Question of identity: Ideology or caste?

ChandraBhan Prasad

If India's very intelligentsia is theoretically disorganised, lives on suspect moral standards and has an inherently non-inquisitive mental aptitude, what good can we expect to happen in this country? Almost every national daily has reported that the Dalits have also been involved in anti-Muslim riots. Tribal youth looting shops owned by the Bohra community were shown on TV channels. This must not go unpunished. The tribals, by their sheer innocence, dress codes, and the localities where these incidents occurred, were easily identifiable as "Tribals". But the media did do us a great service by exposing the criminal acts of tribal rioters.

Similarly, one particular sub-caste of Dalits in North West India, insists upon its "Hindu" identity and often participates in anti-Muslim riots. This particular sub-group, the first amongst Dalits to urbanise themselves, often lives in slums and in UP for instance, constitutes just one per cent of the state's total population. But their occupation is such that during any public act, a marriage procession, for example, they are easily identifiable by the work tools they carry and their dress code. The media was, therefore, easily able to identify them in Gujarat and reported through their respective channels: "The Dalits, too, are participating in the riots." Fine. Every rioter must be severely punished. And it has to be accepted, the media did an excellent job of exposing Dalit rioters - even if their number was much too small to be counted.

But why were non-Dalit rioters not named by their respective castes? Most group housing societies in Ahmedabad have come up on caste lines and the inhabitants of such apartments, including women, are said to have participated, en-masse, in the anti-Muslim riots? It is easy to find out about the caste origin of rioters. But did any media person file a story detailing how the Patels and Kolies had engineered the massacre of Muslims? Did anyone report on how, in village X of the Kutch region, non-Dalit marauders dispatched bangles to Dalit hamlets, for their non-participation in the anti-Muslim riots?

These questions can only be answered by the people who've been indulging in Dalit bashing, and only they can explain the intent behind identifying Dalit (which includes Tribal) rioters by their caste origins, while sparing the others. Neither did the media explain the categories of riots. There were rioters who indulged in killings, there were rioters who indulged in arson and there were rioters who indulged in looting. The media has told us how even the elite, living in posh localities, indulged in looting. Several of them have been identified by the police and many, in fact, arrested, and goods recovered. But were they casteless people? Or had they "de-caste" themselves? If not, why did the media not reveal their caste origins?

Mediapersons do not stand alone in demonstrating their suspect moral standards. The well placed academia also suffers from similar moral crises. Their response to UP's BSP-BJP alliance is no different from that of journalists covering the Gujarat riots. The BSP used to call itself a party of "Bahujans". But the academia called it a "party of Dalits". Now, the UP BSP calls itself a party of "Sarvajans". But the academia still thinks of it as a "party of Dalits". Mulayam Singh's SP is thought of as an OBC party, although party leaders call it "socialist".

The academia is right here. The average Indian is known by his/her caste first, and by ideology later. Even EMS Namboodiripad was described as a "Namboodiri Brahmin", and the CPI(M) in Kerala is known as a party of Ezhavas. Wasn't Gandhiji also known as a "Bania"?

Thus, if caste is one of the basic identities of this country's citizens and political parties, despite their "ideological" proclamations, then what is the caste identity of the BJP in UP? People who describe the BSP as a party of Dalits must do the nation a favour, by finding out the caste identity of the BJP in UP? The one clue we could give our inherently non-inquisitive academia is that the BJP in UP is known as a "Brahman-Bania" party, or a party of Dwijas. If the academia has any sense of shame, it must either dispute our assertion, or accept that the BSP-BJP coalition is in fact a social coalition of two social minorities: the Dwijas and Dalits, where lower-caste Muslims enter into the coalition via the BSP.

The Dalits created their movement because there has been no genuine movement for emancipation of the oppressed by non-Dalits. The Dalits rely on their own intelligentsia, because the mainstream intelligentsia has no credibility amongst educated Dalits. The onus falls on the non-Dalit intelligentsia, which must evolve a transparent moral standard for itself, if at all India is to evolve into an all inclusive society.

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