Discrimination and oppression can take many forms with the multitude of layers one posits. The tools of intersectionality enable us to understand the nuances in a manner wherein a person’s social and economic identity is added up to create these layers. My identity as a Dalit queer individual double the systems of oppression, which is located at the intersections of caste and sexuality.
My grandparents after migrating from Rajasthan in search of employment, sustained themselves by living in a slum in Delhi. Later, they were provided with land to build their own permanent house by the government as those slums were being replaced for the Delhi metro project. I was fortunate enough to be born and brought up in a house built up of bricks. Gradually the locality welcomed a huge influx of mostly Dalit migrants.
My siblings and I are the first generations in our family to receive a formal education, from a typical Hindi-medium government school. At the time we went to school, children attended the class because their parents were stimulated by the mid-day meal scheme. And during the same time, almost 65-70% of students in my school were Scheduled Castes, hence I did not feel much different socially, but it was a time when I was struggling with my sexuality silently. My preferences were not the same as my classmates and even hinting at the same, would often invite judgments and sometimes bullying.
To take my mind off of deafening conflict, I would invest all my attention on studies, as I was told that padhai [education] was the only means that could get one out of their situation. The inflexion point in my life came when I made my way to the University of Delhi. Most students were not from the same socio-economic background as I, they had different values; were from a higher caste and varied ethnicities; their gender identities aligned with the societal expectations. But it was the time when I got acquainted with the term ”queer” and chose to shatter the box that I was expected to be in. It was also the time when my identity as a Dalit and as queer aligned with my social understanding. College made me a witness to the subtle casteism and homophobia present in different spaces and degrees. Having to represent me in a particular way that did not touch upon my caste and sexuality only to associate myself with “upper-caste hetero folx” and to be taken seriously by them. My identity felt like baggage and an inconvenience.
Having observed the values, lifestyle, and culture of upper-caste students, I arrived at several conclusions. Firstly, upper-caste - middle/upper-class people seemed oblivious to caste oppressions and class oppressions inflicted by the former. Secondly, they often have a reductive attitude towards casteism by lamenting “Casteism does not exist anymore” and thereby invalidating the Dalit struggle. Thirdly, I have often come across upper caste Hindus who dismiss the caste system by saying “I don’t believe in caste” only to better their image as humanitarians. And in doing so, this very stance taken by the humanitarians draws the lines of caste deeper. Fourthly, people who are recipients of the caste privilege not only refuse to acknowledge caste hierarchy but also further keep reiterating narratives like “We have a Dalit friend who is rich, reservation should be based on economic position”, or “SCs/STs are eating up our seats, they are not deserving or meritorious”. Fifthly, their social conditioning and upbringing where they have hardly been exposed to caste reality and their choice to stay apathetic to the struggles of the oppressed people justify oppression by quoting from religious historical texts. Lastly, there is a lack of acknowledgement of the existence of caste when it comes to the Dalit context and a casual disregard of the same.
According to a national sample survey, only 10% of Dalits are in the rich category and the rest are still the victims of this systemic oppression. Government sectors mark only 2% Dalit presence in India and still, Savarna individuals, remark that we are taking away “their” jobs and that so many seats in educational institutions are left vacant for SC/STs. The reservation of seats for the minorities is the least that one can do to right many wrongs wrought from times immemorial and still a dialogue of bringing up rural issues and historical concepts that speak in favour of removing the reservations is placed on the table.
Caste, as well as casteism, are pervasive irrespective of whether people believe it or not. Caste is not just an issue that should be concerned with Dalits or Adivasis, rather a systematic social structure inclusive of all the savarnas, it is Dalits and Adivasis who are oppressed. Caste is manifested in the way I talk, the kind of clothes I wear, the kind of people who prefer to talk to me and befriend me. My other identity as a queer adds up to this operation wherein I am asked by several individuals to not be effeminate, or not to be “like a girl”.
This intersection of caste and sexuality of mine is inseparable, the fact is, both my caste and sexuality are two aspects of the same coin. I will neither be fully accepted in the anti-caste movement nor in Queer movement. The entire queer movement is represented by upper-caste upper-middle-class queers, Dalit queers are in fact not given a platform to talk about their struggles within pride or any such gathering. The moment we come forward and try to have a dialogue around caste and wherein the upper-class will have to listen to us, we then become a threat for them.
The Brahmanical patriarchy can be seen as a source from where all of these spurious narratives emerge. In this patriarchal society, I am not supposed to be feminine as there are some standards set for men and women, transcending them triggers criticism and shaming as society is more concerned with dictating what you should be and who you should be with. It’s time for the upper-caste and upper-middle-class, who are extremely insensitive towards alternate sexualities to retrospect, reflect and question their caste privilege and be responsible for damage that is caused due to their insensitivity.
Do question your caste privilege with acceptance of only heteronormative sexual orientation or gender identity. Give us a platform for creating a dialogue around caste and see what are the ways in which you can make a more inclusive safe space for all the marginalized identities. Lastly, don’t forget to undermine the concept of intersectionality. This is just one narrative, there are many more combinations rendered due to numerous intersectionalities, like that of a disabled queer woman, a tribal woman from the northeast states, Dalit transwomen, a Muslim lesbian and so on. The more you seek their narratives, the more you will get to hear and the more you will learn about different forms of oppression.