Untouchability and Social Distancing.
India, the country of contrasting colours had always been a home to many cultures, religions, races, and economic and social classes. The country wrongfully famous for snake charmers and elephants had given some of the best mathematicians, astronomers and physicists to the world.
But one aspect of this country, known as Verna system, finding its origin in Brahmanical faith, had always been a thing to be ridiculed worldwide. It divided the society into four orders, the Brahmins (priestly class), the Kshatriyas (The warrior and ruling class), the Vaishyas (professionals and businessmen) and the Shudras (The labourers and servants). The very rigid social stratification and animal-like treatment of a group of humans had always been a despicable aspect of Indian society. The animal-like treatment was at times went to extremes to treat humans as skunks, such humans were called untouchables. It is not that Indians never opposed it, Gautam Budhha and Mahavira, the founder of Buddhism and Jainism, found many of their followers from the lower strata of the Brahmanical society. Both of them belonged to the Kshatriya, the warrior class that falls second to Brahmin class, according to Brahmanical order. Similarly, most of the Bhakti saints and their followers belonged to lower orders. Sikhism, since its foundation by Guru Nanak, was embraced and propagated by the business and labour classes.
Not only religions originated in India, but also the faiths that came from other parts of the world were quickly adopted. Islam and Christianity were also greeted with open arms by the lower classes.
The large-scale movement of people from lower-order to other faiths indicates a dislike towards the Brahmanical order.
Despite these movements, contemporary India shows an inertial effect of this order. The Brahmins and the Kshatriyas, the upper caste Hindus, occupy the power and decision making positions in Indian administration. The law provides for adequate representation of socially and economically backward classes through reservations in parliament as well as in public employment. Such actions to fight discrimination are called affirmative action.
India is not the only country, USA, Canada, Japan and other developed nations are also taking affirmative actions. The US and India have taken a similar affirmative approach, but the justifications given are different. The US has done this to fight discrimination while for India undoing historical injustice was the justification. In simple terms, the affirmative action of the US is preventive while that of India is corrective.
The justification for affirmative action in the US suggests a collective awareness for the possible discrimination of minorities. Though there are racist elements in the system, so, media and civil society keep a check on it. The general perception that views discrimination as a despicable act enhances the effect of affirmative actions. Still, it doesn’t stop the victimisation of supposed undesirables completely. On the other hand, the justification for affirmative action by India suggests the existence of a desire to undo the historical wrongs. These affirmative actions have significantly impacted the social standing of the historically oppressed classes. In that attempt, the constitution made some prevalent Hindu practise illegal. Article 17 prohibits the practice of untouchability. Many people see such provisions an interference in the religious matter. Though the animal-like treatment of Shudras has stopped, the untouchability is still quietly practised.
Silent untouchability: Living in a middle-class society, one can easily see the practice of silent-untouchability. From the caste and religion of a home-maid to that of a guest, people consider everything. Households, while employing a maid, strictly scrutinise her dietary habits. They deny the job if they find out she consumes non-vegetarian food or works for a family that does so. Families infamous for consuming meat are Muslim families, so basically, households deny jobs to maids serving a Muslim family. For the guest thing, I have my own experience. For a long time in my life, I lived in an ideal world, that was skillfully hiding the dirt. One day, I was a guest for tea and some work-related stuff, in a very pious household. We emptied the cups, cups were on the table, and I started working on my laptop. A few minutes passed, I stuck thinking of a problem while my friend went to the bathroom. While thinking, I started fiddling around with my cup. Suddenly, I noticed a red mark at the base of my cup. I ignored it in the beginning and concentrated on the problem, but to my luck, I was unable to solve it, and my mind was pulling me towards that red mark. Out of curiosity, possibly boredom, I started checking other utensils. None, including the other cup, had that red mark. When the host came back, I, being an outspoken person, enquired. After which, I learnt that it was to identify utensils for non-vegetarian guests. Ironically, my friend was also of those who would eat a whole rooster in one meal.
Trying to save the friendship, I did not react to this aggressively. Instead, I decided to help reduce the economic burden of maintaining a separate set of utensils and avoided visiting homes of pious friends. But to no avail.
Being an outsider to the popular cast order, I had little idea of its existence to this day. During my work, I learnt that Dalits (lower caste) also hosted me the same way, they know it but seldom talk about it.
