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Caste the blame on the West

The caste system is a legacy of Western colonialism in the same way that tribalism in Africa was exploited by Europeans, says Richard Sudan

Racism is racism, however we choose to describe it or define it. While there is no such thing as race there are many ways in which people see themselves as different.

People use the word race to describe colour, plain and simple. But we could use any word. It all amounts to the same thing. Inflicted discrimination ultimately has the same origin.

It speaks to the insecurities that people harbour. It is a harsh reminder that the origins of modern day racism, in your face or institutionally, are to be found in a shameful chapter of the not too distant past.

Should we therefore tackle the different manifestations of racism, or should we recognise that strying to pigeonhole one part of a wider problem may only serve to further divisions among us and perpetuate the problem?

Richard Sudan

Should we aim to remove the language which describes the problem, recognising the damage it does, or should we carry on, intent on understanding such language, its origins and the tags associated with it?

Something worrying is going on in the UK for people whose origins are from the Indian sub-continent, but who are often born here. There exists a system which boxes human beings according to their ‘caste’.

The caste system is a way of dividing people and, while having its roots in the Indian sub-continent, is ultimately a by product of colonialism. Yes, it was going on before India was colonised… but on a much smaller scale.

Like how tribalism was used by to divide Africans by the Europeans, the caste system was bought into because the nation of India was brutalised from head to toe.

We can never underestimate just how much situations like this enable racism and underlying prejudice to embed their claws into the very fabric and psyche of a people.

When a dissipated people start to believe and adhere to the rule of law being thrust upon them, for the enforcer half the battle is done.

Poor people all over the world who have been ghettoised over time, have not only ended up socially and economically deprived, but more often than not end up succumbing to the notion that they are inferior. And they start to then adopt the very same attitudes that they are on the receiving end of.

The caste system is similar to the American social order that black people have been victims of for so long, because in order for a system like this to be enforced people need not only to be subject to it, they also need to buy into it and eventually accept it as the norm.

Of course it is virtually impossible to quantify this argument with hard facts. Over time the acceptability of this type of discrimination becomes ingrained into our society and language.

It becomes subconscious, and those who are aware of its presence in the everyday grind of life are so used to seeing it they cannot find the words to express the level of hurt they feel.

Some people just become desensitised altogether. Some are so damaged they actually blame themselves. But we know it is there.

Look at the system in the era of Apartheid in South Africa. where Japanese people being accepted by the racist government as ‘honorary whites’

While this is hardly subtle, it reminds us of the gradual effects of labelling and association.

In Trinidad and Tobago even today the extent to which the island is drawn along racial lines is shocking. If you are lighter skinned you are treated more favourably. If you are of Indian origin on the island (and most of my family are) some might refer to you as a ‘coolie’. If you’re black you may be referred to as a ‘negro. And people would not be trying to insult you.

Trinidad became independent in 1964. But she is still thinking like a colony in many respects.

If we look at the caste system for what it really is, ‘caste’ is just another meaningless word used to describe skin colour. Of course we cannot ignore the fact that people have been persecuted on the basis of what others believe to be caste.

Equally we must acknowledge that there is such a thing as racism. But any scientist worth his or her salt will tell you that there is no such thing as race. We must read between the lines and ask ourselves what we must do to ensure this system is broken down.

Will it happen in our lifetime? Or is it for us to explain the complexities of the world to our children and hope that over time we can aspire to achieve dreams of any heights, recognise any glass ceiling is there to be smashed, and treat each other as people?

I believe in the latter. Just as Rome was not built in a day, so it cannot be dismantled in a day. But we have to pool our resources, and change our thinking.

We can undo the damage that has been done, but we must stop identifying ways of dividing people already divided. The people on the receiving end of the caste system are one thing.

What of the twisted thinking of the people high up on the so called hierarchy thinking they are better than others? How do we begin to challenge this thinking?

Surely it must start with recognising that caste is part of the wider problem of racism, and the two are not mutually exclusive.

Look at slavery for example. Is the caste system so different?

Slavery shaped our country, our economy, our growth, and our culture and the World. Within our culture it shaped and nurtured many of the underlying prejudices that we still see surface in 2009.

In our day to day lives we have all experienced racism which hurts and demeans us. When prejudices, nurtured from such a ghastly era, become relevant, indeed enforced by powerful individuals and institutions with the means to place barriers (and indeed remove if they so wish) in the way of our advancement – or in our search for justice – the implications become devastating.

But it goes deeper. If we look at America for example pre and post civil rights act, black men and women were continually force fed negative stereotypical images of themselves.

Blatantly, and indirectly. It all contributed to the same system. Even now despite the rise of a black man to the White House we still see sports figures and entertainers carted out to speak for the black masses when a major news story breaks.

We are seeing less of it but it is still happening. It would be happening more were it not for the continued efforts of individuals and campaigners pushing an agenda for equality for so long-the same campaign groups and individuals usually labelled as examples of affirmative blacktion.

The same groups and individuals 100 years ago would probably be labelled as ‘uppity negroes.’

We see this culminate in the worst instances of black on black crime, and we see people begin to take on the characteristics and live out the stereotypical labels that they have been tarnished with.

We also often see these negative images held up as examples of what people should aspire to, by the corporate controlled media, with its own agenda.

The caste system is not exactly the same but we are in the same ball park.
Campaigners like Caste Watch UK have been campaigning to break down the caste system.

But I wonder if this goal along with better representation for black people could be achieved more quickly. The influence of a government which represents modern Britain 2009 has a better chance of removing the caste system from the UK.

Would a government which has more ‘untouchables’ in its ranks help remove the stigma of casteism? Undoubtedly.

We must continue to work together, mindful of not furthering divisions among ourselves and determined to work together to remove the problems faced by all black people. Only then can we speed up the process of making equality a reality.



2 Responses

  1. I have to disagree with you on this one Rich, I don’t think colonialism has anything to do with it. Although exploited by the colonialist, these tensions existed way before the Europeans entered said areas.

    I think that the caste system is a very backwards way of thinking but its embedded in the Hindu Religion. Equality will never be achieved when such systems deeply embedded in such cultures exist!

  2. Thanks for the comment James. Although I would say that while the system did exist prior to colonialism, and post, to say the problem was perpetuated and worsened by the occupiers would be an understatement.

    It’s a complex issue, and needs to be tackled on many fronts.

    Thanks James.

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