Despite all your glib talk: 'Article 15' shines a harsh light on the dark truth of caste and gender oppression in India

Taslima Nasreen
Taslima NasreenJul 13, 2019 | 10:28

Despite all your glib talk: 'Article 15' shines a harsh light on the dark truth of caste and gender oppression in India

Caste remains as brutal and pervasive as ever in India. But violence against women by men transcends even caste. It threatens all women and it unites all men.

Recently, a film called Article 15 has been released in India which foregrounds how Hindus continue to practice their devastating caste system with aplomb. The Indian caste system is one of the most heinous social discriminatory systems in place around the world, whereby men and women belonging to the lower castes are routinely oppressed by members of castes placed socially above them.


Of course, the ones who face the most persecution are lower caste women.

There have been instances where lower caste women have been gangraped and then hung from trees by the rapists, who spread rumours that these women had strayed down a dark path and committed suicide out of shame on being caught. The relatives of such victims are forced to concur with such pronouncements in order to survive.

Always vulnerable: People from lower castes are routinely oppressed by so-called upper caste communities. (Photo: Reuters)

I have noticed that most lower caste people accept without reservation that they are lower caste, that they are Dalit, that they should not sit on chairs in front of people of higher castes or drink water from glasses, wear shoes — even walk into the shadow of someone from the upper castes for that matter! Whatever the upper castes cast aside after meals, in some parts, it is believed that rolling in their leftovers can cure Dalits of all manner of travails and ailments. Our society is crawling with thousands of such superstitions and the caste system is often accepted as a divine formulation. Just like the upper castes, many lower caste groups too believe in such an explanation.


Although the Constitution prohibits discrimination on the basis of caste, people continue to adhere to it. Even those who proudly claim they do not believe in caste — I have noticed many of such groups secretly do maintain caste boundaries. They can be friends with someone from a lower caste or they can eat at the same table with them — but when it comes to marriage, they prefer to stick to their caste identities. Someone from an upper caste would consider marrying beneath their caste only if the partner in question possesses considerable wealth and/or influence.

Article 15 of the Indian Constitution states that no one can discriminate against any citizen on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex, place of birth or any of them. As in, irrespective of religion, race, caste or anything, all citizens possess the same rights. But the problem is that for most people, religion appears to be bigger than the State. Besides, right now, a powerful faction of Hindutva activists are bent on creating a religious state. If India does turn into a Hindu rashtra one day, living here will become difficult not just for non-Hindus — but for lower caste Hindus and Dalits as well.


Our forefathers taught us to have faith in the police as our protectors. Unbeknownst to us, the police have turned into our oppressors. In Article 15, we see how the police, in complicity with the upper caste oppressors, get together to carry out a gangrape. People hardly have any respect left for the police anymore. Not all police personnel are corrupt though; honest people of the world remain forever in waiting for the fabled honest police officer, the honest lawyer, the honest judge or the honest politician.

Is he a symbol of honesty? Or oppression? (Photo: India Today/Still: Article 15)

Many people have sung praises of the film Article 15. Among them are the ones who belong to upper castes — do they not believe in the caste system at all? After watching this film, will they no longer see the lower caste as beneath them? Will they begin believing in equal rights for women? I don’t believe they will be able to cast aside the discrimination they have been trained to practice since childhood just so easily. Nevertheless, be it in literature or the arts, progressive individuals must continue to raise their voice against all manner of discriminatory practices.

Just like Muslims, Dalits too are used as a political tool in India. Although neither the Constitution, nor the laws of the nation support the caste system, society still does. After centuries of discrimination and disenfranchisement, the focus now is on providing reparations to the Dalit community. Special provisions have been made by the state for Dalits regarding education and employment. Yet, in society, they continue to face systematic discrimination — they continue to face untouchability. Article 15 is perhaps not a remarkable film cinematically. Especially after seeing Shoplifters a little while ago, Hirokazu Koreeda’s Japanese drama which won the Palme d’Or at Cannes in 2018, this film appeared to me to be a broad melodrama.

And yet, the film is based on certain pertinent truths.

Caste-based violence, girls gangraped and then choked to death, or pushed off a bus, or hung from a tree, or mutilated — all of these things continue to happen in India.

Beyond imagination: Such crimes are driven sometimes by caste. Always by gender. (Photo: YouTube screengrab/Still: Article 15)

Sometimes, I can’t help but think how in this subcontinent, if one wishes to write something or make a film on the oppression of women, one does not need to resort to one’s imagination. All one needs are real incidents which have happened, incidents whose barbarity and cruelty can rival the most macabre incidents one can conjure up in one’s imagination.

We have seen how upper caste people treat the castes below them on the social order. We have also been witness to the sexual violence that lower caste women go through at the hands of upper caste men. But does that mean upper caste women do not face any threats from lower caste men on the lines or rape and murder? It’s not as if such things don’t happen as well. The problem is not restricted just among the upper castes — the problem is with men of all classes and castes.

Men, irrespective of class, caste or religion, oppress women.

A lot of effort has been expended in India to eradicate caste-based discrimination — nothing similar has been done to combat gender discrimination. That is perhaps because society in general, be it upper class or lower class, is devastatingly patriarchal. Living in such a social formation, the number of people who truly believe in the equal rights of women, regardless of their own gender, is truly very less. Rather, there is an alarmingly large number of people who don’t consider gender-based discrimination as discrimination at all.

In this subcontinent, upper and middle-class women are going to schools and colleges, joining the work force and becoming self-reliant. But in this same society, all women, notwithstanding their caste, religion, class, wealth or education, are remarkably on the same footing in one crucial aspect.

To all men, again, regardless of their caste, religion, class, wealth or education, these women are merely bodies.

Bodies that men believe it is their essential birthright to touch without consent, to violate, to rape — to render bruised and bloodied.

Last updated: July 13, 2019 | 16:04
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