National

We The People: A Dalit Poet From Dharavi On India Equating Untouchables As Nobodies

Shripad Sinnakaar says that in a country where caste is assigned at birth, for a Dalit to be a nobody is a repository of inventions and new possibilities

Shripad Sinnakaar, Dalit Poet From Dharavi
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Concluding his speech introducing the Draft Constitution in the Constituent Assembly in 1948, Babas­a­heb Ambedkar speaks on the conditions of Dalits as entering a life of contradictions.

For me, the imagery conjured of this entering is of an escape, an exodus of dalits exiting the village gate. From migration to cities in search of livelihood and education to a flight from a massacre or statutory beggary imposed on them by dominant castes. This life of contradictions is entered by exiting. That irrespective of Independence or a Republic, a dalit is to remain an aporia with meagre choices, confronting sharp derisions for grappling with them. Many of our positions are bound in this entanglement.

Babasaheb in “Untouchables or the Children of India’s Ghettos” offers extensive accounts of untouchability. Things are turned aro­und in his analysis of untouchability. The object of correction are the Touchables. The responsibility of eradication of untouchability falls on them, not on the untouchables. In his study, I am interested in the word ‘Nobodies’ used for Untouch­ables. Though used in context as a prerequisite for the touchables to be somebody, I want to divorce it from the context it was used in. To assign new meaning to the term Nobodies is to also imagine beyond the structures of caste, the parameters of state and its legislative. To be anybody in the present caste structure is to remain stuck in a life of contradictions.

In a country where caste is assigned at birth, for a dalit to be a Nobody is a repository of inventions and new possibilities. Perhaps, a way out of the contradiction is to focus on the practices of the outlaws, the outcastes, the untouchables and recognise their non-alignment and disinclination to the caste structure as legitimate and a valuable source of human and social conscience.

The occupying of the slums isn’t encroachment, it is the material manifestation of that realisation and practice of freedom. The laughter, the ways of survival and making ends meet also comes from those who refuse to imagine futures in families.

Not all homes are built with bricks and cement, they are also made with tarpaulin. The nobodies, the outcastes, are not only beyond the two-fold sectionings of the village, they are beyond the limits of right and wrong, too. Their being is the negation of the State. A refusal to slavery, a suffering of freedom.

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(This appeared in the print edition as "Ode to Nobody")

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