Caste-blindness: Those from marginalised communities don’t want to return to the ’60s
The India of the 1960s and 1970s was different. Getting back on its feet post-Independence, all major wings of governance were dominated by the erudite class (read upper caste). While we have certainly come a long way since then, it is still a work in progress. Even today, India is largely an upper caste and upper class preserve
What makes Karan Thapar’s writing compelling is his ability to put complex things in simple terms. Of course, the most effective communication involves articulating the most complex of issues in lucid language, but one should not lose sight of the underlying complex realities. Thapar’s nostalgic reminiscences about the 1960s in this newspaper on July 11, where he revisited the world as he saw it from the privileged perch of Doon School, where he studied, falls in the latter category. In the world that Thapar inhabited, he did not see any form of discrimination on caste and religion. At the end, all that he wants is to return to those days, or perhaps nostalgically, have those days returned to India.
Those who believe in the constitutionally laid down idea of India will agree with Thapar’s denunciation of Hindutva forces or comments on “love jihad”. However, that does not necessarily mean that they want to return to the 1960s. In fact, Thapar’s lament is itself a testament to the fact that his school life was far removed from the real India. It is this disconnect of the elites from the realities that has paved the way for the present phase of intolerance which seems all-pervasive.
When Thapar proudly proclaims that he did not witness any discrimination during his school days, the reason is not difficult to fathom. It is indeed very likely that almost all of his fellow classmates at the institution came from a similar socio-cultural milieu, far removed from the drudgery that the not-so-privileged went through in their everyday lives. And one can be certain that those who undertook the menial jobs in the school — the washerman, the toilet cleaner, the gardener, the cook — belonged to the marginalised and deprived sections, who had been doing the same job for generations.
The India of the 1960s and 1970s was different. Getting back on its feet post-Independence, all major wings of governance were dominated by the erudite class (read upper caste). While we have certainly come a long way since then, it is still a work in progress. Even today, India is largely an upper caste and upper class preserve. A recent report in this newspaper, on May 21, shows how the representation of Scheduled Caste/Scheduled Tribe/Other Backward Class communities in the teaching faculty is less than six per cent in Indian Institute of Technology (IIT)-Kharagpur. Only 91 of a total of over 700 faculty members are women. Is it any surprise then that in such a closed endogamous institute, a teacher hurled casteist abuse at her students, only because she was certain that she could get away with it? The recent resignation of Vipin P Veetil from IIT Madras, alleging caste-based discrimination, is another pointer to the lack of diversity. And of course, who can forget the words of Rohith Vemula, who wrote in his suicide note, “My birth is my fatal accident”.
Even in the media, Dalits and other marginalised communities are missing from leadership positions. A 2019 report states that out of 121 newsroom leadership positions under study, 106 were occupied by upper castes, five by other backward classes and six by people from minority communities. 75% of anchors conducting debates on television belong to upper castes. Not one was Dalit, Adivasi, or OBC.
All this proves that despite progress, even today, India’s information ecosystem is skewed in favour of upper castes. Even when they are well-intentioned and compassionate, their understanding of India that lives down the hill is disconnected from reality, just as many political leaders from the rural belt do not seem to understand gender discrimination. It is high time India’s Leftists and liberals understand that caste (not merely class), has been the basis of discrimination since time immemorial.
I did not have the privilege of being insulated from reality of caste (and class) discrimination and violence, and for that, I am the better. I can offer Thapar the insight that he missed — a journey to my village in Khagaria, Bihar, where nobody yearns for a return to the 1960s.
Chandan Yadav is national secretary, Indian National Congress
The views expressed are personal