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September5asTeachersDayTheDalit
Critique:AbhayKumar
AUGUST18,2014
byNiveditaMenon
GuestpostbyABHAYKUMAR

tags:SavitribaiPhule,TeachersDay

While the schools and educational institutions of the country have been observing September 5 as
TeachersDaysince1962,onthebirthanniversaryoftherstVicePresidentandsecondPresidentof
independent India Dr. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan (18881975), a section of Dalits, mostly students,
activists and intellectuals at public universities, are increasingly denouncing its observance. They
contendthatthebirthdayofRadhakrishnan,aBrahmin,shouldnolongerbeheldasTeachersDay
because he had made no contribution to the educational uplift of lower castes and classes. Instead
they exhort people to observe National Teachers Day on January 3, the birth anniversary of the
nineteenthcenturysocialreformer,andteacherfrombackwardcaste,SavitribaiPhule(18311897).

AccordingtothebiographerofSavitribaiPhule,M.G.Mali(KrantijyotiSavitribaiPhule,2005),shewas

AccordingtothebiographerofSavitribaiPhule,M.G.Mali(KrantijyotiSavitribaiPhule,2005),shewas
taughtbyherhusbandinaschoolrunundertheshadeofamangotree.Accesstoeducationenabled
her to become aware about egalitarian movements at global level as she managed to read the
biography of Thomas Clarkson (17601846), who fought for liberation of the Black. Later when she
becameateacher,itwasvehementlyopposedbyreactionaryBrahminswhopeltedstoneandthrew
dungonherinordertosaveorthodoxHindureligion.WhenfrustratedBrahminswereunableto
deterthezealofPhulesaboutimpartingeducation,theysucceededinreasoningwithherfatherin
law,GovindaRao,toforcethemtoleavehome.Shepreferredevictionwithherhusbandfromhome
togivinguphermissiononeducation.Despitetheopposition,theycontinuedtopersuadeparentsto
sendtheirdaughterstoschools.Asaresultoftheirhardwork,18schoolswereopenedfrom1848to
1852. Her dedication to spread education, particularly among subalterns is selfevident from a few
linesofherpoem.AllgetslostwithoutknowledgeWebecomeanimalwithoutwisdomSolearn
andbreakthechainsofcaste.ThrowawaytheBrahmansscripturesfast.
ThoughithasbeenclaimedthatthecelebrationofSavitribaiPhulesbirthdayasTeachersDayhas
been held since the 1970s by the radical Dalit Panther, the intensied campaigns, particularly at
publicuniversities,havebeenobservedinthelastfewyears.Inwhatfollows,Iwillmainlydiscuss
such activism at Indias two prestigious universities, Hyderabad Central Universities (HCU) and
Jawaharlal Nehru Universities (JNU) where the assertions of Dalit politics are felt much stronger
thanmanyotherplaces.
Bahujan Student Front (BSF), a Dalit organisation active at Hyderabad Central University since its
formationin2007,hasbeencelebratingthebirthanniversaryofSavitribaiPhuleasTeachersDayfor
afewyears.Initslastyearspamphlet,theBSFoeredjusticationforthis.Educationwasdeniedto
theBahujanSamajunderthebarbaricbrahmanicalreign;despitethis,SavitribaiPhulemaderadical
eortstoenlightenthemulnivasisofIndiabytakingupeducationastheweaponforemancipation.
As Dalit ideology views Brahminism as a primary contradiction and education as one of the most
importantmeansforliberation,itopposestheobservanceofTeachersDayonthebirthanniversary
of a Brahmin, who is alleged to have been an apologist of Hinduism / Brahminism as a scholar of
comparativereligion.
Similarly,S.SwaroopSirapangi,astudentofHCUwithDalitBahujanideologicalpersuasion,posted
a pamphlet in 2012 on his blog that Savitribai Phule, unlike Radhakrishnan, deserved to be
recognised as real educator, for she, along with her husband Jyotiba Phule, was in the forefront of
spreading education, particularly for women and lower castes as early as the middle of nineteenth
century. As Brahmins never imparted education to others, especially to the subaltern, Savitri Bai
PhuleandherhusbandJyotibaPhulewereinstrumentalintakingarevolutionarysteptoeducatethe
subalternsections.
