Rohith Vemula did not just commit suicide – he was murdered. And this murder was not committed by the right-wing ABVP – it was conducted by the left-liberals. The “Dalit problem” citing which Rohith gave up his life, is not the creation of any fringe elements among communal Hindus – it is sustained by the liberal Hindus who tremendously profit from the status quo it provides. None of this is an exaggeration – these comprise a reality that must be confronted. The entire Hindu society, the Savarnas, are the perpetrators – no one among them is eligible to be member of the jury.
This is so because, whenever the colonial masters have been credited with infrastructure and development, the critical thinkers have added to the discourse a very crucial aspect – that, the ruling class of any given era also deserves to be blamed for the maladies. For instance, it is often said that the British could not blame the Indians for Satti and child marriage practices – if the British could take the credit for building colleges and for educating the Indians, they should also take the blame for the prevailing societal violence against women and widows that took place under their rule.
The ruling ideas of any era belong to the ruling class, and so do the existing contradictions. The ruling class of Indian academia are not the British anymore. They are the left-liberals. And Vemula’s suicide is not the first one to have been committed by a Dalit student at a higher education institute of India. Quite the contrary; it is an alarming continuation. The only reason why Vemula’s news has so caught up the protesting landscape is precisely because there is a right-wing government at the center and its youth wing ABVP that is purportedly responsible this time. In a macabre parallel, the Occupy and the anti-war activists have re-emerged now that the liberals need to be salvaged. The truth is the left parties and their student bodies which dominated the academia ever since India turned a sovereign republic, have consistently downplayed caste discriminations on campuses. Reason why the Left is responsible for Vemula’s demise today is because it did not sufficiently critique the hostile environment its own student leaders and professors were/are enabling all these years.
If the education system in India takes pride in being predominantly leftist, then it must also accept the utter failure in practicing the tenets of progressive politics. The hypocrisy of the Indian left is exposed threadbare in its historical incapacity to take a principled stand against caste atrocities that are systemically flourishing across top research centers of India. From policy makers, to academicians, to vice chancellors – almost all the shining stars in Indian institutes are progressive intellectuals strongly aligned with the Indian Left. College campuses have historically been dominated by youth brigades of Congress and CPI/M. Textbooks are overwhelmingly authored by leftist historians. Open Air Theaters and Ganga Dhabba meetings and the IIT/IIMs are crowded by liberal intellectuals at both student and leadership levels. And instead of addressing the legacies of segregations, all these institutions of higher learnings in India, spearheaded by JNU have remained busy with earned accolades for being tolerant and diverse.
Just as they have been rightfully receiving laurels, they must also be made accountable for what systematically continues in a parallel manner in all the major universities across India. What is it that makes the deans and heads of departments invariably always upper caste Hindus? What is it that sustains a climate where “reservation” is treated as though it is a favor, and not a right? What is it in academic environment that encourages student politics of dissent, but the dissenting voices are indeed from the profiteering social classes? What is it that labels minority students “casteists” while the students whose ancestors invented caste system and passed it down as a virtue, are labeled youths for “equality”? What is it that produces so few scientists, engineers and doctors within the Dalit students? What is it that drives so many Dalit students to suicides and yet the pattern remains unreported in mainstream media?
The Left needs to answer why most Indian universities glorify Marx and Engels, but do not even admit Ambedkar and Phule in their midst. Expulsion of Rohith Vemula and other Dalit students need not have come as a surprise, therefore. The hegemony of left politics inside campuses remains without a dispute, but its consequences upon the Dalit students deserve studious attention. It is not Savarkar or Golwalkar whose presence in university curricula overshadows that of Ambedkar or Periyar. Gandhian and Nehruvian scholars are the ones who have for decades marginalized, if not silenced the voices of Dalit icons inside campuses.
More than just the historical battle between the ideologies, the prevailing animosity against Dalits in Indian educational settings have been nothing less than ghastly. All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) is a classic case in point. The Medical strike of 2006 had “merit” students holding placards in broad daylight of Delhi announcing their disdain towards a possibility that their own children may end up becoming cobblers if reservations are implemented. Being the most prestigious governmental institute in medical sciences, AIIMS has continued to offer such a casteist climate that the then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had to personally intervene and set up a three-member committee headed by UGC chairman Sukhdeo Thorat in 2007 to assess the situation there.
The findings at AIIMS pointed to nothing other than a climate of “Caste Apartheid”. 100% of Dalit students reported caste-based ragging, 88% complained of hostel isolation, 76% reported mess discrimination, 72% of Dalit students expressed bias in Cricket, 92% in basketball, 72% highlighted teacher bias in classroom. Regarding the caste-based ragging, a Dalit student said, “They would call us to their rooms and order us…’tell us 10 reasons why you should get reservation…if you don’t we’ll beat you.”
Despite media coverages of the above, neither the government nor any educational institute aided by powerful leftist student bodies established procedures to address the climate of segregation. Insight Foundation reported the suicide of Linesh Mohan Gawle, a second year PhD student from National Institute of Immunology, New Delhi on April 16, 2011, the suicide of Balmukund Bharti, final year MBBS student from AIIMS on March 3, 2010 and even recorded testimonies of family members in a documentary “The Death of Merit”. The complete report “On Suicides of Dalit Students in India’s Premier Educational Institutions” is available on Countercurrents.
The instances of suicide among Dalit students are too many to be blamed on “right-wing political student groupings like the ABVP”. This shifting of blame to an external agency, preferably “fringe elements” is a convenient method adopted by liberal Hindus who wish to retain the status quo while coloring it progressive only because they enjoy the privilege to see published their feel-good stances of meaningless empathies. A win-win situation where the protest is registered, self-respect enhanced, and the tag of being social reformers keeps giving. In a sickening parallel to charitable organizations that need a state of poverty to remain so they can stay relevant. Bizarre but true, political parties like the Congress and the Left need caste hostilities (and despondency among Muslim youths) to remain, so that they can occasionally support the politically correct positions as progressive political outfits. Appears like Caste in India must not be annihilated, but sustained, across the spectrum – Left to Right.
