Vidhya Bushan Rawat in Delhi interviews M C Raj and his wife Jyothi on their Vision and Work VB: You

have been working diligently in Tumkur and have been very focused on your work on empowerment. Visiting Tumkur at your place, we find many things, changes particularly cultural practices and attitudinal issues. I have not found you much in the 'campaign' based programmes of the Dalits. Is this a deliberate decision or you feel that we need more focused work at a particular place. RJ: There are two things. We are very clear that we need to do a focused work and should not allow other macro work to take us away from our grassroots engagements with our people as well as with the dominant caste communities. We are also very clear that we cannot win our struggles working all alone in isolated pockets of micro world that we create. However, it is an art to make a healthy mix of both. We have been doing this all over the world and in many states of India. It has been a bit difficult for us to blindly support all macro efforts. For example we do find some part of our leadership auctioning the pains and sufferings of our people in the International development market. Internationalization of the Dalit cause for advocacy and lobbying is very different and much needed. But selling pathos and ghetto is not good for the future of our community. It may bring short-term benefits such as visibility in the larger circles, plane travels all over the world, contact with big shots etc. We are not inclined to it. It does not make us any better. We are just different in our approach to liberation that is all. Actually we are deeply aware that since the type of ways that we propose are totally new for many people it is only natural that prejudices, lack of understanding and in some cases political agenda of some interests creep in. Therefore, we have not said 'no' to any macro involvement. In some circles people are just cautious about what we might say. This is natural and we do not grudge this type of a reservation about us. It takes time. Soon we are starting a Campaign for Electoral Reforms in India. This will be a macro work. VB: Your struggle for land rights is remarkable. In this focused work, you have been able to help people directly rather than asking them to wait for a change in the system or wait for a revolution. This itself is a revolution for what we see the way Dalit Panchayats are functioning in your region. You have focused your work in the villages while the leadership that is emerging is urban and more agitated on 'power' politics and patronage which have unfortunately relegated the issue of land to the backstage in the broader Ambedkarite movement. Your take on it. RJ: Land is the lifeline of our people and there cannot be any let down on this. While taking on the issue of land very directly we are also working on longterm strategies. What we have achieved is very minimal. We have managed

only 6051 acres of land and have another 3000 acres of struggles on hand. We need a policy from the government. A long-term struggle for a revolution is being brewed. It will also become national. Of course, our urban leaders are busy with issues that concern urban situations and reservation. These issues have their legitimacy and we cannot arrive at a position of either or. Of course even in urban areas and in other parts of India Dalit Panchayat model must be promoted. But since the Dalit Panchayat Movement is associated with individuals it will take time to spread as a strategy when it is delineated from the personality dimension. It is a pity that the Ambedkarite Movement has not paid much attention to this. It is mainly because the Ambedkarite Movement seems to have got stuck in the quagmire of reservation. It is necessary to have reservation. But Dalit liberation has to move fast beyond reservation. We have many other issues to deal with. Land is a crucial one. But even here it is not an exclusive issue. Land is at the same time cultural, at the same time political, at the same time psychological. This is what we find missing in today's Dalit liberation effort. We compartmentalize our cause too much in the Western model. VB: Dalit socio-political movement revolves around Baba Saheb Ambedkar's philosophy and work. Many people focus on conversion as an important tool for Dalit liberation while others feel that conversion is more political in nature and less emancipatory. The history of Dalits conversion to Buddhism is much before Ambedkar as Pandith Iyothee Thass, in Madras province had already launched South India Buddhist Sabha sort of thing and was promoting conversion of Dalits to Buddhism. Here in the Bhudevi Nagar (Booshakthi Kendra), you are talking of a Dalit Dharma, which is basically the oldest philosophy of India, like worshipping nature, trees, mountains, land, and water.. What is the difference between your Dalitology with other 'mainstream dharma' and how will it liberate them? Is there any chance of it becoming a cult culture or do you want a freethinking philosophy emerging out working with nature. RJ: If we accept conversion as an emancipation variable then logically we need to give the freedom for Dalits to also convert to other religions such as Christianity and Islam. The argumentation that we were originally Buddhist does not hold water as we have many myths in our culture taken from our history that our ancestors were existent much before the Aryans arrived in India. We have also now evidences of philosophy and spirituality that existed in the pre-Aryan period that belonged to the present Dalit people. It is very difficult to accept that the hatred of the Dasyu race in the Rg Veda emanated after the Buddha period. It is a racial hatred that you see in this Veda. If we were the same people who branched off into different schools of philosophy and theology it is impossible to see such type of hatred. The Shivites and the Vishnuvites fought tooth and nail against each other and were always hitting below the belt of one another. However, since they knew that they were the same people belonging to the same stock we do not see such supplication in their scriptures to destroy one race of them. Dalit Dharma is not a conversion to any religion. It is simply recognition of the

