Belonging and Unbelonging

Image Source: The Blake Project

Caste persists alongside the egalitarian ideals of our democracy. It largely remains hidden and unmentioned. Although caste seems to be under erasure, it is certainly alive and kicking. But it has become unspeakable in the public. One seems to practice it without speaking of it. It is lives in the practices, mores, beliefs, norms and ways of living. We therefore cannot forget the caste question. This is the reason we may have to take up the synchronic study of caste as it has a way of working and impacting everything around it. The synchronic study allows us to start from where we are. We do not have to start at a zero point like the diachronic studies. In this context, we may begin with the scrutiny of space. How we organize and maintain space can reveal a lot about the nature of power relations at play in a given society. We can observe how space is organized with a keen eye that is looking at the way caste plays power politics in our society. This means we have the challenge to decode how caste is spacing our society.

The organization of space becomes a language where we write caste relations and hierarchies. Every form of spacing or organization of space includes within it some things/ persons by excluding other things/ persons. It is a form of excluding inclusion. The grammar of this excluding inclusion can be caste or any other principle of discrimination like religion etc. This means we can arrive at the biopolitics at play within a given space and try and identify the caste principle animating the same resulting in what may be called bio-governance of people. Caste, therefore, is found to haunt the organization of our society. Hence, we have the obligation to interrogate the naturalized and normalized forms of caste exclusions in our society that produces belonging and unbelonging among the people in our society. This means space organized under the principles of caste welcomes and unwelcomes the people living there.

The synchronic approach that we have taken up embraces both belonging and unbelonging and welcoming and unwelcoming at play in space organized through the principles of caste. This means caste while becoming invisible and unspeakable is deeply cast into the fabric of our society assigning the space and functions of people bound by that space. The unsayable caste resurfaces from time to time distributing space and functions to the people, marking their degree of belonging and unbelonging to a caste laden space. Such space is lived with a sense an interiority and exteriority marking the caste identity of a person and producing a sense of welcome and unwelcome in him or her. Often the unwelcome reaches such a point of alienation that some people of lower caste status are pushed to live their lives on unclaimed lands always living under the threat of eviction without really enjoying habitable living conditions. Even our egalitarian democracy did not erase caste written into our living spaces.

The deprivation to the outcaste the right to habitable living space somewhat remains normalized and naturalized even while we claim to be the biggest democracy in the world. We are yet to deconstruct the deep association of understanding outcastes as waste and filth of our society. This association of the outcastes with waste/ contamination/ pollution builds boundaries of power and wall social intercourse within our society. We also have the challenge to be sensitive to the sense of unbelonging that haunts them and us at many levels. This is because caste puts belonging on an ascending hierarchy. We share our belonging and unbelonging on the ladder of this hierarchy. This sense of unbelonging is allied with being unwelcome produces a sense of being abandoned without even having an entitlement to a space to live in our brethren cast as outcastes by the principles of caste that are embedded in our society. Caste therefore especially for the outcastes/ Dalits become cartography of abandonment. It manifests a politics of self and the other where the othered other is left to live what may be called bare life that is often less than animals. some animals are privileged we consider them as sacred to us. Hence, death becomes a shadow under which the subjecthood of the outcastes is forced to survive. This shows that they have to live under an indefinite possibility of death or violation of their right to life. They are indeed left to live a tattered life. Maybe Georgio Agamben’s notion of thanatopolitics might assist us to understand as well as describe the experience of the outcastes in our society. It can open us to make sense of the fact of abandonment, confinement and extermination inflicted upon the people that are deemed as abjects and not even objects ( which is evil enough) in a caste-ridden society.

The outcastes are forced to live a perpetual mode of quarantined life purportedly protecting the upper castes from getting contaminated. This habitation as incarceration cannot continue in the name of egalitarian democracy. We cannot hide our atrocities to our outcastes brethren under the cover of democracy or even religion. We have to think how belonging and unbelonging, welcome and unwelcome affect and afflict our outcaste brethren. We cannot allow the ideals of democracy to invisibilize our Dalit brethren. What we need is affirmative action beyond the promise of reservations. Reservations have their role but they too produce the ills of the caste system as those who enjoy them also become privileged elite while others of their own are left in the lurk to enjoy bare life.

What we need are affirmative actions that affect the entire community. We, therefore, have to begin with legal, economic, educational, political and social measures to deconstruct our spaces that are organized on the principles of caste. This means we have to do the impossible. We have the challenge to bring about land reforms that will give dignified land resources to the Dalit especially within the plan of the city. These geographies cannot be segregated but have to be interspaced with all people. Just enabling the outcaste will not deconstruct the invisible caste code that organizes our space and organizes our life. It is important to bring the dignity of being human at all levels in our society. We are afraid of the absolute horizon that embraces all humans as equals. We want to close that horizon and close ourselves. Closing ourselves produces all hues of discriminatory body politics. On this side of the grave, we seem to be condemned to fight these viruses of discrimination afflicting us.

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Hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue.

- Fr Victor Ferrao