We and Him (Amruta GAiki)

We start off well. We don’t know him and he doesn’t know any of us. The year progresses and we descend into indifference. We tolerate him by not paying him enough attention. We are lowkey impressed when he tells us that some lower castes in Telangana have last names ending with -aiah. We know his name; we know his caste. We knew it to begin with, but we know it takes guts, to borrow Yashica Dutt’s term, to “come out” as Dalit, especially in the privileged world of Academia. In Western countries, “white male privilege” gains traction. And we? We have the “Hindutva/Brahminism” hegemony. But, back to the class.

We often forget he teaches us. To be fair, he’s not a good teacher. Both he and the subject have ceased to interest us. Dalit Literature, as translated to us English readers, is bleak and repetitive. Why should we care? Aren’t we Literature students? Is this even Literature, with its crudeness and utter lack of aesthetic beauty? We accept that Dalit Literature needs different aesthetic standards. But, what are those standards? And would exacting different standards on Dalits and their Literature help bridge the historical divide between the castes? What would bridge this gap? 

We yawn, look through our feeds, solve crosswords. Sometimes, we look up with good-natured forbearance. And he? He stands there, before us, knowing and accepting. He sees himself, through us, each and every day. He gives too many references to back his statements. Generations of ancestors submitting to authority have made him apologetic. He seeks authority even when he is the authority. The power equation is not straightforward. Though he’s our Professor, our ancestors were upper-caste; his weren’t. We know our lineage. He knows his. Our forefathers oppressed his forefathers. Brooms attached to the waist to purify the ground, vessels tied below the mouth to collect the spit, molten lead poured in ears, tongues chopped off; these and who knows how many more atrocities. 

We don’t respect him enough, and he knows it. Caste is far from being history. It has percolated into modern Indian society, and is pervasive enough to affect even the highest intellectual circles – the academia. Though reservations ensure that certain lower-caste communities will get teaching roles at Central universities, it is, in fact, this system that discriminates against them. Once they attain a position of authority, there are questions raised against their abilities and intellects. Sometimes, they are unable to match up to expectations, either. We know that he doesn’t have any substantial research published. We know that a quick Google search of his name turns up nothing. We also know that despite his apparent equal standing with our other Professors, his cultural and historical makeup sets him miles behind the rest. We know some of our Professors dismiss him as inferior. But he comes to class everyday, he stands like Ambedkar. We look at our phones and we do not care.    


Amruta Gaiki is an Indian graduate student studying English Literature. She enjoys observing, reading, and writing. She writes poetry, short fiction, and creative non-fiction. You can read her blog at: https://goingliterary.wordpress.com/

She has a poem named “Refuses to be Titled” published in Alien Buddha Zine’s November 2022 issue. She has upcoming work in Fleuri Magazine’s debut edition.
Twitter & Instagram: @flames_n_ice


image: MM Kaufman