This double standard has been long exposed at the level of electoral politics, where the Dalits and Muslims are increasingly choosing candidates not aligned with either the Congress or the Left. But more crucially, it is also being increasingly realized among the Dalit students who are joining “study circles” to seriously examine Ambedkar and Periyar and the likes who are deliberately kept out of academic curricula.
Rohith Vemula was himself one of those who realized that the Left in India was “inefficient” to tackle caste issue and to unite the working class. Even as he remained an admirer of Marxism, Vemula was disenchanted with the left politics on the campus that was led by the SFI. He made a call to “resist the communal ABVP, reject the inefficient SFI and to support the UDA for a stronger union”. But he was not limited only to student politics on campus. More importantly, he had made a theoretical intervention that is worth analyzing. On August 13, 2014, Vemula wrote, “The shift of my political identity from Marxism to Ambedkarism is a conscious move into building a new future on the basis of more humane, more inclusive society. Thus compelling the present stratified society, perforce, to take off it’s elitist mask of generosity and solidarity in the name of seamless majoritarian cultural unity or nationalism. My core intention is to challenge and expose the upper-class hypocritical advocacy of progressiveness which shamelessly maintains it’s ties with the oppressive structures of class, caste and gender. To fight against the symbiosis of cultural chauvinism and communal politics, to popularize the subaltern, dravidian history and to shout out sharply the radical realism amidst the euphoria of freedom. With my basic world view conditioned by marxism, I dream and work for a society which Baba Saheb has always aspired.”
If the Indian Left needs a wake-up call, this is it. Yet another occasion to own upto the utter failure on its part to align with the working class interests of those who are most exploited in India. Luckily for them, despite pointing out the “upper-class hypocrisy” represented by the Indian Left, Rohith Vemula never quite gave up his hope in communism. With his astute and critical observations that shall comprise the legacy of Rohith Vemula, he refused to fall for political polarization and bourgeois opportunism. He called for the revolutionary unity of the working class instead, and for a much more efficient and radical Left that would spark revolutionary spirits.
Almost a year after his analysis on shift in his political identity, Vemula would assess and hail Marx as “one of the greatest of minds that ever lived on this Earth.” He wrote the tribute on Marx’s birth anniversary on May 4, 2015, “He (Marx) along with Engels produced the fierce theory of revolution. He explained the capitalist exploitation and gave a scientific sense to out anger. His dialectical materialism proletariat revolt idea, historical materialism and class conflict concept will forever help the oppressed sections in revolting against the oppressive systems. Long live Marx..Long live Marxism…Long live Revolution.”
Once you hear the details of victory, it is hard to distinguish it from a defeat.
I apologize for the delay in posting this entry, but I guess I had to wait till the mainstream media no more confused readers with the “hot topic” any longer. I had to wait until after they would have well done away with the headlines and sensations and the matter were allowed to be relegated to backburner. And I realize now is such a time when suddenly the matter of “Reservation” is not being brought about any longer. Its no more being contextualized, as yet again a socio-economic defeat on part of the lower class struggle of India.
However, I will begin with the comment of a long standing reader of this blog. In my last post, Friend Sanjay has kindly posted a comment worth introspecting over. I will do it here.
While thanking him for his continuous critical appraisals for posts here, let it be stated that despite staunch opposition to some of his views, I have always held them with utmost respect. Many a times I have felt like some views that are reactionary to the point of resulting in further ambiguity in progressive views must be discouraged. But truthfully, I have never “censored” a single view so far.
There are certain difficulties in indulging in intellectual discourses when one relates to the self. While walking down the less taken roads, one always feels tempted to stop by more often, and ask the critical questions, “Could I have been wrong throughout the trip? How come the journey is so lonesome? Is it because this road is not going to provide any solution? Am I merely dreaming that things would take place, whereas in reality the road that most people have already taken is the one which is fulfilling dreams every passing moment? People are making records, breaking records, appearing on prime time shows, winning applauds, gold medals and Hollywood breaks. And I am here philosophizing against the notion of success and dream of a society sans “individual successes”. But then how is it logical to state that “their” dreams are any inferior to my own? Am I the sole custodian of notion of what constitutes “societal good”? Where do I intersect, accept, and carry on, because if the struggle is for all, at least majority needs to approve me at some point.”
I am not indifferent towards these series of questions which challenge the roots of my thoughts, opinions, views, and actions. I have known all the while, that in fact, views that are opposing one’s own are the only views that have any intrinsic values worth cherishing. Only through opposing tooth and nail most existing views, have I learnt anything in life. And now why the resistance to be opposed, when it comes to my own worldviews?
Sanjay provides the answer already: He says, “As you are not part of the society which is opposing reservation, I too refuse to belong to a society which develops selective amnesia in attributing traits.” It merely implies that in the nature and process of forming views, we choose sides. At times we are flexible in the face of new facts to change our views. At times we are not. Personally for me, I have changed many of my views (on God, on Salman Khan or on Indian Cricket team) several times in life basing on newer facts or facets. I am sure all of us do the same too.
Then is the struggle to impose (or you may say, influence) views a struggle to win non-members into one’s side? For a professional politician it is a desirable thing to do (hence I have problems with people who think ‘vote bank politics’ is a bad thing. I mean that’s the whole point of politics in a democracy). But for those, including myself, who do not aspire to be political candidates, what sort of struggle would that be? A struggle, which Sanjay refuses to be with me in?
This is a struggle to ‘understand’ opposing viewpoints. Now the word ‘understanding’ is more complex than it looks like. We need to give time to, contextualize, empathize, agree with reason, disagree with justification—all of these and more, in order to merely understand someone or someone’s views.
On a public forum like this, the purpose is just this: to understand each other and each other’s views depending on where we come from.
