by Farzana Versey
The Asian Age, Op-ed, June 12, 2007
Forget the killings for a while. Why do the Gujjars want to downgrade themselves to the status of Scheduled Tribes (STs) from their current position as Other Backward Classes (OBCs)? There is no political or social advantage they will reap out of it. Is it then mere envy against the Meenas who have managed to get into ST territory? But that was decades ago. So, what gives now?
As one who believes in reservations for the economically disadvantaged, and that does amount to those of certain castes, one wonders: What is the fallout of such pigeonholing? Walk back to a few years ago. On the face of it, the case of two hefty Rajputs beating up a Dalit youth for riding horseback in his marriage procession might appear more plausible than another young bridegroom, again a Dalit, being beaten up for the same ‘crime’ by members of a different scheduled caste.
But look at the issue closely. The Dalit grooms by trying to follow alien customs of riding a mare to their wedding were trying to aspire for something higher. The Rajputs beat one up because it was an insult to the purity of their customs which were meant for the high-born and not some lowly scum. Their lives are centred on honour and would the backward castes ever be able to acquit themselves well in that area?
In the other incident where members from another scheduled caste beat up a bridegroom, the reason is deeper. They resented his selling out, much as Blacks do with ‘whitened niggers’. They also probably hated his guts. Or like most people submerged beneath the debris due to no fault of theirs, they truly begin to feel dirty, to think that their shadow is indeed vile and they are sin itself.
This culturisation process happens slowly and stealthily. In this macho world of fast cars, the industrial utopia sells false dreams. The backward person is a sucker. He falls for it, not realising the bells and whistles that come with it. This man is told he can come to the city, provided he lives in a garbage dump. He is lonely so he visits the red-light areas and drinks and he hears the veteran urbanites crack crude jokes about a woman’s body. He learns his first lesson: breasts are vice. If his wife joins him in the city, he will keep her out of sight from the very people who are trying to ‘civilise’ him. And when he returns he goes with his new baggage where progress is synthetic and clinging to the branches of rituals is mistaken for roots.
These two Dalits did something else. They tried to cut the very tree to find some connectivity. And this is not a mere metaphor. It stands for the way in which justice is meted out on the basis of customs. It was Freud who said, “A culture which leaves unsatisfied and drives to rebelliousness so large a number of its members neither has a prospect of continued existence nor deserves it.”
Damodar Parmar, who I had met a few years ago, could not believe that people had the time to discuss larger issues when his world had come to a stop. There was no great drama in being paralysed, being unable to work and to be unsure about your next meal.
He was a sweeper, and had four children. After his hospitalisation, it was impossible for him to get back his job. He decided to educate his son and not let him end up cleaning the gutters.
The problems started later. Fees are waived if you are a scheduled caste person. In this case tuition fees had been paid. The reason was a technicality. The dilemma had arisen because in his caste certificate he was identified as a Halalkhor, conservancy worker. This, according to the law books, was no caste.
He had left
He was trapped. Ironically, the caste certificate has one advantage, and that is at least the toilets, where they make their money, are reserved for them. Like strays, they mark their territory. That is the reason the attitude of the Gujjars perturbs me. They are shepherds. By demanding to be tagged by a superimposed identity, they are in fact seeking to lose their own. Culture does not, and cannot, exist as force, however much those making the demand are in a position to provide details of the veracity of their claims.
In these times of lip sympathy, large sections of people can be driven to bouts of guilt. Everyone talks of being ashamed, but shame cannot be the foundation on which prejudices are wiped out. If a culture and caste cannot evolve, it nullifies its very purpose. An exhumed body is often a skeleton.