Each one of us carries some identity; identity is something that bears a close similarity to who or what a person is. This concept of identity might be improper to use the problem is not with the identity, but the label which is attached to a person which is also commonly called a tag. Remember identity keeps on changing and it is based on the rationale of the person, but the tag is just a label that has no real connotation and is based merely on the prejudices of a person. A tag is a mark of whether you have a quality or not, in a simple way TAG is the BRAND that makes qualitative and valuable differences even with no other, intrinsic quality to influence or attract others. In this regard, someone saying Tag is the symbol of quality of its own name. This is absolutely right and of no doubt in the case of products which we are made, used, bought and sold. When we talk about the social system in India we can see the tag in the form of Casteism. Some use the caste tag to show and assert their superiority and domination.
When we talk about caste tag and the class it benefits, we can’t find a single place where it has no use in this system. It is usually seen easily and even when not, it still exists, in forms that are visible or invisible, whether in educational institutions or other social firms. In a recent article on this important social aspect “What is in a name?” (The Hindu Aug. 27) was wonderful. He said that names not only reflect our personality but also give us the first inkling of the religion, race, or community we belong to. We are named after our ancestors, family members, popular icons, clan, occupation, religion, or even the locality we are from. There is a confusing array of names, surnames, middle names, nicknames, given names. You name it, it is there. But what concerns me most are the adhesive caste names the so-called intellectuals go by while vociferously demanding that Caste be abolished.
When we talk about villages, we can see caste in the visible form and can see directly the caste hierarchy. In the villages, people speak directly about caste. If they don’t know about you, they first ask your name, and then a second question about your caste, in order to talk further. If you are in a good dress, good suit then they assume that you are not in that class which is called depressed, marginalized, or oppressed. Although many social reformers have asserted the need to think beyond the caste trap and make a casteless society, most people are making relationships within their communities – this is the ground reality. When anyone tries to cross the caste line and get married beyond the caste, the radicals and the conservatives’ are socially murdering them. There are a few examples in the society of marriages out of caste, which is of politicians, officers, or others who are economically strong. But the majority of the people are very far from it. It is an exception and the exceptional can’t be universal.
In Bollywood cinema, long time domination of the upper caste people and characters in films and TV serials also displays caste and legitimizes caste hegemony. For instance, the role of Dalits in the films and serials is nothing more than that of the Chowkidar or Mali. Whole films about their lives and roles are zero percent except for some rare exceptions, such as the movie ‘Article 15’ directed by Anubhav Sinha. This is a movie based on social discrimination that showed the ground reality of caste in society. In his movies, there are no Dalit characters except for the sweeper cleaning sewage and garbage in the police station.
If we look at the market, we easily find caste tags in the form of the name of shops, hotels, and restaurants, etc. they are named after caste or god/goddess and some are the names of great leaders or freedom fighters which belong to a particular community. One cannot find these types of names in the market, of Dalit or Adivasi leaders or other caste names as Jatav hotel, Balmik shop, etc. and no Dalit will dare to open his shop or restaurant named after his caste or identity. Why is this? The political scientist and famous thinker Prof. Kancha Ilaiah in his book “Why I am not Hindu,” says that “All these hotels and shops—even public places like schools and colleges— hung pictures and calendars of the Hindu Gods and Goddesses— Brahma, Vishnu, Maheswara, Lakshmi, Saraswathi, Parvathi, and so on. Not only in the temples where a Brahmin occupies the supreme position of priest and where the murthies of brahminical Gods and Goddesses exist but also in the institutions of civil society such as schools and offices, pictures of the Dalit Bahujans are never present.” There are many other examples that show the minuscule participation of the Dalits in the sectors which truly hold power.
Most of the Dalits (who migrate to other cities in search of a job, business, and other reasons, and are also economically stronger) live by hiding their identity in the metropolitan cities even today. Why are they hiding their identity? What type of fear is this, that you dare not live with your own identity? In my view, the way they think about respect, dignity in society, they assume that their own identity will be seen as inferior to others. And secondly, they are fearful about jobs, businesses, living places which are not easy to find in the city if you belong to a particular community which is called untouchable. If we are using the word “upper” for others then we easily accept that we are inferior or lower to others.
When we come to education, we think that there is nothing like that as we see in the other sectors or places. We think that education is the only key to destroying such a type of virus, of which infection is much more dangerous than other viruses. If we think that there is no caste discrimination in the institutions including top universities or colleges, we are wrong. If we say it is true that educational institutions are free of caste discrimination, we will have to think again about Rohith Vemula, Payal Tadvi, and many research students who have murdered by the institution. They were not lower in merit than others but they were seen as lower than others which we can call a social hierarchical system that has never given permission to change the status. The struggle of a depressed class student is different from other students (socially benefited group and top in the Hindu hierarchical system). Depressed class students face dual challenges: first, the caste system and second, economic challenges. The other socially benefited class, on one side they may struggle against capitalism (economic challenges) and on other side benefit in various sectors due to their own social status or caste tag. But for depressed class students, there are no such opportunities.
Today, some people oppose reservation and argue that our ancestors have exploited your ancestors but why are we being punished for it? We accept this as being true, but they should not forget that they are still enjoying the benefit of the casteist Tags of their ancestors. They are not talking about that reservation which has existed in society and benefited only one community for a long time. Unless this stops, it would be wrong to raise a finger on caste-based reservations. In India, the basis of discrimination is not economic, otherwise, the President of the country would not have been prevented from entering the temple.
In the present day, many caste, race, and religion-based organizations are emerging at many levels. These organizations are asserting their own identity and give its members consciousness to live in dignity with their own identity. The other side is creating strong caste, religious differences that are dangerous for our society which is struggling for recognizing our own supremacy. We should try to avoid using the caste tag at our own, individual level rather than speaking about awareness in the society to avoid it and making any law for it because the success or effectiveness of any law depends on social recognition. So we should be asserting not only for making a casteless society but also against such stereotypes. As a student of social science one is always taught to embrace the values of equality and social justice and the first and foremost thing to do is to unlearn and relearn things that have been internalized by us.
Pramod Sagar is an MA (Political Science) student at JNU and a BAPSA activist.