If we think about it, in the context of a free country, it is their right to choose the employee and utensils, and it is our right to visit them or not. But no, it reflects the discriminatory mindset that still exists against Muslims and Dalits. This mindset can rise to become mainstream at any time. A pandemic that spreads by touch would be the best time for such a rise. The desire to undo the historical wrongs is fuelling it. It finds it’s base in the morphed and selective representation of Indian history.
Corona and Emergence of Untouchability: When the world was slowly getting saturated with novel coronavirus infections, the prime minister of Israel, advised his people to do Namaste instead of handshakes or hugs. And that is where all hell broke loose, many accounts on social media some anonymous other verified started defending untouchability. If you have read Aryan invasion theory, you would be shocked to find how this theory was reversed word by word in a quora post. The quora post stated that native-Savarnas maintained a good enough distance from migrant untouchables because they “came from northern Africa, Egypt, Arabia and Israel region”. I thought the writer was trying to be sarcastic. But then, I saw Facebook and Twitter posts explaining how untouchability was scientific, and we, in our arrogance, ignored the genius of our ancestors.
I was expecting them to go a bit deeper in pseudoscience. I thought someone would come up with the theory, explaining why our, more like their, ancestors used the shadow as a measure to maintain appropriate distance at a particular day time. But, those pseudo-scientists disappointed me.
Immediate Effects: The rise of silent untouchability has adversely affected India’s minority community. The political leadership in India very well knew that people are going to suffer due to sudden and unplanned lockdown. These suffering people can’t be kept satisfied for long by singing a lullaby of plate-bashing, conch and candles, sooner or later, people will become disaffectionate towards the government. So, the stooge media tried to give people something else to blame and hate for COVID related sufferings. They first tried calling it China-Virus, then a Pakistan’s bioweapon, and finally, they found something in Nizamuddin Markaz of Tablighi Jammat. Their search was complete. Apart from old and unrelated videos, they aired fake and fabricated videos on TV. People saw and readily believed in it since they were already consuming so much of anti-Muslim hate content, all to justify CAA and malign those protesting against it, most protesters were Muslims. When the Prime Minister extended the lockdown to 3rd May, media houses reported, “if it was not for Nizamuddin Markaz there was no need to extend lockdown”. A bit of logical reasoning and analysis of data reveals that the spread was due to the government’s lack of recognition of graveness of the situation. This, we will discuss in the next article.
For now, Muslims are the scapegoat caught via Nizamuddin Markaz. Reports and social media videos of corona related hate crimes against minorities are becoming common. Ironically, they say Muslims spread corona, but while beating they fail to maintain social distancing. Such videos are not dispised by the general members of the majority community. They either praise it or defend it. It seems Corona is just an excuse to attack Muslims. The severity of attacks, followed by huge social media support reveals a deep hatred. Many politicians of the BJP, allegedly, gave calls for a total economic boycott of Muslims. A BJP MLA from Karnataka wants to economically strangulate “traitors”, a reference to Muslims by extremists. Using corona as an excuse, the extremist factions are marking Hindu shops with the saffron flag and asking the buyers to boycott Muslim shops. Corona related stigma is an arrow hitting two birds, first, preplanned economic boycott and then scapegoating. Thanks to a morphed representation of History and vilification Muslim historical figures, their Hatred against Muslims is very manifold. It is just coming out looking for excuses to persecute the descendants of those historical figures, again a reference often used by extremists for Muslims. Since there are already hospitals, in UP and Gujrat, either denying treatment or maintaining separate wards for Muslims, I am left asking, “is it only due to hate?”. Maybe, they need new untouchables to clean the sewers of the new and developed Hindu India. The makers of this Hindu India must be planning to make it on new Hindu ideals. These ideals will have five Vernas(social classes), unlike last time. If so, the fifth Verna will be made not by Brahma’s body but the seat. I can’t say much about what they will do to a widow, if not burn them on the pyre of husband. But there are not many expectations considering the abusive language of these young planners of Hindu India for women.
I just hope Nisha Jindal from Facebook will not be the only woman in this new India. Because so far I have seen only such women supporting this desperately awaited Hindu India. Still, I am crossing my fingers and hoping for the best. By the way, Nisha Jindal is an ardent supporter of CAA as she, maybe he, thinks it is necessary for building new Developed Hindu India. She also supports shooting every Muslim who dares to protest against this Act.
Courtesy : Elemental