AwebportalDalitMuslimsVoicealsosupportsDalitsdemand.It,thus,praisesSavitribaiPhuleas
aradicalexponentofmassandfemaleeducation,championofwomensliberation,pioneerin
engagedpoetry,courageousmassleaderghtingagainstuppercasteatrocities.Itistobenoted
that Pasmanda Muslims, Dalit and backward caste Muslims, allege that they face exploitation and
humiliationatthehandsofuppercasteAshrafMuslims.Asaresulttheyhaveforgedanalliancewith
lowercastesofHindusandotherreligiouscommunities.
In JNU too, similar campaigns have been launched by United Dalits Students Forum (UDSF) by
organizing seminars, holding public meetings and taking out political processions. Over the years,
thetraditionallystrongleftstudentsorganisationsofJNU,whichhavebeenallegedtohaveignored
DalitBahujaniconstillrecently,havenownohesitationinwearingPhulesbadgeontheirsleeves.In
short,whilesmashingBrahmingods,theDalitsaresimultaneouslyinventingtheirownicons.
Tounderstandthisphenomenon,letmedrawontheworkofsocialhistorianBadriNarayan(Women

Tounderstandthisphenomenon,letmedrawontheworkofsocialhistorianBadriNarayan(Women
HeroesandDalitAssertioninNorthIndia:Culture,IdentityandPolitics,2006).Accordingtohim,Dalits
identity history aempts to iconize Dalit heroes and heroine. The purpose of this exercise is to
challengethehegemonyoftheuppercastesinthesphereofcultureandcivilsociety.Theinventions
of new icons like Phule, Udadevi, Jhalkaribai, Avantibai, Pannadhai, Mahaviridevi are meant for
enthusingDalitstobecomemilitanttoghtagainsttheoppressionandexploitationoftheupper
castes.Asheputsit,Incontemporarytimes,asDalitsnarrativesarebeingrewrienandrecreatedto
awakentheoppressedDalitcommunities.(p.158.)
DalitsBierExperiencewithTeachers
DalitsweredeniedaccesstoeducationtillafewcenturiesagoinIndiansociety.Underthecolonial
condition,anumberofsocialreformmovementswereledbysubalternradicalswhopropagatedthe
idea of equality in a highly stratied society. As the colonial government gradually introduced
educationformasses,someDalitswereabletoenterschools.Butunliketheexperienceofuppercaste
students,whooftengloriedteachersandplacedthemhigherthangods,Dalits,ontheotherhand,
hadanexperienceofmistreatment,discriminationandhumiliationatschools.Thereisasignicant
amount of work on the colonial period which shows such inhumanly treatment of Dalit students.
Most of Dalit autobiographies, wrien in postcolonial period, also reect on this grim reality. For
example, Arvind Malagais Government Brahmana (2007) recalls with pain how he was abused as
bastardandwasforcedtoundergoseverepunishment.Butmostshockingly,theteacherinicted
pain on him without touching his body. But we untouchable lot never had the good fortune of
receiving slaps from his hands, says the young Malagai (p. 14). The experience of Namdeo
Nimgade (In the Tigers Shadow: The Autobiography of An Ambedkarite, 2010) is not less painful. The
headmasteradmiedmeunderthestrictconditionthatI,beinguntouchable,mustneverenterwitha
handful of other untouchables on the hot veranda and listen to lessons through a window, rues
Nimgade.(p.27)
These examples show the bier experience of Dalit students with their upper caste teachers. As a
result,DalitsnourishanegativeimageofuppercasteandBrahminicalteachers.Thedenunciationof
Radhakrishnan as an educator for nation is informed by this very sociological and historical
experiencesofDalits.Instead,theinventionoftheiconofabackwardcastewomanSavitribaimaybe
viewedasasignoftheintensicationoftheprocessofDalitisationofpublicculture.
