Renowned sociologist, Ashis Nandy’s comment at Jaipur Literature Festival that ‘it is a fact, that most of the corrupt come from the OBCs, Scheduled castes and now increasingly certain tribes’ once again reiterates the fact that casteism is very much prevalent in India. As India celebrated its 64th Republic Day on 26th January 2013, its saddening to see such remarks coming from the intelligentsia that plays a significant role in shaping society.
These remarks should not have surprised us as our academia also comes majorly from the upper castes, upper classes, and where schools and departments have been set up to study social exclusion but very little introspection has been done on a personal level. And for this very reason, it is rather important that we condemn casteist mindset of this kind, especially rooted in academia, so that the intelligentsia make efforts to provide a holistic progressive view on any issue than creating a colored image of their own stereotypes. As writers, academicians, scholars and students challenge patriarchal mindsets, casteist prejudices and classist nature of society, how do we forget that, coming from the same fabric of society, there is a need to challenge our own biases and stereotypes?
India, standing at the forefront of the world’s economy today, welcoming FDI and experiencing economic boom for a particular class, has still not managed to resolve the pertinent local issues within. The question that needs to be dwelled upon is why such comments have not come up against the caste location of the leadership of any political party, known nationally for corruption, or against the caste location of industrialists who snatch lands from the hands of the poor, exploit natural resources and deprive tribals of their source of livelihood? Why do we not then discuss the caste and class of these rich upper caste industrialists and politicians? And when are we going to look at corrupt practices in individuals like you, or me? It is rather difficult to rewind such statements and demand strict public scrutiny.
There is a dire need for self-evaluation before we make such loose comments on the communities that have remained powerless, resource-less and deprived for many generations. This not only shows one’s take on caste but indirectly tries to label these communities and hence make them even more vulnerable. We have to attempt to begin questioning as to why a ‘wrong’ act by a Muslim, Dalit, Woman catches attention quickly while scams and big scandals by upper caste, rich individuals don’t? Is it because the former are soft targets? Or is it because we know that they will not be able to retaliate as forcefully as people with powerful social capital? If the intelligentsia fails to understand the societal dynamics then I don’t understand why we need them at all? It is like another layer is being created and maintained to perpetuate the casteist mindset in the larger society.
The freedom of an individual’s expression is valid only till it does not disrupt the freedom of another’s. In a country that continues to witness horrifying incidents of caste based violence, untouchability and caste discrimination it is too much to expect that these loose statements have space to be dusted clean or made ‘understandable’. It is important that we ask the ‘right’ questions that facilitate equitable growth rather than making a rather simplified casteist analysis of grave issues prevalent in the country.
Jyotsna Siddharth is a postgraduate in Developmental Studies from Tata Institute of Social Sciences. Currently she is working as a gender consultant with Ministry of Rural Development. She is interested in learning about Caste, Feminism, Philosophy, Literature and Poetry.