Saturday September 21, 2019
Home Indian Diaspora “Ants A...

“Ants Among Elephants” by Indian-Origin Author Sujatha Gidla is Creating Waves in the US

Interview with Sujatha Gidla, who recently wrote a memoir capturing the life of Dalit community in India

0
//
Dalit Women protesting against exploitation
Dalit Women protesting against exploitation. Wikimedia
  • Many instances of discrimination and humiliation that she and her family were customarily subjected to
  • This Independence was not real independence, it was only transfer of power
  • Caste-based discrimination is uniquely cruel

New York, USA, August 27, 2017:  The nation has just celebrated Independence Day with great pomp and fervor but does this special occasion evoke similar sentiments among the Dalits living in the country? No, contends an Indian-origin author Sujatha Gidla, who was born an “untouchable” and is now creating waves in US literary circles with a provocative memoir capturing the life of her community in India.

Until recently, Sujatha Gidla was just another New Yorker, working as a conductor on the City Subway. But her recent memoir, “Ants among Elephants: : An Untouchable Family and the Making of Modern India”, which not only details her memories of growing up as a Dalit woman in India but also lists the many instances of “discrimination and humiliation” that she and her family were customarily subjected to, has thrust her into the limelight.

On how she responds to special occasions like Independence Day, the author said that, as children, they would admire iconic figures like Gandhi and Nehru, and celebrate the day but things changed gradually as they become more aware.

ALSO READ: Religious minorities, Dalits face discrimination in India: A report by US Commission on International Religious Freedom

“When I joined the RSU (Radical Students Union) we were told that (this) Independence was not real independence, that it was only transfer of power. And now we don’t feel anything because we are not made to feel that we are Indians like other Indians.

“It is the same thing in the universities where I studied. I don’t have that pride of my alma mater because we were not treated as equals. None of us have that pride, not even my mother,” Gidla told IANS in an email interview from New York.

The author further quipped that, by and large, “this is not independence” for members of her community.

“There have been many types of discrimination in various parts of the world. As far as I know, caste discrimination is uniquely cruel. There is racism in America, but I will never compare it with caste and rather say that caste is much worse.

“I will also say this: Blacks here are murdered, they have been lynched. But I have never read about another place where untouchables are fed excreta, made to drink urine and paraded naked. Even under slavery, the slave owners took care to feed their slaves in order to keep them fit to work. Untouchables in India never even had that,” Gidla said.

Sujatha Gidla reiterated that untouchability is neither a religious nor a cultural problem. It is rather a social problem and that there has to be “some sort of fundamental change”; otherwise the Dalits will “continue to suffer”.

Elaborating on the “suffering” that she repeatedly mentions in the book, Gidla said most Dalits in India, particularly those trying to fight against the caste system, live under constant duress due to verbal attacks and the threat of physical violence.

“Our neighbors in India have been actively trying to kick my mom out of her apartment. Her (upper) caste colleagues hate the fact that her daughter wrote a successful book.”

“That is the irony; we cannot even celebrate the publication of the book because we are afraid that it will make people around us unhappy. Even fellow untouchables are not posting it on social media for fear of being exposed to their colleagues and (upper) caste friends as untouchables,” she elaborated.

Also Read: Dr. Kallol Guha: Anglophonic Education will not uplift Dalits

Gidla’s grandparents converted to Christianity at the onset of the 20th century and were educated at Canadian missionary schools. She too, with the help of Canadian missionaries, studied physics at the Regional Engineering College in Warangal, in what is Telangana today. She was also a researcher in applied physics at IIT-Madras.

Gidla initially worked as a developer in software design, then moved to banking but lost her job in 2009 during the economic crisis. Finally, she took up the job of a conductor at the New York Subway.

This book, Gidla said, initially began as an investigation into the caste system but finally took the shape of a memoir as her family members also enriched its pages with their personal experiences and reflections.

So what would bring “freedom” in the true sense to Gidla and her family, as also to over 300 million Dalits in India?

“True freedom is equal access to everything in society -education, jobs, etc. When that is achieved, the prejudices will begin to disappear, but only gradually, not instantaneously. Without having equal access to economic betterment all these words about caste being an evil practice or we should treat untouchables with respect are meaningless,” she maintained.

