Silence Eva Jayate

Aamir Khan not only deviously censored any discussion of Ambedkar and Reservation, but seemed content to use the 1920s language of high-caste reformers

This Sunday morning I received a call from a friend who alerted me to the tenth episode of Aamir Khan-anchored Satyamev Jayate since the focus was on caste and untouchability. I mumbled something about his spoiling my Sunday, but tuned in nevertheless. It began with Kaushal Panwar narrating her harrowing tale for about twenty minutes: from her childhood where she was forced to join her mother in cleaning shit to her pursuit of a PhD in Sanskrit. I was glad that the audience heard her say that the discrimination she had experienced in her school in a Haryana village was no different from what she faced in the enlightened campus of Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi—where she continues to be denied a rightful job.

Following Kaushal, we were allowed a glimpse into the life of Balwant Singh, author of the tract An Untouchable in the IAS. I noticed a shot of him looking up to a larger-than-life portrait of Dr B.R. Ambedkar in his Saharanhpur house, and realized that so far—30 minutes into the show—there had been no verbal mention of Ambedkar. Balwant Singh, among the first dalits to enter a career in civil service in post-independence India, had said in his interview that he was perhaps the first and only IAS officer ever to be demoted to the rank of tehsildar. That had been edited out. I intuitively felt the show was going to scrupulously avoid any mention of two key ideas—Reservation and Ambedkar. I was hoping to be proved wrong. I wasn’t.

How did Kaushal Panwar do her BA, MA and PhD and land a job with Delhi University? What is it that facilitates access to hitherto-excluded spaces for dalits? What is the one policy that enables dalits to stop cleaning shit and reclaim their humanity? The one weapon that helps them get an education? Get a job? Reservation. And who made this policy possible? Ambedkar. But Aamir Khan wouldn’t mention the R and A words even once for fear of alienating his middle class audience, which as a friend perceptively said, is fed “bourgeois moralism of the most pathological sort,” on a programme where “the only solution turns out to be nothing more than emotional catharsis”.

Not surprisingly, Khan would also not mention the fact that an atrocity is committed on a dalit every 18 minutes according to the National Crime Records Bureau. The penchant Khan and his research team showed for various laws and statistics in the first two episodes of SJ that I had seen—on prenatal sex determination and domestic violence—was nowhere on display here. Hence no mention of the Prevention of Atrocities Act of 1989 and its dismal failure to curb violence against dalits. No discussion of a case like Khairlanji, where, in 2006, the mother and daughter, Surekha Bhotmange and Priyanka Bhotmange, had not just been raped repeatedly but tortured in ghastly ways (stripped, paraded naked, with fact-finding reports saying bullock cart pokers were thrust into their vaginas, and that Priyanka was raped even after her death). An interview with Bhaiyalal Bhotmange, the sole survivor of the Khairlanji carnage, may have not fit into the preordained script.

Then the show featured documentary filmmaker Stalin K. Padma and several clips from his three-hour film India Untouched. Again, the cherry-picked excerpts skirted any reference to A and R. In a cringe-worthy moment, Stalin even fawned on Khan and congratulated him for taking up the issue of untouchability on television 65 years after independence.

This was followed by homilies from His Holiness, Justice (retired) C.S. Dharmadhikari, who in his self-introduction, pretending to denounce labels, paraded every label of privilege that adorned his CV—including the ‘blessings’ allegedly bestowed by Adi Sankara on his ancestors. This man could equally pompously announce his Deshastha Brahmanness as his apparent rejection of it. I would have given up right then but for the fact that I had spotted Bezwada Wilson in the audience, and I was waiting to see if this leader of the Safai Karamchari Andolan—a man who had pioneered the demolition of dry latrines across India—would salvage the morning. He too was asked to narrate his early life, and he too shed tears. As did Khan with practised ease.

