The everlasting thread—Land, Guns, Caste, Woman

Our latest title Land, Guns, Caste, Woman: The Memoir of a Lapsed Revolutionary by Gita Ramaswamy has lit up a spark.

This book featured 17 early endorsements from Naseeruddin Shah, Gattu Basha, N.V. Ramana, Kancha Ilaiah, Jerry Pinto, Nagati Bacchamma, Bezwada Wilson, Suhasini Mulay..

As the copies begin to find readers, we are overwhelmed by the quality and lucidity of the feedback received: on social media, on email, on phone calls. Gita’s story, about the self and community, provokes much thought. To fan this flame, we are devoting an interactive page on our website. If you have read the book, or wish to read it, drop by, leave a note.

 

 


Comments:

  • Deepa Joshi says:

    I have known Gita Ramaswamy for almost two decades and I thought I knew of her work. Reading Guns, Caste, Woman was a reminder of how much I did not know. Here is a person who clearly does not blow her trumpet, someone who has made such a huge impact on the lives of so many marginalized women and men, and all she values and counts is their love , which stays beyond time, across generations. I am so honoured to have known you, Gita. One only lives once, what a fantastic, fabulous life you have chosen and stayed true to the axis of justice. I have passed on the book to those who knew you Gita, so many of us need to know more about you. Deeply inspiring!

  • asma says:

    Gita has written a powerful and engaging account of her life, and of the lives and struggles of dozens and dozens more against entrenched, systemic power structures. It is an amazing narrative of her own journeys and of the “little” histories that are often “lost.” What I found particularly moving was Gita’s measured and thoughtful tone, along with a commitment to holding up her own “lapses” for consideration. It often meant that one had to stop reading now and then simply to process the enormity of all the richly textured details.
    The memoir is an invaluable resource for students of the Deccan region, and I hope it is translated into many more languages so that it becomes accessible to a wider reading public. A big hug, Gita.

  • Manisha Chaudhry says:

    I read this amazing memoir in one straight sitting, lost in admiration for your casually limpid prose. You downplay your brilliance and give primacy to the struggles that you have been involved with. Your courage and honesty shines through in every word.

  • Anbazhagan SV says:

    A Kendriya Vidyalaya student, a brahmin girl, questioning resolutely the ways of life at home, choosing a line of study at college as she chooses, becoming idealistic and dreaming of the possibility of a revolution to change the things for the better, becoming inclined towards action, joins a party and then joins a people , lives with them in all aspects of their life unstintingly and secures them what others with lofty talks were promising, facing the situations boldly, setting an example to the people and leaves them at an appropriate time, convinced that the people would carry on themselves thereafter!
    I read the book taking a week.
    Yes, many persons have stood with Dalits, for their emancipation. But here is one who became part of their society to fully feel their pain but still staying hopeful. She suffers with them . She cried when it was too much to bear; she is human; not a person representing a theory.
    But we as readers can theorise or must theorise as to the way she adopted to accomplish such a mission, so that the approach adopted gets continued adapting to the times. Also, so that what she suffered is not suffered by others who would take-up to action based resolution to real problems.
    The organizational processes that were played there though appear local, they have global aspects in them. The processes were also the interplay of strongly held/nurtured principles and values. Her stead fast effort is one such principle.
    Whom she joined with and whom she parted from and when – all these have a lesson to teach.
    In all, a book not to be missed. We can read it from many perspectives. It is so genuine an expression, nascent and ‘flowing freely.
    Memoir, yes and memorable indeed. But it would also prompt us to some action undoubtedly. We should pickup that thread of thought we get and work on it in our own way accomplishing what we desired.

    Narayana certainly deserves all praise and so, hearty congratulations, indeed!

  • Kaki Madhava Rao says:

    Gita’s book is intense. She could not have been more honest an bold. She lived her life like a burning candle in the service of the poor, particularly the Dalits. She never knew what fear and backing down is.
    Like S.R.Sankaran, she lived to atone for the sins of her forefathers.
    She and her book are in the category of one in a million.

