For centuries, divisive forces have tried to weaken India by exploiting, and sometimes even creating, identity fault lines in our society. One example of such forces at play can be seen in Karnataka, where efforts are on to give “minority” status to the Lingayat community just before elections.
To a great extent, these forces are also responsible for widespread discontent and alienation among Dalits, a manifestation of which we have recently seen in the Bharat bandh protests and violence.
The very fact that Dalits are often provoked into changing their religion shows that such forces care only about identity politics, and not about anyone’s welfare.
The British managed to enslave India for 200 years with their policy of divide and rule. Sadly, even after Independence, some political parties have continued to pursue votebank politics by playing one community against the other. Many socio-cultural bodies, religious organisations and NGOs, flush with money from abroad, are also pursuing this divisive agenda in the country.
I firmly believe that no Indian, apart from a few such players, considers Dalits less than equal members of our society.
India cannot progress till we keep falling prey to those who profit from furthering differences. One thing that makes us vulnerable to such designs is the caste system. In order to grow, we as a nation must reject caste. The tags of “forward” and “backward” must go.
This cannot happen overnight, because those seeking to divide us will not allow it. However, we can start taking planned steps in this direction. One such step would be the promotion and facilitation of inter-caste marriages by the government.
By this, I do not mean the kind of marriages a lot of people have been advocating recently, where the wife embraces the husband’s caste, and their children grow up with the father’s caste identity. Such marriages do not help demolish caste walls, they only lead to the change in a few individuals’ caste identity.
What I propose is that if people from different castes were to marry, for official documents and records, the government ought to give them one of the three options:
This exercise will ensure no one is forced to assume a particular identity, and people have the option of giving up their caste. To encourage this, the government can announce some incentives for “caste-free” Indians. It’s my firm belief that no one will resent these special facilities, as they will help build a united, stronger India. In fact, this will serve as the idea formula to liberate all those suffocating within caste barriers.
I think our present system incentivises holding on to caste identities, which is harmful for the nation. The new formula, on the other hand, will encourage people to give up their caste, and hence this evil will be eradicated in just two to three generations.
The present system has been in force for the past 70 years, and has only hampered our growth. Can we try the new formula for the next 70 years? If we can stick to this course, I can bet that at the end of the seven decades, India will emerge as an example of unity and inclusiveness, and scale new heights of progress. Also, the Hindu society will be rid of its biggest plague and scourge.
No country can march ahead if its internal divisions are weighing it down. The more we let certain forces exploit our weaknesses, the slower we will grow. India’s strength is its diversity, not its disunity. We need to protect this diversity while consistently promoting unity.
In this context, it will help to remember a story we read as children – anyone can snap a stick, but even the strongest individual can’t break off a pile of wood.
In the past few days, we have seen amendments made to the SC/ST Atrocities Act by the Supreme Court being used to spread division and hatred. Every single death connected to the protests bothers me; with each demise, I feel I have lost my own blood.
As far as I can see, the amendments to the Act are in no way anti-Dalit, they only seek to protect the innocent against false complaints. Changing the Act is similar to the Supreme Court's move of setting guidelines to prevent the misuse of section 498A of the IPC, which did not mean the court was “anti-women”.
Now, the government needs to do its bit to ensure casteist forces are stopped from spreading their agenda. For that, is it willing to implement my suggestion?
Here, through this column, I declare that I give up my caste, and I don’t need special benefits or incentives for that. Will my government now give me the option of filling out official forms in the three ways listed above?
(This is an abridged version of an article published on iChowk.in)