Gujarat Model for an Epic Struggle

Roads in Gujarat lead to future nowadays.

Azadi Kooch began after flogging of a dalit family and its four youths by cow vigilantes is visiting village after village. New villages are joinging them every day, new hemlets are being drawn into it. Thousands of Dalits from hundreds of villages take oath in the name of Babasaheb Ambedkar:

Hum Gujarat ke Dalit Samuday ke log aaj Una ki dharti se Dr Ambedkar ke naam se ye shapath lete hain aaj ke baad Jeevan me kabhi gutter me utrenge nahin, maila uthayenge nahin aur mare huye pashu ke nikal ka kaam bhi karenge nahin aur uske bajaye Sarkar ke samne ye mang rakhenge poore Gujarat ke harek dalit parivar ko panch panch acre zameen ka awantan ho jai jai jai jai jai bhim.

Dalits are doing what Ambedkar named as a “blow on the Hindu social order”. It is a veritable revolution that strikes at the origins of caste system and untouchability.

This is a determination to not to follow the system in which people are condemned to professions by birth, that works on the division of labourers and where life of animals considered the significance that human lives are denied of. This effort to be free from such a horrible economy of oppression, in Brechtian sense, is an act of making free the thought that is needed to get freedom. The path to freedom can never be attained while clinging with the economy of exploitation. It is only the thought emancipated from this order of can lead towards the thought of freedom.

“For a name can make a revolution”[1]

To liberate the thought is to name it. Thinking to be free begins with naming it freedom: as we always see, in history every movement consists with replacing the system of names with the old ones. What we know as slogans, ideas, salutes, statues and laws, declarations and pronouncements: all are institutions of those new names established by the movement, the new establishment, the revolution.

Revolutions begin with the pronouncement of this new structure of names. Revolutions are performance of change. They had to be pronounced. There are some actions that needs pronouncements to be completed. Revolution is one of them. They needs the system of names, spoken words, to be uttered. Names, that vocal expansion of collective desires and dreams. They are destination marks on the map where you want to reach.

This is the performative aspect of oath of Dalits in Azadi Kooch. It is not possible that they leave their hereditary job silently. Then it would be their personal decision, limited to their person or their family at the most. But then the collective force of caste structure would force the individual or the family to change their decision. It will crush them. Personal decision will not turn into a political statement. It will not become a part of the social changes. It will only become that when it will be pronounced. When it will be spoken. When rejection will be uttered.

Ambedkar precisely did this when he left Hinduism in 1956. In a sense he left Hindusim in 1935 when he decided and announced to do the same. He no longer kept following this religion anymore. But even then, his decision did not mark this massive change into the sphere of practice and thought on the level of society and politics. His conversion was considered happened only when he collectively performed it.

Dalits of Gujarat, too, are performing their decision. In the shadow of a small statue to Ambedkar, with fists clenched and hands raised above their head, they are renouncing the hereditary profession mandated by the castes. To renounce the caste profession is about the defeating the caste. They are making themselves estrange -delineate- from the caste mandates.

The site of this performance, unlike those historical political performances, is not the body of the actors but the social body that perpetuates the oppression.

This shift is not insignificant. Caste system perceive the body and identity of a Dalit as a site of perpetual exploitation (“Never was a man treated as a mind,” says Rohith Vemula). Caste is performance of social and cultural codes. Being Untouchable in the caste society itself carries the norm of a certain kind of performance. This performance is directed towards body of the Dalit community: the people which one must avoid to touch. The people one must not get touched from. The people who scavenge the human filth, with their hand, on their body. The body being consumed by severs. Body helping in child births. Body that toil in farm, makes bricks, sweats in suffocating density of mines, accumulates dirt to keep corporate offices shinning. Body that carries excreta on the head, skins cows. Caste is a knife that rips apart the body and mind and keep them in their distinct places with spears of fear (fear of punishment, fear of hell).

Dalits of Gujarat has chosen the oppressive body as a site instead of their bodies. This choice is significant. For more than one hundred years there began a movement from the same Gujarat which located the individual’s own body at the centre of protest. Gandhi’s satyagraha implies on the body of protestors to approach the oppressors compassion and sympathy to get rights and favours.

