Category Archives: For Social Justice

Aarogyasri to equip the hospitals of the upper castes

This is in reference to the article: ‘Aarogyasri Healthcare Model- Advantage Private Sector’ (EPW, vol. XLVI, No. 49). That the upper caste leadership-based political parties and governments have been using the State to the advantage of the upper castes at the cost of the marginalized communities is no secret in India. The experience in the implementation of the land reforms, policy of reservations and numerous other State welfare and developmental measures – by the governments both at the Centre and State units – amply demonstrates this scandal. One of the main aspects of this experience has been that in the process of using the State, the upper castes are making every effort to weaken the State and at the same time, exploring all the possibilities in developing and strengthening the private sector.  For in the private sector they are in absolute command, run businesses at their will and most importantly they can do away with the marginalized sections. In the sense, there is no provision for reservations in the private sector and hence, they can prevent the unwanted sections from that sector, at least in the higher levels of the hierarchy of organizations, where the pay and prestige is higher.

The case of Andhra Pradesh is a classic example, where the upper castes have encroached upon, controlling and commanding virtually every field of activity.  The seeds of this process were sown during the chief minister-ship of late N T Ramarao (NTR) and watered by Nara Chandrababu Naidu with utmost diligence. And this has taken altogether to different heights during the regime of Y S Raja Sekhara Reddy (YSR).  Although some people acclaim YSR as the only daring chief minister in the annals of the political history of modern AP, many others are astounded by the novel ways in which he robbed the AP state and distributed the spoils among his kith and kin, particularly his businessman-turned-politician son Jagan Mohan Reddy, and his son-in-law Anil Kumar. Many programmes, such Jalayagnam (irrigation projects) were said to be pursued for the welfare of the people of the state, in reality they are pursued to equip the upper castes. For instance, it has been claimed by the State government that so far it has spent over Rs. 65,000 crore since 2004 on various irrigation projects with the aim of providing irrigation to an extent of 71 lakh acres. Numerous corruption charges have been leveled against this programme that it has been charged by the Public Accounts Committee (PAS) of the state legislature that the contractors have siphoned off anywhere between Rs. 60 crore and Rs. 150 crore in each of the Jalayagnam projects. But two pertinent questions here are: who are the contractors of these irrigation projects, and to whose lands the irrigation facilities are provided for? These questions needs to be probed, for the Dalits and other marginalized sections in the state have been struggling for a long-time with a demand of one acre of land for each family. The state government has been suppressing this land struggle of the marginalized sections most brutally, and so we knew that the land under the irrigation projects belong to the upper castes and to extent middle castes, but not to the Dalits, Adivasi and other marginalized sections of the state.  It may not be out of context to mention that while the state is most brutally repressing the land demands of the poor, it has been more generous in allocating hundreds of acres of land to the private companies, particularly companies that belong to the upper castes.

 The fate of the Aarogyasri is also no different from the programme of Jalayagnam. The avowed aim of the scheme, it was claimed by the state government, was to provide ‘health for all’. One of the main objectives of the Aarogyasri is to improve access of BPL families to quality medical care for treatment of diseases involving hospitalization and surgery.  But the question is, why to involve the private hospitals? It has been stated that the private hospitals have latest equipment and have dedicated staff, who could be available 24 hours and seven days a week. That the word dedication needs to be understood from the point of the fat salaries that the private hospitals offer to its professionals is something that is undisputable.  But I certainly failed to understand the reasons for the lack of latest equipment in government hospitals! For me such state of affairs is nothing but the unwillingness on the part of the government to equip its hospitals, the unwillingness that has been inspired by the larger agenda of the upper castes-led governments – weaken the State and place everything under the control of the private sector.

 I think one has to assess the Aarogyasri from the points of implications of the programme in the short and long-runs. Viewed from the former point of view, it is absolutely an excellent programme as it allows the poor to avail the corporate healthcare facilities hitherto available only to the upper and middle strata of the society. Personally I knew a few cases among the Malas (SC) and Yanadis (ST) inGuntur, where but for the Aarogyasri they would not have entered premises of super-specialty hospitals and get treatment. Thus, the poor need not die because they cannot afford the expenses of the medical treatment. For me, by facilitating such sort of accessibility the State has restored the lost respect and dignity to the poor.

 However, if one were to view the programme from a different perspective, in the name of the healthcare of the poor the corporate hospitals have been the major beneficiaries. Earlier no corporate hospital would give any concession to the poor people, now organizing health campaigns in rural villages and welcoming the poverty-stricken patients with red-carpet. This way the hospitals of the upper castes have been earning huge amounts of government’s money.  It should be noted here that a majority of the corporate hospitals, such as Kamineni, Pinnamaneni, Yashoda, Lalitha, Apollo and all others are owned by the Kammas and Reddys in the state. This means that by pumping the money to such hospitals the government is actually equipping the hands of upper castes and strengthening their control over the healthcare in the state.  To that extent the government is the key culprit in weakening the government-run hospitals.

 Weakening of government-run hospitals has larger implications.  To note two of the main implications: first, there is no guarantee for the permanency of the scheme.  The chief-ministers that succeeded YSR, who initiated the Aarogyasri programme, paying scant attention to the everyday functioning of this programme.  In the next legislative elections if the Telugu Desam Party wins, then there is no guarantee of the continuation of the programme. If the programme were to be withdrawn, then the poor people will not have access to the corporate healthcare, which force them to get back to government-run hospitals. Since, the government hospitals have already became redundant, the poor are left with no option but to sell their meager assets and buy health from the corporate hospitals.  In other words, by not equipping the government-run hospitals, the upper caste-run governments are preparing the death-traps of the marginalized sections. Secondly, the weakening of the government hospitals results in the further diminishing of the scant government employment opportunities for the general public, particularly to the Dalit, Adivasis and Other Backward Communities. Such a state compels the trained professionals to touch the doors of the upper castes’ corporate hospitals, where caste not the qualification and merit of the candidates determines their place in the organizations. In a way, the strong State is the only panacea for the oppressed marginalized sections and it is time that the leaders of all the marginalized sections concentrate their efforts towards strengthening State.

(Economic and Political Weekly rejected this response) 


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The Death of my Hero

Day before yesterday my grandmother (Nagabhushanamma), who has been my main source of inspiration, had died. Although she was 81, we never heard her complaining about her health. She was so perfect that we never expected such a sudden death. She was very hard working woman. I was told that she worked in an agricultural field even two days before her death. She is very fond of people and helped generously to whoever knocked at her door. I am sure she will be missed by all those people who have had met her. She is the main bridge between me and my family, and with her death everything has collapsed.
She was very happy when her photograph appeared in Enadu newspaper, along with mine, when I left for London for the first time. And she was very proud to release my book on Categorization. I never knew such a hardworking, compassionate, genuine and generous lady in my life. She is my hero.

Sam Gundimeda
Vijaya Sai Residency
Tenali (8th July, 2010)

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What is Justice and what is Democratization in our caste-based society?

What is Justice and what is Democratization in our caste-based society?

