Shubham S. Kamble
Caste represents a pernicious social element that gradually erodes the fabric of society, rendering it progressively weaker. Regrettably, certain individuals and privileged segments of society persist in their reluctance to accept individuals belonging to the Scheduled Caste and marginalized communities. The gravest challenge arises from the perspective of Scheduled Caste individuals, comprising Dalits, Untouchables, and Harijans, who are often viewed disparagingly by members of higher caste communities.
A person’s vast knowledge, extensive experience, and diverse skill set are commendable and praiseworthy, so long as their caste remains undisclosed. However, the revelation of one’s caste can trigger abrupt astonishment and regret in those who become aware of it. This reaction, marked by discomfort and remorse, stems from the fact that individuals alter their behavior, become unresponsive, avoid interaction, dismiss opinions, and uphold their social standing by distancing themselves from the Scheduled Caste individual. In the process, they exhibit expressions akin to encountering an untouchable, thereby perpetuating social prejudice.
In our society, an individual’s caste affiliation takes precedence over their abilities and competencies. Some individuals fear losing their authority when confronted with the undeniable progress achieved by Dalits, which is now unstoppable. This apprehension fuels their reluctance to support the advancement and empowerment of the Scheduled Castes. Their aversion stems from an inherent resistance to working under the supervision of a Scheduled Caste individual. To illustrate, when a sanitation worker, despite his humble occupation, advances economically and arrives at work in a Mercedes, while the employer continues to drive a modest vehicle, the employer becomes profoundly affected. Such scenarios invariably lead to attempts to undermine, curtail, and impose restrictions.
Certain regions in Maharashtra exhibit a higher prevalence of caste-based discrimination. The contemporary patterns of discrimination may differ in form from historical practices, but the underlying sentiment remains the same. Individuals in positions of power within local institutions, as well as at the national level, are now capable of impeding one’s growth and progress. They do so by perpetuating inequality through unequal opportunities and an uneven distribution of benefits and resources. Despite constitutional safeguards and the passage of time, the caste hierarchy and the concept of caste remain deeply ingrained in people’s minds, exerting profound psychological and emotional control. This discriminatory practice endures across generations, rendering legislative efforts insufficient in countering deeply ingrained biases. Individuals continue to assess others based on their caste rather than evaluating their abilities, skills, capabilities, ideologies, beliefs, qualifications, and occupations.
As a dedicated social worker, it is my moral obligation to work towards fostering an inclusive world characterized by social equity and dignity. Nevertheless, my efforts in the field are often hampered by the insistent focus on caste. People invariably seek to ascertain one’s caste, allowing this knowledge to dictate their behavior. They may initially exhibit kindness, generosity, and supportiveness, showing keen interest in our perspectives and activities, until they become aware of our caste. Once the veil is lifted, it becomes increasingly challenging to manage their altered attitudes, even when working toward their benefit. In rural areas, the prevalence of caste-based discrimination is as pervasive as the sky itself. The so-called upper caste communities in villages project an image of inclusive and harmonious relations with Dalits and vulnerable populations when in the presence of visitors, researchers, and social workers. However, this façade conceals the stark realities that we have observed and studied through our field experiences.
Individuals in positions of power frequently exploit and infringe upon the rights of Dalits, Scheduled Castes, and vulnerable communities for their own economic, political, and social gain. They vehemently oppose any attempts by Scheduled Caste individuals to participate in politics or effect change and mobilize the masses actively. To counter such initiatives, they employ various means, including coercion and manipulation. The primary issue is not solely the emergence of competition or the acquisition of power; rather, it lies in the individual’s Dalit identity. Many individuals are unwilling to accept any Dalit in a position of authority, as they are averse to working under the leadership of someone they perceive as untouchable, Dalit, or Scheduled Caste.
However, the challenge does not solely rest with external factors. A significant issue arises from within the Scheduled Caste community itself. Some members are ensnared by addiction, greed, ignorance, lack of awareness, limited knowledge, minimal participation, a dearth of leadership, and a limited rights-based approach. While some may be educated, they are often uninterested in mobilizing their fellow community members, bringing about change, or supporting efforts aimed at improving their quality of life. We must extend a helping hand to marginalized communities, providing them with opportunities and robust political, social, and economic support. They possess immense potential and are capable of achieving great feats; all they require is a single opportunity. As we reflect on our history, it is high time that we honor those sacrifices and strive to restore their self-respect. Ultimately, our goal is the advancement of self-development, equality, fraternity, and liberty within our society.
Shubham Saudagar Kamble is pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in Social Work from Tilak Maharashtra Vidyapeeth, Pune. He can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org