A Strange and Bitter Crop: October at Navayana

A strange
and bitter crop
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October 2016
Dear Reader

Two years after the Khairlanji murders of 29 September 2006, Anand Teltumbde wrote Khairlanji: A Strange and Bitter Crop, invoking Billie Holiday’s powerful song “Strange Fruit”, on lynching in the American South. When the book was revised for an international edition in 2009, it was reissued as The Persistence of Caste: The Khairlanji Murders and India’s Hidden Apartheid. Teltumbde felt compelled to write the first monograph on the atrocity for as Milan Kundera had said, the struggle against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting.

Bhaiyalal Bhotmange, the sole survivor of the massacre, cannot afford to forget. He is still seeking justice from the Supreme Court after the trial court (2008) and the Bombay High Court (2010) judgments ruled out both the caste angle and the allegation of rape; the SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act was also not invoked. However, the brutality of Khairlanji and our memory of it is being overwhelmed by what happened at Kopardi—the rape and murder of a Maratha girl by three Dalit youth in July this year. Even a newspaper with pretensions to seriousness like the Indian Express irresponsibly suggested that things had come “full circle in 10 years”, implying that the “score” on revenge rapes was even. It is insensitive to compare these two tragedies, for unlike the Bhotmanges of Khairlanji, the Kopardi rape–murder does not appear to be planned, premeditated violence with a history of confrontations stalking it. The Marathas, who dominate the Maharashtrian political landscape with an estimated 33 percent population, have staged over 40 “silent” rallies across the state, with Olympian athlete Lalita Babar attending one where eight lakh people reportedly turned up. Their key demand: scrap the SC/ST Act. As if this injustice would bring justice to the Kopardi victim.

In an exhaustive interview with publisher S. Anand (featured on the Navayana blog
and published in Scroll), Teltumbde, who views an atrocity as a “concentrated expression of casteism”, speaks about the continued violence against Dalits, the aftermath of Una, the persistent lack of diversity and inclusion in India’s public sphere, the limitations of reservations, and the future of Dalits under both neoliberalism and Hindutva. Evoking the 1927 Mahad revolt, Teltumbde also makes a bold statement on the drawbacks of democratic, Ambedkarite modes of nonviolent protest:

If the delegates at the Mahad conference had avenged the attack of the caste-Hindu goons that day, it would have given a completely different orientation to the Dalit movement…. The simple news that Dalits had raised their hand on caste Hindus in retaliation would have been enough to send shockwaves through caste society.

The Fall of Gandhi

Every 2 October, it is a ritual to remember the man venerated as Mahatma. Last year, we did this by launching The South African Gandhi: Stretcher-Bearer of Empire by Ashwin Desai and Goolam Vahed. While the Indian intelligentsia beholden to him more or less refused to engage with the book, the image of Gandhi in Africa has taken a beating. The demand for removing his statues is gaining strength. When we contacted Ọbadele Kambon, coordinator of the African Thinkers Programme at University of Ghana’s Institute of African Studies and one of the key petitioners to bring down the racist Gandhi’s statue, he replied: “We actually used the video trailer [for South African Gandhi] back in July in an initial email to all faculty and students at the University of Ghana to sensitize everyone to these issues.” But the battle has just begun. Ashwin Desai, responding to Dr Kambon, observed: “It seems to me that this campaign is also about new forms of colonialisms dressed up as anti-imperialism if the behaviour of Indian businesses in Ethiopia is anything to go by.”

book1

When and why did the statue come up the University of Ghana in Accra? It is a consequence of India’s Ministry of External Affairs persistent belief that Gandhi sells internationally. The statue was unveiled just a few months ago, in June 2016—a photo-op for president Pranab Mukherjee who upheld the death sentence to Yakub Memon, protesting against which Rohith Vemula was suspended from the University of Hyderabad, leading him to decide that he had to end the fatal accident called life. A death, we could say, President Mukherjee (the beloved liberal writer Amitav Ghosh
was proud enough to sup with), was conversely responsible for.

The time of going looking

In this depressing world, we do have some reason to smile. After a gap of some months, the Navayana newsletter is back; and yes, we have also produced a book—Hoshang Merchant’s 101 finest poems selected and introduced by the poet Kazim Ali. My Sunset Marriage has a cover to die for.

Buy the book, take a selfie with it, and email it to us with a note on whether you figured out the layers of meaning our designer Akila Seshasayee wants you to find in the cover. The best three answers (not more than 100 words to be sent here) will receive all available poetry titles from Navayana for free, including the back-in-print Ms Militancy and A Current of Blood. Meanwhile, here’s a fragment of a poem from My Sunset Marriage, for free:

Who knows who will go looking for whom

in the afternoon of a lifetime?

My little me grew and grew

making the earth his demesne

The shadow fell into the well

The water poisoned for a lifetime…

Who’ll tell who comes looking

for me in a search of a lifetime?

The mirror cracked, the garden bloomed

The well gushed forth, the air roamed free

This the reward for a search of a lifetime

And yet now is the time of going looking….


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