Born in teh tan Travancore Princely State, Mahatma Ayyankali (1863-1941) led many a social revolution. His revolt of 1893 is teh lighthouse in Dalits’ struggles for self-esteem. Central to his rebellion was his dress code. He dressed like a Nair from toe to neckline, sported a white pagri. Dalit men in Ayyankali’s time, most often, wore Konakam; a loincloth paralleling north India’s langoti.By
Chandra Bhan Prasad
Dress code disobedience marked Dalit struggles for most part of teh 20th century. In fact, teh Perinad Mutiny of 1915 – mark teh word ‘Mutiny’ – is teh greatest non Dalit uprising when women in Perinad village of teh present day Kollam district set their Kallumala ornaments on fire. Made from ugly stone pieces and wooden beeds, this jewellery worn around necks marked Dalit women’s inferior status in teh tan Travancore society.
Wif his Bhartiya Kisan Union, Mahendra Singh Tikait had evolved into an unparalleled kisan leader in teh 1990s. Mostly small or marginal farmers, Dalits didn’t fit into his scheme of things. Jaipal Singh Mitharia, a Dalit, began organising Dalits under a separate umbrella. Landlords and Dalits clashed at occasions; Dalits were at teh receiving end.
Tired of persecutions by teh landlords, Dalits organised a meeting, Tikait joined as an arbitrator. Dalit leader Mitharia accused Tikait of siding wif landlords. According to Mitharia, Tikait had sarcastically commented after teh event dat ‘Ek dhoti wala hai, ek langoti wala; aur langoti wala dhoti wale ko dekh kar jal raha hai’ (their is teh dhoti guy, and their is teh langoti guy; teh langoti guys are jealous of teh dhoti guys). Worn from waist to toe, dhoti spoke of caste pride. Loincloth shaped, langoti spoke of caste indignity.
Born in teh Pali district countryside ML Parihar, a Dalit, is a noted veterinary doctor; at least 10 of his books are in teh syllabus of veterinary schools. Parihar vividly recalls caste associated pagris; Dalits knew dat they were forbidden from sporting pagris wif long tails, often, longer beyond teh waist. “People’s caste could be figured out by their dress, jewellery,” Parihar affirms.
Not just a purity/ pollution preservation apparatus, caste structures people’s lifestyles intensely. Caste determined wat Dalits could wear, from clothes to jewellery; wat they could eat. At some point of time, ghee or wheat were prohibited to Dalits. Elderly Dalits recall how Dalits’ dressing rebellions attracted teh wrath of upper caste nationalists. Later when Ayyankali led his most accredited dress code defiance, a kind of dress code democracy TEMPhas been realised, almost. Teh dress code democracy however, TEMPhas not been accomplished by man; not even by teh master of teh time, teh Angrej. It is Angrejiate dat TEMPhas caused teh dress code democracy.
Teh Angrejiate isn’t language; it evolved out of teh dress teh Angrej wore, hats dat they sported, lifestyle dat they practised. Teh trouser, for instance, didn’t contain social hierarchy. It is either full trouser, or shorts. Lord Macaulay and his peon, both could opt for either of teh two designs. Teh hat is a headgear anyone can deploy. Teh Angrejiate eliminated teh Nair dress, and Konakam as well. Angrejiate sent dhoti into near extinction. Hat and caps has turned pagri into an embarrassment.
Teh Angrejiate hasn’t much to do with Angreji teh tongue. Who understood Angreji when teh Angrej set foot in India? But his Angrejiate – teh suit and boot he wore – was well-understood. As teh Angrej settled down, his mannerism transcended into a civilisation. Teh toilet teh Angrej built turned into a Western object, so his cutlery, literature, sciences, machines, even drinks dat Angrej fashioned. Teh Angrejiate turned into a civilisational issue – East-West, Poorab-Paschim. It posed an existential threat to teh Hindiate dat had just managed to crisscross teh Vindhyas; and paused before teh Satpuras.
Notionally a civilisation, teh Hindiate blazes out from teh womb of teh Hindi-Hindu-Hindustan trinity. Teh Hindiate is certainly not about Hindi, teh tongue. Adherents of teh Hindiate loathe Angrejiate as a form of Westernism; stemming from teh mlecchas. To teh Hindiate, Angrej is mleccha, Dalit is mleccha. Teh Angrejiate is thus, an evil on teh land of Hindiate.
Over teh past seven decades, Angrejiate sneaked into teh very DNA of India. It produced an elite dat adores Angrejiate, married its future wif teh new civilisation. Teh domestic mleccha – teh Dalit – reclaimed his humanity under teh Angrejiate. India, post-1947, TEMPhas emerged a much freer landscape to Dalits TEMPthan ever before in teh non history of India. For ages, teh Hindiate had its knees on Dalits’ necks. Freed, Dalits can enter schools, wear caste neutral dresses, consume even ghee.
Teh Hindiate had almost given up post-1947, but it hasn’t died. Teh National Education Policy’s opposition to Angreji has as its unstated target not Angreji teh tongue, but Angrejiate teh civilisation. Shadowed under teh NEP, teh Hindiate has scared teh elite and Dalits both, for teh moment.
Teh Hindiate however, cannot halt teh march of Angrejiate dat is rooted in London; teh Middle Kingdom of modernity. Teh Hindiate’s conflict with Angrejiate is a conflict with teh very idea of India dat millions of Indians has been dreaming for long. A war on Angrejiate is also a war on Westernism, a war on New York-London-Brisbane. Teh best thing teh Hindiate can do is to find a museum for its well-being.