    • Anbazhagan SV says:

      We may say that Mr.S.R.Sankaran felt ‘accountable’ and took up doing things in line with accountability; atonement may be what he felt in the end.

      “How can I forget the selfless life of that noble Brahmin who sat with outcastes, shared their meals in their houses and worked tirelessly for their uplift?”
      This is Mr.K.Madhavan writing about Mr. T. Subramaniam Thirumumbu. (p215, K.Madhavan, an autobiography, Translation by P. Radhika Menon, NBT, 2011)
      Calling it atonement of sin may be a weak rationale for their tireless service whereas considering it as ‘assuming accountability’ makes it replicable by others too.

  • Anbazhagan SV says:

    Every one’s life is special, in certain way.
    If we look back in time, a similar life story may be found.
    If we look to a different geographical area, we may find a similarity and
    if we abstract it, name the life’s work, title it certain way, for instance ‘peasant struggle’ or ‘land reform’ etc, we may find a similar life story else where/or in the past.

    In the passage of time need for new efforts are an essential feature in the society, because the earlier efforts loose impact gradually.

    The process of emancipation of the oppressed started long ago, almost along with the oppression, for some time from the oppressed people and later by some people from the oppressor group itself. Because we are in the society together and the problem is a ‘wicked one’ needing work by all concerned.

    This life story is one that would influence a million and not one in a million.
    There are many stories, told and untold; they are unfolding now.

    She joins a group of such people who made a difference positively through their struggle and this should make many more to join.

    We may not do the same thing, but we can do similar thing. We need not see it as ‘one in million’ and make it a ‘museum piece’. That such a life , such a struggle would be perpetuated through others; the book may be considered as a prompt for that!

  • Anbazhagan Sam Venkatesan says:

    I came across the following passage and thought good to share:
    “Achieving participatory governance and building civic capacity has historically been an organic rather than a state-led process—a process spurred by civic groups acting independently of, and often in opposition to, government. Organic participation is usually driven by social movements aimed at confronting powerful individuals and institutions within industries and government and improving the functioning of these spheres through a process of conflict, confrontation, and accommodation.
    Such processes are often effective because they arise endogenously, within a country’s trajectory of change, and are directed by highly motivated, charismatic leaders who mobilize citizens to give voice to
    their interests (grievances, rights, and concerns) and exploit political opportunities. Social movements demand change by confronting situations they find untenable; they ultimately achieve their goals when they are able to influence the political process or obtain political power. They engage in a process of creative destruction. First, they imagine a world in
    which social and political relationships are more equitably arranged—or organic participation is
    spurred by civic groups acting independently of, and often in opposition to, government -or at least restructured in a manner congruent with the interests of the movement—they articulate their vision of this world to expand their influence. Then, they mobilize citizens who believe in this vision to fight for the cause, often at considerable personal cost. ”

    . Mansuri, G., & Rao, V. (1970, January 01). Localizing development : Does participation work? Retrieved March 11, 2021, from https://openknowledge.worldbank.org/handle/10986/11859

  • sathyavathi says:

    I am familiar with Hyderabad book trust and have been inspired by the books they have published .I admired Geeta Ramaswamy as the publisher of such precious books.. I was amazed at her resilience and guts ,felt proud to be one of her friends after reading this book.Born into a conservative well to do family She would have been an administrative officer or a doctor or a professor . But choosing another path she did commendable work for unchaining the bonded labour and helping them get their encroached land back. The work she did at Ibrahimpatnam and the surrounding areas was the essence of this book . It is the social history of three decades, from the sixties to nineties of the 20th century. I feel this book should be read by the present generation to have a glimpse of the movements which inspired the youth at that time

  • Anbazhagan Sam Venkatesan says:

