ABSTRACT Equality of treatment for all citizens and their cultures in public places is one of the prominent declarations of the secular Constitution of India. The hegemony of Hindu culture in the public sphere, however, reflects a dichotomy between stated declarations and social reality. Placing Dalits at the bottom of the caste hierarchy, if not outside it, ‘mainstream’ Hindu culture not only marginalised but importantly rejected the Dalits and their culture. This article examines the saga of the demand for a beef stall by the Dalit students in Hyderabad Central University and argues that the rejection of the culture of any community injures the human agency of that community. It is proposed that such injury can be healed only by a dialogical process, involving assertion of positivity and pride in the culture of the injured and positive recognition of such assertion by the injurer. Democratisation of the public sphere can be actualised by according representation to marginalised cultures, but in addition such representation needs to be accompanied with respect.
KEYWORDS: beef, caste, Dalits, democratisation, food, human agency, Muslims, public sphere, representation, reservations, Schedules Castes, respect, social status
Introduction: Exiling Communities Through Hegemonic Culture
The concept of ‘hegemonic culture’, critical to the present discussion about equal treatment of different cultures within Indian law and politics, has two meanings according to Margalit (1996: 169). Firstly, it refers to the culture of the dominant group in society, the group with the power to decide who belongs to this society and who does not. In such a society, as in virtually all human societies, there are cultures or sub-cultures that exist side by side with the hegemonic culture, but these are considered less important or are even not considered at all. Secondly, the view may be taken that there is only one culture for the whole society, and that culture is decided by the dominant group.
My use of the concept here is clearly in the first sense, respecting the reality of social and cultural pluralism. In addition, equality of treatment of all citizens and their cultures in public places is one of the solemn declarations of the fundamental rights guarantees in the Constitution of India of 1950, to the effect, ultimately, that all citizens shall be at liberty to live in accordance with their culture (Mahajan, 2005; Rodrigues, 2005). The hegemony of a particular kind of ‘Hindu culture’ in India’s public sphere, however, reflects a dichotomy between the stated constitutional declarations and social reality. While the end result of such hegemony, as in any other hegemonic cultures, is marginalisation of non-Hindu cultures, there is something more serious, and perhaps specific, to the hegemonic claims of Hindu culture. By placing the Dalits at the bottom of the caste hierarchy, generally considered outside that very hierarchy, Hindu culture not only marginalised but importantly rejected the Dalits and their culture. Two debilitating effects of such rejection are that Dalits have become ‘citizens in exile’ (Guru, 2005: 260) in their own country and that the human agency of Dalits has been ‘tampered with’ (Berlin, 2002 : 43 and 339), and injured on an everyday basis.
Following Bhargava (2005), I take ‘public sphere’ to mean a common space, in principle accessible to all individuals. Importantly, in post-colonial India, this public sphere is protected by fundamental rights guarantees for all Indian citizens irrespective of community and culture, starting with Article 14, which provides that ‘[t]he State shall not deny to any person equality before the law or equal protection of the laws within the territory of India’.
Dalits, since at least the nineteenth century, have fought for education, for wastelands for cultivation, for temple entry and above all for access to public spaces and the use of roads and public transport (Omvedt, 2004: 21). The demand for water rights for Dalits in the Mahad satyagraha in 1927, sponsored by Bahishkrut Hitakarni Sabha, under the leadership of Anantrao Chitre and Dr. Ambedkar, marked the new beginning of Dalit battles against the caste Hindu society and its inegalitarian culture. This was done to reclaim the right to access public spaces, and thus equality in citizenship, as well as human agency. Presently, the demand for equal access to public space is still pursued vigorously and energetically by various Dalit movements and their parties.
The present article examines how a Dalit group of students, the Dalit Students Union, faced difficulties and opposition in setting up a beef stall in Hyderabad Central University in Andhra Pradesh. The article first outlines the demand for the installation of this beef stall. The aim thereafter is to analyse three interconnected aspects of the Dalit students’ demand: Cultural representation, humiliation and retrieval of human agency, and democratisation of the public sphere. Through this analysis I make two claims. Firstly, rejection of any community’s culture is a way of injuring the human agency of that community, and such injury can be healed only by a dialogical process, namely the assertion of positivity and pride in their own culture by the injured and positive recognition of such assertion by the injurer. Secondly, democratisation of the public sphere can be effectively actualised not only by according representation to marginalised cultures, but such representation needs to be accompanied with respect of ‘the other’.
Food Hierarchy and Caste Hierarchy: A Dialectical Matrix
Within the caste-based Hindu society, a broader food hierarchy sustains an order of superiority of food consumption. This goes down from vegetarianism, meat-eating (involving no beef) to beef eating (Chigateri, 2008: 11). Such ordering arises on account of two specific food taboos, one against the consumption of meat itself, the other specifically against the consumption of beef. What is significant about these taboos is that they are not simply taboos in the true meaning of the word and they are not only about food. They are, indeed, markers of divisions and differences employed to sustain caste and community identities and relations (Pandey, 1983; Yang, 1980). In one of his seminal works, Ambedkar (2002 : 404) drew attention to these two taboos and the socio-cultural codes they carry with them and observed:
Even a superficial view of the food taboos of the Hindus will show that there are two taboos regarding food that serve as dividing lines. There is one taboo against meat-eating. It divides Hindus into vegetarians and flesh-eaters. There is another taboo against beef-eating. It divides Hindus into those who eat cow’s flesh and those who do not.
Thus, these two food taboos divide Hindu society broadly into three social groups, a division that corresponds with the social divisions on caste and community lines: (i) vegetarians, specifically Brahmins; (ii) non-vegetarians, i.e. meat consumers (but not beef eaters), including various categories of non-Brahmins; and (iii) beef consumers, primarily the Dalits.
Interestingly, this food hierarchy is not built upon the Brahmanical notions of caste. It is constructed on a matrix of the superiority of the ethic of non-violence, a conception of the graded hierarchy of living things, and especially a belief in the sacredness of the cow (gau mata), to produce a conception of necessary food (Chigateri, 2008: 11). Such a matrix, in modern India, is shaped by none other than Mahatma Gandhi, a Hindu to the core. In correspondence with Asaf Ali in 1920, Gandhi (as quoted in Chigateri (2008: 19), wrote:
I consider that God has not created lower forms of animal life for man to use them as he will…I have no right to destroy animal life if I can subsist healthily on vegetable life. I have no right to slaughter all animal life because I find it necessary to slaughter some animal life. Therefore, if I can live well on goats, fish and fowl (surely enough in all conscience) it is sin for me to destroy cows for my sustenance. And it was some such argument that decided the rishis of old in regarding the cow as sacred, especially when they found that the cow was the greatest economic asset in national life. And I see nothing wrong, immoral or sinful in offering worship to an animal so serviceable as the cow…cow slaughter is indefensible on moral grounds.
