My thought conformed, too, to the widely prevalent notions of the Nehruvian approach to the caste question- a belief that caste discrimination was a subjective issue, not an objective one (that is, mainly a question of consciousness and not based on reality.) Education was a major means of eliminating caste prejudice, while economic development would do away with the economic or objective basis of caste.
I even started writing an article on opposing the Mandal Commision Report.
Two things, however, changed my attitude towards the question of reservations but more particularly towards the caste question. By the time, I finished writing the article, I was supporting the MCR.
One was the hordes of “educated” upper caste young boys and girls coming out on the street and using the most offensive language against reservations and the beneficiaries. It destroyed my faith in the notion that mere education would eliminate caste discrimination. This was not the path that one had expected educated young people to take: strikes in colleges, bandhs, stopping of trains, burning of vehicles, self- immolation and slurs on our classmates who were believed to have benefited from reservations.
I also saw the silent anger that my Dalit classmates endured in the face of such humiliation. One of them remained inside his hostel for weeks, and rarely ventured out of his room. When I went to see him, I found a massive pencil sketch on the wall of his tiny hostel room: of people standing with their fists raised, of eyes that spoke of silent, simmering anger and my friend himself in a state of psychological collapse.
These incidents and observations led me to support both reservations and the struggle of the suppressed castes, the only bone of contention with my Marxist teacher.
I am reminded of this today when I read on various blogs people getting appalled at the riots in Mumbai and elsewhere in Maharashtra. I too dislike the burning of the trains and destruction of public property.
No one likes such violence on the streets of any town or city in the country
But I do not find myself raging against expression of this anger. The violence is bad, but it is the violence of the poor, of people who continue to be discriminated against-
the riots come in the wake of a court order barring Dalits to enter a temple in Orissa. They also come in the backdrop of the Khairlanji incident and the recent commemoration of Dr. Ambedkar’s conversion to Buddhism.
Once again, it is the rage against the Dalit rage that makes me side with those who are at the receiving end of society. There are dozens of blog posts expressing anger against the riots, very few that introspect or distinguish between the violence of the powerful and the violence of the dispossessed.
The Dalit rage expressed in violence in Maharashtra is not just violence, it is the violence of the poor, the last resort of a silent, oppressed people.
All violence is not just violence.