The next day I called Wilson and told him I was annoyed that even he did not bother to mention Ambedkar and Reservation. Wilson clarified that he indeed had. It had been edited out, as was his rant against the Supreme Court and Parliament—since both institutions had been dragging their feet on the issue of manual scavenging. Then he revealed something that shocked me. He said he had not been in the audience when Kaushal Panwar was being interviewed by Khan. I countered saying I had seen him ‘reacting’ to what Kaushal said on stage. “Even I saw myself in the audience and hence was shocked,” said Wilson. He said Kaushal had been interviewed in total isolation, in an empty studio. And yet on Sunday we saw, every once in a while, close-ups of fretful, anxious, pained and agonised faces of members of the studio audience as Kaushal was narrating her story. They even clapped on cue, like when Khan asked Kaushal her heroic father’s name. Clearly, all this had been manipulated and faked—with clever editing and splicing of shots.

I checked with Kaushal if this was true. It was. I further found that Khan and his team had shot interviews with two members of the Dalit Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry—its chairman Milind Kamble and key advisor Ashok Khade. They were informed just a week ahead of the 8 July telecast that their interviews wouldn’t be aired since they “did not fit in with the story”. In fact, when Chandra Bhan Prasad, mentor to DICCI and an exponent of ‘dalit capitalism’, watched the show with Kamble in Pune, they could not believe their eyes. Kamble’s interview with Khan had been shot with Dharmadhikari and Kamble seated next to each other on the studio couch; but Kamble had been weeded out. Prasad wondered if some ‘dirty trick editing’ made this possible. More likely, Dharmadhikari took a leaf out of Khan’s book and did not mind giving a ‘fresh take’ minus the unsuitable presence of Kamble. I also discovered that every participant on the show is forced to sign a ‘confidentiality agreement’ saying they will not speak about their participation—recorded many months ahead—in any social media.

In his weekly column in The Hindu, Khan began his discourse with “Gandhiji’s struggle” for “those ostracized as untouchables”. Perhaps Khan and his ghostwriters did not ever hear about what young Bhimrao had to face right in Satara at age 10. After a few paragraphs extolling Gandhi, Khan mentions “Babasaheb Ambedkar” in passing, as someone who led the drafting of the Constitution. Since the bulk of SJ’s episode chose to focus on manual scavenging, and since Dharmadhikari and Khan chose to highlight Gandhi’s imagined role in the fight against this practice—an issue largely and sadly neglected even within the dalit movement—let us turn briefly to what Gandhi said about “the most honourable occupation”.

Gandhi wrote in Harijan in 1934: “I call scavenging as one of the most honourable occupations to which mankind is called. I don’t consider it an unclean occupation by any means. That you have to handle dirt is true. But that every mother is doing and has to do. But nobody says a mother’s occupation is unclean.” In another essay entitled ‘The Ideal Bhangi’ in 1936 he wrote, “My ideal Bhangi would know the quality of night-soil and urine. He would keep a close watch on these and give a timely warning to the individual concerned. Thus he will give a timely notice of the results of his examination of the excreta. That presupposes a scientific knowledge of the requirements of his profession.” It is this stranglehold of Gandhism that has kept manual scavenging alive.

Ambedkar held a view that was the exact opposite: “Under Hinduism scavenging was not a matter of choice, it was a matter of force. What does Gandhism do? It seeks to perpetuate this system by praising scavenging as the noblest service to society! What is the use of telling the scavenger that even a Brahmin is prepared to do scavenging when it is clear that according to Hindu Shastras and Hindu notions even if a Brahmin did scavenging he would never be subject to the disabilities of one who is a born scavenger?” Ambedkar argued that in India a man is not a scavenger because of his work, but because of his birth irrespective of whether he does scavenging or not.

Khan and his team not only deviously censored any discussion of Ambedkar and Reservation, they seemed content to use the 1920s language of high-caste reformers. A friend chided me saying I shouldn’t expect Khan to be an activist. But surely my friend did not know how Khan manipulates and fools his audience—in the studio and outside—to nod and cry at moments he chooses. Wilson said, “In fact, during the shoot it was not I who actually began crying. Aamir Khan started to cry, so I was forced to cry along.” Khan obviously thinks we can flush away middle class shit with tears.


