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Why is Our engagement a positive one

Why is Our engagement a positive one

syam dalit

Georgy Kuruvila Roy

Oppression or freedom?

 One should ask a very pertinent question to anyone who claims to be a representative of a movement or a theoretical discourse: do you believe in it because you base yourself on oppression or you base yourself on freedom? This question is pertinent because the answer can lead to two different forms of functioning. If, for instance, I base myself on freedom then I treat oppression as something that is hindering my freedom. On the other hand if I base myself on oppression then any claim to freedom would be seen as fake as there can be a hundred instances of oppression that can be shown to say that freedom is not possible. For example, when the students’ movement against the recent caste atrocity in CSSSC (Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Calcutta) was going on, a lot of people had the opinion that there have been hundreds of instances of Dalit atrocities happening across the country. Even just a few days back, a Dalit was burnt alive. So what are you fighting for? Just leave it. Here, what we get is the normalization of violence and an acceptance of oppression as the de facto state of our existence.

Ambedkar belonged to the former, i.e. he based himself on freedom. Yes, he believed that caste is there and it is responsible for widespread oppression around the country; he did acknowledge this oppression but not as eternal or inevitable. This is why he fought against it, as he did not base himself on oppression but on freedom. This radical aspect of the Ambedkarite tradition is best exemplified in the poem ‘Dalits are coming’ by the poet Siddalingaiah, which never loses the core of freedom in Ambedkar’s thought:

The Dalits are coming, step aside!

 The Dalits have come, give it up!

To the sellers of oppression and victimhood, an ethical Ambedkarite answer should be this: yes, there are atrocities happening in other parts of the country and we will condemn them and will support any movement that fights against such atrocities. And by the same token, if an instance of violence happens where we reside then we should all come together and fight for justice for the victim. Here, fighting for justice is not based on oppression but we clearly see oppression as something hindering this freedom.

syam dalit

 This freedom is not related to the fact that a Dalit who is working as a contract labourer will be free only when he becomes equal, monetarily or in status, to the Director or the Professor. But this freedom and equality is based on the present reality itself. Certainly, the contract worker and a director are unequal in the money that they earn and the social standing that they possess, but it is within this inequality that formal equality and freedom exist. In the sense that I might not be as rich as you are but that doesn’t mean that I am unequal to you but rather that I am equal to you. Is not this the freedom and equality that we are fighting for when we are speaking about atrocities? An equality which is not based on any of my notional characteristics but on the fact that despite all limitations, whether mine and yours, I am equal and free.

 On the fashion called self-victimization

In CSSSC (henceforth referred to as the Centre), whenever one takes an issue to people in authority, the classic move of the latter would be to victimize their own position. For instance, when we took this specific issue of violence to the Director, she started giving us the story of how the Central and State governments are fornicating with them, how they are not giving them the necessary funding, how the perpetrator is otherwise such an efficient officer, the list goes on.

We do acknowledge that the BJP government is trying to get into every academic institution. We also acknowledge that the Centre is a place with a lot of “financial constraints” as my dear professor Manas Ray keeps telling us. We also acknowledge that your Registrar is efficient. But still, one troubling question remains- we came to you demanding the public acknowledgement of the violence that happened and you still haven’t answered our question. So let me ask you a question from your own perspective: how is this incident connected with the Central government trying to get into academic institutions? How is financial constraint connected with this incident? What is the link between the efficiency of your Registrar and this particular act of violence that he has committed?

Second, citing all these reasons the Director says that she can do nothing. But is this nothingness a pure category which is not loaded with any ideological underpinnings? No, by doing nothing she has clearly taken the side of “the most efficient criminal” in the history of atrocities! Ambedkar’s understanding of caste takes into account such phenomena. For him, it is not the Brahmins who follow their caste duty that are the most dangerous but rather the opposite. Ambedkar says that with modernity most of the Brahmins do not perform their caste duty of priesthood but do other jobs. For him the important paradox lies here – it is these Brahmins who do not follow their caste duty who hold on to the infallibility of the Shastras. It is in this cynicism of these people that Ambedkar locates the perpetuation of caste. Isn’t the same also happening at the Centre?

One of the best ways of seeing caste today is by comparing it to the discussion one often has on Sun Signs. People who believe in Sun Signs ask others which sign they belong to. But if you ask them a counter question- do you really believe in all this, their answer will always be that “Oh! I don’t really believe in them. I was just asking.” This is the cynical logic of caste that Ambedkar unravelled.

