I was recently invited by my (blogger) friend Kuffir to blog for Blogbharti in their Spotlight Series, an Indian blog aggregator, whose stated mission is to make sure that "all voices from the Indian blogosphere are properly heard." Kuffir, from Hyderabad, India, is an editor at Blogbharti and also blogs here. I was very honored he invited me (along with others) to blog about a topic of my liking. So I decided to blog about the similarities between the Dalit struggle and the struggles of people of color in the United States; as well as on the privileges and ignorances of whites and Brahmins in the United States and India and the system that keeps them up and keeps "the other" down. For those of you in America and abroad you can read more about Dalit issues on my blog here and here and as well as clicking on the "Dalit" tag and "Caste" tag at Blogbharti.
Trying to jog my brain on what to write I decided to flip back to my old posts on caste, especially my two posts on Dalits and Hinduism. One thing that struck me was the similarities of caste and whiteness; specifically on not seeing one's own privilege as an upper caste Hindu or as a white person. One thing whites have done in America is try to co-opt movements from people of color and try to make them their own or try to co-opt them by trying to enfold certain leaders from communities of color into the mainstream political fold so only cosmetic changes are done and no real change happens. The main political parties are still run by white males with their token people of color mixed in but the reality is, is that these parties are still guided by white elites and essentially only represent the interests of white elites; which in turn shows us why there was never really any big change in the American racial landscape after the civil rights bills of the 1960s.
So too for the Congress Party of India, which for a long time was really the only political party that had control of the Indian government. While Gahndi and the Congress Party claimed to represent the interests of India and to be for all Indians in reality the Congress Party was actually run by upper caste men; while, even though many of whom were more "liberal" minded when it came to religion, they still enjoyed the benefits of caste. Many in the Congress Party, including the bourgeois and upper caste Gandhi, were unaware of the caste privilege and in fact even lauded the caste system as divinely inspired. This was meet with severe and harsh criticism by Dalit leaders such as Ambedkar (one just need look at the title of Ambedkar's book What Congress and Gandhi Have Done to the Untouchables).
Another similarity between caste and white supremacy is that both of these systems and institutions have been meet with both mainstream and more radical and militant resistance. In the United States (early one) in the civil righs movement whites and Blacks united to fight against Jim Crow laws, yet when it came time to really institute change in the U.S. many whites decided to back out and not confront their own white privilege; to them the civil rights legislation was enough and if Blacks couldn't make it then it was "their own damn fault." Liberal whites could "feel good" about helping their Black "brothers and sisters" but that didn't mean they actually viewed them as their equals. Instead those who called for radical change in the corrupt and unjust white supremacist system were Blacks and other people of color. They formed radical organizations that confronted whiteness and white supremacy, such as the Black Panthers and Brown Berets. It was people of color, not whites, who organized their communities and demanded real change and took militant stances in demanding equality for all and access to the vast abundance of wealth that was horded by the elite.
As in India it was not the Brahmins and upper cast Hindus who led for genuine reform, it was the Dalits. While many upper caste Hindus did seek to abolish "caste discrimination" they did not seek to abolish the caste system itself, just as whites were comfortable with seeking to ban Jim Crow laws but not white privilege itself. Ambedkar, who was a Dalit, was able to see in Gandhi and the Congress Party what they could not see in themselves because they were blind by their privilege. “Examine the Gandhian attitude to strikes,” stated Ambedkar, “the Gandhian reverence for caste and the Gandhian doctrine of Trusteeship of the rich…Gandhism is the philosophy of the well-to-do and leisured class.” Also it was radical Dalits in India who created the Dalit Panthers, in direct connection with the Black Panthers, and tackled the problem of caste head on and with no regrets.
So what does this mean for those in America who fight against white privilege and those in India who fight against the caste system and upper caste reactionaries? For one, in this highly globalized and technological world both sides can view each others triumphs, failures, writings, and thought in order to better themselves and their own struggles and in turn open up lines of communication between each other and two it meas Dalits and people of color can align themselves in a shared common struggle against capitalism and of destructive social systems so ingrained in each society that it is nearly impossible to think of said society without thinking of caste or white privilege and racism. Not only will it be beneficial to study both movements mutually, but in this globalized world both systems collide with each other and play out in other countries and spill over amongst themselves. One can't separate America's goal for domination of the globalized world with that of white supremacy and one can't deny that it is the elites in both countries (which Anand Patwardhan captured so well in his documentary War and Peace) who benefit from globalism and capitalism. Thus there is an inter-connectivity between privileged white males in Europe and America and privileged upper caste males in India. Thus there too must also be an inter-connectivity between people of color and immigrants in Europe and America and the Dalits, Shudras, and OBCs in India in order to combat this new conflation of oppression were both lower classes are left behind in the dust and left to suffer for the "betterment of the 'whole' society."