Dalit protest
Dalit protesters block a road during the Maharashtra bandh | PTI
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The unintentional results India’s anti-caste, modern ‘Social Reformers’ could achieve.

Every once in a while, when there is too much talk of caste-based oppression, many well meaning anti-caste crusaders rise from the ashes, and come up with a novel idea — caste must be abolished. Social Reformers mushroom and start urging those belonging to oppressed groups to stop using the caste card. Someone once said that the path to hell is paved with the grandest intentions and that seems to be the case here as well. I think these revolutionaries believe that abolishing caste involves:

1) Putting an end to the greatest injustice humanity has ever suffered — reservations.

2) A law which will have only one provision which will unambiguously and severely penalise any act of protest or complaining about any caste related discrimination.

This, is the heaven they want to live in and it is towards this goal that they believe abolishing caste is necessary. With great respect, I don’t think that these great minds have thought this one through. They do not seem to have consulted the necessary stakeholders either.

I think what they really want to say and are probably falling shy of saying is:

There is no such thing as caste.

Or,

Please, stop whining about caste.

It is a strategy that has succeeded well so far — caste oppression is barely taught in schools, the myth that caste discrimination remains restricted to a few villages is almost universal in appeal. I therefore see no reason for their inhibitions (other than the fact that they mean well) and urge them to consider some of the consequences that abolishing caste can bring upon our well-meaning society:

1) It would end the hegemony over manual scavenging jobs that those at the bottom of the caste hierarchy enjoy. A meritorious social order would have to be established where those belonging to upper castes would leave jobs exclusively imposed on them for far too long. A report in the EPW said over 90 per cent of directors in the top 1,000 companies in India are either Vaishyas or Brahmins. I shudder to think of their work life balance. No less than Prime Minister Narendra Modi has described manual scavenging as a spiritual experience ordained by the gods. Is it fair for other castes to be deprived of this divine spiritual experience?

2) Just like the Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques Act which outlaws gender determination of the foetus, a law such as the Pre-Marriage Caste Diagnostic Techniques Act will have to be passed. Without that flood of classified matrimonial ads looking for a caste-based match, our newspapers will feel barren. There will be no way to filter inter-caste marriage and dining. Anyone will be free to marry anyone regardless of caste. I cannot imagine a greater horror. What next? Will we be asked to abolish gender and sexuality? Men marrying men? Imagine the horror.

3) Like I said, it is unlikely that the necessary stakeholders have been consulted. Are upper castes prepared for the freedom available to them when they will be unshackled from the mundane tasks of managing temples and religious trusts? They have been doing this for so long, will it not be wiser to consult them, perhaps arrange for psychological re-orientation campaigns or a freedom movement which can be titled — From temples to toilets?

4) Abolishing caste would obviously mean less safety and a social shock for our middle class. Will they no longer be able to keep separate utensils for their domestic workers? Will these domestic workers now sit on the sofa instead of the floor?

5) Will Dalit children now sit in the same classroom as other casteless children? Will they now be allowed to touch the food and utensils of casteless children? Will people have to stop poisoning wells to prevent them from being used by Dalits?

6) Will we have to change the way we speak and stop using words like Bhangi, Chooda and Chamaar? Where will this assault end?

7) Another grave matter will require an awareness campaign to inform about the perks, living conditions and remuneration for the major job avenue that will open for upper castes. This report says that in some cases money paid for manual scavenging was a meritorious Rs 10/month, which was not paid for months. It also states that sometimes employers were generous and threw rotis from a distance as compensation. It talks about the living conditions of manual scavengers — perpetual sickness. Do all upper-class people have sufficient health insurance?

8) The same report also talks about how children of those who believe they have a caste are made to clean toilets and more in schools. Are children of upper caste people trained for these tasks? Will coaching centers and tutors have to rejig their curriculum?

The one great thing that these modern thinkers have already done is help us identify the most casteist man in India’s history — B.R. Ambedkar. He went on and on about caste didn’t he?

I must concede that it is entirely possible that I am underestimating the sheer willpower and brilliance of these new-age egalitarian thinkers, anchors, one-flop film directors. Maybe they can overcome all hurdles. In which case they must seize the challenge by its horns and show us all how a casteless society is designed. Nothing would prove their mettle more than one month spent by these people living the life of manual scavengers. I am sure the anchors who decide to do this will get the highest TRP for their channels — maybe a reality show can be designed around their brave mission. Are they up to the task?

The nation wants to know.

Dushyant is a lawyer and columnist. He tweets at @atti_cus.

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4 COMMENTS

  1. I can’t possibly understand What’s “horror” in marrying irrespective of Caste. Do “You” feel its horror? You know,Discrimination starts just here. This Matrimonial rites are the things which is further drawing a big line separing high and low, Upper-Castes just think Its process of purifying and keeping the bloodline clean, It’s the most derogatory thing that’s ever been happening in our country and It will continue to show its horrors.

    Can’t men marry men? Why is India thinking like that…Think about People who are living horrendous lives as queer,Gay etc. Was it their wrong to be born that way?

  2. It is foolish to advocate manual scavenging in this day and age, whether it be Dalits or upper castes. When there is no need to do something and can be handled with a bit of planning and infrastructure development, why fight over which caste should do it? The main problem is that certain vested interests do not want this old system to go, and that is not necessarily the upper castes. The problem is anti-development thinking and that is our biggest enemy, not caste.

  3. The sarcasm or humour is like, 7 / 10. So that is that. But why aren’t enterprising Indians looking for mechanised alternatives to manual scavenging? Writers and activists can keep demanding upper castes start cleaning toilets and the cycle of caste can continue. Meantime, since Swachh Bharat is the ONLY decent idea that this Prime Minister has come up with, why isn’t he working on revolutionising scavenging methods using all the political capital he has with corporates and his devotees? Atleast he ll be remembered for something useful. The alternative to the existing castes being manual scavengers can’t be upper castes turning manual scavengers, though it’s worthy of pursuing. But the ultimate aim should be finding ways to deal with scavenging in mechanised way.

  4. This is full of myths propagated. Manual scavenging is not due to caste. Most people in the past never used toilets, only open-defecation was there. It is the british which started constructing toilets which started manual-scavenging.

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