• There Can’t Be Freedom Without Equality for All: Huchangi Prasad

    The Economic Times

    October 14, 2016

    India is about to celebrate its 69th Independence Day, proudly boasting that it is the largest democracy. Politicians have been promoting independence, equality and fraternity at a time when atrocities against Dalits and the oppressed are rising. Who actually has freedom and rights as per the Constitution? We need to reflect upon Babasaheb Ambedkar's prophetic statement: "I feel, however good a Constitution may be, it is sure to turn out bad because those who are called to work it happen to be a bad lot." 

    For centuries, Dalits have been deprived of all resources. Gujarat's atrocities (in Una, where Dalits were beaten by cow vigilante groups for skinning a dead cow) remind me of people from the keri (Dalit quarters) in my village Santebennur in Davanagere, Karnataka. There are plenty of Dalit homes in our keri. The entire village defecates next to our quarters. 

    If a cow, ox, buffalo or calf dies in any upper caste household, it is a celebration for us. Our people carry the carcass in a cart and take it to an assigned place called Kote, next to our quarters, to skin the cows while the women wait with knives, wondering who all will manage to take home the meat, cook it into a stew and eat with ragi balls. If we manage to get a lot, we cut and dry the meat. As a child, I was a bonded labourer in a Brahmin household and the hell I faced makes me shudder even today. Under the child labour liberation programme, I was released from my bondage and I attended Chinnara Angala, a bridge school run by the government of Karnataka. I joined Class VI, without having studied Class I to V. 

    With the help of many people, I managed to pursue my education and joined Davanagere University to pursue an MA in journalism after graduating with distinction. Odala Kicchu (Fire in My Belly), my poetry collection in Kannada, expressing my pain and the conspiracy of Hindutva, was released by KS Bhagwan, a well-known public intellectual. The very next day a case was registered against Bhagwan and me. I also received a few threatening phone calls. A few months later, I was attacked with a knife. Somehow I managed to escape and hid in the shrubs for a couple of hours before reaching the hospital and reporting the assault to the police. 

    Atrocities on Dalits have not stopped with any party in power. Mahesh Chandra Guru, a professor in the University of Mysore, was arrested in June for criticising Rama a year ago (for human rights abuse against Sita). This also led to his being suspended from the university. "No Ram Jai Bhim," his words upon release from judicial custody, have become the defining statement of our generation. 

    Freedom has not come to me, my sisters, my mother who led an agonising life as a Devdasi, and my community. Is devotion to the nation just saluting Mother India on the map and the flags? Is it not patriotism to love and respect all citizens? Without equality for all, a nation is never a home of freedom. 

    (Translated from Kannada by Sridhar Gowda)

    This article first appeared in The Economic Times

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