By Abhimanyu Singh:
Leading intellectuals and Dalit writers expressed their consternation and anguish at the increasing trend of caste-based oppression in the country, at a panel discussion on Dalit literature held at Ambedkar University in Delhi last week. Held in the backdrop of the suicide of Dalit activist Rohith Vemula, a student of the Hyderabad Central University, the discussion saw all the speakers refer to the incident in their speeches.
The discussion featured K. Satchidanandan, poet, Bama, a Dalit writer, Gopal Guru, professor of political science at JNU and Huchangi Prasad, a young Dalit poet who was allegedly thrashed by right-wing activists last year over his writings targeting Hinduism. Since Prasad could only speak in Kannada, his speech was translated by CPM leader Vijoo Krishnan.
Speaking first, Satchidanandan noted the “tragic” suicide of Vemula and blamed the two BJP central ministers whose names have featured in this regard, along with the then Vice-Chancellor of the University who has now resigned, for abetment. Calling the matter a “deeply disturbing series of events”, he alleged that it was “spurred on” by a right-wing student organisation, in an apparent reference to ABVP, one of whose members Rohith had allegedly assaulted although it is yet to be proved.
Satchidanandan recalled several such incidents that have occurred at HCU, including the suicide of Senthil Kumar. “This is reported to be the eighth such suicide at this particular university,” he pointed out. (However, a ToI report states that Rohith’s suicide was the ninth such incident at HCU).
Putting the issue in perspective, the Malayalam poet stated that such incidents were a direct result of the robust assertion of Dalit identity lately and a spurt in Dalit literary and intellectual activities which were unacceptable to the upper-castes who wished to maintain their caste-based hegemony.
Speaking next, Prasad narrated the conditions in which he grew up, as a contract labourer paid a pittance and exploited severely. Not only was his cousin sister gang-raped by upper-castes for standing up to them, his brother was beaten up in school for defending Ambedkar, he told the audience. Prasad made a special appeal to end the practice of the Devdasi system which forces lower-caste women into sex work. He also noted the increasing instances of oppression of Dalits in the country by recalling incidents like the one in which a man was killed in Maharashtra for a ringtone on his mobile praising Ambedkar.
Bama and Gopal Guru also touched on similar concerns in their addresses. Bama, in particular, noted that Dalits had an intimate knowledge of the environment due to their work in the fields which was rarely acknowledged and with the emphasis towards industrialization, it was likely to become a thing of the past.
Guru’s piece on Rohith’s suicide can be read here.
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