Sanjay’s concerns are obviously genuine. Are reservations going to be the solution?
A right-wing political solution?
The answer is, I do not know. But the only alternative which nays the reservations has at least proven that it would mean further systematic marginalization of the dispossessed. When reservation proposal was being discussed, I was not exulted either. I knew for certain that it is a move to pacify, not to agitate. It was a step to bow down to reactionaries, not to give vent to the oppressed. It was actually so reactionary a step that all we found out after the bill being tabled was an unforeseen unity among the upper castes, a unanimous media support to their causes, a never-before-seen coverage of their strikes, and most importantly an organized efforts by the opportunistic elites in such an organized fashion, that it must have put the neo-nazis to shame. Reservations debates, if at all helped the elites to recognize each others’ needs all the more and made them get united so much that right wing parties gaped. What BJP could never achieve in terms of uniting the upper castes (since half of them did not want any of Advani yatras anyway), the Congress at the center had achieved: notwithstanding their party affiliations, in fact notwithstanding their political standpoints or lack thereof, irrespective of the states they came from (not Gujarat or UP, but entire India, South and the North, East and the West), upper caste peoples showed solidarity with each other that must have prided the supremacists. Clearly BJP is going to win the next poll. Thank the communists for that this time!
(Racists of India, Unite?)
It is important to understand that the contemporary history of India is not that of a struggle for Individual rights or liberty. It is struggle for group rights. This is a slightly different scenario than ever in the past. The group identity struggle that the SC/ST/OBCs are going through is because of their conferred identity. They are being discriminated against, not because they are merely poor, not because they are merely uneducated, not merely because they overwhelmingly reside in states of India which are sidelined, BUT because of their caste status. It’s an identity struggle. It’s going on not just in India today, but all over the world. Indigenous people are fighting to reclaim their lands. To reclaim their lost dignity. There is a heartening gesture here, though. The demand to ‘reclaim’ is a demand that should have been logically bloody. Simply because their loss of land at the first place was done at the cost of bloody dominations of oppressors. But unlike the oppressor classes, the indigenous people are not predisposed to violence (else they would win hands down any day in organizing efforts at dethroning the minority upper castes). Secondly, they have proved to be more law-abiding than the oppressor classes themselves. Let me elucidate.
Its only natural for the society ruled by oppressor class, to already frame certain laws to rule out any bloody struggle as ‘illegal’ because the ‘evolution’ of the oppressor classes have metamorphosed into a consensual class. Consequently, this society to garner its position of power, takes onto itself the mammoth sense of generosity to either ‘grant’ or ‘dispel’ the need to let its prisoners-0f-wars a chance to compete with itself. When it finds, as in areas of agriculture that the lower class people cannot stake claim to superiority in face of industrial society, it makes no issues. When it finds, as in areas of primary education or adult education, where the lower class can learn how to get empowered, (but in reality are never so…its like knowing how to draw rockets does not land one in the moon…one needs to be part of a multi-billion dollar industry for that actualization), there is no problem either. Only when the matter is evaluated at par with elite positions (medical or physical science as education or administrator and priest as profession), that there seems to be unwavering difficulties.
All’s well that ends well?
Reservation will never be the solution. But it is a definite challenge to the status quo thought process of taking the majority of people for granted. And that is why it’s important to revisit the issue of reservation. At the core of it, some of my friends are absolutely right about the upper-caste students. Sure, they do not think like the politicians. They do not think in terms of castes. Students in the classroom today do not consider any group as untouchables. Quite accurate in some cities of India.
But the grim reality is that it breeds something more dangerous. At least where untouchability is practiced, there is a caste consciousness that translates into class struggles or similar identity struggles. As we know from experience that opposite of love is not hate, but indifference; what happens among the highbrows is that they profess a caste-blindness that’s so indifferent to caste issues that it glorifies the oppressor class as the egalitarian tolerant group!
While practicing the caste-blindness, the issue of historical oppression is bid goodbye. Essentially whole generations of students are going to graduate (and their children in future) from schools and colleges without an iota of knowledge in field of caste struggles in India (except those who are interested in studying Sociology or History as subjects—that too if the Saffronites don’t take over NCERT). Rest of the students are not going to be studying the unique tribal history, the unique Dravidian struggle, the unique struggles of the OBCs, who are at times depicted as part of the Dalitbahujans. The struggle that is not religious, but caste-based. A history where people still do not think they are Hindus, only that they think they are Kurumaas, and Chakaali in the South India or Bhandari, and Goudaa in East India.
Caste-denial: In whose interest?
Although Hindus would love to include all these peoples as belonging to the most “ancient” religion, and although the Brahmins and upper caste people do not go around talking about their castes, there is need for a complex understanding here. Upper caste people of India need to realize that the caste-structure had been shaped by the upper castes themselves for “their” own convenience. And hence they take it quite for granted without having to feel burdened by the weight of caste on them. By actually not talking about their castes, they absolve themselves of their well-deserved “guilt”. For the Dalitbahujans, however, it’s quite a different type of struggle. This struggle for caste assertion is one of an identity, not one that they can take for granted. This is one that’s not going to make them live easily. It’s a painful daily reminder, and they have no other course except to assert their snatched rights. The surnames are their characters. They have to live upto them, and yet surpass them. It’s not a privilege, but a burden. Like a wealthy person taking money for granted, the upper caste people carry their surnames without having to think about it twice. But like a poor person valuing the small thatched cottage, the lower caste people even will look at universal wind as enemy to their rooftops.
In India or elsewhere, there needs to be more studies of caste and race, precisely because the oppressor classes have almost taken it for granted. In America, Critical Whiteness Studies need to take place more vigorously to make most white students realize the invisible burden they have imposed on the people of color by means of color discrimination. In India, the Critical Brahmin Studies need to be institutionalized for the upper caste people to understand complexities of caste and socio-economic well being that are influenced by their stoic silences, if not outright display of prejudices. Minority studies are fine to “understand” a differential culture (Asian-American Studies, or Black Cultural Studies), but what we need also is the Brahmin Studies or White Studies, just to “teach” the history of their oppressive culture.