Two aspects are clear from this religio-spiritual discourse by Gandhi. First, the hierarchy of food consumption is constructed around the principle of non-violence and necessity. Second, non-violence is understood in terms of a graded valuation of living things and creatures. At the top of this hierarchy is the gau mata, an important economic unit integral to the ecology of the village. Cow slaughter and beef eating, in this particular discourse, become unnecessary and immoral acts (Chigateri, 2008: 20).
However, the food hierarchy in practice is far messier, especially when it comes to what specific castes and communities eat and what they are supposed to eat. For instance, Brahmins of all sub-castes in Bengal and Saraswat Brahmins in coastal regions of Karnataka eat fish. Several communities in the middle of the caste hierarchy, such as Vaishyas and Lingayats, are mainly vegetarians. Yet the superior status accorded to vegetarianism, because of its minimal violence, the ethic against cow slaughter and the attendant taboo against beef eating, continues to frame the discourse of food practices in India and does not match the relative caste ranking.
The effects of the caste Hindu discourse on beef consumption, especially upon Dalits, are appalling. In everyday social relations they are made vulnerable to humiliating treatment. Following the rise of Hindu fundamentalist forces, on several occasions Dalits have been lynched by caste Hindus, allegedly after killing a cow. Dalits are forced to consume beef stealthily, far from the gaze of the caste Hindu public. This, however, does not mean that Dalits accept their subordination. They are engaged in an intellectual critique of the food hierarchy as well as symbolic acts of consumption of beef in public so as to dispel the stigma attached to it (Kancha, 2004; Raj, 2001).
Demand for a Beef-Stall
The beef stall incident at Hyderabad Central University’s Sukoon Festival is an attempt at such a ‘teasing out’ and highlighting of stigmatising treatment. Every year, at the end of March or in early April, the University Student Union, the representative body of all students at Hyderabad Central University, organises a three-day cultural festival called Sukoon. As part of this festival a number of competitions are held for students, including quizzes, dramas, debates, singing, dances, music, games and sports. While in the daytime students enjoy taking part in those competitions, in the evenings they relax in an open theatre where various musical bands play for them. Along with the competitions, various stalls, selling books, clothes and food, are opened by students and non-students. The food served in these stalls is mostly vegetarian. Meat is also served, but mostly confined to chicken dishes. Unquestionably these two food varieties are consumed by all social categories in the campus.
At the same time, other more culturally specific foods are eaten. Festivals are special occasions, and on such occasions people would prefer food which is tied to their respective cultural backgrounds. As the name ‘Central University’ suggests, this university has students and teaching and non-teaching staff from all over India with diverse cultural backgrounds and a varied range of food habits. For instance, Dalits (at least South Indian Dalits) prefer beef to other varieties of food. Similarly, Muslims desire mutton biryani, and students from Adivasi background as well as north-eastern states favour pork varieties. Unmindful of this diversity, an exclusive preference of a particular variety of food, identified with a specific culture, especially on the occasion of the cultural festival of a university, is a marker of hegemony of a specific culture over the plural cultural terrain of the campus.
The Dalit Students Union, a few months before the Sukoon Festival in 2006, challenged this hegemony. They argued that the food in the stalls did not represent the cultural diversity of the university community, comprising students, teaching and non-teaching staff of the university, and was simply another manifestation of the hegemony of the upper castes and their culture. The University, as a public institution, it was further argued, should not allow its public space to be colonised by a particular culture. Instead, it should ensure that space is shared equally by every culture of the university community. In short, the cultural festival of the university should represent the many cultures of Indian society. As a step towards equality in representation, the Dalit Students Union demanded that it should be allowed to set up a beef stall in the Sukoon Festival. It was argued that beef constitutes an important part of the food habits of Dalits and is thus part and parcel of Dalit culture. Besides, such food culture is equally shared by Muslims and a few others from caste Hindu cultural backgrounds. The administration, the executive body of the university, was ‘irritated’, to quote one of the Dalit Students Union delegates, by this request and instantly denied permission for the stall on the grounds that ‘consumption of beef…(in the campus) creates caste and communal tensions’.
This, as criticised by many Dalit Students Union members and other students, is an absurd ground of justification. How does beef consumption create caste and communal tensions? Beef is consumed outside the university campus as well, and does not appear to create caste and communal tensions, or at least tensions between the consumers and non-consumers of beef. In any case, the administration’s rejection of a beef stall was taken as a rejection of Dalit culture by the Dalit Students Union. It organised a number of protests against the decision and led an indefatigable campaign among the students. Its determined efforts divided students into two diametrically opposed groups, one supporting the installation of the stall and the other opposing it. Many student organisations supported the Dalit Students Union. The only organisation that opposed it was the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyaarthi Parishad, the student organisation attached to the Bharatiya Janata Party.
As it happened in 2006, the Student Union was under the leadership of the Marxist Student Federation of India, a key supporter of the promotion of Dalit culture. Disregarding the decision of the University, the President of the Student Union let the Dalit Students Union set up a beef stall in the festival. The opening of the stall generated great euphoria as well as despair in the campus. The Dalits and other supporters of the stall celebrated the occasion by shouting slogans in praise of Babasaheb Ambedkar, clapping, dancing to the energising rhythmic sound of the Madiga Dappu (drum), congratulating each other on their triumph and relishing the taste of beef. The Akhil Bharatiya Vidyaarthi Parishad, however, bemoaned the installation as ‘the tragedy of the campus’ and ‘a calamity of Indian culture’. Further, it organised noisy protests against the stall and demanded that the administration should remove the stall, for ‘beef eating is against the Indian culture and against the sentiments of [the] majority students’.