But Dalit does not have it as an option. They cannot make their bodies the site of struggle as it is already a site of oppression and suffers from the destitution. It cannot be further stressed. But there is another thing to it too. Caste mandate about their body is so severe, so omnipotent, so that whatever they would do to their bodies as a mark of resistance, it will conveniently fall well within the mandate. It will not be taken as a resistance, rather a perfect observance of caste practices. They cannot afford it.

“Real innovations attack the roots”[2]

What Dalits are doing is that they are claiming their revolutionary stake. They are exposing the exploitative structure where they live in destitution, deprivation and disaffection. At the same time, they are showing the path to an emancipated future for their existence where they can live with equality and dignity in the society. They are resisting a social structure and the economy of oppression simultaneously. They say together that they will not carry dead cattle, they will not skin carcass and demand five acre of cultivable land to replace this economy of oppression. This way they are, one more time, trying to bridge that false disjunction of base and superstructure still persisted in Marxist idea and practice.

By doing this, they are presenting a counter point to the process that makes their caste exploitation as natural, ahistorical and pre-determined. They fight this naturalism of the social order. The best resemblance we can find to their action is in a performative tool conceived by Bertolt Brecht: V-effect. It is a tool to demolish illusions and natural characteristics that hide the dynamic and ever changing existence of structure and their historicity.

Azadi Kooch is a beam of rays piercing through the dark lynch mob instigated by jingoist fascism. It cuts through the caste system who stand on a strange paradox: it denies the caste that drives it. It makes it a natural order. Such things never get recognized by society and one has to make them visible by force to expose their horrific existence and historicity. Azadi Kooch is one of several of its kind that performs this kind of estrangement. It is a countermove to the brahminical and jingoist mystery around the social reality. A mist that binds the Dalit interests to entire caste structure and Hindu Rashtra.

For centuries, Dalits have been condemned to be a polluted but necessary appendix of the society. But when dreamers of Hindu Rashtra, that would be carved around representative democracy, realized the importance of Dalits, suddenly they started presenting them as tragic hero. Hence the concocted stories of persecution of the defeated people in “Mughal” period, which propagates the lie that Muslim victors made the defiant/defeated people untouchables. This way the history of around two thousand years of forced labour, slavery and the two thousand years of flogging have been easily termed as their sacrifice to preserve Hinduism. Narendra Modi’s statement about manual scavenging is a textbooks example of it where it is further raised to the level of spiritual experience.

If our prime minister would have had a little sense of history, and not of its debris, then it would make sense to tell them that it is not the spiritual experience but the network of punitive norms and customs that forced Dalits to clean his filth from his pit. Here is a piece of one law that his ideological forefathers toiled to enforced:

“Should a sweeper who has a customary right to do the house-scavenging of a house of building fail to perform such scavenging in a proper way, the occupier of the house or building or the board may complain to a magistrate.” (United Province Municipalities Act II of 1916)

Such a denial by a scavenger was a punishable offence and can be met with fine or imprisonment. Thus Ambedkar, of whom Modi claims to be a bhakt, asks: “how can the Untouchable be accused of doing these dirty work voluntarily?”

After Ambedkar, being a Dalit signifies not following the caste mandates. It signifies the defiance of norms of caste. To make possible these changes would be the last action of the people as Dalit. After that, they will not be Dalit anymore.

Around 26 years ago, it is from the same district, Gir Somnath where Una lies, started a rath yatra from Somnath that unleashed all the beasts that are haunting us today: the murderous wave of communal attacks on Muslims, lumping together the Dalits with Brahminical mythologies, making it a cover for the neo-liberal assault of globalization on the life and livelihood of the people and state of perpetual emergency.

Una, not very far from Somnath, is the undoing of everything that rath yatra unleashed.


[1] BR Ambedkar, “Away From Hindus”, Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar Writings and Speeches, vol 5, 2014, p.420.

[2] Bertolt Brecht, “The Modern Theatre is the Epic Theatre”, Brecht on Theatre, 2013, p.40.


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Reyazul Haque Written by:

Reyazul Haque has worked many years with Prabhat Khabar and Tehelka as a journalist and now he is studying Arts and Aesthetics at Jawaharlal Nehru University. He runs a well-known Hindi blog Hashiya and interested in poetry, cinema and theatre

One Comment

  1. August 25, 2016

    Enthusiastic, a ray of hope for human values through literally expression.

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