Agony in Permanence

Despite so much outcry against the evils of casteism, caste related violence erupting almost daily somewhere in the country exposes how deeply casteist Indian society remains. For the depressed classes no place is safe from the army, the police and caste-vigilante bands. No, they are not safe even in some states where ‘upper caste’ people are not in power. The so-called middle castes led in the main by the Yadav brigades have been ruling Bihar and Uttar Pradesh for quite some time. They don't face obstacles in social and economic mobility for their caste brethren. The reverse is true. They are now themselves stand as obstacles in the path of social mobility of ‘low caste people’ or who are broadly known as dalits.

On August 15, 2013, a dalit man was stoned to death and at least 40 others, including women and children, were seriously injured in violence when they tried to unfurl the Indian National Flag at a site against the diktat by some ‘‘Upper Caste’’ people in a Rhotas district village in Bihar. In another incident, again in Bihar, a dalit girl was seriously abused in presence of police by some persons having right connections in the corridors of power because the girl’s brother was allegedly absconding with a girl of another caste. In both cases the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), a unique white elephant of functioning democracy, supposed to cleanse the ugly face of governance, just expressed concerns about violation of human rights of the weaker sections and grilled the appropriate authorities for non-compliance of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989.

Not that all cases of atrocities on weaker sections are reported in the media. Nor does NHRC pursue the pending cases with ‘war-time’ urgency. The middle castes that have taken their firm positions in social and administrative hierarchy, at state and national levels, need their very own ‘lower castes’ to exercise their hegemonic behaviour and arrogance. And dalits foot the bill. Notwithstanding the presence of a powerful dalit party—Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP)—in North Indian politics, dalits feel insecure all the time. The hard fact is that the self-styled representatives of the dalit community as the BSP is, are in no mood to raise the issue of self-respect and annihilation of caste the way Periyar once raised it in the late 1920s and succeeded in mobilising ‘backward’ masses to expose the hypocrisy of the then Congress leadership dominated by ‘Upper-Caste’ lords. Why a powerful anti-Brahminism movement failed to make much headway in the area of caste-annihilation deserves serious attention. Caste system is a satatnic institution—everybody admits it—and yet it persists and ‘post-casteist society’ remains a utopia even in the 21st century.

The ruling middle castes of Bihar and UP are actually neo-Brahmins, doing everything possible to strengthen their caste hierarchy, all in the name of social justice. It is in their vested interests to preserve caste hierarchy as the worst victims of the prevailing caste dynamism are dalits, not the beneficiaries of Mandal Commission.

No social justice movement can have any meaning unless it is aimed at doing away with inequalities in civil society. Inequalities are de-politicised by creating a notion that all citizens are equal before law but at the same time all are not equal in social realm. The caste-based parties that have earned enormous notoriety for their political opportunism in parliamentary culture, do not go beyond demanding reservation and quota while refusing to fight inequalities as a class. Their natural tendency is how to renew the membership of the elite club while doing precious little to spread the idea of dismantling caste which ‘is a prison from which a person cannot hope to escape while life lasts’.

For the communists caste is a secondary issue in their grand scheme of radical transformation of society. They think development of ‘advanced’ productive forces due to industrialisation and rapid urbanisation of hinterland will automatically blunt the edge of casteism and religious obscurantism as well. But the ground reality is otherwise. They have no agenda as to how to tackle the ever growing appeal of caste identity and religious fanaticism. Theirs is a voice in the wilderness. Demolition of caste is not on the agenda of any party, left or right. Nor are social reformers emerging in any part of the country to launch a new kind of self-respect movement. Agitation for caste-based reservation ends with the restoration and preservation of caste hierarchy while adding new twists to the agony of dalits. Adult franchise is useless without social emancipation and the issues of caste, untouchability, widowhood, unequal property relations are crucial for real liberation.

In truth conversion has not abolished the plight of dalits. ‘Dalit Christians are the worst victims of caste within Christianity which religion widely propagates equality but largely practises inequality in India in all its breadth and length. Dalit Christians, who form majority among Christians—roughly 70%—face the same disabilities of untouchability, forced labour, atrocity and also socio-economic-political disadvantages on a par with the dalits of Hinduism, Sikhism and Buddhism... caste, a living monster, needs to be annihilated for the most oppressed to regain their human dignity and to enjoy liberty, equality and fraternity in all spheres’. But no political party, not even a dalit party, is interested in abolition of caste. One can hope NHRC will record more atrocities against the weaker sections of the society in the coming days and recommend monetary compensation to the victims.

Vol. 46, No. 27, Jan 12 -18, 2014

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