For the last four days (21 June, 2010 onwards) I am staying in Indian Social Institute (ISI) Bangalore to read David Mosse’s book: ‘Cultivating Development’ and reflect upon what we have been doing on our own project ‘Cast(e) out of Development’.  On 25th June, the ISI organized a talk on Human Rights.  The title of the talk: ‘The Psychology of Torture: Democratization for Constructing Cultures of Peace’.  The talk is presented by Ms. Nandana Reddy.  She is the director of ‘the Concerned for Working Children (CWC).

The entire talk revolves around two key ideas: (a) eye for eye, and (b) if a person slaps you on one cheek then, show him/her other cheek too. While the first idea comes from the Old Testament and the second one from the New Testament. She rejected the idea and arguments centered on the first idea (eye for eye).  For revenge in the form of torture results further torture and it goes on.  So where do we end?

Compromise/Reform VS Justice

The speaker, Ms. Reddy, narrates a personal incident that took place sometime ago in Sri Lanka among the Tamil Children. During the time of thick conflict between the Sinhalese and Tamils in Sri Lanka the speaker, Ms. Reddy went there to work among the Tamil children, who lost their families and relatives due to the conflict. It appears that one of those days she found that a boy beats-up another boy.  The latter is slightly weaker than the former thus, could not retaliate and began to cry.  Ms. Reddy told them a story (which she does not remember) and by the end of the story, the second boy, who was victim, got-up and said ‘sorry’ to the first boy, the victimizer, in turn, the first boy also said ‘sorry’ to the second boy. And Ms. Reddy asked the two boys to shake their hands and be friends.  Thus, the essence of the story is that, it is true that the first boy tortured the second boy. If the second boy takes revenge, in the form of the torture, on the first boy, then the act would lead to perpetuation of torture.  Instead, they both apologized to each other, and thus, there ended the problem.

Although I have a catholic up-bringing I cannot subscribe to Ms. Reddy’s conclusion.  For in the Tamil boys’ incident there is no ‘justice’. In the sense, the first boy is in advantageous position by the sheer fact that he was the victimizer and not the victim.  So he can afford to say sorry, because he is not going to lose anything. In fact, his ‘sorry’ would ensure protection from the second boy, who may, after sometime, take revenge on his victimizer. What about the second boy – the victim? Is the first boy’s ‘sorry’ do any justice to him? No, certainly not. In fact, the compromise only results in the further victimization of the victim.  In the sense, the second boy was already a victim because of the fact that he was beaten-up by the first boy.  Now, the compromise with his victimizer without justice would only results in his victimization for the second time.  Moreover, the fact that he has live with the fact that he had to compromise with his victimizer without justice is a form of torture, with which he has to endure with throughout his life. Interestingly, this is not the case with the victimizer. The compromise, in addition to buy him a permanent security from his victim– as mentioned above, would inculcate a sense of pride, because he was able to torturer a person and yet, got scot-free for his bad deed.

Although Ms. Reddy appears to appreciate the argument, she did not agree with it.  She defended her argument of compromise from a different point of view – the rape.  Rape is a form of physical as well as mental invasion of a woman by a man without her consent.  Since she is being tortured, what could be her revenge? Revenge for rape is nothing but raping the same man – sort of eye for eye. But, is that going to do any justice to the victim of rape? – questions Ms. Reddy.  If raping of victimizer (the man) is not going to do any justice the victim (the woman), then what should be our next step? Reforming the victimizer – an idea upon which our modern system of prisons have been built.  I am not convinced, for the idea behind the ‘reform’ is that reforming the victimizer so that he would feel sorry for what he has done, and also that he would not commit the same mistake of rape in the future. Reforming the victimizer for the above two reasons is fine, but, where is the justice to the victim?  We have to stop our discussion on the ideas of justice to the victim and reform the victimizer due to lack of time.

Although I require further study in order to arrive at a viable conclusion on the ideas of ‘compromise with victimizer’ and ‘reforming the victimizer’, as of now, I think that either compromise or of reform – without justice to the victim – are not only form of injustice but importantly also forms of torture and humiliation, with which the victim is hammered by in his mind day-in and day-out.  As such the justice to the victim, in my opinion should have two components: one, compensation to the victim in the form of money.  This money, in the first instance, should come from the victimizer himself.  I do not approve the idea of compensation from the State.  It was not the State, which has committed the mistake, but it was the victimizer, and hence, it was the latter that should pay the compensation and not the former. Of course, in case the victimizer is not in a position to compensate then the State can jump into the vacuum; second, punishment to the victimizer.  Here I do not subscribe the Old Testament’s idea of justice – eye for eye-, but certainly the victimizer has to undergo certain form if punishment, say of prison sentence, which would ultimately lead to his reform – a kind of compromise between the justices of Old Testament and New Testament.


Although democratization has been one of the key aspects of Ms. Reddys’s talk, she did not touch upon that aspect either theoretically or how one could democratize the Indian society. Instead, she causally touched upon how India has been a caste-based society, and how Bangalore has been changing right in front of our own eyes without either our participation or our say in the so-called development.

Now, I am somewhat skeptical about those upper castes that speak about the caste-based inequalities without giving-up the advantages, respect and recognition they gain simply because of their caste location in the hierarchy. What pains me more is to see that the upper castes that speak of high theory of egalitarianism do not even give-up, at least symbolically, their caste-based identities. For instance, the speaker Ms. Nandana, who is lamenting caste-based inequalities, while continuing to holding on to her upper-caste ‘Reddy’ identity (Ms. Nandana Reddy). I do not understand how and why the upper caste intellectuals do not see that holding on to the ascriptive identities, such as Reddy and Sharma, etc., goes against the principles of democratization, the high theory that they always love to harp on.

Moreover, I am not sure whether the upper castes are aware that by their act of holding on to the caste-based identities they are actually torturing the lower castes day-in and day-out?  Theoretically speaking, in an egalitarian society every human being is equal to every other human being. And in that society it may that some people are given importance, recognition and due respect because they did what did that earn them importance and recognition by others.  It may be that others are jealousy of the achievers because they could not achieve what the achievers have achieved. Yet, they cannot help but appreciate the achievers because the achievements are achieved through their individual (earned) capacities and not by imposed capacities. But in our society as the caste identities are imposed upon us, we are forced to acknowledge and recognize the superiority of those people that are born into upper caste categories, irrespective of those upper caste-born individuals’ capabilities and capacities. Concurrently, we are forced to mis-recognize the worthiness of the others because they are born into the lower caste categories.  To explicate this point further, the ‘Reddy’ caste identity is acknowledged by the wider society as the identity of respect and recognition. Thus, the Reddys feel proud to attach their caste identity to their names.  But the lower caste identities, say the identity of the Madigas or Holeyas, are stigmatized and mis-recognized. So the people that come from these castes do not feel proud to attach their caste identities to their names.  In other words, while the upper castes are capacitated by the society at large to feel proud of their caste identities, the lower castes are incapacitated to feel any proud of their caste identity, again, by the same society in which they are part and parcel.  And so thus, the incapacitated lower castes are always mentally tortured because they cannot claim recognition or respect to the identities, which are imposed upon them.

If this is the case, how do we achieve equality, at least some kind of symbolic equality – if not a substantive equality, in our highly segregated and in-egalitarian society? This is something that those people who wanted to see democratization in their society should ponder about.


Sam Gundimeda  (in ISI, Bangalore –  Saturday, June 26, 2010).

