Being a Dalit means being in permanent isolation, stuck in the dark chambers of one’s uncharted fears. The Dalit is that stubbornness that the Hindu ideology has adamantly maintained for more than 3,000 years.
I grew up in a world surrounded by Dalits. From early on I was conscious of my identity and that it meant we belonged to the lower strata. Parents and family members disciplined us to make sure we do not mess up elsewhere and face the wrath of the dominant castes – the rich people with power and position.
I grew up celebrating the birthday of B R Ambedkar, the eminent Dalit scholar and former justice minister, who inspired the Dalit movement. We stayed away from Hindu festivals as they were a reminder of our ancestral humiliation and of our secondary status in Indian society.
Our neighbour, a sahukar (merchant) caste, who ran a grocery shop, was one of the few non-Dalits in our neighbourhood. He resented us, but loved our money. He made sure all physical contact with us was avoided when we were paying for our purchases.
It is extremely difficult to receive small coins without physically touching the other person; to avoid this “blasphemy”, we were told to drop the coins in an open box. When we paid with a bank note, he would take it with his fingers from the other end, carefully avoiding physical touch.
Living among Dalits, the sahukar maintained his and his family’s purity by erecting a concrete wall around his house. The tallest wall in our neighbourhood was between our house and the sahukar’s. He was also extremely suspicious of us; he’d often accuse us of stealing. We were made to feel like criminals in our homes.
When I went to high school, classmates, mostly from the dominant castes, refused to lend their time to me. They were contemptuous, just like their parents, and readily exercised “their right” to caste discrimination.
My only close friends in the school were Dalits and I had the profound pleasure of hanging out at their home and sharing their food, a privilege I was denied by the dominant caste peers. The fact that I was never invited to break the bread in an upper caste home kept reminding me of my pitiful isolation. I was the child soaked in sweat in the summer heat, with a dry throat, desperate for a glass of water, standing outside a Brahmin classmate’s house. Never was I invited inside the house, nor was I entertained in the courtyard.
I walked home thirsty after school till I graduated. And today I still see Dalit children who, just like me, are walking down the same street, thirsty and famished.
The caste system holds us responsible for our suffering. Solidarity and support from non-Dalits do not exist, even today in the 21st century.
Isn’t it absurd that we are now actively exploring another planet to settle and scouring other galaxies for life, but on our own Earth we are still unable to shake millennia-old inhumane and unscientific customs and perceptions that selectively devalue human life?
It is. And it is equally absurd that so-called progressive Indians lavishly spend their energy pushing a Hindu-only narrative of the Indian civilisation and choose not to accord any respect or equal status to us, the declared despicable, the wretched of the earth.
Stuck in this dark chamber of millennia-old, forcibly-imposed inferiority complex, fear and terror, we struggle to break free. The only way out is self-love.
Caste systems around the world
It was not until university that I learned that there are other societies beyond India that have their own outcastes or untouchables. It was then that I came across a report written by human rights expert and lawyer, Smita Narula, called Broken people: Caste violence against India’s “untouchables” commissioned by Human Rights Watch. It put the caste systems across the world into perspective for me.
It referenced the “Buraku people of Japan, the Osu of Nigeria’s Igbo people, and certain groups in Senegal, Mauritania and Somalia” who suffer under “their own caste or caste-like systems”. The terrorism my community faced in our lives seemed no longer exclusive to us and certainly not attached to our fate only.
This “discovery” took me to places with hopes of finding fellow oppressed peoples who are fighting the monster of caste discrimination and hatred.
I started asking people from across the world about the caste system in their societies. During a lecture at Harvard University, for example, I asked Nigerian writer and Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka, but he gave a rather vague answer about the Osu. I soon realised that most of the people I was meeting and asking were almost always the Brahmins of their societies who used their privileged position to tactically downplay or avoid mentioning the suffering of the subalterns.
I am yet to come across an oppressed/lower caste person from Nigeria, Japan, Senegal, Mali, Mauritania, Kenya, Somalia, the US, South Africa, Eastern and Western Europe, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Israel, Afghanistan, and others. Due to abject poverty and lack of representation, many untouchables of the world are still unable to challenge mainstream narratives in their societies.
