Kancha Ilaiah Shepherd | Caste in the Age of Modi

Lecture | September 12 | 5-7 p.m. | Stephens Hall, 10 (ISAS Conf. Room)

 Kancha Ilaiah Shepherd, Political Theorist, Writer, & Activist for Dalit Rights

 Robert Goldman, Professor of Sanskrit and Catherine and William L. Magistretti Distinguished Professor in South & Southeast Asian Studies

 Institute for South Asia Studies, Ambedkar-King Study Circle

Join us for a talk by Indian political theorist, writer and activist for Dalit rights, Dr. Kancha Ilaiah Shepherd.

The Indian caste system has become a different tool in the hands of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)and Rastriya Swayamsevak Sangh(RSS). The BJP claimed that Narendra Modi is an OBC (Other Backward Class). But actually he is from a Bania sub-caste but managed to include his caste in the OBC list of Gujarat. Later on he saw to it that his caste was added in the central list of OBCs. He belongs to a sub-caste of Mahatma Gandhi from the same state of Gujarat.

Over a period of time from the days of Ramjanma Bhoomi and Babri Masjid issue in the 1990s the Shudra/OBCs were organized into the BJP/RSS fold. By 2014 election by making Modi the Prime Ministerial candidate in all the Shudra regional party ruling states like Uttara Pradesh, Bihar, Haryana, Maharashtra and so on the OBC votes were garnered by the BJP and managed a clear majority at New Delhi. Subsequently the Shudra regional parties were also defeated at the state level elections. It managed to install Brahmin-Kshatriya Chief Ministers with the support of the OBCs.

In the recent past the Shudra/OBCs began to see the Congress as a party of Brahmins, minorities and Dalits. Sonia Gandhi (a Christian) and Manmohan Singh (a Sikh) Government was shown as the Government of the minorities (Muslims, Christians and /Sikhs) by the BJP/RSS forces. They also campaigned that Sonia Gandhi, an Italian Christian, is the real ruler. Hence the OBCs were convinced that they should go with the BJP. Thus there was clear shift in the voting preference of a major section of the OBCs towards the BJP.

The second time in 2019 elections Narendra Modi claimed that he is an MBC (Most Backward Class) and again managed a clear majority in the Parliament. He and his close aid, the party president, Amit Shah a Bania, so far could play a good game of manipulating the OBCs without giving them any added benefit in the federal power structures. But at state level more junior minister positions were given to them, though the real power is in the hands of Brahmins, Kshatriyas and Banias.

Virtually after M.K.Gandhi days the richest industrial and crony capital owner caste --the Banias-- are ruling India, while the Brahmins share a major bureaucratic, crony capital and intellectual power. The Shudra/OBCs who constitute about 55 percent of the population still confine to agrarian economy and to some regional power in the Southern states. Dalits who constitute 18 percent of the population and Tribals who constitute 8 percent of the population have some bureaucratic presence. Otherwise majority of the OBC/Dalit/Tribals are agrarian labour, small farmers. The BJP/RSS as organizations have no genuine concern to change their socioeconomic status as they believe in classical varnadharma order.

The revival of the Congress party seems to be impossible unless it manages to draw all the Shudra/OBC regional parties into its fold. But it has to come out of its dynasty and pro-Muslim image. In this global environment of terrorism Pro-Muslim image is an unacceptable image even to the Shudra/OBCs. India also has a history of their 800 years Muslim rule which did not see any social integration between Muslims and the Shudra/OBC/Dalit/Tribals. The BJP uses that memory of people to its advantage.

The Dalits/Adivasis are fighting against the BJP regime more than anybody as of now. Once the RSS’ newly launched discourse against the very reservation system expands, may be, it will generate a new socio-political atmosphere. The OBCs will also begin to suspect the BJP/RSS long term direction.

But the major problem of the entire Shudra/OBC population is lack of English language knowing intellectuals from among them. We do not find English speaking leaders, media persons among them. We do not find good English speaking and writing university level intellectuals among them. There are no English fiction writers among them. Whereas the Brahmin-Basnias have huge number of English handling intellectuals both male and female. They mostly constructed a history of Brahmin-Bania India for last 72 years. The Shudra/OBCs have no sense of their own contribution and history. The Dalits/Tribals have tried to build their own sense of history. However, but for one thinker, Dr.B.R.Ambedkar, we would have been under the control of the Brahmin-Banias for several more centuries. Because of the BJP rule now the process of annihilation of caste gets certainly got slowed down.

About the Speaker
Dr. Kancha Ilaiah Shepherd is an Indian political theorist, writer and activist for Dalit rights. He is a major figure in the ideological movement against the Indian caste system and has been instrumental in internationalizing Dalit–Bahujan issues. Born into a Shudra family in the village of Papaiahpet, in what is now Telangana and was earlier part of the princely state of Hyderabad, he and his brother were the first in the family to gain literacy and a formal education, and to move away from their traditional occupation of shepherding.

Dr. Shepherd has published numerous deep and damning examinations of caste, including Why I am not a Hindu (1996) and Buffalo Nationalism: A Critique of Spiritual Fascism (2004), that have led to threats and attacks against him throughout his career.

His other books include , God As Political Philosopher: Buddha's challenge to Brahminism (2000), Post-Hindu India: A Discourse in Dalit-Bahujan, Socio-Spiritual and Scientific Revolution (2009), and his latest, From a Shepherd Boy to an Intellectual: My Memoirs (2018).

For his work he was awarded the Mahatma Jyotirao Phule Award in 2000.

Dr. Shepherd recently retired as Director, Centre for the Study of Social Exclusion and Inclusive Policy (CSSEIP), Maulana Azad National Urdu University, Hyderabad. Previously, he was a Professor at the Department of Political Science, Osmania University.

Read more about Dr. Kancha Ilaiah Shepherd at his homepage HERE

Event made possible with the support of the Sarah Kailath Chair of India Studies

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