Dr. P. Dayanandan, in his own words:
I retired as a professor and chairman of botany after teaching for 38 years. I have a Ph.D. from University of Michigan. I also post doctored for NASA. I have carried out many funded scientific projects and 10 Ph.D. scholars have studied with me. My interests range from all aspects of botany to Pallava art history, Tamil literature, Dalit issues, education, space biology and spending time with young people to explore social consequences of oppression and empowering them to pursue studies in India and abroad.
Ten years ago I helped organize a student and youth group called ‘THUDI’ involved in educating, agitating and organizing.
Adi Dravidar, Paraiyar (including Sambavar), Pallar, Arunthathiyar and Chakilyar constitute about 90% of the Dalits by number. They therefore dominate any discourse. In terms of numbers any Dalit Writing by these groups can be seen as representative of almost all Dalits. But that is dangerously deceptive. In terms of number of communities they represent only 7% of the Dalit people of Tamil Nadu. A mere 5 communities cannot adequately express the lived experience or literature of 71 other communities. If we have the will, I am sure we’ll have the resources to ‘totally liberate’ and change the lives of many of these small communities overnight, in consultation with them, and as they wish!
This is the Dilemma of being a Dalit! This dilemma of each dominant Dalit community seeking its identity, a glorious past and present preoccupation with itself is a characteristic of their oppressed position. Oppression gives multiple identities, none satisfactory to their self dignity and all very pleasing to the patronizing upper castes. Others may find a hundred terms that they think fit me, but try as hard I can, I will never find a satisfactory term to describe myself. Is there a way out of this quagmire?
I feel that Dalits should be leaders in telling their children and the world a grand story that can make all people transcend the desire to tell petty stories. Such a metanarrative is now available! Evolution, that grand unification of all life is certainly one of the greatest stories ever told by science. Modern evolutionary biologists and paleoanthropologists are now providing us with a larger, inspiring story of human origins, migrations and colonization that should be told to all people for a better comprehension of our place in nature.
The essentials of this story are:
The original home of all of us is Africa. The 7 billion people who are now living, and an estimated 108 billion people who have died within the past 50,000 years, all originated in Africa. It appears that all humans may in fact be the children of one lucky woman – the African or Mitochondria Eve. A small group of our ancestors left the African continent some 70 or 80 thousand years ago. The genetic diversity now found in all non-African countries is a legacy of this early group of Homo sapiens who left Africa. After 2,000 generations the descendants have multiplied to more than 5 billion people now living in non-African countries alone. Human beings, all 7 billion now living and the billions more that will be added, are remarkably like each other with 99.9% genetic similarity. A mere 0.1% difference is responsible for the diversity we observe. We are not a highly variable species. All the skin color variations of humans appeared only during the last 60,000 years. Africa is genetically the most diverse continent in the world, which is a reflection of nearly 200,000 years of accumulation of mutations. While no other continent can match this diversity, India appears to be the second richest country in genetic diversity. India was a major route of migration for people moving out of Africa into Asia and Australia, and was colonized when the first wave of migration occurred. There had been many subsequent waves of migration into and out of India, resulting in exogamy and intermixture. A typical Indian has been described as a ‘migrant par excellence’! The diversity of India became the basis for a process of stratification of the society that is responsible for the existence of 4,693 major communities and more than 50,000 small endogamous groups, including more than 1000 Dalit communities.
We will continue to explore the past historical events and ideological forces that segregated and oppressed people. We must continue to write both for creating literature and for expressing solidarity with the oppressed and marginalized and promoting activism. At the same time we need to take advantage of this metanarrative which has the potential to counter religious and other ideologies that thrive on dogma and prejudice and divide people. Science offers a story that encompasses all people across the world, and a story that can exclude ideologies and wishful statements. Scientists are unraveling the details of this human saga, everyday. Like many millions of Indians, I carry a mitochondrial mutation which first occurred in my maternal ancestor 50,000 years ago when she had just left Africa and was traveling in the Middle East. I tested my Y-chromosome and found that I carry a mutation that first occurred 30,000 years ago somewhere in the Middle East. Recently I connected with a person in Pakistan who tested and found that he carries the same mutation. My family is everywhere, and my ancestral roots are in Africa. There is nothing in this world that makes me a Dalit except the sick and prejudiced mindsets of some people who prefer to be less than human. Poet Inquilab would happily sing: Manushangada Naanga Manushangada!