Isn't it high time that we begin the collective critical understanding of caste, and commit to reparation to those subordinated by caste/casteism for so long?

Queen Victoria's statue defaced in the UK amid Black Lives Matter protestsAP/PTI
news Opinion Tuesday, June 16, 2020 - 17:24

Nobody in the US would have ever imagined that one day the statue of Columbus would be removed. For that matter, nobody in the UK would have ever thought Winston Churchill’s statue would be desecrated--Churchill was known for comments such as, “I am strongly in favour of using poisoned gas against uncivilised tribes...[It] would spread a lively terror". And none would have ever fantasised that there would be a call for the biggest US military bases that have been named after notorious slave holders and racist generals of the civil war of the 19th century, to be re-named now. Edward Colston, Cecil Rhodes, Leopold II, and others have gone or are about to be thrown in the sea or kept in museums. Why?

A short answer is that such men and their violence against humanity should never have been given such a public high pedestal. Besides, such men’s inhumanity should never be repeated anywhere in the world. 

It is easy to brush aside such outpourings of young and old of multiethnic communities in North America and Europe as sacrilegious by the installers and patrons of such statues, on the one hand, and as too passionate a reaction of the oppressed and their sympathisers by politicians and ivory tower intellectuals, on the other. Both such views are wrong. How?

Not many know that Columbus (1451-1506), an Italian, set out all the way from Spain to reap the benefits of early modern India of the 15th century. After all, his ignorance of geography and demography, thankfully, prevented him from reaching South Asia but helped him land in the Caribbean in 1492. Very soon the native Caribs were wiped out. Like all the white Europeans then, Columbus was not for honorable barter or trade with non-Europeans. Behind his craze for gold, silver, fur, and natives, Columbus was a super spreader of the worst pandemic in the emerging modern world: race/racism.

Not surprisingly, he was responsible not only for the devastation of many Native South American and American communities but also for the enslavement of more than 11 million Africans, and subordination of more than two million Indians as indentured labourers across the Indian, Atlantic, and Pacific Oceans since 1834.

Columbian racism was couched in white European Christianity and colonialism to ruin four-fifth of the world beyond repair. Thus, the very foundation of the US was in racism and slavery, as Harvard University Professor Cornel West says. If this is the modern history of race/racism in the world, then, should the Columbus statue remain in the high pedestals in the US or at the port of Barcelona, Spain? No.

What about the ivory tower intellectuals? High thinking liberals and Marxists might find the spontaneous outpourings of the public against race/racism to remove the statues of racists in North America and Europe as not so politically cerebral. As they content themselves within the citadel of academia, ordinary folks are racially kneed to death. This is evident in the silence of white western academics in contrast to the white women, men, and children who are protesting against race/racism now.

How about India? Do we need to talk about the pandemic of caste/casteism from the Vedic times and its super spreaders across the modern world? Sanskritist Johannes Bronkhorst, for instance, has shown in his How the Brahmins Won? From Alexander to the Guptas (Brill 2016) evidence of Aryan migration/invasion and subsequent foundation of caste/casteism in India. This also means that the institutionalised and systemic caste/casteism has been thriving in the subcontinent for too long in the name of Indian religion, culture, economy, and history. Needless to say, a child or a woman or a man is kneed to death in India in the name of caste every few minutes. Since historical materials show that there have been patrons and installers of the symbols of caste/casteism in precolonial, colonial, and postcolonial India, should they continue to remain in high pedestals? No.

How about Indian ivory tower intellectuals and their theories on caste/casteism? It is amply evident that there is no consistent critique of caste and privileged caste groups from the well-entrenched Indian academics in Indian or western institutions. Perhaps their own pedigree and privilege, right from their caste-bearing names, prevent their critique against the symbols and the institutionalised and systemic caste/casteism from which they have risen.

Conceivably, is it time to list and remove the symbols of caste/casteism—such as statues at even High Court premises and prestigious universities. Furthermore, is it high time we begin the collective critical understanding of caste, and commit to reparation to those subordinated by caste/casteism so long? For the sake of a caste-free India the answer is, yes.

The inter-ethnic upsurge of humanity, across the world, will begin, one fervently hopes, in the end of institutionalised and systemic race/racism and caste/casteism.

Views expressed are author's own.

The author teaches and researches at CeMIS, Göttingen University, Germany.

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