Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Casuistry of Caste-ism

When two major instances of the underpinning proclivities in the middle-class understanding of the caste-ism prevalent in modern political discourse in India thrust themselves upon the present national psyche, it is appropriate that we study its consequences on the civic idea of what caste means in the country today, at least amongst those of us currently in a position to examine its ideological repercussions for the society we presently live in.

The instances I refer to are:
(1)  the continuance in office by the Chief Minister of the state of Karnataka amidst serious allegations of his misuse of power in the allocation of notified government land to his family members, and...
(2) the impending results of the state government elections in the state of Bihar where the incumbent Chief Minister has, by all verifiable accounts, reversed decades of irresponsible governance and set what people still think of as India’s most backward state, on the path to modernity.

When the Chief Minister of Karnataka says that he will not abide by the diktats of various politicians all baying for his blood because of his corrupt conduct, it has been revealed that what he really means is that his community from the Lingayat caste will not tolerate one from amongst their own ranks to be singled out as the fall guy for the rampant abuse of power that has characterized the present government’s record of governance so far. Furthermore, the Chief Minister’s supporters (meaning other Lingayat-caste MLAs from the party in power) have made it clear that they will withdraw support to any future government where their leader is not the immediately cognizable face of government, and thereby plunge the state into another indeterminate period of political uncertainty.

When the Chief Minister of Bihar says during campaigning that what he represents is not his Kumri caste but the common aspirations of all Biharis, and that what the state has achieved during his tenure at the helm of affairs in one of the most, hitherto, notoriously ungovernable realms in India, far outweighs his predecessor’s cynical undermining of the rule of law by tethering his political star to the time-tested practice of playing one fractious religious community over another and by declaring himself above reproach by aligning with secular forces in the common fight against the spread of religious extremism... what he really means is that it really doesn’t matter anymore to the so far disenfranchised, undernourished and illiterate masses of poor - that the state of Bihar has a leader from amongst their (dominant or not-dominant as the case may be) caste. They need their water, electricity, schools and rule of law… and want them fast.

It is illuminating that when one researches the economic and social realities of present-day Lingayats and Kumris within their respective demographic regions, one finds that they are the most well-off and upwardly mobile amongst all neighboring communities with whom they share geographic and ideological domains.

What all this means for the middle-classes residing in the metropolitan regions of India today is that the idea that you are not from whence you come is not restricted to those who have come by their present-day prosperity by virtue of being born within a dominant sub-sect or caste and thereby have had the opportunities to use their privileges of education and a sense of aspiration to reach, over generations, their current levels of social gentility. There are people around (and this could be your maid and/or driver) who are not satisfied any more with what they are told is their wont in life. They closely follow the power struggles that take place in that rarefied air around the Mount Olympus-type lairs of the country’s politicians, and look closely around to see who are trying to pull the wool over their eyes when those power struggles reflect intimately their own identities in the reality of what it means to be Indian in the India of now.

Acknowledgements: My thanks to Ross Douthat for introducing me to the concept of 'casuistry' in his blog post on a very different subject.

No comments:

Post a Comment