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Presentation - Caste In Britain


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CASTE IN BRITAIN

by SAT PAL MUMAN

LONDON

E-mail: satpal_m@hotmail.com

Chairperson, distinguished audience and friends,

It is indeed a very great honour that I have been given this opportunity to address you in this pioneering conference organised by the Voice of Dalits International. The officers of this organisation deserve to be congratulated for raising such a sensitive subject as the cause of the Dalits on an international platform. The Dalits of India are engaged in a bitter battle to establish their dignity and self-respect which is the birth right of every citizen.

It is entirely appropriate that at the turn of the second millennium celebrating the Birth of Christ that we have availed ourselves of this opportunity to raise consciousness about those whose lives continue to be a misery since millenniums past! Perhaps it's a first conference of its kind being held in Britain to tackle the vital issues affecting the Dalits.

I am mindful of the time constraints that I have and shall therefore endeavour to put across my points of view in the time that has been allotted. Whilst I make no pretences to be an expert in the field the views expressed here are views any concerned layman associated with the Dalit cause would express.

Caste in Britain is a very relevant subject to tackle and in this address I have only covered very specific areas, that of the Media, and how a particular community in Britain is promoting and keeping alive Caste Consciousness thorough the medium of music and how we can address Issues of Casteism in relation to British Law.

I came to Britain in the late 60s from a remote village in India. I had the good fortune to have received education here. I remember, very distinctly, that when I was in the fourth in the early 70s, my Geography teacher, whilst discussing population control with respect to India, as an aside, asked the class a question about India. He asked the class to say what the most distinguishing feature of India was. The class could not respond thinking it was a trick question. My own mind began to wonder about animals, goats, cows and buffaloes etc that roam the fields and little children playing in dirty streets etc. However, because there was no reply forth coming from the class the teacher announced the answer and said that the most distinguishing feature of India was The Caste System.

In the early 60s and 70s there was a mass influx of immigrants from the Indian sub-continent. They were mostly migrant workers seeking fresher pastures to improve their lot. Many of those arriving were from India and many also arrived from East Africa(Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda) etc. Over the last thirty years we have witnessed a steady rise in people of various nationalities with their diverse histories, cultures, beliefs and languages who arrived and settled here making Britain their home. I remember that 30 years ago when the numbers were small there was a sense of kinship amongst fellow compatriots. People were simply viewed as Indians or Pakistani first and language or culture was only of secondary importance. As their numbers increased they began to establish their own newspapers some in English others in their local vernacular Punjabi, Hindi, Gujarati Etc. They have established temples, businesses and now they run their own Radio and Television Stations.

Dr. B. R. Ambedkar leader of the so-called Untouchables remarked that wherever the Hindu will go he will take his Caste System with him. In modern Britain Caste System is not only just "alive and kicking" but is actively being promoted in the media. Not only have the Indians brought their ?Indian curry? to Britain but they have also brought their Caste System with them. Whilst the Indian curry may be enjoyed by all, the Caste System is not so palatable and leaves an indigestion.

David Haslam in his book Caste-Out on page 4 quotes a book "Caste and Class: Dynamics of Inequality in Indian Society" by Raja Jayaraman in which he says that Caste System is "a type of social stratification in which an individual's social status, that is his or her prestige and honour are determined by his or her birth into a particular Caste .. He says that this status is directly linked to his or her Caste Group within the hierarchy of Caste".

I will add that amongst the many ways Dr. Ambedkar blasted the Caste System in his book Who were the Shudras, Dr. Ambedkar describes the Caste System "as a social heirarchy in which there is an ascending scale of reverence and a descending scale of contempt. This Hierarchy of inequalities is sanctified by religion based on the Theory of Chaturvarna and is fixed and permanent".

Another characteristic of the Caste System is that whosoever is born in it propagates it to their descendants in ways biological genes are propagated. Although, through evolution, genes may mutate but The Caste System, due to its Religious sanction, is beyond mutation.