Through my travels and research, I also discovered that the postcolonial scholarship and activism were another stratagem of the elites of native societies to hide the oppressions they practice and redirect public attention towards the external “other” – the moribund colonial state.
They have thoroughly researched the historical and sociological underpinnings of colonial rule in their native societies, thus developing a novel yet spineless critique. In the postcolonial project, oppressor castes from the colonised societies ensured that the radical voices of dissent from among the lower castes never received the attention needed to achieve their liberation. The subalterns fighting for civil rights have sporadically made the news but almost never the headlines.
Because of this, entire generations of the last century were fed one-dimensional propaganda of postcolonial fears and tears. The actual pains of the suffering masses were buried under the heaps of mystified narratives of the Third World.
The Fourth World
In addition to the uniqueness of caste being a descent-based, inherited form of inescapable discrimination, there are other types of prejudice that result in similar oppression. There is what we can call a Fourth World of outcastes around the world who have been left out of the prominent discourses and debates concerning human rights and social and economic justice.
Today, there is an urgent need to identify these underprivileged groups and establish international solidarity networks.
Such solidarity work has been undertaken before but it has received little public and theoretical attention. Its traces were lost within the dominant discourses on nation-state building and the pursuit of democracy.
It is what happened with the international links built in the mid-20th century by pioneers like Ambedkar, who put the Dalit situation on the global map. He connected with African American leaders like W E B Du Bois; African American organisers and civil rights leaders paid attention to his work. Ambedkar also reached out to the Buddhist South and East Asian countries.
In Japan, the formidable Matsumoto Jiichiro, leader of the Buraku people, the outcastes in the Japanese feudal system, took notice of his work and they established a connection in the 1950s.
Over the following decades, efforts to build upon the foundations Ambedkar laid were not successful in establishing strong international networks and cross-national collective action. More recently, there have been renewed efforts to rekindle solidarity outreach. In September, the Buraku and Dalit people met in September in Fukuoka Prefecture, Japan to resolve to discuss ways to fight caste systems across the world. They passed 12 resolutions that ensured the international outlook of these communities remained intact.
Similar solidarity work has been initiated by prominent African Americans, like Cornel West, Martin Luther King III and professor Kevin Brown of Indiana University. In the Boston area, the “Dalit and Black Lives Matter” movement stands as a testament to the renewed, re-energised solidarity of the younger generation of Dalit and black activists.
But there is still much work that needs to be done. It is about time that trans-national solidarity of oppressed people leaves the confines of elite platforms and reaches grassroots level. Being a Dalit means living in isolation; fighting against the injustice of the caste system inevitably will have to include breaking this isolation and creating vast networks of outcastes that are able to collectively struggle for their rights.
An organisation dedicated to this task, seeking to challenge mainstream narratives, a Fourth World think-tank, could serve this purpose.
It would provide the most vulnerable groups around the world with a platform to discuss and share their experiences of marginalisation and learn ways to fight discrimination and oppression. It would take solidarity work to the grassroots and help build knowledge and activism structures among underprivileged groups across the world.
The oppressed castes need to come under one roof to develop a collective egalitarian vision for the future of the world. Coming together and working collectively is the only way in which we can break the bonds of oppression.
The geography of our struggle has to be a global one; we can no longer afford to be divided and isolated from each other.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.
Israel urges hard line against Iran at nuclear talks
SULAIMANIYA: An attack by Daesh militants on a village in northern Iraq on Friday killed three villagers and 10 Kurdish soldiers, officials in Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region said. Daesh claimed responsibility for the deadly attack in a statement posted on an affiliated Telegram account.The attack took place in the Makhmour region, a hotbed for Daesh…
SULAIMANIYA: An attack by Daesh militants on a village in northern Iraq on Friday killed three villagers and 10 Kurdish soldiers, officials in Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region said.
