The “Great Game” of Language and the “Caste System”


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What makes human beings different from the other animals is language and the ability to use the symbols at the higher level of abstraction. The varying degrees of abstractions create the methods to think deeply, sometimes create complicated abstract systems of discriminations such as the caste system, but also they take us farther from the “objective” reality. John Dewey described abstraction as the method to find common elements from the lived experiences and use them further to explore and communicate them.

Babasaheb Ambedkar wrote in the “Annihilation of Caste” that the labels are complicated and unless the label changes, it is difficult to fight the caste system. The Buddha asked us to be mindful of the language we speak and the spoken words.

Words can be dangerous in creating structures that can further enslave us. The languages are embodied and therefore the discrimination. The body is an object of discrimination in various schemes of the discrimination. For example, the original scheme of caste, the Varna system, has the origin in the so-called cosmic body of the “Brahma”.

The topmost part of the body, the part which is higher physically, is equated with the highest castes and as we move to the lower parts of the body, the lowering of the classes begins. This is very important to understand that the caste is an embodied metaphor which gets internalised through the stories, myths, and day to day exchange governed by the subtle laws of Manu.

The words and phrases we use become the basis of reinforcing the old caste hierarchies and the customs. Therefore, we need an entirely new language to counter the old fossilised and hierarchical language. It is not difficult to develop that language, the new language of liberation, of social cohesion, that reflects new thoughts, that creates the new community and that gives us the experience liberated world.

Read – Political Mobilisation of the Lower Castes in India: The Role of the Scheduled Castes

Our language is struck in the bipolarity of the high and lows, nay, it is struck in the multi-polarity of the ranges within these highs and lows. It has not been able to take that creative flight that lifts, in the vision unleashed by the greats, like the Buddha, and Kabir, and Phule, and Babasaheb. It is a difficult to come out of the tyranny of the old language as it is so settled and therefore it has tremendous power and influence and the strong gravity that it is difficult to come out of it. But efforts must be made to escape the gravitational pull of the old language, old customs, and old ways of dealing with the things.

Language is political. Ideally, no words be spoken, but as human beings, we have to communicate as the communication is the essence of the community which makes us hold things in common. Till we find other ways of communication and it is less likely that we will discover “mind-to-mind” communication, the use of language is necessary. It is also important to note that the language also conditions our mind and this conditioning makes us think in particular ways.

The creative deconstruction must be started with the deconstruction of language that enslaves and must be replaced by ever newer language that empowers and frees the human mind.

Author – Mangesh Dahiwale, Human Rights Activist

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