Chithra, Anupama, Deepa, Sajitha
Suraj Yengde was born into a single-room tenement at Nanded in Maharashtra. Suraj realised later that his parents were not able to sleep during the rainy days. 'When it rained, I saw my mom trying to put three buckets in different locations so the water drops don’t fall on us. And that was shocking. It was like my entire life I slept like this without realizing that mom and dad were dancing the whole night so that the waters don't fall on us, and we might get distracted from our sleep in order to go to school the next day,' Suraj told a journalist in an interview.
Suraj visits the one-room house at Nanded once in a while these days. Suraj, who works as a senior research fellow at Harward University, is one of the leading Dalit intellectuals in the contemporary world. Following in the footsteps of Ambedkar, Suraj too has had his higher education in the UK and US. When he came over to Nanded recently, he had the company of journalist friend Philip Martin. Philip ends his report on Suraj's visit to Nanded with the description of an interaction between Suraj and a group of students at Nanded University. One of the students asks Suraj a direct question: If I make it to America, will my caste follow? Yes, Suraj replies, ''like a shadow.''
''Caste is culture in India,'' Suraj writes in an article. Four young women in Kerala - Anupama, Deepa, Sajitha, Chitra-also pronounce this truth. Caste is a living reality in the state. Not a single day passes in the life of a Malayali without the presence of caste.
Let us talk about Sajitha first. You may not recognise her by name. Sajitha is a young woman who had to confine herself to self-imprisonment for 10 years in her partner's house at Ayiloor, Palakkad. Media celebrated this dark period in her life as the demonstration of divine love. But now we know that she was made invisible for one of the most significant periods of human life because of her caste.
She was denied the light and air of freedom for a decade because she belonged to a lower caste than that of her partner. But the ultimate responsibility for this lies neither in Sajitha's husband nor in her husband's family. It is we, the Kerala society that is responsible for this biting predicament. When we peel off the layers, what gets revealed at the end of the day is nothing but the dark realities of caste. Sajitha was forced to sacrifice the most robust period of her life because she happened to be a Dalit. Her husband's family simply couldn't digest the fact that their son chose a Dalit girl as his partner. If she were a Brahmin, a Nair or even a Christian, she would never have had to undergo this imprisonment.
Alappuzha native Chitra's fight too is against caste. The fact that the Dalits can't even build a house in the property that has been allotted by the government speaks volumes about the backward journey of we the people as members of Kerala society. It's not for nothing that Ambedkar observes ''Caste is not just a division of labour, it is a division of labourers''. Caste is the elephant in the room. But we are reluctant to accept and discuss this reality. Because we are the elephant. Any talk about the elephant will ultimately come back to us. But Anupama, Deepa, Chitra and Sajitha ask us how long we can continue this pretension.
Let us now come to the fight that Anupama has been waging in Thiruvananthapuram to get her child back. Anupama's fight has been portrayed as the battle of a mother for her child. It's not just the fight of a mother. When we portray it so we are consciously avoiding the factor of caste here. Just like in the case of Sajitha and Rahman, the villain in the life of Anupama and Ajith too is caste. And we shouldn't lose sight of the fact that one common link between these two families is the communist party. It is in this context that social scientists like Prof Kunhaman observes that the communist movement has failed to counter casteism in Indian society. The question of why there has never been a Dalit General Secretary in CPM and why the politburo of the party still remains beyond the reach of the Dalits is to be read along with this.
The telephonic conversation that Mathrubhumi.com had with Anupama brings out this truth vividly. ''Why did you marry a Dalit?'' was one of the key questions that her father raised. This is not a trial of Anupama's father. In fact, it is not only Anupama's father but the entire Kerala society which includes all of us that is in the dock. Parents won't have any issues with their kids if they fall in love or marry someone from the higher caste. But they simply can't tolerate their kids accepting someone below their caste. Let us not forget the moral policing that Ajith, the partner of Anupama had to face. How brutally he has been treated by the so-called moralists of our society. Many of the left-liberals who reign over the social media took the 'quotation' against this young man on their own. Even those who declared solidarity with Anupama had no qualms in insulting and castigating Ajith. And all this has been done because Ajith is a Dalit. The entire episode has been used by the Brahminical patriarchy to endorse the stereotype that Ajith being a Dalit is there to exploit a young woman in distress.