The administration, as if waiting for this response, hurried to the stall and demanded that the Dalit Students Union remove it at once, alleging damage to ‘order’ in the campus. The Dalit Students Union and other supporting organisations, especially the Student Federation of India and the Ambedkar Students Union, stood firm and argued that ‘the food habits of the Dalits are different from those of the (caste) Hindus and this difference should be represented in the food served in the Sukoon Festival’. The administration, both on account of the logic of the reasoning and the support rendered to the stall by a majority of the students, appeared to come to its senses. Taking cognisance of the prevailing local as well as national laws on the issue of beef consumption, it officially issued a letter of permission to the Dalit Students Union for the beef stall.
The Beef Stall and Student Politics
Dalits, whose culture has often publicly been devalued, have an intrinsic interest in revaluing their culture and social standing in the public realm. To that extent their campaign for the beef stall was justified. But why did non-Dalit students (and, of course, non-consumers of beef) support the cause as well? Should their support be taken at face value, or are there underlying motives that need to be examined? I argue that although Dalits have an intrinsic interest in revaluing their culture, the driving force for the actualisation of such interest in the campus comes from the interest in power of different student groups. This is what propelled the non-Dalits either in supporting or opposing the beef stall. This can be explained by a brief examination of the student organisations and their politics in the university.
Students and their politics in the campus are a reproduction of social relations as well as a replication of politics that take place outside the campus. The existence of multi-caste/ethnic/cultural organisations in the campus quite clearly demonstrates that students are polarised on the basis of caste, class, community, region and religion. Such polarisation informs us about two aspects of this power struggle. Firstly, the battle to capture power in the University Student Union is fought from many corners, where one student organisation is simultaneously engaged in fighting against every other organisation. Secondly, the victory in this case fused together those contesting parties which possess an ability to appeal to wider audiences and manage to muster support from other contesting parties. Of course, in the game of power, as demonstrated by Indian coalition politics in recent years, rendering support is not giving up power, but taking a share in it.
The key players in the beef issue are the Dalits, but it is important to be aware that since 1995, the Dalit movement in Andhra Pradesh has been caught up in the web of reservations-oriented activism. There are certain Dalit castes, such as the Mala and Adi-Andhra which, owing to their proximity to the Hindu upper castes, a history of Christian missionary and Hindu reform activities and largely due to governmental welfare efforts – both in colonial and immediate post-colonial India – have acquired education, become socially and politically conscious and gained employment opportunities in modern spaces. It is this group of castes that has benefited most from the reservations for Scheduled Castes in the state and has become dominant among the Dalits (Raju, 2000; Mehra, 2008). However, there are other Dalit castes such as the Madiga, Relli and others, which lacked the initial advantages. These communities are too poorly equipped to take advantage even of facilities extended through the policy of reservation. This has, in turn, resulted in their continuous incarceration in traditional caste-based socio-economic relations and occupations (Ramaswamy, 1984; 1985; 1986).
This under-representation, evidently one of the primary reasons for their overall marginalisation, compelled the Madigas in Andhra Pradesh to organise under the banner of the Madiga Reservation Porata Samithi in the 1990s. Through this organisation they have not only questioned the over-representation of the dominant Dalit castes in the quota of Scheduled Caste reservations, but have also demanded caste-based re-distribution or categorisation of that quota. This method of categorisation aims to enable every caste within the Dalit category to access their due share (Gundimeda, 2009a). But the Malas and the Adi-Andhras rejected this demand on grounds that warrant serious concern. First, they argued that the Madigas lacked the merit to compete against the Malas. Second, they claimed that the categorisation would destroy the unity of the Dalit community. They even formed the Mala Mahanadu, a counter-caste association, and organised a ‘no holds barred’ campaign against the Madiga Reservation Porata Samithi (Balagopal, 2000: 1078).
This larger Dalit politics influenced the Dalit politics in the University and resulted in the division of Dalit students along caste lines. Prior to the emergence of the Madiga Reservation Porata Samithi, Dalit and Adivasi students were organised under the banner of the Ambedkar Student Union. Together with the Dandora, the Madiga students then moved out and formed their own organisation, the Dandora Students Union. As the name suggests, initially the organisation operated as an exclusive body of the Madiga students, despite the fact that they, as part of the Dalit group in the campus, had the same problems and issues as that of other Dalit students. But in recent years this Union has moved from its original exclusivity and has begun to respond to issues of other students as well, particularly issues concerning Dalit students. The change of the organisation’s name, from the Dandora Students Union to the Dalit Students Union, both using the acronym DSU, aptly describes this transition. But what triggered this transition? The Dalit Students Union, apart from securing the interests of the Madiga and other Dalit students in the campus, is interested in power just like any other student organisation. In its incipient years, the Dalit Students Union attempted to contest elections on its own strength. But the number of the Madiga students was insufficient for winning elections. It was electoral defeat that drove the organisation to evolve a two-pronged strategy, making alliances with other student organisations and attracting other Dalit students into its fold. On the first front it has entered an alliance with the Student Federation of India, and on the second it primarily targets the non-Mala Dalit students, winning their confidence by taking up issues common to the entire Dalit group. The issue of the beef stall in the Sukoon Festival is one such common issue.
After the departure of the Madiga students, the Ambedkar Students Union had literally become an organisation of Mala students. Mala is the second largest Dalit caste in the state and members of this caste have achieved a great proportion of reservation facilities for Dalits in the state. While there has always been social rivalry between the Madigas and Malas (Reddi, 1950), such rivalry in recent years has further intensified. In addition to these old and new rivalries, both organisations witnessed an unprecedented competition against each other when the Madiga students began to attract the non-Mala Dalit students into its organisational orbit. Threatened by the prospect of losing members, the Ambedkar Students Union forced itself into the beef issue. In a sense, if it had not given support simply because this issue was being initiated and pursued by the Dalit Students Union, it would have lost the support of other Dalit students, who see this episode as a common important concern. Of course, some students from both organisations have quite positively viewed the Ambedkar Students Union’s support for the Dalit Students Union’s initiative as a new beginning of old Dalit politics. Moreover, such partnership is sine qua non not only for winning elections, but importantly to end the domination of the upper caste students in the leadership positions of the University Student Union.
