“Casteism doesn’t exist in our society anymore.”
Many people say this to me when I bring up the topic of caste. Nobody wants to talk about it because it would hurt the feelings of others, so we have to be very sensitive. Many say “who talks about caste in the 21st century? Nobody has time for it!” But one day, I experienced how caste-based discrimination was still alive and prevalent in our society. If not publicly, then at least in subtle forms.
I knew little or nothing about caste until I started working. I had seen it in all the textbooks in Tamil Nadu with the same lines on the first page, “Untouchability is inhumane and a crime.” These words are valid only on paper but not in practice. I had to read many books, meet many people to understand the harsh reality of casteism in our society. I was confused, why then, so many people had told me that caste didn’t exist.
My first job gave me a clearer picture of caste. I started to explore the nuances of the caste system. My research on the topic also opened ways for me to understand women empowerment. It made me speak about feminism. It gave me the chance to read about Dr B. R. Ambedkar and Periyar. It introduced me to great women leaders such as Savitribai Phule. It opened new horizons.
Even my parents never talked about caste openly but said they are “our people”, that is why they support us. They say nowadays no one is bothered about caste. I call this ignorance
I see people being murdered, insulted, mocked and discriminated from the bottom to the top of our society in the name of caste. I see people being discriminated just because they are born into the so-called-man-made low caste communities.
From the President of this country to a cobbler, all are discriminated because they are the so-called Dalits, the crushed and oppressed section of society. I witness the youth being denied opportunities, women being sexually assaulted, men being paraded naked, and the children being made to clean the toilets at schools. All because they belong to the lower castes!
Children are denied admission in English medium schools because they are considered poor and unintelligent to cope with other children. This is the response of the so-called dominant caste. A Dalit does not deserve to be educated: this is the mindset. Two years ago, the whole country witnessed the suicide of a medical aspirant Anitha from Tamil Nadu. She wanted to study medicine. She scored excellent marks. But our education system proved to her that scoring marks do not fulfill your dreams and aims. Caste and economic conditions are the most important factors deciding your future. So she had to sacrifice her dream by giving up her life.
Many newspapers and social media carry such news, and yet people say that there is no caste in our country. A Dalit youth was killed for sitting on a chair in front of a so-called dominant caste man. A bridegroom was attacked for riding a horse in his marriage procession. So many honour killings have been witnessed in the last few years, and yet we say that caste does not exist. In this country, our fate is decided by our caste.
Even I was denied admission to PhD in four universities because I wanted to do my research on the literary works of a Dalit feminist. Wherever we go, we see caste names being publicized. There are so many WhatsApp, and Facebook accounts with caste names. Streets are named after caste leaders, and yet, we speak of equality and unity.
When we get acquainted with a new person, they somehow want to know what our caste is and people identify our caste even before we disclose it.
Caste can be eliminated from our society only if we sensitize our young generation about this issue properly. It can be thrown away if we give up our caste names. Caste can be out of our minds if we promote inter-caste marriages. But first of all, we need to be humans to treat everyone equally.