Tag Archives: caste

The Many Lives of Caste in Modern India

[Following my previous post, ‘We are Proud Hindus’, there has been an expected barrage of comments – all along very predictable lines. Most of them, characteristically, turn every critique of reprehensible caste practices of Hindu society into an expression of ‘casteism’ and immediately displace the criticism to their favourite enemy, Islam. For the benefit of readers who might be interested in a more reasoned debate, I post here an essay,  which was written some years ago and a version of which published in South Asian Journal. This is  just by way of making my own position clear. – AN ]

Politics in contemporary India is marked by the ‘resurgence’ of ‘caste politics’. In a sense, this is true. The past two decades have seen a dramatic collapse of the old political formations and parties, which had dominated the politics of the Nehruvian era.[1] Even the movements of that period, right up to the mid-1970s, were largely movements on economic issues and questions of corruption, black-marketing, hoarding and food shortages. Through the decade of the 1980s, there was a gradual erosion of the Nehruvian secular-nationalist imagination, and one of the factors responsible for it was the ‘re-emergence’ of caste in public discourse.

The watershed in this respect of course, was the famous ‘Mandal Commission’ agitation – which has become something of a metaphor in contemporary Indian politics. The Commission, which was instituted in 1978, during the Janata Party government, under the stewardship of B.P. Mandal, a socialist leader from a ‘backward caste’, was given the task of looking into the question of ‘backwardness’ of certain castes and suggest remedies for its redressal. For about a decade after it submitted its recommendations in 1980, it lay in cold storage after the Congress under the leadership of Mrs Indira Gandhi (subsequently taken charge of by her son Rajiv) returned to power. It was implemented under extremely contentious circumstances in 1990 under the Prime Ministership of V.P. Singh. As is well-known, its main recommendations included 27 percent reservations in public employment for these castes (known in India as the ‘Other Backward Classes’ or OBCs).

Continue reading The Many Lives of Caste in Modern India

There’s a khap panchayat next to your house

So when he khap panchayats of Haryana got Kurukshetra MP Navin Jindal to air their views to the Parliament, as he likes to put it, the story became simpler. Now it was one individual (Jindal) vs. modern India. Now it was an educated babalog neta letting us down. How could you? Now one didn’t have to enagage with the khap panchayats themselves. It could now be given more ai time and column space than when the khap panchayats were getting same-gotra couples killed.

Now, a ‘section’ of the Arya Samaj in Haryana says it won’t allow Arya Samaj temples to be used for marriage of same-gotra couples, or for any marriage without the consent of not only both sets of parents but also the entire village. Outrage is in order, though perhaps “shocker” is not a great word. Continue reading There’s a khap panchayat next to your house

Nandini Sundar – Will counting caste reduce inequality?

Nandini Sundar’s recent Op-Ed for The Hindu on caste-enumeration in the latest round of the census. Read the entire article here.

But come back with your comments – what do you think about caste–enumeration?

Yesterday when the census enumerator visited, I asked him how he felt about the current debate on counting caste in the census: “Not comfortable at all”, he said, “I don’t even like asking whether someone is SC/ST or Other, leave alone what their caste is.” But, he added, “caste is an inescapable reality of Indian society.”

The debate on counting caste in the census has not moved on from 2001, when opinion was equally divided. Supporters of caste enumeration argue that census categories merely reflect existing classifications, and that only the census can provide the figures necessary to map inequality by caste. Opponents argue that the census does not mirror but actively produces social classifications and ways of thinking. They point to the history of mobilisation around caste in the census and the consequent dangers of both distorted data and increased social tensions. In neither case has much thought been given to how the data might be used, the different kinds of figures needed for different purposes, or alternative ways of collecting the required data. Read the rest of the article here

Caste and Modernity

A friend remarked the other day that this is an “unendingly interesting” country. The phrase is stuck in my head, and it recurs when I come across stuff like this:

There were no Hindu untouchables in the West Punjab, and such work as that of sweepers, skin-flayers and leather workers was done by Muslims. They were presumably untouchable Hindus who had at one time become Muslims to escape their lot, which they apparently did not manage to do…

As I boy I would feel quite ashamed when my mother, asking for a glass of water at some Muslim house, would be told with ingratiating courtesy that both the glass and the water had come from a neighbouring Hindu family. But slowly I saw the change come in. Our father made no bones about eating with Muslims and bringing them home. Interestingly, this problem was solved in our home, as in many other homes where a similar change was at work, by the introduction of chinaware. Continue reading Caste and Modernity

