Caste Discrimination

9 arguments used to silence me after I came out as Dalit (and why they failed spectacularly)

There were many who wanted me to sit down, shut up and disappear. They tried to blame me, break me and brutally silence my spirit. But the outpouring of support kept me going.

Ever since I came out as Dalit early last week, the outpouring of support – from friends, fellow journalists, allies, and Dalits like me – kept me going when I needed it the most. Especially, when there were so many who wanted me to sit down, shut up and disappear. They tried to blame me, break me and brutally silence my spirit. They couldn’t bear to see a Dalit be proud of her heritage, they hated being reminded of their privilege and loathed realising their prejudice. They also obviously failed to shut me up, often rather hilariously.

But I am not here begging for equality. I am taking what’s mine – my place in the society as a loud and proud Dalit, whether they like it or not.

Here’s what they tried but failed to silence me.

1. I am rich/successful/privileged and therefore have no right to complain
Privileged, yes. Rich and successful? I wish!

Obviously I am privileged, to have had three generations before me who valued education the way they did, which is what made it possible for me to pass successfully as non-Dalit, while pretending to be an upper caste. I am privileged to have had the opportunities I enjoyed – in education and in my professional life. But, shockingly, for some, even that failed to rescue me from discrimination. Neither did it save me from feeling under confident and inferior. Nor safeguard me from struggling with a dual identity, hindering me from being truly comfortable with myself.

Either way, I didn’t deserve any of this – nor did millions of other Dalits. We suffered simply because we were born at "wrong’" end of the societal spectrum.

2. That I am borrowing from western/gay rights discourse
Not only those – that I am also borrowing from the rebellious strategies of #BlackLivesMatter employed against racism in the United States.

But why wouldn’t I – when the structural similarities between white privilege and upper caste privilege are so obvious? Both are socially sanctioned and have oppressed a minority for ages, while continuing to enjoy the benefits of being at top of the social chain. And both often fail to see what "the big deal about oppression" is.

There are also others who simply can’t stand me labelling my revelation as "coming out", a term that broadly translates to disclosure of one’s true self. As with all non-heteronormative sexuality, my Dalit identity was also taboo. One that I was forced to hide for years until I decided not to, and "came out".

3. That reservation and quotas helped me get ahead, (which probably I didn’t even deserve)
Reservation and quotas did not help me to rise in my career. I helped myself – by working really hard, and learning from my mistakes, just like any other professional. In fact, reservation did not help me at all, because I scored enough marks to make the cut-off list for St Stephens’ College. All it helped me with was a small scholarship to pay the college fees.

But even if I did take advantage of the "quota", I would have fully deserved to do it. As would so many other Dalits, who are often ashamed to avail its benefits out of the fear of being discriminated against. The reservation system is far from being a "handout or a social welfare policy", to quote a precious upper caste lament against Dalits. It’s an effort to restructure years of systemic oppression of the lower castes. And as any Dalit would attest, most of this upper caste angst is not as rooted in the loss of opportunity as on the prejudiced sentiment of, “How dare these low-caste Scheduled Castes/Scheduled Tribes do better than us, while we, the privileged upper castes struggle to succeed?”

4. That I am doing this for self aggrandisement and promotion
As a journalist, I am a story-teller. Only, this time the story I am telling happens to be my own, along with those of so many Dalits (which haven’t stopped pouring into my inbox since I came out). I am simply using personal narrative to highlight upper caste privilege and hopefully de-stigmatise the prejudices against Dalits. In other words, I am simply doing my job. (And without these ridiculous arguments, I would be able to do it better).

5. That I am blaming the Upper Castes by forcing them to acknowledge their privilege
High time someone did.

6. But what about the non-Dalit poor and those who are discriminated against for other societal factors (like a rural upbringing or an inability to speak English)?
Their stories are equally valid and deserve our attention. But those are not the stories I am choosing to tell. Because they are not mine to tell and I know nothing about those experiences. I speak what I know about. And all I know about is being Dalit.

7. That I should identify as Indian instead of Dalit
My Indian identity is evident, the colour of my skin and my nationality speak for me. But my Dalit identity was hidden for years – and for so many other Dalits it still is. Unless we associate being Dalit with pride, progress and even success, millions will continue to feel the shame I did until very recently. It’s easier for upper castes to choose their Indian identity over one that’s caste-based. Because for most part, their caste doesn’t make them suffer. There is no conflict or repercussions to them declaring their caste. And when they do, it’s delivered with a dose of smarmy pride. As Dalits, an identity we often don’t choose ourselves (because the upper castes derisively impose it on us) and generally feel no pride in, we don’t have the same option.

PS: If you have a problem with someone saying they’re Dalit without feeling any shame, you’re probably just a prejudiced casteist.

8. That being Dalit is not even an issue anymore (or not at least in the cities)
If it wasn’t, then my last week would have looked way different, and you probably wouldn’t be reading about it. Discrimination against Dalits is very real and very present, in both rural and urban areas. It just doesn’t look the same everywhere. Higher castes' refusal to marry, snide remarks about "quota" and asking someone their caste (to make it easier to discriminate if found out Dalit) are all manifestations of prejudice. As are overt examples of murder, rape and segregation that are common in rural and, often, even in urban areas.

