Our life experiences shape the way we make sense of the world. That is until academia takes over and we’re told to “understand” things we can’t relate to.
My life experiences as a kid growing up in a cosmopolitan industrial township taught me non-discrimination and set me free from ascriptive biases, namely caste and religion. Since Independence Day celebrations are the flavor of the day, I would like to recount our I-Day celebration as kids.
We lived in flats given to us by SAIL and they were, as flats are, stacked on top of another for 3 floors, packed in blocks of 12 such flats. SAIL could not afford to waste time and energy grouping families by caste or religion and allotted houses by its own preferences. I happened to live in one such block and grew up with SC kids, OBC kids, ST kids and Upper Caste kids, all of whom were herded in a pack every year by one Chawdhary ji, who live right on top of us on the first floor.
Chowdhary ji was an ST who had assumed the surname Chowdhary. More importantly, he was a zealot who would get all kids in the block to get together and organize Independence Day celebrations. Most parents appreciated his call and encouraged their kids to work under his command for a day. And it was a special day! We’d get up early on 15th aug mornings, all kids would assemble together and the day would start with cleaning the entire block.
The image of a short pot-bellied Chowdhary ji in baniyan and lungi with blue-green-black checks is etched in my memory. He would be climbing up and down the stairs instructing kids, “Thik se saaf kariye… Udhar kona me chhoot gaya hai…” (clean up properly, there’s some dirt left there in the corner). We would then get a long bamboo pole from my place, wash it, dig a hole in the parking area and erect it. We’d all pool 5-10 rupees per head to buy crepe-paper rolls, triangular crepe paper, balloons, whatever, to decorate the parking area where the tricolor was to be hoisted. The bhaiyas & didis wuld be handling the money & purchases.
My mom, who could launch a carnage for anyone touching her flower plants would pluck some and keep them aside for the flag hoisting. Chowdhari ji was also the owner of the coveted Tricolor & would bring it out after the kids had made all preparations. All parents would be available on the Closed Holiday & none would fail to attend. Chowdhary ji would hoist the flag, the flowers would fall out of it, we’d all sing “Jana Gana Mana…” and the parents would spend time discussing everything from domestic politics inside homes to international politics, while kids took the opportunity to play their wits off as the parents were busy. Some aunty would inevitably have treats prepared for us and all kids would be invited.
I did not grow up knowing an SC from an ST or an Upper Caste or what surname stands for which caste, neither did anyone take efforts to teach me that. In the anecdote above, the Upper Caste, OBC, SC kids were given in faith, under the command of an ST gentleman. All kids were treated by any caste family and I don’t remember anyone objecting ever. It was a perfect little world of ours for a while. I trust it is the same with others in cosmopolitan, industrial or business driven social setups. The needs of our society, structure it in a way that interdependence becomes a necessity and discrimination an impediment to good social and economic living. The first cognizable tryst with caste in such setups, I suppose, is when you’ve completed school and appear for competitive exams and realize that you missed the entrance by a couple of marks and another friend who fared worse than you, got through! The system makes you explore caste and find it, when you had not known it in your life thus far!
When you look for answers, you find out through academic literature, that you, your parents, siblings, families have all been condemned for atrocities you never noticed them doing! Some of us accept the verdicts and lead our lives hating our being, others become resentful, hating other castes and finding ways to justify acts of the hitherto uncared for ancestors. The external forces towards greater integration, created by an industrial society are undone by the systems put in place to do justice and correct historical imbalances. However caste-based reservation is largely an accepted and settled reality of today. Our judicial rulings have nearly settled the reservation issue by fixing a cap of 50% and holding on to it in subsequent rulings. Every now and then, the reservation bogey is raised but as an issue reservation has not held much sway with masses lately.
‘Solidarity in societies’ has been studied and described by Emile Durkheim, one of the founding fathers of the discipline of Sociology. He defined two kinds of solidarities – Mechanical and Organic. Mechanical solidarity is cemented by virtue of likeness of members of the social group and organic solidarity by virtue of differences and complimentary character. In the Indian context, while closed caste societies have Mechanical solidarity, the urban centers and townships display Organic solidarity. Organic solidarity brings with itself, greater understanding of and tolerance to diversity, less rigid social norms and dogma, and greater openness. Urbanization & education are not the sole panacea against caste disparities but they are the most effective ones. They create an ecosystem which necessitates interdependence & pushes erstwhile ethos progressively to obscurity. The forces of this ecosystem are desirable and difficult to comprehend and overcome in daily living.
Many studies on caste in India have been observing a decline in caste disparities due to growth in education and urbanization. These are not new observations, they have been in cognizance from at least as early as the 1960s-70s. Analysts differed on the speed of change but none denied on the presence or factors of this change. If one is dedicated to obliteration of caste and is in the know of such studies (which the government is always equipped with), it should be his endeavor to fast pace such development and create the necessary environment. If 65 years is not enough to effect this change, 2 years certainly isn’t. Why then are accusations of rising atrocities against Dalits being leveled specifically against this government?