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Dalits worst hit in floods

In Telugu language there is a saying: శవాలమీద చిల్లర ఏరుకునే రకాలు (Savaala-meeda chillara erukunea rakaalu) (picking-up the money (generally coins) thrown upon the corpse. I do not know about the burial customs elsewhere, but in AP while taking the corpse to the burial ground people throw coins upon the dead body as a mark of respect. And generally two kinds of people pick up this kind money: (a) the poorest of the poor (this category of people generally belongs to the lower castes, especially the Dalits, and (b) misers (although we found this kind of people across the caste and communities, it is generally misers from upper castes pick up the coins from the dead bodies.

When it comes to the welfare issues of the Dalits, it is our experience that caste Hindu officials usurp a major percentage of the welfare money. Pathetically and shamefully it is not just the welfare money, sometimes it is also the money that is given for the relief and rehabilitation of the Dalits. Dalit were the worst hit by the last year floods AP, partly due to their deprived status and partly due to apparent discrimination and apathy by the officials – says a report by the National Dalit Watch.


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What is powerlessness in the Indian context?

What is power and powerlessness in Indian context?

Academics like Amartya Sen, who comes from the upper caste background in India, goes around the world and give lectures on incapacities, lack of freedom, and powerlessness and so on. For instance, Sen’s lecture in London: They also see that they talk about gender discrimination in the West and racial discrimination – again in the West and apartheid South Africa.  In this process they quote Western intellectuals and non-Indian subaltern intellectuals, such as Mary Wollstonecraft’s wrath and bitter irony about the subjugation of women and her cool reasoning against gender hierarchy in her 1792 classic, ‘A Vindication of the Rights of Woman’ and Steve Biko‘s remarks on “powerlessness” in the apartheid-based South Africa in the 1970s.

But these Western-based Indian intellectuals seldom talk about casteism of the upper castes, gender as well as caste discrimination against the Dalit women.  And I have hardly come across these academics quoting intellectuals and philosophers that come from the lower caste background, such as Mahatma Phule, Baba Saheb Ambedkar, and Manyavaar Kanshi Ram and others.

What is power and powerlessness in Indian context? – Being born into an upper caste community and the practice of upper casteness is power and born into a lower caste community and continuing to suffer under the thraldom of the upper castes is powerlessness.  I also think that not talking about these ideas and practices of power and powerlessness in the India context is also a form of upper casteism.  Challenge me if you differ with me Mr. Amartya Sen, the Nobel Laureate.

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Supreme Court and Categorisation of Scheduled Castes List*

  • I have written this article in 2006, immediately after the Supreme Court’s verdict against the categorization of SC reservations in AP.  I have sent this article to EPW, but did not see the light of the day.

The Supreme Court’s view regarding the alleged ‘homogeneity of Scheduled Castes’ is based on a gross neglect of realities and the undeniable existence of sharp differences amongst the Dalits.  By invalidating ‘the Rationalisation of Reservation Act’, it actually lent a hand to the well-to-do castes amongst the Dalits to ‘eat up’ the meagre government jobs and depress the marginalised even further.  In addition, by declaring the ‘immutability’ of the Scheduled Castes List, the Court, in fact, bound the Dalits to the List and thereby to the Scheduled Caste identity, not just the present generation of the Dalits, but also future generations for all posterity. While the identities of Brahmins, Thakurs or Hegdes, since they serve the caste Hindus’ interests, may remain permanent, Dalit identity cannot remain permanent, not only because it does not serve their interests, but also because it subordinates them permanently to the caste Hindus.  It is time that the Dalits were left to decide their identity.  It is also time that the Government of India, taking stock of the fifty-five years of the compensatory policy’s implementation, change the  outdated ‘form’ to serve the marginalised and deserving within the Dalit category.

“Some men look at constitutions with sanctimonious reverence and deem them like the ark of the covenant, too sacred to be touched. They ascribe to the men of the preceding age a wisdom more than human, and suppose what they did to be beyond amendment…laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind…As new discoveries are made, new truths disclosed, and manners and opinions change with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also, and keep pace with the times. ” — Thomas Jefferson [1]

The history of the working of the judiciary in India in general and the Supreme Court in particular has been evoking mixed evaluations: particularly in response to the institutions’ inconsistent policy, whereby they appear to act at times progressively and at others conservatively.  It is our experience that the judiciary when deciding issues concerning caste Hindus and the upper classes tends to be progressive, but is more orthodox and supportive of the status quo regarding issues relating to Dalits, Adivasis, and Shudras.  The delay in delivering a verdict on the implementation of the Mandal Commission Report and the declaration of the right to strike as illegal are recent but pertinent indicators.  The conservative nature of the Supreme Court of India has, once again, been revealed in its judgement against ‘the Rationalisation of Reservations Act’ legislated by the government of Andhra Pradesh.  Who being persuaded by the Madigas’ Dandora movement for equitable distribution of reservations available for the Dalits in the state, passed the ‘Rationalisation of Reservation Act’ (Act 20 of 2000).[2] The Act has categorised the Dalits into A, B, C, and D groups in accordance with each group’s relative backwardness and proportion of population, with a view to fixing the percentage of compensatory seats in public appointments and admissions to educational institutions for said groups. This essay is an attempt to critique the Supreme Court’s argument for the ‘homogeneity’ of the Dalit category and to argue for a ‘rationalisation of reservations’ as a means to an equitable distribution of compensatory measures amongst the Dalits.

The grounds upon which the Supreme Court based its verdict are: (a) homogeneity of the Dalit castes, (b) immutability of the Presidential List, and (c) the authority to alter the categorisation of the SC List, which lies outside the purview of the State Legislature.  The third aspect, whether categorisation of Dalit castes falls under the purview of the State Legislature or Parliament is not the subject of our concern.  This is a procedural question and can be decided in Parliament by a majority vote.  However, the progressive step, to ameliorate the conditions of the marginalised among the Dalits, undertaken by the Government of AP, would be nullified if we did not pay attention to the first two aspects of the judgement.

Drawing upon Constituent Assembly debates and Article 341 of the Constitution, the Supreme Court of India invalidated the Act.  It declared that neither the state legislature nor its executive has the power of ‘disturbing’ the Presidential List of Scheduled Castes, in the form of interference, re-arrangement, re-grouping or re-classification.  Quoting from Justice Krishna Iyer and Justice Fazal Ali’s verdict in the case of N.M Thomas vs State of Kerala in 1976, the Court insisted that once castes are included in one list they become one class under the Constitution, and any subsequent division of these classes of persons would amount to ‘tinkering’ with the Presidential List.  It has further argued:

The conglomeration of castes given in the Presidential Order, in our opinion, should be considered as representing a class as a whole…  The very fact that a legal fiction has been created is itself suggestive of the fact that the Legislature of a State cannot take any action which would be contrary to or inconsistent therewith.  The very idea of placing different castes or tribes or group or part thereof in a State as a conglomeration by way of a deeming definition clearly suggests that they are not to be sub-divided or sub-classified further.  If a class within a class of members of the Scheduled Castes is created, the same would amount to tinkering with the List.  Such sub-classification would be violative of Article 14 of the Constitution of India.[3]