The point of victimization is this: by victimizing yourself you are not doing anything about this particular issue but you are showing and looking for more victimization so that you can be sellers of victimization and partakers in the perpetuation of all forms of unethical violence. To illustrate with an example, imagine a situation where your child has a wound in his leg and you do not have any money on you. Would you say that let me save for two months, get the money and then take him to the hospital? No, you would find money from somewhere and take him to the hospital. Similarly, if an act of violence occurs then you have to treat it by dealing with it specifically. Whatever you say about ‘setting up of commissions’ etc., would not cure this wound, it has to be treated specifically and particularly. Though there have been positive steps like the contract workers’ wanting to set up a Union, but this has nothing to do with the efforts of the Director or the Faculty. This is the perseverance of the students who worked towards the workshop and the speaker Anuradha Talwar who rooted for the setting of a Union. What did the Director and other speakers from the Faculty do? The Director, who had assured us that she would speak about the incident and what the Centre has done about it, actually did no such thing. This is when I wrote my first article. Secondly, Priya Sangameswaran representing the faculty spoke about how we have lost the idea of welfare state and how we are grappling with a capitalist state in India now. Yes, we all know that but does that mean you enlightened academics will also take away the dignity of a person by doing nothing about the violence committed on him?

Why the Law is Important and why the “Century of Dalits” cannot materialize in the CSSSC agrahara

In a recent lecture by our “legendary” Professor Manas Ray, he made a claim that will be stuff of legends- “This Century Is the Century of the Dalits”. But beyond all his great claims one has to see why it cannot happen in CSSSC? The answer is a practical one. In the recent advertisement for the posts of Assistant and Associate Professors in the Center there is no mention of Reservations for Dalits or OBCs. So actually in our legends we should speak about it thus: “This Century will be the Century of the Dalits but not in the place where I belong”, in this case the Centre.

But why can’t they follow reservations in the Centre? Because they just don’t believe in the liberal state. For them every claim from the liberal state including rights, liberty and freedom is a farce by a disciplinary state. So what do they do? They just don’t believe in any laws and engage in whatever reckless behaviour that pleases them and call it freedom. Some examples of this are as follows: we have the legendary Professor who would take classes for 6 hours and keep changing his class timings according to his own whims and fancies; we have another Professor who would always come one hour late for classes, never bothering to inform the students about the delay; a professor once told us that he was cancelling the class as there was a seminar and he said that every student was supposed to attend the seminar, but on reaching the seminar, one found that the same Professor was nowhere to be seen! If you want to be legendary and great in the Centre then all you have to do is to say that I am unorganized and reckless, and some professors shamelessly do that in classes and think that they are great!

The recent debacle on rescheduling the classes was such fun to watch – one student preferred a certain date, another said some other date and at last some tentative date was decided. The problem here can be captured through the Malayalam proverb, “The lazy ass will have to carry the mountain” with a twist: “The lazy ass with power will make others carry the mountain”. To sustain their recklessness which they call freedom, there should always be an Other. In this case, that ‘other’ are the students who should keep on making compromises. But, for what? So that the faculty can continue their recklessness. Is this not slavery? In order for one’s master to do anything and everything he pleases one gives up all of one’s life and works for him, not because one will get freedom but because he can pursue his recklessness. This was manifest in the claims of a student who is pursuing her PhD at the Center. She said that if she became a teacher then she will be so disciplinary not because she associates any positive aspect in her actions but because she just wants to be a tyrant.

In the same way, for them to practice their recklessness and do whatever they wish with the Centre, there is another ‘Other’ who has to be disciplined: the gatekeeper who would open the gates of the Centre every day at the same time, the cleaner who has to come every day at 6 am and clean the precincts. But if you go to the MPhil course coordinator and say that according to the Centre’s rules a teacher is given two hours to teach so why doesn’t she follow that, then her answer would be yes there is a law but it is “not cast in iron.” So according to them a teacher can do whatever he wants as all laws meant for them are not “cast in iron”. This is where one should understand the Hegelian Dialectic of the master and the slave: for Hegel it is not that the slave who is toiling for the master is un-free but the opposite. Within all the restrictions imposed by his master he is actually doing something and having his freedom, in this case, by making money so that he can sustain his family and send his children to school, by learning and studying so that a student can do some work with his knowledge. For him, it is this freedom of the slave that affords the master the recklessness to do anything he wants. So if a slave tells no to the master it is not the slave who loses his freedom as he is already free, but it is the master who will lose his “world of recklessness” as this is based on the toil and freedom of the slave.

