Navigating the Great Caste Divide

‘Don’t generalise’ is the response I get when I try to convey the reality of my life and the lives of many like me to my friends. That reality may not be the same in every part of India, but calling a spade a spade is not what we do here. We seldom say the truth, we often forget the truth and, more often than not, we don’t really say what we feel.

The truth is that we are not a single, united, homogenous country, There are hundreds of different versions of India. People are divided by religion, caste, region, language, gender and much more.

But in my opinion, the most divisive factor that can blind a sane eye is caste. When it comes to caste, even the most educated people in this country lose their conscience and behave like monsters.

I’m an engineering student currently applying for my Masters degree. I’m a Buddhist by birth, but I’m a Dalit at the end of the day.

In India, the question, “Who are you” often takes centrestage as everything functions based on caste and social status.  One document is sent to the next office for its due course in a democracy, but in India a document goes to the next intended office at a velocity that is directly proportional to the document owner’s caste.

“Why so much negativity?”, is what my friends ask when I share such a reality with them. But as they are from upper castes. they don’t have much of an idea of what a normal, ordinary, common Dalit person has to go through to get a certificate or a minor document. But I don’t blame them for being unaware. After all, they inhabit a different India than I do.

My personal experience with collecting documents and marksheets has been terrible. It was the first time I came across the humiliation I once heard about from my parents, who faced a lot more in their time. All the same, it still leaves one traumatised, and takes a toll on mental health. It also affects your physical health and makes you a hardened pessimist as you have seen the true viciousness of the world. The caste-related slurs, the judging gazes, the callous approach, the appalling insensitivity – it all forces you to question: “Why me? Is it because I’m a Dalit?”

Eventually, you’re played like a ping pong ball, oscillating from one office to another. You’re deliberately kept waiting for hours, processes are delayed for days and sometimes months. Ultimately, you feel like a joke.

I know things won’t change. This is the world we live in, and however much my educated parents try to protect me, I know caste-based humiliation is bound to me for life.

What truly haunts me is the fact that neither our education system nor our people in India have done much to put an end to this social evil of caste politics. My friends say things are changing but taking one step forward to jump back ten times is not what one can call ‘change’.

A friend suggested I “prepare for civil services and change the system for good” because he believes becoming a civil services officer or a collector is the ‘answer’. It might be in the short run, but it can never be the answer to our problems.

At the end of the day, we are a minority and that is the harsh truth. The ruling class has no intention of uplifting the socially suppressed, downtrodden and underprivileged. Everyone has their hidden, self-serving agendas.

The so-called upper castes live in a world of power and status with a heavy filter of self-entitlement wherein they feel and believe they’re superior to the rest of the Indian citizens but they cleverly hide it behind the mask of outlandish, loud and jingoistic nationalism.

All said and done, I still wipe my eyes every time ‘Maa Tujhe Salaam’ plays somewhere and I get goosebumps when Virat Kohli wins a match for India. But as I grow older, each day I see new bruises rise and my light dim some more.

As Dr.B.R Ambedkar said, “Educate, organise and agitate.” It is the only hope we have that still stands true to this day. All I can do is educate myself, connect with like-minded sensible people and raise my voice with hope for the downtrodden and underprivileged. It’s tough, but it starts with one!

Vision Shinde has worked as a User Experience (UX) writer and is in the process of applying for his masters. He completed his engineering degree from VIT, Pune, in 2021.

Featured image: Pariplab Chakrabarty