Always a victim, offended by everything and ashamed of nothing. Have some shame”.
This is a sample of the kind of responses I have received for my article in ThePrint highlighting how Nirmala Sitharaman’s 2019 Budget ignored Dalits.
Casteist comments are made to either criticise Dalits over matters like reservation or to perpetuate the stereotypes that the community fights every day.
So, here’s a list of things that you, the so-called upper castes, should never say to, or ask, Dalits.
If the list below makes you uncomfortable, great. Dalits are not here to make you feel comfortable.
1. Starting with the most common statement (or its variants) that Dalits hear: “You do not look like a Dalit” or “you do not speak or dress like a Dalit” or “you cannot be Dalit as you have scored well in the examinations”. (How are we supposed to look like? Can’t we do well in exams?)
2. “You are the smartest Dalit I have ever known!” (How many Dalits have you ever met?)
3. “This is hypocrisy that you let your Dalit friends call you ‘chamar’ but I am not allowed to.” (One has to understand the power dynamics in society and the intentions behind using words that have been rejected by Dalits.)
4. After saying something bad about Dalits in front of a Dalit: “Oh not you, you are different and not like other Dalits”. (What made you think that I am not like other Dalits? Your prejudices.)
5. All those questions that start with “So, do Dalits…?” Or, responses like “Not all upper-castes…”. (While asking “do Dalits…”, you are putting Dalits in a separate category and creating an ‘us’ vs ‘them’ binary. Indeed, not all upper castes, but then how about most?)
6. “Oh my God! I went to a Dalit basti and felt the need to do so much. Have you ever been there?” (All this while posting pictures on social media of semi-naked Dalit children playing in a slum.)
7. “We all are being discriminated against, not only Dalits.” (No, you are not. And you have no idea what discrimination is.)
8. “Why must you write on Dalit issues when you can write on anything else?” (Because I can and not many are doing it.)
9. “I consider myself Dalit – I do not know my caste, I clean my own toilet and I had a Dalit boyfriend/girlfriend.” (Why does every casteist have one Dalit friend? If this would have been the case, India would be a country of Dalits.)
10. “Why can’t Dalits just change their surname and escape the caste discrimination?” “How can you be a Dalit when you have a surname that is common among Brahmins?” (Okay, why don’t Brahmins just end the caste discrimination by giving up their Brahmin surnames and take a Dalit surname or none at all?)
11. “You must understand the RSS.” (Yes, Dalits do. It’s a dangerous organisation.)
12. “Why do you support reservation when you already have a good job?” (Caste discrimination doesn’t stop with Dalits having a good job.)
13. “Are you really Dalit?” (No, just trying to find if my ancestors were non-Dalit.)
14. “You are an ‘elite Dalit’ and robbing poor Dalits of a chance to progress.” (The concept of ‘elite Dalit’ only exists in the minds of savarnas. All Dalits, irrespective of education or wealth, face caste discrimination, only the nature or its extent may vary.)
15. “You have escaped caste as you are living abroad now.” (Caste identity doesn’t stop at the airport.)
16. “Why do Dalits make so much fuss over Ambedkar Jayanti?” (Why does it bother you if we do?)
17. “Dalits have failed Ambedkar and Ambedkar was a Brahmin.” (So, do you want to blame the victim? When Dalits were never in a position to make rules and regulations, how could they have failed Ambedkar?)
18. “Why do you need a separate history? There is no savarna history month, then why do you need a Dalit history month? (As if, Dalit history finds a place in Indian history books.)
19. “All lives matter, not only Dalit lives.” (Indeed, all lives matter, which is why there should be outrage when Dalits are denied their rights. But when you say it to remind Dalits to stop complaining and shut up, it is problematic.)
20. “Get over caste discrimination, it is a thing of the past.” (Caste discrimination exists; one just needs to open his/her eyes and ears and understand the pain of Dalits.)
21. “Mayawati is using Dalits for gains.” (No, she has done more for Dalits than any other current leader. It’s not about what she can do for Dalits, but what Dalits can do for themselves while she is around.)
22. “My family is very liberal, and we have hired a Dalit maid to help her family.” (Why don’t you become a bit more liberal and try to hire an upper caste domestic worker?)
23. “Why do you bring caste into all discussions?” (Because caste matters and most social ills in India are a result of the caste system.)
24. An all-time favourite of so-called upper castes: “Reservation has ruined India.” (Reservation is a constitutional right. You get rid of caste and we will work together to get rid of reservation.)
25. “Why do Dalits get angry so often? Why are Dalits so violent?” (This can be heard every time Dalits protest against an issue/atrocity. The media reports these protests with headlines like “angry Dalits…”. Yes, we are angry at the system that denies equal rights.)
26. “I do not have upper caste privileges.” (If you say so, better think again.)
27. “Talking about casteism all the time makes you the biggest casteist.” (Caste will not disappear automatically. You need to talk about it and make it a part of public debates and discussions. Do you want to kill the messenger who tries to initiate a discussion on caste?)
28. “Stop talking about caste and it would end automatically.” (Dalits will stop talking about caste when the so-called upper castes will stop benefiting from it.)
The author is the founder editor of Velivada, a web publication, and runs the online web portal Ambedkar Caravan. Views are personal.