Why Doesn't Caste 'Go Away'?
Updated: Feb 3
The question in title is perhaps the most often asked question in relation to caste, at least whenever myriad caste atrocities happen and the mainstream media is 'forced' to take notice of it. But the question is a malicious one as it indicates a blissful and bourgeois ignorance. The question doesn't ask what actions are to be taken to annihilate caste but only seeks the reason behind its perpetual existence. It seeks to absolve the enquirer from any responsibility whatsoever to indulge in annihilation of caste but only maintain the status quo by keeping the caste system only as a source to capitalise and make it merely a ‘theoretical’ issue. A counter-question may be raised, isn't it important to know the reasons to annihilate it? The answer is yes, it is necessary to know but at the same time, it is important to know 'who' is asking the question. The question becomes meaningless when the intention behind asking it, is anything but dishonest. Dishonest in the sense that it is merely asked by the interviewer as part of the topic as they can't do without it but when the topic is changed they forget all about it since they have no intention of acknowledging their caste privileges or even promote anticaste discourse. This view can be supported based on the fact that SCs/ST/OBC are only invited to speak on media whenever atrocities on 'Dalit' happens or whenever caste is explicitly the reason for any atrocity. Media will never invite Bahujans to speak on effect of caste in economics, education, employment etc. For them, as mentioned above it is merely a theoretical exercise to boost their TRP and limit caste to 'Dalits'. This may appear cynical but it is very much the reality as pointed out by Jeya Rani (2016), and statistically by Oxfam in their press release titled Who Tells Our Stories Matters: Representation of marginalised caste groups in Indian Newsrooms (2019). In this sense, the more meaningful question to be asked is, "Who is responsible for perpetuating the caste system" and perhaps then we can ask "How to annihilate caste?"
There's an increasing tendency in liberal culture to see individuals as individuals in themselves, independent from their social, cultural, economic backgrounds. This is especially prevalent among the ‘oppressor’ castes (Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Baniyas and some dominant caste OBCs) (Ingole and Biswas, 2020). This is apparent in education institutes. We see this in action when any SC, ST, or OBC teacher or student is deliberately discriminated against for voicing their views in exams or in vivas (Kar, 2020). We see it when students have to drop out of college due to such treatment. When any SC, ST, or OBC student scores less or even fails, their failure is attributed to them being 'meritless' or 'non-deserving' while a host of other factors involved and the role of institutional casteism is ignored. This is well documented in the series on institutional casteism Death of Merit (2011). It should be no surprise that people harping on ‘merit’ are the same ‘oppressor’ castes who are in majority in such institutions and even media houses: newspapers (Oxfam India, 2019), IITs (Sharma, 2019), AIIMS (The Death of Merit, Prof. Thorat Committee Report, 2011), judiciary (Saxena, 2021) etc. and almost in every institution one can think of, except in jobs which are considered ‘lowly’ (Safi, 2018).
In Divya Dwivedi’s article 'The Hindu Hoax’, she talks about how Hinduism is an invention of the 20th century and the Hindu-Muslim binary was created only to hide this fact and establish a ‘false unity’ among all the Hindus high or low to ‘stand against’ Muslims (Dwivedi et al., 2020). It is even generally agreed upon that the term Hindu was rarely used in the religious sense before the 18th Century (Jha, 2014). It is also the view that the 2500-2000 BC written Rigveda which might just be a copy of the Iranian Zoroastrian text Avestha (Thapar et al., 2019). The term 'Hindu' itself is a foreign name given term to the Indian people (Jha, 2014). Thence, a dichotomy has been developed: to see the individual as a unique entity to argue against reservation and conceal institutional casteism and the binary of Hindu Muslims which seeks to perpetuate the false notion that majority of people are Hindu and caste is made obsolete while portraying the Muslim as a ‘common enemy’. Why this is done is easy enough to see for anyone who has constantly engaged in the anti-caste discourse. This is often done to erode the caste consciousness from developing in the majority and to keep ‘dwijas’ in power as ordained in scriptures like Manusmriti.
