism that permeates, and corrupts every corner of their being, they tell tall tales that they don’t believe in the caste system, just so that they can continue with the status quo of their caste identities and privileges.
Ambedkar had rightly said, “a democratic form of Government presupposes a democratic form of society. The formal framework of democracy is of no value and would indeed be a misfit if there was no social democracy.” Social justice can only be possible in an equal society. Thus, in an unequal country like India that is strongly entrenched in caste, we will always need strong legislation to protect the oppressed. And, when instead of standing by Dalits, and Adivasis, you start blaming them, then you are not an ally, not a social justice crusader, you are the vehement oppressors you claim to fight.
Please also read recent articles on the same issue:
Ashis Nandy’s comment: A Need to Think and Re-think!: by Jyotsna Siddharth
The Emperor Has No Clothes: by Dr. N. Sukumar
“Is Ashis Nandy a sacred cow?” by Dalit Camera: Through Un-Touchable Eyes
“I am not for Ashis Nandy’s arrest, I want to expose him”: by Dalit Camera: Through Un-Touchable Eyes
Parakh is a storyteller. He has done post graduations in Screenwriting, and Comparative Mythology from FTII Pune, and University of Mumbai respectively; he attained best student awards at both places. He also has Bachelors in Mass Media from University of Mumbai.
Cartoon by Unnamati Syama Sundar.