Over the past five years or so, ever since I have become vocal about my interest in dalit studies, I have had the occasion of meeting, interacting and arguing with quite a large number of students, intellectuals, teachers, researchers, in short educated people with a progressive outlook, all of whom believe in the necessity of a casteless society, however disparate that vision may be. They are not necessarily bhadroloks or bhadromahilas. There have been many occasions when I have encountered and have had interesting conversation with dalit or bahujan women or men who have faced casteist abuse and are working on dalit literature. Whenever I have written something or talked about caste they have responded, appreciated and at least “liked” my posts or articles. However, limited that response may be, I see that as some sort of conscious decision to recognise a “voice”, in this case my voice and acknowledge whatever I am saying about caste. I am trying to point out the fact that as far as my public sphere is concerned, there are enough “aware” people who know the kind of casteist environment our university space has and the extent of hostility a reserved category student may face here. They listen and read dalit literature, work on dalit writings, share cases of atrocity, appreciate films like FANDRY and occasionally pat the backs of people like me, dalits and savarnas alike.
In such a context, what explains the curious silence of the same group of people when a man, whom we have all known as classmate, friend or student of Jadavpur University (JU) faces unimaginable hostility in his workplace, which is a reputed university and has to continuously prove that such incident has happened to him? Is it because the incident has happened so close to us that we are in a situation where any open remark is sure to put us in one side or the other? But as far as I know, the students of JU or the kind of people I am talking about here have never shied away from taking sides, taking up a stand. Or is it because of the fact that they know it very well that this time, if they take a strong stand they might have to point the finger at a friend with whom they regularly interact, at a teacher they look up to or at a person whom they are attracted to, want to date or even marry or perhaps married to? All this would definitely involve antagonising people whom they are close to, are dependent on for their survival and happiness, people with whom they interact daily, work every day. it would involve disturbing the INTIMATE, WHAT IS DEEP WITHIN US, WHAT WE LOVE AND CHERISH… the frank adda with our beloved professors, the nice time with our friends and the cooler people in the campus, all in all a “nice and easy time”.
THIS IS CASTE.
EVERYDAY, INTIMATE, SAFE, COOL, PLEASURABLE, ATTRACTIVE, INEXTRICABLY CONNECTED WITH WHAT DEFINES OUR LIFE IN CAMPUS, WHAT WE VALUE MOST.
It is primarily due to this aspect of caste that we have mostly remained silent, overlooked humiliation and with a nonchalance that rivals the rhinoceros, the “gandar” that is; have abandoned Mahitoshda when he needs us, our solidarity and humanity the most. But think of it in a different way. If you think that your teachers, colleagues, friends and lovers will feel antagonised or upset if you “come out” in support of Mahitoshda, what is the implicit condition of such relationships or bonding? What is it in that relationship that has censored your individual duty to resist injustice, and stand up against humiliation? Why has the relationship turned you into an inept, voiceless, spineless person without the courage to say openly that what is wrong is wrong, to call a spade a spade? Interestingly, this is curious moment in our lives. At this point, if a savarna comes out in support of Mahitoshda, it is the moment when she can negate her caste, if a dalit does the same thing, she inadvertently also comes out as a dalit. The curious logic of caste, even at the moment of resistance works against the dalit or the person belonging to the subordinate caste. I guess, this is the reason why dalit and bahujan students have taken recourse to silence, neglect and frankly escapist attitude.
To them, I have a few things to say. And my long harangue is primarily for them. I will be precise.
WHATEVER HAS HAPPENED TO MAHITOSHDA, CAN HAPPEN TO ALL OF US.WHEN EDUCATED, URBAN, PROGRESSIVE STUDENTS OF A MODERN UNIVERSITY LIKE PRESIDENCY NAME A DOG AFTER A DALIT PROFESSOR, IT IS NOT THE PARTICULAR PERSON WHO IS THE VICTIM HERE. IT REFLECTS THE DEEP SEATED, UNABASHED CASTEISM OF THESE STUDENTS, WHO HAVE NO DOUBT WORKED WITH THE BLESSING OF SOME OF THEIR TEACHERS. THE PRESENCE OF MAHITOSHDA HAS OFFERED THEM THE OCCASION TO SHOW WHAT THEY REALLY ARE. AND IF YOU THINK THAT IT IS AN EXCEPTIONAL SITUATION FROM WHICH YOU WILL FOREVER ESCAPE, THAT THE COOL PEOPLE WHOM YOU LOOK UP TO ARE GOING TO SAVE YOUR ASS AND SPARE YOU THIS HUMILIATION, YOU ARE MISTAKEN.WHAT HAS HAPPENED TO MAHITOSHDA CAN HAPPEN TO YOU AS WELL.
Fortunately, thanks to some conscientious and courageous people’s intervention, this matter has gone to the legislative assembly and media has covered it. But this is also the moment when we can form a collective and come together and resist such harassment and hostility that will continue to affect our lives in the future. Remember Babasaheb’s word. Our battle is not for material benefits or prosperity. It is for our dignity and respect which this nation, its institutions and religion have denied us. You are educated, privileged and upwardly mobile. Do some soul searching. COME OUT.