An illustration by Siddhesh Gautam, 30, a visual designer and artist, whose illustrations are popular on Instagram @bakeryprasad (Siddhesh Gautam)
An illustration by Siddhesh Gautam, 30, a visual designer and artist, whose illustrations are popular on Instagram @bakeryprasad (Siddhesh Gautam)

Caste factor: A case against selective outrage

A millennial with strong views on the subject stands up against half-hearted support against prejudice
By Rahee Punyashloka
PUBLISHED ON SEP 04, 2021 09:39 PM IST

Each time PV Sindhu bags a medal, our search strings light up with queries about her caste. The same happened for Lovlina Borgohain. While there were similar searches to ascertain gold medallist Neeraj Chopra’s caste background, the queries were outnumbered by Rajput caste pride that claimed him as one of their own.

This economy of caste extends to all sports. It wasn’t that long ago a prominent cricketer proudly proclaimed himself a ‘Rajput boy’ with little backlash. Another cricketer extolled the virtues of his Brahmin background to a similar effect.

Unfortunately, none of this is new. We have a long tradition in the subcontinent of associating certain attributes with certain castes, based on their historical caste-occupation. Castes with martial histories, like the Rajputs and the Marathas, are expected to be born with physical superiority, and so, athletic prowess. People from mercantile or Bania castes are supposed to be shrewd in commerce and stellar entrepreneurs. Brahmins, given their history as religious scholars and arbiters of knowledge production, are to be intellectually superior.

This myth of inherited caste-based qualities informs our personal and public spheres. For a casteist, each time a Brahmin excels intellectually, the caste order is reified as natural, scientific.

When PV Sindhu (top), Lovlina Borgohain (above) and other Olympians bagged a medal, queries about their caste were aplenty online
When PV Sindhu (top), Lovlina Borgohain (above) and other Olympians bagged a medal, queries about their caste were aplenty online

Trouble begins when one disrupts this order. When one overcomes their ‘low caste’ status and attributes of inferiority ascribed to them and excels in fields beyond the purview of their traditional occupational status. Dalit sportspersons from Palwankar Baloo to Vandana Katariya have directly witnessed backlash.

The outrage over the Google searches of the athletes’ castes is misdirected. We cannot continue directing our rage at the search strings instead of the mammoth edifice of caste that causes it. Progressive-liberals have to recognise this persistence of caste in each sphere of Indian social life. Only then can we commit to the total annihilation of caste!

Rahee Punyashloka creates anti-caste art and discourse under the moniker ‘artedkar’. His solo show was recently on display at the Method Gallery, Bandra.

From HT Brunch, September 5, 2021

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