Dear Sujatha Gidla, Reservations Didn’t Create the Caste System
‘Ants among elephants’ by Sujatha Gidla, a US-based Dalit female writer, stands out for its poignant and a very personal narration of Dalit experiences and the intersectionality of caste and gender.
Written for a Western audience, Sujatha Gidla takes on the momentous task of bringing forward the story of KG Satyamurthy, the Dalit revolutionary poet and co-founder of Peoples War Group (PWG), who – despite his rich contributions to the ideological discourse of class and caste struggles and to the genre of Telugu revolutionary poetry – remained sidelined for his lack of social capital.
Why Bashing Reservation Is a Bad idea
In an interview to The Quint, and at a panel discussion at Jaipur Literature Festival, Sujatha Gidla expressed some seemingly out-of-touch opinions which directly and indirectly diminish the current Dalit movements and modern Dalit aspirations.
…This is why reservations are not going to help…Look at what Mandal 1.0 accomplished – polarising the Indian society into pro- and anti-reservation camps.Sujatha Gidla in an interview to The Quint
It is unfortunate and deeply disappointing to hear Sujatha Gidla using a platform to denigrate the reservation policy in India. I am a Dalit Christian, like Sujatha Gidla. At my birth, my parents took the high road by opting for the “General Category” in my caste certificate. And by virtue of that, I have not personally availed of the benefits of reservation.
But I can say with absolute conviction that the opportunities I have had throughout my life would not have been possible had my parents not maximised their potential with the help of the Constitutionally granted reservation provisions.
It is easy to forget that, even to this day, it is reservation policies that created opportunities for a vast number of first-generation Dalits to enter higher education and government establishments, which have been denied to them for generations through deep-rooted and systemic casteism.
Mevani’s Meteoric Rise Not Based on Empty Rhetoric
… he has chosen to work under the framework of electoral politics and there is only so much he can do from within it. I applaud his sincerity but I think his rhetoric is empty rhetoric.Sujatha Gidla on Jignesh Mevani, Jaipur Literature Festival
The meteoric rise of Jignesh Mevani as the new Dalit voice cannot be credited to empty rhetoric. Mevani is known for his grassroots work that helped in raising the collective consciousness of the Dalits following the Una flogging incident.
Referring to Mevani’s feat as empty rhetoric and belittling his attempt to assert Dalit identity in the national political discourse does a disservice to Dalit movements across the nation.
Grassroots Dalit activists are stepping up the fight and raising their voices in the durbars of India’s power circles – politics, academics, and various professional and social hierarchies.
As a new generation of Dalits push forward, dismissing electoral politics as business as usual will push them towards the fringes, where they will continue to languish forever.
Reservations Aren’t the Obstacle to Casteless Society
And while we are at it, let me put it out there that not availing of the benefits of reservations did not shelter me from direct and indirect casteism ingrained in the subconscious mind of Indians.
So, to imply that removing the constitutional provisions meant to level the playing field for Dalits will result in a casteless utopia is ignorant, silly, and dangerous.
Privileged India is against caste-based reservations but it is not against the idea of caste! Skewed opinions aired by Dalit writer like Sujatha Gidla are exactly what they hope to parade in order to break down younger generation of Dalits trying to find dignity and self-respect for themselves through higher education.
The New Dalit Leadership Can’t Be Ignored
Yes, let us ask more questions from the Dalit leaders entering electoral politics. Yes, let us hold them accountable on Dalit issues. Yes, let us find leaders who will push the boundaries, rewrite the Dalit agenda, and not remain token representatives. But let us not propagate regressive opinions that clip the wings of Dalits who aspire for the highest offices of power.
And anyone who has sensed the pulse of current Dalit movements will attest that the emergence of Jignesh Mevani, or Chandrashekar Azad of the Bhim Army, is a result of the Dalits demanding for a new brand of Dalit leadership.
Sujatha Gidla may or may not sense this, but the Indian elites across the spectrum are taking careful note of the Dalits who will make a dent in the age-old hierarchy, whose ideas will mobilise the masses, and whose strong assertion needs to be monitored and curtailed.
Is it any surprise that Chandrashekar Azad of Bhim Army is languishing in a prison and Jignesh Mevani is being dragged through the mud by the media, while Sujatha Gidla is being invited to the Jaipur Literature Festival and similar events, which are a feel-good echo chamber both for western audiences and elite and pseudo-liberal Indians?
With a great platform, comes great responsibility. As a private individual, Sujatha Gidla is entitled to her opinions. As an aspiring writer, she can and should write stories which she wants to present to the world. But as she uses her platform to speak on behalf of Dalits, she should be held responsible along with that privilege. As a younger Dalit to an older established Dalit, I sincerely urge Sujatha Gidla:
Don’t be a missed opportunity. Instead, let us collectively share the historical burden and use our restricted platform to uplift our sisters and brothers who still labour under that very burden.
(Benson Neethipudi is an aspiring social commentator; an observer and people, politics, and popular narratives. His thoughts are rooted at the intersection of caste, privilege and how they play into everyday experiences. He can be reached @BenNeethipudi.This is a blog and the views above are personal. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)
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