As I have indicated earlier there is a thriving Asian Media in Britain providing variety of services. There are many cases and incidents that occur in Britain where prevalence of Caste and its bearing on the Asian community can be directly shown. For my evidence I have taken random samples from what is put out in the media as evidence that Caste is alive and kicking in Britain. But before I present this evidence I want to communicate to you the demographic nature of the ethnic mix found in Britain and some concerns I have about raising the subject of Caste so publicly and the consequences this may have.

One concern that I have is this: Asians are already victims of racism in Britain. There may be a curious affect caused whereby the indigenous community may use the Caste divisions amongst the Asians as a weapon of further oppression. The Asians could be accused of in-fighting and those Asians who are fighting against Racism itself may see their work being undermined by our outcry against Caste. Some thought ought to be given to this as to how best we can achieve our goals notwithstanding the fact there will certainly be a backlash at least from the conservative elements of the Indian community for placing Caste System in the public domain. The Right wing Fascists could also use this to further their aims.

The young British Asians are growing in an admixture of Eastern and Western Culture. Having been exposed to affects of Racism, the young Asians are expressing their identity through capitulating into their own cultures. Examples I have taken show how the young are reverting back to their communities in search of their own ethnic cultures. Those belonging to the so called higher castes view their superior social position as an advantage. A kind of social security; a kind of kinship amongst fellow Caste men. Having been victims of Racism themselves, the Asians have fallen foul of Caste Consciousness causing them to treat their compatriots less favourably then would otherwise be the case.

Mark Tully, a long serving BBC correspondent based in India and an apologist for the Caste System, in his book "No Full Stops in India" writes on page 7 as follows:

"The Caste System provides security and a community for millions of Indians. It gives them an identity that neither Western science nor Western thought has yet provided, because Caste is not just a matter of being a Brahmin or an Untouchable: it is also kinship system. The system provides a wider support group than the family: a group which has a social life in which all its members can participate."

Mark Tully was severally criticised for holding these views on Caste. As history often repeats itself, Hindus are likely to defend the obnoxious system in similar terms.

(Incidentally, Mark Tully no longer works for the BBC. He was forced to resign when he fell out with BBC).

If you look at the way Indians have set up their temples, temples which are not only places of worship but also substitute as community centres, you will see that not only is there a religious divide but there sectarian sub-divisions within the religions. For example you will see Valmikis temples, Ravidasia temples, whole range of Hindu temples named after myriads of gods/goddesses and a whole variety of Sikh Temples e.g. Ramgarhia, Bibi Nanaki, Dashmesh Temple, Guru Nanak etc etc. The common denominator is not merely a religious separation but the dividing element is the underlying Caste System.

According to the last census held in Britain in 1991 the population of Britain is at 55 million out which 3 million people (5.5%) belong to the ethnic minorities. Out of the various ethnic minorities present the Indians represent a figure of 840, 255 of which 42% are actually born in Britain. The Punjabi language is the most commonly language spoken amongst the British Asians (52% overall over all, which includes 95% of all Sikhs and 74% of Pakistanis). Urdu follows at 31% and then Hindi(27% overall including 70% of all Gujaratis) and then Gujarati at 25%.

Although no official figures are available on the size of religious communities it is estimated that there are around 130,000 Buddhists between 400 - 555,000 Hindus and over 1.5 million Muslims and between 350- 500,000 Sikhs. The areas in which the Indians have mainly settled include the Midlands and the South East.

The figures quoted above are from the 1991 census. Since then there has obviously been a sizeable increase in population of Asians and there is also a tremendous cultural output at the same time, especially in the field of Punjabi music. If you tune into your Sunrise Radio or your Radio Exel or any of the regular ethnic Radio stations, you will hear news, views and Punjabi Bhangra music being broadcast. Music Videos are regularly broadcast on numerous television stations like Zee TV, Asianet, Sony TV, Lashkara and others. You have programmes like Top Ten, Up Beat, Music Fusion, Hit Music etc which the young tune into for the latest hits!

