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Extract „Generalanzeiger“
31st May / 1st June 2014

By Isabella Bauer
Compensation for past injustice, protective measures in the present, self-assertion, forgiveness in societies, political healing processes – these are subjects Manickam Casmir (MC) Raj is interested in. This is why the 62-year-old Indian intellectual enjoys coming to Germany often: to see how the Germans have dealt with their Nazi past and to return to his homeland with these lessons in mind. “In my last life I must have been a German,” he says and laughs. For years MC Raj has been fond of Germany and the Germans – “I’m a fan,” he says, “I like the climate, I like the food, and I like the people. I come here often. Many of my Indian friends tease me and ask: ‘When are you coming back to India?’ ”

Calm and relaxed he sits there, his long, grey curls hanging down his shoulders. His strong face is framed by a well- trimmed, grey beard. He is wearing a loose shirt and a radiant blue wraparound skirt. His sparkling eyes gaze into the distance whenever he speaks about his background: “I’m from an invisible part of Indian society,” he says. MC Raj is a ‘Dalit’.

Although the caste system has long been banned in Indian society, the centuries- long discrimination still lives on in practice. In western society, the term ‘pariah’ is still used for people who live on the fringe of society, however in India this term is no longer used. ‘Dalit’ means ‘the broken one’; casteless people are regarded as ‘untouchables’. In the inhumane caste system, whatever they touch is considered to be contaminated. The ‘untouchables’ often do menial work under very bad conditions: they clear the garbage and faeces, dig graves and do the most demanding physical tasks as field labourers. They receive no wages. Y oung girls have to work as temple prostitutes – available for men belonging to higher castes. Dalits are excluded from public schooling; social advancement is almost impossible. They live in slums through which the sewage from the better-off residential districts flows.

The country’s elite is aware about these circumstances. Not even the peacemaker Mahatma Gandhi, who led the Indian Independence movement against the British, changed the Dalits’ situation.

It is convenient for all those who have power over others in society, to compel them to do the work nobody else wants to do. As a result of his political and social commitment, MC Raj and his wife regularly get death threats from fascist Hindu terror groups. These groups have close ties to the winner of the elections – the Hindu nationalist Narendra Modi. However Raj is not afraid: “I am ready to die for this cause.“ The most valuable thing in life, in his opinion? His eyes light up as he says: “Freedom. It means more to me than my own life.” MC Raj is one of the few people of his caste who could escape a miserable fate. ‘I was raised in a family which lived far below the poverty line. My parents were completely illiterate. But, as luck would have it, my father got a job at a leprosy station.” What initially seemed unattractive turned out to be the chance of young Raj’s life. The family moved to the hospital area and Raj became acquainted with some European nuns. He not only saw how they cared for others, but from them he also learned how to read and write, and improved his English, practised his writing skills and was introduced to music – he was able to discover his talents.

The Untouchable
Manickam Casmir (MC) Raj is a ‘Dalit’. Born as a man with no caste, his life would have been at the lowest end of the rigid social hierarchy. But he managed to escape from a life lacking opportunities. He is an intellectual with an extraordinary biography and fights for a new type of social togetherness. His research focuses on how Germany deals with its nationalist past as he wants to understand how healing processes change society.

The Dalits organized themselves and, for the first time, evaluated their situation through discussion. They asked themselves why people from other castes could oppress them. And they found the answer: The others are under greater pressure than we are. That is why they try to oppress us,” is the result of the analysis these extraordinary people – who can neither read nor write – did.
For MC Raj, the recognition of this fact was so pivotal and enriching that he wrote down his thoughts in a book called ‘The Dalit Psyche’: “In rebuilding the nation, it is not only important for the oppressed and underprivileged to have the same rights as others, but also the psyche of the majority society must be liberated and healed.” His key assumption is: It is necessary to heal both sides in order to put an end to discrimination.

