There are many ways in which we can understand social maladies like caste system. Drawing an analogy with the biological concept of disease and components associated with it is one such way.
What is the concept of disease?
According to the Oxford English dictionary: ‘Disease is a condition of the body or some part or organ of the body in which its functions are disrupted or deranged.’
From a sociological point of view, disease is considered as a social phenomenon, occurring in all societies owing to prevalence of particular cultural forces – religion or social mores.
Let us draw an analogy with caste as a social system with the biological concept of disease, because after all caste is a disease as Dr.B.R.Ambedkar said.
Spectrum of disease and caste system
The term ‘spectrum of disease’ is a graphic representation of variations in the manifestations of disease. It is similar to the spectrum of light where the colors vary from one end to other. For instance, at one end of disease spectrum are sub-clinical infections which are not usually identified easily and on the other end are fatal conditions. In the center of the spectrum lies a range.
Similar is the case with caste system. It has a spectrum too. On one end there is hidden casteism like in the digital world, or say in our Bollywood movie industry – where they make caste invisible; on other end, there are open horrors as we witness in rural areas and in the middle is a range of casteist practices everywhere: in instruments of government, policy making, urban life etc., severity of which depends on various factors just like that of a disease.
The iceberg of caste is similar to the iceberg of disease
According to this concept, caste in a community may be compared with an iceberg. The floating tip of the iceberg represents casteism that we see in the community, and the submerged part represents hidden casteism that is not apparent, latent and remains unseen and is the most problematic.
Hence, the majority of people in oppressor castes say, caste doesn’t exist. Such is the case in digital casteism these days where bahujan artists find it difficult to get the same amount of fame that oppressor caste people do. Hence majority of oppressor castes say caste doesn’t exist. They say so, because admitting the existence of caste goes against their interests.
Triad of casteism
Just like the disease causation triad consists of agent, host and environment, caste has its own triad in which the agent is Brahmanism, host is the oppressed community and the environment is the whole world, mainly India.
Etiology of caste: Hinduism = Brahmanism
Babasaheb in Annihilation of Caste says, ‘Religion compels the Hindus to treat isolation and segregation of castes as a virtue…. If Hindus wish to break caste, their religion will come in their way.’
Risk factors augmenting the disease
For instance, Tuberculosis may be caused by Tubercle Bacilli, but living conditions, poverty etc., augment the disease to the next level. Same is the case with caste and its influence on people: factors like the caste in which you are born into, your surroundings, people you grow up with etc., decide the degree of casteism in a person. In short, your birth and social conditioning have a huge role in the making of a person who believes in caste.
Problem of caste
If disease is a hindrance to the healthy functioning of a body, caste is a hindrance to the growth of a democratic society
That is why Babasaheb said in Annihilation of Caste that, ‘Turn in any direction you like, caste is the monster that crushes your path. You cannot have political reform, economical reform unless you kill this monster.’
Signs and symptoms for diagnosis
Just like any disease, casteist people can show several signs and symptoms. That includes an unmitigated desire to establish their caste interests in every walk of life, caste-blindness, anti-reservation thoughts, savarna superiority complex and limiting bahujan leaders to their bahujan identities. The most important sign of this disease is the indifference to the sufferings of fellow human being- i.e. absence of Maitri or benevolence.
Destruction in the belief of caste by creating crisis in the oppressor’s mind leading them to acceptance, making them read anti-caste literature with genuine hearts and understand caste dynamics and most importantly discarding smritis, shashtras and vedas.
Just like medicine is given when you encounter disease, in the same way Babasaheb said, ‘Law and order are the medicine of the body politic and when the body politic gets sick, medicine must be administered.’
On another occasion, Babasaheb says in AOC, ‘Make every man and woman free from the thraldom of the shastras, cleanse their minds of the pernicious notions founded on the shastras, and he or she will inter-dine and inter-marry, without your telling him or her to do so.’
This is a small attempt to draw an analogy between biological disease and the caste system. Casteism affects everyone; hence there is a huge need to understand its evolution and impact on society. But most importantly, we must resist the ghost of caste every day with an uncompromising spirit. I end my essay by quoting Babashaeb who said:
‘You must take the stand that Buddha took. You must take the stand which Guru Nanak took. You must not only discard the Shastras, you must deny their authority, as did Buddha and Nanak.’
Dr Prerna is currently pursuing her MBBS. She is interested in anti-caste literature and believes in Ambedkarism.