A New Order
27 September, 2005
as this might sound, several constituents of Indian society are turning
abnormal. Unnoticed by sociologists, this exceptional phenomenon is
taking place on a mass scale.
was foreseen by no less than Pt Jawaharlal Nehru. Who argued: "Sir
George Birdwood has said: 'So long as the Hindus hold to the caste system,
India will be India. But from the day they break from it, there will
be no more India. That glorious peninsula will be degraded to the position
of a bitter East End of the Anglo-Saxon Empire.' With caste or without
it, we have long been degraded to that position in the British Empire;
and, in any event, whatever our future position is likely to be, it
will not be confined within the bounds of that empire.
But there is some
truth in what Sir George Birdwood said, though he probably did not look
at it from this point of view. The break-up of a huge and long standing
social organisation may well lead to a complete disruption of social
life, resulting in absence of cohesion, mass suffering and the development
on a vast scale of abnormalities in individual behaviour, unless some
other social structure, more suited to the times and to the genius of
the people, takes its place. Perhaps disruption is inevitable during
the transition; there is enough of this disruption all over the world
today. Perhaps it is only through the pain and suffering that accompany
such disruption that a people grow and learn the lessons of life and
adapt themselves anew to changing conditions." (Discovery of India)
not yet been able to explain why a Dalit bridegroom riding a horse is
stoned. Normal human behaviour demands that a wedding procession be
cheered, unless there has been violent tension between the bridegroom's
family and those who stone the procession. But in Haryana, Rajasthan
and western UP, in an otherwise harmonious social situation, a Dalit
marriage procession is often stoned should the bridegroom decide to
ride a horse. The elderly, children, women and men all join in the melee.
A Dalit wearing sunglasses cannot safely walk the streets of a Tamil
aren't exceptions either. Ask a liberal newspaper editor to choose between
allowing a Dalit writer to write on his opinion page or be shot dead
and it is quite possible that for a fraction of a second, he might consider
the latter option. A liberal captain of Indian industry, a post-modern
Bollywood filmmaker and a subaltern academic don might just turn out
to be like the editor in their own ways, with a few exceptions.
This too is Gohana,
Indians have a
stereotyped image of the "standard" Dalit: ill-fed, dry skinned,
sunken eyed, half bent, with a broom in hand, or a piece of farm equipment.
Affirmative action through government jobs has produced about five million
Dalit/tribal households, or about 25 million Dalit individuals, who
spend over Rs 300 billion annually. Most of them, therefore, have transcended
the stereotyped Dalit image - they are now well dressed, fairly well
fed, and have a glitter in their eyes. But in the eyes of others, these
are "unusual" Dalits.
This image of the
unusual Dalit, therefore, hurts non-Dalits. And the feeling accumulates.
It requires a spark for violence to erupt. The Jats of Gohana are actually
victims of their own preconceptions. The inhabitants of the Dalit homes
in Gohana, it was rumoured, possessed televisions, refrigerators and
music systems. The killing of a Jat youth provided that spark. Lest
"abnormality" take its toll, the Jats burnt and devastated
the Dalit locality. This act restores some "semblance of normalcy"
in their scheme of things.
The urban India
of the Brahmins has other reasons as well as other ways of restoring
"normalcy". They did not expect job reservations to create
a class of Dalits who would head for the dance floors of swanky hotels
or zoom past on designer bikes. It would amount to misusing job quotas
if Dalit women were seen buying Kanchipuram silk sarees.
According to their
point of view, a Dalit CEO, editor or news anchor would, therefore,
misuse his or her privilege should affirmative action for Dalits be
introduced in the private sector. The Brahmin would, howsoever enlightened,
be agonised by the mere sight of an unusual Dalit.
There is a special
place for Pt Nehru in modern Indian history. Not only because he was
India's first prime minister, but also because he introduced a modicum
of decency to the freedom struggle and became a symbol of modernity,
science and industrialisation.
If Pt Nehru is
indispensable to modern Indian history, how then can we ignore his views
on the caste question, particularly when he had anticipated happenings
such as Gohana? As foreseen by the great man, "mass suffering"
and "abnormalities" are a reality today as the caste system
is breaking down. India therefore must rise, and remedy the situation
on a priority basis.
Either we construct
an alternative social structure, more suited to the times and to the
genius of the people, or join the Gohana Jats in burning down Dalit
aspirations. And that would mean burning down one-fourth of India. If
we fail to choose a path, the abnormality will take its toll. In turn,
impacting the other three-fourths.