“I know the alternative policy of adopting the line of least resistance. I am convinced that it will be ineffective in the matter or uprooting untouchability. The silent infiltration of rational ideas among the ignorant mass of caste Hindus cannot, I am sure, work for the elevation of the depressed classes. First of all, the cate Hindus like all human beings follows his customary conduct in observing untouchability towards the Depressed Classes. Ordinarily people do not give up their customary mode of behavior because somebody is preaching against it. But when that customary mode or behavior has or is believed to have behind it the sanction of religion mere preaching, if it is not resented and resisted, will be allowed to waft along the wind without creating any effect on mind. The salvation of Depressed Classes will come only when the Caste Hindu is made to think and forced to feel that he must alter his ways. For that you must create a crisis by direct action against his customary code of conduct. The crisis will compel him to think and once he begins to think he will be more ready to change than he is otherwise likely to be. The great defect in the policy of lease resistance and silent infiltration of rational ideas lies in this that they do not compel thought, for they do not produce crisis.”
Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar in What Congress and M.K. Gandhi have done to the Untouchables
For us Dalits, grief and rage comes together in times like these. It is confusing what to feel and there is also a burden to display it. As much this writing deals with both, it is not about the wretchedness present in the lives of dalit women. This piece of writing does not emphasize upon the details on how the Hathras Rape victim Manisha Balmiki was raped, or rather it does not allude to the details of brutal rape committed by the Thakurs. Since the Hathras Rape Case has gotten the media attention, we have seen a selective liberal audience talking about caste which is otherwise casteist in their own convenient private spaces. This is not an attack on the Upper caste liberals. Just like thousands of Upper Castes have made the Hathras Rape case and their subject of discussion, of study, of their catharsis, similarly what this writing does is to make these reactionary behaviors from the Upper castes its subject.
Even though I am not going to talk about the details of the brutality, I want to highlight the details of the Public Outrage seen all over the country. Though, in the history of the anti-caste movement, Dalit women have time and again have talked and documented the peculiarities of their struggle and their resistance. Although, this may be the first time that this subject is being discussed in the mainstream by media houses and is a part of a dominant public discourse. In the media by news reporters as well as in the social media, I noticed some repetitive tropes in the reactions by the Savarna feminist women and other Upper Caste Liberals in general. These factions of people are the focus of this piece and I will be talking about them more in detail. Details which we often miss because we are busy focusing on the details of the rape and the dalit subject.
When I started looking at the various subjects, there were primarily three kinds of reaction. Firstly, the Hindu Right which does not really believe in the Rape or the Caste-atrocity and stand by the Thakurs who belongs to the Katju’s point of view as seen in his recent post. This faction stands by the Thakurs as their caste loyalties lie with them. I want to eliminate this first reaction as it is a mockery of itself.
Secondly, I have seen another faction which perpetrates caste by saying that there is no caste in this violence and it must be recognized as merely a sexual violence. These consists majorly of the urban Upper Castes who have never experienced a caste-based violence owing to their privilege and they do not want to acknowledge their caste not only because they don’t have to see it but also because confronting caste disturbs their privilege producing cycle. However, they believe that they live in a sexist and patriarchal society. They feel with utmost sincerity that women must not be raped. They have also supported in naming Manisha Balmiki as the “daughter of the nation” and claimed that you cannot rape the daughter of the nation. They critique Katju and their kinds and this makes them feel better about themselves. Several Dalit Feminists and Dalits activists in general have appeared in dominant media houses and have insisted on not only the presence of caste but rightly talked about caste as an active agent in this caste-based atrocity. Unfortunately, so much time and energy is spent in just making people realise that caste even had a role to play in an atrocity where the whole atrocity is based upon and motivated by the hindu caste system.
Thirdly, there is the third category of Upper Caste liberals who are acknowledging caste in this sexual violence, are horrified by the Rape and feeling a sudden disgust by the current social system. They are against the first category of course, against the fascistic forces of BJP. All over the media and the social media, their reactions have been filled with shock, disgust as well as horror. I will be talking more in details about this section.
They are also doing their best to critique the Yogi Government of Uttar Pradesh, the judiciary and courts and the BJP. Little do they realise that making this Caste-based sexual violence just as a means to critique BJP and Hindutva and simultaneously forgetting that Hinduism and its Caste system is just another means to deviate the focus. However, it is true that the UP government and the State machineries do have a vital role to play but the tools which drive the State in this particular case is the Hindu Caste System. The brigade of Yogi and BJP Government amplifies the agendas and the structure of the caste system propagated by Manu, by hindu scriptures, by Gandhi.
