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Friday, September 10, 2010

Questions of Identity & Caste

Questions of Identity, Caste & State has bothered me from long time. This article is mine stand at present moment on these issues. I will start this article on the caste matters with the opinion of two prominent bloggers.

1- My friend Apocryphal pointed correctly about mentality of upper caste Hindus: For them, Caste is passe. That is no longer a problem, the problem of course is ‘reservation’. All problems radiate from ‘reservation’ playing it out through ‘vote bank politics’.

2- Namit Sir on famous Shunya blog was telling his experience on this issue : An upper caste friend recently complained that reservations are socially divisive and instigate disharmony. I had to laugh. Isn't the caste hierarchy all about social division? Caste identities have been strong for ages, since folks marry within their own. If caste now also shapes political consciousness, it is because, in part, its members share a common experience of discrimination and inherited disadvantage. If the db level in society has gone up, it's because the lower castes are unwilling to put up with the "harmonious" arrangements of the past. They want a greater share of the opportunities and resources they think is their due, and the primary tactic open to them is via political alliances and lobbying for favorable government policies. So it's easy to understand why caste politics has gained prominence in India.

Dignity comes from choice and recognition in the society. It is the reason of emergence of caste identities and their relation with honour. Every leader of independence has been reduced into mere representative of their caste group - ex Sardar Patel or B R Ambedkar. A breaking away from the past in the search of new identity had began and now, each caste based community is outraged by any reference to the downtrodden past. Shyam Benegal pointed out this phenomena very poignantly:

In the process of dismantling caste equations, some of the Other Backward Classes (OBCs) and Dalit communities give themselves identities that no longer associate them with their traditional professions. The new identity requires a reworking of community histories and mythology. Any reference to the old identity can only seem offensive. As part of the mainstream, they are likely to lose their special identity.

It is largely for this reason that it becomes important for them to adopt dominant forms of expression so that others may hear or understand their points of view. Even more important for them is to establish their view as the last word. Any expression that they perceive as an attack on their identity is responded to with considerable vehemence.

Take the case of caste census. There is huge uproar in liberal minded higher caste Indians to ignore census based on caste and put their identity as Indians only. They are already privileged part of society and don't need caste labels for their growth in any field. I feel data is needed to see through caste based system arrangement in vast country like India. The national census is the only source of primary and credible data in India and is used not just to formulate government policies but also by private sectors. Groups will always raise their voice for the sake of stake in the reservation and trail towards more caste based society. There is dire need of the restructuring of society and informed stats will be more helpful in the era of vote bank politics and social engineering. We need to count caste in this census to annihilate it.
Prof. Kancha Ilaiah has explained this in his article: Who’s afraid of caste census?
"Caste culture is all around us. In the dalit-bahujan discourse, the upper castes are being shown as constituting less than 15 per cent. This could be totally wrong. Even within the lower castes there are several false claims about numbers. Every caste claims that it is numerically the strongest and keeps asking for its “rightful” share. How to tell them that their claims are wrong? When caste has become such an important category of day-to-day reckoning it is important to have proper data at hand to tell communities that they constitute this much and cannot ask for more than their share.

It is true that we cannot distribute everything based on caste. But caste census is the right basis for statistics such as literacy rate and issues like the proportion of representation. Once we cite the Census data there cannot be any authentic opposition to that evidence. The upper caste intelligentsia is afraid that once detailed data on number of people in lower castes is available it would become a major ground for asking for accurate proportional representation in certain sectors, such as education and employment. "
George Orwell's warning that a corrupt system will if unchanged, stay corrupt even if power shifts hands from its tryants to its past victims - and soon enough, as he wrote, ' it's impossible to tell which is which ' ; When a long abuse of power is corrected, it is generally replaced by an opposite violence. In the new dispensations, all that was good in what went before is tarred indiscriminately with the bad. Those who have to face political or social persecution become highly polarized.

Power shifted from the hands of the Brahmins to low caste will have bad affects till few decades. It is bound to happen and politics of revenge than cooperation will prevail for few decades. Slowly, caste will take back seat and new identites based on new parameters will emerge in the society. This help me to understand importance of democratic & political model in this upheaval of Hindu society. Democracy was never meant for electoral representation of all, it was there to annihilate the destructive and violent outbursts of groups against each other through people consensus. It's about the common weakness that makes us susceptible not just to any bigotry but to political polarization: our propensity to see one another as members of groups rather than as individuals.


  1. I think that if we're going to have caste based reservations then it must be accurate.

    But I don't think it must be based on caste at all. If we're going to have reservations, it should be on economic criteria. Because that way we can have progress. Poor people can become rich, but a lower caste person is forever doomed to remain that way. So we don't get anywhere.

  2. Bhagwad, Thanks for your input. Getting a false SC-ST certificate is common practice and cause of problem in Chattisgarh and orissa region. Check here for the [ Link ]. You had correctly assessed the whole scenario at : A non-dalit might think twice before getting a false SC-ST certificate, but it's easy to imagine fake economic criteria certificates being used.



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