S. Anand is publisher, Navayana. A shorter, edited version of this appears in print.

 

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21 thoughts on “Silence Eva Jayate

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  1. Very very true. The educated Dalits do their part, hiding “Ambedkar and Reservation”. The media does other part of bleaching out Ambedkar imagery,speeches,his books or references.
    Very correct article. Very good analysis.

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  2. Sorry , above comment went in as anonymous.
    “Very very true. The educated Dalits do their part, hiding “Ambedkar and Reservation”. The media does other part of bleaching out Ambedkar imagery,speeches,his books or references.
    Very correct article. Very good analysis”

    Like

  3. I also feel that this serial by Aamir Khan is trivializing several problems, the caste problem is only one of them.

    Referring to the same episode of the serial which you rightly mention that C S Dharmadhikari appeared as “His Holiness” judge talking against caste, winning applause but quietly adorning all the covted labels.

    The reality is not to be spoken. Is the same C S Dharmadhikari practising fairness or non violence as expected of a Gandhian ? If you research into the background the information is enough to raises everyones eyebrows. This is what you can find :

    Dharmadhikari’s official biography book was published by Global Indian Foundation Singapore which is his Nagpur Deshastha caste “grand nephew” Atul Temurnikar’s school society which runs International schools in many countries. Gandhi statues are installed by Dharmadhikari during inauguration of schools.

    Dharmadhikari claims that he is not at all associated with his own relatives and caste groupings. Is that the case or the opposite is true ?

    Second question is, when working under these caste groupings and ventures by relatives, is he a fair judge to other opposing parties ? This is what one finds:

    DNA India reported school fee hike protests in Singapore Indian schools in 2008. The report quotes C S Dharmadhikari supporting the school’s side as a “non profit society”. (Link is at http://www.dnaindia.com/worl/report_indian-expats-figh-fee-hike-through-blogs_1166668 ) I do agree that this happens in every private school, so far no problem.

    Now fast forward to 2010, Dharmadhikari got his Singapore Principal arrested on defamation complaint citing the same protest on social media under the IT Act sections (Link and photo at http://www.mumbaimirror.com/printarticle.aspx?sectid=15&contentid=20100415201004150444035498c0a203 )

    I think of this as brutal show of power, Gandhi was non-violent. If you read carefully the words that Dharmadhikari says are defamatory, it just says some things about caste and community connections ! So, what is he talking about ?

    I rest my case.

    Social problems are complex and a trivializing show will only provide the false message. I think it is being used to get mass appeal, that is all.

    P.S. This blog author should also be careful if she gets a call from Police station for defamation of Dharmadhikari under IT Act. In that case please feel free to delete my comment or your whole posting. Silence Eva Jayate !

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  4. Thanks for the comments. This article was not written by me but S Anand. Some of us could write a letter to the show about exclusion of Ambedkar from a discussion of this nature. The position that Ambedkar is gaining as a leader is seen as a threat by many. If you see the Outlook poll, it asks for the ‘Greatest leader after Gandhi’. There is a fear that Ambedkar maybe considered a bigger leader than Gandhi by many forward thinking people.

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  5. The poll would achieve nothing, irrespective of the outcome. It will be an effort wasted, which could have been well spent debating issues instead of persons.

    (Why try to find a leader ? Why this personality oriented outlook ? Shouldn’t we focus instead on issues and informed debate ? Just my 2 paisa worth).

    India has more “leaders” than it can handle, and all and big stars and leaders produce pompous high talk (and evil deeds when nobody is looking) and paid people clap, real people ape the paid people and break out into applause. More tickets, more viewership, more money to the wrong persons. Bollywood in, bollywood out. And that’s what you have.

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  6. Delicate, I got 27 hits on my blog site from Singapore!! Seeing your post, I understand why !!
    K, I agree that there are many leaders, but personally I feel that Dr. Ambedkar is someone who never forgot his roots, and he brought some important issues into the constitution which has helped give atleast some constitutional rights to the traditionally marginalised. Accepting him as a leader will be very difficult for the upper castes.

