Going beyond prejudice of ethnicity and pride of caste is the way ahead

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October 29, 2020 5:40 AM

Each of us needs to acknowledge our own prejudices, which are ultimately nothing but ignorance and fear

In a sense, this paraphrases Ambedkar, who believed that the only “real remedy for destroying discrimination is inter-marriage”. (File image)In a sense, this paraphrases Ambedkar, who believed that the only “real remedy for destroying discrimination is inter-marriage”. (File image)

Everyone was horrified by the Hathras rape/murder allegedly by “upper caste” men in UP. And, while the slow-moving wheels of justice in India will hopefully provide appropriate redress, what is truly appalling is how—in India and across the world—prejudice, whether against caste, race, ethnicity, sex or religion, often seems to have completely overwhelmed the pure human essence, which is, so vividly seen in this picture—bit.ly/35K2YjY

So what is it that turns this lovely sentiment into anger, and worse, drives people to treat others as if they were less than human?

Dr BR Ambedkar, one of the principal authors of the Indian Constitution, believed that people discriminate on the basis of gender/caste/colour/religion/etc, “not because they are inhuman or wrong-headed. They discriminate because of their deeply-held … religious/ [other] beliefs. The enemy you must grapple with is not the people who discriminate, but the religious [and other belief] systems that drive this”.

Angela Davis, another great (American) philosopher, teacher and activist has for decades been speaking about how racism in the US was simply a byproduct of an economy predicated on cheap, exploited labour. Indeed, in the history of America, the relationship between slavery (surely, the most extreme form of discrimination) and business is quite explicit. For instance, slaves, who were the “property” of the slave owner, were used as near-zero-cost labour on the plantations; female slaves, particularly those with high fertility, were often seen as more valuable since they could deliver a larger number of children, who would add up as more near-free labour.

“The elephant in the room is always capitalism”, she says. “Even when we fail to have an explicit conversation about capitalism, it is the driving force of so much when we talk about racism. Capitalism has always been racial capitalism”. She believes we need to imagine a “future that will allow us to begin to move beyond capitalism” because racism will continue to exist as long as capitalism remains the secular religion in America—shades of Ambedkar.

The economic dimension of discrimination is, of course, very loud in caste prejudice in India as well. While it may be less explicit today, in an example from 1928, Ambedkar pointed out how “high-caste Hindus … informed the Balais [in Indore state] of their respective villages that if they wished to live among them, they must … render services [like delivering intimations, performing at ceremonies and attending confinement during childbirth] without demanding remuneration, and must accept whatever a Hindu is pleased to give”—again, exploitation of cheap labour.

Today, while it remains amazing that such deep prejudice continues to exist and, indeed, drive a lot of social (and commercial) activity, the good news is the continuing work of thousands of sung and unsung heroes have succeeded in raising consciousness about how all these struggles—for Dalit/Muslim/other minority rights, women’s rights, LGBTQ rights, the environment and scores of other issues—are not just connected, but are actually different pieces of the same exploitative, and now crumbling, socio-political superstructure.

Another remarkable change in the politics of protest is that “current progressive organizations … have avoided the pitfalls of their predecessors: primarily, a cultish fixation on a charismatic male leader”—note Occupy Wall Street, Shaheen Bagh, the protests for democracy in HongKong and several countries in the world. Equally, behind the scenes—and, again, all over the world—there are young activists stepping out of their comfort zones, even in this difficult time, to make a statement and work for sustainable social change on issues that have no superficial linkage to their own lives—the hundreds of thousands of young, white people who are part of Black Lives Matter, for instance.

In a sense, this paraphrases Ambedkar, who believed that the only “real remedy for destroying discrimination is inter-marriage”. His point was that marriage is an ordinary incident of life in a society, which is well-knit by other ties; however, in societies that are “cut asunder” [as in India as a result of the caste system or the US as a result of decades of slavery, and, indeed, virtually every other society to different extents] marriage as a binding force becomes a matter of urgent necessity”.

At the time, he was speaking of caste, but in today’s “intersectional” world and using a contemporary understanding of marriage as a close relationship, it would seem his prescription is coming closer to reality.

Each of us needs to acknowledge our own prejudices, which are ultimately nothing but ignorance and fear, and work towards ensuring that the little boy and girl in the picture will never become horribly estranged simply because s/he is a girl/boy and/or s/he is black/white and/or s/he is from one/another community and/or s/he is poor/rich?

Jai Ambedkar! Jai Angela Davis!

The author is CEO, Mecklai Financial. Views are personal

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