Statement by New Socialist Initiative, Delhi State Chapter
It is cleaning season in India. Country’s prime minister has gone to town with a broom. He started the campaign to clean India by sweeping a dalit neighburhood of erstwhile untouchables, seemingly breaking many caste barriers. There are very few public defenders of caste system nowadays. Upper caste men and women, whose ancestors only three generations ago fought tooth and nail to not yield even an inch of their caste privileges, now cry and organise under the slogan of Equality, once affirmative action for lower castes in educational institutions and government jobs has begun to have some traction. Is now not an opportune time to sweep away the garbage of caste into the dustbin of history?
Reality is too complex for this simple hope. If caste appears to be disregarded, or flouted, in some domains, its prejudices and violence are flourishing in others. The day country’s news channels were busy showing the prime minister sweeping a dalit basti in the heart of the capital, a young woman of Madurai in Tamil Nadu was burnt alive by her family for marrying a dalit. She could have been from anywhere in the country, from Haryana in the North to Maharashtra in the West, or Bihar in the East, to have met a similar fate; if not murder, certainly social ostracism. In all villages, where majority of Indians live, habitation areas are divided along caste lines; upper castes occupying the most secure central areas with easiest access to public utilities like road, school, and panchayat ghar; and dalits on the outskirts. In cities too, where caste markers are less visible, caste networks are the most potent resource the poor fall back upon while searching for job and habitation.