The Casteist Elephant in the Room

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rohit-illustration-by-dwijith

In 1989, when VP Singh tried to implement the Mandal commission report, the nation witnessed unprecedented fury from upper caste Hindus. Apprehensive that the reservation policy being adopted would take away the advantage they enjoyed for thousands of years because of the intrinsically exploitative nature of the hierarchical caste order, they unleashed a virulent attack camouflaged under the garb of ‘merit’ against those who stood for social justice. Though Indian polity has undergone significant changes since liberalisation, the prejudice and hatred of the upper castes became more legitimate in character. The incidents that led University of Hyderabad’s (UOH) research scholar Rohith Vemula to take his own life throws light on how caste prejudices continue to sabotage society’s attempt towards having a system based on social justice. Though inherent in the culture, the ‘institutional murder’ of Rohith portends ominous signs because of the political position taken by the ruling party and its affiliate organisations.

One, many of the major political parties, including the Left parties, are self-declared champions of social justice. But, they have not made any concrete effort to lend political support to Dalits and Bahujans. Two, their representation at the the leadership of many of these political parties speaks volumes about the callous attitude that they depict in their ‘supposed fight’ against the caste system. Three, it has been proven by years of experience that caste discrimination can only be fought by affirmative action which includes the representation of the marginalised in political leadership and bureaucracy.

It is clear that they have branded activists of Ambedkar Students Association as anti-nationals because they politically questioned the judicial system that perpetuated death sentences and fought against beef bans that smacked of caste prejudice. Since, the constitution of university bodies do not have adequate representation from the marginalised communities, it is relatively easy to target them. After the NDA came to power, there have been several such instances where students groups named after Ambedkar or Periyar were targeted. Thus, the MHRD’s interference in student politics would not have been possible had there been no such ‘autonomous’ governing bodies filled with people who have the same positions as that of the rulers.

Now the onus is on political parties to introspect and acquire the necessary political will to use the present atmosphere to make amends. Until this is done, a large section of the society will continue to feel that their birth was but a ‘fatal accident’.