Casteism: The “I Don’t See Caste” Claim

How can you not see caste?

The principle is quite simple. If you want to bring about equality, you need to take into account, be cognizant of, inequalities.

Ever noticed the staggered start for a 400m race? If you are measuring who crosses the same finish line first, make sure you ensure they all have proportionately equal starting points.

Even before we discuss recourses, it is ridiculously tough to get anyone to acknowledge the problem.

Let us take a tangent before diving into the caste context. This should at least help women understand the situation, while hopefully, get men thinking.

Women, in general, get the brunt of being discriminated against.

If the status quo remains, women would have to work twice as hard, will be subject to harassment more often, juggle multiple identities, have questionable recourse to justice, bear an unequal part of the social justice for a faux pas, etc than a male.

Every legal structure was built by men. Every social norm was framed historically assuming women were inferior to men. Within the same class, the same caste, the same race, the same religion, authority lies with men.

Women are fighting to gain equality within and across each of these spaces.

Power structures currently are deeply entrenched and anyone, man or woman, who denies it is living in a bubble.

But no fear. Let us look inside one such bubble.

The life of a middle-class Indian woman.

More than likely, she would be battling prejudices about her choice of dress, when to go out, who she goes out with, safety, if not cooking then at least a disproportionate amount of housework, child care, and a lower income than the husband.

Economic decisions would probably run along “I make more. Let us not jeopardize the larger income stream.”

Take a sweeping view of the country. See the number of women in the upper echelons of power in corporate, political, or social organizations. The story will unfold on it own.

This is even with all the rights that have been legally won over the years for women. The right to divorce, the right for maternity leaves, the right to vote, quotas, abuse laws etc.

Today’s woman stands a long long way from where women were even just a century ago, and still, the system is tilted towards the men. So much so that most women do not even know whether their life, their identity, is chosen by them or has been chosen for them. You still see women get overjoyed at the praise of elders when they rush to get their dishes from the kitchen as the men sit around discussing cricket.

Ask any thinking woman and she would tell you that she wished she had a strong woman to mentor her in life. To provide air cover. To undo skewed laws and ensure equality. To step into social situations to rectify conventions of propriety.

Those cumulative, all-pervasive microaggressions are what shapes one’s self.

In short, if the world were equal, women would have all the rights, opportunities, experiences, that a male can potentially have, and then, only then can anyone look at a woman and say “I don’t see gender.”

If you do not see differences in the lives of a male vs a female, even when they have the same life parameters, drop me a note. I’ll come by with a pin to prick your bubble.

Every woman has to overcome more, give up a lot more, than what her male equivalent counterpart had to go through to reach where she reached.

In order to address inequalities for women, it is not important to come up with neutral laws. Those laws will always favor men because they have already real estates of power.

What would happen if all laws positively discriminating women are yanked out? If all legal provisions, all social questioning are wiped clean, and we replace them with “let they who perform win” I have no doubt that the power balance will restabilize with men on top again.

Caste works the same way. The analogies work the same way.

Power structures were created and populated along caste lines. Representations in economic and political and legal centers are dismally off the mark. There are not enough success stories.

Once you are sensitized to the differences, the world will seem a lot more uneven. Laws and conventions will not seem immutable. You will realize they were designed by humans, supplemented to accommodate clauses, bolstered for nepotism, strengthened by idealism, defanged by the pandering, multi-colored for us all.

There is no right answer as to who is being discriminated the most. An upper-class woman forced out of public spaces and expressions, or a lower caste male denied his history and starting place in a cut-throat world.

Probably a lower caste woman, the intersection point of many injustices. She is just a tiny speck when viewed from the ivory towers of caste deniers, a punching bag for the toxic males in the dregs of the caste ladder.

Maybe next we talk about identity? Because it is all about identity eh? Right? Right? Wrong?

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