An avalanche of social science research, since the middle of 19th century, has proved the pervasiveness of caste system at all levels in Indian society.  No religion and no individual is unaffected by this social characteristic.  Governments and academics tend to organise castes into hierarchical categories, such as upper castes, lower castes, Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and Other Backward Classes, etc.  Yet, each person in India has a horizontal caste identity of their own.  For instance, Brahmins, Thakurs, Kammas, Reddys, Nayars, Lingayats, Hegdes and numerous other castes come under the category of caste Hindus or so-called upper castes.  They all belong to one category, practice one religion (in different forms) and observe similar rituals and festivals.  Yet, each caste is separate, lives separately (at least in rural villages) and has their respective caste identities.  Suffixing caste tags to individuals’ proper names, like Narayana Sashtri, Santosh Hegde, and Raja Sekhara Reddy etc., is a classic example for the exclusivist nature of individual castes within the caste Hindu society.  There is nothing common that binds them as one category, except in uniting on the occasions when their interests clash directly with the interests of the Dalits, Adivasis and other marginalised groups.  A sociological tool that highlights this kind of caste homogeneity is the practice of endogamous marriage.  Indian sociologists and social anthropologists are ever eager and even enthusiastic to generalise on the basis of a few examples, that sub-caste and inter-caste marriages are a dominant social phenomenon in contemporary India, whilst the reality contradicts such generalisations.  Indeed, even if one were to assume the ‘homogeneity’ of the caste Hindu category, one comes across inter-caste marriage relatively rarely.  It is common knowledge that not only people from rural areas follow strict endogamous principles with religious inviolability but also urban, the so-called ‘enlightened,’ and English educated too.  The shameless advertisements both in the vernacular and English press, seeking bride or groom of one’s own caste are true evidence of such social boundaries.  Dalits, who are part and parcel of the same society, are not immune to such social practices.  They may be addressed with different nomenclatures as ‘Untouchables’, ‘Harijans’, ‘Scheduled Castes’ and ‘Dalits’ by caste Hindus. With the exception of  the common feature of “victims” to the practice of Untouchability and poverty, there is nothing common amongst the castes in the list of Scheduled Castes that characterise them as a ‘homogeneous’ category.  Like any castes in the social hierarchy they also follow the same endogamous rules and each caste has a distinctive identity and lives separately.  It is no exaggeration that some castes amongst the Dalits often draw their water from different sources.  More importantly, there exists a miniature hierarchy amongst them that puts some castes at the upper rung of the ladder and others at the bottom.[4] At times more than caste Hindus, some Dalit castes jealously safeguard their status and commensality and inter-caste marriages are simply unthinkable.  In any village the interaction between two Dalit castes is significantly less than their interaction with the other castes in the village.[5] Those who created the Constitution, pursuing a great vision and ideal, wanted to create a society based on the principles of equity, equality and unity.  Their egalitarian notions led them to retain the category of ‘Depressed Classes’ and incorporate it into the Constitution of India as one group.  However, people or castes of people with ingrained inequalities, concerned for status and power,[6] will not become ‘homogeneous’ simply because the Constitution wants them to be.  Passing of legislative acts to create a normative social order is one thing, but actually changing the practices and attitudes of the people is a different matter.  There is a great difference between the law and people’s attitudes and social practices.  For an equitable distribution of state benefits amongst the poor, it is imperative to take account of these social differences.  Nonetheless, even if one considers Dalits as a homogeneous category, one does not understand the rationale behind preventing a government to take measures to raise the downtrodden.[7] Of course, we are aware that by categorising the Dalits into four groups, the state government did not come with a radical agenda to improve their lot.  It simply sought to distribute reservations more equitably amongst them, by taking into account each caste’s economic situation, social backwardness and percentage of population.  It is in fact in line with Dr. Ambedkar’s thinking and argument.

By the time the Constituent Assembly sat to frame a constitution for free India, the country had had significant experience with compensatory policies both at the state and central levels: the Princely State of Mysore, Madras and Bombay presidencies had been implementing reservation policies since the 1920s.  At the central level, the need to provide safeguards for minorities with regards to the appointment of jobs, as well as against potential legislative tyranny of the majority, were recognised and remedies were enshrined in various government Acts by the British rulers in India.[8] Nearly a three-decade long experience with reservation policy revealed the fact that a large proportion of reservations were actually taken advantage of by the developed amongst the minorities and that the poor continued to crawl. Ambedkar was clearly aware of this drawback of the policy, that was evidently reflected both in his monumental work, what could rightly be called ‘the Magna Carta of Dalit Rights’, State and Minorities: What are their rights and How to secure them in the Constitution of free India; as well as in his defence of reservation rights for minorities, Dalits and Adivasis during the Constituent Assembly proceedings.  Debating in the ‘Advisory Committee on Fundamental Rights and Minorities’, he vociferously argued for equality not merely between caste Hindus and minorities but also amongst the minorities themselves.  He insisted, “I personally do not see why it is not possible to add a further clause…Even among the members of the same minority (community) there may be complaints of partiality, of provincial favouritism of personal favouritism.  I have often heard the complaint that all the posts for the Muslims go to the Punjab Muslim and few to the Madrasi Muslim.  Even among the minorities, we want equality of opportunity.”[9] Major portions of the reservations were seized by the well-to-do sections amongst the minorities, thereby depriving the truly needy.  It was in this context that guaranteeing equality of opportunity even amongst members of the same category was essential.[10] Ambedkar did not want the experience of the Muslim reservations to be repeated among the Dalits.  Hence, he was cautious to incorporate in his memorandum provisions that would prevent a single caste appropriating reservations.  Thus, representation and reservations given to the Dalits were to be distributed equally amongst them and no caste was to be preferred or given advantage at the cost of other castes.  This he emphasised in a section concerning ‘Safeguards for the Scheduled Castes’ in his memorandum to the ‘Advisory Committee’. “Weightage where it becomes necessary to reduce a huge communal majority to reasonable dimensions shall come out of the share of the majority.  In no case shall it be at the cost of another minority community.[11] He further stressed dividing the reservations in accordance with respective castes’ backwardness, social status and educational advances.  To quote him again: “Weightage carved out from the share of majority shall not be assigned to one community only.  But the same shall be divided among all minority communities equally or in inverse proportion to their (1) economic position, (2) social status, and (3) educational advance.”[12] Thus, securing representation and reservation for the hitherto oppressed sections of Indian society was at the forefront of Ambedkar’s agenda during the proceedings of the Constituent Assembly.  Nonetheless, it was equally important for him that such secured compensatory measures be equally distributed amongst the disadvantaged.  However, he made a fine distinction between distribution with equity and equality of distribution.  Dividing the compensatory measures equally between castes that were better off and the marginalised was not a fair measure.  Preference must be given to the people who were economically depressed, socially oppressed and educationally deprived.

