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robertogreco : caste   2

The Culture of Professional Colleges Failed Dr Payal Tadvi – Just as It Did Me

"I've heard this from Dalit friends in India, from first-generation/low-income/immigrant students and students of color in the US. As a college professor nothing infuriates me quite as much as this. Education is meant to be a path to emancipation not a space for reproducing power."]

"The conversations around Dr Payal Tadvi’s suicide, on May 22, 2019, have been quite unsettling. That some have attributed it to work pressure or “cowardliness”, shows a lack of understanding about how caste works or how deeply pervasive it is. I can imagine what could have driven her to end her life – I experienced unapologetic casteism at university too.

I attended one of India’s elite law schools. In these spaces – unlike in medical and engineering colleges – casteism was subtle and intellectualised (perhaps because aspiring lawyers knew how to avoid a penalty under the Prevention of Atrocities Act). I could never really tell what made me feel different, lonely and marginalised.

I sensed that I didn’t think like them, share their fascination with the same cultural icons and activities, and did not behave in a manner deemed appropriate by them. All of which, I later understood through my readings, was shaped by one’s caste background.

In my first year, a faculty member proclaimed that she was Brahmin, and went on to ask other Brahmin students to raise their hands. The same lecturer asked us to make a project on our ancestors. I wasn’t comfortable sharing my ancestry, but I had to – it was to be marked for 20 marks.

The upper caste students didn’t see it as a big deal. For many of them, it was an opportunity to boast of the achievements of their forefathers and their rich ancestries, all somehow related to their social location. Some of us, who had no such histories to tell, felt ashamed when it was our turn.

The casteism of my peers was mostly implicit. Explicit references to caste were mostly stereotypical and prejudiced. Tambrams and Kayasths were the most intelligent, apparently, Rajputs valiant and emotional; Banias shrewd and money-minded, and so on. In groups dominated by savarnas, such remarks were often made, for each other in jest. It made me wonder how they’d refer to me if they knew who I was: a former untouchable.

When I tried to point out that such statements were inherently casteist, they defended themselves, saying they had a right to feel proud of their caste and that I should be proud of mine. Be proud of the fact that people from my caste were routinely humiliated, pushed into bonded labour, and beaten up when they tried to go to school? Okay.

A savarna friend once told me that I was uncultured because I was not trained in any classical dance or music. Another told me she would never forgive people who availed of SC/ST quotas because, if it weren’t for us, she would be in a better law school. Her tone made me feel like I had committed a heinous crime.

Some even rationalised the caste system as a result of genetic differences among the varnas, with Dalits and Adivasis as the most inferior. One boy used this as the reason he was in love with a certain Kshatriya girl, because she was apparently honourable and would give birth to strong children.

One boy didn’t hesitate to let the elevator shut on a boy from the Meena community, saying ”ye Meena log ke saath aise hi hona chahiye’‘. It was that normalised. If you called them out on it, they would brilliantly justify themselves, leaving us feeling like we were just over-reacting.

Classroom discussions on the jurisprudence of reservations were one-sided, usually concluding that reservations must wither away or be provided on economic grounds. The discussions were dominated by UC students; our voices silenced by their loud, assertive ones, confident in their ignorance of the larger social context.

These were all bright, well-meaning, caste-blind students who were extremely thick to the social realities outside of life as they knew it. My confidence and self-esteem were beaten to a pulp by everyday microaggressions. Eventually, it got to me and I succumbed into believing that I deserved to feel that way.

After all, my existence in that university was an anomaly, and I had taken up their space. The assault to my dignity was the price I had to pay for the privilege of studying at such an eminent institution.

Those experiences, coupled with rampant sexism, took a toll on my mental health. I tried to talk to the few people I thought I could, including my parents. But they couldn’t understand what I was going through. I’m a first-generation college graduate, and my world is very different from theirs.

My savarna seniors told me that I was victimising myself, and that law schools are extremely competitive spaces; I had to toughen up or be left behind. I didn’t know how to explain this to my doctor either. She told me I had “low self-esteem and an inferiority complex and that I should only think positively.”

I couldn’t, so I became a recluse. I took up less space, participated less and confined myself mostly to my room, escaping into books and art. I managed to get through five miserable years. I have had enough time since then to process and understand that ordeal.

When I look back now, what bothered me most was my inability to respond in a way that made me feel empowered. Instead, I protested weakly, with the savarnas beating me with their eloquence. I was already gaslighted into believing I was a waste of space in a meritorious institution. I had so deeply internalised their narrative that I couldn’t fight the it within my own self, let alone them.

It wasn’t until I read Ambedkar (conveniently excluded from the law school’s curriculum), Yashica Dutt’s Coming out as Dalit or Christina Thomas Dhanraj’s writings that I could develop the intellectual ammunition to fight the narrative – first with myself and then others.

My colleagues from the Dalit, Bahujan and Adivasi communities went through similar experiences. When we enter these privileged spaces, we are very vulnerable and develop various coping mechanisms. Some internalise the dominant campus culture, hiding our identities and trying to emulate them. Some become depressed, even self-destructive.

At my university, we refrained from forming a homogenous group, because some of them were not comfortable with being ‘that quota group’, as one friend put it. Many of us wanted to learn from our savarna peers, even if it meant putting up with their micro-aggressions and gritting our teeth through their thoughtless remarks.

