Monday, January 20, 2014

Caste rules, whether you see it or not

Power is not a difficult or an unusual concept to be understood. Power as domination, is generally understood to be recognizable. It is a lived experience for all of us, whether in the form of exercising it or experiencing it. However, it is argued that while power is a lived experience, it cannot always be seen. It is not always recognisable as there are some forms of power which we internalise and normalise, making it a social fact, which let alone resist, we cannot even recognise.

Sadly, this seems to be the case for caste in modern urban India.  A generally-held view among young, upper-caste urbanites is that caste is a problem of rural India. While a general survey would suffice to prove my point, the voices against caste-based reservations definitely shows this. Going by the slogans and opinions of the anti-caste-based reservation, it seems that most are unaware of the very logic behind reservation. They see it as a privilege being extended to some because they were discriminated centuries back. They see the reservation as "discriminating" the general category. It is viewed as "anti-progressive". Infact, reservation has almost become a joke for many. Recently, Aam Aadmi party had proposed reservation for Delhi students in Delhi University. Reservation is being seen as a privilege, rather than as an opportunity for the deprived. It is sad to see these views but the truth is that, this is the popular view of most of the upper-class urbanites.

It is sad but not shocking that the rationale behind caste-based reservation is not understood because this again comes from the dominating section who had not only dominated but is still dominating. The caste-based domination is not an evil of yesterday, it is going on. It is the reality of today that still there is a discrimination against students of backward castes in schools. The report of a mainstream and popular Newspaper, Times of India, dated 25 June 2009 talked about the discrimination faced by backward caste students across India. In the report titled "Dalit kids cannot use school loo but have to clean them", it is stated how not only the students but the teachers also indulge in caste-based discrimination. They are made to sit on the floor, punished unnecessarily, forced to clean the classrooms, the toilets, and are refrained from attending several school programmes. Similarly The Hindu, had released its report titled "In Perali village, Dalits can't cycle in upper caste areas" in this very century. These are not the discriminations of the past, but the realities of today. Upper-caste men raping dalit women is almost a norm in villages even today.

As about caste being a problem only of the rural India, these upper-caste, educated urbanites should ask the caste of the people who come to collect garbage from their house or clean the mess on the roads, in their schools/colleges and workplaces. According to The report 'Upper castes pose problem for sanitation in BMC' published in The Hindu dated 27 July 2009,  while the upper-caste would be appointed, they would not clean roads and drains because they felt that it the work of the lower-castes. The class of sweepers is still largely dominated by the people of underprivileged or backward castes. This is not all. It is wrong to think that discrimination happens only in villages. According to the report titled "Suicide by Dalit students in 4 years" published in The Hindu dated 5 September 2011, 18 students in some premiere educational institutions had committed suicide in four years because of traumatic experience of caste-based discrimination. One of the victims, a Dalit student in AIIMS was taunted by both the faculty and class mates:

“How could Chamars become doctors? You have come here only because of quota, you cannot go ahead”

This was not a one of its kind report. There are hundreds of such reports and thousands of unreported stories. How many of the 'progressive, educated' upper-caste youths do even realise that their abuses are also caste-based? The abusive words "bhangi", "chamar", "chuda" are names of some underprivileged castes. Caste is not just limited to the rural. It is very much present in the urban areas. Another way to 'see' it is in the institution of marriage. Even today, inter-caste marriages are a problem. Contrary to the view, honor killing and the 'milder' forms of abuse and discrimination are not limited to rural areas.

It has been argued that class, not caste, should be given reservation. Do the urban, educated, upper-caste youth realise that a large section of the poor comprise of the under-privileged or backward castes? Caste is not such a social identity. It is tied to political and economic identity as well. They need opportunities to come up. Reservation based on caste will ensure them economic liberation and may also lead to their social liberation. When they will get opportunities to prove themselves, to break this myth that they are good only for 'menial' tasks, they will be able to provoke a change in thinking.

I would like to conclude by arguing that caste is still a reality of the today, whether the urban, upper-caste people can 'see' it or not. The reason why the urban, upper-caste youth cannot see it is not because it does not exist, but because they are not affected by it. Ask a Dalit, what caste is. As about this constant debate of going 'beyond caste', as Social Scientist Surinder Jodka had rightly pointed out, the beyond framework seems to be a conspiracy of the upper-caste. We cannot go beyond the caste because caste still exists and determines the life of a large section of population". 

This article was published on Countercurrents

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