Monday, June 04, 2012

Last week, in Rohtak, a young man who sold boiled eggs for a living was reportedly beaten up as he tried to stop other young men from snatching some eggs. People rushed to his rescue and broke up the fight. But after he wound up work, his assailants cornered him. The victim identifies as Balmiki. His assailants are upper caste. Reports say, they beat him, urinated on his face, stole Rs2,500 from his cart, then broke the cart.
Over a hundred years ago, in Hoshiarpur, there was a boy called Mangoo Ram. He was the only “Untouchable” in his school and had to sit outside the classroom. His father packed him off to the USA to work on farms, and when he returned in the 1920s, he was nearly forty. Perhaps it was the shock of being re-introduced to caste, but Mangoo Ram went on to become an organiser of people we now prefer to call Dalit, and a proponent of Ad Dharm, a casteless religion that claimed to be pre-Hindu.
When the Ad Dharm movement was in its nascent stages, a former Arya Samaj member Swami Shudranand was addressing a series of meetings around Jalandhar. One of these meetings went on for four days and had to be broken up when the upper castes attacked the participants for using the village pond.
I’ve been reading about the social and political forces that shaped a religion, in a book called Religious Rebels In The Punjab: The Ad Dharm Challenge To Caste, by Mark Juergensmeyer. I’m also reading news reports about Dalits camped outside the Hisar district administration’s offices, alleging discrimination in their village to the extent of being denied trade at provision stores – a socio-economic boycott described in north India as ‘hukka-paani band’. And I’m wondering at what the last hundred years have meant for Dalits.
Juergensmeyer writes, “Upper castes identified casteism and social discrimination as the cause of the Untouchables’ plight (but) Untouchables felt themselves, instead, to be victims of poverty and economic discrimination.”
This is, of course, a critical difference of perspective. Upper caste people, however empathetic, see only the obvious — discrimination and/or violence. What the discrimination accomplishes is that it pushes poor people further into poverty, or keeps them there. The young man in Rohtak, for instance, lost money, suffered losses on eggs he couldn’t sell, and must repair his cart or find money for a new one. He might not have money for legal battles. And if the guilty are not convicted, his losses will never be recovered.
Far too often, conversations around caste veer away from the economics that lie at the core of casteism. Resources — especially land and water — are not unlimited. Jobs — especially the ones that do not involve backbreaking, soul-numbing labour — are hard to get. Those who have the better bargain are in no hurry to change the status quo. Throw power into the equation and people will see bloodshed before they surrender their benefits.
Nepal faces a fresh crisis because its leaders could not agree on a constitution and writer Manjushree Thapa believes that caste had a big part to play. “Brahmins and Kshatriyas — called Bahuns and Chhetris in Nepal — occupy almost all national space,” she writes. She accuses the Nepali Congress and the CPN-UML, particularly of trying to preserve a high-caste monopoly, and opposing the rights of women, dalits and other ethnic groups.
But those who have a monopoly on power are not going to give up without a fight, are they? To mix metaphors, more eggs are likely to get smashed before the apple cart is upset.

1 comment:

Shivangi said...

liked the blog...

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