Letters to the editor
selection of readers' opinions about Devdutt Pattanaik's article on how
free speech and political correctness prevent India from having an
honest discussion about caste.
· Jan 27, 2016 · 07:30 pm
Dear Mr Pattanaik
death of Rohith Vemula at the University of Hyderabad has brought forth
a surge of support for the anti-caste movement from a variety of
individuals, many of whom are from dominant castes ("The two factors
that prevent India from having an honest discussion about caste").
support has pivoted on the struggles of luminaries such as BR Ambedkar,
Jyotiba Phule and Savitribai Phule, acknowledging one’s own caste (and
therefore oppressor) status, and admitting that Dalit-Bahujan people
face the worst caste violence, and hence, they should lead the struggle.
you are the first to point out the “problems” of upper caste people
when they deign to support people like us – how we don’t welcome the
support with open arms, how we’re wary of the sudden love after
centuries of oppression and how we’re gagging the “powerful” – though
I’m not sure how that’s a bad thing, even if true.
begin with an account of how caste came to be – “there is no oppression
in the world, only hierarchy” – a controversial and oft-discredited
theory of the French anthropologist, Louis Dumont.
say, “Hierarchies are inescapable and eternal… any attempt to overturn
the prevailing hierarchy will only create chaos and end up creating just
I’m not sure how to read that
statement other than an endorsement of the violent caste system, with
you saying that any attempt at an equal and just society is bound to
activists aren’t trying to upend the order, they’re trying to demolish
it – creating a society where individuals and communities aren’t
discriminated and killed based on their birth and choices, where access
to resources is just and equitable, and where freedoms aren’t curtailed
based on appearance. If this isn’t reconcilable with your hierarchies,
then so be it.
You further go on to talk about how
we’re reading caste wrong – as a violation of the social contract,
instead of “inevitable” hierarchy. This again, is familiar: reducing the
real-life struggles of millions of people to an “epistemological”
problem. Not that there isn’t a wealth of lower caste literature on
caste, but none of that paints it as inevitable or says that if one
can’t handle hierarchy, one needs to step out.
we haven’t understood caste – as if the thousands of people who are
dying as a result of the system don’t comprehend it better than you and I
– because of free speech and political correctness.
you then reduce free speech to your apparent right to hold forth on
caste, complaining how people like us are stopping you from your
god-given (or is it birth) right to educate the oppressed on caste.
sorry to disappoint but there is no such right, though that hasn’t
stopped dominant caste scholars from silencing lower caste voices and
crowding them out of voicing their own oppression.
your assertion, members of privileged communities can speak about caste
but we only ask them to foreground the oppression meted out by their
brethren to millions of people over centuries who have had limited
access to health, education, social resources and wealth.
Pushed to the margins
cannot explain caste, one can only condemn it – condemn it for
stripping people of basic human dignity, of killing men, women and
children, of violently suppressing struggles and disenfranchising
everyone except a handful of privileged caste Hindus.
an upper caste person of appropriating the movement comes from this
memory of silencing and discrimination, where scholars have examined
caste without examining their own privileges and complicity in the
Despite the wealth of lower caste
literature, Dalit Bahujan academics find it difficult to exist in
universities and are seldom published. Our much-beloved shops rarely
stock any books by lower caste persons, and we don’t acknowledge their
Unlike your statement, millions of lower
caste people are taking back Hinduism from the violence of upper caste
traditions, re-imagining the epics and festivals, and asserting our
right to public and religious spaces.
The death of
Rohith Vemula has seen a surge of support, but most of these tend to put
their own statements and justifications front and centre, instead of
focusing on the powerful life and struggle of the student. It is no
accident that much of this self-righteous assertion comes from upper
caste scholars and academics trying to use the movement to again crowd
out lower caste voices. This is what we are against. – Dhrubo Jyoti
Dear Mr Pattanaik
am not sorry to say that your piece is rather silly and banal in its
outlook, and obviously in its content. You have viewed the problems of
casteism from a delusional standpoint and tried to appear liberal.
Attempting to introduce your article with hints of drawing a genealogy
is completely moronic.
