Do you see caste as something that must be eliminated, or as something that could just become a part of someone’s identity, like language or religion or any other label, if it weren’t for politicians capitalising on it to create vote banks?
(Laughs) I’m always getting into trouble for what I say about caste! I think caste...well, you can’t just eliminate caste tomorrow.
Caste has played a negative and a positive role since independence. If you were to ask your parents whether they ever imagined there could be a Dalit Chief Minister in a North Indian state like Uttar Pradesh, I’d imagine they’d say no. The oppressed people in this country have chosen caste, rather than class, as the grouping, the coming together, to unite to fight for their betterment. In Britain, it was done on the basis of class, and here it’s caste.
The huge disadvantage of that, of course, is that it is then not a united force. Class is much more unified than caste can ever be. But somehow, it has happened because of the historical inheritance of caste. You can’t do away with that. You can’t say that it never existed.
It does exist, and my own feeling is that it will weaken inevitably, just as class has weakened in Britain. And for the moment, you’ve got to live with it as a reality, maybe. But in the end, in the modern society, I think it will get less and less influential and powerful.
What’s unfortunate is that politicians, when they seek votes in the name of caste, for the most part, don’t even do anything for that caste. That is the sad thing. If Dalit politicians were really doing things for Dalits, then there may not be quite the opposition there is to caste politics at present.
Image: Kalpana and Kiran Kumar pay tribute to the portrait of Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar after they wed in an inter-caste mass marriage programme organised on Ambedkar's 119th Jayanthi in Hyderabad on April 14, 2009.