I have indicated earlier that Punjabi is the most commonly spoken language amongst the Asian and to many young Punjabis the Bhangra music has proved to be the cultural refuge they were seeking. There are many programmes dedicated to Bhangra music and many Punjabi folk believe that Bhangra music has been the restitution of their withering culture and views as the saviour of the young from the clutches of the decadent West. Bhangra Music with its catchy Dholak beats provoke and enthral the listeners to rhythms of dance and ecstasy. Bhangra is the hallmark of a Punjabi.

But wait! This is not all joy! One of the dominating Castes amongst the Punjabis are the Jats. The Jat Caste is one of the sub-Castes of the Sudra Caste in the Punjab. Jats are in the main landlords and farmers and consider themselves to be of a superior stock than any of the so called Untouchable Castes; especially the Chamar Caste which is the dominant Untouchable Caste in the Punjab and also here in Britain. We are well aware that the landless Untouchables are at the mercy of the feudal landlord Jats. The Jats in the Punjab are the main oppressors of the Untouchables. Not only does the Jat thinks he is superior by virtue of his Caste, he is also in the nasty habit of making his views publicly known and also makes a big song and dance about it. Many songs and ballads are composed which are set to the tunes of Bhangra music.

The Ballads are written to show that the Jat is the only creature beholden to greatest of virtues, the greatest of emotions of sadness, joy, happiness and elation. The Jat is the greatest lover the greatest dancer. The Jat proclaims his Caste antecedents for his greatness. However, I have yet to see a Jat proclaim to be the greatest fool but the Jat obviously knows his limits.

Here are some random occurrences of songs broadcast in the media that I have noted:-

Date

Time

Broadcast Media

Subject

Saturday 22nd July

10:45

AsiaNet

Song depicting Jat crying for his beloved

Sunday 23rd July

16:25

East London

Mela

Sunrise Radio invite Bhangra Group to their public stand. The group open the program by singing that jat will sell all his harvest(grains and crops) to enable him to go to the see the Mela

Monday 24th July

09:35

SunRise Radio

The presenter Sevak opens the programme with a song I wish I was in the Punjab enjoying the luxuries of life like a Jat enjoys

Thursday 27th July

09:15

SunRise Radio

Same song

Monday 31st July

09:40

Zee TV

(S R G M )

I am Jamla Jat why don't you become my beloved

Saturday 26th August

18:54

AsiaNet

The Sons of Jats are having great fun

Saturday 26th August

18:58

AsiaNet

Oh the Jat has got intoxicated

Those amongst us from the Punjab will know what I am attempting to explain. It fills me with outrage to see how the media is being manipulated by the Caste Jat to promote himself as bearer of greatness and superiority; A kind of self aggrandisement. The mention of Caste conjures up images of Caste Consciousness and Caste promotion. The young listening to these songs often wonder what it all means and the unavoidable imagery is created of Castes and Caste hierarchies and the so called upper Caste young are picking this up!

Questions are raised in school playgrounds, colleges and even Universities where students enquire about others Castes. Questions of Caste are raised in pubs and clubs and on the factory floor. There was even a case of a Shopkeeper in Wolverhampton where the customer refused to take Change from the vendor lest they found there touch polluting and insisted that the change be placed on the counter to avoid contact. On the factory floor, again in Wolverhampton, we know of women of so called upper Caste Jats not taking water from the same tap from where the so called lower caste person drinks.

I have even seen banners painted on car windscreens which read "Jattan de putt" imploring sons of Jats to be the greatest.

One other glaring example of Caste prejudice occurred last year. The story goes that Sikh temples hold annual inter-temple sports tournaments. One such tournament was held in Birmingham where the Langar (sanctified food) will be served by one of the participating temples who happened to be belonging to the Ravidasia community. Whilst their teams participated in the tournament but the Langar did not get eaten by the majority Jats because it came from the Chamaars.

