If we do not struggle
If we do not persist in our struggle
The enemy would finish us with his bayonets
And pointing to our bones he would tell the rest of the world
Look, these are bones of slaves!
Look, these are bones of slaves!!
— A Hindi Couplet
My dear Ambedkarites,
From dawn to dusk, in one form or the other, we are initiating, participating and extending solidarities in various social movements, including the Ambedkarite movement. We wield numerous weapons in challenging the status-quoist Brahminical social order; social media being one of them. Here, I would like to present a few of my observations on social media and how we use this platform.
Social media is bridging gaps and connecting many Ambedkarite activists across the country, which helps us in forming a support group. It won’t be an exaggeration if I say that I — like others around me — have managed to gain the confidence to continue my politics in the elite and exclusionary space of Delhi mostly after I got to know about similar struggles of our people through social media. We have also acted together online, even while being miles apart physically, and have shaken the Brahminical agraharas. But the truth is, social media isn’t our real battleground.
I would urge fellow Ambedkarites to reflect on the other side of online activism, as to how, often, we unconsciously fall into the trap of privileged caste Hindus’ web by responding to their pointless and useless debates and nitpicking of our struggles. Here, I don’t want to discourage anybody from writing and debating online. But it is easy to get carried away by online discussions. We may think we have done our share of activism by winning an argument on Facebook with a privileged casteist person, and that we are done with our responsibility towards our community and politics.
Since this write-up will be read by only those Bahujans who have access to online platforms, I am posing a few questions for all of us before we head towards investing our energy in something. Are we channeling our energy in the right direction given that we have limited resources? Will Santoshi — whose family was the only Mahadalit family in that area and who died starving asking for ‘bhaat’ — benefit anyway from that? Will the Dalit women who are denied health service at the public health centre be affected by that? Will students from our community, who are denied education even now, benefit from that? Will this help us in connecting with our people on ground whom we should be doing our politics with?
I have learned this much till now that there is no point debating or discussing things with the caste Hindus. If they are willing to learn, they themselves will put in effort to understand our politics, to de-caste themselves. There is no point talking or explaining to them. Babasaheb Ambedkar in Annihilation of Caste writes, “As a rule, I do not like to take any part in a movement which is carried on by the Caste Hindus. Their attitude towards social reform is so different from mine that I have found it difficult to pull on with them. Indeed, I find their company quite uncongenial to me on account of our differences of opinion.”
Similarly Jotirao Phule writes (in a letter to Ranade refusing to participate in the conference organized by Marathi authors in 1885), “We shudras do not any longer wish to trust these people and their specious and dishonest stories, for they cheat us and eat off our labor. In a word, we Shudras have nothing to gain by mixing with such people. We must think about our situation and how we should relate to these upper-caste people. If these leaders of men are genuinely interested in unifying all people they must address themselves to the discovery of the root of eternal love of all human beings. Let them discover it and may be formulate and publish it as a text. Otherwise to turn a blind eye to the divisions among the human beings at this hour is simply futile.”
Ambedkar and Phule’s responses tell us that there is little to gain for Bahujans by engaging with the status-quoist caste Hindus. Rather than arguing with the Brahmins, they emphasized publication of our own newspapers and magazines, which would be accessible to Bahujans and would encourage them to engage in critical thinking. If we need to put in efforts somewhere, then it should be in talking to/engaging with our own people, telling them how important the struggle is for all of us.
However, engaging with our people is also going to be a demanding task due to the social differences and hierarchies among us. There isn’t a separate group of oppressor/exploiter and a separate group of oppressed; it’s all relative and, that is why, it is important to tell fellow strugglers that despite our differences in politics, we need to acknowledge each other’s struggles and extend our support in the fight against Brahminical, patriarchal and capitalist structure. And at the same time we also need to identify/respect/understand the differences between us, which is very important. By ignoring all these, how can we even have the time and strength to engage with those who have all the social security in life and whose only aim is to win the arguments online?
This is a competitive time, my fellow Ambedkarites. There will be strict trade-offs while making decisions. Don’t let these caste Hindus exhaust you by trapping you in endless discussions while they remain busy building their base and increasing their knowledge by ‘reading and knowing’ about us. We have to know everything around us as sharply as we know our caste. Read, get educated and act. Learn from the strugglers of Niyamgiri, write like Babasaheb, teach like Savitrimai, lead like Kanshi Ram! Challenge the Brahminical agraharas everywhere. We should invest our energy in building sharp understandings. We have to know our history and work towards making a better history for the coming generation and for that we have to focus and not get carried away with the momentary benefits and power. Use everyday humiliations to fill yourself with determination and strike at it. We have the responsibility, whether we recognise it or not.
Our every statement, every action DOES affect the coming generation, our politics and our people who look up to us. Dalit students have to be more attentive towards this. There is not a single way to emancipation. The fight of those struggling to de-Brahminize academia is also a struggle and those who are struggling to get even two square meals, theirs also is a struggle. One just has to decide where to strike and with which struggle they identify themselves more. But in all of this there are certain questions that are more important than others, for example, the question of food, health care, land, basic education, etc. All these have to be accompanied by other questions too to get positive results. The biggest challenge in front of us is about the lack of social support in order to annihilate caste and uproot Brahminism and work for our community, and this is what we need to build together.
I hope what I have said here will take the form of a conversation rather than a conclusion, which will help us in spearheading the struggle so that our enemies won’t finish us with their many forms of bayonets.
Thanking friends who helped with writing and editing.
Aditi Priya is an economics student in Delhi.
Cartoon by Unnamati Syamasundar.