End Caste. Ending Caste-Based Discrimination is not Enough.

For long years now Dalit rights and human rights organizations and various people’s movements have been challenging ‘caste-based discrimination’. I strongly believe and advocate that the movements should be focused to end and eliminate the very system of caste. To say that we stand against ‘caste-based discrimination’ presupposes that we are okay with the caste system without its discriminatory practices. It does not require much reading of facts and opinions to conclude that the caste system rests squarely on practicing and perpetuating a hierarchical structure of ‘high’ and ‘low’, on a system of ‘purity’ and ‘pollution’. It is amply clear that the system of caste was institutionalized as part of the hegemonic agenda of the dominant castes.

To take an example, the feminist movements in India, and elsewhere, are very clear that as they fight against gender-based discrimination, the larger agenda and mission is to end patriarchy – the very system that produces the discrimination. Similarly, the Dalit rights movements need to now channelize their energies in annihilating the very system of caste.

When I presented this thought a few hours back at the International Consultation on Caste-Based Discrimination organized by the International Dalit Solidarity Network in Kathmandu, an overwhelming number of activists agreed that this indeed is the right way ahead. Why then, it is important to explore and understand, is this not the popular discourse amongst the reformers, activists and academics?

There are several reasons for this:

It is imperative that any movement that is aimed at challenging rights violation, begins by highlighting the atrocities, discrimination and violence that is caused by social, political or structural causes. So, in the process of articulating the importance of protecting the rights of people who are at the receiving end of such violations, it is natural that the prominent discourse is that of ‘ending discrimination’. However, if were to continue to do this narrow discourse, it will be detrimental to the very agenda of promotion of human rights.

When I have proposed this larger agenda of  ‘ending caste’, several Dalit activists, organizations and academics have expressed a fear that ending caste may also end the affirmative actions (known as reservations in India). Yes it will! But isn’t that the ultimate goal? Aren’t we very clear that affirmative actions are merely remedial measures? If we agree that it is remedial then we must also accept that remedies cannot become another system.  On a practical plane, caste has to be dismantled first and then the dismantling of the affirmative actions should follow. In other words, affirmative programs, special statuses and protections should continue when the society has proved beyond doubt that we have indeed become a casteless society.

Popular electoral politics around the world, especially in India and south Asia, is based on community, caste and other identity affiliations. It is very common for electoral candidates to woo people from their own communities/caste groups. In fact this method of nominating candidates, campaigning and voting has become a norm and therefore escapes scrutiny and challenge. Dalit politicians are, unfortunately, not any different in this regard. And it is quite likely that this call for a caste-less society will be a big challenge to all political aspirants who are used to the short cut of garnering votes based on their caste identities.

I believe that if we are truly committed to an equitable society that stands for social justice, and are committed to the practice and promotion of human rights principles, we have no choice but to strive and struggle for ending caste.

~ by stalink on November 29, 2011.

11 Responses to “End Caste. Ending Caste-Based Discrimination is not Enough.”

  1. Thats such a good idea, so fresh!
    There’s no difference between you and me until its disclosed that I’m Jain and you are Dalit or whatever. Next step in social reforms should be to wipe this only difference!

  2. First, we will have to begin with acknowledging the differences before rejecting them. Currently, we pretend they don’t exist and push them deep, where they influence our world, but are not accessible to address easily.

    Important, like the feminists, to point out the castes involved in situations of injustice and differences in power – even in seemingly ordinary news so people realize the magnitude of what we pretend doesn’t exist.

    That will pave the way for declaring it a bad idea and irrelevant to our realities as humans.

  3. In my previous comment, the denial I am speaking about, the hidden is how caste plays out in our everyday lives. Condemning an extreme incident is easy, but daily discrimination is rarely extreme, and it is the incubation pool – hidden out of sight as we pretend that people are equals, while treating them according to scales in our mind.