Currently to the powerful White males of the world, there is just a big fuss about need for affirmative action or of assertion of rights of colored people, because according to them, most of the issues have been resolved, now that “marginalized” people have attained “success” already in many spheres. Likewise the Brahmins or upper castes of India think there is no need for reservation because so many Dalit and OBC people are becoming successful. They cite the incidents of chief ministers, sportspersons and plain rich men among “lower castes” who have rode the ladder as examples to justify doing away with any proactive reservation policy.
What, then, is the picture? Have these traditionally marginalized people not attained success enough so as not to need any more reservation or affirmative policies in place? The mainstream answer is yes. Alternative cries are no. What’s the deal?
The anti-reservation lobby cites success of lower caste people as examples to denounce reservations. If the progress is being done anyway, what is the need of further reservation? The initial period when lower caste people should have been given a chance, has passed already. So there should be no more extension of such scope, let alone any proliferation of further reservations. Such run few arguments on the right.
On the left front, some even justify reservation as means to attain more success just as a form of ripple effect. Some arguments favor reservations because it will alone let the lower caste people to become successful in life, because the competition is indeed tough otherwise. We must build more access to the people with disabilities, after all.
Although I would still support the Left mainstream argument, I tend to think both core arguments primarily are dealing with the same question. And once the question is pre-determined, we are not going to find a radical solution to that. After all, as Audre Lorde had so rightly said, “The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.”
I think the question needs to be reassessed entirely. The alternative question I pose about this whole issue (and thereby my peripheral arguments) is about the concept of “Success” itself. As we know already, success in capitalistic society is not just determined, or competed for, but also ‘defined’ by owners of means of production. This is because Capitalism is that phase of human history which aims to suit the least number of people. Prior to capitalism, there were phases of history, possibly more draconic: that of kings and slaveowners and feudal lords. But there were constant competitions, and rivalry among them. Some kind of ‘balance of power’ was always being maintained. There was no clear cut class division on a world scale. The working class and the ruling class were ill-defined.
But with Capitalism, arrived Monopoly. Only a few hundreds of people in the entire world ruled over the rest of us. They own not just wealth, but also own the yardstick to value the wealth. They not just own the knowledge economy, they also own the yardstick to value what passes on as knowledge. They don’t just own managers, they own the philosophy behind creating managers. Not just doctors, but also the rationale behind entrance tests to medical profession.
Capitalism, unlike every other previous stages of human societal development established the yardsticks, which we shall call here as Standards. Earlier there were hundreds of Emperors. With Capitalism, it had to be just one! Earlier there were hundreds of kingdoms. With Capitalism, it was reduced to just a G-7. Earlier there were skilled people respected in every corner of the world. With Capitalism, they began to be respected only in certain professions at certain corners while working for certain sectors. Earlier phases of history were horribly bad. Capitalism became merely grotesquely inhuman.
What are the Standards?
Let’s begin with Gods. After all, Capitalism thrives on the belief that God created the universe and made it a standard assumption. The biggest testimony of that can be found on every dollar bill. “In God We Trust” is the single most famous used slogan in everyday exchanges of capitalism. But with thousands of tribal gods, nature gods and no gods, there used to appear quite a competition. And with majority of people either not believing in a single God or believing in their personal Gods, it had invariably become difficult to conquer the lands populated by such unrestricted folks. God needed to be standardized. In name of spiritualism or in name of organized religions, godmen and gods had to be proclaimed on ranks. Consequently what happened were multi-fold. One Christianity spread throughout the globe as it had been hijacked into becoming the religion of the oppressing White man. “Missionaries” were established in most parts of the world to propagate this religion. Based on Biblical myths, a religion which had absolutely no cultural commonality with indigenous peoples (in terms of names of characters or nature of redemption), this soon emerged as the standard religion. Two, basing on it, other oppressive religions (according to geographical peculiarities) also took charge in their lands to standardize beliefs. Hence for example, in India, when it’s about Gods, the standardized Gods stand out everywhere. They are themes for mythological television programs. They are Gods after whom national holidays are observed. They are the designated Gods. Brahma, Vishnu, Laxmi, Parvati, Shiv, Ganesh: these dominant Hindu Gods were used in the process to kill the Other or Lesser Gods. Gods worshipped by lower caste people in India (who the Census includes as Hindus) are entirely different, unwept, unsung and almost condemned by the general society (that make up the law, media, schools and parliament).
Kancha Ilaiah, a Dalitbahujan activist says in his book “Why I am not a Hindu” (Samya, 1996),
“Even a Brahmin family might talk about Pochamma, Maisamma or Ellemma, but not with the same respect as they would about Brahma, Vishnu, Maheswara. For them Pochamma and Maisamma are ‘Sudra’ Goddesses and supposed to be powerful but in bad, negative ways. A Pochamma according to them does not demand the respect that Lakshmi or Saraswathi do, because Lakshmi and Saraswathi are supposed to be ideal wives of ideal husbands, whereas no one knows who Pochamma’s husband is, any more than they can name Maisamma’s husband. This is the reason why no Brahmin or Baniya child bears the name of Pochamma, Maisamma or Ellamma, whereas in our families these are revered names and we name our children after these Goddesses…. It does not strike an average Dalitbahujan consciousness that these Goddesses do not have husbands and hence need not be spoken of derogatorily. This is because there are many widows in our villages who are highly respected whose stature is based on their skills at work and their approach towards fellow human beings…”
After establishing a standard in religion, and the icons representing the ‘legitimate’ religions (the history of Native-American experience should not be lost on us either, where they were on gun points forced to convert to Christianity, in their very own lands), the religious principles themselves are standardized. The hierarchy of families, the sanctity of marriage, the importance on child-bearing might all seem as comfortable as the essence of any religion or God. But just like the religions, these “value systems” help perpetuate the male dominance of women, in which male property ownership becomes the key. Single or divorced women, unwed mothers, and people of alternative sexual orientations are systematically exploited on economic grounds and the laws to that effect are set on the justice walls even to this day. Conservation of traditional hierarchy, male supremacy, Christian ‘family values’ etc continue to dictate the value system.
