Caste in my living room – 3

In my last post, I had raised a few questions for the readers’ consideration. In their attempt to answer the questions, a reader had posed a volley of counter questions – “Don’t they do it? The other castes? Don’t Dalits ask for reservation in the name of caste? Don’t they seek protection in the name of caste?” (paraphrased) This article is designed to answer these ignorant, typical upper-caste-based-questions that may be lurking behind the best of us. 
Come May-June, 10th-12th class results are out across the country. Hopes, like the pulse, throb and waver in the minds of the aspiring youngsters. The lucky and the hardworking few get to study a course of their choice in the college of their choice. What do the unlucky do? I thought they grieve for sometime and resign to their fate, mostly.  I remember being upset with the quota for “others” when I couldn’t get into medicine after my 12th class. I’d thought some “underserving” candidates got through because of the affirmative action of the Government. In my first year as a student in a Government Law College, I met a girl from the SC community who was the first graduate in her entire khandhan. There I was, unable to comprehend and compare the information with the fact that my great grandfather was a Head Master in a High School. Isn’t it true of most of the Brahmins? Be it Vedic education or English education, didn’t the Brahmins get the best of the best from time immemorial? What is wrong, is knowledge now a problem? Of course, not. Pray, what gives anybody the right to acquire anything at the expense of others? How does it make you feel that your ancestors denied education and basic human rights to some human beings in the name of caste? 
Imagine, what motivates a daughter of a house-maid to aspire to become an IAS officer? It did not “run in the family”, she does not have the means to afford the books or coaching, she does not live in a well-stocked home to enjoy great health, and heck, she has to face the wrath of being a “low caste” from the very society which lowered her. Has she or has she not earned the reduced cut off/age limit? People think reservation is a mockery of the ability of the reserved community candidates and a punishment to the so-called-meritorious. In fact, it is a slap across the cheeks of the society for dishonouring people. It is the minimum price we pay as a token of our regret for our unpardonable sins. It’d suit if some of us didn’t act like sore losers and have grace in accepting our mistakes. Funny enough, all those who prided at their “good genes” and “pure blood” are now no longer good enough unless they score the proverbial 99.99%. By their logic, they should be able to score those marks and outwit the untalented “quota” candidates, no? In a great turn of events, the reserved community candidates have begun to score good marks and get into the open category. Sadly, there is a Rohit Vemula for every Kanhaiya Kumar. 

Photo from the movie Kabali

But, look at us, we don’t even know their life stories, their tragic stories written in their blood by the privileged community. We hate it when a mainstream alpha hero like Rajinikanth dons the role of a lowered caste leader in ‘Kabali.’ We don’t understand when Kabali wears his well-tailored suits and cool glasses to drive home a point. It is a throwback to the Ilavarasan-Divya incident times, when a caste-Hindu party leader in TN notoriously commented that “Dalit boys wear a good pair of jeans and coolers and attract our women into liking them.” To start with, if women were to be attracted to good-looking, well dressed men, there won’t be very many weddings. Luckily for women, most of us realize that beauty isn’t skin deep. That apart, note the tone of the comment, the caste-Hindu can’t take that a Dalit can wear clothes he likes! Haven’t we heard that Infosys Narayanamurthy wears chappals to his office because he doesn’t care too much about his clothes? He does that because people have no preconceived notion about his birth and ability to do things based on his sartorial sense. A Mahatma Gandhi, Bania by birth, can choose to wear only loin cloth to demonstrate his stand against poverty. A dalit doesn’t have the choice, he wears tattered clothes mostly because he cannot afford, people mock him, he wears good clothes, people think he has no right to.  Is this not violence? It is like we hear the screams of this torture and we shrug it off? Clothes are a way to express that we have arrived, if it hurts our eyes so much to see someone not from a upper-caste wear it, it is a sure shot sign that as a society we are hitting the bottom. 

This is why Ambedkar, a Mahar by birth, chose to wear his suits proudly. Because all you need to buy a suit is a few grands. You wear it and people don’t pry to get into your skin, literally and figuratively. You are one of them. You can dine and wine with them. You can fall in love with them. The aim of Dalitism isn’t maintaining exclusivity. Dalitism is not a caste identity, it is an alternative consciousness to espouse the idea that harmony and comity is all we need in this society. For all our sensitivity, one can never understand the humiliation of a person forced to do a menial job or denied a place in school because they belong to a community, because we have never gone through it. Nobody is saying that if there is a criminal belonging to Dalit community, he or she be treated differently. (It is another matter than people from the lower rungs of the society have been repeatedly awarded the highest punishment of the State – guess what, they have mostly been uneducated and impoverished) But don’t assume that there is a Dalit or a Muslim behind every crime without application of mind is the plea. It is both laughable and devastating. 

On another note, this is precisely why feminists are so annoyed to have the humanist angle stuck on them. Of course humanism is the ultimate goal, but the fact that a group of individuals have been repeatedly offended and denied based on their gender needs to be understood and addressed clearly. Just like feminism, Dalitism is meant to be a collective voice against a stereotyping, oppressive world which is happy to patronize them call it upliftment. Like Pa.Ranjith, the director of ‘Kabali’ says, “let’s have a conversation.” Some think, dialogues are useless, for they mostly end up being monologues. If you stand up for a cause, like say a greener world, go plant a few seeds, don’t preach, they say. (At least they are better than the delusional few who think they breath clean air) Agreed that some of us are quietly planting trees and most of us are still contemplating about watering it. But, all this is happening outside our homes, we have no clue about this and we are not taking any responsibility for our faults. Unfortunately, we are forgetting that the homes that we so lovingly maintain was probably built by felling a hundred trees and reclaiming a life-giving riverine. No matter how many seeds you sow, unless you take efforts to reverse the damage already caused, you will make no difference to his world. If it takes sermonizing and annoying the reader to bring our living rooms in order, then, so be it. I am trying, are you?

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