    1. A conversation:
    ‘Oh ho! Look at him talk’, said Ramulamma in mock anger. ‘We all know that next to Doctor Ambedkar guru you are going to be our saviour! And we know your boss is a Brahmin. Don’t let him hear that talk or you will lose your job!’
    ‘No, I won’t’, said Shankar stoutly. ‘He has shown solidarity with us, he has “de-castified” himself’.
    – From “The Legend of Ramulamma” by Vithal Rajan, Hachete India, 2014
    *
    2. A Profile
    Gopala Swamy Iyer
    He was a champion for higher education to the students of downtrodden communities in the old Mysore State (Karnataka). It was a time when there was not even single high school in Kolar Gold Fields, (K.G.F). Gopala Swamy Iyer took all the SC and ST students to Bangalore and to Mysore; secured admission, provided free hostel, food and neat dresses to encourage higher education to them. Iyer worked tirelessly in 1930s and 1940s in serving to the social needs of the SC, ST students. He realized that education only could bring social equality to them. Many students were benefitted by the encouragement and support provided by this great personality. This great man used his bicycle to ride the entire Bangalore!
    Reward? Since Iyer always worked for the Scheduled Caste /Tribe pupil, he was ostracized by his community. He was treated as an ‘Untouchable’ by his own family members and relatives. He was not even allowed inside his house; but was provided a separate room outside. His community people mockingly called him, ‘Panchama Gopala Swamy’ because he was always seen with Panchamas (called so those days) or the Scheduled Caste/Tribes.
    Born in a rich educated and orthodox Brahmin family, Iyer sacrificed all the luxurious and spent his life time in the services to the Scheduled Castes/Tribes. His father was a Deputy Commissioner and his family had many members who worked in the judiciary. Iyer from his younger age observed the social inequalities and inhuman treatment given to the downtrodden people and decided to work in their welfare.
    Like him there would have been and would be many brahmins who would have changed, due to force of circumstance or by their own volition.
    Now, those who are in various roles, must give a thought and change for the better to promote diversity in schools, colleges, higher educational institutions, workplaces and so on, in private institutions and public, going beyond what the statutory rules specify.
    What she has said in this connection is rememberable:
    ‘The revolution I lived for and dreamt of was still not at hand.” (p17) “… revolution was not a single goal but a million achievable goals every day in every sphere of life.” (p 99) “It is wrong to think that our mistakes are irreparable. There is always space for realization, for change. If annihilation of caste is the aim, I must hope that savarnas can be changed.” (p24)
    Persons like Gopala swamy Iyer, Pandita Ramabai and many more may be considered the example and this book prompts us to search history for such path breakers. But one may walk one’s own path, in tune with time, like she has done.

    3. An extract:
    “Several women activist and pioneers in c19 and c20, majority of which were linked by birth or marriage to families in which the men had participated in religious or political reform movements. Many examples of protests by women have been lost to history, but some persist.
    Pandita Ramabai (1858-1922), a reputable Sanskrit scholar, whose independent activities on behalf of women’s causes made her the foremost female agitator of her time – she had an unusual life for a woman of that period, with a father who believed that women had as much right to knowledge as men, and being a Sanskrit scholar, himself was apparently cast out by society for teaching it to his wife, against social convention. Orthodox on other issues, he did take an uncompromising attitude towards the education and age of marriage of girls – this led to the family being hounded out of place after place, and they lived the life of nomadic scholars all over India. Ramabai acquired mobility and experience, but also learnt Sanskrit and theology from her parents. Well-versed in theology, in a society where religion is all-pervasive, was an advantage when challenging social evils disguised as religious orthodoxy – Ramabai used her knowledge in the cause of women. Her unique advantages – an understanding of social reality gained through nomadic travels, and command of Hindu ideology through knowledge of scriptures – used in her agitation. She began a life of travel and agitation, starting a series of Mahila Samaj (women’s organizations) in Bombay state, and campaigning for women’s education and medical training.
    In 1883 she travelled to Britain, and met Dorothea Beale – a pioneer woman educationalist and principal of Cheltenham Ladies College, where Ramabai spent time studying and teaching, before going on to the USA and Canada where she studied and lectured, before returning to India in 1889 via Japan. Her book on the status of women, The High Caste Hindu Woman, led to the formation of the Ramabai Association, which collected funds for women’s activities in India. She herself converted to Christianity, and began projects involving girls’ schools, orphanages and widows’ homes. She was politically active, a delegate to the Indian National Congress sessions in 1889. She was a strong influence to other women, as well as male reformers.
    The agitation of early social reformers about social evils that affected women were supplanted by nationalist issues, resulting in the neglect of women’s unequal social and economic position. The few women’s issues that were taken up were those in the interest of middle-class women’s organizations, such as the suffrage questions – in 1917, women agitators met the Viceroy and put forward demands for a female franchise, and in 1919 a deputation of the Home Rule League went to Britain to lobby for reforms and franchise rights.
    While highlighting and legally abolishing restrictions on women, and emphasizing female education and mobilizing women, the movement largely gave an illusion of change while in fact keeping women within the structural confines of family and society. Revolutionary alternatives were not essential to the demands of the nationalist movement in the struggle for independence, and a revolutionary feminist consciousness did not arise within the movement for national liberation. Rather than liberating themselves from traditional constraints and bondage, the woman’s role within the family was extended to be in tune with the family-as-unit in a changing society (Mazumdar, 1976). Indian women’s participation in political struggles, strikes and protests, all show how they played a significant role in anti-imperialist and democratic movements of protest over a long period.”
    ( https://www.versobooks.com/blogs/2858-feminist-rebels-in-the-global-south )

