When the collective gaze falls on an individual or a community, he/she/they feel that there is nowhere to turn to. Hindus have a long history of being dominant castes, whether they are poor or rich, of upper or lower jyathi, and educated or illiterate. Varna, or pan Indian Hinduism, as MN Srinivas pointed out is a classificatory system that is well recognised all over India, inspite of the dietary differences amongst them. Famously, the Bengali and Kashmiri Brahmins eat meat, and the Syrian Christians like to believe that they are born of lineages which have Brahmin origins. KP Padmanabha Nair said that there were 80 different castes of Nairs, who were classified as Shudra, but nevertheless, the caste question is always subsumed within larger political terms.
The idea of origins is always very vague, and legend and myth contribute hugely to this narrative. Thus, being born of original Brahmin lineages as Syrian Christians in India say they are, is as opaque as some Rajput castes saying they are descended from the Moon. So also, the poor Brahmin, the Gandhian Kshatriya or Vaisya, the upper class Dalit, are vested with certain attributes arising from the adjectives which describe them. In this context, we know that the term Dalit itself has its inherent description, that of belonging to a community which is crushed.
Every time, there is talk of elections, immediately the poorest hamlets of urban India are targeted, and the agents of politicians arrive with money, alcohol, and promises of providing water and electricity by siphoning water lines. For that specific time, the poor become extremely valuable, as they will decide by the anonymous vote as to who will win the elections. Not surprisingly, the political agents take out slogans on behalf of the Dalits, to say, that whoever the Dalits support will win the elections.
India is still very much a democracy. Of course, the BJP government with its RSS henchmen everywhere, have attempted to show their ideological clout by shutting down the normal processes of University life, by endorsing their closed door theologies, where exclusion is the principle. For the last four years, we have seen how quickly they wanted the Nehruvian institutions shut down, where notions of secularism and freedom are seen by them to be evils to be extinguished. Taking away rights to education by limiting the funds, and severing access to public institutions in one way or another has affected the poor in India hugely. Clearly, no amount of success of the industrial elite, and their need to keep up with the West by privatising education, is something that educationists in the country are not likely to forget.
India has a democratic imagination which is part of its ethos. The poor know that the courts are there for their use. A visit to Tiz Hazari High Courts in Delhi will show the number of poor people who appear asking to be heard, with dog-eared property papers, demanding justice. It is so unlike Saudi Arabia, where a 34-year old prince can imprison all his kinsmen, because they are rivals, and ask for the murder of a journalist who was bent on exposing him. Since the crime happened in a foreign country, the evidence was clearly monitored, and the horror of vindictive assassination showed up on public channels. The Saudi Prince appears smiling and nonchalant, as because of his wealth, he evades the censure of Heads of State of other countries, including President Trump, who are blinkered by their own involvement in head hunting in statistically high numbers world over.
Targetting the vulnerable is a political move which receives legitimation by the state because of its coercive paraphernalia. Both the North West and North East India are surrounded by police and army, in so much that its inhabitants are never free of surveillance. As global citizens evolve world over, through the practices of migration for work, the sense of identity which is country specific blurs between people, because they work and live side by side. Unless there is ghettoisation, one can imagine that Pakistanis, Indians, Bangladeshis and SriLankans, and residents of Myanmar would work collegially together. To return to the politics of the homeland, which returns them not only to their families but also to the divisive nature of their neighbourhoods is something they adapt to.
Hatred, like love, is something which human beings feel deeply. When told to hate the other, human beings immediately, without much thought fall into line. It can happen in the village, in the urban neighbourhood, in the work space. Do they have no will of their own, to make decisions, to say No, to demand justice and fair play?. A bleak gaze is the first indication. They have been told to take sides by someone more powerful than themselves. There is no shuffling gait, no backward gaze…the foot soldier has accepted the command. Alcohol helps, and religious feelings… the hallucination of being told by God is so total, that they cannot distinguish between their own voice and the deified commander. Go Kill, says the troupe leader, and they do.
(The author is an Indian sociologist, social anthropologist and a fiction writer)