“You’ve not taken a bath today, you look like a chuhra,” said one of my cousins one day when the outside temperature was 9 degree Celsius and the will to take a bath, just not there.
Though what he said, wasn’t a casual slur, but something which has been practiced by many, many people in India, when they have to use a synonym to something bad or “ugly looking,” to the Dalit community. A community that has long faced oppression of the upper castes and continuing to deal with it, day after day.
What my cousin said was one of the results of this deep conditioning of the society, to not see Dalits as equals. Isn’t it bizarre that to compare something unpleasant is to compare it with one huge segment of Indian society.
Many of us believe that caste oppression is just not there, but it’s still very much prevalent and growing rapidly. Every other day, a Dalit boy is beaten, and in some cases murdered too. Dalits still cannot go to some temples, they are bound to confine themselves with their faith in a room of their home, where too, they don’t feel secure.
How these racial slurs became everyday lingo is a testimony of this deep oppression which, to fear, has gotten so normalized that we don’t even realize when we abused someone with a dash of someone else’s caste. And let me not get started on the fact, that the younger generation is any better. It’s not.
Why? Well, the cousin I mentioned earlier, belongs to Generation Z. A young man, very well equipped with good education, aware of the sense of where he comes from but certainly not aware of his privilege as an upper-caste person.
The deep conditioning is such that we tend to forget these deep layers of subtle abuse of a community. Our parents got a rather heavy dose of this conditioning, but then, most of them didn’t get great education too, you did, young readers.
In many instances I’ve seen my mother too, picking out a different glass, an unused glass, which will remain unused, when a sweeper or someone who does sanitation work will ask for water. She will hurriedly pick the steel glass and then never use it again.
This then gets passed to the younger generation too, and in some cases, they tend to behave worse than the old generation too. Reservation comes into play. A systematic approach to killing oppression and to give leverage to the minorities in the country over the upper caste people in areas such as education and employment.
However, many upper caste people I know, see this as a threat, “an unfair system,” but they fail to realize the caste oppression there is. If not for this “unfair system,” caste will play it’s entirely, and brutally so, and a young Dalit man or a woman will be forced to remain in the village, and never even get a chance to try attaining some success.
It’s not going to be Gen Z who has to get rid of these slurs and “casual” racial oppression but they also hold responsibility for the good education they have received, to teach their parents and grandparents. The cycle is not from the top down, but from the bottom to top, just like any other hard-fought battle.