    From the above it may be inferred that there were pioneers in this domain, but the new wave of themes leapt over, eclipsing the earlier one, so also new ones coming up claiming space and time.
    Gita Ramaswamy joins the group of such pioneering people and it is time that all such people who contributed to annihilation of caste even in small measure are recognized and their ways propagated for the larger aim of annihilation of caste. As nation-building is everyone’s job so also annihilation of caste. This book can be taken to establish such a stand, by a person who didn’t simply ‘speechify’ it, but lived it and worked for it and succeeded to the extent possible then.
    *
    To my mind the title of the book itself conveys a credo:
    ‘Land, Acquire; Gun, Give up; Caste, Annihilate and Woman, Become’.
    With such a message, what may now be thought of is, ‘Sans suffering, Scale up’; to acquire what is asset, as they keep changing; to give up gun but to gain real power; to annihilate caste in all its forms, and woman to become truly herself, realizing that ‘end of a great life is not accumulation of wealth but contribution’.

  • Anbazhagan Sam Venkatesan says:

    There is a verse:
    ‘Even if a man of the vilest conduct worships me with undistracted devotion, he must be reckoned as righteous for he has rightly resolved.’
    Such provisions may make people to self-certify their ‘undistracted devotion’ and feel having become righteous! Who would be benefitted by that, except themselves?
    A detailed explanation by Dr. S. Radhakrishnan to the above verse 30, of Chapter IX of Bhagavad Gita includes the following:
    “Repentance, is a genuine change of heart and includes contrition or sorrow from the past sin and a decision to prevent a repetition of it in the future.”
    If this helps to resolve the guilt, he/she may pursue it, but accountability would remain, they must know!
    2
    There is another verse:
    Thou art atonement of sin against God,
    Thou art atonement of sin against men,
    Thou art atonement of sin against Fathers,
    Thou art atonement of sin against myself,
    Thou art atonement of every sort of sin.
    Of all the sin that I have committed knowingly and that I have committed unknowingly,
    Thou art atonement. (Y. 8.13)
    It is said that ‘Thou’ seems to be some piece of wood thrown into the fire while performing the yajna, symbolizing – as in Karma Kanda – the desire to burn away the sin.
    (‘Call of the Vedas’, Dr. A. C. Bose, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan,1999)
    Some of the people who feel guilty of their actions of injustice and consider it a sin may resort to this and try to get away with it without a true atonement, but based on their belief; and each one according to their belief too.
    For a true atonement, people must firstly become aware of their guilt and then realize the need to become accountable to obviate the consequence of their unjust actions. By this they would truly feel relieved.
    Whether they make atonement based on their belief or based on reasoned out realization, choice is theirs, we may say. Best choice ultimately would be, as the author says, ’To love and to be loved’!
    3
    Eighteen eminent persons have written about the book and about the author. We can gather from them that there is still work to do:
    a) ‘After a lifetime of combativeness, still there is dil.’
    b) ‘We learn that in India, the revolution is not a one-time event. It is an everyday process.’
    c) ‘As readers, we discover that the path itself is the goal. Gita’s search is on even today.’
    d) ‘..relentless struggle against searing oppression and discrimination that are still widespread in our society.’
    e) ‘…Gita discovers the resilience and fierce determination of the poor to live a life of dignity.’
    They also say,
    a) ‘To me and others, she will remain an inspiration.’
