Art by Vaishnavi Khadatare (@vesh00)
Environmentalism is NOT just about class. It is very much about caste, which unlike common Savarna (Upper-Caste) belief, is not gone. In order to work towards environmental justice, it is imperative to address caste and social justice by listening to those from Dalit, Bahujan, Adivasi (DBA) communities, supporting their efforts, rethinking one's own biases and privileges, and most importantly, reading and educating oneself. There are many DBA activists and social workers who are doing some amazing and important work. Please do take out a moment to support and read about their work:
Dalit Camera: An independent media organisations documenting caste atrocities on ground / raising awareness which was started by Dalit youth 10 years ago. https://www.dalitcamera.com/
Bakery Prasad / Siddesh Gautam: India's leading Ambedkarite artist that uses art to educate us about dalit, bahujan and adivasi history. https://www.instagram.com/bakeryprasad/
Dalit Desk: An independent journalist media platform documenting the unheard voice of Dalits across the country. https://www.instagram.com/dalitdesk/
Chamar Studio: A tale of crafts and stitchers from historically ostracized Dalit communities, that believes in circular economy and works with durable, recycled waste material. https://chamar.in
Blue Dawn: Sponsor therapy sessions for Bahujan Youth. https://thebluedawn.org/sponsor-sessions
Digital Nalanda: Nalanda Academy is an Educational Resource Centre for the marginalised, rural, non-English medium students. https://www.digitalnalanda.com/support-us
Samata Kala Manch: Support this Ambedkarite musical troupe that uses the Art of resistance to educate, agitate and organize! https://www.samatakalamanch.com/support
Deccan Development Society: Grassroots Organisation working in 75 villages with women's Sanghams in Sangareddy District of Telangana. The Society has a vision of consolidating these village groups into vibrant organs of primary local governance and federate them into a strong pressure lobby for women, the poor and dalits. http://www.ddsindia.com/www/default.asp
Dalit History: Your Everyday Dalit, Bahujan & Aadivasi History, Contexts, and Stories. https://www.instagram.com/dalit_history/
National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights: Coalition of Dalit human rights activists and academics with the aim of putting an end to caste-based discrimination. https://www.ncdhr.org.in/
Dalit Human Rights Defenders Network (DHRDNet): Collective of Dalit Human Rights Defenders that works on further synergising the Dalit movement. https://www.instagram.com/dhrdnet/
Round Table India: Working towards reshaping society in the light of the Ambedkarite ideals of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity. A news and information portal which aims to generate information and interaction necessary to aid the progress of the Dalits, and the Bahujan community at large. https://roundtableindia.co.in/
Before reading further, we strongly encourage you to read Annihilation of Caste if you haven't already (attached just below this). Educating oneself is the most basic step that someone, especially if they are privileged, upper-caste person, can take. Oppressive and violent structures like caste are a direct result of savarna actions and thoughts, and it's one's responsibility to understand, read, listen, not co-opt more space, learn to be uncomfortable, and move out of one's bubble. Being ignorant makes one equally as much of a perpetrator.
You can also go through some of the essential readings in these two folders compiled by Dalit-Bahujan activists:
If you prefer audio-visual mediums, please go through this curated playlist by Sriranjini Raman, which includes documentaries, audio books, interviews, talks, songs, and more related to caste. https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL_p5vLYh0EC6Xx5eStnxV-jH-Z3H16rqn
Introduction to Caste and Ecology
Dalit Environmentalism and relationship with ecology are very different from the popular climate change and environmental preservation narrative which is often heard today. Dalit Environmental Politics (DEP) is removed from Indian Environmental Politics (IEP) to a large extent, DEP being closer to the subaltern view.
As expressed by Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar, unlike the Gandhian romantic view of villages as potential ideal republics, Dalits often view the Hindu village as an embodiment of the social order. Ambedkar says, the village is the negation of the republic with no room for fraternity or equality - it is a republic of the touchables, an empire of touchable Hindus which leave untouchables outside the village republic. Although Ambedkar and other anti-caste thinkers and activists such as Periyar and Jotirao Phule are never mentioned in environmentalism, they address fundamental issues of human rights, access to resources and ecology.
