Sunday, 28 May 2017

Marks and caste and other things.

The Board exam results.
My questioning of marks, and the reality of defeat in the game of marks for both the 'winner' and the 'loser' comes out of my own lived experience.
In school when I got 84% I was happy. Till I discovered that another classmate had got 86%. The 84% lost its sheen, and that day was the first when I did not exult in a friend's happiness. And a part of me got killed through schooling that day.
When I did not get into IIT after my 12th, my world crashed. For a year I felt a 'failure'. When I got into IISc later, it was as if I had 'succeeded'.
It took many years to work out of 'comparisons', and the artificial code of marks, and to mark my own success independent of another's failure. I think I have corrected the damages caused by schooling and marks and rankings - but who knows.

Sunny Narang Marks cannot be shared. Even money can be shared. Knowledge and wisdom can be shared. The marks system creates the deepest trauma for a lifetime. I once saw a close friend get less marks than me in the boards. He was crying sitting in his car. I think his whole life is about endless accumulation and showing the world partly from that trauma. I got into IIT but there only top 100 mattered  Just as no billionaire or millionaire feels happy as there is another one on top and they know for every visible one there are three invisible ones in politics and crime ! No one ever has enough and we are all on the ladders to nowhere. That IS the basis of endless extraction. Marks teach us that game ruthlessly from childhood.

Aparna Krishnan  And that parents do not see the doom they condemn other children to (and also their own child) when they celebrate its marks is sad. Very sad.

Sunny Narang In traditional village or tribal society there is unlimited social security as every child will have a vocation . In modernity you never know what will happen to your demand as a professional or will your skill has any value. No marks are given to taking water out of the well ! Modern society has the delusion of meritocracy for perpetual divisions with social mobility. That is the volatile alternative to jati !

Aparna Krishnan More than the personal trauma, the meanness it creates and nurtures , the dejection at another's success - these are the unforgivable wrongs that a civilisation is paying for.

Aparna Krishnan Yes, jati gave a job security that modernity is clearly unable to create.  

Aparna Krishnan Jati gave a  job security. There was space for mobility, and if that got fossilised over years, that is an issue to be addressed and corrected. Similarly untouchability is a sin before god and man which needs to be fought against stakeing all. But jati per se had a deep sense and sensibility. As juxtaposed against the senselessness of modern day marks !!

Sunny Narang Another word used by every villager I knew for caste , was not jaati , but samaaj .

Every samaaj had its collective functions, still has . Many have a common temple . The chippas or printers had , common big utensils for marriage , festivities and dea
th . And all were equal in the samaaj decisions regardless of economic dimensions . I have seen this myself .

I have worked with artisan entrepreneurs , an entrepreneur had no superiority to his worker there and that brings a difference even in the workplace .

Samaaj is not going anywhere soon. On Samaaj is actually built Indian society . Marwari baniya or Palanpuri Jain run businesses.

Naidus of Andhra or Yadavs of Bihar and UP or the Jats are political lobbies and mostly of middle-peasants . Chamars lead Bahujan Samaj Party .

Sunny Narang Further, few have bothered to understand why caste has persisted in India, despite so many initiatives from the state to dismantle it over the past seven decades or more. Could it be because of the way the spoils system was introduced into the country after the British took full control post-1857? While caste identities are obviously much older, they were institutionalised and written into the warp and weft of the system, not just via things like census enumerations, but also, based on such suitably divisive classifications, in the way jobs were allocated, giving rise later to the 'modern' phenomenon of reservations? Isn't the most lasting legacy of Empire in India babugiri and the sarkari naukri the sinecure that confers the privilege? It wasn't always like this, was it? I wonder whether some historians and sociologists have looked at things from this angle. I have seen the work of Susan Bayly and Nicholas Dirks, and what they say about caste dynamism is certainly consistent with what one suspects. 

The question also has to be raised as to why the British made such a song and a dance about caste in the 19th century. Did the injustices that stemmed from the deep hierarchies of the caste system upset them? Not really. There were injustices enough in the British class system which, in the Victorian era, had no compunctions about sending children and women to work 12 or 14 hours a day looking for coal under the earth in Yorkshire. So what bothered the British about caste in India? Could it have something to do with the fact that jaati (poorly translated into the word 'caste', whose Portugese origins few are aware of) and biradiri have traditionally been strong loci of social identity in India, constituting in most cases the very basis of communities, more or less cohesive when you contrast them with the atomised condition of consumer modernity? 

The point worth considering is whether or not cohesive communities would have stood in the way of the expansion of the power of two great forces of imperial modernity: the market and the state. To consider the possible merit in this line of thinking, pause to reflect for a minute on the counterfactual of cohesive, casteless communities with a large measure of social justice. We are thinking here of face-to-face, largely self-governing (on this, see the book by John Mathai, Village Government in India, Unwin, London, 1915) communities which are meeting a very large part of their material and social needs without significant recourse to markets that connect them to the outside world. Even today, one can find some instances of places in the vast Sub-Continent where this is true, in howsoever diminished a form (some places in the inner Himalayas I have just visited - and which would exemplify James Scott's thesis about the absence of the modern state from so many peasant societies - would qualify). (Readers of the American farmer-writer Wendell Berry would recognise the content of the counterfactual I am proposing for the sake of argument.) 

Now, wouldn't such a state of affairs stand in the way of the expansion of market and state power, as per the requirements of imperial modernity? And if so, wouldn't a well-oiled imperial imagination work by dividing-and-ruling when possible, and work to weaken the communities by repeatedly pointing out caste divisions and injustices that they embody? 

Isn't it possible, even likely perhaps, that this is how things might have stood and appeared to imperial administrators 100-150 years ago? A hypothesis worth engaging with (for few elements of imperial rhetoric about India have been more persistent and pervasive during the last two centuries than the question of caste). This has enormous implications not merely for our understanding of caste, but as much for the way the imperial mind still continues to work, only with renewed vigour (something about which Indians are, as a rule, naive - notice for instance the complete absence of even a single good book written by an Indian scholar or historian about the Americans as a people, and contrast the fact with the ceaseless flow of books they keep writing about us!) They keep pointing to our defects in order to rule our minds better - while keeping attention suitably deflected from the great shortcomings of their own societies.

None of this is to deny the gross injustices of caste which still survive and which must be fought in every creative way imaginable. It is only to make a very reluctant Indian educated elite realise the importance of not throwing out the baby (the community) with the bathwater (of caste).

Looking at things ecologically, as one must at this late hour, one should be doubly concerned about the confidence with which the global developmental policies at work are destroying what is left of communities (and with them, agriculture and every traditional livelihood) in the Sub-Continent, one of the few parts of the world where communities, howsoever unjust, still survive. There is simply no way to protect the natural world unless communities can be made cohesive again and made in charge of resources by which they have traditionally lived (this is what I argued in my Phd thesis on Kumaon 20 years ago). The other two modes of protecting the environment - a remote bureaucracy led by a state, howsoever strong, and the corporate-run global market, howsoever 'enlightened' - are doomed to fail for reasons that would fill up at least a page in a newspaper.

Communities also need to be protected because they are the chief crucible for the practice of crafts and skills which alone - suitably upgraded and supported - can generate the enormous number of livelihoods needed in the country.

It is time to draw the rights lessons from the past. Else there is no future, except accelerated destruction...

Few years ago, a Madras High Court (Chennai) had directed the state government to dismantle all jati based judiciary that seem to delivering justice in several parts of the state. while the one instance that had provoked the Court was highlighted, the many functioning systems could not be dismantled…

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