Thursday, November 10, 2016

We need to talk about Caste

There’s a famous quote vis-a-vis Indian politics and election: “Indians don’t cast their votes; they vote their castes.”

The only problem with the above statement is nothing’s going to change unless we address the core issue of our society. Caste, whether you like it or not, is incredibly strong. It's beyond religion. In fact, much stickier than that. Cluelessness only makes it stronger. Especially if you grew up in urban India and never bothered to know why the labourers in the city generally belong to the downtrodden caste or for that matter, where your maid/help comes from, then you—and not the institutions in place—are partly to be blamed for your ignorance. The burden of privilege ensures that you stay away from the C-word. So much so you don’t even want to talk about it. Your excuse could be anything from “It’s irrelevant!” (Yes, it’s irrelevant because the generations that preceded you made sure of that but if you’re going to discuss the conditions in our country, you better do your homework) to “It makes me uncomfortable!” (Well, that proves the extent of your comfort more than anything else, sweetheart). The point being, not talking about something by calling it regressive is giving too much power to the regressiveness of the subject. Caste is all around us. It’s so prevalent that if you can notice the pattern, it’s almost there all around you be it urban or rural India. So why talk about it? And what difference would it make? Words are a powerful tool, if backed by facts and data. It can be a weapon of mass destruction too, if backed by falsehood and propaganda. That said, if we—the ones who have the voice to make a gradual difference—don’t try to understand the correlation between a person’s caste and his profession (or the lack of it), then who is going to? The politicians? Well, they are busy exploiting our ignorance for close to seven decades now. If we don’t sit up and see how caste affects the entire subcontinent—yes, it’s not limited to only India as Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka also have a steady caste system in order—that’s a major chunk of 1.68 billion people on the planet—then we are only fooling ourselves. If we’re going to stay aloof instead of digging deeper (like we do with the trends/memes that catch our imagination on the Internet) into the surface of a disease that has been making our society hollow for ages, then what’s the point in criticizing caste politics?

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