Tuesday, September 14, 2010

[ZESTCaste] Casteism Is Racism And India Should Stop


Casteism Is Racism And India Should Stop
Interfering In 'Internal Affairs' Of Britain!

By Avinash Pandey Samar

10 September, 2010

Britain, in a major victory for the movement against caste based
discrimination and atrocities, can soon declare caste prejudice
unlawful under laws against racial discrimination becoming the first
country of the world to do so. The development was imminent in the
wake of the fact that the House of Lords had already passed the
Equality Bill empowering the government to treat caste as 'an aspect
of race' in March this year leaving just one more step of getting it
passed by the House of Commons to be enacted as law.

The victory has come as a result of the valiant struggle of the Dalit
groups along with members of the broader civil society against the
exploitative and oppressive system of caste, amidst tremendous
opposition of the Indian government and the right wing Hindu groups
based in Britain.

The significance of the development lies in the fact that it has taken
almost a decade to come since 2001 when the Government of India had
succeeded in botching up the attempt of the Dalit Rights Group
together with the broader civil society to make caste based
discrimination an aspect of racial discrimination at the Durban World
Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and
Related Intolerance. The Government of India claimed the caste issues
as 'internal matter of India' and asserted that they were making all
attempts to put an end to caste based discrimination.

What it forgot in doing that was its own, and glorious, role in the
struggle against apartheid in South Africa. If caste issues are an
internal matter of India, would not apartheid be an internal issue of
the governments of apartheid-era South Africa? So why did India play a
crucial role in mobilising the world opinion against apartheid?

The government of India tried to further substantiate its claim by
asserting the caste issues as intra-racial and intra-cultural even
while conceding the existence of discrimination. Soli Sorabjee, the
then Attorney General of India, maintained that the only reason behind
India's attempt to keep caste discrimination off the agenda of Durban
Conference was that "it will distract participants from the main
topic: racism". Even while conceding that caste discrimination in
India is 'undeniable' he stressed that 'caste and race are entirely

It could very well be. After all, no two systems of social
stratification in this world are absolutely similar to each other. A
lot of factors, from culture to economy, intercede with the systems of
stratification to produce the division of power and hierarchy in the
society and make the systems, in the process, absolutely distinct from
one another in internal structure. The crucial question, however, is
not about their distinctiveness but their efficacy in maintaining and
safeguarding social hierarchies.

Sadly, Indian caste system has proved itself to be one of the worst,
if not the worst, system of social stratification for maintaining and
perpetuating social hierarchies. Most probably, humankind has never
devised a more comprehensive system of keeping a section of society
under perpetual subjugation amidst inhuman conditions. It has never
devised a worse way of dehumanising fellow human beings and reducing
them to being mere labour force devoid of any dignity leave aside
rights. Everything said and done, when it comes to committing
atrocities on people, the caste system has proved itself to be far
more clinical in brutalising its victims than race and not less.

The argument of the Indian government that caste based discrimination
should not be included under the category of racial discrimination
because it is making serious progress in the issue by having
protective laws and positive discrimination fails miserable in the
wake of data produced by its own agencies.

For example, the number of crimes against people belonging to the
Scheduled Castes as per records of the National Crime Records Bureau
of India, a body of ministry of Home Affairs, went up to 33615, an
increase of more than 2 percent from the preceding year. Or the fact
that the provisions of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes
(Prevention of Atrocities) Act does not get applied even in such
ghoulish cases of caste based atrocities as in the killing of a Dalit
family in Khairlanji while committing brutal rapes on the women speaks
volumes about the seriousness of the efforts of the government

The second argument of Indian government, unfortunately backed by a
few leading sociologists, was that since 'race' is a not a meaningful
biological category in India and all attempts of profiling different
castes along racial lines have fallen flat. Their claim is that even
if caste is based on descent it is entirely different from race.
Even if the discrimination against the Dalits is intra-racial, the
consequences for them are no less brutal than that in racism. On a
more fundamental level, the lack of 'scientific' evidence may prove
the absence of 'race' in India but not the absence of 'racism', an
ideological structure based on the belief of superiority of some
people because of birth and inferiority of others because of the same!
And there is no doubt that this ideology is becoming stronger day by
day despite all the attempts of Indian government to put an end to
this 'evil' practice.

