ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Is Caste Losing Ground?

LETTERS

Issn 0012-9976

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Is Caste Losing Ground?

T
his is with reference to “The Peculiar Tenacity of Caste” by Andre Beteille (EPW, 31 March 2012). The paper which basically tries to argue that caste as social system is losing ground in India is unable to convince us by offering us evidence about what it is trying to say. The author has invariably used the term “evidence” in the paper but what is actually presented is based on a common-sense understanding of the situation.

The three major areas – rules pertaining to purity and pollution, rule of endogamy and the interlinkage of caste and occupation – that are cited for illustrating the declining importance of caste are not new things to say. Our society started witnessing these changes from the time of the British and the onset of modern technology has accelerated this process. But if we look dispassionately at these developments, we may find an altogether different picture. The caste sentiment is still strong even in the most secular of office spaces and industries.

The author has ignored the fact that social networking plays a crucial role in workplaces. And in our context caste is an important factor in networking. I have come across cases where people of “all castes” from the upper castes have formed informal groups for having lunch in their offices. There are also cases where the upper caste person who joins a particular lunch group in the initial stage withdraws from that group for the only reason of its lower caste concentration. What I understand, based on my observation, is that the rules of purity and pollution are ignored only when the caste is not known. As and when the caste identity of the members becomes clear, it pollutes people’s minds. There is also evidence from the National Human Rights Commission and National Commission for Scheduled Castes of several cases of the lower division staff harassing their office superior just because of his lower caste background.

As far as the rules of endogamy are concerned, the author is partly true. If one goes through the matrimonial advertisements published in the leading

april 28, 2012

English dailies, endogamy is still intact though the mode of spouse search is quite modern. Moreover, the author has ignored the fact that hypergamy is still relevant and powerful in modern hi-tech marriages also. Most of matrimonial advertisements of the upper caste families for their daughters which speak of “Caste No Bar” in fact request SC-ST grooms to excuse them irrespective of their education and occupation.

It is true that the linkage between caste and occupation is witnessing a considerable decline. But even today an ex-untouchable cannot profitably run a tea stall in a village. Meanwhile, nobody from a brahmin caste so far has set up a meat stall in a village or town in our country. It is also true that most of the sanitation workers in municipal corporations and large hospitals still come from the lower castes.

Basically the paper is written from the perspective of “middle class Indians” who are known to deny caste not because they are against it but because they oppose reservations based on caste. Across the world, the subalterns are known for their democratic and egalitarian values but we are unable to understand the passion that the author has for the middle class as agents of change and transformation. Both at the conceptual and at the methodological level, the paper suffers from serious weaknesses. Can we consider the changes that the caste system has been witnessing as evidence of destruction or decline of caste? Why does caste continue despite such changes? What would be the time period and policy initiatives needed for caste to disappear from our society? These are some of the questions not answered in the paper.

Anil S Sutar

Tata Institute of Social Sciences

Mumbai

‘What Failure of Left Theatre?’

I
wish to produce some arguments on the article “Rise and Fall of Calcutta’s Group Theatre: The End of a Political Dream” by Parimal Ghosh (EPW, 10 March 2012).

vol xlviI no 17

EPW
Economic & Political Weekly

LETTERS

Ghosh tries to assert that “legislature leftism” ended the “Calcutta Group Theatre Movement”. But was it a failure? Or was it a random exercise of left theatre?

There are a lot of other examples. In the 1980s and 1990s protest play groups of Calcutta had produced a variety of other plays – PLT’s Darao Parthikbar (on the life and deeds of Madhusudan Dutta), Annaya Theatre’s Madhav Malanchi Kayinya (A Folk Erotica of Bangladesh) and Nattayan’s Brishchik are worthy of mention.

We wish to add Tapaswi O Tarangini and Pratham Partha (plays of Buddhadev Basu) that were performed by Theatron and three productions of Agatha Christie’s Mousetrap by three separate groups in the same period.

Theatre is independent of social crosscurrents and vice versa. And if the theatre of protest has collapsed after “legislature leftism”, another form of protest theatre will emerge.

In the same decades there was a production Bandhya Karkhanas Gete by CPT and Ganabishan on the futile labour policy of the Left Front. And in recent years there was a production like Adbhut Adhar by Sanskriti on the Left Front’s failure and Chotto Bakulpurer Yatri by Swapnasondhani on the unlawful land-grabbing programme of the Front.

