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Smile Pinki, Pinki Sonkar

March 11, 2009

If you’ve recovered from your Post-Slumdog Stress Disorder, may I dare to write a short post about Smile Pinki, the short documentary that also won an Oscar and that is also set in India?

Here’s what: celebrity Pinky, now without the cleft and world-famous, is going to campaign in the Lok Sabha elections. For? Well, for something called the National Dalit Front, a group of Dalit parties trying to hurt the Mayawati-led Bahujan Samaj Party in Uttar Pradesh.

“We are going to unmask the anti-dalit face of Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati through Pinki,” said NDF general secretary Udit Raj

“Since Pinki is a dalit and is well aware of the problems faced by the community, we have decided to take her in our public meetings, where she will narrate her experiences of discrimination, which are prevalent in our society,” Raj said.

The NDF general secretary also alleged that unlike the Maharashtra government, which provided flats to child-actors, who featured in the Oscar winning film ‘Slumdog Millionaire’, Mayawati has failed to do anything substantial for Pinki.

“A flat in Mumbai is worth crores and that’s what the Maharashtra government has done for the child artists of Oscar winning Slumdog Millionaire. Mayawati is yet to do anything substantial,” said Raj. [PTI, Lucknow]

The story mentions Pinki’s full name – Pinki Sonkar. That rang a bell. In Lucknow’s snobbish school called La Martiniere College, I had a classmate called Sonkar. He had a first name but we all called him Sonkar. That he was not from a middle class background like the rest of us was aparent despite him wearing the same school uniform. It was apparent in his manners and speech. He had a mole on the face, and that was the ostensible reason why many called him a fisherman. That, all knew, was a reference to his caste occupation, which was actually vegetable seller. Behind his back they would say, “A relative of his still sells vegetables! Saala Khatik!”

Nobody ever felt this was about caste though, nobody ever wondered. Nobody knew whether this made him SC or ST or OBC or what those categories meant, and no, there was no untouchability. There was sneer, there was contempt. There was bullying. It left him irritated and irritable…

I look back now and wonder what it meant for a member of the caste of vegetable sellers, who are supposed to be subjected to untouchability, to be studying with us in a school founded by an eccentric Frenchman and today dominated by Lucknow’s trading class.

Most of all, I wonder what our dear fisherman Sonkar is doing today.

Smile Pinki Sonkar, smile. But do you know something? One of these days you will realise why your campaign could never fetch enough votes. That’s because you are Sonkar, a minority amongst Dalits. UP’s Dalit population is dominated by Jatavs (formerly ‘Chamars’). Same caste as Behenji Mayawati.

Not your fault, Pinki, but if you see the other Oscar winner, Slumdog Millionaire, you will realise it’s D for Destiny. It’s written.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. Aman permalink
    March 11, 2009 7:12 PM


  2. Sabih permalink
    March 12, 2009 12:44 AM

    Not that I take a stand different from yours on this issue (and I still need better understanding), but the details you emphasize in your recounting of school-days intrigues me. It brings questions to my mind about reading meaning into situations with a pre-given forumla, where the situation is actually far more complicated.
    Maybe you cast the narrative in too simple a mould, a story of outright discrimination and abjection.

    To begin with, not only was Sonkar called by his surname, but I recall even you being called by yours, another classmate being called ‘Murray’, and there was a ‘Rana’, a ‘Dhillon’, and a ‘Tulsi’ too.
    Further, his not fitting-in because of class inferiority is also not how I remember it. He was quite boastful of his CBZ bike, Lee Cooper shoes, and some branded jackets.
    Lastly, him being bullied around is also not accurate. He took pride in being those don-type figures in school, and others acknowledged it. ‘Bacquait’ is what it was referred to as, and there were quite a few of them around.
    There was even a hierarchy of boarders over day-scholars. Sonkar belonged to the former. So though there were jokes behind his back amongst day-scholars at times, none of them dared to utter anything of the sort before him. As for his friends in the hostel, I did witness a couple of aggressive exchanges when this had come up. He was called a ‘Chamaar’ in this one incident, at which I’d never seen him more furious, but vulnerable.
    Sure, you’re right about the fact that nobody understood what these categories meant, and that these categories were certainly set into everyone’s mind nevertheless about some kind of essentialist idea of social distinctions.
    But what about his putting up that fight? What about him making it to LaMartiniere and passing with grades better than many boarders, and then pursuing further education in the Hindu College, DU?
    That maybe he found his means to resist his being ‘cast(e)’ the way you do in this story is something I also want to read.

    I’m thinking that the specificities of the matter are not the point in my responding this way. That it’s not simply Sonkar here, but your narrating and recounting a Sonkar. I don’t know if his needs to be your story that ends with D for Dear Sonkar, for Despair and for Destiny.

  3. March 12, 2009 2:02 PM

    Dear Sabih,

    Many thanks for jogging my memories! Now that I remember this better, I think the bikes and shoes etc. were only a means of assertion of middle classness over the identity of caste he was taunted with. Class is not just in possessions; it’s a cultural thing. Ditto for his ‘bacquaiti’ – I like the way you spell it. This urban ‘bacquaiti’ seems to have some eimilarities with the rural ‘dabangai’ – which is the word that best describes the attitude with which dominant castes behave in their everyday relations with the oppressed castes of their area. So Sonkar appropriating the ‘bacquaiti’ is in my view as much a means of trying to fit in as much as the showing off of his CBZ bike.

    As far as I can remember, Sonkar was always, invariably, referred to by his last name, whereas the rest of us were variably called different names.

    The most interesting bit in your recollections is the ‘Chamar’ one; it reminds me of a Yadav classmate in my previous school, a bureaucrat’s son, who was also called ‘Chamar’. Paradoxically, the address of ‘Chamar’ is perhaps a tribute to the Jatav community’s phenomenal history of social reform, mobility and anti-caste assertion that is older than Mayawati, older than even Ambedkar.