AbhayKumar(debatingissues@gmail.com)ispursuingPhDatCentreforHistoricalStudies,JawaharlalNehru
University,NewDelhi.
fromCulture,Debates,Education
14Comments leaveone
1.PriyankaChakrabarty PERMALINK
August18,20143:23PM
VeryinterestingarticleButinsteadofalwaysbringingthecasteaspectallthetime,wishtosee
somearticlewherethehumaneortisreveredmorethananythingelseandtheinhumancaste
biasmaybebyanycastetobedegradedwithoutmentioningthecaste.thereareextremegood
andlearnedpeopleamongallcastesbeitDalitsorBrahmins.Alltheimmenselyrespectful.But
directlycondemningonecasteortheotheriscriticizingthewholecasteandthatisbias.One
BrahminandmanyBrahminsmightdosomeinhumanactbutthiscannotbesentencedtoallthe
peoplewithintheircastegroup.OneDalitandmanyDalitmightdosomeinhumanactbutthis
cannotbesentencedtoallthepeoplewithintheircastegroup.KudostoSavitribaiPhule..itisfelt
thatshehadtransgressedallthecastebiasandshehadactuallymadeeortforhuman
upliftment
REPLY
2.vartika3007 PERMALINK

2.vartika3007 PERMALINK
August18,20147:40PM
ItotallyagreewiththefactthatPhulesshouldberecognizedfortheirsplendidworktoward
educationbutIdontreallyagreewiththefactthatRadhakrishananhasnotcontributedmuch
towardseducation.Hewasagreatphilosopherandhasearnedtheprestigeinsteadofcoming
fromapoorfamily.Hisbirthdayiscelebratedasteachersdaynotonlybecausehecomesfroma
Brahminfamily.AndIthinksubstitutingPhuleswithRadhakrishnanfurthercomplicatesthe
problemonthebasisofcasteandreligioninoursociety.IagreewiththefactthatDalitshasbeen
exploitedbytheuppercastesbutthesolutionisnotinbacklashingbutinmakingthemsostrong
thattheycouldbenotexploitedfurther.Weshouldstophighlightingeverythingonthebasisof
casteandreligionandcomeupwithrealsolutions.
REPLY
3.rajnatht PERMALINK
August18,20149:10PM
Theaspectofbeingawomanandaliberatorshouldbestressed.Itistruewithoutcolonialism,bad
asitwas,someunderstandingofequalitycametoINDIA.Atleastthefactthateveryoneisa
humanbeing.wellRadhakrishannodoubtwasascholarbutbhramnicalashewas,hewasalso
outoftouchwithrealityandonehastoreadhiswritingsondemocracywhereinhesaysthat
Indiahasalwaysbeendemocratic.Onewouldliketoaskforwhome?
REPLY
4.Aakash PERMALINK
August18,201410:07PM
sayingthatTheycontendthatthebirthdayofRadhakrishnan,aBrahmin,shouldnolongerbe
heldasTeachersDay..andInsteadtheyexhortpeopletoobserveNationalTeachersDayon
January3,thebirthanniversaryofthenineteenthcenturysocialreformer,andteacherfrom
backwardcaste,SavitribaiPhule(18311897).(intherestpara)isdowngradingsawitribaifules
contribution.sawitribaiwantededucationforallgirlswithoutanycastedierence.peoplewant
toobservetechersdayonhernamenotbecauseofherbelongingtoabackwardcaste,butforher
contributiontowomeneducationandforbreakingbhraminhegemonyinthissector.sothisisnot
requiredtomentionhercasteallthetime.
