How to become better anti-caste allies

My views on ‘The horror of Hathras’ by Spoorthy Raman.

©️ नेहा अगरवाला | Neha Agarwala

Disclaimer: My views aren’t final and I am not calling out the author. I am hoping for a discussion. I would love to be contradicted and made aware of faults in my arguments and observations. Either way, this is not a closing statement.


As a follow up of the case the write-up was based on, there have been numerous panel discussions discussing the flaws in savarṇa feminism. A few points that have been raised by dalit activists, journalists, authors, or people belonging to that community have had a very eye-opening exercise for me, a Privileged Caste ally, leading me to introspect. Through these discussions, and from increased reading about the systemic oppressions against dalit women in particular, here are a few elements in the write-up that I feel could have been avoided or edited or border across the “appropriation” culture that we as savarṇa anti-caste allies often fall victims to regardless of our best intentions.

  1. Terminology: Some from the bahujan community have rejected the terms “Upper/Higher Caste” or “Lower Caste”. They prefer the terms “Privileged/Dominant Caste” and “Depressed/Oppressed Caste”. This has been vocalised by Dr. Suraj Yengde. The impact is more powerful, in my opinion.
  1. Speaking for and speaking with: There’s no denying that the write-up comes from a very sympathetic lens. But, assuming that the author is a Privileged Caste ally, in my opinion, it is not our place to speak on behalf of the community.
    The voices of the community need to be amplified more than us pouring our felt pain/disgust on the incident. They don’t want us to speak for them, but with them. They want us to give them space, to use our privilege to uplift their social status so that their caste identity doesn’t get violated and manipulated into not letting them progress in life. It didn’t feel right that we were speaking for the community.
    Also, it adds another layer of the burden of our guilt on the community which is already dealing with way too much pain and oppression of their own.
  1. Passivity: The incident is horrible. There’s no detail in the entire case that doesn’t boil someone’s blood, and one can hear the pain with which the author is penning this down, but we have to change the narrative. We have to stop picking up the details of the case to evoke the much-required anger and empathy against casteism. We have to address the privilege, safety, protection, complicity that the rest of the people have felt or can feel even when the young soul’s body was denied an honourable cremation.
    Also, putting the entire blame on the “men” in a caste-based atrocity is wrong in my opinion. Privileged Caste men did rape her, but she was raped for her caste identity and her gender plays a secondary tool here to give vent to the Privileged Caste ego of maintaining a status quo. Almost all Privileged Caste persons are complicit in caste-based atrocities, including women. In my opinion, when speaking of caste-based gender violence, the caste angle has to be amplified more than the gender, even when both go hand in hand, because Oppressed Caste men too rape women of their caste.
  1. Distancing: The author uses the pronouns “us” and “we” to identify with the person on whom the caste-based atrocity was committed by virtue of shared gender identities. In my opinion, this isn’t right. We have to be conscious of our privilege and accept that the caste structures of this society have helped us, even if our gender faces oppression. We are still in a way better position than the bahujan community. We cannot distance ourselves from our privilege, not yet. This can be termed as partial “appropriation”.
    In a caste-based society, everything comes under scrutiny when we talk about dismantling it. Because I identify as a woman and have been or can be subjected to gender-based crimes, doesn’t make me not gain privilege from my caste. I am still in a better position than the oppressed one.
    “If you can, don’t identify with the oppressor” becomes a very privileged thing to say because identifying or not identifying does not matter. I will still hold the privilege that comes attached to my caste, which is the same as the oppressor. In my opinion, we have to stand with the oppressed but also analyse our positions in the hierarchy.
  1. “Caste she didn’t choose to be born into”: While the statement appears to be anti-casteist, it furthers the notion that if the woman had been belonging to the privileged caste, she wouldn’t have been subjected to the atrocity that was committed on her solely because of her caste. This is entirely true, but it accepts the caste structure rather than demolishing it, which we anti-casteist allies plus the ones belonging to the caste facing the oppression have been calling for. It upholds the general idea of the caste-structure which, in my opinion, we should completely dismantle.
  1. The data cited: The write-up is solely based on addressing caste-and-gender-based atrocities on dalit women, so, in my opinion, the data that should have been cited is the one by the National Crime Record Bureau (NCRB) that has found that every day 10 rape crimes committed on dalit women were reported in 2019. This ensures that the specificity of the casteist nature of the crime is not lost.
  1. The solutions: The solutions offered by the author are very humanistic, which in the long run are the solutions, but at the same time, we need to acknowledge that caste-based atrocity is systemic oppression which involves the entire state machinery, political forces, and resistance from the privilege-caste, to keep manifesting. The need of the hour is more and more representatives from the bahujan community in positions of power so that they can stand up for their community because the oppression at present is costing them their lives. While I do agree with the author’s idea of a humanitarian approach, I differ in the urgency of that approach. The urgency is making space for the people belonging to these communities. And destroying the entire caste system, which would inevitably mean blowing up the entire religion into shreds because it is so deeply intertwined together. In my opinion, it’s time we do what babasahēb had called for, “annihilate” Caste.

In conclusion, it is a personal-political choice that the author has every liberty to make, and they can take a stand that they feel so deeply for — but, in my opinion, we have to focus more on our privilege and be extremely careful about what we speak and through what lens. Our lived realities are starkly different from the people of the Oppressed Castes, and the more I read about it, the more I become cognizant of my safe space in the society.

While we focus on our privilege and call out our inherent casteism and the casteism of the society we live in, we help the bahujan-s in a much more constructive manner. Meanwhile, we let them speak, we let them occupy spaces that have been denied to them, and we dismantle the entire caste system from its very roots, together.

Below, I am attaching the references that have guided my opinions.

  1. Notes on Allyship From an Anti-Caste Savarna
  2. I want to say her name, force to look us within
  3. The Discreet Charm of the Savarnas | Short Film | Comedy
  4. Reading of ‘Annihilation of Caste’ by B. R. Ambedkar
  5. Dr. Suraj Yengde on his book ‘Caste Matters’, Dalit representation, and caste deniers | NL Interview
  6. ‘Cultural Suicide Bomber’: a video on Twitter by @surajyengde
  7. ‘How to be an anti-caste ally if you are an upper-caste’: a thread on Twitter by @sankul333

Jai Bhim!


References

  1. Pass The Mic – Suraj Yengde On Why Caste Matters | Faye D’Souza
  2. Dr. Suraj Yengde
  3. NCRB Data Says Atrocities Against SCs, STs Increased by 7.3% and 26.5% in 2019

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