Caste on the menu card
From the Moghul invasion in the 16th century to the British policies of divide and rule, politics in India, in this day and age, is more partisan than it ever was. The infamous Babri Majid demolitions, Love Jihad & Ghar Vapsi, Beti Bachao- Bahu Lao Andolan and the recent Beef Ban, all facts support the one fact that no matter what we think how we feel, we are a part of this great polarization between Hindus and Muslims.
Tata Institute of Social Sciences is one the premier institutes of the country for social science research. It is perhaps one of the last few remains of what we can call the ‘left’ in this country. For those who do not know, students in the institute are basically taught about human behavior and how our actions at micro level are impacted by and impacting larger structural power regimes. They offer such insight through the lens of Media and Cultural Studies, Social Work, Psychology, Education, Policy and Development Studies to name a few.
Every year, from what they study and make of the world, students at the School of Media and Culture Studies at TISS make documentaries on phenomena that they see as issues in humanity’s incessant pursuit of the ‘ideal’ Utopia. The ideal, of course, keeps changing from time to time.
A group of students from the batch of 2013-15, thought about addressing the recently much talked about issue of beef ban through their documentary, that came to be known as ‘Caste in the Menu Card’. The objective of the documentary was to make people aware how we still are a nation feeding on internal differences of choice, compartmentalizing them in the name of things such as caste and religion and identity. While power holders win or lose some of their power, the poorest of the poor are not even considered before making such decisions.
While upmarket restaurants continue to serve beef (off the menu, of course), the people whose lives really changed since the ban were the informal workers (daily/ weekly laborers) in the leather and meat industry. They lost their livelihoods, and perhaps the only source of money for their child’s education, family’s nutrition and overall health. The idea was to bring about these obvious facts that were left out of observation in the whole political clamor.
The movie has been over the internet for almost around a year now, and has also received various state and national level accolades. The ban at the Jeevika Asia Livelihood Documentary Film Festival, comes as a reminder to all of us that no matter how much the internet grows and however many levels of progress we make, we are still living in a feudal system, where power is concentrated in the hands of a limited few who are unwilling to make information a free space. As long as information in controlled, we continue to think the way these power holders wish, and as long as we do that, we are bound to be divided and ‘ruled’, even in a democracy.
In fact, in first episode of Feminist Rani, which is SheThePeople.TV initiative towards opening the conversation on feminism, journalist Rana Ayyub spoke very beautifully about how our structures of power run on identity politics. There are certain normative pre-requisites associated with being identified as a part of a specific cult or group. Hippies are unkempt, Rajpoot men have moustaches while Muslim women must don a ‘nakaab’- are some common physical attributes that we have assigned to persons from each religious group.
But do we wish to make informed choices? Or just choices, without being aware what they really mean? Are we still Darwinian animals who see survival as more important than inclusive & sustained growth?