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    1. Dr Sylvia ,
      examine closely Gandhi’s comments . he is calling every caring mother as a scavenger – that means someone who cares someone who cleans.

      it was in that pretext he was calling scavenging is great job. even doctors have to examine urine and shit to find out disease.

      everyone have to clean their own shit early in the morning , so everyone is a bhangi.

      it’s an honour and privilege to empty your ass. it is ultimate purification. even Jesus Christ scavenged evil out of this world and so every religious leader.

      so empty your mind and clean away the evil thoughts.

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  7. Dear Shiva Gandhi,

    Let us not engage in rhetoric.

    It is one thing to perform one’s ablutions, clean oneself (or one’s child) and get on with activities that one finds spiritually, intellectually and physically invigorating and energizing.
    It is quite another thing to have to clean excreta of other people, WITHOUT A CHOICE.

    This cleaning of excreta (or shit) as you put it, has traditionally been forced on a group of human beings as a duty for generations. Children have been denied education and there has been denial of basic human rights of equality, liberty and fraternity.

    If all of us are bhangis, are we all Brahmins too? Can we all undergo the thread ceremony? If all of us are bhangis, would your brahmin brethren eat at the house of a bhangi, or better still, invite them for a meal, or even better, engage in inter-caste marriage?

    Let us look for solutions to this problem rather than pretending it is not there. It is very easy for a beneficiary of a system to tell someone at the bottom of the ladder to adjust. Why should they adjust? When they neither have dignity nor basic rights ?

    I agree with Justice Dharmadikari that the way forward is inter-caste marriage. Will this happen? Will inter-dining happen? Will people start naming their children with non-casteist names and surnames?

    Till then, it is better to be quiet than to underplay the lasting damages the caste system is causing.

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    1. Dear Dr Karpagam

      A lot of interesting comments and counter comments. You seem to wish that the problem will go away if current caste segregation practises are stopped. I get that sense from your saying,

      “I agree with Justice Dharmadikari that the way forward is inter-caste marriage. Will this happen? Will inter-dining happen? Will people start naming their children with non-casteist names and surnames?”

      To test your interesting theory, I researched a fair bit on C. S. Dharmadhikari’s own life. I could not find any factual basis that he married out-of-caste, because I could not get caste information on his spouse. If I am shown otherwise, I will stand corrected. But what I did find should be good enough: Two children of his use their caste-based surname ‘Dharmadhikari’.

      (That makes it easy to find their details on the internet, skip the top 20 hits for actor Sameer Dharmadhikari).

      One of his children is a Judge of Mumbai High Court: Justice S C Dharmadhikari (not C S but S C ). See, he even has the same Justice title and the Dharmadhikari “label” the father decries.

      The second is an advocate (attorney) somewhere in India. With two of his children in the same caste-linked profession, what does it say about castes ?

      The problem is not the name. Casteist thinking is deep rooted. It cannot be changed by abolishing caste from the name. The original posting (outlook.com) catches the talk show picking the experts by caste ! In effect we have “do what I say, don’t do what I do”.

      False prophets and their talk shows can selling you snake oil to enrich their own but they will not solve society’s problems, they don’t intend to !

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  8. My view is that every job should be paid. Cleaning out others shit must be paid even more, especially if it stinks awesome.

    And if you dont wanna pay but instead wanna call the cleaner great, thank you thank you, call me great bhangi this great bhangi that and reserve stupid government jobs for my caste, i might as well deliver the shit to your door step.

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  9. Dear Mehul, you are absolutely right that there are no simple solutions. There are also plenty of people who follow rigid caste traditions while exhorting others to do this and give ‘moral gyan’ (Am sure we ourselves fall into this trap often!!!) To be honest I dont care who Dharmadhikari is or who he is married to – I just take the point about inter-caste marriage which Ambedkar himself felt was a way forward. I think that many of the ‘upper castes’ who genuinely believe that equality is a fundamental right, should try to break out of these rigid barriers and choose to marry outside the caste. The change can happen slowly but it is a way forward. That’s all I was trying to say…..