existence of Dalit culture and history resources and a determination to walk according to the wisdom of our ancestors. Enlightened Dalits do have the right to choose their own religion. But a community for which education has been banned in the last three millennia cannot be expected to use their choice of religion this fast. We cannot allow dominant religions to use our people in this manner. Dalit religion is an unprecedented attempt in India to bring in the great cultural tradition of internal governance of the community. Now it is the caste rule that governs, our people are governed by the subjugating norms of the caste village. It promotes a spirituality of drawing strength from the cosmos and from our ancestors. Dalit religion is a major shift in the liberation approach. Instead of crying over what other people are doing to us in terms of denial of rights Dalit religion asserts the inherent strengths of the Dalit people and makes use of these strengths as human capital for building a future for our children. Dalit religion is the cry of a people who have risen from the burning ashes of anti history written by the caste forces of India. It is an attempt to make the Dalit people the makers of their own history instead of allowing themselves to be the objects of history that other people make. Today we are not in a position to say that it will not become a cult one day. We have tried our best to demolish the grounds of it becoming a cult in the model of the dominant religions. But when Dalit people gain their strength through this culture resource no one can say what they will do. Yet, the lessons from the past clearly indicate that Dalit people definitely will not take up to dominance and violence as have capitalism and Brahmanism done. Dalit religion will liberate the Dalit people because it is not a mere sentimental appeal to people to be pious. It is an appeal to Dalits to be rational about everything that happens to them. Dalit religion is simultaneously political, economic, social and cultural. It is the biggest platform of restoring the primacy of women in Dalit community as never before. VB: You have seen the Dalit movement and its growth. In many places political movements have failed. So, the Dalits have to join the political formations. The Bahujan concept also developed but there also the contradiction developed. So far there has not been effort to work on these contradictions but attempts are made to ignore them. Can there be a broader unity among different Dalit-Bahujan communities given the ambitions of different political leaders? What do you think of a coalition of Dalit Bahujan. How do you put minorities in it? Do you think that this is a feasible idea? RJ: Dalit is one category. Bahujan is a different category. Only people with some hidden or subconscious agenda will try to club these two categories together as one political formation. There should be a conscious recognition that these are two different categories and they must try to come together as different people. Otherwise the Bahujan Shudras will once again oppress the Dalits. This is the lesson of history. Muslims and Dalits are not the same category but they can form a political coalition, which we are trying to do now. Likewise Dalit people must take the leadership to form a coalition with

Shudras and other communities. Such a coalition should also be initiated by what you call the Bahujan. Therefore, we are sure that the category of Dalit Bahujan is artificial and will be counterproductive to Dalit liberation. The type of coalition that we are promoting is Dalit (Adijan)-Adivasi-Muslim and Women. Even Kanshiram was terribly against the Dalit Bahujan category. He asked people to use the Dalit or the Bahujan categories separately. Here the model of Dalit Panchayat and the work of RAL must be seen as a research material for Dalit liberation. If it is possible in one district of India it is also possible all over. We have expended much of our energy looking at the enemy. We need to focus on our interiority, which is very resourceful. Our leadership has been busy with reflexive actualization making the caste forces as our reference point all the time. We need to get seriously into the business of self-actualization as a community of people. We have a lot of work on our hand before we launch into the type of politics that we have been talking about. When we are strong as a community, minorities will come running to us. The Christians will never come to Dalits. But it is still possible with the Muslims to make a coalition. Most Muslims are very supportive of Dalit struggles. In our next book Dyche we are dealing with the question of blind following in Dalit communities, which have led to the present state of affairs in Dalit movements. VB: The Dalit movement has mostly been in the agitational mode hence when we speak, we are not really bothered about the consequences but targeting an 'enemy'. Ambedkar's life span is an example. He was very agitated in 1930s, had long debates with Gandhi and other leaders, declared that he would not die as a Hindu, in post 30s, he was more into legal frame work, joined the governance structure wherever he found the opportunity and in post 40s, he was developing vision for his community, like he started schools and colleges, developed libraries, send scholars abroad and gave them a new cultural slogan. But afterwards, we have not seen such work where the Dalits can come and see the changes and hence this work at Tumkur is not only refreshing and enlightening but also inspiring for all of us. What was your idea behind the move..? RJ: Actually we did not think anything big in the beginning of our involvement with our people. We have picked up our precious lessons from our people. The first thing we developed was to sit at the feet of our Dalit women in the villages and learn from them many lessons. We also learned to 'waste' time with our people. Therefore, we have been growing organically with the people. We cast aside our university education and make our village Dalit people as our biggest universities. We found that, as you rightly say, our people are led by the psyche of failure. We realized that unless we changed the psyche of our people and their self-image we would do nothing for their liberation. Therefore, we would take up only struggles that would build a psyche of success in our people. Small successes led to bigger ones and so also increased their confidence in themselves.

