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Should Dalits remain ugly?

Should Dalits remain ugly?
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The recent dreadful incident in the Paris of Andhra and pride of upward mobile shudras of our State, Tenali, made all of us who love the town hang our...

The recent dreadful incident in the Paris of Andhra and pride of upward mobile shudras of our State, Tenali, made all of us who love the town hang our heads in shame. A 45-year-old woman was killed in the presence of her daughter for preventing some animals from sexually abusing her daughter, a good-looking B.Tech student.

In the eyes of the beasts, the pretty mother and daughter were found without a male companion as hapless Dalits. They were returning from shopping when the incident took place just opposite the statue of the Father of the Nation. Though the media has not revealed the background of the incident, circumstantial evidence leads us to the specifics that they were easy prey due to their social background.

Strangely, a section of the media was busy with the news of a missing film star, indicating blatant discrimination and frivolity. A Kati Padma Rao, President of Dalit Maha Sabha, informed us that he got the couple married in 1985 and the family is well educated as the fact that the two daughters were studying science and engineering courses demonstrates.

The incident in Tenali, Guntur, after a gap of around two decades in the neighbourhood of Chunduru amply shows that economic growth did not bring any social change, but led to further nasty feudal depths of despair. Now we have entered a different dimension of caste atrocity. This reminds us why Dr Ambedkar wanted annihilation of castes.

In his most famous speech prepared but not delivered at the Jat-Pat-Todak Mandal, Lahore, in 1936, he cited a press report of 4thJanuary 1928 about the conditions imposed by upper caste Hindus on Balais, a Dalit caste in 15 villages of Indore district. A Out of eight conditions, two related to women that they should not wear gold and silver and fancy gowns, etc, perhaps to keep them as their slaves. Is there any change in the mindset of people as far as women, particularly those of the lower caste is concerned?

Several studies indicate how the lower castes fought against the so-called upper caste/ Brahminical values. It is recorded that the lower caste Nadars and Ezhavas of Tamil Nadu and also in Travancore Presidencies resisted the inhuman condition that the womenfolk of the community were made not to wear any upper garments, to entertain the lust of the upper castes. The leaders of the Nadars and Ahvaz appealed to the British and defied the upper caste dictates by wearing upper jackets. This hurt the ego of the dominant castes leading to a caste battle during 1818-19. The Army was called in by the British to control the situation.

Of course, this revolt of the Ahvaz and Nadars made them unite under Narayana Guru and shifted their traditional occupation to other callings to emerge as one of the most upward mobile community in the post-Independence India. We just do not have instances of such revolt from lower castes or Dalits in Andhra? Does Sunila symbolise this? In this context, we may reflect on the notion of beauty and aesthetics in relation to the social composition of our society. It is strange that the younger generation with the so-called development-oriented mindset think about beauty and glow of women in terms of the standards offered by the Anglo-American or white skin cultures.

They consider under the influence of beauty market that all others like the dark-skinned African-Americans are slaves meant to serve the rest. Hindi channels (some Telugu too) have almost banned dark-complexioned people. There seem to be no change in the attitudes and values of people even in an era of globalisation. However, the local people with dark, brown, etc, skins have proved the indoctrinated upper castes wrong through their intelligence and charm, if opportunities are opened up to them.

In fact, Ram Manohar Lohia, in his article on "Beauty and Skin Colour" published in March 1960, narrated how the greatest woman of Indian mythology, Draupadi, was dark and charming. He narrated the beauty of fish- eyed Meenakshi of Madurai telling the rest of the world how her beauty bit more to the heart than the eye. A The grace of Tambaram Lalita, a Tamil beauty, seems to have attracted the attention of Lohia who lamented how the aesthetic judgment of the white-skinned Europeans dominated the world and distorted our aesthetic sensibilities.

In fact, there are historical records to evaluate the native Indian beauty and wisdom of the womenfolk. A I remember that I had an occasion to officially interact with the most beautiful woman in my life who was a dark person and could relate her to the Yakshini kept in the Patna museum (see Basham A L). The Yakhshini figure, a first century AD sculpture, was a chance discovery of a British officer who found it in a dhobhi ghat about a century ago and recovered it to Patna.

The woman I am referring to was also a Bihari and there are absolute resemblances with the living beauty to the Yakshinini of ancient India. It is appropriate to bring to focus that the native Indians or the so-called lower communities were more attractive than the aliens who came here and enslaved the locals resulting in destitution and physical devastation of people.

It is with the advent of democratic government and adequate food that the downtrodden are slowly recovering from the damage and restoring their original charm. You can see this happening to Chenchus of Kurnool.

It is not only in the physical elegance but even in the exposition of their knowledge and wisdom, the women belonging to this community are exemplary. Panabaka Lakshmi, M.P from Bapatla, Guntur, a postgraduate from Andhra University, has been a parliamentarian for two decades and has proved her calibre and competence as a Minister in the Central government. The Prime Minister has recognised her skills and efficiency in dealing with whatever subject assigned; she is now entrusted with two important portfolios.

This shows that women of the lower communities are as competent as anyone else if chances are given. This trend appears to be the crux of the problem. The upper caste crooks of Tenali seem to have a crush on the women and were waiting for an opportunity to pounce on them. A Interestingly, there is very little analysis by our intellectuals who were very critical about the increasing menace of Dalit lumpen elements when Chunduru occurred.

Is there any parallel in recent period where a mother lost her life defending the honour and chastity of her daughter? Is it not our responsibility to make Sunila's sacrifice a symbol of self-respect and esteem of the new generation of women we should be welcoming!

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