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Opinion: Caste Is A Social Tyrant, A Statist And A Sadist

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The value of human life is intrinsically linked to the need for autonomy and existence with decency, self-respect, and liberties. These pillars are very important to social survival and collective growth. As human life prospers in a society, it is important to share solidarity and fraternity with the constructive factors that enable emancipation. In India’s context, one particular force that continues to determine society’s attitude towards individuals, in both seen and unseen ways, is caste (jati/varna).

Representational image

Context

In texts like Manusmriti or the Vedas of Hinduism, jati is determined by birth. It’s almost like a ‘social contract’ system that is enforced on social groups without their consent. It is religiously sanctioned with an intent to control and sustain ‘social fascism’, which eventually leads to a systematic generation of varna in the community. Varna is a caste-based occupation.

Holistically, this socialisation led to graded inequity. The mutual relationship of both has left very little scope for communitarian osmosis and internal mobilization. Shankaracharya of Puri, in a condescending tone, mocked the ignorance of elite Indians by confirming that “varna is decided by birth which is the same as jati.” He continues to say that “many people say that they believe only in varna, not jati. These people don’t even know the first chapter of Bhagavad Gita, a sacred Hindu text, verse 1.42”

Those that belong to a lower caste (Dalit/Bahujan) do not possess the scope to perform the ‘brahminical’ duties, since the religion of Hinduism has prescribed the allocation of ‘duties’ on the basis of ‘birth’, too. For example, skinning dead cow/cattle is performed by the Dalit clan, and a Dalit can’t practice as a temple priest. Caste-ism as a ‘social tyranny’ is responsible for the systematic exploitation of lower caste clans and their liberties. Even the steps taken to interlink the caste-based duties do not promote social sustainability because of the ‘tokenist’ politics.

Caste-ism manifests as ‘social’ statism; the doctrine that oppression is a ‘legitimate’ force. While it is the community itself enforcing these rules, rather than the state enforcing them from above, the result is no less totalitarian.

Indian society experiences casteism in the space of micro-and meso- spheres. It is as religious as it is cultural. Remember the ‘breast tax’ system? ‘Mulakkaram’ was a tax imposed on the lower caste and untouchable Dalit women by the Kingdom of Tranvancore (in the present-day Kerala state of India) if they wanted to cover their breasts in public, until 1924. Tax collectors (upper-caste Hindu men) would visit every house to collect the Breast Tax from any lower caste women who passed the age of puberty. The tax was evaluated by the tax collectors depending on the size of their breasts.

 

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A Short Anatomy

The privileged caste – which has benefited a lot from caste capitalism – projects a different and defensive version of the caste system, whereas the unprivileged ones continue to labour at caste-based occupations like manual scavenging and crematorium activities.

As Satish Deshpande, a sociologist, stated, “By transforming their caste capital into modern capital, upper castes can now claim to be casteless and accuse the lower castes of being illegitimate purveyors of caste.”

Caste, as a kind of social authoritarianism, is also responsible for caste violence and gender violence. The recent NCRB data of 2019 ratiocinated that women from lower castes (Dalit and Adivasi groups) suffer more violence and unfortunate incidents. This clearly indicates the intersection of rape and caste too. The incentives behind such aggressive violence against the Dalit or Adivasi groups stem from the religious attitude and misogyny that sustains the social hierarchy (graded inequity) called caste-ism.

report (2019) by American Civil Society Research found that 40% of the social media content on popular platforms like Facebook, Twitter, etc are filled with casteist slurs (especially intended at individuals of lower castes). This is another example of how casteism has vehemently enabled bigotry and generated a culture of oppression, submission, obedience, and patriarchy.

It’s the 21st century and the idea of ‘reservation’ (representation) looks oppressive and exploitative to the privileged caste. The ones who sustained social hegemony on the basis of caste for the past 3000 years are always rattled at the idea of a Dalit/Bahujan enjoying the benefits of ‘affirmative action’. In the political sphere or in the education sector, the proportion of jobs filled by lower caste people is still smaller than it should be.

