Casteism 101- It’s 2020, about time we wake up and smell the coffee


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There’s a lot being said and written about caste and casteism these days, vis-à-vis the current political situation. This debate was triggered by particularly unfortunate (but by no means uncommon) crimes in Hathras and Balrampur, Uttar Pradesh (no celebrities or drugs involved, sorry).

#DalitLivesMatter started trending on Indian Twitter (because what better place to gauge the democratic polity than twitter), and the nation saw protests here and there, demanding justice for the victim of what was clearly a caste-based hate crime. Hathras saw protesters on streets too, but those were in favour of the perpetrators (I’ll wait while you throw up).

As usual, the crime was first made a partisan issue, then it was straight-up denied, and then it was painted political in all the wrong ways. People in places of power and position blatantly misused. Most of the television mediadefecated thoroughly on whatever morals they had remaining. 

I wonder if we should’ve had a toilet campaign for this section of the media as well. Or even just a 2-slide presentation to explain which orifice one should use to talk and which for excretion. There seems to be some confusion underway w.r.t those two bodily functions (in case you haven’t figured it out yet, a certain shrill stain of a “journalist” is a personal bête noire).

Seriously, I could get a doctorate in scatology just writing about a certain channel, but I have digressed. This isn’t about the babbling, bumbling band of buffoons (Thanks, Prof. McGonagall).

Now, I know this whole caste topic is boring, especially when Tewatia is absolutely killing it in the IPL, and MSD is playing again (go, Thala!). I mean, what would you choose? The festering wound on the breast of our country that is casteism, or uber-entertaining cricket? Kohli- Gavaskar hot gossip is worth a few poverty-stricken lives from the lower echelons of the society, no? Why should we lose our sleep and invite stress-pimples for some kids who got raped, right? I mean, look at Anushka’s baby glow xoxo. 

I’ll try to make it an interesting read.

The level at which casteism operates in India, even to this day, is appalling. Yet I do not think we can set a definition to this systemic segregation. This is because the diversity in our country also means that the shapes and forms that casteism takes are numerous. Apart from a few similar practices across the different parts of the country, including but not limited to, restrictions on social mingling and sexual relationships, and basic resources like food and water being separated, not many of the caste-ist practices are similar, rendering it a phenomenon hard to define exactly. Only the dehumanisation, disrespect, and untouchability seem to be constant.

An analogy would have me compare casteism to a hydra (the multi-headed monster, not the Hydra vs. Shield hydra, though the symbol of the latter, is the former).

I understand that most of you, if you’ve managed to read this far, are wondering, and naturally- Why Casteism? Why now? There’s just so much else happening! The pandemic has just hit the 6.5 million mark, and claimed more than 1,00,000 lives, after all! 

It is necessary that we talk about this, and right now, because if we keep sleeping on a system of oppression as inhuman as casteism, we would be doing a disservice to ourselves, to our progeny, and to the country we all claim to be patriots of. Because if a crime as heinous as gangrape, based on something as dehumanising as casteism, does not finally push us into taking action, what will? Might as well stoop to cannibalism and announce a purge, because what is the meaning of being a human in a civilised society anymore?

Urban Indians, especially the younger demographic, is only slightly aware of casteism. To most of them, it is a Civics topic in high school. This needs to change, because for most of the Indian population, casteism is a part of their everyday lives. It is something they face on a daily basis. Major life decisions like education, employment, marriage, housing, and the earnings and savings of a majority of Indians, are still directly influenced by caste. Don’t believe me? Just try to rent a house. Or try and sign up on any of the matrimonial websites (Or just call Sima Aunty, she’ll explain. Stars and castes need alignment, trust me).

While we are at it, let’s talk about educating oneself about systemic oppression- things like casteism, racism, or the Uighur Muslim ethnic cleansing in China. Or the movements like BLM and feminism. The onus of being aware of the former and respectful of the latter, is on us. 

Let me rephrase and re-iterate that. It is not the responsibility of your Dalit friend to tell you the history of casteism, or explain to you why they deserve to be treated as an equal human being. It is not the responsibility of your female friends to explain to you the whats and whys of sexism, harassment, and feminism. The onus of being educated on such matters, is on you. 

