Cast(e) Aside

Caste is probably the oldest problem that has plagued our nation. Far older than poverty, or the conflicts of class or religion. It is ingrained in the very fabric of our civilization, our ethos. Why and how it became established is still an unresolved issue. A more important question is why in the 21st century our nation is still crippled by it. Why has our individual conscience not awakened in us a collective resolve to right the multitudes of atrocities we have committed?

A crushed spirit is the worst kind of damage a human can suffer. Yet millions upon millions of Indians live with no food, no water, no shelter, and worse of all, no hope. What is even more disconcerting is our total apathy to their plight. I am guilty of this as well. When we see destitutes lining our streets, children begging at traffic signals or news items on caste related crimes on a daily basis, we learn to block them out. Initially, it is done perhaps to lessen our guilt, but gradually we become indifferent to them. Then something happens that makes us temporarily aware of the dark side of our existence.

The recent video screening of the documentary 'Lesser Humans' on the manual scavengers of the Bhangi community in a village in Gujarat had me wincing and looking away most of the time, and hanging my head in shame by the end of it. Is this the society that I'm a part of? Is this the civilization that I'm proud of? At the end of the documentary, an old gentleman says 'a civilization will not be judged by its technological advancement or the achievement of a few, but on how it treats its weakest members'. On that count, I'm afraid, we have failed miserably.

Expedient solutions like reservations do almost nothing to correct the vast caste based inequities. In fact, they divert focus away from those who truly deserve our attention and assistance. Only a very minute fraction of the weaker sections are even in a position to avail the reservations that our government finds it so necessary to increase. What about the millions of kids who drop out of school unable to bear the constant humiliation incessantly heaped upon them because of their caste? Reservations, in their current form, are like trying to improve the tires of a car that has no engine. No matter how good the tires, the car won't move ahead.

That caste has been a means of prolonged exploitation of various sections of the population is well established. When power is concentrated in the hands of a few, history has shown that they will go to any lengths to retain that power. And when this equation is legitimized by religion and institutionalized in history, it is all the more difficult to alter.

We need answers. If not answers, at least solutions. If not even those, at least steps to reduce the magnitude of the problem. But most of all, we need the resolve to do something about it.

Comments

  1. Last night was an experience for me. After the screening of the movie there were claps :( people then went straight to the mess and wasted a whole lot of food on the birthday bash. I then had this feeling that we have truly been able to immunize our minds from what happens around us. We have perfected this art to such an extent that whatever you throw at us will not affect us in the least. You talk about hope, I pray there were enough souls who understood the movie and found time to reflect on it. I dont have words to say how guilty I feel that I am a part of such a system.

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  2. it is one of those posts that ping one's inner self, albeit, in my case, temporarily. I am sure I will forget abt it in a day or two, but atleast ur post makes me feel guilty abt myself right now.

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  3. People are averse to change - it is just basic human nature, and when the social/cultural practices (however heedless they might be) become religious practices (as you say, legitimised by religion), it is all the more difficult for people to change.

    People like conformity, like comfort zones - they like to behave in a way that is socially, culturally and religiously "acceptable". They like to follow, not lead. They are afraid that if they deviate from these norms, they themselves are in danger of being branded as outcasts.

    And that, is a sad fact of life.

    The true solution will only eventuate when people are ready to re-evaluate their actions, ready to deviate from some of these norms, and ready to change.

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  4. @maverick
    Unfortunately, I feel this indifference to other people's suffering is almost essential if we are to maintain our sanity. It would be impossible to live satisfied happy lives if we did not develop this method of blocking out the suffering of others from affecting us. Whether we should live happy lives when the environment around is such, is another question..

    @abhishek
    I agree with you. Unfortunately, I too will forget about this, or at least feel a lot less strongly about it than I do now. This post was an attempt to remind me (and others) of the issue for a longer period of time..

    @sameer
    You are partially right, I think. What you mean is that people who are powerful, those who are the beneficiaries of the status quo, it is they who resist change. And since they are powerful, they have the ability to resist it.

    Millions and millions of our countrymen are screaming for change. I'm sure all of them would want a decent meal and some dignity for a change.

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