This essay shows with examples that incidents of caste discrimination have only proliferated instead of stopping in any way in modern towns and even in the national capital Delhi. I have been personally affected by it in my adult life. The only people for whom caste does not exist is savarnas, who take it as a kind of joke and cannot fathom the deep hurt caste discrimination in daily life causes mulnivasis and bahujans. Here I will give instances from my life where I was made to feel physical, emotional and psychological violence and hatred meted out to my family and me because of caste.
As far back as I can remember, I was miles away from feeling any pride due to my caste and social identity. Instead it was often an inability to understand and articulate, a confusion, when it came to the issue. I couldn’t understand why i would be looked down upon based on something that I had no control over. And this led to my being utterly defensive, and looking for ways to avoid any mention of my caste. I was a good student at school and my best friend was a ‘singh’. I do not ever remember trying to find members from my own caste or community, neither do I think there were many mulnivasis in the Jesuit school that I went to. I specifically remember one friend who belonged to the adivasi community and we got along well, but that was it. I didn’t see the need to associate with anyone just because of our caste identity.
The place where we live is not overtly casteist and never was as far as I can remember. We were like any other family, with its specific peculiarities. An incident from my adolescence which I starkly remember, that changed everything for me, was when my parents were physically attacked by a casteist crazy duo of husband and wife, over a trivial issue. They called us caste slurs and the neighbours just stood around watching. It is something I will never forget. I remember the kind of mentality I possessed at the time and I did not know how to deal with this unprecedented act of caste violence that was directed against my family and me. I had read stories about caste atrocities, but like everyone, I thought it was a thing of the past, not to be encountered in a modern town of north India (Jharkhand) in the year 2011. What violence of any kind does is alienate the sufferer from looking and asking for any kind of help or assistance, by making him or her unable to open up and share, and the same happened with me.
Mingled with shame, was a feeling of guilt, disgust, and anger, not at the perpetrators of the crime, but towards my own parents, for belonging to a caste that attracted animosity from strangers and people we barely knew. I had not read, nor knew about Babasaheb Ambedkar’s work then, apart from the fact that he had drafted the indian constitution. It was much later, during the episode of Rohith Vemula, that I was painfully reminded of my caste identity again through the comments of my peers, this time in such a place as the reputed Delhi university.
My experiences have proved that caste is not only alive, but has its roots in the very core of hinduism. If you are a hindu you are aware of your caste, and you enjoy privileges or suffer from it, as the case may be.
Also, for the longest time when I used to read indian literature, which was really more often than not, elite brahmin literature, I would wonder why I could never relate to it. The reason is obvious, mainstream Indian literature has been exclusively dominated by brahmins and their ilk. I want to ask, where are the voices of the multitudes? How long will it be before we find the experiences of the vast majority of people in print, on paper, so that this country is not a wretched brahmin empire anymore?
Caste discrimination happened with me personally, in Delhi University by my own college mates and by the very people who I used to call ‘friends’. The reality is, caste bias is so deep-rooted that the seemingly educated and cultured are hardly untouched by it. More than discrimination, it was an attempt to humiliate me, make me feel ashamed because of my caste status. And these are the same people who then went on to say that reservations should be based on economic conditions of people. Can any amount of money make me escape discrimination in their eyes, as happened with me? No. They will still find the means to try and make me feel lowly. The savarnas will still ostracize me, treat me less than human. As Babasaheb said, this fight is for our dignity and self-respect, and nobody can stop us from getting it.
Chanchal Kumar is a student of English literature at Delhi University