The Madigas’ demand for the categorisation of Dalits and thereby the reservations, according to each caste’s social backwardness, are in consonance with Ambedkar’s philosophy of equality of opportunity and equitable distribution amongst the marginalised.  The Madigas are one of the most disadvantaged castes amongst the Dalits in Andhra Pradesh.[13] The following data discloses the differences in accessing reservation quotas by the Madigas and Malas, the two major castes within the Dalit category of the state, and substantiates the Madigas’ demand for the rationalisation of reservations:

Table 1: Literary Levels among the Malas and Madigas (in 1961, 1971 and in 1981)[14]

Year 1961 1971 1981
Caste Malas Madigas Malas Madigas Malas Madigas
Total  Population 17,45,466 21,47,879 21,13,393 23,14,948 28,94,643 35,72,622
%  of Total Literates 10.1 5.1 12.9 6.2 21.23 11.81

Table 1 gives us a glimpse of literacy rates amongst the Malas and Madigas.  From the beginning Malas have been at the forefront of education.  The 10 percent literacy rate amongst the Malas in 1961 has risen to little more than double by 1981.  Madigas on the other hand, though gradually improving, are not even half way to the point at which the Malas are.  These different levels of literacy rates are reflected and continued in their entry into higher educational institutions.  Table 2 explains such differences: Table 2: Enrolment of the main Scheduled Castes in Higher Education Institutions[15]

Caste Mala Madiga Adi-Andhra Relli*
Total Population  (1981 census) 28,94,643 37% 35,72,622 46% 6,98,860 9% 76,329 1%
J.N. T. University (Engineering admissions 1992-96) 98 59% 43 26% 15 10%
Osmania University (Engineering admissions 1992-97) 65 48.5% 27 20% 1 3%
Science course in three Universities 314 65% 183 38% 7 1.4%
Arts groups in three Universities 600 71.5% 331 39.5% 14 1.6%
AP State Welfare Residential Schools (upto Intermediate) (1996-97) 6790 62% 3880 35% 214 2% 42 0.4%

* Rest of the 56 castes within the SC category in the state constitutes 7 per cent in the total SC population. Table 2 gives us an overall picture of Dalits position in the medium and higher educational institutions.  It is a true reflection of the condition of Dalits in the state.  Jawaharlal Nehru Technological University has three constituent engineering colleges in Hyderabad, Kakinada, and Anantapur and it has nearly 185 affiliated colleges throughout the state.[16] Yet oddly, a meagre 156 Dalit students secured admission onto engineering courses.  Their situation in the rest of the higher educational institutions is no better than that of JNTU.  One can see the massive inconsistency between the total population of Dalits and the number of seats that they have secured in higher education.  When we look closer still at how those seats are distributed amongst individual castes (within the Dalit category) the disparities are glaring.  The Malas, who constitute 37 percent of the total Dalit population in the state, have been the major beneficiaries of the compensatory measures.  In any institution the proportion of the seats occupied by the Malas is more than half of the entire reservation quota.  At university levels too ¾ of reservation seats are filled by the Malas.  Numerically Madigas are greater than the Malas, yet, their numbers in admissions into medium as well as higher educational institutions are nowhere near to the number of Malas.  Naturally this domination of the Malas at all educational levels continues within the sphere of employment.[17] As in education, so in employment, Malas account for more than half of the rest of the Dalit castes.  In the public sector, in the secretariat and district offices Malas hold more jobs than Madigas.  Table 3 reveals the Malas domination in the reserved jobs:

Table 3: Employment of the four major Scheduled Castes in Government[18]

Category (Employment) Mala Madiga Adi-Andhra Relli
Employees in Central & Public Undertakings 5896 59.96% 3756 32.86% 1112 9.73% 83 0.72%
State Govt. Sector 735 61.8% 369 31% 33 2.77% 2 0.25%
Employment in Dist. Offices (15 Dists.) 10703 50% 7282 34% 2402 11.23% 577 26%
Secretariat 169 63% 70 26% 20 7.5% — —
Heads of Dept. (in 66 Depts.) 2101 59.5% 1216 34.4% 149 4% 43 1.2%

‘The Rationalisation of Reservation Act’ has unambiguously changed the Dalit situation in AP.  It has not merely closed the loopholes in the compensatory policy but also allowed each Dalit caste to have its due share, depending upon their social backwardness and population. It is a step towards the fulfilment of the call given by Ambedkar in 1942.  At the All India Scheduled Castes Conference in July 1942 Ambedkar demanded: “That provision shall be made by law for securing representation to the Scheduled Castes in all Executive Governments – Central and provincial – the proportion of which shall be determined in accordance with their number, their needs and their importance.[19] As has been shown above, Ambedkar was not for an indiscriminate distribution of reservations.  For him social contexts and the condition of marginalization are important for any compensatory measure. Madigas’ deprivation is not only because Malas are taking advantage of the reservations, but also due to their own social backwardness in comparison with the other Dalit castes in the state, particularly with the Malas and Adi-Andhras.  The contexts of Madigas’ economic marginalization i.e. social backwardness and educational deprivation are the conditions that justified their demand for rationalization of reservations.  With the categorization, the Madigas, Rellis and other marginalised castes amongst the Dalits have begun to reap the benefits of the compensatory policy in terms of their entry into higher educational institutions and jobs.  For the first time they received their rightful share in various recruitments conducted by the Andhra Pradesh Public Service Commission.[20] However, since the principle of categorisation is restricted to education and jobs, the Malas have continued to dominate the seats that were reserved for all Dalits in representative bodies.  In 1994 out of a total of 39 seats in the state Legislative Assembly, while the Malas gained 23 seats, the Madigas had to be satisfied with a mere 16.  The same went for their representation in Parliamentary seats.  The Madigas hoped that categorisation would remedy this injustice and that political parties would apply the same logic of categorisation (even though that it is not legally required) in allotting seats to the Dalits, i.e., in accordance to the proportion of each caste within the total population.  The political parties, who, on the other hand, are largely interested in winning seats rather than the distribution of justice, continue to favour the Malas.  Thus, the Madigas’ situation in the 2004 elections remained as it was in 1996.  Table 4 and 5 demonstrates this point. Table 4: Comparison of Malas and Madiga MLAs in 1994 and 2004 Legislative Assemblies

Caste Malas Madiga Total Number of SC seats
1994 23 16 39
2004 23 16 39

Table 5: Comparison of Malas and Madiga MPs in 1994 and 2004 Lok Sabha

Caste Malas Madiga Total Number of SC seats
1996 4 2 06
2004 4 2 06

If the reserved seats were to be distributed, amongst the four groups of Dalits on the lines of categorization, they would be distributed in the following manner: Table 6: The share of seats to each group in the Legislative Assembly

Group % of reservation after categorization Seats to get
Relli (A) 1 1
Madiga (B) 7 19
Mala (C) 6 18
Adi-Andhra 1 1
Total 15 39

Table 7: The share of seats to each group in Lok Sabha

Group % of reservation after categorization Seats to get
Relli (A) 1 1
Madiga (B) 7 2
Mala (C) 6 2
Adi-Andhra 1 1
Total 15 6

