The Remarkable Kaushal Panwar
This is a Dalit success story; an interview with Dr. Kaushal Panwar. It should serve to show people the pathology of caste in Hinduism.

Quote:Born and brought up in one of the villages of Haryana, Dr Kaushal Panwar teaches Sanskrit at Delhi University. Her life is one of the most remarkable testimonies of human grit and determination towards achieving one’s goal despite insurmountable odds.

Kindly tell us about your family back ground.

I belong to Balmiki community in Rajour village from district Kaithal (Haryana). My father who died in 2001 was a landless labourer. I have two elder brothers. All my family members worked at jat landlord’s fields. I also used to work in the field along with my family and had also worked as manual labourer in road constructions.

My elder brother could not clear class Xth and joined Punjab police as a sepoy but due to some reasons he left the job. Today he is unemployed. I am the only one from my district Kaithal, from Balmiki community, who has reached to this level. Otherwise our community is still mostly engaged in scavenging and manual labour.

What has been your educational background?

I studied in my village school and completed my 10+2 from there itself. However for my graduation (B.A.), I had to take admission at college that was 60 Km away from my home. I had to travel daily to be able to attend the classes. Then I joined Kurukshetra University for my Masters and later Rohtak University for M.Phil.

However the turning point came when I got an opportunity to join Sanskrit department at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), New Delhi for my PhD. In 2009, I was awarded doctorate for my thesis on ‘Shudras in Dharam Shashtras’. Now I am an Assistant Professor and teach Sanskrit in of the colleges at Delhi University.


Now since you are settled how do you want to contribute more towards the empowerment of our community?

I am not able to contribute as much as I should but still I am trying my level best. Right now I am into writing and working on promoting Dalit literature among people so that they get to read it and get inspired to fight against caste exploitation. I am part of the group that organises small meetings, street theatre, seminars and tries to mobilise youth and students on the issue of caste in Haryana.

Like on 12th April we celebrated Jotiba Phule’s birthday by enacting a play on Guru Ravidas where we clearly showed that he was not merely a religious person but was a great revolutionary from our community. I am also aware of my responsibility being a teacher and we run a placement cell for our students.

What are your policy recommendations for higher authorities for the welfare of Dalit and Adivasi students?

Some policies are already there. But the problem is their faulty implementation. We can achieve so much if we are able to force the authorities to implement these in spirit. So I feel our students themselves have to reach to political arena where policies are framed and are implemented. There is definitely need of many more policies to promote Dalit and Adivasi girls’ education. Their representation in higher education is almost nil.

Many of our students who come from very humble background are sometimes not able to cope up with the campus environment. One of the major factors is the identity crisis. What you have to say on this?

I must say if there was any identity crisis with me I could never have reached to this level. I never hide my identity and was confident about it right from my school times. I did menial jobs at the homes of many of my class mates like cleaning animal dung etc and then I used to sit with them in the same class. They used to call me chuhri (slang for scavengers) in the school. In fact it was my father who never let me have any identity crisis. Since my childhood my father taught me not to worry on such issues as no work is big or small.

The same goes with all our students. They should feel proud that they have come from community of people who are the most hard working and their being in higher education is a great achievement not only for them but for the entire community.

What are your other suggestions for our Dalit and Adivasi students who want to pursue higher education?

What else I can say other than to work doubly hard! As a Dalit and Adivasi students we have to cross so many barriers - class, caste and for women students - gender too. Most of the ‘upper’ caste students have only to work hard for studies. But we have to work much harder to be able to excel in studies and simultaneously fight against social and economic handicaps due to our background.

Other students don’t have to prove anything to anyone but we have lot to prove not only for ourselves but also for the sake of our community.

I teach Sanskrit and being a Dalit woman I know that people are very judgemental and easily point a finger if I don’t teach properly. I have seen people whispering against me and I always answer them through my work. In a very short time my three books have been published and I am working on the fourth one. We must always move ahead and not let others drag us behind.

What are your suggestions for Dalit students groups like Insight?

I really thank Insight from my heart. This is really a very innovative initiative which will go long way to benefit our students. I know this group from my JNU days. My only suggestion for groups like Insight is to always ensure equal representation in terms of its reach.

Most of our students are from very humble background and lack information. They are also not much willing to come out. Insight has the responsibility to reach to such students. Then only we can say that Insight is a real role model for all of us.

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Aditya Manthramurthy
Web Administrator & Associate Editor
Nice to read about such success stories. Of course, such success stories do not directly make much of a dent in the treatment of the masses of Dalits in India. Sid posted an article recently that showed just what percentage of Delhi's manual scavengers are Dalit (working with absolutely no protective gear in the filthy sewers). I guess, however, that such success stories among Dalits can influence both the mindset of the Dalits (to get them to believe that things can change) and the mindset of the masses that keep them oppressed.
"Fossil rabbits in the Precambrian"
~ J.B.S.Haldane, on being asked to falsify evolution.

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