Among the Oppressed

In India, there is not a single day that goes by without some crime or the other being committed. The last three weeks has seen so much happen that reading a newspaper or running through a Twitter news feed becomes exceedingly difficult. The entire purpose of existence haunts me during times like these. I am sure many of our friends – activists, professors and people in general, feel likewise.

The most oppressed sections of contemporary Indian society are also the most prone to these attacks. The Dalits or the ‘untouchables’ do not fall under the four jatis or castes – Brahmans, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas and Shudras. They form the unmentioned fifth varna and have been oppressed for more than 3000 years in the most inhuman of ways. The caste system in India is so well structured that it has seeped into our cultures in a myriad of ways. One of the world’s most oppressive systems has adapted itself with time. One would not recognize how caste works unless it is studied and observed from different perspectives or experiences.

The women of our society have been oppressed in ways that are incomprehensible sometimes because most of us are used to the idea of women as subordinate. The long standing notions of power that men hold over women have been studied from different perspectives and ideologies. All the studies sometimes mean for nothing when you get to hear the rape of an 8 year old girl, in the same city you live in, by a man who has a daughter the same age.

The Muslims have repeatedly been the target of the oppressors, ever since the bloody history of partition in 1947 and more so in the aftermath of 9/11. The Anti Sikh riots of 1984 shows how volatile a religious minority is in a country like India. There have been various incidences of violence against religious minorities like the Christians as well. The oppression that the Adivasis and Tribals of India face is another issue that needs our sustained attention. The queer or the LGBT’s (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) are a community that has been harassed and oppressed through the ages. The Disabled community too will fall under the oppressed sections of the society as the notion of power that the ‘abled’ hold over them is another form of oppression.

It is absolutely necessary and vital to go into history for a better idea of the oppressed and the movements associated with it. A sustained engagement with the oppressed sections of the society and their experiences go a long way in developing a better understanding of their struggles. If justice means something to us, one would have to invest a little more than just being a part of hashtag movements. One cannot just proclaim a #NotInMyName statement of solidarity and go back into their respective privileges. It is the need of the hour to understand ones privileges and work towards a just society.

Most of these movements, if you notice, has a clear demarcation between the privileged and the less privileged. A privileged Muslim has a much better chance of getting acquitted from a fake case slapped against him than an underprivileged one who would languish in jail for years together. A rich gay man would still manage to live the high life when compared to a homosexual from a poor family, who commits suicide due to the humiliation s/he experiences. An educated and successful Dalit though, still remains a Dalit (here caste is an exception, of course). Jati is probably the only system in the world where a man is born underprivileged, and remains so throughout his life.

It is because of these reasons and more that different movements have to be understood from its own privileges. A poor Dalit/Muslim queer woman is that much the more susceptible to violence and oppression in a casteist/anti minority country like India than many of the other oppressed sections. At the same time, the chances of a poor Christian woman being oppressed in a Muslim majority country like Pakistan are higher than a poor Muslim woman from the same country. There may or may not be degrees of oppression, but it is important to understand oppression from different contexts and identities.

  • This post is a small introductory note to self regarding works that need to be read, studied and then hopefully, blogged. Some of these thoughts arose during discussions with my spiritual mentor.



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