The second aspect of the verdict – (what the Court called the ‘sanctification of Scheduled Castes List’) is more unfortunate than the first.  Presented as a ‘violation’ of some of the clauses of the Constitution, which apparently is tantamount to ‘tinkering with the List’, the Supreme Court tried to sanctify the Presidential  List at the expense of millions of depressed Madigas and Madiga-like castes within the SC List.  If one were to look at the history of the Scheduled Castes List, it was, except for a few inclusions from time to time, the result of JJ Hutton’s (Census Commissioner of India) 1931 classification of Depressed Classes.  The list was adopted in the Government of India Act of 1935 for providing special protection to the said classes. The same list was promulgated by the President of India in the Scheduled Castes Order in 1950.  Fifty-five years down the line, substantial improvements have taken place among the Dalits.  A few castes improved their conditions, thanks mainly to compensatory policies and developmental measures.[21] Children of Dalit IAS, IPS and other allied services and Group I & II category officers in states, because of their improved position and better education are equipped to compete with the general category students and do not require the assistance of the reservation policy.  A significant point that has, so far, been downplayed is that a substantial number of job- holders amongst the Dalits invariably come from ‘well placed’ castes.  A preponderance of Chamars in Uttar Pradesh, Mahars in Madhya Pradesh, Holays in Karnataka, Malas in AP, and Palayars and Palars in Tamil Nadu in the reserved jobs substantiate the point.  If two people belonging to the same List but with different backgrounds compete for the same job, it is entirely predictable who will get the job.  But the Supreme Court of India seems to be unconcerned with these realities and primarily obsessed with maintaining the status quo of the SCs List.  There seems to be a similarity between the declaration of English Parliament of 1688 and the present verdict of the Supreme Court.  Submitting themselves and their posterities to William and Mary the Parliament declared: “The Lords Spiritual and Temporal, and Commons, do, in the name of the people … most humbly and faithfully submit themselves, their heirs and posterities, for EVER.”[22] A hundred years later arguing against such declarations of binding and controlling posterity to the end of time, Thomas Paine observed “Every age and generation must be as free to act for itself in all cases as the ages and generation which preceded it.  The vanity and presumption of governing beyond the grave is the most ridiculous and insolent of all tyrannies.  Man has no property in man; neither has any generation a property in the generations which are to follow.”[23] Each generation has the benefit of experience of the past. But the past experience cannot be one’s living experience.  Every generation should have the capacity and right to modify their present and build their future, again taking lessons from the past.  Institutional forms and constitutional arrangements are mere aids in human progress.  They are, as argued by Sudipta Kaviraj, mobile and plastic.[24] Every generation and society constantly improves their conditions with the help of institutional arrangements.  Over the years, new problems tend to arise and new instruments and rules are needed to face such challenges.  “If we accept the theory of immutability of the Constitution, we are no longer talking in terms of human frailty…we are in fact treading into the realm of religion and spiritualism where the authority of the divine revelation is supreme, unchallenged and immutable.”[25] Some of the views and arguments of the framers of the Constitution of India do not hold good any more and should not be binding on the present generation.  The context of enshrining compensatory measures in the Constitution emerged from a situation where the conditions of most Dalit castes were more or less similar.  Reservation for the ‘category’ as a whole, which was created for that special purpose, was justified in that context.  However, as shown in the above, clearly there has been a disproportionate development within the category.  A few castes have clearly benefited from the compensatory policies and their domination is causally connected with the marginalisation of other castes.  The ‘categorization’ demand stems from recognising these loopholes in the policy and the need to eradicate such ambiguities, thus ensuring equal opportunity among the Dalits.

A third aspect, which is not directly connected to the Supreme Court’s judgement but which would be affected due to the verdict, is that of the reservations in the private sector.  Dalits’ demand for an extension of reservations in the private sector is gaining momentum and assurances on this point were given by the Congress Party in its election manifesto.  Gradually, industrial houses are coming to terms with the logic and necessity of reservations in the private sector: a major step towards equality of opportunity for those hitherto oppressed by the largest employers of the country.  However, such a step necessarily has to take into account the demands for equitable distribution of reservations.  Today, in different parts of the country, especially in the southern states, the campaign for categorisation of reservations is gathering support.  Since the Madigas and Malas are the most numerous Dalits in AP, such a demand has been projected merely as a competition or rift between these two castes, when in reality it is about justice and cuts across all the Dalit castes.  It was in fact the Madigas of Karnataka who for the first time demanded categorisation of reservations.  The Madigas of AP, inspired by such an example, took the demand further.  Now, the Chakkaliyars in Tamil Nadu are following Madigas of Karnataka and AP, by making a similar demand.  Research on the internal differences amongst the Dalits in Tamil Nadu, conducted by independent Dalit groups has strengthened and justified the Chakkaliyars demand.  In Tamil Nadu, while the literacy rate amongst Dalits as a whole is 19%, that amongst the Chakkaliyars it is only 4% (1991 census).  Only 1% of government jobs are held by Chakkaliyars, though a total of 18% of government jobs are occupied by Parayars and Palars. The number of Dalit MLAs at present is 45, out of which only 3 are from Chakkaliyars.[26] A policy of reservations in the private sector should take these facts and the demands for categorisation into consideration.  Without such provision the projected policy would not help the marginalised in any substantial way and would rather, repeat the experience of compensatory policy in the public sector.

