#DalitLivesMatter with Prof. GS Meena

On 21st August, Ms Pratishtha Arora from the Social Media Matters, engaged in a Twitter Live session with Prof. Ganga Sahay Meena, an associate professor from Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi.

The conversation began with Ms Pratishtha introducing our esteemed guest, and apprised the viewers regarding the various prizes and awards that he has been honoured with over the past few years for his various academic achievements, and work on caste issues. She then proceeded to ask Mr Meena, about his journey into his study of caste. He spoke of his various inspirations and how coming to JNU exposed him to various kinds of literature, and how he understood the need to ask relevant questions regarding systemic discrimination on the basis of caste.

You can watch the complete live episode here:

He quotes Om Prakash Valmiki's autobiography "Jhoothan" in discussing the significant ways in which the development of caste consciousness occurs. As per the book, the first step was to obtain education and break free from the expected jobs which are associated with different castes. The second step was when one moves out of villages, and come to the city in search for better opportunities, where he says there is a definite decrease in the amount of caste discrimination.

Prof. Ganga Sahay Meena, talks about a relevant point wherein he says that like patriarchy is followed by men and women alike, similarly, caste discrimination is followed by all castes, due to centuries of conditioning.

A viewer raised a pertinent question is to "Who is a Dalit?". Prof. Ganga Sahay Meena, said that Dalit is a sociological term, used to refer to the group classified as "Scheduled Castes" in the Constitution of India.

He talks about how caste hierarchy is still prevalent in the villages of India. Inter-caste marriages are largely prohibited and discouraged, and in this light, he speaks of the atrocities towards Dalit women. In the cities, at the outset it seems that there is no caste hierarchy. However, this is not true. He discusses how in the matrimonial columns of newspapers, the concept of caste is paramount. He then speaks of how there is very little Dalit representation in various professional spheres, and says that this is because of the prevalence of caste discrimination, albeit in a hidden form. He discusses the notion of "cultural" and "social" capital, in addition to a financial capital, which aids in the upward mobility of people in society.

In terms of online spaces, he brings up how caste hierarchy is making its way on various social media platforms as well. He cites examples of various kinds of abusive terminology which targets Dalits, and how many times there is discrimination against Dalit accounts.

When asked about ways in which online spaces can be used to end caste based discrimination, he says that while there is no "one size fits all" approach, there are certain ways to work towards it. One is to encourage inter-caste marriage. He then discusses how there is a lot of resentment towards Dalits among upper caste Indians, due to reservation. He feels that this should be dealt with, by educating upper castes on how Dalits have not been given educational and financial opportunities for centuries and reservation is a way to emancipate them to some degree.

He raises a pertinent issue of how there has to be dialogue among various castes, socio-economic classes, and genders, to understand the presence of discrimination, and work towards a progressive society. He also speaks of how there is a serious dearth of discussion on gender issues, and caste issues in schools and colleges, which often results in perpetuation of discrimination in society.

In terms of the responsibility of social media platforms towards ensure caste equality, Prof. Ganga Sahay Meena speaks of how the advisory boards of these organizations must have adequate representation from across various socio-economic sections. This will ensure that more responsible decisions regarding caste and gender issues are taken.

In conclusion, Prof Meena speaks of using social media, to convey one's perspectives and ideas, in a respectful manner. This, he feels will definitely aid the process of social change, and provide a democratic space for exchange of ideas.
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