I watched Jai Bhim Comrade last night. Again. I had watched the film ten years ago at MIFF-2012 at Tata theatre (NCPA). It was followed by a Q&A with the director, Anand Patwardhan. I remember it receiving an overwhelmingly positive response and winning the best documentary at the festival that year, and at many other film festivals subsequently. I was stirred watching the movie then; I am stirred watching it now.
Leading up to this movie, this past week, I was generally immersed in reading up on caste and on Ambedkar. I hold Anurag Minus Verma's podcast responsible for this. His twitter videos and his podcast have made me re-engage with the topic that was once touchy for me.
I must admit, rather embarrassingly, that until this week I didn't know that Dalits were not even a part of the caste system. Although I knew they were treated as outcasts, I always thought 'Dalit' was a term the community gave itself instead of using 'shudra'.
As my parents have had an intercaste marriage, my sister and I were shielded from any sort of 'caste talk' until we were teenagers. I encounterd caste for the first time when I reached the inner sanctum of my mother’s family, in the summer of 2003 as a 16-year-old. It was here that I encountered caste being discussed openly for the first time. Prior to this, I had only heard mentions of caste in the context of 'evils of society' at school and elsewhere. As the years went by, I would go on to learn that all upper caste housholds 'discussed' caste and were—in varying degrees and for the most part—casteist. Attending film school and its liberal arts classes made me aware of my own caste privilege as a Savarna Hindu man.
The film is deeply disturbing. It inspired me to write about my own brush with the caste system, but I'm still taking it all in and it is a difficult subject to write about. I hope to write about it next week. For now, the film has made me feel two things: shame and despair. 'Shame' that as a country we are comfortable in our continued oppression of 20% of our population—over 200 million people in this country are Dalits, from all religions. And 'despair' because of how painfully slow the progress seems to be, if there is any at all. Personally, it is becoming increasingly difficult for me to associate or engage in any way with Hinduism and it's doctrine. I am seeing what Ambedkar meant when he said 'the caste system is inseparable from Hinduism'. Although I have never been religious, when pressed to answer I would often describe myself as an 'atheist Hindu'. I'm beginning to feel squeamish to say that.
You can watch Jai Bhim Comrade here:-
❤️ Things I enjoyed this week:
This fantastic 2012 article about Jai Bhim Comrade by S. Anand: Between Red and Blue
As someone who had heard of how we South Asians perpetrate casteism onto our ilk, no matter where we convene in the world, this was a very very interesting listen: Anurag Minus Verma's podcast - Caste in America
I'm reading this article by Kancha ilayah on Shashi Tharoor's book 'Why I am a Hindu' — Swami Shashi
I'm (finally!) reading Ambedkar's Annihilation of Caste
It is well known and documented that Ambedkar didn't like Gandhi. You can listen to it in his own words.
I'm reading Caste order: the Patel is the new 'shudra'
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