Well beyond Khairlanji

Questioning our personal contradictions is essential to any discussion on caste.

I find a question about the 'future of caste' offensive, primarily because caste is an issue of the present and we do not have the luxury to pontificate about the 'future' of it. I teach at a new Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) which is being mentored by an old IIT, where casteism is sickeningly alive. Colleagues speak derisively of Dalit students who naively change the question in the entrance exam to the 'prestigious' IIT so they can answer it, because they are too stupid to solve a difficult question but they get in regardless, because of quota, thus 'lowering' the standards of the IIT; a professor tells me there is no Brahmin ideology to the IIT, and that Brahmin students commit suicide too, when I ask him to set mechanisms in place so that Dalit students can complain, especially if we are to have Brahmins teaching Sanskrit. When I was in college, my Sanskrit teacher told the Brahmins in class that they would understand better. As a half-Dalit half-Christian, I felt great, of course.

We do not have to look to Khairlanji for Dalit atrocities. They happen in our bourgeois urban lives every day. I was marginalised and looked upon as pariah because of my black Dalit father. That he was alcoholic, wife-beating and had no responsibility toward the home made it easier for people ('good' Catholic people in the Bombay neighbourhood in which I grew up) to hate him and me. My schizophrenic mother, whom he pretty much beat to a pulp, sang songs about his Harijan, chokra-boy identity, and spoke of his skin colour (she was white as driven snow). He broke all her teeth in return.

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Himal Southasian