Apparently, the beef stall would not have been installed but for the support of the Student Federation of India. The question is why did it support the stall and how does such support fit into the ‘class-based’ approach preached by the Communist Party of India? While this is a larger question, it is sufficient to mention here that in recent years the left parties have changed their original position on caste, and are now supporting caste-based mobilisations for justice. Although the support of the Student Federation of India for the stall could be traced to this changed ideological stance, the immediate motive also comes, again, from electoral calculations on campus. While the leadership of the organisation emanates from upper caste students, especially Kamma and Reddy castes, the support base is constituted by students that belong to Dalit, Muslim, Adivasi and Most Backward Caste backgrounds. Thus, the upper caste leadership is compelled to support the caste-based cultural issues of Dalits as well as other lower castes in order to sustain its broad supporting base. Such mutual support, undoubtedly, is benefiting both sides. For instance, between 2001 and 2006, both the Student Federation of India and the Dalit Students Union have entered into an electoral alliance, in which each has helped the other to send representatives to the University Student Union. Yet, a significant point here is that while all the important positions in the Union, particularly those of President, Vice-President and General Secretary, would be taken by the upper castes, the less important positions, such as Cultural Secretary and Joint-Secretary would be given to Dalit students. In other words, as the traditional patron-client relations of the agrarian order have been replicated in the political order of democratic politics, the same relations are yet again replicated in student politics today. The effect of such replication is what Kaviraj (1998: 156) has called a process of ‘domestication’ of the lower orders by the upper orders of society. Thus, such mutuality of support not merely facilitates the reproduction of caste-based relations; it also impedes unity among the lower castes in general, and Dalits in particular.
The support rendered to the beef stall both by the Tribal Student Association as well as the North Eastern Students Forum is also not without interest. These organisations wanted to set up a pork stall in the Sukoon Festival. As the consumption of pork has, along with beef, been banned in the campus, they could not achieve this objective. However, they knew that once the path for the beef stall was cleared that would open the way for their project. It is this interest that has roped these two organisations into the supporting side.
Of all the student organisations, the only one that opposed the stall is the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyaarthi Parishad. As an offshoot of the Bharatiya Janata Party it draws its inspiration against the stall from the mother party’s Hindutva ideology. Interestingly, however, the student body’s campaign against the stall is not on account of this ideology, but is also part of a competition for power that operates at two levels. On the one hand, the Parishad as a strong contender for power in the University Student Union employed the beef stall as an instrument to mobilise caste Hindus. It was observed that some of the caste Hindu students who do not take an active interest in campus politics suddenly joined the Parishad’s campaign against the stall. Thus, the organisation used the issue at hand to swell its membership. On the other hand, the issue had also become an instrument in the competition for the organisation’s leadership between Brahmin and Other Backward Classes (OBC) students. Many of my respondents informed me that the Brahmin students were not eager to oppose the stall. The logic for their lack of enthusiasm was that if beef is consumed outside the campus, then what is wrong in consuming it inside the campus? This logic did not appeal to the OBC students, however, who are competing against the Brahmins for leadership. It was argued by them that if the Brahmins could not adhere to Indian ‘culture’ and ‘values’, they should step down and hand over the organisation to those people who are ‘true believers’ and ‘followers of that culture and its values. The OBC’s arguments forced the Brahmins to remain silent and launch the campaign against the stall.
Claiming the Right to Represent
Nobody was really surprised to see the arguments used by the Parishad against the beef stall. It is almost needless to mention that the ‘Indian culture’ they were referring to was the culture of the Brahmins and other upper castes, a culture that includes, among other things, notions and ideas of purity-pollution, hierarchy and exclusion (Pandian, 2002) In short, it was yesteryear’s Brahmanism and today’s Hindutva. Fascism as the source of its inspiration makes Hindutva a problematic culture (Puniyani, 2006). Besides, Hindutva is of course not the only culture practised by Indian society. As people are associated with a variety of religions, castes, languages and geographical regions, so they practise a wide range of cultures. Being practised and followed by the diverse citizens of India, and importantly conforming to the secular law under the Constitution, this diversity becomes part and parcel of society. Thus we have many Indian cultures rather than a single Indian culture. Due recognition of these cultures is not just a courtesy of Indian society. It is a constitutional obligation (Taylor, 1994: 25).
The other argument of the Parishad, namely that ‘beef eating is against the sentiments of the majority students’ is absurd. If ‘sentiment’ is the basis of argument, Dalits could equally be arguing that not eating beef is against their sentiment. If both concerned parties are fixated on the idea of sentiment, this argument does not lead anywhere. In fact, the place for sentiment is the private sphere rather than the public domain. Chandhoke (2005: 328) argues that the public sphere ‘can remain the site of rational communication and deliberation as long as the participants are content to let reason be king’. In other words, in matters of the public sphere only reason should be allowed to guide endeavours to find a viable solution, not irrational sentiment.
What is important to recognise is that the issue at stake is neither about beef eating in a public space nor about sentiments of some students. It is simply about the sharing of public space, a space that belongs to none but is – and should remain – accessible to everyone. The individuals of the ‘university community’ by virtue of their membership in the university are entitled to use the public space in the university, as long as such use does not encroach upon the rights of other members in the community. These rights are accorded to them both by the Constitution of India as citizens as well as the Constitution of the Hyderabad Central University as its members. However, while some people are claiming this common space, others are even prevented from accessing it. This is what was being questioned by claiming the right of access to the public space of the University. To put it in cultural terms, some individuals on account of their cultural affiliation are made eligible to access this public space, while some others are prevented from accessing it, simply because their cultural habits are seen to be incompatible with those of others.
In short, Hindu culture risks standing in tension with the Constitution. The domination of this culture in India’s everyday life implies the marginalisation of non-caste Hindu cultures in society and, as a consequence, an undermining of the secular Constitution. The Dalit Students Union, by setting up a beef stall in the public space of the university, was not merely challenging the domination of Hindu culture, but opening up the public space for other marginalised communities and cultures to enter that space. In short, the Dalit Students Union was not only realising citizenship rights accorded by the Constitution, but importantly protecting the law itself from the exclusionary claims of caste Hindu culture.
Claiming Human Agency
The rejection of the beef stall, both by the Parishad and (initially) the administration, is only one of many rejections Dalits face by caste Hindu society in everyday life. Such rejections are not only humiliating to Dalits but importantly are also injuring their humanity. What was being rejected was not just the stall or the consumption of beef, but the consumers themselves. This raises the issue of what it means to be humiliated and how the victims should react to this. Palshikar (2005: 5428) insightfully observes:
To be humiliated is to be rendered inferior or deficient in some respect by others in a deliberate and destructive way. It is therefore a deeply distressing experience. It is something one cannot get over easily, and those who have to face it everyday sense a constant threat to their sense of self-worth.
