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These 7 Excerpts From Anand Teltumbde’s Work Are Crucial Lessons On Social Structures

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Seven important lessons that Anand Teltumbde taught me through his writings:

1. Neoliberal Globalization Sucks For The Majority Of India’s Population: The Poor And The Dalits

“Social consequences of the economic miseries associated with these reforms are indeed ominous for the Dalits. On one side they shall be subject to increasing pauperization and on the other stand in competition with the multitude of masses in the job market. The increasing tendency of businesses to downsize, virtual abolition of the reservation system through privatization, the strategies of flexibilization and informalisation of labour; corporatization and depeasantisation of farming, etc. will release vast numbers of people to the job market. The resident caste prejudices in such situations will certainly get activated to the detriment of the Dalits”.

(Teltumbde, ‘Globalization and the Dalits’, 2001)

2. Caste Discrimination Doesn’t Go Away With Dalit Representation In The Bureaucracy If The Superstructure Remains Intact

“Dalits do not often appreciate that Dalit individuals are more prone to zeal in upholding the system than others. Because a Dalit employee, unlike his nondalit counterpart, experiences more pressure from caste prejudice of ancient standing to prove himself, he can do so better by upholding the system, even in its most unjust aspects, vis-à-vis other Dalits. In Khairlanji, many Dalits in the administration reflected precisely this pressure in their insensitivity to their people (let alone to victims of a horrific crime). The system thus transforms the individual into its faithful from a class point of view, the Dalit rising the administrative ladder remains no more a Dalit ally and rather undergoes a class transformation. It is the Dalits’ clinging to this representational logic that has reduced them to political inactivity. They have not yet realized that it is their political participation, their struggle, that can influence the behaviour of institutions and structures, not individuals, howsoever highly placed they may be.”

(Teltumbde, The Persistance of Caste, 2010)

3. Bahujanwad Politics Mobilizes People On Caste Consciousness Which Doesn’t Work On The Ground

“Bahujanwad assumes that all the lower shudra castes and Dalits can come together and create a formidable constituency in their bid for power. Purely from the standpoint of their material status, these groups are similarly placed, and they must indeed come together. But when bahujanwad aspires to unite people based on caste identity, it misses the fact that it essentially mobilizes them with their respective caste consciousness. There may not be much to differentiate the caste consciousness of the vast majority of shudra castes on the one side and of Dalits on the other but to imagine that these two social groups, placed at contradictory positions in the traditional and rural production system, would come together as ‘Bahujan’ is grossly erroneous. It betrays ignorance of the primordial divide between Dalits and nondalits, repeatedly demonstrated through history, which, as corroborated by empirical evidence, has been caste’s dominant existential feature. The caste continuum, classically depicted with brahmins at the upper end and Dalits at the lowest is hopelessly and visibly kinked at the point of division between the two segments: avarna and savarna, Dalits and nondalits, outcastes and castes. It may sound impracticable to many, but it is only the building of true class consciousness that can prevent Khairlanjis in the future. Bahujanwad can be meaningful as a transformative agenda only if it is based on the trans-caste unity of all the lower classes of society.”

(Teltumbde, The Persistence of Caste, 2010)

4. On The Agenda Of The Hindutva Gang

“The deaths of Mohammad Akhlaq and Rohit Vemula stem from the same source, the Brahmanical order that the BJP and its Parivar outfits are at pains to restore. Theirs is an ideology of elitism based on the systematic persecution of the downtrodden. The cynical appropriation of Ambedkar by Hindutva is an attempt to veil this connection…To avert the prospect of Dalits and Muslims joining forces is a priority for the Sangh Parivar. Its intellectuals have been saying that Ambedkar was against Muslims.”

(Teltumbde, Republic of Caste, 2018)

5. On Rapes Of Dalit Women As An Atrocity

“In an incident in 2002 when five Dalits were lynched by a Vishwa Hindu Parishad mob and then set on fire in the compound of the police station in Haryana’s Dulina, much like the Khairlanji Murders, the court did not apply the Atrocity Act stating that the perpetrators did not know the caste of the victims. It implied that the courts expected a rapist of a Dalit girl to shout loud enough to be heard by a witness that he was raping the girl because of her caste”.

(Teltumbde, The Persistence of Caste, 2010)

 6. The Ambiguity Of Reservations

“Article 340 of the Constitution mandated that the government identify “classes” which were “socially and educationally backwards”, and implement measures “to remove such difficulties [so] as to improve their condition”. The catch in this innocuous-seeming article is that backward “classes” means “castes” to all intents and purposes, while carefully sidestepping the word, and provides for reservation measures to improve their condition. The political scientist, Christophe Jaffrelot, in his essay “The politics of OBCs” (Seminar, May 2005), traces the origin and usage of the expression “backward classes” to the early non-brahmin movement of the 1870s in the Madras Presidency, and observes:

“When India achieved independence, Nehru gave them a new name, though hardly more satisfactory: “other backward classes”, implying classes other than the untouchables and the tribes. But the keyword here is “classes”: even if he was not the first to use it, Nehru was intending to distance himself from an approach in terms of caste.”
It is not as if Nehru was so anti-caste or progressive that he shied from the word caste. He was cast in the liberal mould and saw caste as primordial. He sought to wish caste away by not naming it as such. Whatever the reasons, the euphemism of class for caste entered the Constitution and has created confusion, a confusion that has been duly taken advantage of by the political classes with reservations for “class” groups being read into the Constitution mischievously. The point of intersection between these terms caste and class is the term “backward”.

In a country characterized by graded inequality, to use Ambedkar’s phrase, all people could claim social backwardness because even subcastes of brahmins could prove their “social backwardness” concerning some other group. About educational backwardness, even today, seven decades after Independence, almost all castes could meet this criterion. When the lawmakers outlawed untouchability, castes also should have been outlawed. Being an aspect of caste, untouchability would not go away unless castes were destroyed. Instead, our legislative history presents the spectacle of continually reinforced caste identities through the proliferating reservation, accelerating with the introduction of the criterion of backwardness.”

(Teltumbde, Republic of Caste, 2018)

7. Defining Caste And Class As Separate Entities

“A class is a category of persons united by a common role in the production process, whereas a social caste is a group of persons united by their common position in the juristic or legal order of society. For instance, landlords are a class; the nobility is a caste. Economically speaking, this or that noble may be impoverished; he may have only the barest subsistence; he may be a slum-dweller, but his station remains that of a noble. A brahmin might be poor, living in a slum, but he would still command his birth privileges.”

(Teltumbde, Republic of Caste, 2018)

Featured image credit: The Hindu
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