This whole pie is still Brahmanical and, to add to the woes, the Modi government is wanting to diminish the size of ‘Dalit’ representation through its neoliberal capitalist policies.

It’s the 21st century and the idea of ‘reservation’ (representation) looks oppressive and exploitative to the privileged caste. Representational image.

Bitter Fact

Hinduism as such is not a religion. Many westerners, out of their conscious ignorance, assume that “Hinduism is a way of life” and they’re all mesmerized with marketing done by Yoga activists. But little does everyone know, Hinduism is nothing but an aggregation of castes. In fact, Yoga, as founded by Patanjali under the Shunga empire (the dynasty that was violently intolerant of the Buddhist monks) enabled the so-called spiritual exercise (Yoga) only for the privileged caste.

Today, yoga is a choice, except for the fact that the current government in India headed by Narendra Modi has made it compulsory for public schools. This encouraged certain private schools to also join this ‘bandwagon effect’.

The census data of 2011 presents a grim and bitter picture too. The cases of exogamy (inter-caste marriage) are not more than 6%, amidst India’s population of 1.3 billion. This continues to haunt the hope of socialization and mobility in some form or another. Caste also determines marital choices. In a report (2018) by Lok Foundation and Oxford University, urbanite Indians still marry the way their casteist grandparents did.

The number is staggering because only 3% preferred inter-caste marriage. Inter-caste marriage (exogamy) is assumed to be a radical step towards the deletion of caste feelings or caste privileges, but there’s no scientific evidence that can prove that it may cause the annihilation of casteism in society. Since casteism has become intersectional towards the sphere of gender, food diet and other standards of living, it will take a good Thanos to destroy the caste system by snapping the finger!

For a nation like India, which is heterogeneous, casteism is disowning the principles and maxims of secularism and fraternity. Caste causes homogeneity and it stimulates the ‘consciousness of kind’. Nevertheless, surname matters more than name.

If caste-ism is assumed to be merely an expression of ‘freedom of association’ by some paleolibertarians and “anarcho”-capitalists in the Indian political sphere, then would they care to explain how individuals of lower caste are lynched, murdered, and ostracised for drinking water from the public tank, sitting on a chair, riding a horse, flaunting a moustache, expressing views, etc?

The Monster That Exists!

Recently, it has been observed that upper-caste Hindus have also exported casteism abroad. The case of the US is exemplary. This Tuesday (11th of May 2021), several workers of BAPS (Bochasanwasi Akshar Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha) filed a lawsuit in New Jersey. A news report in Forbes magazine highlighted that the suit claims over 200 workers were recruited in India under false pretences, given religious visas, and often forced to spend more than 12 hours a day (about 80 hours+ a week) doing masonry work on a BAPS-affiliated temple in Robbinsville, New Jersey.

It has also been reported that the workers’ passports were allegedly confiscated shortly after they arrived in the US, and they were forced to live in a spartan, fenced-in, and tightly monitored compound and prohibited from leaving temple grounds unsupervised. Most of these workers belonged to the Dalit community and were rudely underpaid. The FBI is investigating the case, currently.

The same casteist issues were reported back in July 2020, when California regulators sued CISCO systems for tolerating caste-based discriminatory work culture in its premises. It was found that two upper-caste Hindus employed in this international organization were being unfair to a co-worker who belonged to the Dalit community. The episode violated the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Isabel Wilkerson’s book, Caste: The Origins of Our Discontent, gives us a masterful portrait of an unseen phenomenon in America, through an immersive, deeply researched narrative and stories about real people, how America today and throughout its history has been shaped by a hidden caste system, a rigid hierarchy of human rankings. Linking the caste systems of America, India, and Nazi Germany, Wilkerson explores eight pillars that underlie caste systems across civilizations, including a divine will, bloodlines, stigma, and more.

