Looking at the worrying social health of India, one wonders if it is ready and willing to share space with fellow citizens who it considers the wretched Others.
The othering is not limited to estrangement but graduates to violence, exclusion and repeated oppression. Newer strategies are plotted 24X7 by the upper castes to form a para-structure in order to remove them from positions of power which they see as their privilege.
A person with dominant caste roots already carries a privilege of thousands of years. Added to that, various institutions that exist cater to their needs. This results in an archetype that is naturalised as pan-India, with a language, food, culture and social set-up that actually discounts the everydayness of a majority of India that comprises the Dalits, Adivasis, Muslims as well as backward classes.
India is a Brahminical State, notwitstanding its secular nature. The entire system favours the twice-born savarnas, mostly Brahmins who occupy the highest position by default in all the major sectors, controlling wealth and power.
If Brahmins and other savarnas enjoy these ill-gotten privileges without much question, why do they indulge in the sadistic act of forcing psychological and physical pain upon powerless subjects who they see as their serfs?
Almost every Brahminical festival or celebration is anti-Dalit, and to an extent anti-Adivasi. The asuras (demons) occupy a special place, whether it is Ravana or Mahishasur, while the devas are fair-skinned Aryans.
Imagine living in a country where one worries constantly about one’s immediate security and safety. Handicapped by these immediate threats, the Dalits are unable to rise to their full potential. Raising a child for the Dalits under such circumstances is mortifying.
So, what are the ways that the Dalits can be safe and secure enough to enjoy the fruits of a Constitution that guarantees them freedom?
If hatred is such, one needs to ask if this country is even equipped to consider the Dalits as fellow, equal citizens? Babasaheb Ambedkar himself was highly sceptical of the social and economic inequalities which persist, warning that these would engender serious problems.
This scepticism led him to suggest several methods for Dalit security.
Ambedkar concluded that the Indian habitat was a dangerous place for the Dalits. He mooted separate settlements as one solution, which would bind the Dalits together and make them economically autonomous.
Social divisions might operate in these settlements too, and there is a fear that this might see a repeat of the experiences of the Bantus in Africa. Separate settlements ended up depriving them of basic infrastructure.
However, such fears present only an incomplete picture, as such settlements would ensure that the Dalits are not subordinates, nor merely secondary Hindus.
For, I argue that Hindu India is not mentally prepared to grant equal citizenship to everyone. It lives in the fear of Others. There may be cascades of generational violence should the Dalits start replying in equal fervour.
However, can the rest of India survive without them? Who will do the filthy work it has made it the sole privilege of these untouchables? Drafting Ambedkar into the Constituent Assembly was hence a good gamble. It made the Dalits nationalists in a country where no one else actually stands to defend their rights.
In recently published research, Amit Thorat and Omkar Joshi say untouchability is still an everyday reality for the Dalits, with 20 per cent of urban and 30 per cent of rural India accepting that they practise it. The numbers may be far more as the information collected by the research was voluntary, with much reluctance seen in urban areas to provide answers. Half of India openly accepted acts of caste criminality.
In the same research, on almost all aspects of untouchability, the Brahmins led from the front.
Ambedkar’s desires are yet to be fulfilled as his people continue to live his worst fears.
This article first appeared in the print edition on February 9, 2020 under the title “Dalitality: Prejudice persists, waiting for Ambedkar’s dream ” Suraj Yengde, author of Caste Matters, is a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard Kennedy School. He curates the fortnightly ‘Dalitality’ column
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