Mandal 2.0 Has the Same Objective – Divide and Rule: Sujatha Gidla
In an email interview with The Quint, Sujatha Gidla, author of the book, ‘Ants Among Elephants’ , talks about how reservations will further entrench the caste system in Indian society. Gidla also opened up about her interaction with "casteist" Indians in the US and why caste cannot be reduced to class-based divisions alone.
Your book includes a poignant and personal account of the discrimination that your family has had to face in Andhra Pradesh. For instance, your grandfather, Prasanna Rao was forced to live in seclusion despite being appointed a teacher in a village dominated by the Reddys – Is social integration of Dalits a distant dream in India? Are these caste-based fault lines exacerbated with incidents like the suicide of research scholar Rohith Vemula or that of Dalit men being flogged in Una, Gujarat?
My grandfather was educated by Christian missionaries and trained as a teacher. Due to the scarcity of good teachers at the time, he was transferred to a Reddy village. Since the untouchable colony was far away from the school, and the Reddys wanted my grandfather to tutor their children after school, his family and other teachers, who were also untouchables, were allowed to settle inside the village. That said, they had to live in a certain area and were not allowed to fetch water from the pond meant for the Reddys.
The episode actually shows the liberal attitude of the Reddy villagers. What my family suffered is nothing compared to what a typical untouchable family goes through. My mother and uncle grew up and went to college in relatively better times for untouchables. Perhaps the best of times.
Recent history shows that untouchables are increasingly denied social mobility. Violence against them is intensifying. This makes one feel that a casteless society is a distant dream. But society does not always proceed in a linear fashion. Not only the rate of change, but its very direction can change.
By politicising words like “neech” ahead of the 2017 Gujarat Assembly elections, our political class seems to be thriving on a caste-based hierarchy, instead of making an effort to dismantle such a system. Have the mainstream political parties done more harm than good to the very cause of upliftment of Dalits?
The word “neech” means beneath. It could be understood as low-class or unsophisticated. It is not necessarily a caste slur. To me, it sounds more elitist than casteist. Of course, Mani Shankar Aiyar is a Brahmin. He should have been more careful. Maybe he did mean caste.
The Congress is no less casteist than the BJP. State-level Congress leaders are casteist, through and through. The Andhra Pradesh state Congress was originally a Brahmin party, and later became a Reddy party. In fact, there is no party in India that is not casteist, including the Communist parties.
Modi is crying foul that he was called “neech”, while his government is assaulting all sorts of “neech” classes, low-caste, Dalits, poor peasants, slum-dwellers. Everyone is suffering under GST, demonetisation and Aadhaar.
What has been your experience with fellow Indians in the US after you moved there; do they sound more egalitarian than their counterparts back home?
When I first arrived here, I stayed with Indians and associated with Indians. There were those who were overtly casteist, and others who were covertly casteist.
A few mistook me for a Kamma and treated me well enough until they found out the truth. A few months later, I made friends with some Americans during the anti-Iraq war demonstrations in New York and stopped interacting with Indians. It was my sister who experienced some horrible casteism at the hands of her residency colleagues.
Since publishing the book, I have met a number of younger Indians here who seem to be genuinely concerned about caste. I am happy to learn that such people exist.
Your uncle, the late KG Satyamurthy, the co-founder of People’s War Group, was associated with the Naxalite movement for long. Do you think the armed movement has achieved its core objective of bringing about parity among landless labourers and rich landlords?
As long as there are landlords and landless labourers, it cannot be said that parity has been achieved.
The problem with organisations like the ones my uncle cofounded is that they base their program on the peasantry. The peasantry is not homogeneous – there are landless peasants, peasants who own one to two acres of land, and those with 50, 60, 100 acres of land. Their interests are in conflict with one another.
Second, the Maoists’ strategy of armed struggle is ineffective in the face of the state with enormous resources in its possession.
After being expelled from the PWG, Satyamurthy tried to “organise untouchable and low-caste peasants” as a revolutionary force; but towards the end of the book, you seem slightly unsure about such a movement, as you write, “I disagree with the programs and tactics he (Satyamurthy) espoused both before his expulsion and afterward”. Would you like to elaborate?
From the beginning, my uncle noticed and disapproved of casteism in the inner life of the party that he co-founded. But for a long time, he did not object to it because he thought it would inevitably disappear as the party’s revolutionary culture grows.
Before his expulsion, his view was that once the class problem was taken care of, caste would automatically disappear. My view is that caste cannot be reduced to a problem of class alone.
After he was expelled from the PWG, my uncle decided that only untouchables and members of backward castes can lead a revolution. Upper caste people would be allowed to join the party he was trying to organise, but they could not be leaders. I remember arguing with him about this when I went to India to interview him. His position reflected a despair that caste divisions can never be overcome, even within a revolutionary party. I disagree with this because, as I said, a truly revolutionary party will fight against caste.
In September 2017, you had tweeted about how the NEET exam is discriminatory – forcing students like Anitha to take extreme steps. In your opinion, what should the government do to help students like Anitha?
The story of Anitha made me sign up for Twitter. When I read about it, I felt like my own daughter had died. What I understand is that NEET is oriented to students with CBSE, and not state board students like Anitha. People with no money cannot send their kids to coaching institutions.
Anitha scored high grades in her own board, but she fell short of passing the exam. Here is a beautiful, strong, intelligent kid. What a waste of life, what a waste of talent, what a waste of dedication.
How can reservations help kids like Anitha, if CBSE schools are out of reach for them? Why should it be necessary for aspiring students to join private tutoring institutions? The solution is not to make private tuition somehow available to kids like Anitha. She should have been able to get the same quality education as anyone else. This is why reservations are not going to help.
Reservation is a very sensitive and emotive issue in India. As the NDA government sets up a Mandal 2.0 (Backward Class Panel) to look into the sub-categorisation of OBCs, do you think reservation will go a long way in trying to help those belonging to backward communities climb the social ladder?
No, they will further entrench the caste system. Look at what Mandal 1.0 accomplished – polarising the Indian society into pro- and anti-reservation camps.
VP Singh was highly educated and refined, yet his motives were no more sublime. He intended to pull the rug from under the Congress and install a system of divide and rule. Mandal 2.0 has the same object.
Through the new OBC reservations, powerful ruling castes such as Jats and their counterparts in other states will dominate education and jobs.
Every Brahmin, Baniya, Rajput, Thakur, Jat and Patel who does not get into a medical school will blame untouchables and the SC quota.
The most dangerous outcome of this plan would be more restrictions on women’s freedom. In order to protect their share of reservations, families are likely to forbid girls from choosing mates outside their caste which means – more honour killings.