Commons (common land, fishing areas, cremation cites, grazing land etc.) are sites of contestation in DEP. Equal common space should include the right to enter, use, access for everyone. While commons are attractive for IEP (since they are seen as collective, inclusive, and supportive), they tend to be null and void for Dalits as Dalits do not have access to them and often see commons as an embodiment of caste segregation, a reminder or pain and suffering. The Mahad Satyagraha to drink water from the Cavdar tank at Mahad, led by Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar, is seen as the foundational struggle of the Dalit movement, a movement for water – and for caste annihilation.
Water is an area of regular conflict. Water is deeply contentious on the basis of caste, gender, class. It acts as a source of power (who owns it, the pattern of water distribution, location of water sources etc.). Issues such as accepting water only from certain castes and not from others, long journeys to reach water, denial of clean water, and thirst are very dominant in Dalit narratives and autobiographies. Water has a social character. Additionally, the romantic notion of traditional water management further complicates the situation.
It is also imperative to mention the connection between caste and waste management and scavenging, for this is one of the main justifications and origins of the degrading, violent, and oppressive practice of untouchability which upper-castes practice. Even today, most of the waste management jobs are carried out by people from lower-castes or by migrants, creating huge health risks, social discrimination, inadequate living and sanitation facilities, hazardous work environments, mental health issues, and violent oppression.
The following list is a growing list, initially compiled by Dr. Umakant:
Envisioning Dalit Futures
in Kothari, Ashish and K. J. Joy. Alternative Futures: India Unshackled, 2017, AuthorsUpFront, New Delhi.
Abstract: Dalits have lived in the most inhuman conditions all through history. The colonial rule, that brought various opportunities to dalits, catalyzed the dalit movement. The latter, however, could cater only to a very small population and a large section of dalits in rural areas and urban slums still languishes for want of basic needs. The dalit movement has failed to recognize class consciousness, such that, the policy like reservations, has only benefitted better off sections of the subject caste. The essay argues for the need of multi-parametric empowerment viz. individual, socioeconomic, socio-political, and socio-cultural empowerment of the dalits. Central to this is the abolishment of caste and communal consciousness from the public spaces so that we can march towards a society based on the principles of liberty, equality, and fraternity.
Impact of Climate Change on Life and Livelihoods of Dalits: An exploratory study from disaster risk reduction lens
A collaborative study by National Dalit Watch of National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights & Society for Promotion of Wastelands Development
‘God of Humans’: Dina-Bhadri, Dalit Folktales and Environmental Movements
Mukul Sharma, South Asian History and Culture, Published Online: 28 December 2020
Abstract: Drawing on the folktale of two Musahar brothers, Dina and Bhadri, widely circulated in the Indo-Gangetic Plains of India and Nepal, the article sheds light on how folk traditions work within Dalit and other marginalized groups in South Asia. It particularly focuses on how folklore has become a way for Dalits to assert their environmental rights through their own motifs, everyday memories, and ecological ancestors. Based on extensive fieldwork in the North Indian River Plains, the article highlights this new phenomenon of ecological symbolism of Dalit folklore.
Dalit on Earth: River Titash, Malo Commons and Cultural Affirmation
Mukul Sharma, Man in India, Vol. 100, No. 3-4, 2020
Abstract: India’s ‘nature writing’ has traditionally encompassed ecology, geography and sacrality, but it has often bypassed Dalit eco-literary traditions. This article discusses the eco-literary, by focusing on Dalits and their relationship to the earth. It perceives the earth as an important locus of Dalit individuation, carving them as a free, working community, prior to the bearing of burdens of caste, and thus revealing irreducible instances of rights and claims.
