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

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Caste and the Mainstream Narratives

The changing nature and forms of the caste system are often assumed to be static in mainstream discussions, as the continuing debate on Ashis Nandy's remarks on corruption and the marginalised castes shows. Neither academia nor the state understands the changing dynamics of the nature and forms of caste.

This is in reference to the ongoing discussion in the Economic & Political Weekly on Ashis Nandy’s remarks about corruption and the marginalised castes (EPW 2013; Roy 2013; Krishna 2013; Guru 2013; Menon 2013; Cybil 2013). The mainstream narratives’ persistent assumption of upholding dalits in the same scale as that of the “collective” mind is a sweeping generalisation. The relentless rush in coming to conclusions about complex realities is empirically problematic. The charlatans of victimhood have been constructing identical arguments. These narratives are neither theoretically rigorous nor open to generating or even listening to new ideas.1 In fact, the self-appointed spokesmen’s identical arguments have been fashionably constructed over the years. This exclusive academic reconstruction, most often, is done in the name of egalitarian ideals. The self-evident conclusions of these meta-narratives are familiar even without reading their arguments. These narratives from the academic ivory towers are proving to be detrimental to the very cause they reportedly “stand for”. This can be observed in the light of the public intolerance in pressurising Nandy to apologise for bringing some nuance to the mainstream discussion. The oft-cited ideal of “organised scepticism” of the academia is seemingly useful only in critiquing the demographically insignificant “others”. The reproduction of predictable monotones thus fails to help the marginalised people in whose name everyone claims to speak.

The changing nature and forms of the caste system are often assumed to be static in mainstream discussions. However, in contrast to this assumption, social dynamics can be seen in some recent incidents in Tamil Nadu. The violence that followed an inter-caste romantic relationship in Dharmapuri for instance, has its repercussions in the caste pyramid. The regrettable death of the youth Ilavarasan due to his love marriage across caste boundaries created a new wave of primordial consciousness in society. The re-emergence of caste in modernity is most often the result of neighbourhood pressures. This is due to the social reality that in rural India people belonging to a certain caste tend to reside in the same neighbourhood. The consequences can be seen where the perception of neighbourhood creates notions of “honour” which end up devouring precious human lives.

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