"Divide and Rule” is something that all of us may remember from our history books. The British were supposedly extremely good at it! It helped them rule us for over two centuries! It ensured that there was no way the people could come together to throw them out.
Well the British are long gone from here but this is a legacy that we still carry with us!
Let me elaborate. I will begin with the recent news item on the Indian diplomat Devyani Khobargade. Like everyone else I have my own take on this with respect to inter country diplomacy issues which is beyond the scope of this particular post. What I would like to highlight is the way the issue is doing its rounds among different groups. One of the points that is being raised is that she is a dalit ( a person belonging to a certain caste group that was oppressed in the caste hierarchy centuries ago) and that the Congress government took up this issue because they were afraid of losing the dalit votes in the upcoming elections!!! I am shocked to say the least! I don’t want to believe that my country and government would have such a short sighted view on an issue to take on a super power who has so far got away with everything in this world! And secondly, can a person who is the daughter of a bureaucrat and a member of the exalted Indian Foreign Service be called a “Dalit ? It is the equal of referring to a senior African American Diplomat, Congress person or Senator ( including President Obama) as oppressed persons and therefore any attempt to help ease their situation coming under the caption of having Civil liberties groups putting pressure!
But this interpretation of the Devayani issue is only an example of what is happening today in India! Somebody sent me an article which represented a major HR fiasco in an International NGO in India along similar lines. The author who is also the affected party in this case mentioned every person involved by name and their caste ( I am amazed at the amount of research he probably had to do!) and then interpreted their action and inaction accordingly. While, I am sure there are different versions to the story within the organization, what amazes me is that the author, a law graduate from a reputed University in India ( according to the bio furnished in the article) should still consider himself a “Dalit” and explain every action that affects his life in that manner?I remember reading the website of this same organization. While writing the bio of one of their board members they had mentioned that she was “ a feminist who had broken down the dominance of upper caste women in the field of feminism in India”. I think it is so pathetic that they should break feminism along caste lines. While not denying that women from lower castes probably face the brunt of gender discrimination more than those from upper castes do, the process of women’s liberation and empowerment would never be possible if we are divided along caste lines! Is it surprising that they should be accused of caste based discrimination?
I guess, these are but reflections of what is happening in the larger context of politics in India today. The entire country and her electorate are sought be broken up along caste and communal lines. Dalits, OBCs, forward castes, minorities- these are the four broad categories that I see. In states like Tamil Nadu there are further subdivisions along local caste groups. It is surprising that this should happen today after sixty odd years of independence! One would have thought that caste would have been done away with. But it looks like we want it to thrive so that we can use it to further our own interests.
We seem to enjoy the identities of the caste hierarchy to get whatever benefits it can accord us. There is also some sort of reverse discrimination that seems to be happening that prevents us from getting away from the burden of forward caste identities. I was told once by a “Dalit activist” that I could not be part of one of their discussions as I was from an upper caste! I did not have the “lived experience” you see..!! I don’t suppose we see the issue from the angle of breaking the barriers. No wonder politicians get away with exploiting the issue!
I sometimes wonder how someone like Dr. Ambedkar might react were he to come back into this world today to see how his country is doing. I guess he would be horrified at the way people have interpreted his well meaning guidelines for social inclusion and mainstreaming of the marginalized people.
If people do not want to change, no amount of policies can effect it!
( Happy New year and Happy Pongal/ Sankranti/ Bihu and Lohri)