Tuesday, 24 July 2012

My letter to "The Hindu" on the Racism of Caste:

May 31, 2012.

The Editor
The Hindu

Dear Madam / Sir,

This letter is with regards to the op-ed column titled “Let’s stop pretending there’s no racism in India” by Mr. Yengkhom Jilangamba (The Hindu, May 29, 2012). While I sympathise and agree with Mr. Jilangamba’s views, I have to emphasize that prejudice against Indians from north-eastern states is not the only form of racism in India. Mr. Yengkhom Jilangamba’s opinion piece overlooks the age old forms of prejudice, discrimination and oppression based on professing superiority or inferiority of endogamous caste descent in the vertically graded and bigoted system of castes which has been condemned as racism by no less a body than the United Nations Human Rights Council (formerly known as United Nations Commission on Human Rights) and the latter’s "Committee On The Elimination Of Racial Discrimination"(CERD) and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) has made it clear that caste falls within the ambit of the International Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (ICERD), ratified by India. General Recommendation 29 (2002) of CERD states as follows: “CERD strongly condemns descent-based discrimination, such as discrimination on the basis of caste and analogous systems of inherited status, as a violation of the Convention.” In addition, CERD reaffirmed through general recommendation 29 (2002) that CERD seeks to eliminate discrimination based on "descent" which includes discrimination against members of communities based on forms of social stratification such as caste and analogous systems of inherited status which nullify or impair their equal enjoyment of human rights. General Comment 20 of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, also unequivocally prohibits discrimination on grounds of birth.

Thus it is amply clear that discrimination and bigotry based on caste is part and parcel of the legal discourse against racism under international human rights law.

Racism is not strictly limited to discrimination based on skin colour or physical racial features, but a belief system of bigotry that discriminates, inferiorizes or oppresses people based on their human (biological) descent. Anti-Semitism professed by Nazis against Jews is indeed considered as the most virulent form of racism human history has ever known, even though both Nazis and Jews were white skinned. Similarly, according to International Human Rights Law, any form of prejudice, bigotry, discrimination or oppression based on caste descent is indeed racism even though those who profess superiority of caste descent and suffer inferiority of caste descent (imposed on them) may not be physically very dissimilar to each other, but belong to different endogamous caste descent.

The vertically graded bigotry of castes where each caste is considered superior and inferior to castes below and above respectively, (except for Brahmins who are considered as the “most superior” caste and Dalits who are relegated as “most inferior” as outcasts – untouchables at the bottom of the caste system), is indeed the most virulent, long surviving and most resistant form of racism the World has ever known. But a state of silent acquiescence of the intellectual and media class of India to the bigoted, reactionary and regressive principles inherent in the practice of caste has so far prevented the genesis of a national fervour for ending all practices and manifestations of caste bigotry in India. 

The racism of caste bigotry and its off-shoot called “untouchability” are the causes for honour killings, atrocities against Dalits, bondage to inhumane labour, poverty, caste segregation, social exclusion from literacy, housing and health-care and discrimination against students in elite higher educational institutions such as IITs, AIIMS etc., which has pushed many students of IITs and AIIMS (from Dalit and OBC backgrounds) to commit suicide just as the reported murders and suicides of students from North Eastern India.

In addition, one has to also state that attitudes that foster discrimination against dark and black skinned people while associating beauty or attractiveness bigotedly with fair skin is rampant in Indian society, media, advertising and films, with a consequent flourishing of multi-crore industry in cosmetic creams that claim to bleach the skin to whitish fairness!

Prejudice against North Eastern students is only an extension of the entrenched racist attitudes that sustain caste bigotry and prejudice against dark skinned people in India. 

 Yours Sincerely, 

Dr. Iniyan Elango. 


Prejudice against north-easterners is not the only form of racism in India. The article overlooks the age-old forms of prejudice, discrimination and oppression based on caste. The vertically graded system, in which each caste is considered superior and inferior, is indeed the most virulent, long-surviving and resistant form of racism the world has ever known. But the silent acquiescence of the intellectuals and the middle class in the regressive principles inherent in the practice of caste has prevented the emergence of a national fervour for ending the system.
Iniyan Elango,

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