Democracy hasn’t eradicated the country's caste system. It has entrenched and modernised itby Arundhati Roy / November 13, 2014 / Leave a comment
Published in December 2014 issue of Prospect Magazine
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My father was a Hindu, a Brahmo. I never met him until I was an adult. I grew up with my mother in a Syrian Christian family in Ayemenem, a small village in communist-ruled Kerala in southwest India. And yet all around me were the fissures and cracks of caste. Ayemenem had its own separate “Paraiyan” church where “Paraiyan” priests preached to an “Untouchable” congregation. Caste was implied in people’s names, in the way people referred to each other, in the work they did, in the clothes they wore, in the marriages that were arranged, in the language they spoke. Even so, I never encountered the notion of caste in a single school textbook. It was reading Annihilation of Caste, a 1936 lecture by the Indian writer and thinker BR Ambedkar, that alerted me to a gaping hole in our pedagogical universe. Reading him also made it clear why that hole exists and why it will continue to exist until Indian society undergoes radical, revolutionary change.
If you have heard of Malala Yousafzai, who was joint winner of this year’s Nobel Peace Prize, but not of Surekha Bhotmange, then do read Ambedkar. Malala was only 15, but had already committed several crimes. She was a girl, she lived in the Swat Valley in Pakistan, she was a BBC blogger, she was in a New York Times video and she went to school. Malala wanted to be a doctor; her father wanted her to be a politician. She was a brave child. She (and her father) didn’t take heed when the Taliban declared that schools were not meant for girls and threatened to kill her if she did not stop speaking out against them. On 9th October 2012, a gunman took her off her school bus and put a bullet through her head. Malala was flown to England, where, after receiving the best possible medical care, she survived. It was a miracle.