One has to pause and understand that there is a fundamental difference in the critique of the State which comes from a liberal/Marxist standpoint opposed to a dalit/bahujan standpoint. Yes, we must attack the fascist forces of BJP with rage but however as dalits, for us the hindu caste system and fascism does not fall too far from each other. Hence, talking about one without another is fruitless. The critique of the State from a dalit standpoint which uses the characteristics of the Hindu Religion and Caste must uncover the dual standard version of critiquing an “ultra version” of Hinduism and rebranding it as Fascism or Hindutva. Savarnas must ask themselves, what are the contents of this fascism which BJP entails? What are the motives of this Fascism? Is it possible to be a hindu, celebrate certain tenets of Hinduism and be anti-fascistic? Moreover, along with BJP and Yogi, people have been reiterating the word Hindutva when talking about Hathras. What is the difference, if there is any, between the caste system propagated by Hindutva than the caste system propagated by a “simple hindu religion” Hinduism, if any?
Now, this faction of Savarna outrage while acknowledging caste also believe with utmost sincerity that dalit women must not be raped. We witnessed words like “unbelievable’, “horror”, “disgusted”, “heartbroken”, “enoughisenough” and similar equally horrific words which have been common to a lot of upper castes in their social media opinions as well as in TV media. The element of horror put to use by these upper caste reactionaries reveal to us what is important to them, what they essentially take from this. The particularity of this case in Hathras, Uttar Pradesh with the mutilation of the victim’s tongue along with her death and the helplessness of herself and her family has been jolted upon very much by them. The insistence on the brutality has served these Savarnas in many ways. It has served as a shock element which is a wake-up call about the existence of Caste. But where? Where does the caste exist? In their homes or in rural Uttar Pradesh? Do they know that it exists in modern institutions? I am eager to know.
One can see that the distance between their house and rural Uttar Pradesh say Hathras calms them down. It helps them settle down and critique something so distant from their homes, a setting which is almost completely opposite to the setting of their homes. Their gated communities reassure them that it shall not turn like the rural UP ever. Furthermore, the brutality and the barbaric elements of this caste-based crime also forwards it towards its exceptionality. For them, the violence is so grotesque and exceptional, it is almost from another world. This extreme brutal caste violence is heightened against the form of everyday casteism they themselves participate in. They might turn their backs to acknowledge the amount of casteism they produce and reproduce through their everydayness in their modern urban settings. It is as if the Hathras case is so fulfillingly and satisfactorily immersed in violence and wretchedness that that they do not have an option but to acknowledge caste.
It is more and more convenient now to talk about caste because the crime has been able to crush the subject of dalit woman up until her death. Sharing and looking at the pictures of Manisha in her most violated, feeble and vulnerable phase allows pity to flow through because the emotion of pity comes very easily for Dalits by them. Why not share pictures of violent Thakurs? It is actually very easy for them to pity the dalits than to confront the perpetrators. To comfort and pity dalits allows them to place themselves at an elevated podium of an exclusive righteous place. Righteousness by meaning is a virtue with brahminical tendencies which allows them to put themselves as a purer form of human being, emotionally and spiritually as Manu said. This righteous elevation of their selves is possible because of the brutality and the violence on dalit women. At the same time, this brahminical pure and righteous insistence blinds them to the horrors committed by their own caste. So a conversation like “lets talk about Thakurs” does not replace “lets talk about dalits”.
However, a problem soon occurs when they are dealing with caste in modern institutions like Universities, their homes, their workplace, their restaurants, their gated communities, their food, their resumes, their degrees, their popular culture, their leisure, their partners, their friends. They have a problem when they encounter a dalit who is smarter than them in universities, at a better position at their workplace, or in an equal position. It posits a threat to them.
Making the conversation about caste centered around the brutal caste-based sexual violence case produces a convenient and unyielding passive conversation about dalit subjects at their feeblest and most vulnerable point. In their minds, saying that dalit women must not be raped, mutilated and murdered encounters as a very radical notion. I have seen many people known to me or otherwise with a casteist past about reservations or any political right which allows Dalits to stand equal to them writing ceaselessly about the brutal violence unleashed on Dalits. To produce a remotely productive conversation around Caste, these savarnas must talk about caste to their families and friends which exists within their spaces rather than somewhere in rural UP. Talk about caste does not have to translate into talking about dalits, talk about your surname, about your caste, about where you come from, how much property you own, how educated were your parents and grandparents, how much of your academic language do your parents grasp, how does the talk of purity/impurity happen at your home, why are your gods your gods? They must ask themselves, is Hathras rape the only way you are willing to stand for dalits? Only when the subject position satisfies your definition of violence by being in her most vulnerable form, in her absence, in her death?
Vaishali Khandekar is a dalit researcher at IIT Hyderabad. Email: email@example.com