Early on Monday morning Telegraph brought us a story that Mahatma Gandhi is all set to become the first non-white to feature on the UK money. The Royal Mint Advisory Committee has taken this decision following a campaign in the UK. The campaign advocates giving space to black, Asian, and ethnic minorities (BAME) on the British money in recognition of their “profound contribution to the shared history of the United Kingdom”.
While reading the story, a few questions came up in my mind. If Mahatma Gandhi is going to feature on the UK currency, when will non-Brahmin radicals appear on the Indian money? When will Birsa Munda, Savitribai-Jyotiba Phules, Babasaheb Ambedkar, E. V. Ramasamy, popularly known as Periyar, Bhagat Singh, Udham Singh, Fatima Shaikh, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, Hasrat Mohani, and others get represented on our money?
The state-sponsored historians have paid inadequate attention to the contributions of the radicals from the marginalized communities. They have mostly written history centred around a few “heroes” and a “single party”. The Hindutva forces, having captured the state power, have stopped further low. They are thrusting upon us communal and Brahminical figures as “national heroes”. Amid this, the ray of hope is the radical social and political movements. We owe it to them that we know about subaltern radicals and their contributions.
It is here proposed that the development in the UK should be used as a peg for launching a new movement for resisting exclusion and marginalization. The Indian Constitution and anti-colonial history are with us.
Our constitution asserts that India belongs to all, irrespective of caste, religion, and gender. The idea of India is diversity and pluralism. History is witness to the fact that all castes, communities, and regions – not only Brahmins – have sacrificed their lives during anti-colonial struggles.
But the power in the post-Independence India has been monopolized by Brahmins and a few upper castes. Visit any institution, you would feel their dominance. From a religious institution (such as temples) to the secular institutions (such as Parliament, judiciary, media, film industry), they are ruling the roost.
The marginalized communities, on the other hand, are mostly labourers and workers. While the upper castes are over-represented in bureaucracy and educational institutes, the lower castes and religious minorities have a high share in jails. While the communal ideology flows from the mind of the upper castes, the victims of the communal fires are mostly religious minorities and lower castes.
But have positive” changes not been made? True, a good number of lower castes have been able to enter legislative assemblies and Parliament. But it is equally true that they have not been given space to express their views by the big political parties. The control is so firm at the political organization that the members from the Dalit community and Muslim minority do not dare to open their mouth even if the interests of their communities are at stake.
Numerically speaking, Dalit and Muslim communities are large social groups but they have not been able to become the Prime Minister. Similarly, Dalits and Muslims have found it difficult to become the home ministers and the chief ministers. It has to do with deep-rooted inequality and prejudice in society.
Contrary to lower castes and Muslims, Brahmins are numerically smaller castes. Yet, most of the prime ministers have been Brahmins. Similarly, most of the recipients of the Bharat Ratna, the highest civilian award, have been Brahmins. Dr. Ambedkar and Maulana Azad, whose contributions are not less than any Brahmin leader during the National Movement, had to wait for 40 years after Independence to get the award posthumously.
While the lower castes have struggled hard to get reservation, they continue to face several impediments in the path of getting it. For example, the latest figure says that 27% OBC reservation has not been fulfilled, despite it was implemented 30 years back. Shockingly, there is not a single professor at the Central Universities, selected under OBC quota. Negating these realities, the mainstream media keeps holding a discussion about how a few dominant OBC castes are “monopolizing” OBC reservations. Who can ask the editors of these media houses that they should first hold a debate about the share of Brahmins and upper castes at state intuitions, if the issue of creamy layer is so important?
Among the marginalized groups, the condition of Muslims seems to be worse on many grounds. For example, their share in Parliament is at its low since Independence. They are almost excluded from higher education, Indian administrative services and public employment. Their representation in the police is half of their population. They hardly get recruited for the top posts of security agencies as their loyalty is “suspected”. Even the “secular” political parties are hesitant to give them tickets.
They all point to the hegemony of the Brahminical forces. Perhaps, the hegemony of the upper castes has become stronger. The dominant castes and classes are smart enough to keep changing the form of dominance to deceive the people that that inequality has over and all have become equal.
But the changes in form do not necessarily mean the changes in substance. For example, political equality does not do away with social and economic inequalities. While the value of a vote of a Brahmin and a Dalit is the same but as soon as they come out of polling booth, the asymmetrical order again reappears.
In the mainstream media, the marginalized groups rarely get the top positions. The media continue to be managed by the Brahmin-Bania alliance. In the film industry, there are not many Dalits. The judiciary, similarly, does not reflect the diversity of society. The corporate world continues to be dominated by the upper castes.
The names of radical leaders, suggested above, are not comprehensive. Leaders from other marginalized communities, whose names somehow could not be mentioned above, are equally important and they should also feature on the Indian money.
Given the deep-rooted inequality, a continuous struggle has to be fought. Let’s start a new campaign for getting space for radical leaders and intellectuals from the lower castes, religious minorities, and all other deprived social groups on the Indian money.
Let’s begin a united struggle for diversity, pluralism, and inclusion.
(Abhay Kumar is a Ph.D. from Jawaharlal Nehru University. He is broadly interested in Minority Rights and Social Justice. Earlier, he held a Post-Graduate Diploma in English Journalism from Indian Institute of Mass Communication, New Delhi and worked as a reporter with The Indian Express. You may write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org)