Invisibilization Of Caste in Modern India



Synopsis- The following opinion piece delves into the blatant ignorance of caste-based violence and the problem which lies in the continued denial of caste discrimination in modern India.


Bobbing up and down the car seat, I couldn’t wait to reach my friend's house where a special ‘prawn balchao’ was awaiting my arrival. After playing on the Gameboy for what seemed like hours, the mouth-watering delicacy was ready, with its juicy prawns and spicy tangy red curry. Akin to every thriller film that starts with a naïve overtly happy teenage girl, with the boogeyman at the turn of the street, this memory harbors a similar structural narrative. At the dining table, which for most Indian families is a platform for family dysfunctionality to unfold, was where I encountered my version of the grim reaper. As I was chomping the prawns, my friend’s grandmother asked me, ‘Bai, tujho nav kay’ (Baba, what is your name?). I immediately found it weird since I had already met her grandmother a couple of times before, nonetheless, I told her my name. Then came the statement which is urban India’s new subtle weapon of identifying caste. She asked me, “Bai, tujho surname kay’(What is your surname?). Innocently, oblivious to the darker implications of that statement I perfunctorily furnished her with the information. She looked at my friend’s parents with a certain expression, which I can still remember vividly. At the time I failed to fathom the meaning behind it, but today in hindsight, I am ashamed that she had judged my worthiness as a person based on my name. Article 17 aims to dismantle the caste structure, but that day as a fourteen-year-old I saw the lines actively being drawn. Thereafter, she took every opportunity to make me aware of her status, inserting the word ‘Sarvast Brahman’ with every opportunity she could earn . The food is made brahmin style, the room is set up Saraswat brahmin style and on and on she blattered . At this point you might say, one should ignore this kind of behavior, for she was probably raised with these kinds of prejudices. I would have agreed with you, but not until my friend turned out to be the same way. Like a horror film, which has the person you like the most, turning out to be the one fostering a dark secret, my friendship follows a similar trajectory. In one heated argument, she was intent on justifying that a ceremony meant to commemorate the merit students of the tenth-grade board exams from a particular high caste was meant to promote communal unity and not discriminatory. Her grandmother’s question flashed through my mind, and it didn’t take more than a while to piece two and two together. While her argument superficially sounds true, for there is no outright discrimination, but the very act of celebrating a few children based on caste rather than performance or meritocracy is. Moreover, when educated children are supposedly considered to be the beacon of hope of the nation, perpetuate and justify caste, the vicious cycle of discrimination is anchored once again with the current generation.


This is where I would like to dive into the crux of this article, the problem of denial of caste in urban India. Indian society has deftly deluded itself into believing that urbanization has led to greater social mobility, but these caste prejudices still incessantly pollute the social fabric of our country. Even if you believe in metropolitan modernity, there is enough evidence to negate the aforementioned statement. In 2017, the National Crimes Record Bureau (NCRB) reported 207 and 139 incidents of caste-based violence in supposedly urban cities of Bengaluru and Hyderabad (Deshpande,2017). The crimes are still under-reported on account of humiliation and fear of backlash. Furthermore, Smriti Sharma in her district-level analysis data, contends that crimes against lower castes are proportional to their upward mobility, and increase in per capita income concerning upper castes (Deshpande,2017).

In a casual conversation, a seemingly woke individual casually uttered the phrase “ I don’t see caste”. This actively demonstrates the upper caste privilege which mirrors the white man’s statements of “I don't see color”. But the aforementioned statement of “I don't see caste”, might be true. A study revealed, that 60 percent of Kolkata’s neighborhoods and 20 percent of Bangalore localities do not have a single Dalit resident. Then, if the lower castes are so far removed from the upper caste vision, their seemingly woke liberal statements sound right. A study conducted by Sukhadeo Thorat and Paul Attwell proved that in the labor market, minority groups are more disadvantaged than Upper caste groups. As per the results of the study, an upper-caste Hindu candidate was more likely to be called for an interview than with a candidate from a lower minority group. The only information provided about family background was the candidate's name which was enough for employers to discriminate. Legal safeguards and other privileges lead mainstream groups to believe that discrimination is a past practice, not likely to occur in the present scenario.


The removal of the marginalized perspectives starts from the very beginning. In school, most of the freedom struggle was taught from the upper castes' experiences and records. Gandhi, Tilak, Nehru’s bravery imbued the pages of our history textbooks. But, of course, Ambedkar drafted the constitution and that one footnote was enough to cover the contributions of Dalits and the other lower castes. A handful of us would be cognizant of Ambedkar’s “Mahad Satyagraha’ protest march, which involved numerous untouchables, marching towards the Chevdar water tank, to demonstrate their moral right to access public resources. This of course fails to be enshrined in our history books in contrast to the famous Dandi March. Try arguing about caste-based violence with an upper caste privileged elite, and believe me their first retort will be Article 17 of the Indian constitution prevents caste-based discrimination. The mere presence of laws doesn't suffice, for words on paper have no meaning without the strength of the institutions that safeguard these laws. Every Indian will make the impossible possible, to get out of a judicial case, then how do we expect any sort of retribution to be expected from the marginalized communities in the face of prejudice.

The Capability Approach by Amartya Sen demonstrates why caste-based violence and prejudice still occurs despite laws and institutions. According to this approach, the well-being of a person is measured in terms of capabilities and functions. Capabilities are goals an individual can achieve such as acquiring education, getting married, securing justice. But functioning is the ability to convert these capabilities into actualized goals. According to this framework, it isn't the number of resources, but the capability one has to convert these resources into function, which in turn depends on socio-political and environmental conditions. Thus, a mere provision of a law does not guarantee equality. Equality depends on a myriad of social and political factors. Therefore, as long as trivial and large-scale prejudices continue to exist, an implicit hierarchy based on caste will perpetuate. Imagine being excluded from your friend's circle, just because you belong to a different caste, you would feel slandered . Being discriminated against something you have no choice in, for being judged based on a social construct that is meant to perpetuate inequalities, would certainly leave an individual offended. As a society, we need to pay attention to these differences and speak up against the most trivial of prejudices. I do understand the irony of this article, a privileged Indian talking about equality, but rather than me ignoring my privilege and preaching that equality exists, I am taking the first step of acknowledging that this problem exists everywhere, in our localities and neighborhoods. Unfortunately, we either chose to ignore the discrimination that exists or become immune to them. It is important to identify the discriminatory nature of such seemingly innocuous behaviors , whether it is discrimination in the job sector or even as trivial as asking someone's surname for a crime does not proliferate evil, but ignorance surely does.


Key Takeaways

Caste-based violence still occurs in metropolitan cities

Prejudices metamorphose into seemingly harmless practices but still depict caste-based discrimination.

Important for us to acknowledge these seemingly innocuous behaviors and actively refrain from perpetuating them.


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