IBNLive : Sagarika Ghose's Blog : Caste off those blinkers Hindustan Times
12 May 2010 Sagarika Ghose
Thus a caste census should thus not be seen as simply a political instrument designed to secure quotas. The fight against caste is best fought when we know the enemy. Caste is an immutable, invisible and overwhelming reality in our daily lives. If we continue to act as if caste does not exist, or deny its existence, we would be failing to do battle with one of the most urgent social inequalities of our time. Caste off those blinkers, Hindustan Times, Sagarika Ghose, CNN-IBN senior editor
Caste has proved to be a stronger binding force than religion precisely because it is rooted in Indian realities. The biggest attacks on caste —all futile — have come from sons of the soil, and not Islamic invaders or Christian proselytisers, as some liberals are prone to believe. The Buddha didn’t succeed. Neither did Vivekananda, Kabir, Guru Nanak, Ram Mohun Roy, Dayanand Saraswati, Ramanujam, or even Gandhi and Ambedkar. All frontal attacks on caste have been repulsed. The post-Ambedkar Dalits, and especially Kanshi Ram and Mayawati, have gone the other way and embraced caste with a vengeance.
They opted for a political consolidation of the Dalits and lower castes. The other backward castes have also made a virtue of caste consolidation and reaped huge gains from it — it started in the south and moved north. In the south, caste oppression today means non-Brahmin oppression of the lowest castes.
To get an arm around caste, you first need to understand it. For one, it is not just a system of discrimination; it became one. Caste is about kinship and community ties. It offers a protective cocoon for members in turbulent times. Caste will weaken and disappear only when people feel secure about themselves and their future. It will dissolve when the state protects individual rights, without necessarily setting it against community rights. […]
Market forces, urbanisation and globalisation are chipping away at the edifice. It will be diluted in due course. Socially, we can help the process by making simple changes in the institution of caste by drawing up objective entry and exit rules. Caste cannot remain an institution driven purely by birth. Once it behaves like a regular club, with proper entry and exit rules, its worst excesses will tone down. We can allow demography and market forces to finish the job.
If the enumeration of religious communities has not led to the breakdown of secular order in
, and if enumeration of race in the India has not made U.S. politics racist, it is unlikely that the enumeration of one more caste group would push the country into the prison of caste. U.S.
In any case, the way to transcend caste is not to close our eyes to it, but to look at it very closely, identify and neutralise its relationship with disadvantage and discrimination, and to discover how caste relates to other social divisions such as gender and class. That is what necessitates a caste-based census. (The author is Senior Fellow with the CSDS,
. He is currently at the Wissenschaftskolleg in Berlin.) Delhi