Manoj Meshram & Reena Dongre
Songs have been a part of cultural existence not only for entertainment but also to express devotion to nature and gods and goddesses since time immemorial. Even as modern societies moved towards more influential media humans still find inspiration, motivation, entertainment and love through songs. Many songs, like the ones from the TV show ‘Satyamev Jayate’, have played a vital role in bringing attention of the audience to different social issues. One of the songs which reminds you strongly about the brutal face of our society is ‘Bekhauf aazad hai jeena mujhe’. It reflects the desires of a girl who wants to live free and do what she wants to do without having to face social restrictions and barriers in that path. It is her life and she wants to determine her goals, aspirations and vision.
The very purpose of mentioning this song is to draw your attention to the recent institutional murder of Dr. Payal Tadvi who was a postgraduate medical student. She had been facing discrimination due to the prevalence of caste in our society and the educational institutions, which are a part of it. Disrespectful comments were passed by the dominant caste girls on her caliber and abilities. She was mentally harassed and subjected to abuse. She couldn’t get any support from the faculty or administration to fight this harassment and at last, she was driven to suicide. Her demise is a wake up call to other people who have been facing such discrimination but who have suffered in silence. Justice for her should happen and should be a warning to such contractors who spread caste evil in society and perpetuate it through such institutions.
This is not just one case which saddened our minds. In fact, similar incidents have been happening throughout the years and they were deliberately swept under the carpet by the dominant castes using their control over both private and public insitutions. One of the cases which we will never forget is our brother Rohith Vemula’s, who closed his eyes to open our eyes. While these are the caste realities, still many upper castes deny the existence of caste. “हम पढते है तो जातीवादी खून खौलता फिर उनके मुहसे जातीवादी मनु बोलता” (‘If we study, the blood of the caste followers boil, and then through their mouths casteist manu speaks’) is a true reflection of the feelings of hatred of upper caste minds when a person from under-privileged background sits with them in so called caste institutions and asserts and fights for his/her rights. Dominant caste groups always try to demoralize the backward castes by ridiculing their language, clothes, knowledge, etc. If we speak in English with them, they will deliberately speak either in Hindi or in any local language. It means, either we do not know English according to them or they do not want us to learn this language. It is a means of excluding us and breaking our confidence in talking in a language which is needed in these institutions. We are judged based on our clothes also, and we are never invited for their gatherings, and even if it is done they would make it clear that it is being done as a favor.
Reservations has always been a hot topic of debate between the upper castes and the lower castes. Upper castes blame it as a reason when they fail to secure seats in their institutions of choice and always resort to public screaming about merit. The quotas are not filled due to active interference from selectors who are from dominant caste background and who deliberately do not want to give seats to backward caste candidates. Though, constitutional rights are there, the implementing agencies subvert that and maintain the legacy of upper caste overrepresentation. The merit question has been debunked by Mandal Commission (Chapter VI, p.g 21-23, 1980) by pointing out the error in using the same horizontal selection criteria for those who hold resources and have everything and those who do not have anything. The Mandal Commission report is very simple but it is very difficult to digest for the upper castes who cannot accept anyone who they see as below them in the caste hierarchy being given opportunity to study with them. Many times, the upper castes dismiss the selection of their lower caste classmates as something underserved. In addition, the concession in fees is also painful for them. As a result, hatred comes out and is unleashed on innocent students dreaming to take up higher education, with many of them being first generation learners of their families.
When a woman from a downtrodden community comes to such upper caste controlled institutions or workspaces, it is very difficult for her to adjust to the place as it is very different from her immediate society. She faces problems in finding friends, and she faces lots of taunts. Even in classes, upper caste students sit together and intentionally exclude us. Similarly, the three girls continuously oppressed and derided Dr. Payal Tadvi on the ground of her caste and community. We intend to ask the so called upper caste girls: when was the first girls’ school in the country started and who started it? Were your forefathers ready to give education to girls? Who demanded equal rights for girls in an all spaces? We can proudly say that it is because of Mahatma Phule and Savitribai Phule that all girls, from all castes and religions, could get the taste of education, not just those from underprivileged backgrounds. These dominant caste girls might not even be aware that girls belonging to upper castes also have been getting reservation in different institutions under the women’s quota because of our forefathers’ struggles and not because of their forefathers who were not even ready to educate their daughters. History has clear evidences on this. Thus, before passing comments on underprivileged people, it is better to know and understand/analyze their privileges and assumptions. The caste system that they take pride in has not been constructed in the favor of women. Manu says, “Dhol, Gawar, Shudra, Pashu or Nari ye sabh taadan ke adhikari” (Manusmruti: Chapter 8 Shlok 29) and this society is formed on such mentality. Women from upper castes also get similar treatment, but they woudn’t admit it. Our suggestion to girls with this kind of mentality is to reflect on these facts first and then react. At least, as women treat other women equally. Otherwise demanding relief from the slavery of patriarchy will be hypocritical and ineffective.
People from upper castes cannot tolerate if we grow or if we question or assert our rights. Our struggles are hard and have deep value for us whereas dominant castes get whatever luxuries based on their birth. So, it is absolutely a big loss when a girl from such a marginalised community ends her life due to mental harassment on the basis of her identity. Babasaheb Ambedkar said, “I measure the progress of a community by the degree of progress which women have achieved”. It is education which is the right weapon to cut social slavery and it is education which will help the downtrodden masses to come up and gain rights, economic betterment and political freedom. It is important to understand that women from SC, ST and OBC communities have always been oppressed in the society and the few number of women from these categories who get access to higher education face severe caste discrimination at each step.
The plague of discrimination on the basis of caste cannot be abolished until and unless society acknowledges this reality and changes its mindset towards the underprivileged.
Constitution of India http://legislative.gov.in/sites/default/files/coi-4March2016.pdf
Crenshaw, K. (1991, July). Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity politics and Violence against women of Color. Stanford Law Review.
Koreti, S. (2016). Socio-Cultural History of the Gond Tribes of Middle India. International Journal of Social Science and Humanity, Vol. 6, No. 4.
Rege, S. (1998, October-November). Dalit Women Talk Differently: A Critique of “Difference” and Towards a Dalit Feminist Standpoint Position. Economic and Political Weekly.
Xaxa, P. V. (2005). Women and Gender in the Tribes of india. New Delhi: Sage Publication.
Manoj Meshram is from Nagpur and completed his Masters in Social Work with specialization in “Livelihood and Social Entrepreneurship” (2016-2018 batch), from Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai. Currently he is working in an organization called Amhi Amchya Arogyasathi as an Assistant Theme Coordinator.
Reena Dongre completed her Masters in Social Work with specialisation in “Women Centred Practice” from Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai. Currently, she is working in an organization called Jan Sahas Social Development Society as a Research, MIS and Documentation Coordinator.