REPLY
5.RRadhakrishnan PERMALINK
August19,201411:38AM
AsaformerstudentofJNU,IamdisappointedtonotethatJNUisbeingusedasabrandfor
promotingvestedagendas.ThetragedyisPhulescontributionisalsorelegatedtocastepoliticsin
thestateofMaharashtra,whereIampresentlybased.TherenamingoftheuniversityofPunewas
moreofasymbolicexercise,beforetheelections.ThequestioniswhenwillDalitsbeaccorded
equalrespectandseenasagentsforthemselves?ThearticleonceagainrelegatesDalitstothe
statusoffootsoldiers,astheauthoroutofhisownwillfulignorancehasclubbedupSC,St,OBCs
andminoritiestogether,throughtheposterofBahujanstudents.TheDalitswhohadembraced
ChristianityandIslamcontinuetofaceharassmentatthehandsoftheirsocalleduppercaste
fellowbelievers.InTamilnad,UarPradesh,Biharandotherstates,theDalitsareforcedtobeat
theserviceofthenewnonbrahmanicalelitecalledOBCs.InHyderabad,virulentpentecostal
christiangroupshavemadeinroadsgivingfoddertoHinducommunalgroups.LatePresidentS
RadhakrishnanwasteachinginaUniversityandnotinaBrahminpathshala,astheignorantnotes
oftheauthorseemstosuggest.Heisknownfor
NowbythislogicisMrAbhayKumar,whoisironicallypursuingPhDatCHS,suggestingthat
respectedscholarslikeProfessorswhoarenotDalitslikeCPBhambri,Pannikar,SudhaPai,
DiapankarGupta,NirajaGopal,KalimBahadur,SusanVishwanathan,ZoyaHassan,Gurpreet
Mahajan,BalvirArora,RajivBhargava,whohadtaughtmanygenerationstoconfrontinequality

Mahajan,BalvirArora,RajivBhargava,whohadtaughtmanygenerationstoconfrontinequality
andoppression,bedebarredfromteachingortheircontributiontoeducationbedismissedwith
contemptinJNU??
PleaseworksincerelyandhonestlytowardsgivingalltheiconslikePhule,Ambedkarorperiyar
duerecognition,insteadofreducingthemtothestatusofcasteicons,insteadofexpressingmock
angerwithcontrivedpassions.InthiscontextonemustnotethesignicanceoftheBahujan
movementunderMayawati,itsabilitytonegotiatewiththeexistingpowerstructuresand
assertingforanequalspaceinrepresentationandgovernance.Thearticlerathervery
convenientlyignorestheappropriationofprogressiveDalit,socialistandjusticemovementsand
socialjusticeiconslikeAmbedkarbyuppercaste/classelites,towardswhomtheasenseof
servitudeisdisplayedinthemediaandotherinstitutions.
REPLY
SadashivMarji PERMALINK
August25,20158:50PM
Iagreewithyouthatthereisatendencyamongtheresearchersofdistortingthefactsthat
Phule,Periyar,Ambedkarsviewsoncasteanduntouchabilityhavebeentotallymistakened
andtheytrytoseetheminisolation.Theylackholisticapproachtostudyindiansocialsystem
inwhichthecontributionsmadebytheintellectualslikethedeoPhule,PeriyarandAmbedkar
havebeentreatedassectarianandtheyhavebeeniconizedwronglyastheleadersofDalit
Bahujans.
Asfarasthetreatmentmetedtotheuntouchablesinthecontemporarysociety,itisworstthan
theanimalsbythefellowOBCsandthesocalledbackwardclasses.Theatrocitieshavebeen
perpetratedonDalitsobviouslynotbytheuppercastesbutbythenewgenerationof
backwardclasseswhohavetakentheadvantagesofchangingpowerequationsinruralindia
duetothereservationsandeconomicdevelopment.Furtheritisevidentintherecentpast
incidentsofatrocitiesandheinouscrimesperpetratedontheDalitsbythemiddlecastes.Itis
alsotruethattheOBCshavenevertreatDalitsastheirallies.DuringMandalCommission
agitationsitwasDalitswhohavestoodbytheCentralGovernmenttoimplementthe
recommendationsandunfortunatelyOBCshaveneversupportedthecausesofDalits,beit
theagitationsagainstcastediscriminations,untouchability,atrocitiesonwomenofDalit
communitiesetc.,
AsyouhaveraisedtheissueofnonsolidarityamongtheDalits,OBCsandconvertedmuslims
andchristiansisthemaincauseforlookingatthesocalledreformerslikePhule,Periyarand
Ambedkarastheleadersoftheirowncommunitiesrathertheleadersofthemasseswhohave
contributedforthedevelopmentofthenation.Thiswayiconizationofthemassleaderslike
thedeoissheernegligencewhichcannotbepardoned.