So to speak to such reckless masters, one has to first of all accept our defeat, yes, our belief in reservation is based on the fact that it is a part of disciplinary liberal state. This is what K.Satyanarayana, M. Madhava Prasad, Susie Tharu and Rekha Pappu do with their article called “Reservation and The Return To Politics”. For them, unlike the affirmative action in America in India, reservation is closely associated with the formation of the nation state. At the time of its formation, there were a lot of communities who were making demands so that they can also be a part of the nation state. So, the nationalists gave a separate state for Muslims in the name of Pakistan and Dalits under Ambedkar also wanted their demands to be part of the nation state and they were given reservations to that effect. So, in order for Dalits to be part of the nation state reservation was and is the primary requisite. Once one puts reservations in this form one loses the flair and clout that is associated with reservation. But this is why one should fight for it. As we all know even when a Dalit becomes a Professor in a University through reservation it doesn’t mean that he is emancipated and that now caste ceases to exist. But reservation is just a form in which a Dalit would not be alienated from the workforce and this is only one hurdle that he has crossed in his struggle. This is why reservations are significant, so that minority communities can be the part of the general workforce and earn a living outside his caste.

But even here they would not agree: for it is still a part of the disciplinary state so why should we follow it? Some simple questions can then be asked. So you guys are completely against the liberal state, Ok fine! Legendary! But isn’t the Centre that you work at a part of the same liberal state? You guys are funded by the ICSSR which is an organ of the liberal state, is it not? The other half of the funding directly comes from the state government which is actually the liberal state, so there is no question there. So you guys are completely against the liberal state, but your salaries come from the liberal state but when it comes to a Dalit you cannot follow reservations because it is a disciplinary mechanism of the liberal state. It is here that you guys become truly legendary! It is by being such legendary people that you made the Centre an agrahara. For Ambedkar in a caste society castes will have antagonisms as castes can think only about themselves, but in the Centre there cannot be any antagonism because it is only one caste that exists here with different linguistic connotations- from Bengali Brahmins to the fashionable Tam Brams to Maharashtrian Brahmin, with a mix of two or three of your stooge castes. This is why it is an agrahara – as it keeps replicating clones of itself thus doing away with difference let alone leading to any antagonism!

So if you guys really do not believe in the liberal state, fine we will respect you but then get out of the liberal state. Say that you are against the liberal state, so we won’t take funding from the liberal state. We are truly a heterotopia, a new republic which has its own flag and which has its own funding from your breed of reckless people. If you can’t do that then don’t be so greedy to share the money from the liberal state only among your own community. The liberal state in India came into existence because it agreed that it would share it with other communities like Dalits through reservation. So you obey the Law, not because it is my law but because it is the Law of the nation state of which we are all a part of. Else, of course, you are free to get out of it!

Why is our engagement a positive one

As explained earlier, what happens at the Centre is that if you take one issue to the authority they will mix every issue in the world and say nothing can be done. They want to say: you have one issue, I have hundred issues and these issues can never come together so nothing can be done. By saying this they tell us how we are all perpetually doomed. Each issue that they say is a particular issue and should not be mixed with others as that will only create more mystification.

For instance, the issue of BJP trying to get into every academic institution is a serious issue in itself. If they come we would not join them, instead we would be fighting them by your side. We will do everything possible within our limits so that it cannot rest here peacefully. Secondly, the financial crisis in the Centre is so serious that it has been unable to pay its employees as the state government has backtracked on its funding. This is a serious issue. We will obey you in whatever way you want us to contribute: do you want us to go give memoranda to Partha Chatterjee, the education minister? We will do it. But what do you guys do? When a contract labourer comes to you asking for a permanent job, knowing all your limitation of finance you still give him a false dream that you will give him a permanent job. First you ask him to get a diploma certificate as he does not have a 10th certificate, he studies for one year and passes and comes back to you for the job you had actually promised him even when you knew that your situation was precarious. Why wouldn’t he get angry? Why is it so difficult to say that we are financially handicapped, as the state government is not funding us and actually say that it is not our problem but the problem of the state? By doing what you did, you are making the limited support you have also go against you.

Third, neither is the violence that happened in the Centre related to BJP nor to the financial condition of the Centre. It is a specific incident and has to be dealt within its specificity. Last, when the liberal state gives funding, its own laws should apply to the Centre, and so one has to follow these laws. Reservation cannot be linked to the financial crisis because recruitment of any set of employees has to follow the reservation criteria of the state, so it is actually not an increase of seats we are demanding but rather the re-allocation of the seats following the reservation criteria. In the Centre, with regard to the faculty, one cannot claim that there are no slots for reservation free as there is not a single reserved candidate as faculty right now. I would like to end my article with the following lines from Shakespeare:

If this be error and upon me proved,

I never writ, nor no man ever loved.

 N.B- This article is also a plea for support to anyone who reads and supports its claims of reservation to send your names so that we can add your name in the letter that we are submitting to the Director. My email id is



Georgy Kuruvila Roy works with Dalit Camera in its Bengal Chapter. He is pursuing PhD in CSSS, Kolkata.

Cartoon by Unnamati Syama Sundar.

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