Caste and Identity Politics


In the post-independence period in Indiaon the one hand there has been erosion in the caste system so that in certain quarters and certain fields the power of this abominable system has decreased; on the other, we see the caste organization being revitalized. This paradoxical situation has been attributed to the policy of reservation policy by some thinkers (not those who are against this policy, but co-travelers). They feel that this policy while enabling the oppressed social groups upward social mobility, also gave an impetus to a process by which many social groups declared themselves as a caste group (while they were seen to belong to a sub-caste earlier), and made claims on the beneficial policy. At the same time, those social groups outside the ambit of this policy felt threatened by the emergence of lower castes into areas of social and political spaces that they traditionally held with themselves, began to mobilize themselves and work for the benefits of their members. This may be seen reflected in the profusion of ‘mats’ (religious seats) and matadheeshas (seers). These twin processes related to the reservation policy have discounted the little progress made in the direction towards abolition of caste.

This argument, offered by those who support the reservation policy yet note the existence of such a sociological situation, is tenable, but within limits. Because, I feel that while this may be true, what has led to the entrenchment of caste interests on the part of the upper castes is also the very idea of losing the traditional power. Social mobility of the oppressed social groups thus has led to a reorganization of the caste hegemony wherein the upper caste social groups find new ways of defending the perpetuation of their domination. See for instance the religious fundamentalism which I believe did much harm to the solidarity of the anti-caste forces in the society. From the ethico-judicial sphere where the power of caste was contested, move towards identity politics was the gift of the religious fundamentalism. Also interesting is the manner in which the exponential growth of religious fundamentalism takes place at the same time as the emergence of the oppressed social groups into the political sphere in a decisive manner, something that was made possible by the reservation policy.

This paradox thus has meant that the goal of annihilation of caste is more or less dispensed with in favour of identity politics. It is this which has created a situation where more efforts at improving the socio-economic conditions of the oppressed social groups would also mean the postponement of the abolition of caste. If the various parties involved in this complex social issue continue to stick to the politics of identity, the goal of a casteless society that Ambedkar and others had set for us to achieve might remain unrealized.

2 responses »

  1. ‘The good, the bad and the ugly’ film has a one liner: you want to shoot, shoot, dont talk!’ So go ahead, I consider it a complement if you find it worth stealing, ha! ha!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s