Monday December 10, 2018
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
Republish
Reprint
  • 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)

 

Click here for reuse options!
Copyright 2017 NewsGram

Next Story

Narendra Modi Considers Indians in Argentina as Bridge Between Two Nations

Narendra Modi is slated to meet Chinese President Xi Jinping and US President Donald Trump on the sidelines of the G20 summit

0
India, elections
Indians in Argentina bridge between two nations: Modi. Wikimedia Commons

Prime Minister Narendra Modi who arrived here to participate in the G20 Summit, sought the help of the Indians in Argentina in strengthening bilateral ties and taking it to a new level by playing the role of a “bridge”, an official statement said on Friday.

Narendra Modi made the remarks on Thursday evening while attending a “Yoga for Peace” event.

The Prime Minister said that there were unlimited possibilities of mutual cooperation between the two countries and “we can avail the benefits of our capabilities in the field of business, pharma, oil, gas, IT and space”.

“The cooperation between the two countries has an ability to create a golden future in sectors of water, land and space. You are all India’s messengers. Your contribution is a bridge which connects both the countries,” Modi said in the event.

Modi said that practices like yoga can further enhance the relationship between the two countries.

“The meaning of Yoga is to unite. Yoga connects us with ‘wellness and happiness’. It led to overcome thousands of kilometres distance between India and Argentina and has been uniting the people of both the countries.”

He invited Indians residing in Argentina and their friends to visit India and understand the country in a vast way.

Narendra Modi App
Prime Minister Narendra Modi (FILE PHOTO)

“All the Indians living in Argentina should come to India with their friends (and participate) in ‘Pravasi Bharatiya Divas’ programme to be organised in Kashi in January 2019. As the Ardh Kumbh will be going on at the same time in Prayagraj, you can observe the Indian culture, the face of a changing India and also a New India on these occasions.”

In the event, Modi said that issues such as global economy, sustainable development, climate change and economic fugitives, which are of interest to the entire global community will come up for discussion at the two-day summit that will begin on Saturday.

The event featured a mass yoga demonstration by 600 people, a song by famous Argentine singer Patricia Sosa, chanting of “Om Namah Shivaya” and a short Indian classical dance performance.

Congratulating “The Art of Living” for organising this event, the Prime Minister said that yoga improves the health of both the mind and body.

Also Read- Filmmaker Karan Johar Launches New Digital Division

Modi also spoke of Argentina’s interest in Indian philosophy, art, music, and dance; and the immense popularity of Argentine football stars, such as Diego Maradona, in India.

The Prime Minister congratulated the Argentine hockey team for winning their first match during the Hockey World Cup held in Odisha.

Narendra Modi is slated to meet Chinese President Xi Jinping and US President Donald Trump on the sidelines of the G20 summit. (IANS)