  4. feminism means different things to different people including feminists. so also, patriarchy means different things to different people. so the goals for feminists are different.
    but here are some thoughts about caste elimination
    if we do manage to remove caste, are we willing to give up some of our specific caste-based cultures? for example, in the celebration of festivals. a dalit community considered untouchable in coastal karnataka celebrates its “land festival” a symbol its victory in gaining land. a large number of castes excluding brahmnins in coastal karnataka worship their ancestors. the ancestor does not ever ask people do anything negative. n return it generally asks for a coconut or a little bit paddy or similar. everybody in the village has roles to play in invoking the ancestor’s spirit and seeking help from the ancestor invoked to sort out their problems. what shall we do with that? should we ban that too because it is caste-based? this sort of worship is very, very different vedic rituals. what do vedic poojas involve a lot of waste and not just of money.
    what shall we do about our food cultures, which all of us value so much? shall we all then become “Hindus” as the VHP proclaimed in Udupi that there are no divisions among Hindus, that all Hindus are brothers (they forget to mention sisters).
    there are castes here which are traditionally matrilineal. if we reject caste, that would go too, because matrilineal system is linked to the caste.
    how are we to negotiate all this? in the caste i was born into, women are not given the mangalsutra, the practice was not there but is creeping in now. in many dalit communities the mangalsutra does exist, it is not a recent addition. to my mind, there is no need to indicate the marital status of only the woman. u can either have symbols for both men or women or for either. so now, whose practices are we to follow? shall we all unite under the banner of Hinduism and become followers of a chauvinist Ram? so far, the call that caste system should be eliminated, has only lead to a consolidation into the “Hindu” identity. there is no doubt that notions of caste superiority and purity need to go. that the killings, rapes, humiliation, destruction of homes need to stop. because nothing can condone the injustice of it.

  5. I would like to do something substantial in fighting against casteism. I am from Scheduled caste category and I have felt that inspite of being a substantial section of population and inspite of having many educated people in SC, somehow we have not been able to make a point to others and more importantly within oursleves. Casteism runs deep in our minds and I have also written it in my blog ( http://krisforall.blogspot.com/2010/01/caste-system-part-2.html and http://krisforall.blogspot.com/2010/01/caste-system-part-1.html ). We people from SC and other backward classes have basically lost our self respect and that is shameful. How can I know more about the fight that you are part of ? Please mail me @krishanu.6@gmail.com

  6. Great post. Thank you so much Mr. K. I am watching your movie “India Untouched” and learning a lot.

    While I like the intent behind your idea of getting rid of the caste system, rather than just the discriminatory aspect of it, I am somewhat skeptical about this tactic. This is because of the fact that the caste system is central to the primary religion+tradition in the country(as one of your interviewees said in your movie) . So it is possible that dismantling this aspect without affecting the religion may be a smaller battle (although, probably not as effective).

    Im not looking for instant gratification, since even stopping discrimination would take – no less than 2 generations of enforcing law, and educating people, but given the religious history of India, the strong ties to tradition even among the youth and the political power held by the extreme right wing, this seems like a herculean task.

    I hope you prove me wrong (I am 100% with you, either way).

    —-Further —
    Im not completely familiar with a lot of Indian law, but I think enforcing the constitution should be easier, no ?

    One of the first inclusions by Dr. Ambedkar was the right to equality :

    Part III – Fundamental Rights : Right to Equality
    15. (1) The State shall not discriminate against any citizen on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex, place.

    Countries like America that have had a long and severe racial history have unions like ACLU for civil liberties and to uphold the constitution. You always hear people quoting the different amendments in their constitution. I think that even though enforcing this is going to much harder in india (because of the drawn-out legal process), If we can educate all indians about it, at least they will know their rights.

  7. My suggestion is that govt should remove the caste column from all application. and put column indian. I am sure this caste system will slowly endup in coming years and our grand children will live together happily . But doing this what about the political parties will do? how they will get the votes? since from the independence they are playing their cards.

  8. Sir, I belong to this caste, Its a worst thing in India,
    Its a fundamental biggest problem in India

  9. Stalin, fully agree. There is no reason for caste to exist. Please see http://sanjeev.sabhlokcity.com/Misc/Scientiific-hinduism-2-institutionalised-oppression.doc

  10. When our GODs do not have caste then why do we have.
    In my point of view the best way to remove the casteism is to replace the caste by our religion(HINDU).
    Exp. ABC Hindu, XYZ Hindu etc. in this manner there will be no casteism and hindu will be united once again.

  11. Sir, I saw your documentary “India Untouched”. Thank you for making it. Since nearly a decade now, have been reading on caste in Sanskrit scriptures, the role of Mutts in upholding them and how they shaped Indian legality. I would like to talk to you privately. Have included my email. Please send me a test email. I will reply. Thank you.

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