Caste injustice and the politics of abuse

While no one denies that caste injustice is a reality, I wish to dwell on the politics of abuse or abusive behavior from social groups that claim to inherit the legacy of historical discrimination. When the Supreme Court of India decided to punish Justice Karnan, a Dalit judge for “contempt” with a six-month jail sentence, what no one seems to discuss, is the kind of abusive behavior the man had generously indulged in for the past couple of years.

If I personally am not familiar with such kind of abusive behavior, the sentence perhaps would seem a bit too harsh to be awarded to a Dalit person coming from a humble background and making it all the way to the position of a judge. I personally had to endure endless abuse from a few Dalit students and colleagues along with their “sympathizers” whether upper or not-so-upper caste Hindus or Muslim minorities, who went all out to spread malicious lies against me through their “small-town” reporter friends desperately searching for a cause. In fact, I had a couple of atrocity cases filed against me under the draconian SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act, which, Justice Karnan invoked against his bosses in the Supreme Court. A case was also filed against me in the National Commission for Scheduled Castes. It doesn’t end with that either.

On the one hand, the Dalits of India are beneficiaries of the policy of reservation that gives them access to education and jobs. On the other hand, as my brother says, it is a deal made by the Dalits with the devil himself, referring to a casteist state and government. In his view, the reservations are a double-edged sword because they allow Dalits access to social power while at the same time constantly reminded by the system that they are in some ways depriving the upper castes of what is supposedly their due. This creates a feeling of social inferiority which is impossible to overcome and forms the basis of the suspicion and resentment that we unfortunately tend to see in a man who made it to the position of a judge.

This is a particularly tragic situation because natural pride that comes with a sense of one’s own dignity is what humanizes people. People who respect themselves and take pride in who they are can never be resentful in that meaninglessly abusive way, no matter how deprived the background they come from. It is lack of genuine pride, where you believe in your own self and accept the person you see in the mirror every morning and night, which turns into bitter and envious behavior along with the sick need to constantly compare oneself with others.

Justice Karnan obviously is in perfect mental health and is in no need of psychiatric help as indicated by the judges of the Supreme Court. It is the social background, the casteist order, which made it impossible for him to be proud of himself. It is a deep-seated sense of inferiority that made him an abusive and dishonest person as reflected in the unsubstantiated allegations he made against his colleagues.

Laws such as the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe Prevention of Atrocities Act give a false sense of power to a certain section of Dalits who use it as a weapon to counter the upper castes. The threat of the law actually makes it difficult to forge bonds of friendship even where caste is not an issue between two persons. While I am deeply empathetic to the notion of why a person might resent me for being upper caste and by extension Hindu, it is very hard for me to forgive people who falsely used a law against me and called me casteist while they themselves could only view what I am through the jaundiced lens of caste and community. I am sorry for them at the end of the day because I am certain that their personal lives are a horror that I would never want to step in no matter what.

Hate brings more hate just as love produces more love. In the “Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844” the young and idealistic Marx says, “Every one of your relations to man and to nature must be a specific expression, corresponding to the object of your will, of your real individual life. If you love without evoking love in return—that is, if your loving as loving does not produce reciprocal love; if through a living expression of yourself as a loving person you do not make yourself a beloved one, then your love is impotent—a misfortune.” Love thus becomes a power that produces more love; likewise, impotence is the inability to produce love. Hatred is a form of psychological impotence that consumes the hater. It doesn’t matter whether it is the hatred of the oppressor or of the oppressed.

James Baldwin, the black writer says that he rejected the role of a victim because it would have destroyed him. That’s what a racist society wanted of the black person, which is, to be a perpetual victim. Likewise, this is what a casteist society expects of Dalits, to be perpetual victims and play the role predetermined for them by the upper castes. People who hate others blindly fall into the category of people who can be nothing else but victims. The perpetual victim syndrome destroys them both from within and from without. There is little doubt that Justice Karnan has spent the best years of his life perfecting the role of a victim.

By the same logic it is hard for me to tolerate anybody whether they are minorities or from deprived groups who wish to make a virtue out of resentment and hatred no matter how justified it may seem from the point of view of their own personal experience. They may be black, Dalit, Muslim, Christian, Hindu, woman, gay, Third World, First World—whatever world they come from, they have no moral right to either make generalizations or despise someone without any specific reason.

Unfortunately, we live in a time where everyone wants to believe that life has treated them unfairly and therefore they are entitled to the privileged position of victimhood. The sad outcome is that real victims are pushed into the background and what we see before us are people who have managed to convince themselves that they qualify to the position of victims. The social media and its adherents have given a celebrity status to victims.

Most people fail to realize that the mere act of being thankful for the bread on the table is enough to realize that life has not been unfair to you. Those who go to bed hungry and those who wake up each morning not knowing what life has in store for them, it is to them we owe an explanation. The explanation can best be given by making an argument for a just society and by making all possible human attempts to live justly. In any other case, there is enough in nature to make us love everything about life rather than allow oneself to slide into hatred, bitterness and envy.

Prakash Kona is a writer, teacher and researcher who lives in Hyderabad, India. He is Professor at the Department of English Literature, The English and Foreign Languages University (EFLU), Hyderabad.

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