Daesh claimed responsibility for the deadly attack in a statement posted on an affiliated Telegram account.The attack took place in the Makhmour region, a hotbed for Daesh activity that sees regular attacks against Kurdish forces, Iraqi forces and often civilians.Makhmour is a mountainous area about 70 km southeast of Mosul and 60 km southwest of the Kurdish capital of Irbil.Kurdistan’s Prime Minister Masrour Barzani called for greater security cooperation between Iraqi Kurdish and Iraqi security forces to stop Daesh’s insurgent activities.Iraqi officials and analysts have long blamed a lack of coordination along a stretch of territory claimed by both Baghdad and Irbil for Daesh’s continued ability to wage deadly attacks.Daesh controlled roughly a third of Iraq between 2014 and 2017, including the remote Makhmour region but also major cities including Mosul.A loose coalition of US-led forces, Iraqi and Kurdish troops and Iran-backed Shiite militias defeated the extremist group in 2017, but its members still roam areas of northern Iraq and northeastern Syria.Western military officials say at least 10,000 Daesh fighters remain in Iraq and Syria.A statement from the Kurdistan region’s armed forces, the peshmerga, said Daesh militants attacked the village in the early hours of Friday killing three residents.It said peshmerga forces intervened, resulting in clashes that killed at least seven of their soldiers.Kurdish security and hospital officials said the final death toll was at least 10 peshmerga soldiers and three villagers.In a separate development, Kurdish demonstrators in The Hague stormed the headquarters of the global chemical weapons body on Friday, sparking clashes in which six people were hurt and 50 arrested, Dutch police said.
A loose coalition of US-led forces, Iraqi and Kurdish troops and Iran-backed Shiite militias defeated the Daesh extremist group in 2017, but its members still roam areas of northern Iraq and northeastern Syria.
Dozens of protesters alleging that Turkey is using toxic arms in northern Iraq broke through security to enter the grounds of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons in The Hague.A number of them managed to get inside the lobby of the building before police removed them, diplomatic sources said, while the rest staged a noisy protest outside the front doors.Police dragged the demonstrators off one by one, put them on the ground and handcuffed them, journalists saw. Some were bundled into waiting vans, but the large number meant many were taken away in a hired bus.At least a dozen police vehicles sealed off the road outside the OPCW, which is opposite Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s official residence. Several ambulances and a medical helicopter were also at the scene.Two police officers and four protesters were wounded when the demonstrators “stormed the building,” The Hague police said.Turkish jets regularly attack the separatists’ bases in northern Iraq and autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan, with several villages having emptied of their inhabitants since a new Turkish army offensive in April.The PKK and Kurdish organizations in Europe have in recent months accused Turkey of using chemical weapons, including a nerve agent and sulfur mustard gas, in dozens of attacks in northern Iraq.“We have called on OPCW and all international bodies to come and independently investigate the use of chemical weapons,” Zagros Hiwa, a spokesperson for the Kurdistan Democratic Communities Union, the PKK’s political branch, told AFP.
Clashes rock Arab town in Israel, alleged car-rammer killed
Yemeni military commander hopeful of Marib advance after army cuts Houthi supply lines LONDON: Yemen’s military commander heading army troops in Marib Maj. Gen. Mansour Thawaba said he was hopeful of advancements in the strategic province after Houthi supply lines were cut. There have been “great advances” in the past two days in Bayhan, Usaylan…
Yemeni military commander hopeful of Marib advance after army cuts Houthi supply lines
LONDON: Yemen’s military commander heading army troops in Marib Maj. Gen. Mansour Thawaba said he was hopeful of advancements in the strategic province after Houthi supply lines were cut.
There have been “great advances” in the past two days in Bayhan, Usaylan and Harib, the major general told Al-Arabiya, noting that army forces cut the Houthis’ supply line between Bayhan and Harib.
He explained that military operations continued on all fronts, with the southern front seeing most of the action. He also noted the Saudi-led Arab coalition’s support with airstrikes.
“Marib is not besieged, and the Houthis are far from achieving this,” he said.
He added that most of those fighting for the Houthis were children and young men.
“They do not care about the children of Yemenis who are killed by the dozens every day,” he said, referring to the Houthi militia.
The coalition announced on Friday night that it had destroyed a ballistic missile launcher south of Sanaa.