Finally, the Supreme Court’s suggestion of “adequate or additional training so as to enable” all the castes within the Dalit category to compete and access the reservations, is well intended and a sound suggestion but impractical, given our past experience with lofty but empty ideas.  There is a similarity between the Supreme Court’s suggestion and the ideas already contained within the Directive Principles of State Policy.  The DPSP had clearly recommended adequate action by respective governments to ameliorate the conditions of the marginalised; we now know the fate of such suggestions.  There is nothing in the verdict that binds the government to take necessary action to provide ‘adequate facilities’.  In the absence of such legally binding instruction, the Supreme Court’s suggestion will receive the same fate as the DPSP.  Vivek Kumar in his discussion on the reservation controversy, has challenged the central government to bring out a white paper on the present status of reservation policy, if the government is “truly sincere about opening up employment opportunities to the socially oppressed” in the private sector.[27] Such a document is necessary not just for any future course of action on the reservations, but importantly, as a means to test the sincerity of the respective governments in fulfilling their Constitutional obligations towards the people at the bottom of the heap.  But a white paper with a mere statement on the status of reservations is not enough.  It should disclose the employee’s caste background.  A document of this nature would reveal the facts about the domination of individual castes in reserved jobs, which would certainly act as an eye-opener not merely to the State and Central governments but also to the Supreme Court.  For, the Court’s view regarding the alleged ‘homogeneity of Scheduled Castes’ is based on a gross neglect of realities and the undeniable existence of sharp differences amongst them.  By invalidating the Act, it actually lent a hand to the well-to-do castes amongst the Dalits to ‘eat up’ the meagre government jobs and depress the marginalised even further.  The present category of SCs is neither fulfilling the Constitutional obligation to improve the conditions of the Dalits nor the interests of the Dalits themselves.  It rather serves the interests of the caste Hindus.  For, as long as the Dalits were kept in a box like category, Dalits were restricted to the 15 percentage of reservation jobs and the caste Hindus could corner the rest of the jobs and opportunities.  The Scheduled Caste identity has had tremendous negative psychological effects upon them, which is the reason why they continue to suffer from low-esteem and the inability to realise their full potential.  Moreover, the very identity itself makes them vulnerable to caste Hindus’ domination and ‘hegemony’ in all spheres of human activity in the Indian society.  The Court is actually missing the great opportunity initiated by the Madigas for a casteless society. With categorization, different castes in the Dalit category will be put together according to their backwardness and similarity of occupations.  As equality is possible amongst those people/castes in similar circumstances, placing of Dalits into different groups would afford them the possibility to forge unities, social intercourse and marriage alliances amongst them, which would in the long-run, unify the groups.  Historically there have been a number of examples that substantiate this point.  In AP, for instance, until thirty years ago the Kammas were divided into two castes: china (lower) Kamma and peda (higher) Kamma.  The latter treated the former with contempt, indignity, and marriage between them was a rare issue.  With the opportunities offered by the Green Revolution, the china Kammas improved their economic position that placed them more or less on par with the peda Kammas.  The marital relations between the two eliminated the peda and china boundaries and now there is only one Kamma caste in the state.  Thus, by preventing categorization, the Supreme Court has prevented social intercourse between various castes within the Dalit category.  In addition, by declaring the ‘immutability’ of the Scheduled Castes List, the Court, in fact, bound the Dalits to the List and thereby to the Scheduled Caste identity, not just the present generation of the Dalits, but also future generations for all posterity. As a general conclusion I would like to emphasise three points.  First, the very purpose of any institutional arrangement or policy is to realise a principle.  Political principles or institutional arrangements do not emerge in a vacuum.  They are specific to particular historical and social contexts.  Institutional arrangements, by extraction from abstract principles, give form to policies, which are again specific to an historical situation.  In any given context, the primacy of the principle has to be acknowledged over a specific form given to it at a particular historical moment in time.  If the historical reality changes, proper realisation of the principle may require a new form, rather than sticking to the letter of the policy.  The Supreme Court of India by rejecting the rationalisation of reservations prefers the mere ‘form’ to the very principle, which is a great mistake.  If we accept the principle and try to apply it to the changed reality of today, the policy should have a new form and categorisation is the best available form that suits the current Dalit situation.  Second, once we agree with the validity of a principle, it should be applied systematically.  The policy of compensatory discrimination was created, owing to the disparities between the caste Hindus and the Dalits.  If this was applicable between caste Hindus and Dalits, then the same principle should be equally applicable amongst Dalits themselves.  In other words, if the reservations were established on the basis of the extent of a respective people’s marginalisation and their percentage share of the total population, then the same criteria should hold good in allocating a percentage of reservations amongst marginalised groups within the Dalit category as well.  It is following this line of argument that the Madigas’ demand for the rationalisation of reservation is proven valid and justified.  Actually the Madigas’ demand was a simple and limited one.  They were only asking for equalization of compensatory measures, when they have every right to demand more than their relative share.  State support was required for those people who were in a disadvantageous position in comparison with others in society.  If we follow that logic then the Madigas, who are some of the most marginalised amongst the marginalised, should be entitled to more than their proportional share in the reservations.  What follows from this line of argument is that eventually amongst the Dalits, the criteria of ‘caste’ should be supplemented or that ‘economic criteria’ should be tacked on to ‘caste criteria’, in order to qualify for compensatory measures.  In this way, not only the poor amongst the Madigas but also poor amongst the Malas, would get help from the state.  However, the application of ‘economic criteria’ amongst the Dalits (and Adivasis) is not the same as that of applying it to rest of castes in the Indian society.  The compensatory measures were provided for the Dalits because they were not just economically deprived, but importantly, socially oppressed.  The reports of the National Commission for Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes, the National Human Rights Commission, and national and international NGOs, all attest to their economic deprivation and tell of atrocities and violence meted out against them by the caste Hindus.  As long as Dalits were discriminated against in the name of caste and excluded both from public as well as private spheres (again on the same basis) the principles upon which the compensatory measures were provided for them were seen as valid and justified.[28] Finally, in recent political and sociological debates, particularly in the last two decades, the very policy of ‘compensatory discrimination’ has come in for serious criticisms and challenges.  Critics have become vocal in the context of extending the policy to more and more social groups.  It also exists in a context where there is firm competition from the Dalit middle classes, particularly in the job sector.  The upwardly mobile Dalit middle classes are not restricting themselves just to the 15% reservation jobs (we must remember that the 15% quota has never been filled, except in grade IV jobs), they are competing with caste Hindus in the open category as well.  The caste Hindus, who were terrified by this Dalit ‘encroachment’ on the jobs that were ‘kept’ exclusively for them,  have begun  to challenge the compensatory policy, by pointing out that the Dalits have enjoyed the benefits of reservations for more than half a century.  They argue that  a group of people who have drawn its benefits, have actually moved up the social ladder and joined advantaged groups, such as the middle classes and even elite sections.  According to these critics, this has given them an undue advantage not merely over the poor amongst caste Hindus, but also over the poor amongst Dalits, thus, the entire policy is fallacious and must be discontinued.  The compensatory policy benefiting a group of people amongst the Dalits is undeniably true, but this cannot be the basis to eliminate the entire policy itself.  For a major portion  amongst them, such as  Madigas, Mangs,  Chakkaliyars and many others, still continues to live a life that is no different from their forefathers’ some fifty years ago.  A proper answer to caste Hindus’ criticisms, as well as a means to improve the lot of the marginalised amongst the Dalits (a sort of double edged sword) would be the categorisation of all the Dalit castes according to their backwardness and giving each caste their ‘due share’.

In conclusion, the Supreme Court’s invalidation of ‘rationalisation of reservation Act’ merely on the basis of ‘homogeneity’ of the Dalit castes does not reflect the reality of the situation. Whilst deliberating upon the Act, it should have taken into consideration disparities and discrepancies amongst individual castes within the larger Dalit category.  Its opinion of ‘immutability’ of the Presidential List is unacceptable from the point of view of Dalit identity and respect.  Dalit identities have been changing not because Dalits themselves are changing it, but because society and governments (whether of colonialists or post-colonialists) have been ‘tinkering’ with their identities.  While the identities of Brahmins, Thakurs or Hegdes, since they serve the caste Hindus’ interests, may remain permanent, Dalit identity cannot remain permanent, not only because it does not serve their interests, but also because it subordinates them permanently, to the caste Hindus.  It is time that the Dalits were left to decide their identity.  It is also time that the Government of India, taking stock of the fifty-five years of the compensatory policy’s implementation, change the outdated ‘form’ to serve the marginalised and deserving within the Dalit category.  The best way to begin with, is to categorise all the Dalit castes in accordance with their backwardness and proportion of population and thereby to allow each caste to have their rightful share.


References and Notes

* I am grateful to Sudipta Kaviraj and Sasheej Hegde for clarifying my thoughts and commenting on the draft. I am also greatly benefited from my discussions with Eleanor Zelliott, Sharmila Sree Kumar, Vijay Kumar Boratti, Karuna Mantena, Lucy Haines, Cyble Soans, and Hazel Still. I am grateful to each and every one of them.  Any shortcomings, needless to say, are invariably mine.

[1] Thomas, Jefferson, Thomas Jefferson on Democracy, – Selected and arranged with an Introduction by Saul K. Padover, New York: New American Library, 1954, p. 67.

[2] For background of the Act, see K Balagopal, ‘Justice for Dalits among Dalits: All the Ghosts Resurface’ in EPW, Vol. 40, No. 29, July 16, 2005.

[3] (Case Number: Appeal (civil) 6758 of 2000, date of judgement: 05/11/2004.