9. That I am Christian and not Dalit
I am going to let you finish, but the debate over Rohith Vemula’s caste is already winning this round of "Stuff Upper Caste People Say".

If you are Dalit and have stories to share, send them to dutt.yashica@gmail.com for dalitdiscrimination.tumblr.com

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

How sustainable farming practices can secure India's food for the future

India is home to 15% of the world’s undernourished population.

Food security is a pressing problem in India and in the world. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO), it is estimated that over 190 million people go hungry every day in the country.

Evidence for India’s food challenge can be found in the fact that the yield per hectare of rice, one of India’s principal crops, is 2177 kgs per hectare, lagging behind countries such as China and Brazil that have yield rates of 4263 kgs/hectare and 3265 kgs/hectare respectively. The cereal yield per hectare in the country is also 2,981 kgs per hectare, lagging far behind countries such as China, Japan and the US.

The slow growth of agricultural production in India can be attributed to an inefficient rural transport system, lack of awareness about the treatment of crops, limited access to modern farming technology and the shrinking agricultural land due to urbanization. Add to that, an irregular monsoon and the fact that 63% of agricultural land is dependent on rainfall further increase the difficulties we face.

Despite these odds, there is huge potential for India to increase its agricultural productivity to meet the food requirements of its growing population.

The good news is that experience in India and other countries shows that the adoption of sustainable farming practices can increase both productivity and reduce ecological harm.

Sustainable agriculture techniques enable higher resource efficiency – they help produce greater agricultural output while using lesser land, water and energy, ensuring profitability for the farmer. These essentially include methods that, among other things, protect and enhance the crops and the soil, improve water absorption and use efficient seed treatments. While Indian farmers have traditionally followed these principles, new technology now makes them more effective.

For example, for soil enhancement, certified biodegradable mulch films are now available. A mulch film is a layer of protective material applied to soil to conserve moisture and fertility. Most mulch films used in agriculture today are made of polyethylene (PE), which has the unwanted overhead of disposal. It is a labour intensive and time-consuming process to remove the PE mulch film after usage. If not done, it affects soil quality and hence, crop yield. An independently certified biodegradable mulch film, on the other hand, is directly absorbed by the microorganisms in the soil. It conserves the soil properties, eliminates soil contamination, and saves the labor cost that comes with PE mulch films.

The other perpetual challenge for India’s farms is the availability of water. Many food crops like rice and sugarcane have a high-water requirement. In a country like India, where majority of the agricultural land is rain-fed, low rainfall years can wreak havoc for crops and cause a slew of other problems - a surge in crop prices and a reduction in access to essential food items. Again, Indian farmers have long experience in water conservation that can now be enhanced through technology.

Seeds can now be treated with enhancements that help them improve their root systems. This leads to more efficient water absorption.

In addition to soil and water management, the third big factor, better seed treatment, can also significantly improve crop health and boost productivity. These solutions include application of fungicides and insecticides that protect the seed from unwanted fungi and parasites that can damage crops or hinder growth, and increase productivity.

While sustainable agriculture through soil, water and seed management can increase crop yields, an efficient warehousing and distribution system is also necessary to ensure that the output reaches the consumers. According to a study by CIPHET, Indian government’s harvest-research body, up to 67 million tons of food get wasted every year — a quantity equivalent to that consumed by the entire state of Bihar in a year. Perishables, such as fruits and vegetables, end up rotting in store houses or during transportation due to pests, erratic weather and the lack of modern storage facilities. In fact, simply bringing down food wastage and increasing the efficiency in distribution alone can significantly help improve food security. Innovations such as special tarpaulins, that keep perishables cool during transit, and more efficient insulation solutions can reduce rotting and reduce energy usage in cold storage.

Thus, all three aspects — production, storage, and distribution — need to be optimized if India is to feed its ever-growing population.

One company working to drive increased sustainability down the entire agriculture value chain is BASF. For example, the company offers cutting edge seed treatments that protect crops from disease and provide plant health benefits such as enhanced vitality and better tolerance for stress and cold. In addition, BASF has developed a biodegradable mulch film from its ecovio® bioplastic that is certified compostable – meaning farmers can reap the benefits of better soil without risk of contamination or increased labor costs. These and more of the company’s innovations are helping farmers in India achieve higher and more sustainable yields.

Of course, products are only one part of the solution. The company also recognizes the importance of training farmers in sustainable farming practices and in the safe use of its products. To this end, BASF engaged in a widespread farmer outreach program called Samruddhi from 2007 to 2014. Their ‘Suraksha Hamesha’ (safety always) program reached over 23,000 farmers and 4,000 spray men across India in 2016 alone. In addition to training, the company also offers a ‘Sanrakshan® Kit’ to farmers that includes personal protection tools and equipment. All these efforts serve to spread awareness about the sustainable and responsible use of crop protection products – ensuring that farmers stay safe while producing good quality food.

Interested in learning more about BASF’s work in sustainable agriculture? See here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of BASF and not by the Scroll editorial team.