When Suresh Gopi, a popular Malayalam film star, pronounces that he wants to be born as a Brahmin in his next birth, that only shows how deep the roots of Brahmanical patriarchy are. But this is not confined to Hindus alone. Brahmanical patriarchy is very much prevalent among Christians and Muslims. That is why Anupama's child was sent out of the state. That is why Sajitha had to go underground for ten years. And that is exactly the reason why a group of Christians in Kerala claim that they are the descendants of Brahmins.
Nothing but the fangs of caste convert life into a hell for a research scholar like Deepa. She has been forced to extend her research for the last ten years because her guide and department head cannot digest a Dalit woman progressing in life. We must recall the brutal murder of Kevin, a Dalit young man from Kottayam, here. He was killed because the relatives of his lover were not ready to accept a Dalit into their families. It may be true that love has no caste. But life in India is definitely defined and determined by caste.
There has not been in recent times a more severe critique of caste than the one scripted by Rohit Vemula, who died by suicide on January 17th, 2016 at the Central University of Hyderabad. ''My birth is my fatal accident.'' wrote Rohit in his final note. He wished to write on science like Carl Sagan. But the only letter that he wrote turned out to be his suicide note. Oh.. my God! What a writing this is! We tend to say indeliberately.
Here is an excerpt from Rohit's suicide note: ''I can never recover from my childhood loneliness. The unappreciated child from my past. I'm not hurt at this moment. I am not sad. I am just empty. Unconcerned about myself. That's pathetic. And that's why I am doing this. People may dub me as a coward. And selfish, or stupid once I am gone. I am not bothered about what I am called. I don't believe in after-death stories, ghosts, or spirits. If there is anything at all I believe, I believe that I can travel to the stars. And know about the other worlds.''
''If you, who is reading this letter, can do anything for me, I have to get 7 months of my fellowship, one lakh and seventy-five thousand rupees. Please see to it that my family is paid that. I have to give some 40 thousand to Ramji. He never asked them back. But please pay that to him. Let my funeral be silent and smooth. Behave like I just appeared and gone. Do not shed tears for me. Know that I am happy dead than being alive.''
Suicides happen because of emptiness. When one feels so isolated and alienated that he has no place to turn to then he is surrounded by emptiness and suicide appears like the only way out.
Education has been pointed out by Ambedkar as one of the most significant means of emancipation for the Dalits. Ambedkar has reiterated that the Dalits can forgo any kind of material benefits but they can never forgo the benefits of higher education. Ambedkar gained his definite slot in the political and social map of India on the basis of his stellar educational credentials. The Indian political hierarchy could never ignore or push into the margins of the society a scholar like Ambedkar who had doctorates from Columbia University and London School of Economics. Suraj Yengde too endorses this point of view when he says that the benefits he is enjoying right now owe them to his parents who took that bold and insightful decision to enrol their son into a leading English medium school. His father Milind, who was a peon in a private bank took loans from friends and relatives in order to admit his son to the same school where the son of the manager of the bank was studying.
Rohit Vemula too aimed this progression through education. But his desire was stifled by the heavily encompassing hold of caste. Maybe, Deepa has been able to carry forward her fight successfully, thanks to the energy that she received from the battle of Rohit Vemula. Rohit might have called out to Deepa in all earnestness that she should not fail in this struggle against caste. Prof Nandakumar Kalarikkal, who tormented Deepa, is a symbol. His acts only prove the depth of Brahmanization of our educational sector.
