Social status quo

Chandra Bhan Prasad

In June this year, a Dalit panchayat chief, Adiamma was removed from her office in Karnataka. Her only crime was that she continued with her toilet cleaning job even after becoming president of the panchayat. A few years back a Dalit youth was forced to swallow human excreta in a Karnataka village. Similarly, in southern Tamil Nadu, a Dalit MLA was shoed away, abused and humiliated publicly, when he visited his constituency, simply because he was a Dalit and yet he had audacity to visit his constituency and hear people s grievances.

In most parts of rural Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, and Karnataka, hotel/tea shops maintain two-glass system one for Dalits and other for non-Dalits. In all the three States, practice of untouchability is rampant in its crudest form, uncomparable to rest of the India. The pattern of violence in this part of India contains medieval era characteristics, and is comparable only to the pattern of violence in western UP, Haryana and parts of Rajasthan bordering UP.

A few years back, in district Mathura of UP, a Dalit youth and Jat girl were hanged from a banyan tree. This gory crime occurred in day time, witnessed by some 20,000 people. Their only crime was to enter in a wedlock, defying the caste norm. About an year back, Gujjars of district Dholpur, Rajasthan caught hold of a Dalit youth, punctured his nose, and put a thin rope, meant for stitching jute bags, through it. The bleeding victim was paraded in the village streets. The victim, Rameshwar Jatav ran a small grocery shop, and had demanded Rs 50 from Kamlesh Gujjar, who had bought items on credit.

There is no dearth of such incidents to illustrate the point. Every year, during the marriage season, we come across news items how a Dalit bride-groom was attacked for riding a mare. Also, the Dalit panchayat chief elected from reserved seats in this region, face similar social handicaps as witnessed in the southern States.

What is common to both the regions? Climate, cropping pattern, language, dress and food-habits are all radically different. It should have been only natural that the pattern of violence in both the regions was either radically different from each other, or similar to the pattern as witnessed at all-India level. Contrary to that, both the regions have a distinctly similar pattern of violence, distinctly dissimilar to the rest of India. Why?

If there is any commonality in the two regions in question, distinct from the rest of India, it is the social composition of the ruling castes. In both the regions, Brahmins have a thin presence, and Kshatriyas are virtually non-existent.

Traditionally, the upper Shudras have owned agrarian assets, but were subjected to politico-cultural dominance of Brahmins. In post-Independence period, slowly but steadily, they consolidated their political power as well, replacing Brahmins decisively. Despite that, at cultural level, their dominance lacked socio-cultural legitimacy, neither Brahmins and nor Dalits, for their own different reasons, accepted them as the ruling castes.

Traumatised by this unique varnal-caste logic of power and legitimacy, the upper Shudras tended to invoke fundamentals of the Chaturvarna value system, as it existed earlier. Since a social order of the medieval era cannot be enforced today, it only adds to frustration. In order to gain an upper varna-like dominance, violence is the most reliable and the final tool that the upper Shudras know. In both the regions in question, there exists a parallel system of governance, where regulatory authority of the modern State is subjected to the antiquated laws of Chaturvarna order. If in a couple of decades, migration of upper Varna population from rural India to urban India is accomplished, and the upper Shudras take full control of rural India, the Italian fascists, in their graves may feel ashamed of being amateurs. The Dalits and the artisan OBCs, who together constitute about 57 per cent of India’s total population, and who are the real proletariat, have a tough task at this juncture of history. While the struggle for a democratic social order has to fight the upper Shudras in rural India, it has to oppose the upper Varnas in urban India. As if that is not enough, its also has to fight the intellectual hegemony of both the ruling social blocks. And the progressives expect the people to believe in the following:

a) That it is not the social conflict or varna/caste dominance which is the fundamental crisis of Indian society, but the religious conflict;

b) That the varnashram system is not a social order, but a religious system called Hinduism, and a party like the BJP, by invoking Hindus religious passion, is planning to install communal fascism, which we must prevent by bringing the Congress back to power;

c) That an upper varna party like the BJP will use violence as the political weapon to suppress opposition, and the upper Shudras parties, (like erstwhile constituents of the United Front) will use democratic methods to deal with opponents and;

d) That fascism as a political doctrine, as it evolved in Italy, can be more atrocious, more violent, more vicious than the ideology of the varnashram social order, and therefore we must all adopt a new phrase of fascism to define the anti-democracy doctrine. The intelligentsia of the country must understand that this is not the closing years of 18th century when a Shankaracharya would come and redefine charging elephant as mithya, and the people of India will lap it as reality. Much changes have occurred during past over one millennium. There is Amedkarism also for the Dalits to shape a vision. When Dr BR Ambedkar was raising the caste question, he was being told that Independence of the country was more important than the social

question, and once freedom was accomplished, the caste question would be addressed. When Independence was achieved, Dr Ambedkar joined the Nehru Cabinet with the hope that the caste question will be addressed then. But he was told then that national reconstruction was more important, and once this was achieved, the resolution of caste question would be accompanied.

More than five decades have passed since then, but the varna/caste dominance remains. Once again, when the question of social transformation is being raised, people are being told that they must join secular brigade first to defeat communal fascism ; probably they mean that the social questions can be tackled later. This is unacceptable. One cannot fight something which does not exist.

The varnal-caste conflict is the fundamental question of India, and the agenda of communal fascism is only a mischievous construct, scripted only to retain the varnal-caste hegemony, and to ensure the social status quo.

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