He also thinks of recent German history in the same way: “I have noticed that a lot of Germans feel guilty about something for which they are not to blame. They have simply taken over something from the past,” is how he describes Germany’s coming to terms with the past. “They are shouldering something which is not theirs.” A question he puts to German society is: Why is it like that? He tries to find an answer to this question by visiting German [Holocaust] memorials and former concentration camps. In doing so, Raj hopes to gain insights into in healing process in Germany, India and other places in the world. In his latest publication – his 23rd book – it is his German friends whom he has seen agonising about the past, that have a special place in his heart. He has dedicated this book to them, he says.

Eventually
studied psychology, theology and sociology with the support of the nuns. This was not only a privilege but also a difficult challenge, since his fellow students found Dalits unacceptable in every way – they despised him. “I was full of anger and felt powerless,” he remembers. “But then, after my studies, I participated in a four-month training programme on human rights in Thailand. It helped me look at things that I had experienced from another perspective and I began to see things differently. It also helped me to become a positive person. From that time on, I knew that I would fight for my people and their rights.”
Together with his wife Joythi Raj, he founded an organisation called ‘Rural Education for Development Society’ (REDS) which aims at supporting the Dalits, especially in rural areas. In the years that followed, the couple set up numerous projects and contacted various sponsors in Europe. For many years, the ‘Andheri-Hilfe’ in Bonn, Germany, has been one of their partners. It supports projects aimed at strengthening the political rights of ‘untouchables’ in India. Cooperating with this aid organisation in Bonn has further reinforced MC Raj’ s relationship with Germany. Through his work for REDS, MC Raj came into direct contact with the aftermath of Germany’s recent past for the first time. At donor meetings, at which German representatives of development cooperation projects also participated, he experienced the effect of innuendos about the Hitler era on some Germans:

“I was sitting in a conference with donors. A few sarcastic remarks were passed about Hitler. Suddenly, a German colleague left the room. He could not take that kind of insult,” Raj points out. Yet, in India, the Germans are generally associated with Hitler. For most Indians, Germany was Hitler’s country.

How Germans could be hurt by references to the past – even though they had not been a part of it – was something Raj could not understand for a long time. It was a German friend who explained the unhappy state that the [post World War II] generation of children and grandchildren found themselves in: “My wife and I were once speaking about our forefathers with this friend. We, the Dalits, speak about our ancestors with admiration.

Our friend, however, said: How can I be proud of my forefathers? After all that happened in our country, after all the things our forefathers did to others. How can I be proud of that? And he broke into tears. That was very shocking for us.” MC Raj has devoted himself to the healing of his own nation. Inspired by the ideas of the German psychologist, Carl Georg Jung, he has developed a special methodology for working with Dalit communities: “In order to become a strong person, people need to concentrate fully on building up their strengths. Their weaknesses will then fade away with time,” he says when describing his main idea. He prefers not to promote Sigmund Freud’ s philosophy, in which weaknesses should be pointed out in order that they may be overcome. He sees in it the risk of weaknesses becoming internalised and this, in turn, could lead to social transgression. “This is why we started focusing on the strengths of a person and that led to the discovery of a thousand talents among the Dalits. In particular, we found that women were incredibly vibrant and strong,” is how he describes the process. “We suddenly discovered that our people were not as defenceless as we thought. We realised that they possessed strength, and that our leaders had not dared to trust in that. And that is how our movement started – based on the strength of our people.”

He also thinks of recent German history in the same way: “I have noticed that a lot of Germans feel guilty about something for which they are not to blame. They have simply taken over something from the past,” is how he describes Germany’s coming to terms with the past. “They are shouldering something which is not theirs.” A question he puts to German society is: Why is it like that? He tries to find an answer to this question by visiting German [Holocaust] memorials and former concentration camps. In doing so, Raj hopes to gain insights into in healing process in Germany, India and other places in the world. In his latest publication – his 23rd book – it is his German friends whom he has seen agonising about the past, that have a special place in his heart. He has dedicated this book to them, he says.