On June 30th, a case of caste-based discrimination in California against a Dalit employee came to the fore. In a lawsuit filed by California Regulators against Cisco systems Inc. for allowing the harassment of the employee to continue, it was revealed that the employee had reported his managers to the HR department in 2016 when one of them outed him as a Dalit to his colleagues.
The tragic death of George Floyd served as a watershed moment in history, with people all over the world joining in on the ‘Black Lives Matter’ Movement, perhaps making it the most significant movements in recent history.
However, many Indians asked a pertinent question- when will India have its ”Dalit Lives Matter” Movement?
While this isn’t the first time the comparison between racism in America and casteism in India has been made (the comparison was made by Jyotiba Phule and BR Ambedkar in their speeches and letters) I was surprised to find many scholars and academicians criticize this comparison, viewing it as two very grave, but separate issues.
While these issues might be separate, to compare them would not be erroneous. Caste and race have more in common than we might imagine. First, let’s understand why one would draw out parallels with American movements. The Fourth Pillar in the United States might be replete with its own faults and errors, but it is a symbol of accountability and freedom of speech, the US has been the origin of the most important social movements in the world.
The Black Lives Matter movement brought the world together to address an issue which is deeply pervading and requires uprooting deeply ingrained ideologies and conditioning. The caste system in India which oppresses Dalits and other Backward Castes is akin to racism in this ideological sense.
While the debate on reservation and its problems seems unending and ambiguous, the fact that caste oppression in India is something that needs to be annihilated from the minds of people is something most of us can agree upon. Then why is it that we still hear so many horror stories of caste-based crimes, and not just in rural areas?
While the status of slave traders and confederate leaders is being taken down by hordes of BLM protesters, the statue of Manu- the revered author of ‘Manusmriti’ which laid down the caste system, still stands tall in none other than a garden in the Rajasthan High Court. Two Dalit women who had blackened the statue back in 2018, still face charges in court.
The BLM is still, only a starting point, to make the world realize its hypocrisy, we are still far behind from being a just and equal society. But in terms of the Indian caste system, there is no starting point, the caste issue is only taken up those directly affected by it, and a few intellectuals, who are attacked left and right for their support of dalits.
Ambedkar had foretold that if Hindus migrate to other regions on earth, Indian caste would become a world problem, and so it is, the Cisco case reveals that castism is not just limited to the home.
And even here, it is an Ambedkarite organisation- Ambedkar International Centre (AIC) – working towards bringing these issue to light. It is appalling how little accountability Indians would take of issues persisting at home while condemning the US government of discrimination.
The Black Lives Matter movement was largely a success, it mobilized people over the world, generated support- moral and financial for a community which has been discriminated against since time immemorial. But it was a success because its participants were not just the Black community, but people, courageous people, who didn’t just feel guilty about their country’s attitude towards a race, but acted against it.