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Of Dalits and dead cattle: Anand Patwardhan's thought-provoking poem

Catch Team | Updated on: 26 July 2016, 17:07 IST

Atrocities against Dalits have been on the rise. While children and women suffer as rape targets in Rohtak, Dalits in Gujarat are stripped and thrashed for skinning a cow that had died naturally.

The situation is no better in Madhya Pradesh either where caste tensions have put the government on a backfoot.

The Dalit issue is, however, not contained to India's villages. It exists in the hallowed portals of some of country's premiere educational institutions as well - like Hyderabad Central University which saw the tragic suicide of Dalit student Rohith Vemula.

Rohith Vemula wrote his suicide note in English and before the state or the institution could realise what it had fuelled, the fire spread to other universities.

The unrest grows because the inherent and unexplained hate the upper castes harbour towards the lower castes, refuses to subside.

And as the hatred spreads, can retaliation be far behind.

Simmering hate

The first strong reaction came from Gujarat. The BJP-ruled state that has consistently witnessed atrocities against Dalits.

Buses were torched, some Dalit men attempted suicide to protest against the cow vigilantes and the state's lack of concern.

But most importantly - the Dalits sent out a message that India could not possibly ignore - and they did it with cow carcases.

In a grim reminder of what Munshi Premchand had written in Sadgati nearly nine decades ago, Dalits in some towns refused to remove any animal carcases - a job they are forced to perform.

They brought few truckloads of dead cows and dumped them at the compounds of government offices in at least two towns of Saurashtra.

Making a statement

The 'brilliant' response to the Hindutva atrocity in Gujarat has brought a smirk to all those who want to annihilate caste.

"If the inspiration spreads across the country, it can turn the entire caste system on its head. As 'designated castes' refuse to do other people's dirty work anymore, it could force the 'market' to find a solution," writes documentary filmmaker Anand Patwardhan.

Patwardhan feels that with strong responses like these working conditions and pay scales will improve to make these jobs more attractive to the general population. This itself could usher a real democratic revolution in India, adds Patwardhan.

"Many years ago (1972 to 1974) I worked as a volunteer in a rural development and education project named 'Kishore Bharati' located at Paliya Pipariya village in Hoshangabad District, Madhya Pradesh," says Patwardhan.

"What happened a few days ago reminded me of a poem I had written then, 42 years ago, based on an event seen and re-imagined."


At the side of the road, dead cattle

Abandoned in the night

By hands that cannot claim

Water from the well.

Silent figures bearing their load

The fresh carcass of an old cow

Holy, but nevertheless sold

To one whose sin is pre-ordained.

Dark figures nursing their hate

Tongues held in sullen waiting

The impotent rage of men

Forced to believe themselves unclean.

Silent figures depositing their gift

Taking in the familiar smell

With the satisfaction of knowing

It will soon become unbreathable.

At the side of the road, dead cattle

Abandoned by night

Will lie for days.


Edited by Jhinuk Sen

Also Read: Dalits in Gujarat turn the heat on cow vigilantes

Also Read: Rohith is the 23rd Dalit student suicide in institutes like AIIMS and IITs

First published: 26 July 2016, 17:07 IST