Ambedkar wrote his magnum opus ''Annihilation of Caste'' in 1936. Ambedkar was invited to preside over the annual meeting of Jat - Pat - Todak Mandal, an anti-caste Hindu reformist group organisation based in Lahore. Ambedkar sent the draft of his speech, which was titled Annihilation of Caste, to the organisers. The organisers objected to some of the content in the speech and requested Ambedkar to remove them. Ambekar retorted that he would not change even a comma in the text. The organisers then decided to cancel the meeting. Ambedkar published the text on his own and distributed copies among his friends and followers.
Here are some excerpts from the Annihilation of Caste: ''It is no use seeking refuge in quibbles. It is no use telling people that the shastras do not say what they are believed to say if they are grammatically read or logically interpreted. What matters is how the shastras have been understood by the people. You must take the stand that Buddha took. You must take the stand which Guru Nanak took. You must not only discard the shastras, you must deny their authority, as Buddha and Nanak did. You must have the courage to tell the Hindus that what is wrong with them is their religion-the religion which has produced in them this notion of the sacredness of caste. Will you show that courage?''
Ambedkar cautions that one shouldn't expect any such moves from the part of the Brahmins. The Brahmins' feet are firmly entrenched in the sufferings of Dalits. If Dalits rebel the Brahmanical hierarchy will crumble. So the Brahmin community will never lead a reformist movement for the Dalits. '' The Pope can never be a revolutionary. A revolutionary can never be a Pope. Indeed, to expect a Brahmin to be a revolutionary in matters of social reform is as idle as to expect the British Parliament, as was said by Leslie Stephen, to pass an Act requiring all blue-eyed babies to be murdered.''
Ambedkar prescribed inter-caste marriage as one of the key ways to annihilate caste. According to Ambedkar, the roots of caste will get cut off when blood mixes with blood. Both Kevin and Aneesh were killed to avoid this mixing. When two persons, who belong to two different castes, get married, society must come forward to protect them, says Suraj Yengde. Suraj repeats his observation in a chat with the renowned musician T M Krishna that caste is culture in India. And T M Krishna admits that he always enjoys the privilege of being a Brahmin even if he is not rich. Caste is all around us. It stifles our youngsters, lovers and couples like an octopus. We Keralites take pride in the fact that our state is much ahead in many parameters than the other states in the country. Kerala model development, Kerala model education, Kerala model health care- all these achievements lose their sheen in the context of our caste consciousness.
Our educational system has been fashioned in such a way as to give an upper hand to the Brahmins. It follows the system of methodical learning by heart that the Brahmin communities have been practising for centuries. All the invaders to India had Brahmins as their advisors. Be it Babur, Akbar or the British - they all had Brahmin advisors. It is not just a joke that the Brahmins of Madras planned to learn the Japanese language when they heard that Japan might conquer India towards the fag end of the second world war. The point is that the brahmins as a community could always maintain their hegemony in every system irrespective of its ideology and political approach.
Pupul Jaykar, the well-known writer and biographer of Jiddu Krishnamurthy recalls that she was at the house of JK when the news of Gandhi's assassination was flashed. Everybody was praying that the assassin should never be a Muslim. And everyone breathed a sigh of relief when it was reported that a Brahmin killed Gandhiji. JK's reaction to the news was this: ''I wonder what your reaction was when you heard the news. What was your response? Were you concerned over it as a personal loss, or as an indication of the trend of world events? World events are not unrelated incidents; they are related. The real cause of Gandhiji's untimely death lies in you. The real cause is you. Because you are communal, you encourage the spirit of division - through property, through caste, through ideology, through having different religions, sects, leaders. When you call yourself a Hindu, a Muslim, a Parsee, or God knows what else, it is bound to produce conflict in the world.'' JK's words are like chisels. They tear apart our pretensions. We, the Keralites, are exposed to the core standing in front of the mirror installed by Narayana Guru!