October 19, 2005
The Globalization of the Dalit Problem
The cruel caste system has been a huge, never-ending problem for us as Indians. Our inability to eradicate caste completely even after the rise of prophets like Mahatma Phule and Dr. B.R. Ambedkar reveals our own blindness to one of the most dehumanizing systems the world has ever known. There is no point in saying that the Indian Constitution has abolished untouchability because we all know that the law has not taken care of the root system that gave rise to the practice of untouchability. There is no point in saying that we have reservations for the Dalits, because if there were no reservation system, we would have effectively consigned all Dalits to their inhuman existence. We would not then have the few Dalit-Bahujan leaders who have risen to speak out on behalf of their people. To our utter shame, no significant campaign or movement has risen up after India’s independence among the upper caste leadership in the nation, nor overseas, to end the caste system in Indian society.
If we are honest, we must admit that caste prejudice runs very deep in the Indian psyche.
So today, when Dalits agitate for some kind of quota system in the private sector, India’s upper-caste-dominated industrialists shut the door in their faces! Dalit-Bahujan leaders are forced to appeal to the overseas multinational companies to voluntarily provide for affirmative action just as they have provided such benefits for African-Americans and other minorities in their own nations. In order to make their case, the Dalit-Bahujan leaders have no option but to describe their lives as they know it in modern India. Let us be clear about this one thing: Caste is alive and well on planet India. Let us have the honesty and courage to deal with this problem and avoid the spin of the last several decades which says there is no caste system, nor the ensuing discrimination that has resulted in our cities, villages and towns.
Politics has not delivered on the issues of Dalit discrimination or the abolishment of caste, Dr. Ambedkar’s main dream and desire. What is required is the development of a national and global social conscience on the issue of caste discrimination and its atrocities. This new social conscience must be both national and global because the caste problem is not only limited to India. It is present in all South Asian nations and in other parts of the world where Indians congregate. The case of the foreign-based Indian woman who had her daughter and son-in-law murdered because of their inter-caste marriage is well known. The rise of the extremist Hindutva movement also has meant the rise of the caste-based structure in society. How can we ignore the blatant distribution of the Manusmriti by the Sangh Parivar elements in Western India when their government was in power? The Sangh Parivar has not been shy of spreading this divisive and soul-destroying ideology even in the West and especially in America. When after the lynching of the five Dalits in Jhajjar, Haryana, the Vice President of the VHP (Vishwa Hindu Parishad – the world Hindu federation) can say that the life of the cow is more precious than the life of the Dalit we are brought face to face with colossal social blindness.
This social blindness can be cured only when there is the realization that all men and women are created equal and have equal intrinsic value and worth. True change can come only when everyone knows and agrees that Dalits and upper caste alike they are equally created in God’s likeness and there is no such thing as a God-given hierarchy of human beings.
There is now a growing national and global alliance of people – irrespective of caste, creed and religion – who believe that both the caste system and its consequences – the practice of untouchability and discrimination – must be abolished. It is this alliance which must educate, inform, campaign and be engaged in activism resulting in the growth and development of the social conscience which will revolt against any caste-based discrimination or prejudice. It is this conscience that will eventually abolish the caste system and that will realize India’s greatness and true potential – the potential of its huge and utterly deprived masses.
Nevertheless, this is going to be a long, difficult struggle and campaign. Those who have profited economically and politically from the caste system will not yield easily. As we have noticed recently in the Gohana episode where 50 Dalit houses were burned, these forces will attack any assertion of Dalit rights.
The vast majority of our own people do not know the meaning of “India Shining” – a slogan of the upper-caste-dominated Indian elite. India does not shine for the masses – not simply because they are poor, but because of the social system that denies them equal opportunities, empowerment, capital and freedom. Globalization has resulted in “India Shining” for the privileged minority, but now let globalization also result in “India Shining” for the majority Dalits and other oppressed castes/tribes.
Posted by K Lajja at October 19, 2005 03:14 PM