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Nation and civilisation

by Gail Omvedt

To hold that distinctions of caste are really distinctions of race and to treat different castes as though they were so many different races is a gross perversion of the facts. What affinity is there between the Brahman of the Punjab and the Brahman of Madras? What affinity is there between the Untouchable of Bengal and the Untouchable of Madras? The Brahman of the Punjab is racially the same stock as the Chamar of the Panjab, and the Brahman of Madras is the same race as the Pariah of Madras. Caste system does not demarcate racial division.''

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Liberty, Equality, Community

Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar's Vision Of A New Social Order

by Gail Omvedt

It is truly an honour to be given the opportunity to deliver the first Dr. Ambedkar memorial lecture of the new century and the new millennium. Though this is officially the 5th Dr. Ambedkar Memorial Annual Lecture for the Year 1999, it has been very fortunately postponed to the year 2000! Dr. Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar’s vision and life truly stands at the junction of the old and the new; coming from the depths of the society marked by hierarchies of inequality and involuted complexities of fixed exploitation to a leading role in the formation of a new order, symbolized by his role in the drafting of India’s Constitution, symbol of a new order, Ambedkar was indeed a man marking the beginning of an era, a man whose life and thought encompassed both analysis of, rage about and struggle against the old exploitation and the visions of the new society.

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An open letter to Bangaru Laxman

by Gail Omvedt

Dear Siri--Sami Bangaru Laxman,

I would like to congratulate you on becoming the president of the BJP. (I should also preface this by explaining why I address you as Siri: Shri is Sankskritised and north Indian; most Maharashtrian Dalits prefer Ayushaman. Tamils, on the other hand, prefer Thiru. You, I understand, are from Andhra and so may not mind if I address you by the term used by the Satavahanas in their inscriptions. They were the greatest rulers in India after Ashoka and may be considered both an Andhra and a Maharashtrian kingdom.

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The Y5K problem

Gail Omvedt

(Probably written before the year 2000)

"Millenniums'' ring few cultural bells for Indians, not when time is envisioned in aeons, 'kalpas', endlessly recurring and unimaginably immense cycles... And so, in a society just being touched by the marvels of the information age, the "Y2K" problem is seen in quite mundane terms.

IT'S official: a recent report by the U.S. Senate Committee on Year 2000 Technological Problems has described Y2K as "diabolical". The concern is over technical problems that will arise in 2000 when older computers whose programmes which register dates only with two digits are not able to distinguish "2000" from "1900" or any other turn of the century year.

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Women and PR

Gail Omvedt

PR, acronym for proportional representation, is new to the majority of Indian feminists - but one that deserves thinking about, now that another session of the Lok Sabha has ended without any significant change on the issue of quota for women. As an editorial in a Women's Studies network bulletin put out by the Tata Institute of Social Studies in Mumbai recently said, "The stalling of the Bill will not be able to reverse the process of women's heightened awareness... and their mobilisation... The time before the legislation is finalised is, therefore, precious time for reflection and deliberation".

It appears there have been some healthy aspects to the last "round" on the Women's Bill issue. Some aspects were depressingly familiar. Once again, in spite of assurances from government spokesmen, no action was taken. Once again angry women party leaders raised an uproar; Opposition leaders such as Ms. Sonia Gandhi accused the Government of "dragging its feet" and vowed their support for the cause. Once again there seems to be a stalemate, with the only declared opponents (under the leadership of the Yadavs of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar) saying they would not allow the Bill in its present form, while few of the established women leaders of the Congress or the Left appear ready to rethink their refusal to consider any alternative to what is, after all, a very badly written Bill.

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Women and political power

Gail Omvedt

THE DRIVE for women's political power had its beginnings in the rural areas. Even in 1975, when we had the first major feminist rally, a "Samyukta Stri-Mukti Sangarsh Parishad" in Pune, a group of rural women afterwards went back to their village and decided, with the help of some young male activists, to put up women for the village elections. Ten years later in 1985, women of Indoli village in Satara district in Maharashtra decided to organise an "all-woman" panel for the elections - a decision perhaps influenced by the ``liberationist'' atmosphere around them, but by no means thought of by the more widely known feminist activists they knew.

A similar attempt was made by women from a nomadic community in another Satara district village. Finally, a year later, in 1986, at the founding conference of the Shetkari Mahila Aghadi, women's front of the Shetkari Sanghatana, a resolution was passed to sponsor all women candidates for the upcoming Zilla Parishad elections - and to call on all progressive political parties to participate.

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