The coalition added that it also destroyed a “mine-making workshop” in the capital, stressing that it had taken “preventive measures to spare civilians and civilian structures from collateral damage” during the airstrikes.
US critics of Israel face challenges in redrawn Congress districts
CHICAGO: Nine members of Congress who have been vocal critics of Israel’s policies towards the Palestinians could face tougher re-election campaigns as a result of their districts being redrawn, an analysis by Arab News shows. Every 10 years, the dominant political parties in many states re-draw district boundaries based on demographic data provided by the…
CHICAGO: Nine members of Congress who have been vocal critics of Israel’s policies towards the Palestinians could face tougher re-election campaigns as a result of their districts being redrawn, an analysis by Arab News shows.
Every 10 years, the dominant political parties in many states re-draw district boundaries based on demographic data provided by the US Census, which does not count Arab and Muslim Americans as a separate category.
Where population shifts have led to proposed boundary changes, incumbents may be forced to stand in new districts. That’s the challenge facing Illinois representative Marie Newman, who won election in 2020 in the 3rd Congressional District, which has the largest concentration of Palestinian American voters.
Newman has chosen to face-off with Sean Casten, who is very strong on climate change, in the new 6th District rather than stand against Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, who is one of only two Hispanic congress members in Illinois, in the 4th District. Casten is a strong supporter of Israel and silent on Israeli violence against Palestinians, while Garcia has often joined Newman to support pro-Palestinian legislation, including voting against a bill giving Israel $1 billion for its Iron Dome defense system last September.
“Rep. Newman was supportive of the push to create a second congressional district of Latino influence and understood that doing so would mean the need to shift boundary lines of existing CDs in the Chicagoland area,” Newman campaign spokesperson Ben Hardin said.
Describing the challenges as “inevitable,” Hardin said: “Representative Newman is grateful … to have the support of so many people here in Chicago’s southwest side and in the south and west suburbs, including a strong coalition of supporters from the Arab and Muslim American community.”
The new Illinois district map was approved by Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker, one of Israel’s strongest advocates, in November. Pritzker aroused anger among Arab Americans after refusing to apologize for disparaging remarks he made in a 1998 congressional race in which he accused a rival of accepting money from a Muslim group that Pritzker asserted supported terrorists.
“There is no doubt that the Illinois Democrats are seeking to undermine Newman, who has been a vocal supporter of Palestinian, Arab and Muslim rights,” said Hassan Nijem, the president of the American Arab Chamber of Commerce.
“She and Chuy Garcia are the only Illinois Democrats to defend Palestinian rights and recognize our growing community.”
The Illinois primary has been delayed from March until June 28, 2022, because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In addition to Newman and Garcia, seven other members of Congress who voted against the Iron Dome money could be affected by district changes.
They include Cori Bush of Missouri; André Carson of Indiana; Raúl Grijalva of Arizona; Ilhan Omar of Minnesota; Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts; Rashida Tlaib of Michigan; and Thomas Massie of Kentucky, a Republican Congressman who consistently votes against all foreign aid regardless of the recipient.
Tlaib, Pressley and Omar are members of the “Squad,” a group of progressive Democrats that includes New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Instead of voting against the Iron Dome funding, however, AOC voted “present” not taking a position.
In Michigan, which is holding its primary on Aug. 2 next year, mapmakers are proposing to re-draw Tlaib’s 13th district, increasing the number of African American voters. That could be important even though Tlaib defeated several African American candidates when she first ran and won office in the predominantly African American district in 2018.
Tlaib may be forced into a new district against pro-Arab Democrat Debbie Dingell. However, she could survive as the Michigan process puts remapping in the hands of an independent commission rather than partisan politicians. The final Michigan remap might not be completed until late January.
Also in Michigan, proposed changes would pit Jewish Democratic Congressman Andy Levin, who has been an outspoken supporter of the two-state solution for Palestine and Israel, against Brenda Lawrence.
Minnesota congressional remapping plans have targeted Omar and another pro-Palestinian Congresswoman, Betty McCollum, although maps in those districts have not been finalized.