    I am not interested in labelling Sonkar with any D. I think that your memory of him and mine is not really that conflicting. I think that discomfort about categories – Dalit/Bahujan/Harijan/SC/ST/OBC/upper caste/anything – is important. It is important because these categories are valuable only in so far as individuals belonging to them are trying to transcend them. The day/place Sonkar is not looked at through the prims of caste, we won’t need the categories.


  4. Sabih permalink
    March 12, 2009 7:02 PM

    My point exactly: That class assertion and Bacquaiti were means to push aside his caste identity. And that though others barely knew what those categories meant and what it meant to refer to someone by them, he sure did.

  5. kumarpushp permalink
    March 13, 2009 2:53 AM

    Dear Vij ,you must tell the indians that Udit Raj is also Sonkar, and Khatick are being used against the Muslims in UP and Delhi.there is proof in Kanpur and Lucknow.Sonkar are same as Mahar in Maharasthra but Indian national papers are hiding this facts from dalit masses. Mr Udit Raj is belong the khatic communities.If you want to give two finger to RSS AND vhp THEN YOU HAVE TO BRING kHATIC INTO AMBEDKAR FOLD.TIME HAS COME ,UDIT RAJ SHOULD ORGANISE THE KHATIC COMMUNITIES FIRST AND MAKE THEM BUDDHIST . IN MAHARASTHRA ,RSS AND OTHER HINDU MEDIAS ARE TELLING THE POOR CHAMAR THAT dR aMBEDKAR WAS MAHAR BUT ON OTHER HAND IN UP ,THE SAME PEOPLE ARE TELLING THE kHATIC THAT dR aMBEDKAR WAS CHAMAR.DALITS HAVE TO HAVE THEIR OWN MEDIAS TO BREAK THE BACK BONE OF HINDU TOILET PAPERS(iNDIAN NATIONAL NEWS PAPER.

  6. sarah permalink
    December 25, 2010 4:00 PM

    Dear Shivam:

    I wish Pinki Sonkar learns to make distinction between untouchables not as minority but as those who are caught in Hindu fold against those who struggled to get out of the Hindu fold. Here, I link you to one such Sonkar and his views and mind you he aint powerless like Pinki Sonakar, he is Dr Sonkar, former chairman of SC/ST commission. I suggest, you dont look at minority among the SC as weak, dominated and overpowered by dominants but rather unpack their exclusion through the prism of consenctization. You may want to look at Hindu religion as a culprit for the present scuffle among the SCs.

    For your Reference:

    Varanasi, December 13, 2003 – “In India Vedas, there is
    no mention whatsoever about castes. The abominable deed
    of dividing Hindus on the bases of castes must now be
    stopped,” said Dr the Chairman of National Scheduled
    Castes-Tribes Commission. He was speaking in a lecture
    arranged by Vishwa Samvad Kendra (Media Centre), here.
    He further stated that 25% of the Richas in Rigveda are
    written by learned women like Lopamudra, Aapaalaa, Gargi,
    Maitreyi etc., while the work of editing these Richas has
    been done by Maharshi Vyaas Muni a person from Shudra
    community. However, Manu in Manusmriti has stated in
    some shlokas that Women and Shudras should be kept away
    from study of Vedas. Similarly disagreement is found in
    some things said in Manu Smriti and Vedas or Manu himself
    was not aware of the part played in Vedas by women and
    the supposed Shudras ? Dr Sonkar raised this question.
    Here he discussed 57th Shloka in 2nd chapter in
    manusmriti and Shola 161.
    Dr Sonkar said that while understanding shlokas in any
    book, it is necessary for the students of those shlokas
    to take into consideration the tradition of the shlokas
    and its comprehensive and balanced view. In this
    connection, he gave the example of the killing of Shambuk
    mentioned in Ramayan. Shambuk was from a high class of
    Ambashtha. The Ambashtha class was a class of surgeons.
    Leaving his original profession Shambuk went to perform
    Yogasadhana in solitude. Hence, a number of patients
    died because of the lack of proper medical care and
    treatment. Hence, the Ministry of Shriram gave unitedly
    decided that Shambuk should be punished with death.
    Nobody could speak against this decision. Shambuk was
    punished with death because he went against his avowed
    The so-called Dalit leaders have strongly criticised the
    demand made by Dronacharya of the thumb of Eklavya. While
    discussing on this point, Dr Sonkar said that Dronacharya
    was getting salary from the state of Hastinapur.
    Therefore, he had refused to accept Eklavya as his
    disciple. But considering his devotion to him, he had
    also blessed him to become a superb Archer like Arjun.
    He further said that Arjun used to pull the string of his
    bow by left hand. As he was a left-handed, he became
    famous as Savyasachi -(who can use both hands equally).
    Eklavya drew the string with his right hand. But
    Dronacharya earnestly desired that Eklavya should be
    equally expert like Arjun and hence he asked his right
    thumb and this is clearly mentioned in Mahabharat.
    Besides, if Dronacharya had thought of (crippling
    Eklavya), he could have asked Eklavya his hand or he
    could have asked him to relinquish the art of archery.
    But he did not do so. In Mahabharat it is described that
    Eklavya had used his bow with left hand and had earned
    expertise in many wars equal to that of Arjun or even
    better than him.
    Dr Sonkar said that to remove the illusive and wrong
    feelings in the minds of the Dalit Hindus, he was
    producing a book titled “Dalit Hindu Ki Agnipariksha”
    (literally fire-test of Dalit Hindus). It will be
    published by the coming Gudhi Padva. This book will
    remove the many illusions and doubts about every
    dimension of the stand of Dalit class in Hindu Society.


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