Similarly, Margalit (1996: 109) forcefully makes the claim that to humiliate someone is to treat a human being as nonhuman, and treating someone as nonhuman is an injury to their very humanity. Both claims are made under the supposition that humiliation typically presupposes the humanity of the humiliated. While such humiliating behaviour rejects the other as nonhuman, the act of rejection presupposes that it is a person that is being rejected. One of the ways of treating a human as a nonhuman with the potential for feeling humiliated is seeing humans as stigmatised, that is ‘to see some physical “anomaly” of theirs as a sign of a defect in their humanity’ (Margalit, 1996: 103). This anomaly is not necessarily present in the physical body, but may also be found in certain items of dress people wear or the food they consume. For instance, the caste Hindus who cannot tolerate Dalits see not only their drum (dappu) as a stigma, but also their food, particularly beef. In a way, when certain items are associated with or used permanently by certain individuals or groups of people, as argued by Margalit (1996: 104), they ‘can serve as marks of stigma just like bodily signs’. One debilitating effect of such stigmatisation of people is to injure their very humanity, and thus to make them subhuman. Further, to treat someone as stigmatised means to treat that person as someone who is seriously deviant from the stereotype of the ‘normal appearance’ of a human being. Dalits as consumers of beef are treated as seriously deviant from the normal way of life – read the Brahmanical way of life – and are therefore considered severely flawed human beings.
The key question is, where do humiliated people go from here? Should Dalits accept the humiliating treatment by caste Hindus and lose their humanity forever? Or should they do something against such treatment to retrieve their humanity? If the choice is the latter, what are the available options? Palshikar (2005: 5431) notes three main historically evolved responses to humiliation: revenge, retribution and forgiveness. To this list I add two more responses, namely to restrict or avoid those practices at the root of the humiliating treatment, and to assert positivity and pride in those practices which grant license to the humiliator.
Before discussing these two additions, the usefulness of Palshikar’s (2005) three responses is considered here. First, if taking revenge against the humiliator implies reciprocating humiliation, how can this be achieved? Since Dalits are humiliated on account of their beef consumption, the reciprocation could be humiliating caste Hindus on account of their food habits as well as their ways of life. Some remarks made by Dalits and other lower castes against Brahmins and other upper caste Hindus suggest that the former have already been engaged in this form of response. For instance, one finds a few Telugu expressions such as pappugaallu (‘lentil fellows’, which refers to Brahmins’ fondness for and consumption of lentils), jandhyamgallu or threaddugallu (‘thread fellows’, a reference to the sacred thread worn by Brahmins and other upper caste Hindus) and sinthapandugallu (‘tamarind fellows’, which refers to the trade of Vaishyas as well as their complexion). These names are given not only by Dalits to the upper castes, but also by the upper castes against each other. However, the effect of these remarks of humiliation upon Brahmins as well as other upper castes are relatively ineffective, for two reasons: Firstly, lentils or the sacred thread, unlike beef, carry a positive social value on account of their consumption/use by Brahmins and other caste Hindus, and such value works as a shield against external humiliating remarks. Secondly, Dalits on account of their inferior social status are psychologically incapable of extricating themselves from humiliation of the upper castes. Caste Hindus, however, unlike Dalits, have generally enough social confidence to enable them to ignore the opinions of others. If the action of revenge does not have its expected effect upon the target group, then what is the point in engaging with it?
In this context, it is useful to examine the observations by Chakrabarti (2005: 31-6) on ‘revenge’. Describing revenge as a fundamentally silly idea, Chakrabarti argues against the idea of revenge on three counts. Firstly, by resorting to revenge the avenger cannot ‘get even’ with the original attacker. Secondly, ‘[t]he revenge spiral keeps continuing, turning into blood feuds, keeping old wounds fresh rather than helping them heal. Revenge always escalates violence, never puts it to rest’ (Chakrabarti, 2005: 34). Thirdly, vengeance is seen as an announcement of moral and strategic defeat, not a display of victory or power. (Chakrabarti, 2005: 35). But what are the victims supposed to do with the haunting memories of past sufferings inflicted by others and the toxic resentment that this generates? Chakrabarti’s response is simply to ‘remember’ and ‘resist’. The advice is that one should not throw back the wounding words or weapons of mass destruction (real or concocted) to the perpetrator.
Although one might not have objections, at least on moral grounds, to the views expressed by Chakrabarti (2005: 31-6) on ‘revenge’, the suggestion to remember and resist is an unviable solution, for two reasons. First, asking a victim to remember an act of violence or humiliation is a way of leaving the victim in permanent mental agony. The victim is doubly victimised, first on account of the humiliating treatment itself, secondly on account of retaining such treatment in memory. Second, the idea of ‘resistance’ implies continuation of the problem. The solution to a problem is annihilation rather than temporary solace. By resisting one is at best pushing the problem aside rather than eliminating it on a permanent basis.
I suggest that retribution as a response to humiliation is problematic for three reasons. Firstly, violence, causing destruction either human or material, is a regression of civilisation. Secondly, though the population size of each individual caste is no greater than any other individual caste within the social hierarchy of India, there is a massive gap when castes join into social categories. The combined population strength of the caste Hindus is between 65 to 70 per cent of the total population of India, while the combined strength of the Dalit population is between 22 and 24 per cent. It is not only a question of numbers, however. In other capacities, too, caste Hindus are better equipped and in the event of violent retaliation, the Dalits would obviously suffer more than others. Thirdly, resorting to violence suggests that parties involved in violence have lost trust and faith in each other.
Palshikar (2005: 5431) quotes Digeser (1998) who observed that ‘forgiveness commonly requires that the victim have a change of heart or express a commitment to eradicating his resentment to the wrongdoer’, provided the victimiser has repented for his wrongdoing. I remain sceptical as to the usefulness of this response in a caste-based society. One of the pillars of Hindu caste society is the theory of karma, which suggests that the birth of individuals into various castes in the hierarchy occurs on account of their deeds in their previous life. This means that the present positions of upper caste and lower caste are a consequence of their earlier good deeds or bad deeds. It is possible that, shaped by karma theory, caste Hindus believe that their attitude and behaviour, including violence and humiliation against Dalits, is not only a way of reaping the benefits of their good deeds in previous lives, but also a way of punishing these Dalits for their earlier bad deeds. Shaped in such an ideological environment, the question arises whether caste Hindus can ever repent of their violence and humiliation against Dalits. To put it differently, forgiveness requires repentance on the part of the wrongdoer and also a change of heart on the part of the victim.
