In addition to many events in Turkey to commemorate the first anniversary of the assassination of Armenian-Turkish journalist Hrant Dink, world famous Indian feminist Arundhati Roy and author of “The God of Small Things” will honor Dink’s memory with a talk on freedom of expression:

Bogazici University
Department of History
Department of Political Science and International Relations


2008 Hrant Dink Memorial Lecture


Freedom of Expression and Human Rights

Arundhati Roy
Listening to Grasshoppers

January 18, 2008, 15:00, Albert Long Hall (BTS), South Campus

The talk will be presented in English

Last year I read Roy’s famous book, The God of Small Things. Here is some parts of a short reflection that I wrote for a class on Roy’s book:

The story of India’s Dalits – the outgroup “untouchables” – and their fight against the discrimination against them, the delegitimization and dehumanization they face on a daily basis.

Women’s choice of their loved ones in the novel show societal norms and prejudices. While it is “ok” (and actually an honor) for one of the heroes of the book, Rahel, to marry an American man, Ammu is not supposed to meet with Veluha – a Dalit -because it is “wrong” to touch the untouchables. I remember learning about Dalits first time. It was last year in a South Asian politics course and I was totally shocked. I thought slavery as dehumanization was the highest level of continues societal oppression against a collectivity, but I came to realize the horrors of injustice in India. I remember reading an article from India’s Frontline newspaper a few months ago about an “occupation” legally banned in India – “manual scavenging.” The article brought example of specific “professionals” in the field and described their humiliating way of life. One Dalit woman even simply married a man in a busy neighborhood just because “manual scavenging” would be more needed in the area. In just one Indian suburb, about 100 families were in that “business.” I really had trouble understanding and visualizing what “manual scavenging” meant. Then I remember the article explaining “it” in these exact words: “people lifting human excreta with their hands and carrying the load on their heads, hips or shoulders. If they are lucky, they get to use a wagon.” I had some trouble understanding the article at first. The above description was technically not difficult to understand, but certainly difficult to imagine. No wonder the phrase “untouchables.” My conscience was fundamentally shocked after reading that article. And the most saddening aspect of the “job” was that it was a “family business,” that children were born into it and there was little chance for an escape.

The identity of Dalits has interested me more when I started researching India’s Christian communities. Apparently, many of India’s “new” Christians are Dalits who convert to Jesus’ faith to escape the Dalit identity, because there is no way for them to escape it as Hindus during their lifetimes. I recall reading about mass conversions to Christianity and Buddhism when entire villagers would travel miles just to change their religion. Islam used to be the alternative of escaping the Dalit identity, but after the partition Muslim became the enemy and a Dalit would rather remain an untouchable Hindu than a Muslim in India. This shows the degree of desperateness of these children of God, as Gandhi called them. There is no acculturation and integration for them, but a mere possibility – if any – for assimilation to escape their identity.

Children of God? It reminds me of something – The God of Small Things. Could the “small things” be the Dalits who had been marginalized for hundreds of years? I am not positive that the author was making direct reference to Gandhi’s phrase, but I think she may have found inspiration in India’s founder’s words. I also find inspiration in Gandhi’s words, as much as I see hope, resistance and fight in a few simple words – the God of Small Things.

I think the title shows the extent of power that an ordinary person can have in changing the world (note the connection to Hrant Dink). By dating a Dalit, Ammu was challenging the unjust system that is so rooted in India’s society. And what Ammu was doing was a “small thing,” but it was an individual resistance against the dehumanization of millions of innocent people. And God, I think, was the divine approval for the righteous act of Ammu’s “small thing;” the message that small people can make difference with small things and that the “untouchables” are not going to become “touchables” overnight without fight, challenge and resistance.