The whole being-aware thing is called “being woke” in colloquial terms. The onus is on you, because the people who have been oppressed for centuries, and are still fighting for basic human treatment and respect, have enough on their plate without having to teach you and convince you of what is their reality. Feel free to shout this from the rooftops (with a mask on, please, the pandemic isn’t over yet).

Now that we’ve established your need to do the bare minimum and educate yourself, let me help you start the journey with a few movies. There are plenty of books as well, just open the books section on your Amazon. It’s the one sitting just above the movies section. And books are these dead trees with ink on them. Words are printed on papers, and you can read them. Just like you’re reading this article. Wild.  

About what seems like 3500 years ago, a movie called Article 15 came out. Ayushmann Khurrana starred in it, and it blew the minds of those who watched it over other superior, intellectual films (Judwaa 2? SOTY 2? Whichever critically-acclaimed Nolan-sharma-jayega blockbuster you can think of)

This movie was inspired by yet another gut-wrenching caste-based crime. These entitled monsters with a superiority complex and microscopic egos have a whole Modus Operandi at this point. Young Dalit girls from poor agricultural families in the hinterlands are kidnapped, assaulted, brutally violated, tortured, and finally murdered. The perpetrators get away with a slap on the wrist at most. Why? Caste. 

The so-called “upper-caste” men can get away with just about anything in our country. Before this movie, the Gen-Z urban populace remained blissfully unaware of the casteism that is rampant in our country. We thought caste was stuff of the 19th century, just like untouchability, or dowry.

Joke’s on us. Untouchability is very real even today, abolishment be damned. The prospects are not particularly looking pink for the country when real-life police officers are acting in a manner that is uncannily similar to a film’s antagonists, the reel-life police. Anubhav Sinha is a legend, but that’s a different conversation.

Another stellar movie called Sairat (Marathi) came out a few years ago. I was a mess by the time that movie’s credits rolled, but to someone that speaks from a position of privilege as I do, it was a story, a film much like any other film. But where a film like La La Land is just that- a story, Sairat depicts an issue that is the truth of many Indians. 

Honour killings (depicted in yet another brilliant movie by the name of NH10) in Haryana are infamous. That is basically your own family members murdering you because you married a person of your choice, by the way. Honourable indeed. Something about castes, sub-castes, and a general lack of humanity.

Masaan, apart from bestowing upon us the gift that is Vicky Kaushal, also touched upon the issue in a sensitive manner. 

Article 15, Sairat, and Masaan are streaming on Netflix. NH10 is on Amazon Prime Video.

I would also like for you to look at the Black Lives Matter movement raging across the USA. Now, casteism and racism are by no means identical, but a parallel can be drawn easily- an issue that has been around for centuries, involving a group of people who have been perpetually suppressed on the basis of their birth, and a group that has been traditionally powerful, also on the basis of birth. The latter group have been led to believe that they are, in fact, the real victims, and now both these democracies are in hot soup (Desh sankat mein hai, in short).

Oppression has to go. More specifically, Systemic oppression has to go. Be it women who are the ones being discriminated against, be it persons of colour, or the so-called “lower-castes”. 

About time we wake up and smell the damn coffee (Keep drinking hot soup, coffee, or tea. It’s supposed to help with the CoVID-19 thing)

About time we stopped expecting someone to educate us on these matters, and spoon-feed the solution to us (Tony Stark and a team of “thoughts and prayers” can’t snap away this particular Thanos. Non-fictional billionaires are busy making more money, no Batmans on the horizon either).

About fucking time we did something to change the situation, and lead the way to a more human society. We are, after all, humans. It’s the least we could do to act humane.

About Author:

“Ramya describes herself as an Extrovert max (not Geet level though, not even close), weird as a certain Ms. Lovegood, and helluo libroRUM (geddit?). If there’s a book fandom, she’s probably neck-deep in it… Wannabe polyglot.”

You can follow Ramya on twitter: @good_old_rum

Also From the Author: Nirbhaya, again.