Cooking up a tasteless caste war
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Cooking up a tasteless caste war

The battle between a Brahmin and a Maratha is not so much about caste discrimination as it is a struggle for supremacy

mumbai Updated: Sep 13, 2017 01:37 IST
Sujata Anandan
Sujata Anandan
Hindustan Times
Sujata Anandan,Opinion,Maratha protests
Members of the Maratha community protest.(HT FILE)

On the surface, the lodging of a complaint against her cook by a deputy director of forecasts at the Pune observatory for pretending to be a Brahmin might seem ridiculous or even frivolous. But the incident raises serious questions about the resurgence of caste discrimination and is said to be indirectly connected to the recent Maratha morchas in the state.

When one speaks of caste discrimination, “atrocity” automatically comes to mind. But this is neither. The cook did not belong to a caste that might be considered untouchable and there cannot be any atrocity against someone as high up the caste hierarchy as a Maratha.

The case is not even one of impersonation per se (although the police have registered a case for this) for the woman was merely working under a pseudonym that sounded like a Brahmin name. She is said to have been a good cook, the scientist’s family enjoyed her fare on more than one occasion, but now she is seen as polluting food meant for the gods by being a non-Brahmin in a “Brahmins only” job.

A few years ago such discrimination between two upper castes would have been unheard of at an official level, though many homes have employed cooks they referred to as Maharajs and that was always a dead giveaway about caste. But now I am stunned by the fact that not only was an official complaint lodged against this cook for not being Brahmin, neither the scientist nor the cops recognise they may be violating Article 17 of the Constitution, which bans untouchability in any form. Moreover, although the scientist has also complained that the cook misbehaved with her when she went to her home to ascertain her caste, I wonder if putting that kind of intimidation on record does not make the scientist herself open to charges of criminal intimidation and caste discrimination?

While the authorities need to sort that one out, I would think this battle between a Brahmin and a Maratha is not so much about caste discrimination as it is a struggle for supremacy. Marathas are nearly 38 percent of the population in the state and they are a considerable vote bank. They had turned up in lakhs at the 58 silent morchas across the state over the past year, which culminated in a huge meeting in Mumbai last month. They have put the government on notice - to meet their demands for reservation and dilution of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities Act) 1989 which, they allege, was being used by Dalits to lodge false cases against them. Their numbers have bothered many and, as Professor Sudhir Gavhane, Dean of Liberal Arts at the MIT University of World Peace in Pune, told me, no political leader in this country can ever raise crowds in such numbers at their own meetings.So they must be taken seriously.

The Maratha Kranti Morcha had given the Devendra Fadnavis government time to meet their demands, failure of which could lead to violence. “And when we go violent, the country would never have seen anything like it before,” the convenor of the MKM Karan Gaykar told me.

Threatening violence itself could be a crime under the law, but the supreme confidence of the Maratha community in enforcing their demands -- and Fadnavis is not unaware of the consequences of failure to meet them -- is causing much concern among all.

I am told that this complaint now is not so much a private dispute between a scientist and her cook as an attempt to put the Marathas in their place and show them where they really stand. According to my sources, the scientist’s husband is a political worker and was warned that a complaint of this nature could instantly lead to controversy and create communal discord, but that certain groups decided they must not lose an opportunity like this one to put the Marathas in their place. But now many are afraid that this attempt to put them in their place should not ignite Maratha passions again and lead to social unrest or worse.

First Published: Sep 13, 2017 01:37 IST