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  10. Can we be practical (or cynical). You say “To break out of the rigid barriers and choose to marry outside the caste” … without any community support ? Look at studies on inter-caste marriages and the problems faced. Look at what happened to this Dharmadhikari, he did not even marry outside his caste and somehow he says he got ostracised (he says so, I don’t know if he really got ostracised, which I doubt very much!). But a certain one thing is sure. If he had removed his caste name Dharmadhikari and his title Justice, even Mr Aamir Khan will not call him to the studio. Or if he had said Ambedkar is greater than Gandhi and removed his Khaddar clothing, definitely no, no no. He will be just like Kamble then. Luckily Dharmadhikari did not go that far, so therefore he is on the show. Who wants to be a nobody ?

    Nobody in the average mindset will marry outside caste. Exceptions are crazy people at the extreme two ends. Some will marry and then convert to each others caste. Govt of India needs to record your caste when you go to school so you will never be rid of caste ! It will not go away even if you marry a lot of different castes together, you will be identified as any one of those castes or your children will be marked as some hybrid variety.

    But then…. caste is not so bad because it is something which came handed down from your parents ! If your job comes from your parents then it could be good (example, Justice! or Medical Doctor!) or bad (example, scavenger) depending on your class standing, rich or poor.

    The most ridicuolous thing for me is when I see a needy person pretending to be high caste (and even mistreating others, acting arrogantly) when they are actually in need of financial support. Like Dharmadhikari says about blood groups having no caste, money also has no caste. In this case Dharmadhikari’s advise is good. Just accept the money with thanks, and dont flaunt your caste labels. It can be life saving.

    Another ridiculous thing is when i see a low caste but powerful elite well-to-do person pretending to be ostracised by others. That rarely happens, money can buy everything except true love.

    The real unfortunate people are those who have no money and no class. For them caste will not help. Marrying outside caste is no solution for them.

    Your thoughts ?

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  11. Oh Jesus!!!!
    Gandhiji was a dupe, played dual role. He duped himself with his allegiance to is God Ram first, before human rights.
    Gandhi talked about equality for Muslims , Sikhs.
    Never he mentioned
    dalits. British and even his close friends were appalled. Gandhi simply said to british ” you don’t understand”.

    No wonder dr ambedkar refused to call him mahatma. He said that the Poona pact fasting was aimed to satisfy his “whim’ “. No.logical.reasoning can go thru gandhijis brain.
    Dalits lost separate electorate instead dr ambedkar was forced yo compromise and got reservation, that is ruining the social freedom.

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  12. Nice interesting blogs on caste system…..

    First he solved the case of caste on Satyam Ev Jayate through TV. Next item for 85 years retired Justice C S Dharmadhikari is, solve corruption problem.

    Justice ji said that parents are the culprit. Parents are making the children corrupt. Read More click on
    http://www.newstrackindia.com/newsdetails/2012/10/18/371–Parents-responsible-for-making-kids-deviate-from-truth-.html

    Parents should take pledge not to engage in wrong activities.

    Every school like GIIS Noida has a statue of the Mahatma, while Gandhian values including non-violence, integrity and ethical practices, are part of the curriculum.

    http://www.facebook.com/giisnoida?sk=wall

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  13. Regarding fee hikes. Justice S C Dharmadhikari bench approved private schools in Maharashtra to raise fees at first. Supreme Court order corrected it and stopped immediately the fee hikes. You can read full news at http://dnasyndication.com/dna/article/DNMUM143256 on this. Final correct decision by Supreme Court is NO, they cannot raise fees. But Singapore GIIS is having a fee hike now (2013)like March is fee hike season everytime. Is this CBSE approved ??????

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    A lot of times it’s hard to get that “perfect balance” between superb usability and appearance. I must say you have done a amazing job with this. Also, the blog loads extremely quick for me on Safari. Excellent Blog!

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