[4] K. Balagopal, ‘A Tangled Web: Sub-division of the SC Reservations in AP’, EPW, March 25, 2000, p.1077.

[5] AM Shah, ‘The ‘Dalit’ Category and Its Differentiation’, EPW, April 06, 2002. Also see, N. Subha Reddy, ‘Community- Conflict among the Depressed Castes of Andhra’, Man in India, Vol. XXX, No.4, 1950, pp: 1-11; Karve I., ‘What is caste? Caste as extended kin’, EPW, July 10, 1958, pp: 125-38; Sambaiah Gundimeda, The Emergence of Sub-Caste Identity and Consciousness among the Dalits in Andhra Pradesh: A case study of the Madigas, unpublished MPhil thesis, University of Hyderabad, 2000.

[6] For an excellent discussion on Indians concern for status, see, Andre Beteille, Chronicles of Our Time, New Delhi: Penguin Books, 2000, pp: 111-116.

[7] Historically we had evidence, where reserved seats were distributed among the followers of the same religion but with different social backgrounds. The Christian community in India had been divided into three sections – Europeans, Anglo-Indians, and Indian Christians. Despite the fact that they all belonged to the same religion, each section was given separate electorate considering the social conditions, discrimination and separation, under the Government of India Act, 1935. See, B. Shiva Rao, The Framing of India’s Constitution: Select Documents, New Delhi: The Indian Institute of Public Administration, 1967, pp: 109-110.

[8] Preferential treatment in recruitment for government services, education, housing, revenue and agricultural administration became a steadfast policy of the British Government in India. The Government of India Act, 1919, provided for communal representation of Mohammedans, Sikhs Anglo-Indians, Indian Christians, Depressed Classes, Aborigines and other groups. An analogous arrangement had become a prominent feature in the Government of India Act, 1935. See, Marc Galanter, Competing Equalities: Law and the Backward Classes in India, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984, p. 363, and passim 1, p.363.

[9] B. Shiva Rao, The Framing of India’s Constitution: Select Documents, Vol. II, New Delhi: The Indian Institute of Public Administration, 1967, pp: 224-225. (Italics are supplied)

[10] ——–, The Framing of India’s Constitution: A Study, New Delhi: The Indian Institute of Public Administration, 1968, pp: 192-194.

[11] ——–, 1967, Op.Cit., p. 93. (Emphasises are mine).

[12] B. R. Ambedkar, States and Minorities: What Are Their Rights And How To Secure Them In The Constitution of Free India, Bombay: Thacker & Co, 1947, p. 23. (Italics are supplied)

[13] For a detailed discussion and analysis of the Madigas’ demand for the categorisation of reservations, see, Jangam Chinnaiah, ‘Sub-Caste consciousness and challenges before Dalit intellectuals’ in Mainstream, March 14, 1998, pp: 7-8 & 32; K. Balagopal, Op.Cit,; Sambaiah Gundimeda, Op. Cit.,; K.C. Suri, ‘Dialectic of Social Justice: The Struggle of the Madigas for Categorisation of Scheduled Caste Reservations in Andhra Pradesh’, in R. Balasubramanian (ed.), Social and economic dimensions of caste organisations in South Indian states, Chennai: University of Madras, 2001, pp: 228-245; G.V. Siva Reddy, ‘Competition and Conflict among the Dalits: Madiga Dandora Movement in Andhra Pradesh’, in Ghanshyam Shah (ed.), Dalits and the State, New Delhi: Concept Publishing Company, 2002, pp: 325-342.

[14] Figures pertaining to 1961 and 1971 were taken from Uma Ramaswamy, ‘Protection and Inequality among Backward Groups’, EPW, Vol. XXI, No. 6, March, 1986 and figures for the year 1981were taken from Justice Ramachandra Raju’s commission’s report  quoted  in Sambaiah Gundimeda, Op. cit., 2000.

[15] Figures as given in Justice Raju Commission’s Report, quoted in G. Venkata Siva Reddy, Op. Cit., p. 334.  Adi-Andhras and Rellis are the two other major castes among the Dalits in AP.


[17] A newspaper reported: “…while the Malas were trying to compete with the developed Kammas and Reddys, the Madigas were not even in a position of compete with the Malas.”

[18] V. Shiva Reddy, Op. Cit,, p.334.

[19] B.R. Ambedkar, Emancipation of the Untouchables, Bombay: Thacker & Co. Ltd., 1972, p. 16 (Emphasises are mine).

[20] The Annual Report of the AP Public Service Commission for the year 2001-02.

[21] For contexts and analysis of such demands, see, Marc Galanter, Op. Cit. pp: 136-140 and 547 -567.

[22] Thomas Paine, Rights of Man, Hertfordshire: Wordsworth Editions Limited, 1996, P.8

[23] Ibid., p.9

[24] Sudipta Kaviraj, ‘Democracy and Social Inequality’, in Francine R. Frankel & others (eds.), Transforming India: Social and Political Dynamics of Democracy, New Delhi: OUP, 2000, p.90.

[25] Ibid.,

[26] R. Karuppusamy in Asian Human Rights Commission –

[27] Vivek Kumar, ‘Understanding the Politics of Reservation: A Perspective from Below’. EPW, Feb.26 – March 4, 2005, Vol. XL No.9, p.803.

[28] I am thankful to Dr. Kaviraj for this point.  It is about equality, of course, but informed by a premonition about which equalities matter.

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Democratization of the Public Sphere: The Beef Stall Case in Hyderabad’s Sukoon Festival

(South Asia Research, Vol. 29, No. 2, pp: 127-149, (2009)

Sambaiah Gundimeda[1]

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).[2] 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,[3] 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,[4] 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 [1952]: 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’.[5]

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).[6] 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 [1916]: 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.[7] 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’.[8]

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.[9] 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’.[10]

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’.[11] 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.[12]

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).[13]

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.[14]

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.[15] 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.[16] 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 [1936]: 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.[17] 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.[18]

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.



[1] 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.

[2] I borrow these two meanings from Margalit (1996:169) and thank Sudipta Kaviraj for suggesting Margalit’s work.

[3] My basic understanding of the term ‘public sphere’ comes from Habermas (1992 [1989]), but such understanding has been further illuminated by Fraser (1999), Taylor (1995) and particularly Bhargava (2005).

[4] 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.

[5] Further, Article 15 prohibits specifically discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth.

[6] Much literature is available on the relationship between food practices and caste hierarchies, for example Appadurai (1981), Parry (1985) and Srinivas (1962; 1966).

[7] For instance, in August 2003, five Dalit men were lynched by a caste Hindu mob in Jhajjar district, Haryana (Jodhka and Dhar, 2003).

[8] Sukoon Guidelines for the Academic Year 2007-08, issued by the Vice-Chancellor, Hyderabad Central University.

[9] 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.

[10] Interview with Suresh Kumar Digumarthi, President of the Dalit Students Union.

[11] Interview with Santhi Swaroop Sirapangi, Department of Politics, University of Hyderabad.

[12] 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.

[13] 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).

[14] 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.

[15] 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.

[16] Derrida (2001 [1999]) 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.

[17] 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 [1936]), Gutmann (1994), Margalit (1996) and Taylor (1994).

[18] 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.

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