Generation Z is referred to as a woke, opinionated generation. To be “woke” means to actively be aware of the many social injustices in the world. These injustices include a long list of global activist causes ranging from climate justice and mental health to police brutality and systemic racism.
Wokeness implies being cognizant of the oppressive social structures and resisting them through activism and advocacy. But how do woke people respond when they form part of the oppressor class or when they see oppression in their proximity?
Personally speaking, as a Savarana woman with considerable economic mobility and “radical” opinions, I identify myself with this cohort. The people I socialise with more or less belong to the same background. More often than not, privileged youngsters refuse to recognise caste-based injustice by claiming to be casteless.
I grew up feeling the same way. We are all so blinded by the perception of a progressive modern India. It’s obvious that in a “modern” society like ours, injustice derived from caste is not a possibility. They actively resent the anti-caste movement and choose to embrace its privilege in the worst way possible by thinking of caste as a non-issue.
They have narrowed down caste into just a trump card to get admissions into Colleges and Universities.
We are all so blinded by the perception of a progressive modern India. It’s obvious for us privileged youngsters to assume that in a modern urban society like ours, caste-based injustice is non-existent. I have been a part of conversations with people my age who use terms like “chuhre”, “dihati’, “chamar” as regular impolite expressions.
Despite being aware that these terms are hostile, inappropriate racial slurs, they choose to use them daily.
Upper caste so-called progressive people have a perception of their own of what a Dalit should be like.
The association of lower caste people with incivility, crime, violence bears witness to the nakedness of caste in our society. This is derived from our caste privilege, which provides us with a shield of arrogance.
When I read, retrospected and realised my caste privilege, I started putting it into the picture in normal life scenarios. Realising our privilege and practising performative wokeness is not enough.
Performative wokeness is a superficial show of solidarity with minority and oppressed bodies of people that enables (usually upper caste and class) people to reap the social benefits of wokeness without actually undertaking any of the necessary legwork to combat injustice and inequality.
The way forward for Savarna people to hold themselves accountable for contributing and shaping the pool of caste injustice is to work towards atonement.
Act of Atonement is the concept of a person taking action to correct previous wrongdoing on their part, either through direct action to undo the consequences of that act, equivalent action to do good for others, or some other expression of feelings of remorse.
Mahatma Gandhi’s first acts of atonement were what inspired me to pursue this method of reparation. He confessed his guilt about committing theft on behalf of his brother and asked for adequate punishment.
Atonement ideally consists of, first, a clear admission of culpability. Second, a request for external punishment. Third, a promise of non-repetition of the guilt. And lastly, the one addressed might transfer the penance to themselves and become one with their guilty side.
Atonement is a method of putting in the effort to redress one’s wrongdoings. One should make profound attempts at expiation and also comprehend their privilege diligently.