Feminism is the radical notion that women are people said someone famous. That sums up feminism better than any long winded definitio...

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Not All Savarnas

If you are an Indian living in India you cannot escape the reality of caste divisions in our society and the way it impacts the lives of almost all those born outside the caste divide, namely the Dalits. This is not to undermine the huge struggle that the other people of "lower" caste or those of other marginalised communities like Muslims or Adivasis, have to face. However, for purposes of this piece I will stay with the Dalits, or "untouchables". The Dalits are considered untouchable as they fall outside the pale of the four-fold caste system.

I am trying to address Savarna Hindus like myself. Of late, the discourse has turned to the injustices meted out to Dalits by us, our society as whole, because our system is rigged against them. However, each time I come up against a wall of opposition. Time and again I hear a common refrain from my Savarna friends, most of them well meaning, fair-minded individuals, usually people who care about freedom and justice for all.
Their defence goes along these lines:

1. "I am not perpetrating any injustice and I am a fair minded individual. In my personal capacity I do all I can to help the underprivileged yet I am being targeted. Unfair!"

Let me break it to you, honey, it's not about YOU.

You may be fair minded and just in your day to day dealings. That's like saying, yes I sit on piles of money and I give away a few dimes every once in a while, see? Im fair! Well you have the whole mountainfuls of surplus capital built by your ancestors over the backbreaking labour and loss of dignity of these people who were exploited for generations. It has left them broken, and you advantaged. At least as a first step, acknowledge your privilege.

2. "I don't discriminate based on caste, I hardly even notice what caste a person belongs to, until all this discourse came up on my social media TL!"

If you think that the dispossessed are calling out their caste too often and playing identity politics, it is because we have, as a culture, made them invisible. You don't see caste around you, because it privileges you. When you are privileged by the system, you don't see it. You accept it as a fact of life. But imagine a person, their history, their ancestry, all being erased, only based on caste. Isn't it natural, they will want to dig it up at every opportunity? Identity politics has to be raised by those whom the system invisibilises. The assertion is necessary so we can see them and their struggles become visible to us.

3. "I am not rich, my father walked 4 miles to school and the SC guy in my neighbourhood zips around in a Honda."

Caste privilege is structural. Your ancestors gained from it over generations. Maybe your family saw a dip in fortunes but you still have a reservoir of social capital, as well as economic. You will be part of old boys' clubs and recommend people of your own caste or upper caste over a Dalit Bahujan anyday.

4. "What can I do?"
As a first step, acknowledge your privilege. Say it out loud. Talk to friends and family and bring it up in conversations. Maybe discard your surname. Understand your privilege and listen and read when a Dalit Bahujan speaks or writes. In you enthusiasm, don't speak over them, assuming you know better.  Whenever, wherever possible, take a backseat yourself. This is certainly not enough and is in no way going to even begin to undo the centuries of injustices heaped on them, but it's a start.
 No, you don't get a cookie.

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