The Perfidy of Prejudice
Prejudice, by itself, is mean but if it is perfidious, it becomes ugly. Add to it religious or sectarian sanction and what you have is a truly hideous instrument of discrimination based on caste, creed, race, the colour of the skin or what may be under the shadow of God, so to say. Moral prejudice has the capacity to destroy the soul whose wounds survive for generations and is twice as cruel as the physical. This is the case with Dalits and Shudras in India who have groaned under the heel of the high-caste Brahmin and weight of the Shastras, particularly Rig Veda (Hindu books of faith), since thousands of years without a let or lapse bound by the steel structure of Hindu casteism.
The Hindu caste system is also known as varna in Vedic religion, which has five major but inviolable steps or layers. The top of the structure is Brahmin, the priest, as usual, the sole keeper and interpreter of the true Hindu faith. Followed by Kshatriyas, Vaishyas, Shudras and in the bottom, the Untouchables.
Dalits fall in the lowest fifth varna below the Shudras and are in their millions upon millions in India; milling around as non-humans eking out a living under the fiercely unforgiving casteist society of that inscrutable country. Dalits exist but they do not exist as equal human beings, not even half as equal. I know of a sub-caste of these untouchable poor fellows in and around Ranchi in India, who were not to be seen by higher-caste Hindus during daytime for fear of despoiling their faith. So they scavenge at night and have developed night vision due to centuries of social internment.
Social and moral distancing or the rather practice of repelling Dalits, in India is a national normal followed habitually and quite grimly by all upper-caste Hindus, which invariably results in one or the other grisly act of inhumanity against a Dalit here and there in that vast country of the strangely insular mass of people.
Insular to a perpetual sub-human plight of a large section of fellow Dalits, add now Indian Muslims and Kashmiris. They hound them, incinerate, lynch and chop them in public with the wild glee of medieval barbarians brandishing their swords, hatchets, spears and staves in victory. This collective madness and the psychosis of murder beats logic and rationality. It is pure and simple savagery of the kind bottled up somewhere in their DNA since God knows umpteen generations and is somewhat like the kind of bully who turns his nagging fear into red hot aggression against the vulnerable, just to prove he dominates.
The social and moral rejection of these underprivileged classes has a devastating effect upon their psyche, society and that country’s polity. Their dignity is the first casualty and self-respect next, thereafter what is normally left is a shell of a human being, which then sulks around in the dingy back alleys of the gleaming front of their national life, largely criminalised, stigmatised and marginalised.
The other day, one came across a horrific but equally elating story of indomitable Kaushal Panwar, a Dalit girl from Haryana, who faced and withstood all the humiliations, privations and social rejections reserved for her unfortunate caste in India yet never gave up nor surrendered to the endless oppression. It was during her gripping TV interview with actor Aamir Khan that she revealed the shocking details of how she grew up and grappled with this brutal casteism. It was a sad saga of the perfidy of the appalling moral prejudice sanctioned by religion and practised by an unforgiving society and its privileged upper classes. The audience was spell-bound and erupted in instantaneous applause as the interview ended. I had a very heavy heart as if under tonnes of weight that day just as when one had learnt of the brutal, slow and abusive murder of little Zainub in Kasur.
She was candid, astonishingly free of anger while describing vilest of insults and stark wickedness of others towards her family and origins. She must have controlled her sinking hurt by a superhuman effort. A touching tale of the heroic struggle of a valiant low caste little girl supported by her equally determined father standing up to deeply ingrained social prejudices and a sea of challenges to her very being. Her superlative moral poise and quality intellect shone brilliantly and impressively during the entire course of her interview. Not even once did she betray any wrath or rage towards the perpetrators of her social persecution and resultant miseries. This is not human, it is godliness, which only saints are capable of. With perfect composure, she described how she faced the loathsome prejudice of her class fellows, teachers, neighbours, university sponsors, hostel roommates and landlords where she rented rooms.
Dalits exist but they do not exist as equal human beings, not even half as equal.
The gripping story of her persecution goes back to Dalit houses pushed out of the main village by higher-caste Hindus. According to Hindu Shastras, Dalits must smell foul, stay dirty and serve others. Therefore she had to do the meanest manual jobs from cleaning solid lavatories to opening sewage drains, sweep roads and not allowed to drink water from the tap others were using lest it is defiled. To be easily recognised in their native state, Dalit students in schools are required to wear a blue uniform while others wear white. That disgusting practice exposes them to instant degradation and tends to strips them of their humanity, most of the time. When she protested, her higher caste teacher sarcastically turned her down. Despite these seemingly disabling indignities, she lumbered on and succeeded to do her PhD from Jawahar Lal University, New Delhi. Even there, she faced similar painful distancing. As these bitter experiences of life flitted across her mind, she rambled through them with a perplexingly sunny smile refreshingly free of angst. Her concluding remarks say it all, “Casteism is horrendous in India even today. They do not let us be human beings.”
What a stirring longing to be treated as human beings.A quivering quest for just a fistful of the sky.
But wait a minute before we walk away in pious disgust over the sorry state of Dalits in India. We do not believe in Vedic casteism but we can at times be equally if not less wicked with non-Muslim minorities and even fellow Muslims of other sects. Look at the stark cruelty with which some of us behave towards actual or alleged transgressions by Christians and Ahmadis and at times Hindu or Sikh compatriots. Indiscriminate killings of Hazaras, the bombing of devotees at Sufi shrines, live incineration of a Christian couple at Qasur in 2014, completely manufactured framing of Asia BiBi in blaspheme case, molested children murders of Kasur and letting out hounds upon an erring shepherd are but a few incidents of our very own social and moral degeneration. We pretend specially gifted piety but instead we sin almost with a passion against humanity, fellow beings and what is decent in life. It is not a surge of pious zeal at the press of the moment but the odious perfidy of our acquired prejudices, which unleash the savage inside us.
Courtesy : DT