Caste Away

21 Aug 2010 03:05 pm

by Zoe Pollock

Namit Arora writes on caste privilege:

An early goal of British imperialists in India was to create a class
of local elites in their own image. They would be, wrote Macaulay,
‘interpreters between us and the millions whom we govern; a class of
persons Indian in blood and colour, but English in tastes, in
opinions, in morals and in intellect.’ An elite class did emerge, not
surprisingly from the socially dominant upper-caste Hindus of urban

It is often said that caste is to India what race is to America. Yet,
the attitudes of the dominant social class in the two countries
couldn’t be more different...

Narendra Modi, Chief Minister of Gujarat, continues to thrive after
calling the Dalits [formerly the untouchables] ‘mentally retarded
children’ who gain ‘spiritual experience’ from manual scavenging. The
media has little interest or insight into Dalit lives, nor hires
low-caste journalists. Major atrocities against Dalits still go
unreported. Law enforcement is often indifferent or worse. There is no
effective prosecution for discrimination in employment and housing. A
Dalit politician can’t get a majority of upper-caste votes even in
South Mumbai. Even among those few elites who read books, how many
have read a single novel or memoir by a Dalit? In what is perhaps the
most diverse country in the world, there is no commitment to diversity
in the elite institutions that decide what is worthy art, music, and
literature, or what is the content of history textbooks. In book after
book of stories for children, both the protagonist and the implicit
audience are elite and upper-caste. Much the same is true of sitcoms,
soap operas, and commercials on TV. Dalits are invisible from all
popular culture that gets any airtime. The Indian army still has many
upper-caste-only regiments. There is nothing like an Indian ACLU. Or a
Dalit history month on public TV, or exhibits in museums, that seek to
educate the upper-castes about a long and dark chapter of their past
(and present).


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