The Liberals and the Bahujans

There was this article in the Indian Express yesterday by Mihir Sharma which basically says liberals don’t have to feel guilty about not supporting Mayawati for PM because Mayawati and the BSP don’t have a “programme”. That desire for a new, revolutionary “programme” sounds Stalinist to me. But more than that, it is revealing about the picture of the good Indian liberal that the author has. The good Indian liberal seems to be completely unaware of the five letter word, Caste; s/he does not appreciate what untouchability means for millions, what the monopoly over the power structure by upper castes means for the ‘majority of the oppressed’ (Bahujan). This good liberal sounds like a foreign-educated babalog who is not very different from someone we have met before.

But wait, I don’t have to continue this rant because in the same morning’s HT, Ashutosh Varshney had what could be an excellent rejoinder to the Mihir Sharma piece: Continue reading The Liberals and the Bahujans

Why you should Caste your vote

Someone called “Dr Known” has sent Kafila, via our Contact page, this interesting email. I’m posting this here only because I found it interesting; posting does not necessarily constitute agreement. Or disagreement :)

Since Hinduism is based on CASTE hierarchies, it intrinsically breeds HATRED among Indians.

Hence,

* You must VOTE for candidates from your CASTE only.

* Only he can and will UNDERSTAND your culture and IMPROVE your socio-economic status.

* And do not worry if he is CORRUPT.

* You must vote him till 85% of all registered marriages in India are INTER-CASTE or INTER-FAITH.

This is the only way to STOP dis-integration of India.

The Caste of a Scam: A Thousand Satyams in the Making

Guest post by D.PARTHASARATHY

Industry leaders, CEOs, and Corporate big-wigs have been falling over each other to portray the Satyam scam as an isolated case, as a simple failure of corporate governance. On the other hand critics from the left once again have had a field day with their “I told you so” condemnation of capitalist free market economies. There is also a moralistic middle class which blames it on greed pure and simple. The fact that the Indian private sector is largely dominated by family owned and controlled businesses of sundry sizes, that caste, community, gender, and social networks play a significant role in who gets nominated to top positions within the companies, and how businesses are run, that these have significant implications for corporate governance as well as corporate loot – these are issues that are too dangerous and embarrassing at the same time, and so are conveniently ignored.

Continue reading The Caste of a Scam: A Thousand Satyams in the Making

Kilvenmani, Karamchedu, Chunduru… Orissa, Pratapgarh?

Reviewing Anand Teltumbde’s book Khairlanji: A Strange and Bitter Crop, Rajesh Ramachandran concludes:

The book however has a serious ideological flaw. It inadvertently falls into the Brahminical trap of theorising class conflicts in terms of positing Dalits against the new Shudra oppressors. Kilvenmani, Karamchedu, Chunduru and other examples are repeated at least seven times in the text to argue that new oppressors are Shudras. If that be, how does Teltumbde explain desperately poor tribals killing and raping Dalits in Kandhamal? The real oppressor is the caste hegemony perpetuated by the core Sangh Parivar constituency of the Brahmin-Bania-Thakur trinity. Is it any surprise that it was Parivar’s Brahminical commentators who first introduced the Dalit-Shudra contradiction to theorise the “failure” of Kanshi Ram’s Bahujan experiment and the split of the unbeatable BSP-Samajwadi Party alliance in UP. Hope the Dalit ‘holocaste’ series doesn’t serve this Hindutva agenda. [Mail Today, 26 October 2008]

Or, indeed, how does one explain atrocities against Dalits by Brahmins?

The million mutinee question – Anant Maringanti

Guest post by ANANT MARINGANTI

How far is Nandigram from Chengara ? If we take media coverage and internet buzz as indicators, they are on two different planets.  The heat generated by Singur and Nandigram was enough to run a chain of mini power plants. All that the families in the Chengara holdout have managed to evoke is a few approving nods from here and there.  Here is a partial inventory of reasons why this might be so.

1) Singur and Nandigram are protests against disposession. The bad guys in the two instances are high profile harbingers of neoliberal globalization. No less. Chengara is about staking a claim to a welfare provision that nobody takes seriously anymore. There are no easily identifiable bad guys here.