In such conservation movement, God (or the justices or president’s addresses) becomes pretty much irrefutable. A former president of Harvard (who stepped down recently) University whose tenure saw the reactionary findings on affirmative action, and whose personal understanding of causes behind women’s underrepresentation in Math and Sciences echoed that of many elite professors of India who attribute similar causes behind lower caste peoples’ ‘failure’ in technical field, also found need to conserve the conservative thoughts around the issues. Lawrence H Summers said to his defense, “My point was simply that the field of behavioral genetics had a revolution in the last fifteen years, and the principal thrust of that revolution was the discovery that a large number of things that people thought were due to socialization weren’t, and were in fact due to more intrinsic human nature, and that set of discoveries, it seemed to me, ought to influence the way one thought about other areas where there was a perception of the importance of socialization.”
“Intrinsic human nature”? Summers thinks it was a recent scientific discovery. Perhaps true. But it is so recent because the community of those elite scientists themselves could have been driven by agendas, their research funding agencies more so, and people like Summers for believing in them and citing these studies, even more so. The agenda is simple: to not diversify the field of science and engineering in order for women to come and shake the male hardcore foundation. Similar cases exist exactly in India where upper castes have had problems with lower caste people rising up from shining shoes to claim that given better climate to make up for their social loss, they can challenge the ‘scientists’ off their mindsets.
Capitalism while working on the superstructure of culture, politics and society takes help of first ‘Standardizing’ even before influencing. Standardization helps in dispelling any authoritarian tactics. It works smoothly and creates necessary illusions that are comforting and numbing at the same time.
Hence when the standards of beauty are envisaged, Capitalism dictates the norms of blue-eyes, 36-24-36 vitals, the designer clothes. So much so that the terms it devises to further normalize thought process are “Fashion”, “Model” etc. Model is a term that goes unquestioned. I mean in a way, everyone wants to be a Model to others. Or for that matter no one wants to be “unfashionable”. Standards of ‘good’ and ‘desirable’ are carefully orchestrated, pretty much like the way the term “Black” connotes everything negative (Black days, Black march, Black-out, Blackmail, Dark Age) etc., as opposed to White which denotes ‘fair’ness.
In terms of country, it’s the Western Europe and the US which become the Standards. From Greenwich Mean Time where world begins at London, to the ‘Super Power’ of the US, the notion so pervades minds that they become a standard. It becomes difficult to pursue the US as a country having poverty or illiteracy or exploitation. Hence more often than not, it’s the people who are brought to task for being ill-informed than the system of governance which has somewhat made a mark at keeping people ill-informed.
And this system of governance, the western Democracy model which is infamous for promoting ignorance by emphasizing on monoculture, single language, single god, unitary value system, disproportionately high ownership of things by a single race, religion and gender, a citizen privilege syndrome etc has also been made a standard in governance. Based on ballot box competition, driven by high fund-raising efforts by the old Men networks, so-called democracy rules. to the extent that any country that does not practice western democracy, is offered strange looks and armed intrusions.
Capitalism, which works as the seed for corporate sector to prosper, demands that human labor be mindlessly replaced by machines and turn both against each other. It thrives on breeding alienation, creating divisions among workers by refusing unions any intrinsic power to organize and call off work. It promotes certain brands of education that supports its machinery. Professionals from technical background become the only ones who are needed to run capitalism, since labor force becomes the most dispensable factor. Efficiency becomes the key word and it merely goes unquestioned since it basically means that the bosses need to get most out of the workers by making them work for as less as possible so as to make higher profits. In such a setup, the workers tend to think of the welfare of the company bosses (‘we should work even harder because if the company goes on loss then boss will fire us’). The bosses accordingly do not give any two hoots to workers’ welfare. Because apparently, the workers are less educated and hence they are dispensable. Education becomes a promoter of class society, not an instrument to bridge the access and control gap.
Class society in turn preaches the idol god, but in reality worships only one God, universally seen. The Money God. Success is calculated in terms of money. Achievements in life are translated in terms of recognition by money (after all, what is Nobel Prize, if not a committee of Trust money?), parameters of in-group and out-group status are financially drawn. Money determines who will be in politics, who will hog limelights, who will be on television, who will have luxury to watch television. That’s the reason why Indian reactionaries cite Dalits are successful when they become politicians, or corrupt bureaucrats, because they understand their own language of what constitutes success. Success then means one’s access to money, one’s ability to worship money and one’s capacity to overcome monetary needs. Being rich becomes being successful becomes worthy of being emulated. Being a celebrity, a politician, a TV star. “Hot Happenin n Rockin”.
This entire discourse rests on economic systems of capitalism where capital, not community, becomes paramount to judge standards of society, culture and politics. And that’s why everytime we indulge in “Merit”, and “Success”, and “Achievement”, and “Ability”, we are basically using the words that help the capitalism’s arguments stronger.
For one, let’s change the question. Rather, let’s turn it upside down. And we will see the need to revisit our privileges and celebrate the “failures” as treasures that keep the world from getting reduced to a competitive turf of mindless warfare. And when it comes to give back to them for their great tolerance and display of peaceful silence, Reservation needs to be just a primary offering.
I will call this the Princess Diana Syndrome. Remember that poor adorable princess who met an untimely death? The whole world just seemed to have lost this great soul who was so beautiful and could have changed everyone’s lives by posing alongside the orphans. Media everywhere from global to national to regional to local got hooked onto the image of Diana as the savior who was a victim (even if that meant that she was victim of media themselves!) To some extent the media houses blamed each other, the paparazzis and even the evil cash-rich boyfriend who was also some kind of a prince.
