Casteless-ness in the Name of Caste


Akhil Kang

There seems to be a lot of questioning in the sexuality discourses over how would one bring the ‘caste angle’ within its fold. Among the many dilemmas that our beloved queer folks seem to be grappling with is how do we ‘address the caste question’. The queer spaces in India are, let’s face it, trying too hard to be neutral. And I say this as “the caste person” (whatever that means). The objective of this neutrality is not just to attain swachh desire-controlling cis-gendered human being, but a casteless one. Let me admit, that being queer myself, I too have dilemmas in these ground-breaking progressive spaces; where almost everyone is perpetually caught up with the next cutting edge story to tell and exploring the provocativeness of queer! My first dilemma is that caste is not even acknowledged, let alone debated upon. The queer subject is a casteless one. My second dilemma is that even when the queer acknowledges their own caste, it is to make it caste-neutral.


It is quite ironic that the queer prides and the swabhiman yatras immediately claim solidarities with various other movements without really looking into what these solidarities with those movements require from us in the first place. For instance, prides claiming to stand with the ‘cause of Rohith Vemula suicide’ but in the same breath noting that the pride is not the platform to bring caste and that LGBTIQ pride is only about sexuality and not caste! The Naz judgment in 2009, (later overruled by the Koushal case in the Supreme Court in 2013) decriminalized consensual non penal-vaginal penetrative sex. Chief Justice (then) Shah and Justice Muralidhar pointed out how public disapproval of certain acts is not a valid justification for restriction of fundamental rights under Article 21 of the Constitution of India; what’s important is not public morality but constitutional morality. The judgment then goes on to quote Ambedkar who spoke about constitutional morality in the Constitutional Assembly Debates in 1948. Ambedkar while speaking of Grote, a Greek historian spoke of how imperative it is for us, as Indians, to seek constitutional morality because its diffusion is not yet complete in India. He said that democracy in India is only a top-dressing on its soil, which essentially is undemocratic. It is quite telling how the principles on which Ambedkar envisioned the Constitution to thrive on, gave life to legitimate queer spaces. Yet the importance of what was spoken about this diffusion (and who spoke about this diffusion, along with everything else that he stood up for) got lost before its actual realization in the queer space.   

Not surprisingly, the level of imitation with the ‘only men’ and ‘only women’ spaces by the queer movements (assuming that there is one in India), which are so openly despised for excluding queer experiences, is quite scary. Few weeks back, as I sat in a conference organized by feminist organizations, a common concern which many cis-gendered women activists/lawyers/social workers raised was how individuals needed to stop bringing up identities of ‘these poor women’ because violence faced by all women at the end of the day is violence, regardless of whether they are Dalit, Adivasi or Muslim. A supposed serious concern echoed by many was that such an exercise would divide the movement.

This ability to detach the person from his/her/their caste is again, not surprisingly, transported into queer spaces as well. The argument that ‘bringing up caste’ would doom us all gets repeatedly thrown out. Upper caste individuals tell us again and again as to why are we unnecessarily bothering the people around us by ‘bringing in caste’. It’s almost as if when I get out of the house, I am required to choose which outfit I must put on, the caste one or the queer one? Another transportation and replication is not just about silencing the Dalit-Bahujan voices but the ‘shock’ value that people from lower castes bring up in the queer spaces. Because, well simply speaking, it becomes shocking to physically see a lower caste person in a place which has always been unapologetically occupied by non-Dalit-Bahujans. Interestingly, for me, at the conference (which I mentioned before), the concerns about caste dividing us all were brought out in the presence of women who throw around the word ‘intersectionality’ like it is the most natural phenomenon in the world. Evidently the intersectional politics (this politics in the “Indian context” supposedly emerging out from the sacred texts of Economic and Political Weekly) fails to be realized in terms of how individuals live their lives; that we are not out to break the movements but unite them; that we are not categories or check boxes to be fitted in research proposals but disruptions to your status quo. And most importantly we don’t switch between different roles in order to suit ‘intersectionality’. 

The reason I find it important to mention these replications is to point out the false distinction between queer and non-queer spaces. They both essentially display troubling if not equal amount of distance from Dalit-Bahujans. The obsession with ‘engaging with the other’ and ‘encouraging dialogue’ between persons reveals, yet again, how caste neutrality functions in the name of caste. The fascination with revealing the lives of Dalit men and women often gets glorified to the extent that people forget to apply such terms to one another. Does this engagement only happen outside the upper caste cliques? Does the intersectional politics only emerge at specific locations while dissecting a lower caste life? The civil society spaces have a tendency to get as violent as any other in terms of erasure of individuals lives and experiences. The point then is not to find tits and bits, here and there, where one can combine different aspects of one’s lives to claim the glorious nature of intersectionality but to reveal for what these many spaces really are. Casteist.  


Akhil Kang is a human rights lawyer currently based in Delhi. 

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