REPLY
6.AbhayKumar PERMALINK
August19,201411:46AM
Icompletelyagreewithyou,Aakash,thatthecontributionofSavitribaicannotbereducedtothe
factthatshewasabackwardcastewoman.Similarly,IdonotbelievethatAmbedkarwasonlythe
leaderofDalits.Forme,hisphilosophyandactionsaimatliberationofall.AsIhaveusedthe
termbackwardcasteforPhule,whichyouhavecritiqued,Idonotmeanherethatshehasonly
workedforthelowercastesorsheisonlytheleaderofaparticularsection.Rather,Iusedtheterm
backwardcasteforPhuletoshowacontrastbetweentwoimagesofRadhakrishnanandSavitribai
Phule.
REPLY
7.ArjunPatel PERMALINK
August19,201412:33PM
21stcenturyisthecenturyoftheMulnivasiofIndia.Ilikethearticle.ItisnotinHyderabadonly

21stcenturyisthecenturyoftheMulnivasiofIndia.Ilikethearticle.ItisnotinHyderabadonly
butalloverIndiatheMulnivasimovementisgoingonatfasterspeed.Theuppercastesare
responsibleastheyhavenotgiven`enoughspaceforthelowercastesandthatiswhy
phenomenonofKanshiramansMayawatiemergedateverylevelandincomingdaysiftheydo
notlearnlesionfromthistheyhavetofacethemusic.Iliketheassertionanddonotfeelbad
aboutdenouncingthe`imposedleadersontheMulnivasi.Nothingwronginit,itisahistorical
process.Pl.doesnotreducethemovementbyusingthewordDalit.Thiscategoryitselfbecomes
hurdlersinspreadingthemovementamongthevarioussegmentsofMulnivasiincludingSCs,
STs,OBCsandMinorities.Pl.alwaystriestousetheconceptcalledMulnivasi.Itwillencompass
allthegroupswhichareexploitedbythebrahminicalsystem.TheBrahmanshavenotruledover
thebahujansincethousandsofyearsbutalsoruinedtheirculture.Onehastodigoutsuchheroes
ofMulnivasisandhighlighted.MulnivasiculturecannotbethecultureoftheBrahmans.
Mulnivasihavetodierentiatetheirculturethanonlytheywillliberate.Developedparallel
cultureandparallelorganisationsateverylayertoghtagainstBrahmanism.IfBrahmanshave
notrecognisedheroesofMulnivasis,theMulnivasipeopleprojecttheirheroes.Oneshouldnot
readthisascasteism.Casteismstartswithuppercasteswhohavebenetedbythissince
thousandsofyearsandnotthelowercastes,whoremainedattheperipheryofthesystem.Butthe
pityisthattheuppercastesalwayscriticiseeverymoveofthelowercastesascasteist.Butdonot
careforthat.Thatistheirdutyandtheyjustperformit,nothingelse.
.
ArjunPatel,Surat,Gujarat
REPLY
8.Dharmaraj PERMALINK
August21,20142:12AM
Tobeginwith,Ijustcouldnotresistthedesiretoaddonmycommentbecauseitisanissuewhich
needstobedabated.Iseethisarticleasoneofsuchextensions.First,thelanguageofthisarticleis
notverywovenasaresultofwhichit,unfortunately,turnsintonothingbutareporting.Thereare
fewplaceswhereitisjustmentionedthathowdalitsorbackwardsmayrecollectthefutilityofthe
celebrationoftheteachersdayon5thSeptember.Thearticlehasbeenwrieninsuchawaythat
itgivesdiversemeaningswhichcanbewitnessedthroughthereadingofabovecomments.As
whyithappenedtobesoneedstobecarefullyobservedandunderstood.Theanswer,Ithink,is
thatAbhayactuallyhasnotmadehispositionclear.Itisnotsothatmerehispositionisnotclear
buthehasnotconcludedhisargumentsinanyfavouraswhy,accordingtowhichargumentof
Abhay,SavitribaiPhulesbirthdayshouldbecelebratedasteachersday.Thereisnosubstantial
argumentinitexcepttheinformationthatwhobelongedtowhichcasteandPhulesstruggledfor
educationofsuppressedcastesorwemustsayforclasstoo.
