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Why do Upper Castes deny the existence of Caste?

Yashwantrao Phule

One of the many eccentricities upper caste peers possess is to obstinately deny the existence of caste. This has critically pernicious effects. Baseless arguments are put forth claiming caste to be an evil of the past. Recently, the futile efforts of a few professors to oppose the inclusion of caste as a protected category in article 16.1 of the new collective bargain agreement at CSU serves as a clear indication that they don’t want the subject of caste on the center table. Moreover, at the grassroots level, comments such as, ‘even you drive a car now’ or ‘you too have a foreign degree’ are made by the upper castes on any upwardly mobile Bahujan. Through snide remarks, they wish to declaring themselves successful in establishing equality, indicating caste to be an issue of the past. Ridiculing a peer from a lower caste until they feel ashamed and are filled with guilt of their rightful achievements is the way forward, they assume. The dwija, who has become merely an ignorant observer of all the incidents happening around the world whose roots are deep in casteism, and focuses all his energies on denying the existence of caste. Why?

The following article is directed towards all my SC/ST/OBC friends who are being constantly reminded by their upper caste peers that caste is no longer a 21st century problem: not by referring to numerous occasions where casteism can be seen, but by discussing the possible reasons for this strange savarna behavior. Moreover, I bring to light how denying the existence of caste actually strengthens caste privileges.

The denial of the existence of caste along with casteism by people who are the so-called gatekeepers of purity in India is in itself equivalent to a riddle. However, this is not atypical behavior by the savarnas: if one goes through pages of history, you will find numerous examples of it where they display contradictions between their core beliefs and their actions. Illustrating this, Babasaheb writes in Riddles in Hinduism: “The Brahmins have propagated the view that the Hindu civilization is Sanatan, that is, unchanging. This view has been reinforced by a good many of the European Scholars who have said that the Hindu civilization is static. In this book I have attempted to show that this view is not in accord with facts and that Hindu Society has changed from time to time and that often times the change is of the most radical kind.” [1] For example, the prime consumer of cow meat in ancient India were Brahmans practicing himsa on every occasion they could and now they must not eat beef. They even banned it in various states, stealing the principle of ahimsa from Buddha’s Dhamma and stating it as a rule.

So, what are the reasons and the benefits of stating that caste does not exist in the 21st century, ignoring all the atrocities happening every hour? According to me, I believe this behavior is due to the following three reasons:

  1. In this age of information, because of social media people tend not to show their casteist side openly. As there could be an expensive repercussion. Recently, the discriminatory act by a Judge in Karnataka not only united numerous Bahujan in a protest rally but also enlightened the masses about the casteist face of the Judiciary. In this free and fast information era, the upper castes know that the filthy gains from practicing casteism in an elusive manner far outweigh the profits gained by practicing it openly. The upper castes have already achieved the maximum they could in a democratic system by taking way more than 50% share of positions in all four pillars of democracy. Also, they have many decision-making powers around the world in various institutions. Accepting caste will only bring all this down.
  2. If Bahujan youth start believing the savarnas, it would be impossible for them to realize that their current state is related to their social standing (i.e., their caste).
  3. Once people get convinced of a casteless India, the privileged will be successful in spreading a feeling of guilt among people for availing reservations, which is in fact their right to representation, and a person filled with guilt is less likely to question any discriminatory steps taken against him. Hence blaming our constitution of instituting a reverse casteism toward savarnas is a step towards supporting a revolt against the constitution, and perhaps help in establishing Manu’s law once again.

The above benefits outweigh all the shame which might fall upon the upper castes when they openly accept caste. So, to not agree but to still practice is their motto. They don’t want you to learn about caste, they don’t want you to research on caste. The recent changes in the call for National Overseas Scholarship is a clear indication of the fact that the decision-makers want the subject of caste to remain dormant. They do this in the hope that it would weaken the realization that caste is a problem of the present and make you surrender your consciousness for the betterment of the dwijas.

Therefore, seeing so many efforts to invisibilize caste I make a hypothesis that if there is an absence of caste from the discussion, the savarnas who are already privileged will rise to power. One of the ways to prove this is by simulating this condition in real-life scenarios. Let’s make some observations and come to a conclusion. There are at least two systems which we can think of where historically caste was never an issue on the center table: Indian corporates and Indians in foreign universities. Both are very savarna dominated environments. A quick google search about the ‘top management positions of big companies’ or about ‘Indian-origin principal investigators at universities’ will let you confirm my assertion. For example, a 2012 study reports that about 92.6% Indian corporate board members are from Brahmin and Vaishya communities.[2]

As a remedy, I suggest putting caste openly in the syllabus. In fact, I will go a step further and argue that the reality of caste, which is deeply rooted in all spheres, needs to be taught to children right from the stage of primary education itself and not wait for them to choose a certain kind of subject to learn, understand and talk about, much later in life.

Finally, I would like to conclude by indicating that this article is also for all my Bahujan friends who are starting to fantasize that the 21st century is witnessing the diminution of caste only because of the shift in your class. You are wrong my friends, the battle against casteism needs to be made stronger now than ever before.



[1] Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar Writings and Speeches, Volume 4, Page 5

[2] Ajit, D., Han Donker and R. D. Saxena. “Corporate Boards in India Blocked by Caste.” (2012).


Yashwantrao Phule is  an Engineer currently completing his Masters. He tweets at @Yashwantaaa.

Picture courtesy: the internet.

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