Ambedkar, despite his anger with caste Hindus for inflicting indignities on Dalits, gave considerable thought to the influence of scriptures on the attitudes and behaviour of caste Hindus towards Dalits. Ambedkar (1989 : 66) perceptively observed:
Caste may be bad. Caste may lead to conduct so gross as to be called man’s inhumanity to man. All the same, it must be recognized that the Hindus observe Caste not because they are inhuman or wrong headed. They observe Caste because they are deeply religious. People are not wrong in observing Caste. In my view, what is wrong is their religion, which has inculcated this notion of Caste. If this is correct, then obviously the enemy you must grapple with, is not the people who observe Caste, but the Shastras which teach them this religion of caste.
Some orthodox Brahmins as well as other caste Hindus genuinely believe in the Hindu Shastras and mould their lives in accordance with values drawn from those texts. But such a view is simply dangerous. It removes ‘human responsibility’ of human activities and transposes that responsibility unto non-human materials, such as religious texts, ideologies, values and faiths which cannot be held accountable. What follows from this analysis is that ascribing human actions to non-human materials is simply avoiding human responsibility. Caste Hindus will never change their attitude against Dalits without being confronted by the issue of human responsibility. As long as people choose to declare other humans as non-human, for whatever reason, one cannot expect forgiveness of ‘the other’.
The two other responses mentioned above, namely either to restrict or avoid those practices at the root of the humiliating treatment, or to assert positivity and pride in those practices which grant license to the humiliator, need to be examined now. If one were to choose the response of avoiding the practices that are at the root of the humiliating treatment, the only available choice for Dalits would be to completely give up the consumption of beef. This is a choice that suggests that people may be willing to sacrifice everything for the sake of not being humiliated. Such sacrifice, however, is not warranted for two reasons. While it is true that Dalits are humiliated on account of beef consumption, relinquishment of this practice by itself does not guarantee them human treatment by caste Hindus. Historically, we have several instances where Dalits continued to be humiliated by caste Hindus despite strict adherence to vegetarian food. Giving up beef consumption to avoid humiliation can itself constitute an act of humiliation, not inflicted by others, but self-inflicted. Taking an action for others which goes against one’s own interest, but which strengthens the power of others over that person, would be an act of damaging one’s self-respect and constitutes self-inflicted humiliation. Thus the first course of action, both on account of lack of guarantee for humane treatment and because of self-inflicted humiliation, is untenable.
The second course of action, asserting positivity and pride in those practices that have been rejected by others and are at the root of humiliating treatment, appears to be the best course of action for two reasons: Firstly, engaging in a practice shows that the practitioners value this practice. However, when such practice is not only disregarded by others, but used as a means to inflict humiliation, then the views of others certainly become one’s concern. Reaffirming the value in the practice, and asserting positivity and pride in it, practitioners, as Young (1989) suggests, may invite others to see the value in that practice.
While Dalits are not ashamed of beef eating and in fact relish its delicious taste, they are made to feel ashamed of their food when they encounter caste Hindus, whose social norms prohibit beef consumption. The installation of the beef stall in the public space by the Dalit Students Union can be interpreted not only as an assertion of positivity and pride in their food practice, but also an invitation for caste Hindus to taste this food and re-evaluate their perception of it. In this case, the victims are not acting on the wishes of the humiliator, but on their own terms, and thus claim agency for themselves, inviting others to accept or at least re-assess the value of the denigrated action.
Democratisation of the Public Sphere
The installation of a beef stall in a public space by the Dalit Students Union is an act of democratisation of that space for two reasons. Firstly, it has fractured the hegemony of Hindu culture over this public space, and in doing so the Dalit Students Union has liberated that space from the thrall of Hindu culture. Secondly, on account of this, the space is now set for ‘due representation’ of hitherto marginalised as well as misrecognised cultures. Already students belonging to the Tribal Students Association and the North-Eastern Students Forum have engaged in discussions about setting up a pork stall in Sukoon 2009.
A troubling question at this stage remains whether securing representation can by itself be characterised as democratisation. The reason for asking this question is that the initial experience of the beef stall indicates that the Dalit Student Union’s approach is not so different from that of the representatives of Hindu culture. During the Sukoon festivals of 2006 and 2007, the stall served mostly beef items. As a result of such exclusivity, the people eating at the stall were mostly Dalits. Representatives of supporting student organisations also visited the stall, but only to show solidarity with the cause, mostly borne out of political compulsions and self-interest. This suggests that by serving a specific variety of food, the stall has catered only to a specific group of consumers. This implies that the representative space of a specific culture becomes an exclusive domain of that culture and indicates, on account of this, that persons who are not part of this specific culture are excluded from that domain. I argue that such approach is problematic for three reasons and build my arguments on Alam (1999), Bhargava (2002) and Gutmann (1994).
First, it is true that the need for representation occurred because people, either in the name of caste or community, were impeded from promoting their culture in public spaces. To that extent, claiming representation in the name of the same markers was justified. However, once such representation is secured, what is expected is an abandonment of those exclusive markers rather than a clinging to them for achieving the common good. Sticking to the socially ascribed markers not only essentialises and hardens identities, but also generates radical exclusion of other people and cultures. Such essentialisation will negatively affect not only the socially powerful but specifically the powerless. As already discussed, Brahmin identity entails socio-cultural superiority and individuals belonging to the Brahmin caste might desire to hold on to that identity to tap into entitlements that come along with that identity. The same is equally true with the identities of caste Hindus. But the same preference for the traditional ascribed identity, beyond the representational space, does not work for a Madiga and other Dalits. Further, these preferences – in the longer run – will perpetuate the system that produces and reproduces Brahmins and Madigas, the two representatives of the oppressor/humiliator and oppressed/humiliated, respectively, in the caste hierarchy. It could be argued that sooner or later it should be the aim of all individuals to liberate themselves by breaking such prisons of identities rather than remaining in those dungeons.
