When Neha Dixit asks if networking is the new caste system, she rightly points out to one of the many strong critiques of the Bahujan movement, ie the Savarna-ness (dominant caste-ness) of our social, cultural, and occupational groups.
Networking is a buzz word among many entrepreneurs, startups, businessmen and women, and even non-governmental organisations. In fact, there are specific individuals whose expertise lies in building connections and platforms that enable networking. While there are benefits of networking to all sections of the society, this piece will be focusing on trying to understand how caste privilege (and thus caste-inequality in society) perpetuates because of networking – consciously and unconsciously.
The ways in which caste privilege perpetuates through networking are not limited to the examples referred to below. The examples are the manifestations of the existing inequality in all our spaces in the society.
It is also beneficial to read the write up on privilege before moving ahead.
Historically, dominant castes have held on to many of the most essential resources that have allowed for “living” one’s life – such as land and education. The means to do so was through oppression – by committing atrocities on the oppressed castes.
But what one fails to understand are the implications of our history on the world we live in right now. We need to really understand and accept that our society is still caste-based. You just have to look at the number of people marrying within their own castes.
1. We, the dominant castes, are benefiting from our ancestors.
The fact that our ancestors had access to education and land, without having to face the physical violence and psychological trauma faced by oppressed caste groups meant that they could accumulate wealth that is both tangible (land, money, knowledge, etc) and intangible (status, social and cultural networks, access to variety of spaces, etc).
This meant that they were able to provide a particular kind of life to their kids.
But while doing so, they transferred their social, emotional, economic, and cultural capital (the tangible and intangible aspects mentioned above) to their kith and kin.
2. This capital has been passed on from generation to generation through endogamy (marrying within same castes and sub-castes).
Endogamy has allowed for this capital to be hoarded within the dominant castes. We benefit from this capital in a variety of ways which allows us to shape our lives very differently from the oppressed castes. We are very privileged.
3. While there are historical injustices, there are innumerable evidences to show how inequal our society is even now when it comes to caste.
All you have to do is count the number of people from oppressed castes in your networks – family, friends, and professional. Compare this proportion (proportion of people from oppressed castes among your networks) to the proportion of oppressed castes living in the country.
You will realise how inequal all the spaces that we occupy are, just in terms of number of people from oppressed castes.
4. There seems to be a taboo around using the word “caste” especially in privileged groups.
5. It is assumed that caste is not a reality that we need to take into account every day in our lives.
While feminism has allowed for identifying aspects of patriarchal oppression in our daily lives, caste is not something that one constantly thinks about.
But the reality is that our actions, thoughts, and behaviours are casteist. It is high time we recognise that.
6. Because of our privilege, we grow up in a particular reality wherein we don’t face any oppression because of our caste identity.
The narrative that we encounter mainly is about caste-pride (For example – Shashi Taroor’s recent article), caste-lessness, and debates around reservation. This results in the assumption that we live in a casteless society.
We assume that, we the urbanized dominant castes, do not have any relation to caste-based discrimination that may still be persistent supposedly only in rural areas. But we fail to realise that our actions, thoughts, and behaviours perpetuate caste inequality day in and day out. Our privilege allows us to be caste-blind and not talk about caste at all in our daily lives.
7. We aren’t a generation which consciously practices inter-caste marriages.
8. Caste is very much tied to the economic status of an individual in complex ways.
We may want to look at the world in economic terms. However, if the intention is to annihilate caste, and if the intention is to truly have a diverse society and a diverse set of people in positions of power, and moving away from caste inequality, then we have to emphasise on caste and not just on economic status.
9. We benefit from the unpaid and low-waged labour of many from oppressed castes (manual scavengers, domestic workers, migrant labourers, factory-workers, agricultural labourers, and many more).
10. We benefit from our caste-privilege.
But this privilege is not just the privilege that is passed on to us by our ancestors, but also the privilege of having access to particular caste networks.
The social position because of our caste allows us access to spaces and networks of people that many get excluded from.
11. We are allowed to go scot-free from having to really think of the ways in which we can remove caste inequality.
We do not have to question the caste-system at all. This allows us to continue “accumulating” capital through these networks and endogamous marriages.
12. This also allows us to think of ourselves as saviours of the world.
We speak of uplifting communities, creating self-help groups (SHGs), micro-finance initiatives without having to really and honestly question the caste system or patriarchy in itself. Because, questioning the caste system or patriarchy would lead to questioning our privilege. But, we do not want to let go of our privilege.
All of the above leads to a phenomenon wherein caste discrimination is both visible and invisible in our daily lives. Since, there is rarely a conversation on caste in privileged circles, caste seems to not exist or seems to be irrevelant in these spaces. But in fact, caste is very much visible.
Since we live in a caste-based society, the way we dress, the confidence with which we speak, the ways in which we are heard and listened to, the English language that we speak, the food that we eat, the hotels, restaurants, and pubs that we visit, the friend and family circles we hang out with, the conversations that we have, our supposed high marks and merit, and our names are all markers of our caste.
Any individual who is not aligning to these ways of speaking, living, and being is immediately excluded.