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Untouchability and Satyamev Jayate

Untouchability and Satyamev Jayate


Pardeep Attri

Few days back, I watched the episode “Untouchability – Dignity For All” on the Satyamev Jayate show on 8th July, 2012. Many people rated it as a ‘great’ show but I don’t accept it as a ‘great’ show. It was just another show made with the intention of earning profits and TRP. There was nothing on the show which common public didn’t know apart from the clippings from Stalin K’s documentary – India Untouched. (And if you are a bit conscious on human rights, you would have already seen that documentary!) We all know Dalit students face discrimination; Dalit couples are killed because of inter-caste marriages, who doesn’t know that caste remarks are not uncommon in India? (Read “I have a Dream” for more detail, describing where Dalits face discrimination and what a Dalit dreams about.) 


The episode started with the heart touching story of Dr. Kaushal Panwar, professor at Delhi University. She spoke about her upbringing and the caste discrimination she faced during her childhood and during her student life. Her life story is no different from that of most of the Dalits in India. Discrimination that Dr. Kaushal faced at JNU is of no surprise because even today Dalit students are murdered in professional colleges due to caste discrimination.

Next on the show comes Stalin K– he was the only man, apart from Bezwada Wilson, who impressed me on the show. Stalin K is the director of the documentary named “India Untouched” created in 2007 and he also runs an organisation named Video Volunteers. He has done a remarkable job, has travelled more than 25,000 km in India covering caste discrimination. The show took the readymade clippings from his documentary and presented it! I don’t think Aamir Khan and his team would have put any effort in producing this episode as everything was readymade and conveniently available. At one point Stalin K rightly pointed out – if you don’t know your caste you must be from upper caste because society don’t leave a single chance to remind you that you are from lower caste.

At another point on the show, someone from the audience compared ‘ragging’ to ‘caste discrimination’ and that point was praised by the host! What a joke! Unless ragging is based on caste it can’t be compared to caste discrimination. And ragging with Dalit students, unlike with other students, is played only on caste lines, so comparing ragging with caste discrimination is completely illogical and out of context when we are discussing caste based discrimination. For most of the times on the show, the host seemed to me an ignoramus. Was he pretending to be gnorant of all the facts, or didn’t he really know about all the discrimination– I couldn’t figure that out. I seriously doubt if Aamir Khan has read or knows anything about the Sachar Report!

Then there comes a so called progressive Brahmin on the show – Dharmadhikari! He praised Gandhi, and at the end prescribed a solution to the caste problem. His solution: we will not ask anyone about his/her caste and we will not let anyone know of our caste. What an incredible solution! How could Dr. Ambedkar have missed such a brilliant solution? I couldn’t figure out how letting no one know about caste or not talking about caste will solve the problem of caste discrimination? People ask each other – which part of the village do you live? Oh! Western part? You must be Dalit. Caste will still be there in society, whether we discuss it or not. At one point on the show, he was opining that with this episode, untouchability has been brought into the national level media and it will get the attention of higher authorities and at another point he was putting across just the opposite viewpoint: don’t discuss caste. How ridiculous!

Further, he said inter-caste marriages will solve the problem of caste discrimination. I seriously doubt the efficacy of this solution as did Dr. Ambedkar, who said:

“Caste cannot be abolished by inter caste dinners or stray instances of inter caste marriages. Caste is a state of mind. It is a disease of mind. The teachings of the Hindu religion are the root cause of this disease. We practice casteism and we observe Untouchability because we are enjoined to do so by the Hindu religion. A bitter thing cannot be made sweet. The taste of anything can be changed. But poison cannot be changed into nectar.”

Dalits, who marry out of caste, are honoured with blood. On 12th December, 2009 while commuting death sentences of two persons involved in honour killings, the Supreme Court accepted caste as a stark reality in honour killings and said, “..caste is such a concept that grips a person even before his birth and does not leave him even after his death..the vicious grip of the caste, community, religion, though totally unjustified, is a stark reality.” So, only the ignorant can believe that inter-caste marriages will solve the problem. It can be one step, or approach towards a solution, but not the whole solution.

The most disturbing part of the show was when Aamir Khan and guest praised Mr. Gandhi. It further made my conviction strong that no one on the production team had done any homework. No one with little knowledge of ‘Untouchability’ would ever praise Gandhi.