    b) ‘A must read for every idealistic person in the country.’
    c) ‘..her victories against a powerful combination of entrenched caste and class interests will be an inspiration to all.’
    d) ‘This book must be marked ‘Dangerous to your complacency’.’
    So, we may infer that the message of the book really needs to be propagated. This may be expected, among other impacts, to lead Brahmins and their type
    a) To become aware of ‘brahminical patriarchy and parental tyranny’
    b) ‘To battle with their own privilege’
    c) ‘To extend solidarity with the ‘non-privileged’ and
    d) ‘To understand their historical complicity in caste oppression.’
    Remembering that ‘revolution was not a single goal but a million achievable goals every day in every sphere of life’ they may take up to accomplish, serving as a catalyst, things like freeing bonded labor, repudiate their debts, get them cattle, get them land, build houses, pave roads, get admission in schools and so on and so forth, making it a community-led activity.
    This would be a revolution from Brahminhood to Brotherhood! ‘To love and to be loved.’
    To my mind this is what the book depicts: transformation from brahminhood to brotherhood!
    4
    Suhasini Mulay mentions in her comment on the book, ‘..(Gita) discovers the resilience and fierce determination of the poor to live a life of dignity.’
    In this connection a publication of ‘Movement for Community-led Development’ titled “People’s Self-Development’ makes a resonating reading.
    { Publications – The Movement for Community-led Development (mcld.org) }
    An extract from it:
    “In a different setting, human dignity has featured as a primary urge in some grass-roots mobilization in Bangladesh also. Organizations of landless men and women created by the intervention of Nijera Kori, a rural development agency which does not offer any financial assistance to the people and promote their self-organization, have not progressed much economically. But these landless groups consider their organization to be a solid step forward in their lives.
    Among other results, as some of these landless groups told me when I visited them in 1984: “The jotdar (“kulak”), the officials and the police can no longer humiliate us – they have to treat us with respect, because we are now organized.” (Rahman, Personal diary)
    For some organized women’s groups in the landless categories with utterly meagre economic resources, the perception is even more telling:
    We know that there is no easy and quick solution to our problem of food and clothing. But we as women did not even have the right to speak. In our organization we can now meet and speak, and share and discuss our problems. We feel that we are now human beings. We look forward to our weekly meetings where we stand up and speak – we can thereby release ourselves as we have never been able to do before, and we now have the courage to speak the truth. (Rahman, Personal diary).
    Economic self-development
    Experiencing humanhood thus is a great leap forward, the first necessary step in anybody’s development. But other mobilized people’s groups have had better access to economic resources, some with small productive assets of their own, some acquiring rights to economic assets such as land or fishing water by collective struggle after getting mobilized, and some amongst them being also able to mobilize external resources like bank credit or donor finance. With these, they have taken initiatives to promote their socio-economic livelihood as well.”
    Their resilience is admirable and so must be the revolution from brahminhood to brotherhood!

  • Anbazhagan Sam Venkatesan says:

    Gitamma’s advice and Gattu Basha’s anguish

    ‘Gitamma keeps saying, don’t sell the land, how will you survive without land? But people have this madness – cash, cash, cash. Nothing will be left.’