I hope when you wrote about the
first side of story, where culture is a contract, you have possibly
tried to talk about the Social Contract Theory, propagated by Hobbes,
Locke and Rousseau. If that is what you have tried to talk about, please
read those texts again. Firstly, they say nothing about what you have
written. Secondly, there are several criticisms of the theory too, thus
making it redundant in a way. Kindly update yourself. The point is not
that the breach in the contract leads to oppression, but that the mere
existence of the contract causes the oppression.
your shallow paragraph laden with hopes of a revolution, you have tried
to put across your revolutionary, Marxist outlook. But trust me, anyone
who has read Karl Marx could figure out the shallowness and lack of
knowledge. You merely repeated certain words, which even a child who
reads a little of the newspaper or listens to elders can say. It is true
that the revolution will come and at any given time and era, a
revolution is needed. But will you wait for one and help your
hierarchical system, as you belong to that category?
mentioned a revolution inspired by messiah or messenger of god. Why did
you need to include the rational scientific leader, if messiahs are
here? If you have also read world history other than Hindu texts, then
you should know that revolutions in the world have always been brought
or initiated by either the workers, labourers, or the people from lower
strata of the society (read oppressed), or the students - never by a
messiah. Are you trying to say that the birth of Christianity and Islam
World of hierarchy
agree that Hinduism and capitalism work on the basis of hierarchy. But
if hierarchy is “inescapable and eternal,” then conflict and resistance
will always be inescapable and eternal against this very existence of
hierarchy. As long as there is hierarchy, there will be conflict. Then
why did you say that hierarchy is inevitable, thus hinting that we, the
people of India should agree with it? Why not at least attempt to resist
You said: “Any attempt to overturn the prevailing
hierarchy will only create chaos and end up creating just another
hierarchy. Hierarchies are inescapable and eternal. Those who cannot
handle the hierarchy need to step out, either physically like an
indifferent monk, or psychologically, like a detached yet engaged
I somewhat agree with the first sentence.
Why not have an entirely different hierarchy, where the upper castes for
a change switch roles with the lower caste? For several centuries,
upper castes have enjoyed superiority over the rest. Let the opposite
side enjoy those fruits that have been denied to them since time
immemorial. They are the base of the society, upon which the
superstructure of upper caste can comfortably dwell. Let for once let
the upper caste people go down to the bottom, do all the laborious,
scavenging jobs and struggle for once just to survive with dignity.
can you please explain what you meant when you said that “those who
cannot handle it should step out”? Are you trying to say like Rohith
Vemula, they all should die? What if we neither step out, nor get to
grips with the hierarchical system?
I agree that the
caste system is borne out of your second story of hierarchy. But aren’t
you too committing the same mistake you are accusing us of:
understanding football with the logic of cricket? I don’t think caste
can be explained in any other way other than a hierarchical system,
which perpetrates only violence in the name of maintaining law and
order. It is nothing but an oppressive and exploitative system. But I
can surely see from where you have drawn your inspiration, which clearly
lays bare your ideological leanings.
free speech was never created to give voice to the opposition. Do you
seriously not know the history of the world? There is a subtle
difference between “free speech” and “free flow of information and
communication”. Free speech is a right, given to us by our Constitution,
which says that any citizen of India (definitely not just the upper
caste and class) has the right to voice their thoughts and opinions,
provided the public order is maintained.
What you have
written in your article is basically the second thing: free flow of
communication, which definitely is not made for opposition, but for the
powerful to grasp even more power as they have more capital to invest.
the lower strata will lose themselves in just finding a niche amidst
all other powerful people, who dominate the communication field by the
virtue of owning a lot more privileges and capital to sustain it.
current government is only interested in disciplining the people of
India (Read: lower caste and class, and the minority) and not
encouraging them much (indirectly) to have an access to education or a
The government is only curbing the original and
unique intellect of students so that this kind of protest (chaos, as
you called it) should never happen anywhere. The more you people will
try to discipline us, the more we will create chaos, until and unless
you realise and understand the inherent discipline amidst the chaos.
date, very few people have spoken properly about caste. Ambedkar could
do so long ago. One needs to understand caste fully and then talk. It is
only then that the problem will be clearer.
tell you in short what caste is. Caste is an epidemic; it only kills, is
vast and the sufferer dies with no control over the situation at all.
The caste system is based on nothing else but exploitation and
oppression. It is disgraceful and is devoid of anything to do with
humanity. And there can be only one reason to study or understand caste,
which is how to demolish the entire system from its very roots. It
needs to be killed, not nurtured.
And before I take
your leave, your prescription on understanding caste is wrong as you
have wrongly diagnosed the disease. – Ankhi Mukherjee
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