That the seminar on OBC literature, held at Delhi’s Dayal Singh College recently, would evoke protests was expected. What was surprising was that the protest came from an unlikely quarter – a small group of Dalits. It was expected that brahmanical elements would oppose the event because if, after Dalit and Tribal literatures, OBC literature also took shape, who would read what is now called mainstream literature? Its very existence would be threatened. Most of the discussion took place on social media, and many supporters of OBC literature expressed their views. The argument that the opponents consistently gave was that there is no need for a distinct OBC literature.
It seems that people are reacting to the development in undue haste. The opponents seem to think that OBC literature will be pitted against Dalit literature, even when from the very outset the emphasis has been on the much that is common between the two. Along with OBC literature, Tribal and Dalit literatures are capable of pushing brahmanical literature to the margins. Hence, we should welcome OBC literature.
Among the many arguments I put forth in favour of OBC literature, one is this: Suppose someone is bringing out a newspaper called “Dalit Times” or a magazine called “Dalit Dahleej” and the publication is doing well. Heavens are not going to fall if someone else begins publishing an “OBC Times” or an “OBC Alankar”.
Another argument is that the OBCs are vehicles for Brahmanism and are as, if not more, guilty of committing atrocities against Dalits as Brahmins. Are the Dalits, who insist on entering temples despite being brutally beaten up, not the carriers of Brahmanism? You do see OBCs joining the Savarnas in committing atrocities against the Dalits. But look carefully and you will be able to spot a Dalit or two in the crowd of the oppressors. On the other hand, if you believe that the OBCs are distinct from the Dalits, then what is the problem if their literature is accepted as a separate genre!
The truth is that if some OBCs are vehicles for Brahmanism, many are its opponents, too. It is because of OBC literature that people today don’t believe that Krishna had washed the feet of Sudama. People have come to realize the Gita does not contain what Krishna said; it contains what Vyas wanted Krishna to say. The Gita declares animal husbandry as the Vaishyas’ occupation. OBC literature has highlighted the fact that Krishna did not write the Gita. Ved Vyas wrote it and used the name of Krishna to market it.
I will give one more example. Suppose a government department has a union of Class IV employees. Now, if the Class III employees also start their own union, it will only help build more pressure on the management. If the management opposes such a move it can be understood; but how do you explain the Class IV employees’ union opposing it? Let the Class III employees unionize, let the Class IV employees follow suit and let attempts be made to establish an overarching confederation of both the unions. What is the logic of saying that Class III employees should not unionize, that they should be satisfied with the Class IV employees having their union? Perhaps, Class III employees have come up their own union because their voice is not being heard in the Class IV union.
I have another question for the detractors of OBC literature. Like Savarna and Dalit castes, the different OBC castes also have been bringing out magazines and journals for years. Yadavs have many magazines and so do Kurmis, Kumhars, Kushwahas, Sahus, Badais, Pasis and others. Whatever is being written in these magazines is OBC literature. There are many things that particular castes want to put across but do not or cannot find space in the available magazines. That is why they launch their own publications. Did anyone ever oppose OBC literature being written in these magazines? When there was no objection to it, then, what is the objection if all the OBC castes want to come together and do more logical, more serious and more meaningful writing to annihilate Brahmanism? Those who are patrons of Brahmanism will not join the OBC literature camp. Only those who want to build an egalitarian society will. Their literature will be much better than what is being written in the magazines of different castes.
Many social-justice groups have been active on social media for years. Some have Dalits in them, others OBCs. There are minor differences of opinion but overall, they are doing good work. Whatever is being written on social media is OBC literature. Why should the prospect of the same writings appearing in printed form evoke such hostility?
My opinion is that the OBCs are a misfit in the present social set-up. They are neither Brahmins, nor Kshatriyas, nor Vaishyas, nor Shudras. No one is ready to recognize them as Kshatriyas, and as they have always had the right to rule and to earn and retain wealth and as they were never subjected to untouchability, they are not ready to call themselves Shudras. Then, of late, the word Shudra is being used as another term for “Dalit” – another reason OBCs do not consider themselves Shudras. Ved Vyas’ Gita says animal rearing is the occupation of the Vaishyas. This also makes the OBCs a misfit in the brahmanical varna system. The university that belongs to the brahmanical varna system forcibly admitted an OBC student but did not allot him a course or a classroom. He sometimes sits in this classroom, sometimes in that. Now, if the OBC student establishes his own university, a hostile reaction from the Brahmin University can be understood but why should the others object?
Another issue has to do with the opportunity of expression. If there is one stage and one microphone, it is obvious that only a few will get a chance to speak and even they will get limited time. Most will have to be content with a seat among the audience. Everybody wants a chance to speak and wants to speak for as long as possible. Obviously, the building of several stages is the only solution to this problem.
Then, there are some issues exclusive to the OBCs that they want to bring to the notice of the world. This can be possible only through OBC literature. For instance, members of many OBC families patronize Brahmanism but some youths among them also oppose it. Only OBC literature can bring to the fore what becomes of them. When OBC youths oppose brahmanical hypocrisy, their families sometimes agree and sometimes silence them. Even young rebel OBCs, being democrats, cannot impose their views on their families. If a woman performs puja, can her husband ask her not to do it? If he does, he will be branded as anti-democratic and anti-women and if he does not, he has to bear the taunts for not setting his own house in order before sermonizing others. It is only OBC literature that can bring to light the frustration of such youths and relate the tale of the struggle they have to wage within their families.
It is also a fact that the talk of social justice always overlooks OBCs and dwells on the plight of Dalits. The argument is that Dalits are worse off. This is absolutely true but then, OBCs have their own problems, their own concerns. These too need to be addressed. Why should one have any reservation if this happens? If the level of suffering is the criterion, then Tribals are even worse off than Dalits. They are being deprived of their right to live. Their land, forests and water are being taken away from them. Has Dalit literature let itself be subsumed into Tribal Literature? The fact is that the concept of social justice is yet to get a foothold in the Tribal communities.
The OBC literary seminar had no anti-Dalit overtones or undertones. It was Brahmanism that was targeted by everyone who spoke. It gave a chance to a large number of OBCs to gather at one place and talk about their common problems. Otherwise, they only gather at conventions of their respective castes.
It is often said that OBCs lack consciousness and a long list of their shortcomings is bandied about. What would one who agrees with this analysis do? Wouldn’t he try to arouse the consciousness of the OBCs, to awaken them? And how would this happen? By being among the OBCs, interacting with them, holding their meetings and conferences and writing. When this is done, there are objections galore. How can the OBCs be awakened, made conscious without holding dialogues with them?