Using riveting stories about people—including Martin Luther King, Jr., baseball’s Satchel Paige, a single father and his toddler son, Wilkerson herself, and many others—she shows the ways that the insidious undertow of caste is experienced every day. She documents how the Nazis studied the racial systems in America to plan their out-cast of the Jews; she discusses why the cruel logic of caste requires that there be a bottom rung for those in the middle to measure themselves against; she writes about the surprising health costs of caste, in depression and life expectancy, and the effects of this hierarchy on our culture and politics.

We should read and apply the ideologies and efforts of Ambedkar and Phule to become aware about the evil of casteism.

The Need For Phule-Ambedkar Methodology

Dr Ambedkar, the architect of the Indian constitution, was a staunch advocate of anti-casteism in his period. He was of the view that ‘caste is not just a division of labour, but also a division of labourers.’ He has excellently authored books such as Caste in India (1917), Annihilation of Caste (1936), Who were the untouchables? (1946), and The Untouchables (1948), which ought to be read by everyone from the ‘school’ level onwards to have casteism smashed and disowned. Better late than never.

He led revolutionary movements like Mahad Satyagraha (1927) to raise the critical consciousness of individuals of the lower castes. Mahad Satyagraha was a non-violent resistance movement launched by Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar. The Dalit community was stopped from drinking water from the public tank. (In August 1923, Bombay Legislative Council passed a resolution that people from the depressed classes should be allowed to use places that were built and maintained by the government. In January 1924, Mahad which was part of the Bombay Province passed the resolution in its municipal council to enforce the act. But it failed to implement because of the protest from the casteist Hindus.)

Most often Dalit women are not allowed to take water from a common well, instead of having to go further to find water. Representative image credit: Reuters/Danish Siddiqui

After drinking water from the public tank, Dr Ambedkar also made a statement addressing the Dalit women during the Satyagraha. He asked them to abandon all old customs that provided recognizable markers of untouchability and asked them to wear saris like high caste women. Before that time, Dalit women were not allowed to drape saris completely. Immediately after Ambedkar’s speech at Mahad, the Dalit women readily decided to drape their saris like the higher caste women.

As per the Hindu text, Dr Ambedkar belonged to the ‘untouchable’ caste. He is also known for debunking ‘Mahatma’ Gandhi, the father of modern India, for his support of the caste system or justification of caste-based manual scavenging. When Dr Ambedkar called for separate electorates for Dalits (untouchables), Gandhi underwent ‘fast unto death’ and indirectly blackmailed Dr Ambedkar through this for keeping lower castes politically intact in the hierarchy of Hinduism. Refer to the Poona Pact (1930).

Jyotirao Phule, a reformer born in a lower caste, authored a book, Slavery (1873), highlighting the anthropological origin of casteism. He educated his wife Savitribai and opened a school for girls and untouchables, for which he was shunned, attacked and ostracised. Education as a tool was intended for the privileged caste, although it kept its own women as well as Dalit clan off from this fold.

To ratiocinate, casteism continues to degrade the lives and liberties of oppressed caste (Dalit/Bahujan). The ‘veil of ignorance’ worn by the caste oppressor is least likely to admit its own privilege and admit caste exploitation. It is not possible to bring about internal changes in the system maintained by caste structure because it is socially genetic. To add to the woes, caste sensitisation is absent in the schooling system. Due to abstention of caste sensitisation in the schools or in corporate training mode, casteist individuals enable bigotry in meso forms.

Dr Ambedkar, a polymath, born in the ‘untouchable caste’ figured out in the early 1950s that the only panacea to destroy the system of casteism is to seek liberation outside the property of Hinduism. He, like anti-caste activist Iyothee Thass, concluded that it is not possible to reform Hinduism even by becoming a ‘cultural suicide bomber’ and thus he commenced the ‘Navayana Buddhism’ sect as an alternative to social oppression. “Educate, Organise, Agitate” was his vision that continues to inspire many social movements in Indian polity, although at a gradual pace.

This article was first published on a left-wing anarchist site @C4SS based in the USA.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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