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Searching For Civility In Civil Lines

Searching For Civility In Civil Lines

Payal Karwade

The effect of caste on the ethics of the Hindus is simply deplorable. Caste has killed public spirit. Caste has destroyed the sense of public charity. Caste has made public opinion impossible. A Hindu’s public is his caste. His responsibility is only to his caste.” (Ambedkar 1936).

The article attempts to highlight genuine instances of caste practices in Dewas, a city in Madhya Pradesh. Discussing the caste system, which is frequently regarded as an outmoded system, upper castes generally observe – ‘there is no discrimination’, ‘Dalits have cars, they are not poor’, ‘reservation should be abolished’, ‘lower castes are lazy’, ‘favouring reservation is an anti-nationalist agenda’, and so on[1]. As an outcome, people should avoid discussing caste? Such narratives are frequently set by a group of people who are uncomfortable, have never experienced discrimination, or belong to the social elite. Nobody wants to discuss the subject because it is too sensitive, but the Indian social system in general, and Hinduism in particular, does not allow any escape from such reality. This piece recounts the true events experienced by a Dalit girl in the city of Dewas while looking for a rented room in the Civil Lines area. The article depicts her narration of discovering the hidden face of upper castes who pretend to be civil while living in colonies, but their hidden agenda frequently seeks to denigrate the lower castes. When asked about her first journey to the city, she explains:

I received a call letter for a job with an NGO in Dewas. It was February of 2018. The main office is in Civil Lines colony. Brahmins, Baniyas, Muslims, and OBCs live in the colony. It’s a VIP area. Most people there earn good money and run their own businesses. When I was searching for a room in nearby areas, I encountered some unpleasant incidents. I went there after seeing a ‘To-Let’ sign outside. The proprietor inquired about my name. I told them my first name, but they asked for my full name again. They became interested in my caste after learning my name. It was my first experience with such obvious caste discrimination. I decided not to stay in such a place.

Then I relocated to another area. Similar incidents occurred there as well. Because of my caste, about 10-12 Brahmin households refused to house me. I thought, why don’t they write ‘only for upper-castes’ on the To Let board? Because it will save energy and avoid humiliating treatment of home-seekers, and politics in the name of purity-pollution. I told one of my upper caste colleagues (Sharma) in the organisation about how difficult it had been for me to find a decent accommodation. She drove me to a Shrivastava’s place. During the conversation, she informed the owner that I am her sister looking for a place. The owner assumed I was also a Brahmin. It wasn’t a lie, but I hid my caste on purpose in order to find housing. I had the good fortune and privilege of being a friend of an upper caste. However, the same community eventually denied my existence and treated me inhumanely. But when I told them I was Maharashtrian, they assumed I belonged to the Maratha caste of Maharashtra. My soft-spoken demeanour and skin tone, they reasoned, prevented them from determining my true social position. It took me two months to settle in the colonies of the twice-born Hindus.

I used to overhear their conversation when I was staying at their house. Because my bedroom and their living room were  separated only by a wall. Their social and political debates reflected anti-Muslim and anti-Dalit sentiments. When it came to Hindu unity, it was all anti-Dalit and anti-Muslim. They were unwilling to acknowledge that Dalits can be good people. My colleague, a tribal girl, used to live next door to me. She told me that her owner was bothering her over trivial matters. She also told my owner, who is a close friend of hers, about it. She first promised my colleague that she would make a complaint against her in a Shakha, but then she came to me and said it was all my friend’s fault. That woman is a member of a Shakha, a Hindu organisation that teaches brotherhood and mutual assistance in order to maintain Hindu unity.

After a year and a half of strictly following veg-only eating rules, I decided to relocate to escape these practices. I went to a Mishra now. They wanted to know where I had stayed before. I informed them that I had been staying at Shrivastava’s residence. So, with no further ado, she allotted me a room. I had been staying in a Brahmin household, so they assumed I was an upper caste individual from Maharashtra. (Tyana vatla ki Shrivastava kade tar kadhich Dalit rahu shakat nahi. Hi khup interesting gosht hoti ani mala upper caste chya ghari rahaycha privilege shevati milala). It was such a unforgettable incident for me that I was eventually given the opportunity to stay in an upper caste house.

Furthermore, in the 2018 Madhya Pradesh Assembly Election, the INC received 114 seats out of a total of 230 seats, while the BJP received 109, and Kamal Nath took oath as Chief Minister. The loss of the BJP was indigestible for voters in the area, who blamed Dalits, Muslims, and other lower castes for voting the Congress. Every day, BJP supporters were abusing lower castes and Muslim minorities. They claimed that they live in a civilised society and that they never engage in discrimination. However, when they are in their homes or engage in socio-political discussions, they reveal their true selves (Amhi Civil Lines madhe rahto, amchya madhe kiti civility ahe ani amhi kadhich konashi bhedbhav karat nahi as te nehmi project kartat swatahla. Pan jevha te gharat rahtat, kiva social ani political vishayavar charcha kartat tar tyancha khara chehra disun yeto).

I once went to a colleague’s home, approximately 2-3 kilometres from Civil Lines. Valmikis, who have been traditionally engaged in caste-based manual scavenging work despite the fact that the State has prohibited it, numerically dominate that slum. When I arrived in that area, I was greeted warmly. It felt familiar because I grew up in a similar area. Out of curiosity, I inquired whether the younger generation is abandoning the caste-based occupation. The youth were uninterested in education and preferred to be involved with various RSS local groups. The youth in the community were Bajrang Dal members. They were much more influenced by Hinduism as a result of leaving education and becoming devotees of the BJP.

I never saw youth from the Civil Lines in Bajrang Dal, despite the fact that they practise Hinduism and support the BJP. Lower castes from the slums, on the other hand, make up a large part of it as foot soldiers. Women were concerned about their sons because whenever there is a problem, these people go out and fight. They were dragged into criminal cases. In the name of religion, they were actively involved in criminal activities. Such incidents are recounted by community women. It reflects the view that Civil Lines youth are members of the Sangh at higher levels. They still want to deny lower castes access to education. Why do their social organisations never encourage lower castes to attend school? Hence, the narrative proves what Waghmore (2013) believes – the idea of Dalit citizenship is a complex and violent process due to local civility norms governed by caste and Hinduism: caste as a deeply private sphere creates an exclusionary public space based on status.



Ambedkar, B. R. (1936). Annihilation Of Caste

Waghmore, S. (2013). Civility Against Caste: Dalit Politics and Citizenship in Western India. SAGE Publications India.

Caste conundrum: Why do upper castes believe discrimination doesn’t exist?


Payal Karwade has completed her Master’s in Social Work with specialization in women centred practice from Tata Institute of Social Sciences (2015-17). She is currently working on issues of gender, caste, intersectionality and sexual violence.