About the Book
Dalits have faced social ostracism of a peculiar kind. Centuries-old prejudices pushed them to the southern most comer of traditional Indian villages almost invariably. How was this possible, all over the country, unless there was a design or a conspiracy?
Dalits constitute the same proportion of the total population throughout the country. Chandra Bhan enumerates the history behind this unique phenomenon and argues that this is not possible unless there was a colossal shifting of humankind. He draws profusely from Dr B.R. Ambedkar.
Hindutva forces may not take kindly to him for saying that Dalits were outside the Varna hierarchy and that they worshipped different gods and goddesses than the Varna followers. He talks of history's longest fought war between Dalits and non- Dalits in the process of adjustment.
Is the Varna people's hate for Dalits a manifestation of hatred of the victor for the defeated and the fear that the Dasas of the Vedic times may assert themselves and challenge the old Order?
Chandra Bhan calls this Dalit Phobia and argues that this gets passed on genetically through generations. Otherwise, how does one explain that the chief executive of an MNC, the editor of a newspaper and the fishermen at Nagapattinam (Tamil Nadu) share the same disdain when it comes to dealing with Dalits, It must be pathological and hence the treatment must also be so. He suggests Dalit therapy and demands international action to cure the disease while describing this as more vicious and pervading than Apartheid.
The book also reflects why an average Dalit holds Dr Ambedkar in such a high esteem. He could stand up and resist the Varna Order. It must have needed a massive courage to face the Mahatma and tell him about the centuries of injustices meted out to Dalits.
Those who blame Macaulay for ills of India's education system are in for a shock as the book finds him as a liberator of Dalits. Chandra Bhan is an ardent Macaulay fan. Macaulay liberated India from the Brahmin-oriented traditional education system and Varna jurisprudence, he argues.
A must-read for anyone trying to analyse Dalit psychology and the hate sense of the Varna Order for these deprived groups. People often confuse Dalits with the Backward Castes. The book describes the Backward Castes as a part of the Varna Order unlike Dalits who are still treated as untouchables. This may help understand why the same yardstick of reservation was not applied for two different social categories by the Constitution makers.
About the Author
Chandra Bhan Prasad is one of the leading Dalit intellectuals in the country. He has been writing regularly for various newspapers and magazines on Dalit-related issues. He believes in confounding readers with new ideas and challenging them to think afresh away from the traditional paradigm.
One may not agree with him, but one will find it difficult to brush aside his arguments. While India is marching ahead through the shopping malls and Express National Highways, the average Dalit has not moved forward. He is subjected to same tyranny or humiliation, which his forefathers faced, if he dares to walk the road not trodden by his predecessors.
1958-bom Chandra Bhan comes from Azamgarh district of Uttar Pradesh. The urge to rebel and fight for justice took him to the CPI-ML in 1983. He was a research scholar at the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), New Delhi, where he specialised in Chinese Science and Technology. He began the Dalit Shikhsa Andolan (Dalit Education Movement), which has since spread to many districts of Uttar Pradesh.
When Chandra Bhan asked me to write a foreword for this book, I was extremely reluctant. What was the need, I asked him. People will read the book because Chandra Bhan Prasad has written it, not because of a foreword. Characteristically, he responded with a sort of parable. A Dalit in his district Azamgarh opened a sea-samosa shop. Then he began to meet Brahmins/upper caste people secretly, requesting them to visit his shop. Once they started coming to his shop, the rest followed, and his shop started doing a brisk business. "You are needed," Chandra Bhan told me, "for my intellectual shop.
Once I understood my function, it became easier. I am pleased and honoured to perform the function of the advertisement hoarding outside Chandra Bhan's intellectual shop. Unorthodox in his thinking, provocative and dazzling in his mode of argumentation, he is able to force one to rethink cherished beliefs even as he makes one angry, irritated and excited all at once. He is an unabashed votary of capitalism and stands for the rise of a Dalit bourgeoisie. He believes that a political alliance of Dalits with the Brahmins is more possible and potentially more productive than an alliance with the Shudras. He has a revisionist reading of Macaulay in which the whipping boy of Indian nationalism emerges as an anti-imperialist, liberal and modernist with a firm belief in democratic values.
Much as one may resist these ideas, one is left with the troubling residue of unanswerable questions if one is honest. This book falls into two parts-the first includes a serious engagement with the work of Dr B R Ambedkar in order to outline the history of Dalits and non-Dalits in India, who they are and where they came from, and how the caste system and the outcastes emerged. This part also contains the chapter on Macaulay which places him before us in a startling new light, and certainly made me seriously rethink my previous understanding. The second part of the book is a rather more idiosyncratic way of dealing with the pervasive casteism of Indian society and individual Indians. In a satirical mode, Chandra Bhan develops the notion of a pseudo- scientific pathology which he calls Dalit Phobia, and suggests 'medical' procedures in order to cure it. Amidst the admittedly broad comedy, one is struck with unease-is this how psychically deep-rooted casteism appears to Dalits? Is there anyone of us non- Dalits who does not need to engage in some painful introspection?
As a friend and admirer, I welcome this addition to Chandra Bhan Prasad's significant contribution to political debate and conversation in India.
Dalits: Who They Are
Dalits and the Social State
History's Longest Fought War
What Do They Have in Common?
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