    Laborers getting caught in indebtedness seems a perennial situation, whatever the labor be, because ‘…monthly wage was often paid at the end of the season.’!
    A graphic account of it can be found in “Miners and Millhands” by Dr. Janaki Nair. “The endemic indebtedness of the KGF worker was obvious as early as 1921 when court attachments of salaries were begun and chronically indebted workers invited dismissal. The scale and degree of indebtedness made a deep impression on M. A. Sreenivasan so that the longest chapter of his report was devoted to discussion of debt among mine workers. In his random sample of fifty working class families, as many as 98 percent were indebted.” (p97,’ The Indebted Miner’, “Miners and Millhands”, Janaki Nair, Sage,1998)
    This can be seen even now in the unorganized sector. Because the payment system is a play by the Finance Managers, whose credo is ‘Receive early, Pay late’ and who like to have ‘large and fast inflow, and small and slow outflow’! And where the payment is linked to ‘Bill passing’, it would be more so.
    In our street, the garbage is collected daily. A small truck arrives driven by the contract labor, who also picks up the bags of garbage kept outside the residences. A small talk with him reveals that there is backlog of their payment; ‘two/three months behind’, every time. A construction labor used to face the same situation, but he used to meet a ‘loan provider’ every now and then. Like this we can find in every sector which employs labor. But it is invisible as a cause for their indebtedness. Apollonius’ advice to his son, ‘Never lend nor borrow’ may not be followable to the marrow, but they have to become aware of the consequences of debt!
    One has to wonder, after reading this book, what must be set right to bring the labor out of their indebtedness too! A discerning reader, I think, can locate many such themes and the source of solution!

  • SVAnbazhagan says:

    These need to be deleted except the last one, please.

  • Anbazhagan Sam Venkatesan says:

    At one place the author mentions a thought about future, which is now!
    “As I reflected more and heard the voices of the activists, it occurred to me that the major question in the future was sustainable development.
    how was one to move ahead on this when this was a global issue and even nation states were incapable of handling it?
    Besides, while the poor suffered the most due to the ravaging of the resources, they were the ones with the least fallback to sustain a fight.”
    (p 422, “Land, Guns, Caste, Woman” Gita Ramaswamy, Navayana, 2022)
    In this connection it may be considered worthwhile to read an article, “How land tenure reform is a critical climate solution”, published by Skoll Foundation. The link to the article is https://skoll.org/2022/05/09/how-land-tenure-reform-is-a-critical-climate-solution/

  • Anbazhagan SV says:

    “He and his siblings had correctly identified Hindu brahminism as the cause of much sorrow in India.” (page 19)

    “It is wrong to think that our mistakes are irreparable. There is always space for realization, for change. If annihilation of caste is the aim, I must hope that savarnas can be changed.” (page 24)

    A serious assertion needs a serious study.
    In this connection, the following article is considered worth referring:
    Pandian, M.S.S (1990), “From Exclusion to Inclusion, Brahminism’s New Face in Tamil Nadu”, Economic and Political Weekly, vol 25, nos 35 and 36, pp.1938-9

    (The above reference was found in the book “Patrons of the Poor” by Narayan La manam, Oxford University Press, 2011.)

  • Anbazhagan SV says:

    “He and his siblings had correctly identified Hindu brahminism as the cause of much sorrow in India.” (page 19)

    “It is wrong to think that our mistakes are irreparable. There is always space for realization, for change. If annihilation of caste is the aim, I must hope that savarnas can be changed.” (page 24)

    A serious assertion needs a serious study.
    In this connection, the following article is considered worth referring:
    Pandian, M.S.S (1990), “From Exclusion to Inclusion, Brahminism’s New Face in Tamil Nadu”, Economic and Political Weekly, vol 25, nos 35 and 36, pp.1938-9

    (The above reference was found in the book “Patrons of the Poor” by Narayan Lakshman, Oxford University Press, 2011.)

  • Vimala Ramachandran says:

    I have known Gita since I was in Class 8, we went to school and college together. The book moved me deeply – both the narrative of her personal struggles with family and friends; and her work. Her disillusionment with the “party” – but not with the need to work with the most vulnerable, empower them to fight for their rights and restore a sense of dignity. I read and re-read parts that made me cry, especially the ones to do with the way her own family and some “close comrades”. There is no bitterness. Admirable work Gita. Lots of strength and love to you.

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