The seriousness of the government on the issue speaks for itself in
its acts. After all, the government's dogged opposition to the
inclusion of caste based discrimination does not come out of some
failure to understand the ground realities out of sheer ignorance. It
reflects the mindset and the psyche of the government and the people
manning it. The stand of the government emanates from that pre-modern,
barbaric and regressive social structure of caste that rules the
country under its democratic façade. A facade that gets exposed more
often than not by the deeds of all organs of the state, including its

It is hard to believe that even judiciary can do that but even a
cursory glance on its track records bear out the fact. Be it the
highly misogynist and casteist verdict in Mathura rape case ((Tukaram
V. State of Maharshtra, AIR 1979 SC 185) when the Supreme Court
overruled the decision of the Bombay High Court convicting two
policemen for raping Mathura, a 16-year-old girl because of the fact
that the girl was an 'illiterate and orphaned tribal girl' and was of
loose character by implication to the recent verdict of Maharashtra
High Court in Khairlanji massacre, the judiciary has proved itself
complicit in letting the government off its responsibility of
abolishing caste based discrimination.
At times, ubfortunately, it has went all the distance to be part of
the perpetuators ad not only accomplices of caste discrimination. Like
in the infamous and stinking observation of the trial judge in the
Bhanwari Devi rape case in 1995 that because Hindu scriptures do not
allow upper caste men to touch a low caste woman, the accused could
not have raped the Dalit victim. This case and many others have put
our constitution to shame.

And that is why, compartmentalising the issue of caste into the
'scientific' and 'cultural' aspects and then prioritising the
scientific ones to assert that caste is not race is not only incorrect
but in fact a deceitful attempt to violate the spirit of the
constitution of India if not the letters itself, and should be fought
against from within and outside.
As a matter of fact, the meaning of the term 'descent' has been
expanded to include 'discrimination based on caste' ,by the general
recommendation number 29, the International Convention on the
Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) 1969. Indian
government will do well to remember that it is a signatory to that
convention along with more than 170 other countries.

It will also do well to take note of the fact that the lives of more
than 165 million citizens is not a question of intellectual theorising
over whether race is caste or not before putting its act together and
cracking down on all forms of caste atrocities decisively. By then, it
can begin with accepting that caste is a form of racial
discrimination, at least of racism if not of the 'pure' (in the
Brahiminical sense) biological category of race!

Meanwhile, lets us all support the British Dalits in safeguarding
their hard won victory against the demon of caste, threatened by the
right wing Hindu organisation in Britain as well as Indian government
which is, reportedly, trying to arm-twist the British government into
not intervening in its 'internal' matter. Making that absurd claim
amounts to appropriating anything relating to Hindu religion as
'internal' and caste serious aspersions on the secular credentials of
Indian state. Does Indian government want to claim that all issues
concerning Hindus are its 'internal' issues, throwing all its secular
pretensions away?

After all, caste based atrocities have long ceased to confine
themselves in Indian subcontinent. If the gory facts about honour
killings taking place in Britain and Canada among other places were
not proof enough, the recent killing of a Sikh religious leader belong
to the Ravidasi sect (a Dalit sect) in Vienna leaves no scope for
doubts about the same.

We can begin by standing by the policy and reminding the Indian
government not to meddle in the internal issues of Britain, as it is
dealing with an issue concerning its citizens and has nothing to do
with a 'secular' India. Further, no government can sit idle when caste
issues lead to illegal confinements, abductions, forced marriages, and
even killings. It is the Indian state which has failed to contain the
demon of caste, leave aside killing it, and it has no right to demand
the same indifference and disdain for human life from a sovereign
state for such a pressing issue.

The article was first published by the Asian Human Rights Commission
and The Sri Lanka Guardian.

Avinash Pandey Samar is Research Scholar, Jawaharlal Nehru University,
New Delhi. Currently in Hong Kong working with the Asian Human Rights


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