‘Time to Give Women Equality in the Eyes of God,’ says Ram Guha 

Among the glittering set of literary names that attended the Litfest, here are the voices that stood out.

5 min read
Ramachandra Guha. 

“Women’s entry to Sabarimala is a raging topic, but 90 years ago, close to 95 percent of Hindus said the Dalits can’t enter temples. But this was challenged. In the mid-1920s, a resistance began with three people trying to enter the Vaikom temple in the Kerala,” said historian Ramachandra Guha at the Banagalore Literary Festival.

They defied the law and entered the temple and were beaten up, said Guha. When they were taken to the hospital, three others took their place. “This extraordinary story of Vaikom was the beginning of the temple entry movement across India. It took sacrifice and courage, but eventually there came a time when Dalits couldn’t be stopped from entering a temple,” he said.

He indicated that it will take a similar kind of doggedness for women to enter the Sabarimala temple and take up positions like a temple priest.

Guha, during his session on ‘Is There an Indian Road to Equality?’, said there was need to strive for three kinds of social equality – equality before the law, equality in social practice and equality in the eyes of God. He added that it was time said women were given equality in the eyes of God.

Discrimination against women is an intrinsic reality of every religion and community, he said. “I thought caste discrimination had waned in urban areas. But Rohith Vemula’s suicide indicates otherwise. The revelations of the #MeToo campaign reveals that discrimination and harassment of women, sexual or otherwise, is an everyday reality. Recent data on women withdrawing from workforce also paint a scary picture,” he said.

Guha also announced his support for the #MeToo movement during this speech. “The revelations of the MeToo campaign reveals that the harassment and discrimination of women, sexual or otherwise, is an everyday reality in India. I applaud the courage of the women speaking up. The data on women withdrawing from workforce also paints a scary picture,” he said.

Finding Heritage in the Slave Routes

South African poet Athol Williams
South African poet Athol Williams
“My grandfather’s surname was Balakristen. It was a common name in the Indian community in South Africa, but my Indian friends denied the existence of such an Indian name. It could be Balakrishnan, (a south Indian name), they said. Eventually, I made peace with the fact that our family surname could have been a South African immigration officer’s interpretation of an Indian name.”
Athol Williams

Athol Williams, a South African poet, was among the speakers for the panel discussion, “Descendants of Indenture”. The session including Athol had four dual heritage writers sharing stories of the descendants of Indian- bonded labourers who were taken to several parts of the world in the last century.

Continuing the story of the surname, he said it was changed by his grandfather, who decided to identify himself more as a ‘coloured’ person than an Indian, to ensure a better quality of life for their family. The new surname Williams, which even Athol bears, gave his grandfather a right to own land in South Africa.

For young Athol, discussions on his heritage were not encouraged at home. This inspired one of his poems, where a young boy asks his reluctant father about his heritage. And as the poem goes, the father “lied liked a colonial judge.”

“There were too many doors I was told I shouldn’t go look behind, especially about my history. The South African libraries had no books on history of the Indians. When I grew up, as a poet, I wanted to understand stories that run through my veins. I’m the product of the history of many people who have gone before me. So, that is the reason I write,” he said.

‘I Feel my Arrest is Imminent’

Dalit intellectual Anand Teltumbde.
Dalit intellectual Anand Teltumbde.
“I feel my arrest is imminent. I was not sure if I would be able to make it to Bengaluru. Whatever is happening to us could happen to anyone of you tomorrow. They have developed this fiction around Bhima Koregaon, something completely unrelated to Maoism. It is a deliberate strategy where they are making a statement that they can do anything to anyone even when there are absolutely no grounds,”
Anand Teltumbde, Dalit intellectual

Dalit intellectual Anand Teltumbde, whose Goa residence was raided by Pune Police in connection with the Bhima Koregaon case in August last week, was deliberating on ‘Questioning the Foundations of the Republic’. He expressed his deep concern over people’s inability to understand the implications of the rise of the religious right fascist forces in the country.

According to him people have begun to consider these changes as normal. “We need to learn our lessons from the rise of fascism from Europe. As of now the only means available to us is the elections. But the ruling dispensation seems to have created an illusion of there being no alternative,” he said.

“It only exposes the intellectual bankruptcy of our political class. Most ills of Indian democracy were started by the Congress, now aced by the BJP. The Congress and other opposition parties will do better by consolidating the secular vote, which even today outnumbers the majoritarian vote,” he said.


Bringing the Folk Culture to the City Traffic

Shilpa Mudbi (right)
Shilpa Mudbi (right)
“As part of my earlier job as a documentary filmmaker, I spent a lot of time in the villages. As part of the shoot, I had taken several footages of women working in the field and at home. During the process I recorded songs they were singing as well. Each job had a song - a harvest song, a song for grinding millets, etc. But over time, with the coming of machines, these songs started disappearing. The harvesting machine took away the harvest song and grinding songs ended with the oncoming (electronic) mixer grinders”
Shilpa Mudbi

Shilpa Mudbi is a part of the Urban Folk Project and is trying to spread the word about Jana Pada Geeta – rural Karnataka’s folk songs. These songs are narrated in the distinct dialect of north Karnataka, but her performance at the Bangalore Literature Festival had a little twist – she narrated them in English for the urban audience.

“Initially, we thought of making an archive project but we realised that the best way to keep the form alive was to share the experiences with people in a medium they’d understand. In the rural parts, these performances would go on for hours and it used to engage them. So, if there was an excited viewer or even if someone slept off , the performers would improvise to include them in the act,” she said.

While the English version gave the audience at the lit fest a taste of the form and the instruments, what was unique about Urban Folk Project’s performance today was that they lent an open invite to interested listeners to learn the art form from Shlipa and her crew at Bengaluru’s Cubbon Park. 

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