The fairy tale ended with Diana. Or as much I thought.
Until I started following the medical students in India. A country that recently underwent a historic blunder with a nuclear treaty, whose prime minister went on the stage to hail the colonial powers, whose farmers were reportedly committing suicides every passing day off unpaid debts, whose tribal people were being shot at by police brutally for absolutely no legal reason, whose fortunes had been so unevenly distributed that the gap between the rich and the poor had only been doubling periodically if not more, whose healthcare system, education system, and corruption system were all continuing to be elitist in every phase of reincarnations.
Suddenly someone dropped a cup of tea. Reservation bill for the other backward castes. I thought it was teacup indeed because I read from school civics book about the directive principles of state policies in Section IV of Indian constitution. And if I never would have read those books, then also I could have understood the need for such reservations for a country like India. In my recent trip to India this last December I could feel that Bangalore needed some reservations for working class people to stay there, lest the city be taken over by cash-rich tech-savvy tenants. In Hyderabad, I felt like in Charminar area, there needed to be some reservations for the Muslim preachers so that the Hindu temple created alongside the monument does not continue intentionally blowing its bhajans on loudspeakers. In Bhubaneswar, I felt like the Orissa tribals needed some reservations at Kalinga Nagar lest the lands all get to money hungry arms dealers aka government. But hardly I realized that the teacup would become a storm, possibly the worst storm to have hit India in recent times.
I always thought reservations for backward caste people in India are not some proposal or imaginings. It is a necessity. It’s a historical necessity! But instead what I found as I kept flapping emails and newspapers and blog comments were some grounds of objection which were gaining mammoth popularity. I have dealt with many issues, including Merit, elsewhere in this blog. But I will lay out other popular domains here.
1) Is Reservation a Favor?
One, the ground that the backward caste people have made quite some progress, and so they do not need reservation anymore.
Of course this is valid observation to say that they have made quite some progress. But to say that they don’t need reservation any more is to defeat the crux of the observation itself. Precisely because they have made progress, it’s logical to conclude that the reservation policies in India have worked positively in improving the lots of some people who include people that we historically called untouchables. Now the reality though is their improvement has taken place only marginally so far, and is on a constant progression. They are growing in the social ladders, but are yet to attain the power structures. Quite similar to the black people of America where through affirmative actions, many of the minority people rose to stardom, yet we know that not many of them have become influential so far in many elite areas. Even today more than 90% or more of the deans of colleges all over are White. Even today there is only one Senator who is a black. But some progress is being made nevertheless. I have a quicker solution (to which I will allude in a while), but I am also ready to go with the tide!
Likewise in India, the progress in order to continue demands that we increase the reservation quotas even more so that we can see more substantial improvement in the lives of the historically dispossessed. There is also a moral question here, which often goes unnoticed. That answers the question of ‘Why should we care’ types. These people are lower caste, because they were declared so by the ‘higher’ castes. They suffered so that the higher ones would enjoy the privilege. And hence, if not for any other legal and rational reasons (which are aplenty), for this moral reason itself, India needs to resurrect itself and let the lower caste people have greater shares of the cake now on. We owe it to them. To our domestic servants, and to the farmer-slaves. And to those students whose seats we not only refused them to have, but also refused them to dream of having.
2) Who Divides the Society?
Second line of reasoning that I see common to my readers’ resentments is pertaining to the division of society on basis of caste. To this, my answer is one of amazement. Caste politics have always continued to thrive in India. All the while, the lower caste people were subjugated and there was not a sign of remorse and guilt (and no demonstrations by upper castes against their fellow oppressors. When Gandhi offered his token fasts, he was also killed by the Hindu fundamentalists). Even to this day, all classified marriage ads would stress on marriages within castes. Even today domestic slaves are continuing to flock households of higher classes. Division of labor is indeed a casteist prerogative. Medical students who are polishing shoes to demonstrate their anger are clearly suggesting that they consider the work of cobbler as below their dignity! Even to this day! In other words the children of Brahmin caste would not allow their children to become cobblers in India. No matter how poor, the Brahmin families would stress on wearing the sacred thread to distinguish them from lower caste families. These active forms of caste discriminations are being practiced in India for as long as we know. And now only since the structure of Brahminical dominance bastion (the education) is being challenged, the country is noticing havoc. Suddenly politicians are being blamed for caste-based politics now. All along when the politicians themselves practiced Brahminism and the people did so religiously (everytime they invited only the Brahmin priests to solemnize a marriage) then no one questioned the caste divisions of India. Only when there is a valid demand for legitimate share in higher education, there is the hue and cry. Some of the more progressive minds agree that it’s fine to “improve the quality of primary education by granting even 80% seats to backward castes”, but its not OK to have reservations in Higher Education! I mean, the answer to that is, of course there are 80% of people in India who are backward castes anyway. So all of them will be in primary education, which is free and compulsory! It is the lack of resources and access to elite medical school coachings and preparations for them that deprive these 80% people! Hence the need for reservations.
The point is regarding losing the power. The well-meaning friends know it too well that primary schools do not change power equations. Throw them to schools, when their parents will force them to work in fields or have them sold to ragpickers, they will anyway drop-out. Plus they know that there is no chance in hell for the backward castes people to fund their medical preparations or other elite education at all. So it’s easier to give those 80% away to primary education! The ruling class knows the rules of wishful thinkings. Saying let them have primary education is like saying, let the wives do the household works only! When it comes to decision making and when it comes to budgeting money, the Men are there! Young students of India are actually thinking that higher education needs merit, and let the primary education go to the lower castes. The transition and the factors in between, the vertical structure of class society, the money factor, the debt factor, the social mobility factor, the factor of having one surname in place of another—are completely lost on the blue-eyed youngsters!
3) The Infatuation with Exotic Exceptions:
Third, is the question of the poor Brahmins. The poor Brahmins are aplenty in India. No denying that. But how come again, the minority poor Brahmins are now becoming the issue when the majority poor backward castes never were catered to?!
