How A Lack Of Diverse Voices In The Mainstream Keeps India's Caste Hierarchy Intact

The idea of caste is rudimentary, not to mention wholly arbitrary, and represents a social divide that has been impossible to mend in India even in the 21st century.

Tanvi Akhauri
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It's only Thursday and this past week has been emotionally draining for those who keep up with news and have a conscience. Every morning brings a new report of rape and assault against women - of all ages, all backgrounds, all classes. The death of the Dalit woman, gangrape survivor from Hathras, on September 29 served as a moment of upheaval in the collective national consciousness of India, as far as caste-based and gender-based violence are concerned. Yet, it was followed by another in Balrampur on September 30 - again a Dalit woman, again in Uttar Pradesh. Going by the distressed public reaction to these crimes, it's like we have only just woken up to acknowledge the reality of the caste hierarchy. But are Hathras or Balrampur isolated incidents? Are they one-off events of caste violence? Should we be assured that this will not happen again?


The simple answer to all three questions is: NO. The caste hierarchy is one of those structures that tether India to a deep-set foundation of patriarchy, misogyny, power politics, and social discrimination. The idea of caste is rudimentary, not to mention wholly arbitrary, and represents a social divide that has been impossible to mend in India even in the 21st century. And the onus of bearing the brunt of all the violence, shame, and oppression this system brings falls largely on one rung - Dalits.

Why does traditional social exclusion still plague India? One of the prime reasons for this is the lack of diverse voices in the mainstream.

The Role Of Privilege In Keeping Dalit Voices Away From The Mainstream

It wouldn't be wrong to say that the Dalit community is unfortunately at a disadvantage even today, in terms of access to resources, opportunities to dissent, and frankly, just existing or even hoping for equality. And this is not of their own volition, but solely because those who allege to be superior to them caste-wise, have for centuries ensured that they remain downtrodden.

You can acknowledge the lack of diverse Dalit voices in the mainstream by asking yourself one simple question: How many Dalit persons do you have in your social circle?

And now ask yourself this: Why have you never reflected upon this question before?


The answer to these questions invariably points towards the privilege that many of us possess, which shields us from conversing about, admitting to, or even thinking of the casteism that is more prevalent in India than is let on by our social surroundings.

SheThePeople conducted a discussion on the reality of caste-based violence against women. Vijayashanthi Murthy, a Dalit woman and teacher at St. Joseph's College, Bengaluru, noted that the mainstream narrative indicates we have been "choosing selective voices over the other." She added, "This choosing happens because we are deeply rooted in the same system which allows us to pick certain voices over the other... Bringing in multiple angles to the conversations we have is important."

Also Read: Phoolan Devi, A Fierce Woman Who Challenged Caste Patriarchy

Caste Hierarchy In Bureaucratic Structures

Dalits, Scheduled Tribes, Other Backward Classes, and the numerous minorities that make up the cultural fabric of India have not been allowed to take up central, public spaces. This is why reservations for marginalised communities are necessary for politics, education, corporates. The aim is to uplift and empower voices from Dalit and other marginalised communities that have been left behind in the race to equal success and bring them collectively at par with the mainstream.


On how the hierarchy works in such bureaucratic systems, Murthy adds, "People from Dalit and other communities who get into these systems, more often than not get spaces in the lower ranks of the structure. The power rests in the hands of dominant castes. In the police for instance... it's not a functional hierarchy; it's an evident caste hierarchy. Or in the judiciary - How many High Court judges have been from the Dalit community? How many women have we had? Or media or academia."

"You can see the lack of women's voices, Muslim women, Dalit women, Adivasi women - it's there from the Parliament to the newsroom," journalist Namita Bhandare adds.

Also Read: Another Hathras: Young Dalit Woman Drugged And Gangraped In Uttar Pradesh, Dies

The Need To Bring Marginalised Communities Into The Mainstream

The need of the hour is to make conscious choices towards bringing sidelined voices - like those of Dalits, women, and others - into mainstream, everyday conversations, and then slowly assimilate them into the fold of this space as a natural, inextricable part of it.

Murthy, expanding on this, sums up, "Yes, there should be diversity, but that diversity should not be because you want to bring in intersectionality. They (Dalits) should have space with equal power, to talk and take decisions. It should be a meaningful sharing of power where we listen to experiences and then take decisions."

Views expressed are the author's own. 

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