Ever since independence and even before as mentioned, there is a deliberate effort to destroy whatever caste consciousness that has been built in masses by those in power. Before independence, it was Tilak who tried to suppress the revolt of Jyotirao Phule (Rao, 2008). Savarkar, who gave the distinction between Hinduism and Hindutva and tried to appropriate Buddhism, Sikhism, Jainism in the Hindu fold (Savarkar, 1942). Not to mention Gandhi and the Congress who continued to sanction caste as essential contrary to Ambedkar and oppose him every time he spoke for safeguards for Dalits (Ambedkar & Moon, 2013). After independence, the BJP continued to use religion and Hindu identity to assimilate all backward castes and prevent a caste consciousness from rising. The book I could not be Hindu by Bhanwar Meghwanshi offers a first-hand account of the caste politics surrounding Babri masjid demolition (Meghavaṃśi & Menon, 2020). Also read the introduction by Kancha Iliah in his book Why I'm not a Hindu (Ilaiah, 2019). Be it the Congress, the BJP or the 'left': they have only willed to preserve the caste system whether by direct or indirect action. For them, caste is only limited to untouchability, they don't see it as a de facto governing system in place which still dictates the life and career of a person based on birth. Every step taken by the communists in the forward direction is a step backwards when it comes to the annihilation of caste. Babasaheb is known to have said, "Communists have exploited the labourers" (Ambedkar et al., 2019, p. 163, 179). Communism in India has been assimilated into Brahmanism and this assimilation didn't happen when communism first entered India. It happened the moment Brahmins implemented western theory without acknowledging that caste functions differently than class and simply a binary of proletariat and the bourgeois won't work in the Indian context (Ambedkar & Moon, 2019, p. 72). They became so engrossed in it that they tried to establish it in India. Their privilege blinded them from understanding the distinction that in India "caste is not a division of labour but a division of labourers" (Ambedkar & Moon, 2019, p. 47). The Indian Marxists acknowledge inequality but they refuse to acknowledge graded inequality (Ambedkar & Moon, 2019, p. 167). However, recently, some scholars like Anand Teltumbde have tried to bridge this ‘unholy rift’ (Lal, 2018).
In the capitalist age, a question may be asked, has Brahminism appropriated capitalism or has capitalism appropriated Brahminism? The answer is former. Few evidences can be given in support of it. Capitalism allows a person who is treated as an untouchable in villages to buy things in cities and go back to be still treated as an untouchable (Sonpimple & Kumar, 2017, at 9:10). It allows a Dalit to become rich and still be not allowed to enter temples. It allows the Brahmins to leave villages and migrate to cities thanks to the caste capital they have amassed from millennia of oppression and thus "they can claim to be casteless while making the issue of caste limited to Dalits and untouchability" (Deshpande, 2013). Capitalism has capitalised on caste and the de facto governing system of Brahmanism has sanctioned it as legal.
The politics of today is a politics of deceit. It conceals the reality of Hinduism under the garb of protection of Hinduism. The people in power, i.e., the current ruling parties, have legitimised what the former only allowed in secret. They have legitimised killing in the name of 'religion', armed their supporters with the gospel of Rama and Krishna, created a false enemy to make its own stand look legitimate. Their greatest merit isn't the co-option of Bahujans in the false Hindu-fold or even making Hinduism look legitimate, but the appeal of this fake Hindu-Muslim binary which has liberated the Brahmin media from feeling any guilt for the oppression perpetuated. They can now shout about secularism, Islamophobia, ‘bhakts’, ‘sanghis’ and whatever else there is to perpetuate this binary and tacitly conceal the elephant in the room, i.e., caste. This is most apparent on social media where it has become a trend to be 'woke'. Antagonism towards the ruling disposition is considered just and correct regardless of the person's caste and he is considered an ally in the cause of achieving discrimination free (read: free from the ruling party) society. But this society will still be founded on caste only the oppressors have now changed their robes from wearing a ‘janeu’ to a suit. They may quote Bhagat Singh, ridicule ‘islamaphobes’, run hashtags like #dalitlivesmatter, and sleep when the day is over only to wake up the next day guilt-free. They take the inheritance of material wealth that arose from caste privilege and then join the struggle for an 'equal' society. Every liberal media outlet directly or indirectly is complicit in keeping the caste system alive by perpetuating this false binary which serves to, unironically, strengthen the Hindu cause and at the same time make Muslims look as legitimate victims who need to be protected from the tyranny of the Sangh or the BJP. Only and only when we do away with this web of lies can we actually ask ourselves, "why doesn't caste go away?"
Mr. Prashik writes on caste issues and hails from the state of Maharashtra.
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