The Piano Man Jazz Club in New Delhi had planned to host an event on June 5th where a band called “Bhangi Jumping” was scheduled to perform. The word ‘bhangi’ is used as a casteist slur against Dalits to signify ‘unclean’ which many casteist Indians use to degrade Dalit community. This is a widely known casteist slur and is taken from the Bhangi “sweeper” caste group who are mocked with it day in and day out.
After Dalits’ protest on social media, The Piano Man Jazz Club cancelled the event and tendered an apology but harm was already done and shows casteist mindset of the people running The Piano Man Jazz Club.
Dhrubo Jyoti wrote a powerful post on the Facebook analysing the issue and apology issued by The Piano Man Jazz Club.
To the club and the musicians,
In the end, what is often left is exhaustion. But for once, let’s focus on you.
You will walk away from this more “woke” with people applauding you for being sensitive, cancelling an event and taking a stand. You will emerge thoughtful and willing to learn – maybe even garnering more fans for “understanding” an issue that is apparently alien to. Maybe more progressive people will flock to your club after this and pat you on the back for braving those “small-minded” people who dared to initiate a boycott call against this liberal bastion that has apparently changed people’s lives.
No one will ask you why it took you folks of your own caste to take Dalit folks seriously. No one will wonder what oppressive concoction of circumstances and society has ensured that you grow up with no contact with folks of other castes or familiarity with the kind of physical or emotional violence we eat and breathe every day. No one will point out how you refused to see anything beyond “name calling” by people frothing at the mouth because you had raked up a past (and present) we try to not return to in nightmares.
Caste works as pain and as an eraser – so no one will remember how you called us small-minded and aggressive because you were willing to “learn”.
The beauty of multiple clarifications is that caste works as memory, slowing chipping away at the agency of those below you. Caste works as pain and as an eraser – so no one will remember how you called us small-minded and aggressive because you were willing to “learn”. Caste works as a blot so you and your friends will chuckle a few evenings later at how those uncouth people who mouthed personal attacks, and how you really didn’t care about the boycott because you knew they had no money.
So you will thrive, despite the “gaps” in your understanding, and the “focusing on art” because that’s what caste it. You will not be forced to encounter it ever, just like the previous 20 something years of our lives. Maybe in an unguarded moment, you will chuckle and wonder how so many of us got onto social media or learnt enough English.
Your jazz will be appreciated, and your tales of survival and mental health will be heard far and wide, often by people of your very sub-caste who throng your establishment. You will get points for “engaging”. No one will wonder how you played jazz but were never in a position of “politics and casteism”. No one will ask what jazz is, if not politics, and how you came to jazz if not through pain.
Or how you play the memory of oppression and resistance if you have never encountered yourself in the mirror.
Your “honesty” is already winning accolades because to be caste-aware is apparently to say “Oh I didn’t know”, without seeing that your ignorance is what killed our foremothers, and made us slave in your house while you fiddled with your playstation. Or how you have discovered “freedom of speech” that extends only for your sub-caste but for us, our tongues is to be pulled out if we chant what is your reserve.
Maybe someday later, you will put this in your book of how you brought jazz to India and we shall be a footnote of disgust, like your forefathers wanted us to be. You won’t be asked to do a caste audit of your woke jazz performers – because both you and I know what it will be.
So, no. I’m not fooled by this. Ambedkar warned me.
Author – Dhrubo Jyoti