Thursday, April 08, 2010

The White Tiger, Ranvir Sena and Casteism

I particularly liked The White Tiger by Aravinda Adiga owing to the darkly humourous tone the author employed in describing the dynamics of caste in Bihar (which he refers to as 'the darkness'). There were parts of it which described the failure of the Indian state to provide for a semblance of human rights to its most repressed people, especially in terms of participation in the democratic process. As the protagonist said, "I've voted in every election like a good citizen; and I've never stepped foot in a polling booth". Haha.
In the real world, when the state woke from its stupor and attempted to extend a threadbare conception of rights to the people, the upper castes of Bihar felt their existence as the holders of hegemony threatened. They chose to resort to a measure they were best at: repressive violence. Thus was begotten the Ranvir Sena. The Sena is essentially a militant conglomerate of landlords and political mafiosi, that strives to defy any form of restructuring of inter-caste relations, and attempts to do so through conspicous killing, and insidious politicking. The deputy CM, S.K. Modi, is a member of the Sena, and no less proud of it. So, the timeline looks crudely like this: Oppression, persistent oppression, Some semblance of hope, more oppression. It's a sorry state of affairs, which merits the attention of the state considering the fact that dalit-hunting is the favourite passtime of the Sena.
Yesterday, a Patna Court sentenced 16 members of the Ranvir Sena to death for the brutal massacre of 58 dalits in Laxmipur Bathe village in 1997. The victims were inclusive of women and children, killed for 50 acres of land. 'Justice delayed is justice denied' couldn't have been more accurate, considering that the victims' families, already languishing in penury, have had to take on a political force in order to secure justice. Beyond evoking melancholy sentiments, the purpose of highlighting this incident is to exhibit as to how even with its supposed 'growing' tag, the state of Bihar still survives in the social paradigms of the previous century. Casteism has been the most compelling factor for this, possibly second to government apathy.
The concretisation of casteism as a potent political tool, while not unique to Bihar, is extremely problematic in the social milieu of Bihar. UP has seen the growth of Kanshi Ram and Mayawati into the most potent political voice in UP. Such a shift in bases of power seems very optimistic, if considered in the perspective of Bihar. Caste relations and caste opportunities are too hegemonized by the wielders of power that the idea of dalits finding themselves in an assertive position, while not unprecedented, is rare.
To put it crudely, mighty fucked up situation. Ahshit.

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