The book has been published in the US by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, an imprint of Macmillan publishers, and is yet to hit the Indian market. (IANS)

 

Next Story

Surfeit of Choices and Too Many Alternate Options of Engagement Gradually Eating into Time Spent before Box

Broadcast TV now faces a media landscape which its once prime position is being threatened

0
Time, Box, Indians
A surfeit of choices and too many alternate options of engagement are gradually eating into the time spent before the box. Pixabay

A surfeit of choices and too many alternate options of engagement are gradually eating into the time spent before the box. Although Indians still spend nearly four hours a day watching TV, the shift to alternate screens is happening fast. Broadcast TV now faces a media landscape which its once prime position is being threatened. A shift in socio-cultural preferences is igniting this change in viewing habits. Cord cutting, as the phenomenon of actually giving up your Cable or Satellite connection which is quite apparent in markets like the US, is now slowly making an entry into Indian homes. I know many people who now access all their news and entertainment via Internet and on demand is becoming more dynamic and democratic than ever before. As broadcasters, we can propagate programmes online and on demand, and if we can catch the viewers attention, they will be discussed and recommended by thousands of people on social networks in real time, becoming instantly accessible by new viewers.

Globally, there is a trend where many large telecom firms like AT&T, Comcast, Singtel, Airtel and Jio are acquiring media (and entertainment) companies — and tech companies like Apple, Amazon, Google, Facebook, Netflix, Sony (they acquired Columbia three decades ago) are diversifying into content. A handful of entertainment giants like Disney, Bertelsmann, Discovery and Viacom are still in the race of eyeballs. Of course, there are hundreds of local and regional players around the world and some of them like Times Group in India are of a significant size. Besides, several OTT platforms/services are still out there pretty much panning the proverbial gold. Where do simple vanilla broadcasters fit in the everchanging world of tomorrow, specially in India with its diverse audience of a billion plus is consuming more inexpensive data i.e. information and entertainment than even highly developed markets like US Europe.

Three billion viewers all over the globe are not going to junk their TV connections in a hurry but within the next four or five years, half of them will switch to streaming on demand services. Unfortunately, technology and regulators worldwide are adding to the woes of conventional TV networks. Long-form entertainment is still very much in broadcasters’ domain. The real threat is the changing lifestyle and habits of today’s generation. Increasingly, we are seeing the success of made for streaming films, dramas and documentaries etc are stealing audiences. With larger budgets, courtesy deeper pockets even the talent is attracted towards the tech turned media conglomerates and OTTs . There is not only a shift in consumers but purveyors of media and entertainment away from linear TV. Gaming and short form content is another magnet pulling millions apart from the box. Multiple media across multiple devices is the new normal. From archetypical family viewing home entertainment is getting individual, interactive and instant. Streaming audio/video and personalised TV with a smorgasbord of different formats both genres and duration is the way forward for sure.

Time, Box, Indians
Although Indians still spend nearly four hours a day watching TV, the shift to alternate screens is happening fast. Pixabay

Content, a term used for anything from a tweet to a thesis, news to exposes, a song to a music channel, a short video clip to a library of films is hardly a differentiator in most cases. Even exclusive coverage major sporting events, political upheavals, wars, disasters or triumphs of the human spirit can get you only fleeting audience. Nothing is sticky anymore. Regurgitating of the same story in different formats is hardly compelling. One reason that broadcasters will lose this battle is their inability to innovate their programming. A cookie cutter approach where formatted shows are universally produced and screened are now reaching a fatigue level. Every successful show or programme is replicated. More of the same works to a large extent and it has in case of television but now it’s coming to the end of the course. After a point familiarity breeds contempt.

Also Read- Apple Needs to Sell More Devices and Create More Desi Content to Bring More People into Its Ecosystem

In fact, so far OTTs have had successes which had either a different look and feel than existing broadcast shows or went into darker areas. However, programmers and creators must be wary of falling in a similar trap as their predecessor. If everyone is going to rely on a similar matrix, albeit in a broader spectrum of genres, only the best will survive. I believe that the present average of 4 hours a day of tele viewing is about the optimum to sustain. Unlike appointment TV which has a fixed point chart and hence limited programming options online watching streamed or stored has virtually no limitations of choice. The next enhancement for consumer will be virtual reality and immersive TV and customisation. The coming five years is festival time for Indians as we will be offered a large array of content by different platforms. Creative fraternity needs to understand the new fragmented and attention deficit audience. It’s broadcasters who have to begin thinking of a strategy for the next decade or face extinction. (IANS)