Telling Otherwise: A Historical Anthropology of Tank Irrigation Technology in South India
Source: Technology and Culture, Vol. 49, No. 3, Water (Jul., 2008), pp. 652-674 Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press and the Society for the History of Technology
The Politics of Caste in India’s New Land Wars
Kenneth Bo Nielsen, Siddharth Sareen & Patrik Oskarsson (2020): The Politics of Caste in India’s New Land Wars, Journal of Contemporary Asia, DOI: 10.1080/00472336.2020.1728780 https://doi.org/10.1080/00472336.2020.1728780
Abstract: In this article we introduce the special issue through framing the debate on the role of caste in India’s current land wars. We draw attention to how caste consistently mediates land transfers in present day India by pre-empting, undermining, or fueling processes of social contestation, as well as the ways in which land claims in turn shape realigned or reimagined caste identities. Based on this, we make three main arguments. The first and most obvious one is that in contemporary conflicts over land, caste matters in evolving ways that deserve attention. Second, we argue that caste and land are recursively linked categories that are produced and reproduced in continuous interaction, even as multi-scalar political economies (re)shape them. And third, that different registers of caste are articulated by different social groups in more or less overt ways as they stake often competing claims to land.
Odor and Order: How Caste Is Inscribed in Space and Sensoria
Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East, Volume 37, Number 3, December 2017, pp. 470-490
Woh jangal hamara hai
Brahmanical Activism As Eco-Casteism: Reading The Life Narratives Of Bindeshwar Pathak, Sulabh International, And "Liberated" Dalits
Biography, Volume 40, Number 1, Winter 2017, pp. 199-221 (Article)
Regionalization and Localization of Economies: A Preliminary Sketch for an Ecological Imperative
Aseem Shrivastava and Elango Rangasamy
in Kothari, Ashish and K. J. Joy. Alternative Futures: India Unshackled, 2017, AuthorsUpFront, New Delhi.
Abstract: The corporate market economy has equated development with economic growth and that has led to a huge ecological damage and destruction of human communities. Globalization has resulted in the centralization of power with few nations and companies, who regulate the tightly networked business economy.
This essay argues for localization and regionalization of economies that are ecologically stable and renewable. It would mean clusters of twenty to thirty villages, at times with a town as a hub, which are collectively self-sufficient at least for basic needs. A panchayat academy could provide the institutional basis for building capacity for this. Such an economy will be a ‘Network Growth Economy’. The essay lists out strategies to achieve a new, decentralized, economic architecture, which will challenge the industrial and globalized economy. The essay gives the example of Kuthambakkam village in Thiruvallur district of Tamil Nadu, established by one of the authors, which anchored itself in the vision of Gram Swaraj. The village now enjoys adequate livelihood opportunities including for dalits, good roads, an effective drainage system, safe drinking water, and energy-efficient street lighting, in addition to having dignified housing for all. This village is an example of an attempt at creating a decentralized, ecologically stable, and renewable economy
In the Indian Sundarbans, the Sea Is Coming
Nicholas Muller, The Diplomat, May 01, 2020
Across the world’s largest delta, island communities bear the brunt of the climate crisis.
Caste, nature and their presence in a new India
Mukul Sharma, Indian Express, Opinion, April 19, 2020
The issue of Dalit participation in, and access to, natural resources is read more as an expression of social justice and human rights, which of course it is, but it needs to be centrally recognised by the environmental movement as well.
Enclosed by Caste Politics: Nature, Dalit and Indian
Environmentalism | Mukul Sharma | 2019
Why Dalits dislike environmentalists
Castes of Environment: Dalit & Green Politics
Dalit female farmers in India take on caste, the patriarchy and climate change
Namrata Kolachalam, Earth Journalism Network, February 15, 2019
Climate Justice in India: A Critical Overview
Pradnya Mangla, Round Table India, October 06, 2019
Overlooked Correlation Between Climate Change and Social Exclusion
Sumedha Pal, NewsClick, July 11, 2019
A police complaint by a Dalit woman has highlighted how the two perennial problems of water shortage and social discrimination combine to torment the rural poor.
Climate Change and Social Inequality
S Nazrul Islam and John Winkel, DESA Working Paper No. 152, October 2017
The diversity of gendered adaptation strategies to climate change of Indian farmers: A feminist intersectional approach
Ravera F, Martin- Lopez B, Pascual U and Drucker A in Ambio, December 2016
The Hidden Casteism of Climate Change Reporting in India
Pranav Prakash, The Print, Opinion, October 27, 2016
Climate justice for Dalit women in a caste rooted society
The Social Dimensions of Climate Change