Have You Ever Faced Caste Discriminations In India? Tell Us?

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These days, in India, we are witnessing the rise of Dalit people in our society. They are rising from the bottom of the social-pyramid and trying to put an end to the centuries old ongoing exploitations in our society. The odds are heavily stacked against them, yet they are fighting against the deep-rooted caste based hierarchical society in our country with all their might.

The celebrations of 1818 Battle of Bhima-Koregaon is the most recent example of growing Dalit unrest and assertions in our society.

According to the historical books, on January 1, 1818, the Peshwas ruler of Maratha Confederacy sent their large army contingent of 28000 soldiers to win back Pune; however in the night long battle that ensued, about 800 Mahars (Dalits, untouchables) soldiers defeated Peshwas’ army in a historical battle and forced them to retreat.

India’s icon Baba B.R. Ambedkar initiated the movement to commemorate the famous victory of Dalits in 1818 Battle of Bhima-Koregaon. Since then the Dalit community have carried on the traditions of annual remembrance. This year while observing the 200th anniversary of the said battle, something extraordinary happened. Rampaging mobs belonging to the Right-Wing organizations attacked Dalits who were going to honor the 1818 Battle of Bhima-Koregaon. According to the Dalit Leader, Prakash Ambedkar, the right-wing organizations named Hindu Ekta Aghadi and Shivraj Pratishthan were responsible for the unprecedented violence in Bhima Koregaon village.

In the last couple of days, we have witnessed the ugly manifestation of Caste Discriminations in the cities of Maharashtra. And this state is on the boil again.

200 years have passed since that Battle of 1818, yet the sordid issues of caste-discriminations are alive and kicking.  And such caste battles rages on.

Almost a month ago, I met my old school friend in Lucknow and we started reminiscing about our boarding school and the college days.

And we recollected the political scenarios more than twenty-five years ago, when the rigid Caste identities entered our lives right through the front door.

In 1980s, both of us were in a boarding school in Gwalior. It may be worth mentioning that in our school, all of us were brought up in an idealist environment. We had spent better part of our childhood years living in a secluded school located in a sheltered Fort. At that impressionable age, most of us did not have much idea about the ways our real society functions. At our school, we were totally cut off from the actual Indian society that lives right below the Fort, in the city of Gwalior.

We had read and heard about the differences and the discriminations based on the regions, state, religions, languages, castes, et al. But for most of us, it was just bookish knowledge. Very few of us had any firsthand experience about any sort of real prejudice prevalent in our society. At that time, we were young school kids and we did not exactly know the functioning of our Indian society.

Suddenly, it all changed, for me at least.

In 1990s, we had finished our school education and handful of our batch mates included me, we headed out for Delhi, to get our college education in the prestigious University of Delhi. To tell you honestly, at that time I felt, it was not a best of time for the young 18 years old college student then. Now, when I look back, I think I was lucky to be on the ground, observing the historical events from the ring-side; soaking in the life-altering experience firsthand.

No, I am not going to talk about the big-bang economic reforms that laid the foundation of new economic superpower country and generated immense prosperity for its citizens of almost all income groups. Instead, let me reminded you all about the Mandal Commission recommendations, the Rath Yatra, the Mandir-Masjid issues, the religious-riots, the bomb-blasts, the terrorism, etc.

Indeed the 1990s was disturbing decades for our society.

Whatever social unrest scenarios that we are witnessing today, the seeds of the said social conflicts were sowed and watered in those years of 1990s by the power-hungry politicians and their blind followers. All those small seeds of disruptive politics really divided our Indian society and dealt it a huge blow.

I still remember the infamous trickle down effects of the all the above mentioned political steps were being felt in our college campuses across the country in 1990s. For instance, in my college hostel, during ragging the Seniors asked me and my friends, to publicly announce about our regions, state, religions, languages, castes, et al. Lying was not an option for us Juniors. The friends who were caught lying were thrashed badly. So, all of us replied honestly. Then we were slotted and segregated by the Senior students. For me, and countless others; it was time to be divided and being identified for who you are.

I guess, it was kind of issuance of the present day Aadhar Identification card.

Now, during ragging period, that lasted couple of months; our fate really hanged on the “identity” of the ruling “senior” that we encountered in our campus.

Leniency and good behavior awaited us, if we were to meet the senior with a similar identity(s) or else we were always ready for the worst.

It was a very difficult period for most of us, indeed.

Although the rigid caste identities always existed in our society, but then it took centre stage and the caste discrimination came to the fore in that period.

In my first English fiction novel, I have tried to capture few of the distressing shades of that historical period. I have written these lines from a point of view of a young medical student; who gets caught in the wrong-side of the whirl-pool in the caste-quagmire, with tragic results. Let me share its excerpts:

“I am pained by the fact that many of these anti-reservation agitators and its advocates conveniently forget that caste-based reservations have existed in our society since ancient era. And this age-old reservation continues to thrive even now. They also don’t wish to recall the airtight caste-based hierarchy system. People born in upper castes keep on passing their birth privileges to their children. While those born in lower castes hand over birth misfortunes to their descendants. If one has to look back at our ancient civilization, one’s birth in a particular caste generally preordained one’s choices in life, like one’s social standing, reputation, occupation, marriage partner. In these thousands of years, the privileged classes have often closed the doors of learning for our ancestors. And let’s not forget the despicable practices called untouchability and ostracism of the fellow humans. I am afraid this water-tight caste segregation can’t be discarded so easily by our society. The iron-clad caste mentality is too deep-rooted. It is going to thrive and going to lord over us for generations to come. And we will continue to live in a deeply divided nation of so many castes, sub-castes, and segregated class of people in our society.” {Salvaging Adidweep, Chapter 6, Where The Shoe Pinches; Page 75}

This kind of rigid caste identifications and caste sentiments are not really good for the unity of our country. But, then Caste-discrimination is the harsh reality of our society. One cannot really wish it away. Or brush it under the carpet. This caste-discrimination is a ghost from the past era that haunts our present age too.

Across the world, in United States of America, the ordinary and well-known women folks are busy fighting the well-entrenched patriarchy in their society by speaking out fearlessly and talking about their #MeToo experience of their sexual harassments and exploitations by the powerful dominant people of their society in a developed Western world.

I believe that just like #MeToo movement of the USA, in India #WeToo need to speak out against the present day caste-discriminations. Until and unless, we as citizens of this country start addressing this unity threatening caste disease, the healing process of our society and our nation may not begin. So, I am urging our Dalit, Adivasi, OBCs and other fellow Indians to let’s speak up on their caste discrimination experiences and let the bad blood flow out of ourselves. If you have ever faced the caste discriminations in your life, then do share your experiences with us, we will publish your stories on our blog.

Don’t forget to tell your #WeToo stories of the caste discriminations.

Let this year 2018, be the year of understanding, empathy, compassion and reconciliations in our India.

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Sameer Bhagat

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Author, Salvaging Adidweep.


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