On Caste and the Opposite Roles of Identity


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The way stigmatization works for the lower caste is that one single mention of your caste name or some caste-based slur and it immediately causes the entire building of your identity to crumble down, because caste indicates something more than you, and psychologically it penetrates far deeper than our own willed thoughts could reach.

There is certain over encompassing reach in caste slurs against lower castes. When speaking to the oppressed the caste names act as racially, and speak of character and personality. It includes your family and it speaks about them, it defines you in a way that has tone of inevitability written across it. “You’re meant to serve, you’re meant to have less intelligence, you’re meant to be ugly” and so on. These “meant to’s” come in hordes and attack you before you’re ready for it. That is over two millennia of material and cultural hegemony acting against you, all concentrated in a few words and delivered in a few seconds.

So we learned to assert our identity, to turn it on its head. Trying to turn the tables. That, yes, we are humans too just as you, and we proudly held to our old labels so that others being burdened by it could also rally behind it.

And it did work then. The ‘Dalit autobiography’ changed the landscape of the literary imagination and was reflected in our daily discourse and material realities too. It sought to outline where things have gone wrong, how different the world is for us, and how ridiculously monstrous are our burdens.

By doing so it did seek to attack the Brahmins sitting at the core of the caste machinery and it worked, but only for a while.

Because caste is a mutating structure which changes its apparatuses as easily as a baby’s diaper just so that the structure remains the same. More or less.

So the Dalit autobiography was made into a ‘format’ and the Dalit as the quintessential specimen of caste. Such that any mention of caste should now evoke Dalit in mind (which was “reservation” earlier when their progressive-pretending levels were lower)

So now the Dalit is made the mascot for anything caste, and his or her life turned into an artifact gallery and they turned to a new species altogether. The identity assertion was thus slowly being sought to be turned into a usable commodity by the Brahmin, as a single Dalit block to be used against the even more ridiculously homogenised OBC, to be used as the mouthpiece for “Brahmins and Brahminism are different” whenever any critique was brought forth, and the Brahmin laid out a way for the Dalit to become the ideal Dalit, by laying across his or her misfortune’s in front of the world, yet again, and ask for a virtual ‘caste certificate’ from the liberal brother of the Brahmin so that they could converse as a patient-on-the-reclining-sofa and the therapist respectively. That was the only way laid out by the Brahmin, and one had to play and win points in a game designed and built by the Brahmin that could mandate how a Dalit to become a true Dalit.

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Why did the academia and liberal do this?

Because in everything, from one’s identity assertion to the conflicts of identity that arise from a history and current reality of oppression, the attack against the Brahmin was being slowly removed.

So our current narratives would have us call ourselves as ‘Untouchable’ without ever asking us to specify who the people who were not ready to touch, and who are deemed the ‘purest’ if one is being deemed’ impure’. It was like the barrel of the gun that the Dalits used to shoot at the caste structure was bent by the strong hands of the Brahmin academia and turned U-shape with the barrel pointing towards us again. So that almost every mode of identity assertion available today to the Dalit would end up harming oneself at most, but never the Brahmin.

Babasaheb spoke of human dignity, he spoke of reaching the highest potential of human existence, he categorically said that the ultimate aim of human existence is the cultivation of human mind.

When the battle is primarily for the reclamation of human dignity (and only after that, other material battles will follow), then why is it so that to participate in the battle one is asked to mark oneself out only and be silent on the co-exploited and even more silent on the oppressor? Why the need to be anything other than a full complete human when nothing wrong was done by you but everything wrong was done to you? Why does the Brahmin get rights of individuality, of existing as a human and sometimes as Bhoodevata, when all that he stands upon is a heap of looted or begged wealth and robbed humanity? By way of our later identity assertion and by our lack of marking out the oppressor, do we naturally cut ties with all the co-exploited and co-marginalised people of this nation, who would look to be a part in the exercise of articulation of their caste experiences, like, say, the Pasmanda Muslims? There is a difference in finding and raising one’s voice about one’s identity, history, and experiences in order to give solidity to your footsteps in marching towards laying a siege on the Brahmin empire.

But that is different from the mental burden of constantly having to reiterate to oneself and others and having to prove again and again that one is the quintessential Dalit with a history of oppression and experiences of discrimination AND not naming the oppressor in the process so that one’s middle-class stature stands justified in the eyes of one’s liberal brahmin-savarna peers.

Why is there no pressure on the Brahmin to speak of his or her privileges before speaking authoritatively on what the problems of every oppressed community are? Because again, he exists as a full or even metahuman, free from bondages of history and reality to act as whatever he needs to be in order to remain on top in that particular arena. Because, it’s about the status quo, not just the ideas. It’s not just about the story but also the storyteller.

So that is why, as Gail Omvedt mentions in her book ‘Cultural Revolt in a Colonial Society: The Non-Brahman movement in Western India’, that Babasaheb would “refer to himself as a Non-Brahman when discussing brahminical prejudice”. Calling oneself as Non-Brahman immediately marks out who is not the normal ideal human which the Brahmin, and your identity assertion shifts all the real pressures and mental burden on the oppressor, and not you.

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So this is not a plea to change some nomenclature in the movement, or a way to seek affiliation with some political party. This is just a plea to reassess how we, as either Dalits or anyone from oppressed communities is being made to look at ourselves and speak about ourselves and it’s what we talk aloud to our thoughts in our introspective moments. Something of us, a crucial part of the identity of being human, is being robbed by the very route of our identity assertion that now stands policed and guarded by Brahmin-savarna liberals and academia. And before doing anything out there in the field, or on paper, we need to fully reclaim this robbed humanity in our own hearts and minds, and call out the monsters as monsters. We should know with full clarity, who we are and who are the rest suffering just like us and how do we help identify ourselves with each other. And we need to know with clarity who is the one that needs to be marked out and made answerable.

Because the logical consequence of Dalit Autobiography should have been Brahmin-savarna biographies authored by any marginalized groups who have learned to mark out the oppressor fully without turning themselves into blocks of commodities, and in these biographies, they would tear down the palaces of these Shastris. That part went missing, and we need to know why, because without it, we risk running backward.

Jai Bhim!

Author – Gaurav Somwanshi, Facebook post

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