Sanjib Chatterjee

Kolkata

Suppression of Constitutional Rights

(An open letter to Manmohan Singh)

T
his is to bring to your immediate attention of the detention of an eminent and internationally acclaimed scientist Partho Sarothi Ray along with several other citizens by the Kolkata police. Partho Sarothi Ray is an established scientist in the field of molecular biology, his scientific research findings have been published in world-class journals including Nature. He has also been awarded the Wellcome Trust/DBT India Alliance Intermediate Fellowship in 2010 which is one of the most prestigious honours that a young life scientist in India can receive. He is a faculty of Indian Institute of Science Education and Research Kolkata,

Economic & Political Weekly

EPW
april 28, 2012

one of the esteemed institutions of higher learning in India under the Ministry of Human Resource Development.

You might be aware that recently the Government of West Bengal undertook a massive eviction drive of slum-dwellers with police force without any rehabilitation measures. As a natural protest against this unjustified police action, there were peaceful demonstrations by concerned citizens, for which prior permissions were arranged by the local police. In spite of this, the Kolkata police used force to crack down on the demonstrators. It was while participating in a peaceful protest against the eviction of slum-dwellers of Nonadanga area of east Kolkata that Partho Sarothi Ray was arrested along with 68 others including several women and a nine-year-old girl on 8 April 2012. Of those arrested, seven including Ray, have been detained in police custody for several days, and now six of them are in judicial custody and one in CID custody.

In order to justify its high-handedness, the police slapped many dubious cases against Partho Sarothi Ray and others, such as Section 353 (assault on public servant), Section 332 (voluntarily causing hurt to public servant), Section 141 (unlawful assembly), Section 143 (punishment), Section 149 (common objective of disruption) of the Indian Penal Code. The relation of these charges with (or lack thereof) the peaceful demonstrations of 8 April has not been made clear at all. We are extremely concerned of the treatment meted out to Partho Sarothi Ray and others.

Incidentally, the excess of police has clearly not ended. On 12 April 2012 human rights activists were attacked and later arrested at a demonstration against the illegal evictions and the detention of Ray and others. Furthermore, recent media reports reveal that on 13 April 2012, Ambikash Mahapatra, a faculty in chemistry department from Jadavpur University was first beaten up mercilessly by goons for an action which was as innocuous as forwarding an email to his friends whose content constituted a cartoon that had already been posted on Facebook a few weeks earlier. It is frightening to note that instead of taking action against the assaulters, the West Bengal police arrested Mahapatra.

vol xlviI no 17

This, in our opinion, constitutes a clear violation of freedom of speech and all conceivable rights of an individual due to illegal action by the state police. The state administration has issued public statements in both print and electronic media in support of this barbaric act.

We are extremely perturbed by such use of State force in cracking down on human rights activists, and citizens attempting to raise issues of concern related to some of the poorest and most vulnerable people of our country. This violent suppression of protest appears also to be an attempt to threaten those who might raise their voice in dissent.

It would therefore help if you could personally intervene to resolve these matters urgently. We fear that this approach of the state has serious implications not only for the events occurring in Kolkata but for the larger democratic ideals which this country espouses. In particular, we request that Partho Sarothi Ray and others be granted bail immediately. We also urge that all the dubious charges placed against Partho Sarothi Ray, Mahapatra and the other protestors be dropped and an impartial enquiry by a central agency be conducted into these matters to prevent any further violation of human rights.

T A Abhinandan, IISc, Bangalore; Ayan Banerjee, Narayan Banerjee, IISER, Kolkata, Kirill Bolotin, Vanderbilt University; Swapan Chakrabarti, Calcutta University; Noam Chomsky, MIT, USA; Bhanu Das, IAA, Bangalore; Subhadeep De, NIST, Maryland, USA; Aparna DuttaGupta, HCU, Hyderabad; Saikat Ghosh, SNBNCBS, Kolkata; Vrinda Grover, Human Rights lawyer, New Delhi; Paul Krapivsky, Boston University, USA; Ananda Lakshmi, Chennai; Ludvig Lizana, Umea University, Sweden; Mayna Majumdar, Editor – Katha, Kolkata; Sanjoy Majumdar, IIT, Kharagpur; Harsh Mander, Member, NAC; Babu Mathew, NLU, Delhi; Pnina Motzafi -Haller, Ben Gurion University, Israel; Manas Mukherjee, NUS, Singapore; Rajendran Narayanan, Cornell University, USA; Arnab RaiChaudhuri, IISc, Bangalore; Manju Ray, CSIR-Emeritus Professor, Bose Institute, Kolkata; Aruna Roy, MKSS; Shiv Shethi, RRI, Bangalore; Pragya Shukla, IIT, Kharagpur; Rahul Siddharthan, IMSc, Chennai; Vishal Sood, Copenhagen; Kavita Srivastava, PUCL, Jaipur; Abha Sur, MIT, US and many others

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    april 28, 2012 vol xlviI no 17

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