Even now we consider our work only as a microcosm. We have such a huge task in front of us. But we do it at a pace that our people can manage. The success is because of our women also. They have been in the forefront of our struggles. We did not import any agenda for the development of our people. We drew them from our people. Nobody has till now succeeded to tell us what we should do. We have only allowed our people to guide us. This is not possible for you to believe. But this is the truth. Working for liberation of an oppressed people is a completely different proposition from mainstream politics and economic development. It implies culture, wisdom, history, humility, ability to let go of your learning and many such things. We had no big idea behind. We had our people always before us. VB: When we start working with a positive framework, we work on both the strength and weaknesses of our community as without that no work could succeed. What do you think are the strength of Dalits and what are their weaknesses and how can the overcome them. RJ: We have just now completed writing a book Dyche, the Dalit Psyche precisely as an answer to your question. The book is 1000 pages. We have highlighted all the latent strengths of our community of people in this book. If it is read and understood it will serve for a few generations to come. 1. Resilience 2. Hospitality 3. Inclusiveness 4. Providing 5. Protection 6. Making space available to all people 7. We belong to the Earth and not the other way round 8. No criminalization 9. Forbearance 10. Forgiveness 11. Inherent Non-violence 12. Peace loving As a principle we do not highlight the weaknesses. This is not an attempt to bury our weaknesses. But we follow a specific approach to liberation and that is when you move from strength to strength your weaknesses will have no space to live in you. When you move from weakness to strength your weaknesses are likely to grow as you give so much of attention and energy to them. VB: Despite so-called conversion, Dalits still remain Hinduised in their cultural practices. It is easier to say that we are not among them but cultural practices including dowry, women's subjugation and oppression is very much part of the middle class Dalits, if not at the poor households. In the Panchayats, the Dalit women sarpanches (Presidents) are being represented by their husbands and other male members. I am not blaming the Dalits only. I mean every one is doing so; hence should we also be doing the same? RJ: It is Frantz Fanon who has said about the Black people the following that

the ultimate aim of every Black is to become a White. Babasaheb Ambedkar has said that liberation will not come from the educated leaders of the Dalits. The less said the better. VB: A lot has been said about empowerment. What exactly is empowerment in your term? Often it is being said that politics is the key to empowerment. Now, there is not a single post in India, except for the Prime minister, which might also come in future, that a Dalit has not donned, yet the situation at the grassroots, for the rural poor remains the same. The land issue has rarely been settled and we have to go the courts and fight it out. Numbers of atrocities on Dalits are increasing and the leadership does not take cognizance of it except if the matter has to be politicized. RJ: For us empowerment is the self-actualization of the Dalit people in all areas of life. It will mean a healthy mixture of philosophy, psychology and spirituality. Unfortunately the present Dalit leadership to a great extent is looking all these down upon. These processes require a lot of patience and do not give the type of fast forward visibility that an oppressed psyche is in search of. But hard realization has to dawn on us that unless we build up our people from the scratches our search for Dalit liberation will always remain a mirage. The Dalit leadership is busy with gaining a space in the mainstream, which they must know is not possible in the near future. They know it well. Therefore, they settle for a 'gifted' space from the caste forces and return their services in kind. They have time only for this. If we build up our people slowly but strongly then we shall gain a space in the mainstream that is our own and not gifted to us by the dominant caste people. VB: Do you think that time has come to renew the debate on the perils of Parliamentary democracy? Is it time to ask for separate electorate? Politicians will never demand it but should the right thinking Dalits start a debate on it? RJ: Ambedkar himself has reverted his earlier position on separate electorate. On August 27, 1955 he passed a resolution as the Chairman of the Scheduled Caste Federation that we do not need separate electorate. What we need is a multimember electoral constituency. This is the humility of Babasaheb. He did not stand by his personal prestige. He changed his earlier position in the light of his new learning about other electoral systems in Europe. We are taking up our political point of departure from where Babasaheb has left it in 1955 and not in 1932. Reviving the issue of Separate electorate will be trying to infuse life into a dead horse. This is not necessary. What is more relevant today is the Proportionate Electoral System. RAL is starting a 10 years Campaign for Electoral Reforms in India (CERI). Unfortunately there is not enough education in our leadership on electoral systems in the world. We know one system and we think that it is the only system that is available in the world. We need to look around. Dalitocracy, our latest book, which has been published is a book on electoral systems. We have also developed a Dalit political theory, which is being put into practice in