First,thereisaneedtotakethesocialpositioninsteadofgivingoverviewsofothers.Second,there
shouldbeanargumentgivenbytheauthorwhichmustbesubstantialexceptcastewhichis
commonknowledge.Isayexceptcasteortheirstrugglebecauseallofusknowaboutitforsure.
Whytheauthorneedstowriteonthisissueagainwithouthavinghisownargumentformed
whentherearemanywritingsandseriesregardingthis?
Duetothisreason,thisarticle,initself,isveryproblematic,theimpactofwhich,thankfully,we
canreadaboveashowthedebategotdriveninaverydierentdirection.
Well,thisismypersonalopinionthatSavitribaiPhulesbirthdaymustbecelebratedasTeachers
Day.Thereasonscouldbeclear,onlyifIalsowriteapiece.
REPLY
RRadhakrishnan PERMALINK
August21,20145:53PM
IendorsetheabovementionedcommentsofMrDharmaraj.Thearticlesimplyfailstomeetthe

IendorsetheabovementionedcommentsofMrDharmaraj.Thearticlesimplyfailstomeetthe
objectiveofpresentingSavitriBaiPhuleandSRadhakrishnanasbinaryopposites.Secondly
therehasbeenalackofsincerityandeortsindeconstructingorevenquestioningthe
contributionofSRadhakrishnan.Onecantdismissthecontributionorcredentialofsomeone
justonthegroundsofhisorherprimordialidentity,whichthearticleifnotthearguments
intendedto.
REPLY
SanjeevKumarSharma PERMALINK
August24,20141:57AM
IagreewithwhatDharmarajhassaidthatthearticlebyAbhayisdevoidofhispositionon
thecentralissue.However,itsentirelytruethatwhenwearejudgingsomeonelike
Radhakrishnanwecannotignorethelargerstructuralunderpinningsofthevicioussystem
ofcasteinequality.Moreover,itsalsoafactthatonhumanisticgroundsweneedto
criticallyassessthatweatherRadhakrishnanevenfaintlyendeavouredtodeconstructthe
inequalityandparochialisminthedisseminationofeducationtoaninclusivesubject,dalits
beingitspart.Ifnotthenquestionswillcertainlyberaisedinthecontextofhisbeinga
teachercontributingtoeducation.Theeortscannotbetakenatfacevalueandwill
certainlybejudgedinthedierentcontextsasDalitbahujansandothers.
REPLY
9.Akash PERMALINK
August25,201410:27AM
Idontthinkweneedtogetworkedupaboutculturalsymbolslikethis.IfyoureacasteHindu,
thenletsfaceit,youvebeenhavingaswelltimewithhavingyoursymbolsusedbythe
government.Idontlikemythmaking,butBahujangroupshaveasmuchofarighttoengageinit
aswehaveinthepast.Frankly,IthinkShahuMaharajdidmorethanPhulethough.
REPLY
10.IndraNaik PERMALINK
September14,20148:17PM
Yes,itisbeertocelebrateSmtSavitriPule,sbirthonheractualbirthday3rdJanuary,insteedof
5thSeptember
REPLY
11.AjitN.Gedam PERMALINK
September2,20153:09PM
AJITGEDAM
Yes,Iagreetocelebrate3rdJanuaryasaTeachersDaybecausecontributiontoLiteratewoman
bySmt.Savitribaiphule.Shehadstartedrstschoolforgirls.Becauseofhercontributionnow
PuneUniversityisrenameasSavitribaiphulePuneuniversity
TruthcanneverDie
Maybefuturegenerationwillcelebrate3rdJanuaryasaTeachersDay
agrandSalutetoSmt.SavitribaiPhule.
REPLY

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