Privilege, Equality and Caste

You cannot help but to upset people when you write about Caste. The reactions to my post on Rajdeep are really interesting and just a reminder that we need to constantly engage ourselves into this debate instead of not talk about it at all calling caste a passé, because it isn’t. This post was initially intended to address the twitter conversation I had with Nilay but now after having received more and diverse opinions on my post, will address some others too. The conversation between me and Nilay started after him tweeting this.

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To which I replied as above. I also asked him if his understanding of privileges was this shallow, I am not interested in carrying this dialogue any further and would rest my case. At this point, the debate suddenly turned into a You vs Me battle which I didn’t see coming. Did he get better education? I don’t know which school/college he went to so no comments there. Can I not buy land in Goa? Of course yes I can but from whom? Who is the majority land owning community in Goa? Temples (and hence Mahajans (Guardians) of temples, who coincidentally happen to GSBs). Are you denied entry to temple? It’s my choice that I’ve almost stopped visiting temples unless I’m with some friends or guests. But I’m allowed entry till a certain point where I can put in money into donor box, pray and leave. Entry to sanctum sanctorum is still denied to castes other than GSBs. But the point isn’t what privileges I’m allowed. Opinions about a big problem like caste cannot be held on such binary of “Me vs You” debates. Nilay further tweeted following tweets


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To be very frank, I was not at all offended by the “People like you” reference in his tweet but it’s interesting that a debate which gets consolidated to level of “You vs Me” from nowhere suddenly elevates to level of “People like you”. Also, people like him and many other have made me conscious about my caste too so that’s levelled. Also, nor do I (stress on I) need an acknowledgment of the injustice that has been done by upper caste towards other caste communities neither am I playing my caste sympathy card. I don’t think I have personal gains from it, apart from getting myself more engaged with debates of caste, class and identity. Also, one is entitled to their impulsive beliefs which were incepted into them. For ex. someone believing in ghosts is also impulsive and incepted by an external agency.

In the due course of the discussion that followed, Sagar mentioned something about “equal footing”, and I think this is where the crux of debate lies. Equality, at least in India, is deceptive. It reminds me of a quote from Swadesh Deepak’s seminal play Court Martial which says, “All are equal before law, but some are more equal than others.” We are equal by law, not by beliefs. And this is a behaviour common across caste and religious communities and not specific to any.

Caste, Privilege and Equality is a vicious cycle. The caste system in India privileged certain communities. Thus they could get themselves educated, acquire knowledge, seek and generate employment opportunities and hence their future generations could also live in a better condition. Equality as a necessary idea came much later into our societal understanding and that concept still struggles to find a space here. What did thousand years of oppression did to the communities who were at the receiving end of it? First and foremost, it injured their morale and self-confidence. My grandfather would recount that if a Bhaadkar (landlord) would walk by, no one was allowed to make an eye contact with him. They would have to remain in whatever position with their eyes fixed to ground. An eye contact with the upper caste landlord would signify breaking of the caste code. And many of these people were labourers in the landlord’s farm so they could not afford to upset him as that would mean no employment for rest of the life. This incident speaks volumes about the humiliation that these people went through. It affected their world view, capability to dream big or even afford to dream in first place. This sense of low self-esteem has passed on through generations. In real sense, we cannot speak of equal footing or merit unless we address this historical oppression of backward communities which hasn’t only affected social and economic emancipation of them but also emancipation of their individual self.

Hence when people cringe about reservations in educational institutes and jobs and instead lobby for merit and equality, I find it extremely problematic because our history doesn’t justify that cringing. “Your ancestors may have discriminated against my ancestors but you haven’t discriminated against me so I shouldn’t be holding that against you” is a flawed argument. Perhaps, in the process of discrimination, your ancestors have hampered my ancestor’s ability to overcome discrimination which might still be continuing in my family. Who knows?

 

PS: I’d pause all the caste debate here for a while due to mounting load of pending submissions that I’ve to do as its end of the semester. We can take the dialogue further on tweets, facebook, email or in comments section here but I will try to reply only when I’m relived of the submission load. My post on Rajdeep’s tweet is here.