Session 09. Intersections: Searching Equity
During an insightful session at JLF Houston 2022, Dalit activist Guru Prakash Paswan discussed the wounds of history and the processes of restorative justice. His co-authored book, ‘Makers of Modern Dalit History’, features the inspiring accounts of individuals who have battled the divisive, discriminatory force of caste - their forms of protest, activism, social reform, and legacy - in contemporary India. Paswan was in conversation with political commentator and writer, Sunanda Vashisht.
Vashisht introduced the book as an “honest conversation about where we have come from, where we are right now, acknowledging our failure…and also understanding the successes that we have had…”. The book features the profiles of eighteen Indian Dalit thinkers from almost all walks of life. What inspired Paswan to co-write this informative book was Dalit literature being filled with atrocities, and the lack of “real academic sources on Dalit issues”. He noted that individuals from the marginalized and disadvantaged communities occupy extremely vital critical decision-making positions in today’s day and age.
Identifying some challenges, Paswan talked about the importance of platforming: “can we have such conversations [with Dalits], can we have Dalits at critical decision-making positions in civil society, in media, in press… where you have someone with the lived experience speaking about it dispassionately and objectively…”
Along with social inclusion, social justice remains the primary goal of our society but quite frequently, this aim is hijacked by the inevitable intrusion of politics, but such a situation can be prevented by the de-victimization of Dalits and by providing them a socially inclusive atmosphere. Paswan observed that Dalits have had the backseat and played a limited role in forming their narrative. What has been in play, Paswan noted, is behalfism. “Dalits were never ever taken as a stakeholder and that is where I see a problem…it has to be a Dalit speaking on behalf of Dalits.” This is accredited to the historical oppression, which as a result shunned Dalit voices.
The session wrapped up on a lighter note, with Paswan expressing that if we ever got the opportunity, he wishes to spend a day with Kabirdas! He also beautifully narrated one of the dohas of the 15th century mystic saint: “Jati Na pucho Sadhu ki, puch lijiye Gyan, mol Karo talwar ka, padi rehen do Mayan”. The doha possesses a profound meaning: “Ask not a saint of his caste; rather, of his knowledge. The sword is valued, not its sheath - the shell that covers it”.