Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Village, Caste, and Beyond Caste

They all give me a wide berth. After I said villages are based in religiousness, the leftists unfriended me !! And after I said that caste is the essential framework of Indian society the Dalit-activists unfriended me !! After i said that Yerpachchamma, and Jesus and Balaji are all revewred, the rightists unfriended me !!"

The village exists beyond left, dalit and right boundries, in a space uniquely its own.

Raghunandan Tr I am afraid, I disagree, for several reasons.

First, the dalit narrative and the caste narrative cannot be separated into two different things, as a pernicious and unjust thing for Dalits, and as an acceptable division of labour for the other communities. The discrimination against Dalits narrative lives within the overall caste based discrimination narrative, it is a heightened form of discrimination. We tend to forget that caste based discrimination was very harsh even for the backward communities not so far back and it continues to be so, albeit as an undercurrent. I can say that such discrimination runs deep; I have seen such discrimination and prejudice working even in the highest echelons of the civil service, against the backward communities. In fact, even as I speak, I am witness to a possibility of a senior IAS officer of high integrity being superseded for the posting of a Chief Secretary, simply because he belongs to a backward caste.

Second, As I said, to sanitise and justify the caste issue for non-Dalits into a system of division of labour, is a gross simplification and it ignores generations of denial of access to education, submission to untouchability and other indignities suffered by the non-dalit backward castes as well. In such circumstances, I think that to say that each caste has a functional space that is 'uniquely its own', is a romantic notion, far from the truth of real life.

Third, to argue that hierarchies are justified or excusable because there are no systems without hierarchies, is not tenable. I am against all hierarchies, including those built upon class, language and regional differences.

Fourth, I think that Hinduism is built on the foundation of discrimination. It believes in reincarnation and the concept of Karma, to accept indignities and suffering in one life as retribution and punishment for since allegedly committed in a previous one. To say that everybody has their place, is to deny the flowering of talent.

In conclusion, I say this after a great deal of thought and I say this to you because you are an individual who thinks deeply. For a moment, I would like you to contemplate what I am saying, from the perspective of a third party. I know it is difficult, but please try.

Aparna, from what I gather, you yourself belong to a so called upper caste. As an individual, you have immense reserves of compassion and empathy, which shows in your attitude, your lifestyle choices and your thoughts and concerns for your community in which you live. But at the end of the day, there is an environment from which you came from, in which you did not suffer the kind of discrimination that others have suffered. You will never experience that. Therefore, it becomes easier for you to rationalise caste as a kind of benign system of order.

By the way, I have said this to many of my good friends who come from the so-called upper castes and I find that they too take time to accept what I am saying. When I reflect upon this reluctance, I have come to realise that this is due to human nature. it is easy for all of us to feel oppressed, but difficult for us to accept that we - not as individuals but as a group - have been oppressors as well. We try, consciously or unconsciously, or through cognitive filtering of our experiences, to sanitise or smoothen out experiences of others of having been discriminated against. For example, in my case, the hardest thing to accept has been when a woman has told me bluntly that I cannot understand what it means to suffer discrimination as a woman, because I am not a woman. And no amount of empathy on my part will change that.

Same with caste.

By the way, I am reading 'The Annihilation of Caste', by B.R. Ambedkar. You must read it when you get the chance.

P.S. I do enjoy these conversations, by the way! 

Aparna Krishnan Raghu, I would look at caste and the dalit narattive differently. If the only way to address the dalit issue was by uprooting the very civilization I would. But I suspect it is different. Caste (apart from the dalit issue) is about communities, The potters are kumaravaalu, the bamboo artisans are medari vaalu. Each community has its own rituals and practices and habits and also repository of skills. Under an overarching 'Hinduism' there is vast space buitin of diversity. Of course there is hierarchy, but show me one community where there is no hierarchy ! If not in the caste structure, then in a class structure, or on basis of language. Which needs to be eternally question and struggled against.

Aparna Krishnan I totally agree with your suggestion that as an 'upper caste' i will not understand the realities that a dalit faces. That I think is the essence of the Gandhi and Amdedkar positional differences. About the other points, I will have to take some time to absorb and respond. And I have also enjoyed and learnt immensely from your discussions - and I need not add how much the village itself has gained from your moves - since the time Sowmya visited us. We are still awaiting your visit to the village !!

Raghunandan Tr In this context, I recall an observation made by Justice Sotomayor of the US Supreme Court. She is Hispanic and comes from a poverty stricken family. She is a strong votary of Affirmative Action and has drawn from her personal experiences, where she gained from such support, which eventually led to her becoming a Justice in the Supreme Court. Once, she mentioned that her judgments would be different from others in the Court because she was a woman, a Hispanic and poor. That raised a lot of hackles, because many others felt, genuinely from their point of view, that interpretation of the law is mathematical - that it does not depend upon the background or culture of the interpreter. But Justice Sotomayor stood her ground. It is a thought provoking point of view. Very very difficult to say what is right and what is wrong.

Similarly, even when I disagree with you, I'm not sure whether I am right. In fact, I do not know what is right or wrong.

But I feel strongly that the nation should move on. By raking up the past beyond a point we won't move on. That is my worry. That is what I see today in India. Too much of raking up of the past. Even I am guilty of it, occasionally.

Aparna Krishnan Reality is very nuanced. Even I have reached a point where I, in a debate, allow that a certian truth rests with the opposing point of view, and a certian truth only, i tentatively claim. And yes, we need to proceed in the here and now. 

Raghunandan Tr Yeah, I agree.
Raghunandan Tr Great conversation!

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