Secondly, if until 2006 the entire orbit of public space at Hyderabad Central University remained an exclusive domain of Hindu culture, now a specific portion of that space has become and will remain an exclusive domain of Dalit culture, so also of Muslim culture, Christian culture, Adivasi culture, and so on. In a way, we can see in the name of cultural representation a simultaneous popping up of multicultural huts in public spaces, only to become ghettos – in word and spirit – of the respective cultures. Such a ghettoisation cannot be liberation; at best it is jingoism. What is more, it is not just one culture’s jingoism, but multicultures’ multijingoisms, so that every representative culture henceforth will compete against every other in preaching their respective jingoisms. There may be people who argue that the ‘jingoisms’ of hitherto marginalised and misrecognised cultures should be distinguished from the hegemonic culture, for the former is liberating and the latter is suppressing. One would not deny such an argument. Yet, one should be willing to see beyond the surface and be sensitive enough to recognise that such liberation or cultural particularity encourages a deepening of divisions and would ‘undermine the common foundation necessary for a viable society’ (Bhargava, 2002: 94).
Thirdly, it is true that individuals benefit by being members of a particular community’s culture. Such individuals can tap into and build themselves on resources at the disposal of that specific community. But it is equally true that those individuals that do not adhere to the community’s culture, its way of thinking and acting, are or may be forced into silence. Such silencing either ignores the presence of individuals or neglects or belittles the specific interests of such individuals. Wolf (1994: 81) makes a similar argument in her comment on Taylor (1994). In short, cultural particularity bestows enormous power on the community at the cost of individual freedom and problematises the relationship between culture and sub-culture. Finally, the whole idea behind introducing an element of marginalised and misrecognised culture into the public space is not only to tease out the attached stigma to that element, but importantly to share that element of culture with others. It becomes a way of giving-up ‘ownership’ of that element of culture and dedicating it for the consumption of the demos.
Faced with such predicaments, how does one actualise the democratisation of the public sphere? Developments at the beef stall in Sukoon 2008 provide an answer. Interestingly, for this year’s Sukoon the Dalit Students Union included non-beef items, such as vegetable biryani and chicken biryani. These changes in the menu dramatically altered the atmosphere of the stall. If earlier it attracted only students of certain communities and sympathisers of the cause, this time the stall drew students from all cultural backgrounds to eat together. A caste Hindu ate vegetable biryani while sitting along with a Dalit who was eating beef biryani. In a way, the inclusion of various food items in the menu of the stall facilitated the union of people from diverse cultural backgrounds. This demonstrates that the Dalit Students Union has repositioned itself from its original position as preacher of a specific community’s culture to an accommodator of other cultures. This is an act that implies respect for one’s own culture but importantly also respect for other cultures. This is where democratisation of the public sphere is being actualised, so that representation is accompanied by respect. It is of course easier for the Dalit Students Union to provide vegetarian food or non-beef items than it would be for a Parishad stall to include meat items, but the point this article is trying to make is becoming clearer – respect is a critical element in democratisation of public spaces. To put it differently, securing representation in the public sphere is a formal realisation of democracy rather than its actualisation. Democratisation is fully actualised when there is evidence of mutual respect among members for each other’s cultures.
But why should we respect others? Maybe for the simple reason that all humans are capable of living dramatically differently from the way they have lived so far, and ‘[r]especting people preserves the idea that their future is open, and that they can change their lives for the better through action or a re-evaluation of their past’ (Margalit, 1996: 72). This point can be elaborated through the idea of ‘radical freedom’, as Margalit (1996: 71) notes:
Radical freedom means that, although a person’s past actions, character, and environment constitute a set of constraints on her future actions, they nevertheless do not determine these actions. Every person is capable of a future way of life that is discontinuous with the past. The respect people deserve for this is based precisely on the fact that Man does not have a nature, if a “nature” means a set of character traits that determine one’s actions. Animals have natures, human beings do not.
In light of this, the three key elements of radical freedom are that the past actions of a person do not determine his/her future actions, that human beings have the capacity to change in the future, and the non-existence of ‘nature’ among humans. If we look back at the Dalit Student Union’s actions in the framework of radical freedom, by selling exclusively beef items it did not show any respect for the food of others. It appears that it was working under the impression that the caste Hindus’ previous disregard for beef would forever remain the same. If earlier the caste Hindus had an attitude that Dalits are incapable of change, for they have ‘Dalit nature’, the Dalit Students Union had viewed caste Hindus with a similar essentialised attitude, that they are incapable of change. In 2008, we see that Dalits, as well as caste Hindus, have substantially changed their prejudices and archaic attitudes towards each other and have begun to respect each other.
To recapitulate what this article has tried to analyse, we see that the first section set the context and argued that the two taboos at the root of the food hierarchy in caste Hindu society are in reality employed as markers of caste and community identities, creating divisions and differences among different communities. Pointing out the effects of the conceptions of food hierarchy upon Dalits offered a clue to the direction of examination and analysis that followed. The second section described the demand for a beef stall by the Dalit Students Union and introduced the actors that supported and opposed the demand. The third section attempted to survey the interests of the various actors involved in this issue. The fourth section took the side of the supporters of the beef stall, arguing that the demand for the stall is justified as a matter of cultural representation of marginalised groups in a multi-cultural social setting. The fifth section attempted to analyse the impact upon Dalits of sub-human treatment meted out to them by caste Hindus. It argued that stigmatisation of the cultural practice of a community is not only humiliating, but injurious to the human agency of that community. This led to a discussion of the retrieval of human agency, which rejected all three traditional responses to humiliation because at best they offer temporary solace rather than a permanent solution. It was then argued that the human agency of the injured could be retrieved in a dialogical process, when the humiliated assert positivity, value their own agency in public, and when such assertion is recognised by the humiliators. The final section, in light of the more recent experience of the beef stall, pointed out the possibility of cultural representation transforming into cultural jingoism which, it is argued, can be avoided by reciprocation of respect for each other’s culture. In the multi-cultural environment of diverse countries like India, this finding poses enormous challenges to the capacity of individuals for refraining from denigrating practices of ‘othering’ and for building a future society in which respect for diversity and difference becomes a firm basic value, as is suggested in the well-chosen words of the Indian Constitution of 1950.
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Sambaiah Gundimeda held a Fellowship under the Ford Foundation International Fellowship Programme (2003-06) and has recently completed his PhD at SOAS, University of London, on Mapping Dalit Politics in Contemporary India: A Study in Political Sociology.
Address: John Astor House, Room 450, 3 Foley Street, London W1W 6DN, UK.