Continue reading The million mutinee question – Anant Maringanti

A Tangential Addition to the Great Auto Debate

I want to go off on a bit of a tangent here. Just to open a different discussion in the spirit of thinking, and muddling along together. It seems to me that one of the axis on which the debate has turned is on the question of desire and its representation. Who is the desiring subject, towards whom is this desire directed, who represents this desire in what way, what are the slippages therein, who has the right to speak about whom.

I was wondering if we can approach this from a slightly different angle by taking this question of desire beyond the individual subject (variously defined). And in fact nameless did gesture to this in one of her responses where she raised the question of the appropriation of what she termed subaltern practices by elite intellectuals where certain practices and forms, in this case autos, are made to stand in for certain values – in this case progressive, ‘left” etc – which says more about the locations of the intellectuals and their insensitivity to their own class-caste positions, in a move which is patronizing at best and exploitative at worst. I think inherent in this critique is the shadow of a kind of objectification of a certain experience, so that a symbol becomes alienated from the actual life practices in which it is located to circulate as some empty signifier, to be appropriately filled as per requirement.

Continue reading A Tangential Addition to the Great Auto Debate

Reflections on the Great Unexpected Auto Debate

Little did I think when I put up this image, that it would lead to such a rich set of comments on class, caste and gender.

The picture had been circulating on the web, in blogs and email lists for some time, and without comment, as a funny, jokey kind of thing. Autos and trucks (in Delhi anyway,) are renowned, as Aman pointed out in his comment, for pithy, witty, quirky, dolorous, amorous etc. comments on life. Briefly glimpsed, their ability to linger in our minds is a reflection of their literary quality.

When this one was sent to me, the reason I posted it on kafila was initially light-hearted too, since we consider autos to be our mascots, as representing kafila’s philosophy and relationship to the city in some way – small, cheeky, full of “attitude”, winding nimbly through the mass of traffic, a resistant challenge to the idea of a shiny, “world-city-like-paris-and-singapore” that our various governments want to turn all our cities into, by neatly removing the poor, the workers, the slums etc.

Continue reading Reflections on the Great Unexpected Auto Debate

Kavita Srivastava’s report on last year’s Gujjar confrontation in Rajasthan

[This detailed report was prepared by Kavita Srivastava, the Jaipur-based general secretary of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties. Posting this here to make it publicly available as it is not on the PUCL website. Please note that this was a rough draft. ]


State Violence and Caste Confrontation in Rajasthan

I. Outline of the week long movement for ST Reservation by the Gurjars

Soon after independence the Bhil Meenas got reservations in the Districts of Dungarpur, Banswara, Chittorgarh and Udaipur. At the time of 1931 census the Bhil Meenas were over 20, 000, however today they have reduced to half they are only 10,000 in number.

This was an issue of contention for the Meenas as they felt that they also deserved to be STs so they decided to raise their voice against this injustice as they called it. Under the leadership of Lakshmi Narayan Jhirwal they organized themselves.

11th June 1952: Meenas organized a sammelan near Dudu (Jaipur) district for the inclusion of the Meena community in the Schedule list for reservation. The Gurjars supported this wholly. Continue reading Kavita Srivastava’s report on last year’s Gujjar confrontation in Rajasthan

“There is no such thing as the caste system anymore”

In April last year, Avinash Dutt and I had interviewed the political scientist Christophe Jaffrelot. We walked around Lodhi Gardens, tape recorder in hand, and I ended up transcribing more than five thousand words that night. Tehelka had published a shorter, edited version. Here’s the full thing.

I was reminded of this interview after encountering the argument here that there should be, and is, a Dalit-Brahmin alliance against the already much-demonised OBCs. I thought that this way of seeing the BSP’s victory in the Uttar Pradesh elections was not only incorrect, but also seemed to be in need of the argument that Jaffrelot makes in this interview: that seeing caste as a ‘system’ is outmoded, at least as far as electoral politics is concerned.

1- Shivam: Which is more important for the average Indian, religion or caste?

It is sometimes not only those two but much more. Continue reading “There is no such thing as the caste system anymore”

Why don’t leftists get agitated over caste?

It is this silence — ‘indifferentism’ as Ambedkar had prophetically termed the caste Hindu/liberal attitude to anti-caste concerns — that continues to echo for Badhal… When only Dalits are forced to bear the burden of articulating Dalit issues they are dubbed sectarian; the casual betrayal of Dalits by the rest of society passes for secularism.

Navayana publisher S. Anand wonders why the left-liberal set stood up for an art student in Baroda but not for Dalit students at AIIMS.