If total population of Brahmins in India are mere 5% and of them one percent would be actually poor, or comparatively poor with the landless Dalits and Adivasis we need to make policy decisions here. No I do not agree with the alternative proposals of economic parity argument. I am sure that’s not going to work in a simple way. From Vivekananda to Aurobindo, Hindu preachers knew to what extent caste is a socio-economically complex concept. The poor Brahmins are NOT the same as the poor Dalits. Period.
We all know it just too well. When the poor Brahmin begs in India, it’s considered a blessing to serve him/her. When the poor Dalit begs, the person is treated like a cursed cur. Who are we kidding? It’s actually regressive to even equate both categories. To begin with, Brahmins were not supposed to be wealth accumulators. I hardly know many Brahmins who are super rich. As I have stated earlier it’s the Kshyatriyas and Vaisyas who were the rich and powerful. All that the Brahmins had was the monopoly on knowledge, and that to a great extent translated power for them. Because of that so-called ‘knowledge’, the Brahmins have always survived the otherwise economic onslaughts. Using that today, most of them have become Pandits, Vedis, Dwivedis, Trivedis and Chaturvedis! They are the traditional scholars building up the ivory towers of education. They have defined the syllabus where students don’t read history of Dalit plights in independent India. They have demarcated the superiority of engineering and medicine as subjects that only they have ensured as more worthy by creating a demand-supply ratio that increases market pressure for those jobs. The Brahmins have relegated farming as a lowly activity although India is supposed to be an agricultural country. In Brahminical India, the farmers commit suicides and engineers fly first class! They have not just conceptualized their brand of education and forced its validity down on us, they have also created a market for their education (reason why students of literature and art history do not get jobs and find hardly any takers for marriage even for a dowry!), and they have earmarked the status tags.
In that whole process, their monopoly has not got lost on us—and which we see every passing day, the disproportionately high beggars on Indian streets, the prostitutes in cheap brothels and the large unemployed crime-prone youth groups. What it has also done is let a few cracks fall here and there, where there have been some Brahmin victims as well. But the victims in these cases are victimized because of a Brahminical structure itself, not because they are Brahmins. It’s like the White homeless people of America are victim of a White structure that thrives on market capitalism.
The question is where to start the reform process. As I have said earlier, I have quicker ways to address these issues. I guess many are working towards that in Nepal, in Orissa, and in Jharkhand now. But since the governments, that are more interested to guard the Indian Hindu Constitution than to empower the people in reality want a reform process, I think they know the answer now.
Part of the reason why even a rightwing BJP is supporting the Communists in this case (whoa!) is because it understands that the opportunistic Communist members in the UPA do not want radical replacement of the power structure. They want to maintain the ‘sanctity’ of the unity factor which enables the ruling class to rule.
The reason why different nations of India are not yet separate countries is because Nehru passed a bill in early 60’s that made it illegal to cede from the country. Likewise, every ruling coalition guards its interests. That’s the reason why all political parties want this reservation to go on, not as a revolutionary step—but as a conservative step to prevent the alternative.
Is there a Quicker Alternative?
The young inspired idiots who think they are some medical scholars should get the political maturity to understand that there cannot be a better government for them than the current UPA. At least Manmohan Singh can use his so-called leftist pimps to silence the Dalit resentments in India. In the other case, if they fail to do that (and Lord Ram forbid, Advani must be chanting) a massive revolution of the landless against the landlords in India could result not only in abolition of those medical coaching centers, but also in revamping of the healthcare system completely.
Five decades ago, the US thought Cubans were no good other than being sex slaves and sugarcane farmers. Fidel Castro got the support of his revolutionary people to change the country into one of the best healthcare haven known in the world history (even better than the US itself)! It’s because Cuba did not have an elite medical education, nor did it distinguish between people of different jobs. Yes, the media reports have denounced Cuba because the doctors get less pay there than the peons get paid in Indian government offices. But what the heck, doctors in Cuba have demonstrated highest human concerns (even to a Katrina crisis that US could not handle), whereas for all we know, India has one of the worst healthcare systems in the recorded world history that ignore the poor people systematically who cannot pay their fees.
If the medicos do not heed to their politically powerful friends in both ruling and opposition (as if there is a difference between Manmohan Singh and LK Advani!), they will soon be unable to withstand the abolition of elitist structure of higher education. Once higher education will be massified, and will be available for free to all (deservedly so), they can no longer monopolize over the professions and they can no longer demand French wines from Pharmaceutical companies to prescribe illicit drugs! My friends who are Pharma sales representatives have given me rides to clinics of doctors in big cities of India, where they demand for gifts ranging from liquor to flight tickets to call girls! Oh those merit-based established Brahmin doctors of India!
The Taboo Question: Do Doctors deserve the Hype?
With all these talks of merit and education, the medical practitioners in India are impaired by skills. Engineering and medical colleges in India are institutes of big fraudulent activities. Seats are blocked, sold and malpractices in examinations are so rampant that even the college principals have to call off the examinations. Why “Munnabhai MBBS” movie became such approved despite being an unoriginal flick is because people have lost trust on the doctors as a whole. Visit any medical and one finds unattended patients rolling down on the floor for days. Only those who have money or power are lucky enough to procure a bed inside the hospital. People die on the hospital corridors every passing day because doctors simply refuse to look at them. The AIIMS, where one protestor was allegedly killed (another media hype which could turn out to be false) is a place where thousands of critical patients are without beds, where to get a doctor appointment one needs to wait for weeks, and where dozens of people die on daily basis because of inefficient care even before being admitted! The private hospitals like Apollo are so expensive that even Americans would prefer the state hospital of Baltimore county.
India, the country to second largest population in the world is mired by healthcare issues from the beginning. Brahminical stress on female infanticide and the expensive screening of unborn gender are a regular inhuman practice. Historically “merit”-orious doctors have history of neglect that have no known parallels, in terms of sheer magnitude.