[e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com]
 The author would like to acknowledge the invaluable and generous support of the International Fellowship Programme (IFP) of the Ford Foundation. He would also like to thank Sridhar Modugu, Shamla Medhar, Vijay Kumar Boratti, Julia Gallagher, Matthew Nelson and Rochana Bajpai for commenting on earlier drafts of this paper. Special thanks go to Zeba Ghory, but for whose support and constant encouragement this paper would not have been completed.
 I borrow these two meanings from Margalit (1996:169) and thank Sudipta Kaviraj for suggesting Margalit’s work.
 My basic understanding of the term ‘public sphere’ comes from Habermas (1992 ), but such understanding has been further illuminated by Fraser (1999), Taylor (1995) and particularly Bhargava (2005).
 By ‘non-caste Hindus’, I mean Dalits (including Dalit Buddhists and Dalit Christians), Adivasis and Muslims. In recent years the conditions and situation of the Muslims in India is, as horrifically demonstrated by the 2002 events in Gujarat, no better than that of the Dalits. By ‘caste Hindus’ I mean the traditional four varnas (Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas and Shudras) in the caste system. Making such a categorisation does not suggest that all individuals within the caste Hindu social category are wedded to the ideology of Brahmanic Hinduism, but their membership of that category has been enough to work in their favour and to facilitate their pursuits either as individuals or groups in the Indian public sphere.
 Further, Article 15 prohibits specifically discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth.
 Much literature is available on the relationship between food practices and caste hierarchies, for example Appadurai (1981), Parry (1985) and Srinivas (1962; 1966).
 For instance, in August 2003, five Dalit men were lynched by a caste Hindu mob in Jhajjar district, Haryana (Jodhka and Dhar, 2003).
 Sukoon Guidelines for the Academic Year 2007-08, issued by the Vice-Chancellor, Hyderabad Central University.
 These were the Student Federation of India, the student wing of the Communist Party of India [Marxist]), which prior to 2007 had operated in the campus under the banner of the University Discussion Forum; the Ambedkar Students Union; the Tribal Students Association; the North Eastern Students Forum; the Telangana Students Association; and the Bahujan Students Front.
 Interview with Suresh Kumar Digumarthi, President of the Dalit Students Union.
 Interview with Santhi Swaroop Sirapangi, Department of Politics, University of Hyderabad.
 Some portions in this section are taken from Gundimeda (2009a) with permission from the publishers. I thank C. Rammanohar Reddy, editor of the Economic and Political Weekly, for his consent.
 This caste-based domination and marginalisation in the Dalit quota of reservations is not specific to Andhra Pradesh. For instance, while Mahars in Maharashtra, Jatavs/Chamars in Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Punjab, Paswans in Bihar, Bairwas in Rajasthan, Palayas and Parayas in Tamail Nadu, and Holeyas in Karnataka have been appropriating a major portion in the reservation opportunities, castes like the Mangs, Koris, Mazhabis, Nats, Musahars, Arundhatiyars and Madigas in these states, respectively, are blatantly under-represented in the Scheduled Caste quota of reservations (Gundimeda, 2006; 2009b; Jodhka and Kumar, 2007).
 Two other organisations whose support for the stall has further strengthened the demand, are the Bahujan Students Front and the Telangana Student Association. A section of students, both from the Dalit and Shudra categories, are wedded to the ideologies of Babasaheb Ambedkar and Mahatma Phule and are organised under the banner of the Bahujan Students Front. These students have been working for the unity of these two social constituencies, and in the beef stall issue they saw an opportunity for unity. Interestingly, the Telangana Students Association’s support for the stall is not influenced by student politics, but arises from outside the campus. In recent years the movement for separate Telangana statehood has gained momentum, with reverberations in the campus in the form of the Telangana Students Association. Generally all students that belong to the Telangana region, irrespective of caste and communal identity, are members of this association. In the Telangana region, although Madigas are one of the socially oppressed and politically powerless castes, they are one of the largest. During elections, their votes can change the fortunes of candidates. One way of gaining support from the Madigas, both inside and outside the campus, is thus to support their caste-based issues.
 Margalit (1996) makes his point by drawing an interesting contrast between two ways of treating human beings as non-human. One provides a sound reason for feeling humiliated, the other does not. Firstly, treating a human being as God is a way of treating that person as non-human. But this treatment does not provide the subjected person with any sound reason for feeling humiliated. Secondly, there are ways of treating humans that have the potential for being humiliated as non-human, by treating them as objects, as machines, as animals and as sub-human, which includes treating adults as children (Margalit, 1996: 89-112).
Though I agree with Margalit’s contrast, I think that treating a human being as God also has the potential for creating humiliation. The moment one elevates other humans to the status of God, one is simply undermining their efforts and struggles and attributes everything to some kind of mystical power. This provides sufficient reason for feeling humiliated because one recognises not the individual’s efforts and struggles, but the hand of a mystical power. To give a concrete example, these days Dalits, especially Dalit Buddhists, worship Ambedkar along with the Buddha by keeping a photograph or a small bust of Dr. Ambedkar.
I am sympathetic with these Dalits. For living in a society along caste Hindus that boast millions of gods as their own, a lack of their own gods is a genuine cause for feeling dispossessed in the spiritual realm. Attributing God-like status to individuals who scaled extreme heights from their community is a way of filling up a spiritual deficiency and reconstructing the spiritual world. I see this as an absurd behaviour that humiliates both the Buddha and Ambedkar, because the ascription of the status of God upon them de-recognises their human efforts. Moreover, ascribing God-like status to Ambedkar deprives today’s Dalit youth of human role models they can identify with.
 Derrida (2001 ) goes beyond this traditional observation and argues that true forgiveness consists in forgiving the unforgivable. If forgiveness forgave only the forgivable, Derrida claims, then the very idea of forgiveness would disappear. One wonders whether human beings will ever have that magnanimity of forgiving the wrong-doer unconditionally.
 There is much literature on the question of respect. Though I am primarily influenced by both Old and New Testaments (Leviticus 19:18; Matthew 22:39), I am drawing here from different sources, particularly Ambedkar (1989 ), Gutmann (1994), Margalit (1996) and Taylor (1994).
 In the name of mutual respect for each other’s cultures, I do not suggest to include respect for those aspects that devalue and mistreat other people and their cultures, such as casteism, sexism, and anti-Semitism.