Read below a few of Mr. Gandhi’s quotes from his writings. (Refer to the book named’Gandhi:Behind the Mask of Divinity’ by G. B. Singh)

– I believe in Varnashrama (caste system) which is the law of life. The law of Varna (color and/or caste) is nothing but the law of conservation of energy. Why should my son not be scavenger if I am one? (Harijan, 3-6-1947).

– I call myself a Sanatana man, one who firmly believes in the caste system. (Dharma Manthan, p 4).

– He (Shudra, low caste) may not be called a Brahmin (uppermost caste), though he (Shudra) may have all the qualities of a Brahmin in this birth. And it is a good thing for him (Shudra) not to arrogate a Varna (caste) to which he is not born. It is a sign of true humility. (Young India, 11-24-1927).

– I believe in caste division determined by birth and the very root of caste division lies in birth. (Varna Vyavastha, p 76-77).

– The four castes and the four stages of life are things to be attained by birth alone. (Dharma Manthan, p 5).

Dr. Ambedkar’s name wasn’t even mentioned in the show even once, this was another disturbing part! Now read below what Dr. Ambedkar said on Untouchability and decide whose thoughts are progressive and are pro-Dalit.

– Untouchability shuts all doors of opportunities for betterment in life for Untouchables. It does not offer an Untouchable any opportunity to move freely in society; it compels him to live in dungeons and seclusion; it prevents him from educating himself and following a profession of his choice.

– Untouchability has ruined the Untouchables, the Hindus and ultimately the nation as well. If the depressed classes gained their self-respect and freedom, they would contribute not only to their own progress and prosperity but by their industry intellect and courage would contribute also to the strength and prosperity of the nation. If the tremendous energy Untouchables are at present required to fritter away in combating the stigma of Untouchability had been saved them, it would have been applied by them to the promotion of education and development of resources of their nation as a whole.

I couldn’t believe that I had watched a 90 minute show on Untouchability in India that had not even a mention of Dr. Ambedkar’s name! Was that a kind of joke played on innocent public which I couldn’t grasp?

You may also want to listen what Dr. Ambedkar said about Mr. Gandhi in an interview to BBC.  Even on the following day, in a column in The Hindu, just like on the show, Aamir Khan deliberately forgot to give any credit to Dr. Ambedkar and praised Gandhi in each and every line of his article! I wouldn’t hesitate to say that for Satyamev Jayate, Dr. Ambedkar remained ‘untouchable’ and we can’t expect any better from Brahmin-Bania media. A show on ‘Untouchability’ and without mentioning the work of Dr. Ambedkar and Mahatma Jyotiba Phule is just another comedy show telecast every other day.

The show ended with another guest, Bezwada Wilson describing the condition of manual scavengers. After that, the whole topic of caste discrimination shifted towards manual scavenging and its ill effects. I agree manual scavenging is a horriifying part of caste discrimination and felt it would have been better if this topic had been discussed in a separate episode. There could have been another episode on manual scavenging easily – just copy-pasting from another nice documentary named A Day in the Life of Manual Scavenger/Untouchable Sweeper! There are many places where Dalits face discrimination, such as students at professional colleges and at workplaces. While shifting the topic to manual scavengers and asking the question of the day (‘do you want that manual scavenging be eradicated?’) a heavy price was paid. Now, imagine the other question which could have been asked: Should caste/casteism be removed from India? But no one dares to ask such a question on national level media so how could this show do it?

Post show discussion on various forums, news sites such as TOI raised questions on whether Satyamev Jayate has lost track or is it effective? All such news sites showed their casteist nature once again. Till now, no one was asking whether Satyamev Jayate is effective or not but why are such questions being asked when the subject of ‘Untouchability’ was raised?

Another thing I noticed while browsing through the comments posted by people on Satyamev Jayate‘s Facebook page or on news sites were about removing reservations and how that would end caste discrimination. Almost all the comments were on same lines. I couldn’t figure out how removing reservations, which is for improving the economic-social status of Dalits, will help in eradicating casteism, which is prevailing in India since thousands of years. Was there reservation thousands of years ago? But casteism was surely there!

Such shows are nothing but an eyewash and will not serve as any real purpose until we are willing to bring all aspects of caste into  the open and discuss it. But that is not going to happen till we keep hiding facts and will not accept that caste discrimination exists and is killing us. Realisation is the first step towards solution. Nevertheless, I would be happy to see if manual scavenging is scrapped from India. So please visit Satyamev Jayate‘s site and vote for it.

Pardeep Attri blogs here. Cartoon by Unnamati Syama Sundar.