Sunday, August 06, 2017

Socialism - Class-free and Caste-free

India banned caste-based discrimination in 1955, but centuries-old biases persist, and lower-caste Dalits - once called "untouchables" - are among the most marginalised communities in the country. Dalits were once barred from public places including temples and water taps frequented by higher-caste Hindus, and restricted to jobs considered dirty or dangerous such as manual scavenging and the disposal of animal carcasses. 

The biases persist even when a person is educated, and even in India's elite educational institutions, said Sujatha Gidla, whose parents were college professors and who herself studied at one of the country's best-known engineering colleges.

"The untouchability problem is really a problem of land ownership," said Gidla, author of "Ants Among Elephants: An Untouchable Family and the Making of Modern India" "As long as land is in the hands of a few, there will be a caste system ... and Dalits will continue to be untouchable." 

More than half India's lower-caste population is landless. Landless Dalits are at the bottom of the age-old social hierarchy, making them vulnerable to discrimination and attacks by upper-caste Hindus, including recent ones by hardline "gau rakshak" vigilantes who have lynched them on suspicion of eating beef or transporting cows, which they regard as sacred.

In southern India, where many Dalits converted to Christianity as a way out of the caste system and to access educational opportunities otherwise denied to them. "But even those who study don't have the same opportunities as their high-caste counterparts," said Gidla.

Gidla's realisation of the inherent violence of the caste system came on July 17, 1985 when six Dalit men were killed and three young women raped by high-caste Hindus The current spate of lynchings across the country is a reflection that not much has changed, she said; it is also a result of Dalits demanding their rights. "When Dalits stayed in their place, they weren't subject to so much violence," said Gidla, who works for the New York subway and wrote the book on her commute and breaks. "The mob violence against them now is linked to their own political awakening and assertion." Dalit leaders have been demanding an end to "dirty" jobs and land for landless labourers.

But ownership of land brings its own problems. "As long as Dalits are just workers, there is no violence; when they become owners, there is violence," Gidla said.

To end classes and castes, contact:

257 Baghajatin ‘E’ Block (East), Kolkata – 700086
Tel: 2425-0208 / 7378 (ISD: 091, STD: 033)

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