Expecting savarnas to magically unlearn their casteism and make these spaces inclusive would be foolish. It is so central to their lives that they may genuinely not see it, the way fish may be unaware of water. Those of us who were never a part of it, can’t help but see it – we are reminded of it with every interaction.

That’s where our institutions have failed us. Professional institutions – medical, engineering or law – do not encourage any form of student politics. Their students have no safe spaces in which to confidently come to terms with their identities, and assert the same when someone threatens their dignity.

Greater student representation from these communities would also help make these spaces more inclusive. Another institutional-level solution would be to establish mandatory workshops on casteism and sexism every year, so that these spaces don’t churn out even more insensitive professionals, like the ones who killed Dr Payal Tadvi, Rohit Vehmula, Bal Mukund Bharati and others."
caste  education  highered  highereducation  india  2019  emancipation  hierarchy  bias  power  privilege 
june 2019 by robertogreco
In What Language Does Rain Fall Over Tormented Cities? – Raiot
"Text of The W. G. Sebald Lecture on Literary Translation by Arundhati Roy
5 June 2018, The British Library, London."

[more excerpts coming soon]

"Twenty years after the publication of The God of Small Things, I finished writing my second novel, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness. Perhaps I shouldn’t say this, but if a novel can have an enemy, then the enemy of this novel is the idea of “One nation, one religion, one language.” As I composed the cover page of my manuscript, in place of the author’s name, I was tempted to write: “Translated from the original(s) by Arundhati Roy.” The Ministry is a novel written in English but imagined in several languages. Translation as a primary form of creation was central to the writing of it (and here I don’t mean the translation of the inchoate and the prelingual into words). Regardless of which language (and in whose mother tongue) The Ministry was written in, this particular narrative about these particular people in this particular universe would had to be imagined in several languages. It is a story that emerges out of an ocean of languages, in which a teeming ecosystem of living creatures—official-language fish, unofficial-dialect mollusks, and flashing shoals of word-fish—swim around, some friendly with each other, some openly hostile, and some outright carnivorous. But they are all nourished by what the ocean provides. And all of them, like the people in The Ministry, have no choice but to coexist, to survive, and to try to understand each other. For them, translation is not a high-end literary art performed by sophisticated polyglots. Translation is daily life, it is street activity, and it’s increasingly a necessary part of ordinary folks’ survival kit. And so, in this novel of many languages, it is not only the author, but the characters themselves who swim around in an ocean of exquisite imperfection, who constantly translate for and to each other, who constantly speak across languages, and who constantly realize that people who speak the same language are not necessarily the ones who understand each other best.

The Ministry of Utmost Happiness has been—is being—translated into forty-eight languages. Each of those translators has to grapple with a language that is infused with many languages including, if I may coin a word, many kinds of Englishes (sociolects is perhaps the correct word, but I’ll stay with Englishes because it is deliciously worse) and translate it into another language that is infused with many languages. I use the word infused advisedly, because I am not speaking merely of a text that contains a smattering of quotations or words in other languages as a gimmick or a trope, or one that plays the Peter Sellers game of mocking Indian English, but of an attempt to actually create a companionship of languages.

Of the forty-eight translations, two are Urdu and Hindi. As we will soon see, the very fact of having to name Hindi and Urdu as separate languages, and publish them as separate books with separate scripts, contains a history that is folded into the story of The Ministry. Given the setting of the novel, the Hindi and Urdu translations are, in part, a sort of homecoming. I soon learned that this did nothing to ease the task of the translators. To give you an example: The human body and its organs play an important part in The Ministry. We found that Urdu, that most exquisite of languages, which has more words for love than perhaps any other language in the world, has no word for vagina. There are words like the Arabic furj, which is considered to be archaic and more or less obsolete, and there are euphemisms that range in meaning from “hidden part,” “breathing hole,” “vent,” and “path to the uterus.” The most commonly used one is aurat ki sharamgah. A woman’s place of shame. As you can see, we had trouble on our hands. Before we rush to judgment, we must remember that pudenda in Latin means “that whereof one should feel shame.” In Danish, I was told by my translator, the phrase is “lips of shame.” So, Adam and Eve are alive and well, their fig leaves firmly in place.

Although I am tempted to say more about witnessing the pleasures and difficulties of The Ministry of Utmost Happiness being translated into other languages, more than the “post-writing” translations, it is the “pre-writing” translation that I want to talk about today. None of it came from an elaborate, pre-existing plan. I worked purely by instinct. It is only while preparing for this lecture that I began to really see how much it mattered to me to persuade languages to shift around, to make room for each other. Before we dive into the Ocean of Imperfection and get caught up in the eddies and whirlpools of our historic blood feuds and language wars, in order to give you a rough idea of the terrain, I will quickly chart the route by which I arrived at my particular patch of the shoreline."

"So, how shall we answer Pablo Neruda’s question that is the title of this lecture?

In what language does rain fall over tormented cities?7

I’d say, without hesitation, in the Language of Translation."
arundhatiroy  language  languages  translation  literature  2018  india  colonialism  nationalism  authenticity  elitism  caste  nativism  identity  culture  society  inbetween  betweenness  multilingual  polyglot  everyday  communication  english  hindi  nationstates  imperialism  urdu  persian  tamil  sinhala  bangladesh  pakistan  srilanka  canon 
july 2018 by robertogreco

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