In fact the NDA govt has embarked on initiatives which can prove path breaking for challenging caste discrepancies. The JAM trinity for financial inclusion, MUDRA yojana for micro entrepreneurship, Stand up India, aimed specifically at downtrodden classes, Gram Kaushal Yojana, Skill India and National apprenticeship program which are skill development initiatives, will all go a long way in developing the necessary complementarities and Organic solidarity in the Indian society. The 100 smart city plan will hasten the pace of urbanization and further challenge status quo in the society. Those concerned over the plight of dalits and having basic knowledge of socio-economic dynamics should be satisfied with these and look forward to positive changes. Of course this is subject to condition that they are actually interested in the upliftment of the downtrodden. But contrary to expectation, the entrenched intellectual and political classes are blaming this government for the plight of Dalits!
Since deep analysis is not helping us understand their objections, we shall recede to their level of shallowness. BJP is charged with being a casteist organization! This allegation flies in their faces when we consider that the PM of India is himself from a downtrodden OBC/EBC caste. Congress, which has given us the maximum PMs since independence could not empower a person from backward castes to become PM. Forget backward castes, even all other Brahmins and the quiet solitary Sikh were reluctantly empowered to be PMs since they were not Nehru-Gandhis. BJP has the maximum number of Dalit and backward caste MPs in the Lok Sabha. In the states where BJP won, it did not pander to appeasing the dominant castes while appointing CMs. ML Khattar is not a Jat, D Fadnavis is not a Maratha and Raghubar Das is not a tribal!
Maybe it’s co-ideological organization RSS, regarded in the circles of detractors as it mother-ship, could be casteist and oppressive of Dalits! RSS has launched the program “One well one temple one crematorium for all“. It’s stated goal is the end of discrimination and unity among Hindus. It promotes inter-caste marriages among Hindus. A 90 year old organization, not just surviving but growing cannot be imagined to be so stupid as to sabotage its own mission!
The charges of Dalit oppression increasing under BJP do not seem plausible so we now focus on those making these charges and the explanation gets easy from here. Chief proponents of these allegations are the parties drubbed by the national electorate in the 2014 LS elections and the liberal media hoping to play up hysteria. The previous runs of this method are already known. Christians we attacked, churches ravaged, nuns raped in the run up to Delhi elections. As soon as the elections were over, peace and safety retuned to the hitherto threatened community! A run up to the bihar elections saw intolerance suddenly rising and “intellectuals” outraged by the sudden rise in intolerance, opening their closets, dusting their national awards and getting ready to throw them back at the government! Of course after the elections were over, tolerance descended on India. The star wives who wanted to leave India, unpacked their suitcases and ordered grocery for a longer stay. The stars who did not find the intolerance they sought in India left for US to get detained and relish the coveted intolerance!
Now UP elections are just around the corner. UP was special in LS 2014 because it gave BJP a mammoth count of 72 seats! It wouldn’t have been possible with the sizeable dalit population voting for BJP. The support for BJP among dalits was grand enough to ensure that the nation’s most famous dalit leader, Behen Mayawati, once CM, riding on dalit votes, scored a zilch!
The erstwhile ecosystem, now threatened by an existential crisis, is fighting for each breath, one state at a time, and inventing issues where there aren’t. The game is dirty, and pushed to the marshes, they’re not afraid of dirt anymore, even if the cost of their misadventures is to be paid by the entire nation.
But let us still try and explore their efforts and hope that some good will come out of it, at least for the Dalits, for whom they are currently harvesting tears. I would, at this point invoke another sociologist, an Italian (and it should please those enamored by Italians) Vilferdo Pareto who identified a “circulation of elites” in the power structures.
He likened power holders to Lions and Foxes. Lions, valiant, ferocious and decisive and foxes with their cunning. They both need and feed off each other in the grand game of power. In distress, the foxes call the lions and use their might to usurp power. The lions need the foxes’ cunning to hold on to power. At some point the foxes overthrow the lions with their cunning and usurp power, but when in peril and lacking might, they again call on the lions for help. The cycle of sabotage and power struggle continues and a small coterie holds on circulating power within itself.
This is an old theory framed during the times of aristocrats, dictators and Nazis. In a democratic setup, the power wielders, lions, are those who can shift balance decisively, those who have consolidated numbers. But how do the foxes get them around and get them to consolidate?
There is no greater unifier than threat and insecurity. While we contend that there is no marked increase in discrimination against dalits, (there’s certainly an increase in news of Dalit oppression) there is no denying the fact that Dalit oppression is a reality. An oppressed community is easy to bait with insecurity. The reservation bogey, we observed earlier is nearly ineffective, so the narrative being used is more crude now- Physical attacks on dalits and unabated recitation of the mantra “dalit atrocities” in the media!
But will this concern for dalits continue after elections or flicker and burn out like church attacks & intolerance? The foxes are no friends of dalits, only of power. The greatest champion of Dalit rights and a true Indian intellectual Dr Ambedkar had this lamentation with the foxes in media:
This media he then charged was aligned to Nehru & Congress. The media we know is widely believed to be aligned with Nehru’s progeny and Congress. The same media which lionized the power of Nehru then and ignored Dalits is now lionizing the numbers of dalits. If a power shift does happen again in future, will they still stand with Dalits or are they just feasting on the Dalits?
I leave it to the readers’ good judgement.
About the Author
Shooting Thoughts, the author is a berated troll who fancies calling himself a social and political analyst.
He works as an oppressive and corrupt petty bourgeois for making ends meet and more”
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