The myth of merit being attached to doctors is one which also needs to be shattered. Democratization (proper representation of backward castes which form the majority) and not professionalization (elitism) holds the key if we want any change for the good.
In the meantime, I am saddened to notice that many well-meaning people have actually found their Princess Diana in the medical students’ strikes. It’s glamorous. Pretty faces holding slogans any day get more prominence in media than black-faced coal mine workers. Or the landless tribals who get killed for defending their rights, or even the students who demand reservations because they are discriminated on grounds of merit. After all, just like caste, Merit is also a human construct.
Caste and Merit: Two sides of the same Coin?
What’s interesting is that both caste and merit were devised by the upper class Brahmins. When it suited them to rule over others, they used ‘Caste’ and aided the Kings in exploiting the masses. Those were the days when even the ‘poor’ Brahmins were comfortable being poor, because they gained respect ONLY by renouncing their wealth. People from villages to royal palace would continuously garland them with gifts and foods, and those poor Brahmins would not have to toil on fields and even if they did not own a palace they had unrestricted access to any house they wanted to visit, to rape lower caste virgins or to ‘banish’ lower caste rebels.
When the feudal society was “replaced” by capitalistic one (not entirely though as we learn more) by the same ruling class, the terms changed slightly. The moving money started ruling, instead of the concrete lands. At this juncture also, the ruling class (including the Brahmins) started monopolizing over the money since modern money economy also germinated from Gold (their traditional ownership) than crops (the farmers’ produce, although that also took place in lands owned by the landlords).
But with the revolution of the landless once again to cause imbalance of ruling structure, money found itself in slightly more democratic structure (just as the historic progression of everything else). Here is where some Brahmins and members of other ruling classes fell prey to competition. Before all the palaces and the institutions were about to be conquered by the hitherto landless class, the ruling coalition devised the Class Society.
The sustenance of Class Society:
Class Society in Democratic systems work in a hegemonist way, to facilitate power consolidation in the society on basis of “Knowledge”, another traditional weapon of the ruling class. Here also, the only ones who benefited were the small elites. But when the most accessible ones (the applications or the Arts) could be understood by the majority, the ruling elites raised the bar for the most inaccessible ones –only with the aim to exclude people, not include—(the principles or the Sciences).
At this juncture, the traditionally landless people are now rising up to demand their share in the inaccessible sciences, to stop further gaps between them and the knowledge, not just in terms of economic costs, but also in terms of social costs of understanding. In the past, we have seen how physical sciences were hijacked by the ruling elites also by practice. Indian bomb needed to be called a Hindu Bomb for that reason! The nuclear physics that earmarked the class society helped the traditional Pandits. What has a tribal society got to do with nuclear weapons? Even if it has some constructive uses, why should the traditionally landless village dwellers bother about this when they can live peacefully with their Mother River, without disturbing “geopolitics” of “Indian subcontinent?.
But as the class society progressed in its greed, the divisions became more apparent. The modern landless of India got most affected in the whole process. Bereft of traditional education, and threatened by industrial displacements, the majority of the poor have been organizing at several places of India at several levels. But at the same time, irrespective of the local area developments, and the cooperatives, there has been such an exoticization of the backward caste people that an imagery of them becoming engineers and doctors are inviting wraths from the traditional bastion holders.
Just like the “White Men’s Burdens”, the Brahminical burden to civilize Indian population has expressed itself in bad to worse forums. One comment on a blog read, “How can you let a SC/ST doctor conduct operation”? Its not unfortunate, its actually criminal to think that someone from a lower caste who get, lets say 40 marks less than the higher caste (for various reasons spanning from absence of English heritage, to lack of malpractice, to no proximity with the professor who rather wants to give away his daughter’s hand to a fellow Brahmin aspirant doctor) will become an inferior doctor.
With the current healthcare records of India as an indicator, if nothing else, the candidates getting lower marks (which is anyway improbable) must be allowed to replace the candidates with higher marks. For the practice of medicine is not meant to be proven in its elitism of institution or certificate rankings, but in the everyday dealings with suffering people. Established doctors and enrolled medical students who have clearly demonstrated that they do not feel for the fellow suffering aspirant students, are clearly also sending out a message that they are highly insincere, insensitive and criminal when it comes to dealing with suffering patients. We do not need high-scoring candidates now, all that India needs now is skilled people with human values that champions the causes of the dispossessed. We have the majority of such well meaning people (clearly evident by the way they have been tolerating a minor Hindu supremacist rule in India since decades now) in the country. What we need is to merely train them in the elite fields to make the skills accessible to most people. Since there are a handful of opportunist professionals (like airline pilots) blackmailing the country, Indian people perhaps should request doctors from fellow third world countries for a short duration and in the meantime, fix these irresponsible doctors behind bars, and completely overhaul the current healthcare system, where they must allow no more than 5% of upper caste people to get into the profession (they will be needed for short time, since the indifferent socialites will need some counseling from those so-called doctors who can actually empathize with their midlife crises).
No more Princess Diana tears, please. What we need is addressing of the real issues that affect THE MAJORITY, not the minority. When Bolsheviks came to power they had to overlook the pains caused to beautiful daughters of the royal families. When peasant revolutionaries of India chased the Kings down the streets, they did not spare the innocent children of the palace either. When a revolution takes place or almost takes shape (as in Nepal) one does not have time nor patience to attend the cute royal Dianas’ pleas.
At least 80% to 95% reservations of seats in medical institutes (merely to reflect the proportion of backward caste people), if not outright revolutionary takeover of the medical colleges, is a necessity at this critical juncture. If a small minority of 5% of people could rule over the country through complete control over elite institutions (and promote divisive oppressions), then 80% of people taking over every hospital to take care of their own lot through complete control over elite institutions (to make them mass institutes, and promote majority rule) is definitely going to be a welcome relief in India.