A BR Ambedkar statue
A statue of Dr. B. R. Ambedkar | Photo: Commons
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Over the last month, I have watched statues around the U.S. come down, some with broader support than others, as part of a loud argument with American history. What has struck me most is the juxtaposition with India, where the construction of statues, not their destruction, has been a method for dealing with our own struggles of racism and inequality.

In India, too, segregation and discrimination has persisted for centuries, based not on race but on caste. While, to an outsider, caste may seem invisible, it is instantly recognizable to Indians through names, dialect, food, addresses and other indicators. So-called untouchables — outcastes — are relegated to the lowest rungs of the social order because their traditional occupations are deemed to be polluting.

Even the English word for outcaste — pariah — comes from the word paraiyar, the name for the drummers’ caste in southern India deemed impure because they deal with leather. The Paraiyars are among the 270 million Indians, around 17% of the population, who identify as Dalit, the preferred name for erstwhile untouchable castes. The word means “broken” or “oppressed.”

While it’s risky to equate the experiences of two distinct peoples, some parallels between the Dalit and Black struggles are obvious. Historically, upper castes maintained social control and caste order by strictly enforcing marriage endogamy and segregation. There were punishments for violations, with the strictest reserved for the Dalits. Much like African Americans, Dalits were blocked from occupying certain public spaces, using a common water source or entering parts of the village. Even casting a shadow on an upper caste was considered polluting.

The treatment of Dalits in many parts of India today resembles that meted out to African Americans in previous centuries. It’s not unusual for Dalits to be murdered if they marry outside their caste — with their corpses hung in public as a lesson. Dalit women’s bodies are treated as property by upper castes, sometimes to punish them or their husbands for caste violations.

But the strength, contributions and achievements of Dalits have also become a part of public consciousness in India — not least through public monuments. Almost every Indian town has a statue of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, a founding father of the Indian Republic and one of the country’s most remarkable 20th-century figures.

Ambedkar was born in 1891 into the untouchable Mahar caste. A brilliant student, he received scholarships to study at Columbia University and the London School of Economics. He got his doctorate in economics, became a member at Gray’s Inn, taught economics and practiced as a lawyer — all before he turned 35. His book, “The Annihilation of Caste,” is a cornerstone in Dalit scholarship. As chairman of the Drafting Committee in India’s Constituent Assembly, he shaped constitutional rights and was instrumental in abolishing untouchability and guaranteeing equal protection under the law to all individuals in India.


Also read: Annihilation of caste in Indian corporate possible. But firms must say Dalit lives matter


Historically, Dalits were excluded from receiving any form of public recognition. But Ambedkar statues have reclaimed public space for Dalit contributions in virtually every town in India. Almost always, they show Ambedkar holding the constitution in one hand and pointing ahead with the other, toward a more just and equal society. Most were not commissioned by the state but funded and built by local Dalit communities.

It sounds simple but celebrating a cause or a people by building statues isn’t easy. In India, Ambedkar statues are frequently vandalized, torn down by upper castes to show Dalits their place. Some need to be protected by shields and cages.

Dalits rarely retaliate violently. Instead they resist systematically through political, constitutional and civil movements. One reason for this is that Dalits don’t enjoy broad support from upper-caste Indians and lack the privilege to tear down statues of other figures without violent repercussions.

More importantly, though, Ambedkar’s followers are adhering to his belief that, in a democratic republic, such matters must be negotiated through a defined political process. When an Ambedkar statue was vandalized last year following caste clashes in Vedaranyam, the response of Dalit activists was to call for the construction 1,000 new monuments.

Imagine if Americans were to build statues commemorating Fredrick Douglass and W.E.B Du Bois and James Baldwin and Harriet Tubman and Rebecca Lee Crumpler and Madam C.J. Walker — monuments in every town that would last for decades if not centuries. It would not make up for the need to reform police departments and address structural racism, just as Ambedkar statues have not ended the impoverishment of and atrocities against Dalits. But, in the fight over symbols, it would count as a welcome, overdue and long-lasting victory.-Bloomberg


Also read: How BJP is undoing three decades of Mandal gains and still getting OBC support


 

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3 Comments Share Your Views

3 COMMENTS

  1. Some people think that the lower castes of Hindooland – called Dalits,are a man made creation,which origined as a necessity,derived from the laws of economics and division of labour – id.est., the laws of economics,as they existed 5000 years ago.

