Tuesday, April 26, 2016

THE PITFALLS OF CASTE POLITICS



The past few months has been alive with news and views of Rohit Vemula and Kanhaiya Kumar both dalit students and political aspirants. Rohit played the death card to highlight his views or predicaments whatever one wishes to call it while Kanhaiya wore the crusaders hat and took campus politics into every house-hold, right into their drawing room during prime time. In the case of Rohit, the establishment with a tongue which is forked on the politics of caste, couldn’t help mismanage the whole incident. In the case of Kanhaiya, flowing in the center of the discussion was the subject whether he was anti-national. That brought into the arena multiple views about what constituted nationalism and then the subject digressed into patriotism and disrespect towards the armed forces. The drama soon shifted to Parliament and what followed was the big eyed histrionics of Smiti Irani, a minister who has no idea about the pressures of a PhD student. Very soon the arguments became partisan and it was proclaimed that loud expressions of ‘Bharat Mata Ki Jai’ would be akin to waving the RSS propaganda. Later on as the melee continued, some students of an engineering collage in Srinagar Kashmir couldn’t contain their happiness as Indian cricket team lost to West Indies while a few others got thrashed by the state Police for creating a ruckus with the Indian national flag. All this back and forth exchange of heat and dust was being conducted under the umbrella of freedom of expression or ironically rather the perceived lack of it.

First, arguments should happen, even if it becomes a circus, as it is a healthy sign of a mature democracy and as long as nobody is trying to hurt another physically, they have the right to say anything, even something grossly stupid. In retaliation maybe they get out shouted. In such an atmosphere people tend to modify their views and maybe learn something new. The spectators also take some learning home. In no case should anyone try to stifle the voice of another. Inspite of myself I have to concede that the noise which Arnab Goswani creates on Times Now is good even though I hate watching it.

Secondly let us look at the root cause; the problem of caste discrimination. Caste system today is like a weather beaten mountain full of rocks which though unmovable has developed several cracks and with vegetation growing from every nook and corner. It is regrettable and a crying shame that it still remains non-budging. Caste is the English language word for the pre-Vedic or could be even the Vedic varana system of classification of people and their rights and obligations on the basis of their work skills and contributing abilities towards society. The knowledge bearers / teachers and the soldiers / protectors snatched a higher ranking. This is a practical and commonsense approach to acknowledge those who had the ability to help others realize their passions and those that protect while they learn the requisite skills. The farmers, traders, artisans and other service providers accepted the third ranking of those who are required in a society and helped to make it vibrant and colorful. The last category was left to those who couldn’t learn any skill or those who were too rustic to be molded or most probably those who were forest dwellers and outsiders to that specific society and its way of life. Apparently work skills and contribution to society was a matter of personal abilities and likings. People could move up and down the varanas based on their personal choice and it had nothing to do with rights by birth. Probably such segregation served some purpose because it became extremely popular and stuck on. People soon realized that the rights and benefits were too attractive to be given up and thus they manipulated it to teach their skills to their children even forcibly so that they do not get downgraded and lose out on living standards.

Over a fairly long period of time in came Alexander, then the Turks, the Mughals and finally the British. Society changed. Passing on skills sets to children was no more essential. What remained was the existing caste of the family which became permanent. The entire concept has been rendered useless now because (a) the lesser varanas had no way to get rid of their caste even if they have better skill sets and ability to contribute to society, (b) the higher varanas still control faith and resources which are important to living (c) the higher varanas find no motivation to give up privileges which they have become accustomed to over several generations. This dilemma has lead to social unrest; however unrest in society due of caste considerations is not a new phenomenon. If I may be permitted my mirth, I do subscribe to the opinion that Indian mythology is not all fiction, it is part itihasa as well, or in other words, there are a lot of facts which go unacknowledged. I would like to draw upon the story of Parasurama, a Brahmin, who vowed and also is reputed to have killed several thousand Kshatriyas for the reason that the latter community were either misusing their privileges or were ill treating the Brahmins or in were interrupting his ambitions. Another inference that I draw from Parasurama is that all the four varanas were not defined in a vertical manner but rather in a horizontal. To start with all of them were described as equal, and segregated by their contribution to society. Subsequent developments of war, security, religion, rituals, food and material comforts were reasons to pitch one community against another and society ended up in accepting one community above others with the Shudras or Dalits taking the last position.

Returning back to where we started, a major casualty of the caste politics has been the alienation from the feeling of nationalism. That society which considers one person superior for the mere chance of birth can never bind itself together as a nation. That society which considers some sections so inferior that others cannot be permitted to mix with them, can never bind itself together as a nation. Such segregations are breeding grounds of hypocrisy; where if a Brahmin commits a crime he is let off with a warning but a Shudras or Dalit is thrashed and left to die, where fruits of development is restricted to one’s own while others are denied and ignored, where one justifies one’s own corruption as a no-other-alternative or as a way of life while criticizing others. How does one convince to nationhood a sufferer due to society’s indifference? History is replete with stories of traitors to the national cause.


The demography of this country is slowly but surely tilting towards the lower castes and to my mind the best way ahead is to totally dismantle the caste equations, and I really mean totally. Caste comes in handy in certain aspects of life for instance while arranging a marriage alliance and while evaluating the extent of religious rituals. Even in such neutral regions it would be better to find some other alternatives and bypass the caste factor. People have to give up on identifying themselves with their caste, and look up for some different paradigm which will consider all people equal and rather evaluate them based on their skill and contributing capability. Today, we can see that while ordinarily people don’t concern themselves with caste when dealing with others in their endeavor to earn their daily bread, however some disgruntled ambitious elements are manipulating this subject for their political and economic benefits. 

2 comments:

Hemant C. Lodha said...

No one gives up if one perceives that what one has is better than others. However if orientation of caste is converted from vertical to horizontal and birth to karma with the thread of nationalism, present problem division of India may be reduced to greater extent.

Suman Bose said...

True Sir, society needs to express in a single voice, the irrelevance of caste, before some new politician tries to convince us otherwise.