Can we organize against caste atrocities?


Dharmaraj Kumar

dharma rajThe brutality of the incident of rape and murder of the 29 year old law student belonging to a poor dalit family from Ernakulam in Kerala, has once again brought the festering wound of history of rampant caste atrocities in light, before the case of Delta Meghwal would have faded away from our memory. Before we recover from the mourning of one incident, another incident, rather, of far worse kind comes reportedly to knock the doors of justice. Shockingly enough, justice has hardly ever found its way through the system in most of such cases.

Well, the exhaustive outcry and protests in many such cases are witnessed across groups in the country, but the frequent repetition of crimes proves all such resistance doesn't provide positive outcomes from the criminal-justice system. As usual, the gruesome incident at Perumbavoor, is a matter open to debate and discussion and it is centered around the goal of bringing justice to the victims or their relatives if the victims are murdered. Always, the system of justice fails us. Our failure forces us to think and rethink as to what is to be done to prevent such heinous crimes against women and particularly dalit women. While thinking about our failure on this issue, we forget that the kind of social history and values we uphold tend to perpetuate the culture of all evils in our society. To keep this in mind, it needs a little discussion on following cultural aspects.

Indian patriarchal values

All of us are aware that patriarchy is the reason of gender inequality and violence. We often discuss at the level of ideas that patriarchy is a structural problem which can be solved only through the structural change. It is a known fact that patriarchy is prevalent in all world societies. Gruesome crimes against women and protests against them do not seem to change the plight of women. Why is this so?

Caste and the idea of binaries

In India, the existence of everything changes just with the existence of caste. Caste is ubiquitous. In my opinion, caste as an identity is a theory which transcends the boundaries of all other theories of the world. Caste stands in opposition to the idea of binaries. If we think critically about our history, we generally find it necessary to create a binary to solve any kind of problems. It has happened in all ideologies. It is applied to understand the complexities of identities. In a way, binary can be said to have evolved into a methodology to understand questions like class, race, gender etc. for other countries. Interestingly, the idea of binary falls flat when it comes to the same understanding in Indian context. And this is only because of caste.

Women writes, writers and activists from Dalit Bahujan communities have explained that patriarchy and caste is intertwined with each other. Mainstream movements taking place in the wake of heinous crimes against women seem to be disoriented as one aspect, either of patriarchy or caste is made to dominate over another. The larger section endeavours to confront at patriarchal level and the question of caste gets sidelined. The smaller section, which actually bears the brunt of patriarchy and caste both at the same time, attempts at organising the movement which is blamed to be inclined mostly towards caste. The problem is that two different sections are not ready to meet at an ideological point from where the sincere and severe campaign against such evil social practices can be launched.

In my opinion, the main problem lies with the mainstream response. For, they are not able to, somehow convince themselves despite knowing the real situation, consolidate their force to center their struggle against caste. They think that if this happens, the tag of being casteist will be added, hazardous to their egalitarian existence. And they try to give their idea an ideological turn. But to be critical, it is completely an obsolete idea. Even if, we think at the universal level we must not forget that every country has fought with the weapon of their predominant identity than anything else. To simplify, the core problem of blacks is no different from ours that poverty, illiteracy, malnutrition etc. So they did not fight directly against capitalism to eradicate all such problems. Rather they located the reason of all their problems in the identity of colour. And this identity brought the real enemy in the open without any oddity. There can be many such examples. This is widely acceptable within us also. But this quest is ignored here. I am saying ignored, because we know that one such predominant identity to fight against gross injustice is caste, but we never arrive at a certain point where we can confidently fight together. And then we complicate it furthermore.

Not all individuals are alike

At further level, this confusion shatters everything into pieces when the fight is promised to be fought valiantly against caste system. We find people arguing that not all individuals are alike even within the same caste. Consequently, the unity of justice seekers gets disintegrated. This is where the problem seems to appear. Here, we are trapped in the question of labelling the identities, forgetting that identities are already labelled. It is already attached with something. It happens so that any individual is attached with his broad social identity, and his subjectivity of being individual gets automatically robbed off. He is left with nothing more than history.

Thus, despite knowing the fact that caste is the main factor, such problems complicate everything and worsens the issues, we do not tend to open a battle against it as we pretend to protect our incorruptible individual. In my opinion, this is where the larger section gets it wrong and becomes trapped in arguments such as, some people are good or bad.

How can we organize against caste atrocities and dalit victimisation

Keeping in line with the above argument, caste is the main reason underlying most of the atrocities, and dalits are victimised in a more gruesome manner as we often see. So why can't we launch a campaign against the practice of caste system where measurement of being good or bad within the same caste is refused? Can't we simply say that caste atrocities, of course including every human being but emphatically on dalits will not be tolerated? And can't we take out a serious march against upper caste people or people having the aspiration of enjoying the limitless freedom like upper caste? Can't we open an ideological battle against the upper caste value system from where the hierarchy of others are defined within some caste?

All these things can be done only when the ideological apparatuses of caste are brought into question. It cannot be done until we chaff out the egalitarian language from our abusive language where patriarchy and caste have taken shelters for centuries.

In Indian film industry women are often projected only as objects of chastity, and not as dignified and equal human beings subjected to violence. Such crimes against dalit women and other women cannot be stopped until the movements also influence attitudes and portrayal of women in popular culture. This in turn will influence newspaper reporting. The more such cases get reported, more grows the resistance, and with more resistance we shall see positive transformation.



Dharmaraj Kumar is doing Ph.D at the Centre of Indian Languages, JNU, New Delhi. He may be contacted at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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