    Sadly,that is NOT true – but it is a convenient excuse,used by Hindoos in the USA, embarrassed by the depravity and inequity,of Hindooism.The White man and Muslims,do not probe further,as they know NOT, the bottomless pit of Hindooism.The logic appeals to the white man as it is an inferential,obverse deductive logic – akin to the economic logic,of the slave trade,by St Paul.

    The Creation,Permanence,Sustainance, Genocide and Degradation of the lower castes,is ORDAINED by an INJUNCTION,in the GITA.The Gita is not some OBSCURE or OBVERSE citation,in some archaic corner,of the Hebrew Bible,or a part of the NT fables.The Gita is the CORE of Hindooism – like the TORAH.

    The concept of classes of humans,ordained as such, EVEN BEFORE THEY ARE BORN, for the current birth and the next birth,wherein redemption is obtained,by perpetual misery and suffering of the lower classes,due to their sins,in the PREVIOUS births,would be the crowning glory,of Jon Stewart’s acerbic wit – were it not for the absolute genocide,of the lower castes.

    No religion preaches such a diabolical abhorrence,and even the Babylonian and Jersualem Talmud – treat Non-Jews as Goyim or Filth – but within their own – there are no classes or castes.

    This is the injunction of the Gita,delivered by their God – Krishna.dindooohindoo

    The Verse – 1

    “It is far better to perform one’s svadharma (prescribed duties), even though faultily, than another’s duties perfectly. Destruction in the course of performing one’s own duty is better than engaging in another’s duties, for to follow another’s path is dangerous.” – Bhagavad-Gita 3:35.

    The Deduction

    If a Dalit does anything more than be a human scavenger – that path would be “dangerous”. That means he would be killed – and the theological justification for lynching.

    The Verse – 2

    “According to the three modes of material nature (goodness, passion, ignorance) and the work associated with them, the four divisions of human society (Brahmin/KsHatriya/
    Vaisya/Sudra) are created by Me .

    The Deduction

    Created by ME.The Gods have created the Dalits ONLY for the FUNCTION OF CLEANING TOILETS and SERVING the UPPER CASTES,like SLAVES

    The Verse – 3

    And although I am the creator of this system, you should know that I am yet the nondoer, being unchangeable.” — Bhagavad-Gita 4:13.

    The Deduction

    Heraclitus said Change was the only constant.The Hindoo Gods CREATED THE CASTES – and AFTER its CREATION – the Gods became the NON-DOERS,and the CASTES represent the WILL of the GOD – who is UNCHANGEABLE – and SO THE CASTES are a PRIORI – for ever !

    WHAT WOULD BE THE PLIGHT OF THE DALITS – HAD THE MUGHALS NOT COME TO HINDOOSTHAN.It is the NOBLE DEED,of Converting 220 million Dalits, to Islam – which explains the Divine success of the Mughals in India – inspite of ALL ODDS.

    Islam gave the Dalits empowerment,emancipation,security,redemption and salvation.

  2. This our unfortunate ,still indian upper cast socity who roots r dominating lower cast socity to come up in a broad spectrum of modern world ,every where in India it find depressing human on the grounds cast system,indian political think strength is always in favour of upper cast so it coz majoriticaly thinkers are belong to upper cast, there is also few thinker who speak out through journalism injustice towards Dalits, journalism has made space to justify,and justice towards such kind of prevailing rigid issues in indian socity,always dominated for justice on favour of poor lower cast socity, I think indian descreminatikn system is strongly rooted in indian cultur and socity since many thousand years , it won’t go easily or abolish completely in time, unless there could be any National strict reformation takes in place, dr Ambedkar had brought Dalits community in main stream of reformation, like it was struggled by Mahatma jyotiba Phule,Chatrapati Shahu Maharaj,likemany others too, and of course because this great reformers lower cast socity stood up to retaliate in strong, or to respond to any injustice towards them, journalism was only effective weapons with deprived class, lower cast to fight more strongly against accursed injustice in the basis of casteism, and journalism has always made justice with this lower cast socity, and new comet generation media journalist must have deep sensible knowledge of casteism, descremination, roots in Indian socity, and their effect ,n objectives, today media has modernise in big scale in few hours impact, or effect of new story most devastating .

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