Victor Rangel-Ribeiro’s article “How to deal with Caste Prejudice when it’s not part of your life” in today’s Navhind Times provided much food for thought.  

It triggered a memory of something that the maker of the hard-hitting film “India UntouchedStalin K. said on national TV (in Dignity for All,the episode on Caste in the series “Satyamev Jayate” by Aamir Khan) and I loosely quote: 

“If anyone in India says that they grew up not knowing their caste, or that their caste meant nothing to them, that person has to be from an upper caste. A lower caste person will know his caste origin even if s/he doesn’t want to, because society will keep reminding them of their station.”

 

 

In my own experience, I’ve found this to be true. I’ve never found a “low-caste” person freely discussing his/her caste or even the topic of caste. Unless of course it is in the context of activism, as in the case of the Dalit Freedom Network and other groups like it.

Caste is a very loaded, peculiar issue. In my limited experience, the Brahmins will openly mention their caste origin in their discourse and writings; everyone else doesn’t mention it; they even actively conceal it sometimes, unless in the context of activism. As I see it, this is because the uppermost caste has nothing to feel “ashamed” about. Indeed, it could be seen through the casteist prism as an “honour”, a privilege. And turning one’s back on it despite this is ennobling, a sure sign of enlightenment. And a darn good thing too. If only more Brahmins felt like this, India would be a much better place.

For the rest of the population, merely revealing their caste origin (or having it revealed in public) is an embarrassment. Whenever they do, and talk about abolition of caste, it is usually an attempt at claiming their basic human dignity, something a Brahmin may never has to do. There is nothing ennobling or enlightened here, because in most cases the caste system was thrust upon their ancestors and they are still struggling to shake off  its oppressive yoke. 

This is not an attempt to get onto any moral higher ground, but merely to state how things are within this loaded, peculiar, framework, something we have to get rid of, although it’s not happening in a hurry. 

This is why sadly, one is very unlikely to read about a “lower-caste” person’s dealings with caste prejudice in the Sunday section of a mainstream paper. In the minds of most editors, such content is just too “leftist”, not very “populist”. And I’m not too sure how many “lower-caste” people write, or even wish to write about such matters as well, due to the above reasons of embarrassment, perceived shame, etc.

The caste issue is like the elephant in the room that everyone ignores. Some sections of society do so because they wish the shameful status quo to continue, and the oppressed because they live in fear and dare not speak about it, let alone raise their voice against it.

The true signs of change will be what Dr. Ambedkar (someone who has been treated very shabbily by history, and still awaits his proper place among the pantheon of India’s nation-builders and leaders) recommends: Exogamy.

The caste system is alive and kicking because intra-caste marriage (endogamy) is the norm, even in enlightened Goa. I know this first-hand from a sordid broken engagement over this issue.

The day Brahmins marry Dalits, and everyone else in between intermarry freely and fearlessly, and not merely to prove a point, but because the partner is seen as an equal and attractive in every respect, then we’ll be able to talk about true emancipation.

It could be argued that the recent Delhi gang-rape might never had happened had the hundreds of thousands of rapes and gang-rapes of Dalit girls and women by upper-castes after Independence been dealt with and the perpetrators not let off the hook, and had proper legislation and justice been set in place earlier. Our media calls this poor girl Nirbhaya, Amanat, Damini, but all the other hapless victims are called either by name (no qualms or scruples in their case) or just “a Dalit woman”.

It’s hard to say which is worse. 

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