Is this Azaadi? review: Lived realities
A moving document of Dalit struggles in rural Bihar
Sociologist Anand Chakravarti’s work, Is this Azaadi? — Everyday Lives of Dalit Agricultural Labourers in a Bihar Village, besides being a documentation of Dalit struggles in rural Bihar, is a personal journey of the author committed to understand the depth of India’s social hierarchy and how it influences the political economy.
The work is a moving document of Dalit lives in Muktidih village in southwest Bihar and underlines the presence of ubiquitous ‘structural conditions’ that keeps the landlessness among the lower castes unscathed, despite years of India’s independence and the subsequent constitutional safeguards in place for them.
The book traverses through the lives of the most subjugated of India’s people and highlights their living conditions, that ‘fall below’ the ‘threshold of well-being’ — an obvious lived reality of India’s Dalits, i.e. lack of basic access to livelihood, health, education and a life of dignity.
The study analyses the lives of Dalit agricultural labourers in two parts, following the author’s field experience from 2001 till 2015 in a sporadic manner.
The core of the research lies in the poignant description of the lived reality of Dalit landless agricultural labourers. Their food habits, clothing, access to health and housing is a sobering read for those tantalised by India’s development success and champions of the politics of social justice.
The pervasive wretchedness of Dalits reminds us of Joothan by Omprakash Valmiki. Just as Valmiki illustrates the everyday horrors faced by a semi-urban Dalit household, Chakravarti’s works details the ordeals of Dalit labourers stuck in endless debt, compelling them to live a life devoid of dignity.
He underscores the significance of education among the poor, as it brings a possible decent employment and hence an opportunity to come out of their economic destitution, and emphasises the factors responsible for the prevalence of an ‘education deficit’ among Dalit labourers of Muktidih.
However, the otherwise meticulous dossier of everyday hardships misses the woods for the trees when it locates Dalits’ vulnerability in the failure of the state in upholding constitutional guidelines.
Holding the state responsible for the miseries of Dalits, while overtly true, is rather simplistic and evades from the real subject of caste Hindus’ grip on the state apparatus deployed to maintain caste hierarchies.
It is on this aspect of India’s eternal social reality of graded caste hierarchy that this excellent work appears wanting, as it lacks the analysis of Brahmanism in perpetuating social inequalities.
However, it is an incisive micro study of rural Bihar that enables one’s understanding of the region’s caste dynamics and how it affects the socio-political reality.
Courtesy: The Hindu