What does it mean to grow up watching systemic oppression unfold onto people around you and not having a vocabulary to denounce/counter/ridicule it? This is what our childhood entails. I can recount several instances where small acts, micro-aggressions of caste discrimination were only discussed within the family but not openly because there was a legit fear of being ostracized further. And then there is what Gilroy calls the curated ignorance. The discourse that empowers the oppressed is carefully sucked out of all spheres of public life. It took over two decades for me to finally validate my speculation that caste hierarchy is the most inhuman form of oppression. It’s maddening to carry that anger as a child. Some of us find ways to amplify it in ways that redeem us of that fear.
Nagraj Manjule has this brilliant poem where he writes,
If I didn’t have a pen in my hand,
And instead had a chisel,
Or a flute even
I would have continued to excavate
the perennial chaos of my being
It is in the writings of Phule, Ambedkar, Periyar that we found the articulation of the chaos of our beings. They are our heroes not merely because they paved the way to the emancipation of the oppressed castes, but they also retained the intensity of our generational traumas and anger as a foundational inspiration for their politics. For Shuddhabrata Sengupta to come up and reduce it to a mere ‘politics of resentment‘, based on a fake quote, is an appalling act of epistemic violence.
There seems to be some tacit expectation that the anti-brahmin (and hence anti-caste) rhetoric should adhere to some code of civility. So not only should the oppressed castes suffer the brahminical oppression, but also be humble in countering it to conserve the fragile and bruised brahmin egos. Why is that burden of humility squarely placed on the oppressed, while the oppressor is unhinged from any accountability for his actions? If you can revel in my oppression, you will also have to face the wrath of my resistance. You can’t have it both ways.
Periyar IS our hero precisely because he realized that the brahminical oppression cannot be singularly dealt with ‘civility’. He didn’t pacify those wronged by the caste system like Gandhi, the darling of upper-caste Indian liberals. Instead, Periyar brilliantly deployed rhetoric to ridicule the inhuman order of caste hierarchy.