Facebook in India is incessantly flooded with memes — pictures or videos of casteist slurs against the marginalised communities, as those who belong to ‘upper caste’ per se, lament against caste-based reservations in public institutes and government jobs. Their rationale, more prominently since the implementation of the Mandal Commission in 1990, has been that it ‘kills’ the merit factor, i.e. meritorious students who belong to the namesake ‘General’ category are deprived of opportunities that marginalised communities get due to reservation.
Unfortunately, the mind of every student in this country is filled with this narrative even before they burn the midnight oil to crack the draconian entrance exams. Such a hate-spewing narrative naturally brings a certain anathema towards the ‘reserved’ categories of students.
This hatred is evident from the repetitive use of cham**r, a word used as a casteist expletive which generalises all the marginalised communities under a derogative umbrella term, by many students studying in various educational institutions, sub-consciously fuming their exasperation against reservation.
The author of this article, who has been through the rat-race of preparing for the draconian engineering entrance exams, also blindly believed in this narrative. In hindsight, he now sees how it actually culminated with him profiling classmates and batchmates in the coaching classes, based on whether they could reap the benefits of reservation or not. His time also coincided with the ascendancy of Hindu-supremacist BJP at the centre, which also made him look slyly at Dr Ambedkar and the entire anti-caste movement. Of course, he found little sense in those rallying against casteism — for he only saw from a prism which showed them ‘entitled’ to higher-education in prestigious institutes without ‘merit’.
This anecdote supports the aforementioned argument of how upper-caste propaganda embarks students on a path of discrimination and hatred — the wrongdoings of which are extremely difficult, if not impossible, to undo. What is even more concerning is that this propaganda under the garb of ‘merit’ and ‘equality’ brings a certain wind of legitimacy, the whiff of which is often hard to resist.
Nevertheless, ‘merit’ is the key working word in this debate. However, it has been painstakingly dissected and presented in “Does ‘Merit’ have a Caste?” on The Wire and it would be a great disservice to the author if it is reiterated only for the sake of argumentation.
The duopoly of casteism and classism are the biggest yet the most obscure threat to India’s Xanadu, the liveable manifestation of the promulgations of the Indian Constitution. Caste and class inequalities, on the contrary, are being pushed further into obscurity by a rising intolerance towards monotheistic religions, Islam in particular. Hindu vigilantes are often in what could be a self-perceived duel against their Muslim counterparts and vice versa. The macabre riots in Delhi are a testament to this intolerance.
Any conflict between religious communities obviously takes precedence over atrocities committed in the name of caste. In fact, the growing divide between monotheistic Islam and polytheistic Hinduism has given the latter a very powerful rationale for a ‘war cry’ of sorts, exhorting Hindus to ‘unite’ to ‘protect’ their sacrosanct religion. In reality, such exhortations culminate only with upper-caste Hindus to make a more impregnable clout and thereby, pushing the marginalised communities further away into oblivion. The upper echelons of public life in India are still largely dominated by upper-caste Hindus.
Needless to say, the author also believes that caste-based politicking is another reason for this growing divide. Whilst the government has brought upon the reformist measures to alleviate centuries of oppression, it still isn’t a step towards abolishing caste altogether. Many upper-caste Hindus often accuse political parties of caste-based political skullduggery for the marginalised communities have always been of a ‘vote-bank’, a sizeable population whose vote is crucial to win elections.
Even the author himself was led to strongly believe in the upper-caste narrative which denounces the existence of caste-based oppression altogether and accuses the marginalised communities to raise the caste question only to ‘cling’ onto the reservations that they are entitled to.
Such an opinion of caste comes from a selective reading of society. In order to subscribe to this narrative, one must have class privilege, where the society is so-called ‘westernised’ enough to not bother knowing one’s caste as long as everyone belongs to the same economic class.
While it would be unfair to assume that being on top of the class pyramid saves one from the caste question, such selective perception of caste also comes from denial and ignorance; to put it crudely, one cannot deny the existence of casteism if one has never been subjected to caste-based discrimination.
The caste dynamics in India are so precariously balanced that leaders such as Mahatma Gandhi are also accused of ensuring that the caste hierarchy remains. Man Booker-prize winning author Arundhati Roy in her essay ‘The Doctor and the Saint’ has opined that Gandhi supported the caste hierarchy only to appease the high-caste Marwari businessmen who, financially or otherwise, supported his satyagraha (policy of nonviolent resistance) movement.
If probably the greatest statesman of this country paid his obeisance to casteism, it would be foolish to assume that a Hindu-supremacist government like the BJP would uproot this anachronistic practice. On the contrary, many Dalit activists are wary of the party’s intentions, and accuse it of ethnic profiling and cleansing with their divisive Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the draconian National Register of Citizens (NRC).
The legacy of Dr B R Ambedkar, who perhaps was the most profound Dalit thinker, is also thrown in the cesspool of profanities and slurs, hurled by the upper-caste, the propaganda of hate deeply entrenched in their minds. The Indian education system, among its many inherent flaws, also fails to elucidate students about Dr Ambedkar as much as it embellishes Gandhi, which again reeks of the politics behind how impressionable minds are moulded to perceive the history and ethos of the state.
The Xanadu which was envisaged by those who broke the shackles of an oppressive colonial rule is questioned and dissected now. Despite Dr Ambedkar’s tribulations for a more egalitarian and just society, the existence of marginalised communities is reduced to a transactional relationship where ‘reservation’ is given in exchange for their suffrage. Whether the doors of an independent India were open for Dalits and tribals is a question that remains unanswered even after 73 years.
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