A three minute long scene from the 2011 movie “Aarakshan” has resurfaced and become very, very significant in light of recent events related to casteism and reservation.
When students find a bold red message in Hindi painted across a classroom wall (saying “Reservation is our birthright”), a student aggressively demands the scrapping of reservation. That’s when actor Saif Ali Khan performs a brilliant take-down of this line of thought. While the antagonists – a young male student, and a teacher (Manoj Bajpai) – wax eloquent about how a merit-based system is needed, Khan lashes back by saying merit itself is a privilege, something that makes itself (un)available to you depending on which caste you are born in. And when the student challenges SC/ST/OBC students to compete with general category students, Khan wheels around with a fierce “Race ki starting line ek honi chahiye sabke liye.”
And we couldn’t agree more.
Whatever your views on the movie itself are, there’s no denying the power of this scene. It is the harsh, grating sound of a truth so many of us have chosen to ignore, made senseless by our caste privilege.
The video resurfaced on Facebook, as a post by Indian Atheists, and the timing could not be more important. Make the transition from reel to real, and realise that the fight for reservation, for opportunity, equality, and dignity, is still raging in India.
Remember the protests that broke out after Dalit youths were assaulting in Bhima-Koregaon? In the former case, many Mumbaikars looked on with utter contempt, wondering why Dalit activists and protesters didn’t take their “tamasha” elsewhere. Because centuries of oppression, abuse and violence can’t compare to a few traffic jams, right? The protests that broke out in New Delhi on April 2 – part of the larger call for a “Bharat Bandh” – were no different. And neither were people’s reactions, with many railing about the inconveniences caused to their commute, and daily routines. What this section of people in both Mumbai and Delhi fail to understand is the gravity of the situation that propelled these protests.
It was the Supreme Court’s changes to the provisions of the SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act, on March 20, that really launched the protests. Under the new guidelines, public servants will be arrested only after written permission from their appointing authority is granted! These changes were made to protect those who were falsely implicated under the act, however, Dalit activists and organisations say this tragically weakens the Act, and have raised their voices against this farce.
The debate going on at the national level now, and the argument between Saif Ali Khan’s character and the student in “Aarakshan” should really lead us all towards understanding and empathising with the lives of SC/ST/OBC Indians, rather than frame ourselves as victims.