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Why Is India Shying From Teaching ‘Critical Caste Theory’?

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Caste is the oldest apartheid that continues to pauperise the human and social capital of the oppressed community, especially the Dalits. Verily, the caste apologists are least likely to proffer space and platform to the caste annihilators and thus India exploits its own opportunity in fighting the menace of the caste system.

Satish Deshpande, a Sociologist, coherently 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.” This context is very contemporary in today’s epoch when studying caste with an intent to annihilate it has very few takes.

Representational image.

This is not to deny the existence of caste politics, casteist voters/leaders, caste literature, etc. but they have altogether failed in their so-called aggregated approach towards Dr Ambedkar’s vision i.e., Annihilation of Caste.

The NCRB data of 2019 sadly reveals that India is unsafe for Dalit and Tribal girls. Uttar Pradesh fares worst. The intersectional relationship between caste and gender is commonly misunderstood as well as ignored and also underestimated. Thus, our society has reached the point of unchecked casteism. To add to the woes, the politics of Hindutva has consolidated and inflated the hate crimes against minorities by 300% in a span of 7 years.

On the other hand, the 2011 census also revealed that not more than 5% of India’s population go for inter-caste marriage. This picture manifests the dearth of critical understanding of caste. To add fuel to the fire, Uttar Pradesh has the highest manual scavengers in the country. There are around 66,000 manual scavengers in India, which is a caste-based occupation; despite the brouhaha over 21st century’s modernity, out of which 80% are married women in this vocation. Uttar Pradesh tops the list here with 35,000 manual scavengers.

In 2001, India had a chance at the Durban conference (global convention to fight bigotry) to associate casteism with racism but sadly the diplomatic representatives of the upper-caste backed by the Vajpayee Government preferred to dissociate casteism with racism. Switzerland and Guatemala backed the Dalit cause but India didn’t. India doesn’t.

That’s why there’s a dire need to have critical caste theory being taught from the school level onwards since toxic parenting culture is lacking incentives of educating the household on the issues of caste. Critical caste theory, at the same time, will be able to sensitize about caste but would the privileged caste dare to culturally bomb their own conventional and patriarchal values?

As recently, President Joe Biden has received flak for reviving the discourse of critical race theory (CRT) in the social sphere. In simple terms, Stephen Sawchuck of EdWeek defines it as “Critical race theory is an academic concept that is more than 40 years old. The core idea is that racism is a social construct and that it is not merely the product of individual bias or prejudice, but also something embedded in legal systems and policies.”

The US, which has been founded in 1776 on libertarian maxims, has failed to fight racism even today. The world has seen the apartheid against African-Americans in the land of the biggest democracy. Hitherto, the US is yet to witness an African-American lady becoming the President (or any women!). I’m unsure if the step would be merely tokenist but there are many sociological reports that confirm how racism in the US is legally binding. The case of police atrocities against African-Americans is a signature in this regard.

In the Indian context, Manusmriti may not be a ‘de jure’ doctrine but it has continued to share the social and cultural consciousness of India’s democratic system. It began with the late 1940s, when Hindu Mahasabha led by Manusmriti’s proponent Swami Karpatri was backed by the RSS leaders, objecting to India’s constitution to India’s judiciary open-secret romance with Manusmriti’s verses.

As both SCC Online and indicate, between 1950 and 2019, the Manusmriti has been thus used for by the Supreme Court and several High Courts a total of 38 times, 26 of those (nearly 70%) being between 2009 and 2019, a period coinciding with the rise of virulent Hindutva across the subcontinent. Between 1989 and 2019, the Supreme Court has used Manusmriti in making their decisions a total of 7 times. Even the Chartered High Courts of Bombay, Madras and Allahabad have referred to Manusmriti in multiple judgments.

The CSDS-Common Cause survey has also revealed surprising facts on how deeply racism is rooted in the cognition and carte blanche attitude of Indian police personnel. Here’s a quick snippet from the LiveMint (Feb 2020) report:

Dr Ambedkar’s tryst with the burning of Manusmriti continues to be an important part of revolutionary history in the ambit of annihilation of caste. Manusmriti has known has been the casteist doctrine that pauperises Dalit and also women of their rights, liberty, dignity and self-respect.

The case of the Indian Judiciary’s romance with Manusmriti at the cost of Constitutional studies depict a dangerous trend and thus it’s important to register the learning of ‘critical caste theory’ in education, social and every other sphere. Verily, the mainstream sphere is least likely to take up the cause and thus it seems legit to run a counter-economy in ‘educating’ the communities so that they can ‘organise’ themselves to ‘agitate’ against the deniers of caste existence.

This article was first published on Velivada.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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