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Why Hinduism And The Violence Of Caste Are Two Sides Of A Coin

20/05/2016 1:01 PM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:26 AM IST
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Students taking notes in adult education classroom

California textbooks have become ground zero for an alliance of organizations led by right wingers such as the Hindu American Foundation who are working to wipe out caste (and its relevance to the slavery-like conditions suffered by caste-ed subjects) from the curriculums of California textbooks. The organization's goal seems to be to achieve in the US what has been difficult to do in India -- erase caste, diminish its violence, and remove the assertion of Dalits. To do so, it is involving the feelings of children to invite sympathy. This kind of heavily funded advocacy by Hindu right groups also demonstrates the audacity of the privileged castes, who feel free to meddle with recorded histories of oppression. Their efforts, however, are shortsighted.

[N]o one is just Hindu. Everyone is identified by his or her own caste, which is predetermined before birth and stays all through life...

To start with, no one is just Hindu. Everyone is identified by his or her caste, which is predetermined before birth and stays all through life; there's no flexibility to change one's caste status. An identity is fixed more to caste than religion. Any attempt to suggest otherwise is a vulgar attempt to derecognize the conglomeration of a healthy 7000-plus castes and sub-castes that are glittering in the Hindu system. A Brahmin, for example, may belong to one of many sub-castes. The Saraswat Brahmin, the Deshashta, the Kokanstha, Purohit, Gauda, Maithili, Bhumihar, Gujar-Gaur, Rajpurohit and many more are distinguished according to the classical differentiation of the gotra -- the lineage. This pattern follows into every other regional location and among other Varna groups. Hence, caste is a division among groups leading to the formation of even more sub-groups. It goes deeper as we reach semi-urban and rural locales. Therefore, we can see that the "Hindu" is a near-fictitious categorization in that it wants to subsume under religious identity, using mythological lures, other unidentified castes for the Brahmanical advantage. The census is keen on observing the representation of the Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and the Other Backward Class in the Indian demography but no clear mention of privileged castes like Brahmins and other Savarna sub/castes is to be found.

"Hindu" is a near-fictitious categorization in that it wants to subsume under religious identity, using mythological lures, other unidentified castes for the Brahmanical advantage.

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Slavery and the experience of caste

It is a known fact that slavery is a brutal human subjugation. It drives a systematic form of degradation. The experience of slavery makes a unique case of alienation and disintegration from the dominant mainstream society. To understand the analogy of caste and slavery, one need go no further than the texts written by subjects of caste and race in the US and India. In the 19th and 20th centuries, one of the foremost African American thinkers W.E.B. DuBois appears to constantly look at India to find the relational aspects of suppression among the Indian people. In his magnum opus The Souls of the Black Folk DuBois refers to the "negroes" and their condition as caste-like. He uses the appellation of "servile caste" to signify the obsequious position of the negroes. Leading African American magazine, The Crisis also carried extensive reporting on 'The "Negroes" of India", referring to the lower castes, in its 1942 and 1943 editions.

The caste system, however, at times is even more pernicious than slavery. Caste is a prefixed identity which is not limited to the extraction of labour but extends to absolute control on the performance of one's beingness. On this Ambedkar observes:

"Untouchability is more than a religious system. It is also an economic system which is worse than slavery. In slavery the master at any rate had the responsibility to feed, clothe and house the slave and keep him in good, condition lest the market value of the slave should decrease. But in the system of Untouchability the Hindu takes no responsibility for the maintenance of the Untouchable. As an economic system it permits exploitation without obligation. Untouchability is not only a system of unmitigated economic exploitation, but it is also a system of uncontrolled economic exploitation."

The privileged castes dominate US academic and cultural spaces, and wander about pronouncing falsified claims to their American counterparts.

The problem in the contemporary scene of academia is the lack of attention paid to comparative studies on works by African Americans and "untouchables." The issues of caste and slavery are somewhat inattentively presented in the discourse of oppression. Unending commentaries can be found on the likes of Gandhi and other national figures of India, feeding the Indian discourse to a Western audience. Very few, almost non-existent English writings are present in the American setting on the untouchable experience and their imagination of the global. The privileged castes dominate US academic and cultural spaces, and wander about pronouncing falsified claims to their American counterparts.

The attempts of Hindu right groups in California to erase the vicious history of suffering, validates the claim that the oppressors in India and abroad are unwilling to come to terms with their brutal histories. They are willing to go to any length to abrogate responsibility. The aggressive multi-million dollar lobbying centring on a few pages of school textbooks also reveals how well-prepared bourgeois casteist forces are and how much they are interested in erasing history. Their children offering emotionally charged testimonies also reveal the extent of the ongoing indoctrination among the oppressor caste groups.

The poisonous injection of lies... into young minds, is an attempt to ensure that the next generation carries forward an evil legacy, never questioning it.

The poisonous injection of lies, of diabolical ideas, into young minds, is an attempt to ensure that the next generation carries forward an evil legacy, never questioning it. If caste is 'irrelevant', as many argue from privileged spaces, then why take offence to even a reference or discussion of it? If the students are feeling 'bullied', then it plainly means one is profoundly committed to caste discrimination. Why feel so protective of self-privilege while also baulking from committing to a rational redressal of historical mistakes? One can only fix a problem if one is cognizant of it. The few privileged castes, unfortunately, are not yet ready. The California text book issue only confirms this.

The "vestiges of caste" as an NYT column put it, is a taradiddle. Caste is as much a reality as race, gender, sexuality and other forms of human identities are. Discounting caste histories is to discount the suffering of people across millennia at the hands of a few privileged castes, who, ironically, want to assume the mantle of the oppressed under the dominant gaze of White American eyes.

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