On the question of matrimonial section appearing in the ethnic press, again I have taken some Random Samples:-

Date

Newspaper

Matrimonial

16th June

Des Pardes

Khatri Family seeks

Ramdasia family seeks ..

Respectable Jat Sikh educated family seeks ?

Educated Saini Sikh seeks ..

Ramgharia Sikh Family seeks ..

Tank Kshatriya Sikhs seeks..

14th July

Many Jat Sikhs?

28th July

Kamboj Sikh Family ?

18th July

Majabi Sikh..

26th April

Punjab Times

Sikh Rajput ..

26th July

Ravidassia Sikh parents seek ..

Respectable Ravidasia Adharmi

Matrimonial sections of the English speaking ethnic press also have Caste underpinning. There have been cases of physical violence against those who have broken through the Caste barrier and have undergone inter-Caste marriages or those who have eloped.

From time to time we see members of the Hindu religious fraternity, a mahatama, a maharaj, a maharishi etc appearing Television enunciating some religious doctrine or the other. On Saturday 26th August on Zee TV in their programme "Out and About" an item was broadcast at 10:30. This item was an interview with one Hindu Maharaji who was an alleged expert on the Gita. He was asked a question relating to the central message of the Gita. He replied that the central message of the Gita was that we should uphold Chaturvarna and to do our duty accordingly. I can go on and on sighting numerous examples of Caste and its manifestations in the Media.

Again, last year, The Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan held seminars on Manusmiriti and the ideals it portrays. The work was praised by majority of the audience as a most wonderful example of Sacred Literature Hindus have produced. I remember when some noises of dissent were raised they were quickly suppressed by the presenter and even some members of the audience began to quarrel amongst themselves.

Due to the preponderance of ethnic minorities in Britain, the British Parliament enacted the Race Relations Act 1976 to give them some protection from Racial discrimination.

Part 1 Section 1 of the Act reads as follows:

A person discriminates against another in any circumstances relevant for the purpose of this Act If---

(a) on racial grounds he treats that other less favourably than he treats or would treat other person etc etc

Section 3(I) gives meaning of Racial Grounds and Racial Groups as follows:

Racial Grounds means any of the following grounds namely colour, race, nationality or ethnic or national origin

Racial Group means a group of persons defined by reference to colour, race, nationality or ethnic or national origins and references to a person's racial group refer to any racial group into which he falls

Article 3(2) says The fact that a racial group comprises two or more distinct racial groups does not prevent it from constituting a particular racial group for the purposes of this ACT.

Whilst no firm conclusion can be drawn as to whether Casteism is Raceism - I believe the Jury is still out on this, I propose the Race Relations Act 1976 should be amended and brought up to date to include Casteism. The above definitions that of Racial Groups and Racial Grounds should specifically incorporate Caste in addition to colour, Race, nationality etc. This change is needed now as Caste discrimination is likely to play a key role in the future as we move towards an ever increasing Asian population in Britain. The British law will need be brought into line with an emerging new social order in Britain.

Legal precedence has already been set by the Indian Constitution when dealing with Discrimination based on Caste.

Article(15) on Fundamental Rights covers Prohibition of discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth.

Article(16) (2) on Rights to Equality reads that No citizen shall, on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex, descent, place of birth, residence or any of them, be ineligible for, or discriminated against in respect of, any employment or office under the State.

Clearly this move to incorporate Casteism into British will have wider implications for the world as a whole. Laws which address Discrimination based on Racism should take cognisance of Casteism and place it on par with Racism.

With these words I thank you for your time.

References

1. Caste Out, David Haslam, CTBI, Inter-Church House, 35-41 Lower Marsh, London SE1 7RL.

2. No Full Stops In India, Mark Tully, Penguin Press

3. Who Were The Shudras, Dr. B R Ambedkar, Govt of Maharashtra, India

4. Race Relations ACT 1976

5. Ethnic Minorities In Britain, CRE Factsheet

copyright: ambedkar.org

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