The Social Struggle 

Radhika Iyengar reading an excerpt from her book Fire on the Ganges.
| Photo Credit: The Hindu

Caste a light: Battle for Equality focused on the discussion of caste and equality in conversation with Manoj Mitta and Radhika Iyengar, moderated by Udayan Mitra. The session was split into two, with the moderator having a conversation with each author. At each of the discussions, he focused on the genesis and various aspects of the book, both the authors’ writing and research process and the context in which these books are situated. 

Manoj Mitta’s book titled Caste Pride: Battles for Equality in Hindu India focuses on the violence and impunity surrounding caste violence in the country. Mr. Mitta describes how the freedom struggle in India is commemorated in various ways, but often leaves out the caste or social struggle, “Unlike the political struggle, which ended in the freedom of our country in 1947, this social struggle did not end, and yet, we hardly pay much attention to it.” 

He explains how there is often a structural bias, from the police to the prosecuting agency to the trial court, “because, on the flimsiest of grounds, you would deny justice to victims of caste violence despite all the evidence that is there, despite the gravity of the offence,” he says. 

The second half of the session was a conversation with Radhika Iyengar about her book, Fire On The Ganges: Life Among the Dead in Banaras. The book speaks about the life of Doms or the caretakers of crematoriums. The book was based on her experiences of visiting Manikarnika Ghat in Varanasi and her interactions with the Dom families there. 

At the session, Ms. Iyengar recounts an anecdote involving a child of a corpse burner, who remembers being told that he couldn’t have a different future since “the son of a corpse burner can grow up to be nothing more than a cremator,” she says, pointing out that this person went on to educate himself, changing this narrative. The discussion then veered towards caste mobility and the complexities associated with it. “Caste mobility is a right that’s guaranteed to Indian citizens on paper now, courtesy of the constitution. But on the ground, it’s more the exception than the rule,” points out Ms. Iyengar. 

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