Recognizing Caste Privilege – Learning to acknowledge privilege by unlearning
An attempt to examine the author's caste priviledge as a young person engaging in a differential ideas that surround subalternity. It is also a refecltion of their life and as a young in the current political dynamics.
My introduction to the term 'caste' occurred when I was in 7th grade. That too, I knew of it as just a regressive practice that occurred in the time of the Aryans. I learned that 'caste' was something that formed a part of my identity even today when the 10th board examination form demanded me to choose a 'Category'. I recognize the sheer privilege of having a childhood where my caste identity played no role in affecting my education, or life on the whole.
My mother then took the time and put the effort into explaining to me her childhood. She belongs to the Adivasi community. Her father was the first person in the entire village community to graduate from college and study English. She narrated incidents of how, even after becoming an IAS, people from dominant castes looked down upon him and his ST roots and ways of living. She explained to my adolescent self the paramount inferiority complex my grandfather harbored even after climbing the social ladder and holding a position of power. How people would always double-check their Brahmanical sounding surname, and then knowingly sneer after discovering that they were indeed ST. It was then that I first attempted understanding privilege.
Now, I have come to realize that a majority of privileged dominant caste children have zero to a barely considerable understanding of caste and its material reality. They become so enveloped in their privilege that they put no effort in understanding or acknowledging it. Parents, educational institutes, and social circles play an undoubtedly significant role in shaping a child's worldview and opinions. However, after a certain age, it becomes solely the individual's responsibility to educate themselves and unlearn the casteist mentality. When we talk about privilege, we understand that it is multi-dimensional. Privilege exists in the manner of gender, caste, sexual orientation, socio-economic background, ability, and much more.
So, what is caste privilege? And what makes it "unearned"? If you have never faced discrimination with regards to the community you belong to, that is caste privilege. If a majority of the members of your community are wealthy and occupy positions in big places, that is caste privilege. If your parents don't attempt to hide their surname and roots from the society wherein they've made a space for themselves out of the fear of being looked down upon, that is caste privilege. If you don't have to see members of your caste barely make it to the top, while someone from the dominant caste makes it there because of the reason that they were merely born in the dominant caste, that is caste privilege. It is, then, obvious what makes it 'unearned'. There is no other reason for you to avail these advantages other than the fact that the social status of the dominant caste was bestowed upon you at your birth.
The key to understanding caste privilege lies in acknowledging the simple fact that because your caste privilege gives you an advantage, it automatically puts you levels ahead of someone who lacks that privilege. The biggest arguments that arise while discussing caste privilege often include the hardships, struggle, and hard work that the dominant caste had to put in and how they feel it is disregarded when it is mentioned that they reached wherever they are because of some undue advantage. But we must realize how untrue it is. You can visualize it in this manner to try and grasp it – Imagine standing at the bottom of a mountain. Because of your caste privilege, you do not have any load on you. Now, imagine an individual from the oppressed caste standing at the same place beside you. They are carrying a lot of luggage. What would the climb be like? Wouldn't you have higher chances of reaching the top just because your hands are free?
This is what cast privilege means. Recognizing caste privilege means not only acknowledging our present privileges but also unlearning the casteist mentality that because one is born in a certain community, one is entitled to things and can continue oppressing the oppressed caste. It does not mean you can continue reaping the sick benefits of exploiting and abusing the oppressed because your ancestors did it.
Healthy discussions about recognizing caste privilege involve self-awareness. You must unlearn the oppressive casteist ideals instilled in you by society. You must be immensely empathetic.
It is also of utmost importance that we recognize that all privilege is intersectional. Let me explain – Consider person A and person B. Person A is a man who belongs to the SC who is pursuing studies in a top university. Person B is a woman from the dominant caste who was not allowed to pursue studies and married off at a young age. Here, as well as in real life, privilege is intersectional because factors like caste as well as gender, socio-economic status, sexual orientation, disability all dictate the privilege one has. While person A must face discrimination and dominant caste oppression, person B would not have a single day in her life where she will have to face caste-based marginalization because of her caste privilege. Whereas, while person A will not have to face the choice of opting for marriage over education because of his gender privilege, person B will completely miss out on gaining education because of her gender.
One must learn to recognize their own casteist thoughts and beliefs. Question yourself about where these beliefs stem from. Put effort into learning and relearn and unlearn.
It is also of utmost importance to tread with empathy. Educate yourself on becoming an anti-caste ally. Most importantly, listen. Listen to them, actively try to understand others' experiences. Take criticism. Observe casteism around you. Voice your opinion when you recognize it.
However, I am no one to 'teach' anyone how to be a better 'anti-caste ally'. I am still in the learning stages, and as I like to believe, most of us are. There is always a lot of introspection that requires to be done, along with recognizing and unlearning subconscious oppressive mentality.
And lastly, one can always improve at passing the mic. LISTEN. Be supportive. Call out friends and family. Unlearn. Unlearn. And unlearn a little bit more.
Ninie Verma is persuing Bachelors in Communication from Fergusson College, Pune. She is passionate about education, especially acessible education for girls. She currently works as an Intern at Kanyaka Foundation.