Tumkur District. May be after we die, Dalit leadership will take up to what we are saying now. After we die we shall not grab anybody's space and visibility. But this is very important. The more we delay this the farther will our liberation move. We need to wake up towards this very important political dimension of Dalit future. We do not want this Campaign to be our legacy. It is anybody's right. We are proposing that an Electoral Reform in India and its subsequent coalitions will permanently ring the death knell of Brahminic hegemony. Dalits can lead the way not only for India but also for the whole world if we succeed in this. This is possible. We should believe in it. VB: Where are women in our movement? What leadership role do you think for them? Why are they not visible in the main platform when we had society, which was matrilineal? Of course, Mayavati is there and so are many others, but then they do not speak on women's agenda at all. And above all so far none of us have started any retrospection of our own work. Do you think there is a need of both introspection and retrospection of the Dalit movement and Dalit politics in India? RJ: Our Men have spoiled the future of our children by pledging it for pittance that they borrowed from the caste fellows. Our men have brought slavery on our community. It is our women who have kept our people together as a community not because of our men but in spite of our men. Unless our women grab leadership in the community and begin to lead the affairs of our community there will not be any liberation. Our men will not bring liberation for our children. They will seal their slavery to the caste forces. This is what history has taught us. Therefore, in the interest of themselves our men should stand back and recognize the wisdom of our women. At least as an experiment our men should refuse to take up any leadership in the next 200 years and let our women be in the forefront. If this is done, not only the history of Dalits but also the history of India will be re-written. Our women are the hope of our salvation. This is not a romantic statement. We know it in our hearts. VB: Finally, you have worked on Dalitology and developed Dalitatva. What exactly is it? Are you talking about a cadre based religion or a political religion like Hindutva or Political Islam or are you talking of a cultural change. Does this Dalitology take any cue from the materialism of the past and philosophy of Lokayata or is it totally different in form and action? What has the response of the people in Karnataka and in Tumkur? Do you want to replicate this elsewhere also? RJ: Dalitology takes its basic tenets from Shamanic Cosmism and Charvaka's Materialism. It is the same as Lokayata materialism. However, you must know that when Raachi wrote Dalitology first he did not read anything about Shamanism and Charvaka. Later when he read this the similarity was very striking. Therefore, he wrote DALITHINK, which is a book on Dalit Philosophy. Dalit religion and Dalitology are not designed by anybody's brain. It is an emergence from the pains of an oppressed people. It has its deep

roots in the history and culture resource of our people. Raachi is only a tool in this whole emergence. He has the language, the flavour and the energy to write. But if you ask him to write the same thing again it may be very difficult for him as he believes that his ideas dawn on him from the thought and feeling waves of our ancestors. They gush into his body without him asking for it. Then he sits and writes. Therefore, we cannot say that Dalit religion is designed to be this or that. It is the cumulative manifestation of the buried aspirations of our people. It is delivery. This has to grow. How it will grow cannot be and should not be determined by us. The decision should belong to future generations of our children. However, we must say that Dalit religion should not become ritualistic and dogmatic. It should be the symbol of a garden with thousand flowers with thousand different colours. It should be like a butterfly. It should be absolute freedom for all the people of the world. This way it will be deeply social, economic, political and cultural. But a psyche of more than three millennia old is at work at the bottom. VB: And finally your message to activists working for the Dalit rights. What are the major threat and precautions they should take to move ahead. Who could be their alliance partners and how can they develop a coalition for the betterment of humanity as a whole? RJ: We very firmly believe that we have not yet grown wise enough to give any message to anyone in the world. Some people like us and people dislike us and each one has a reason for this. If our life is in any way an inspiration for people to work a bit harder than they are doing, a bit more committed than they are now, a bit more peaceful within themselves that will be the ultimate message of our life. Young people will find their way in their own wisdom. Future generations will design their path. We are just two easily dispensable entities in the ocean of humanity.