Thanks to the years of efforts of women’s rights activists, today it has become obligatory at least within certain sections of society to problematize the private, even if reluctantly. Though much remains to be done, today we have something called the politics of pleasure, where even so-called consensual sex does not remain outside the purview of critical scrutiny. The dualisms of dominance and subjugated, active and the passive have been rightly recognized as worth rigorous examination. Close on the heels of feminist concerns, are those of the historically marginalized castes. The academic “mainstream” took a while to allow feminists to be taken seriously, but now Gender Studies or Women’s Studies courses are being initiated in some institutions and universities. Caste is getting special attention from a wide variety of social scientists who are drawing expertise from their own as well as other disciplines to enrich our understanding of how caste operates, discriminates and so on. Wherever applicable, race and ethnicity studies are also not that unpopular and works on these areas are getting appreciated.
All this is well and good. So what is the problem? The thing is, none of this operates in vacuum. When we “study” caste or class for instance, it should not escape our minds for one second that the researcher as well as the subject or context of study is also tied together in dynamically existing social relations. These relations will necessarily be of hierarchy and they will not cease to be even if one is say an Ambedkarite or Marxist researcher. In other words, the material, objective basis of class and caste (and other similar) relations are never suspended so that the researcher can have a “neutral”, unadulterated field of action. In the specific instance of India, class and caste (or other suitable categories if available for application) operate in a manner so as to make it very difficult to separate the intellectual-manual labor divide from Brahmanical tendencies, because of the well known exclusion of the non-Brahmanical castes from the right of education (in the sense we, the “educated”, largely mean it).
As is well known, the phenomenon of caste is progressively hierarchical, i.e. it is possible for one to move up the social ladder by becoming more Brahmanical. A notable way of achieving that is by being able to establish that their intellectual labor is now worth more (this valuation is obviously not in the conveniently calculable Marxian terms but in more intangible, subjective ways) than what they used to provide earlier. Now let us examine the practices of activists in the intelligentsia, in the academic world. Even though they may acknowledge superficially that they are in some ways privileged (alas to those who are privilege blind even at this level), they continue to celebrate and harbor a sense of superiority over those not considered so erudite, educated, intellectually gifted. It is not just the casteism inherent in the distant way the non-teaching staff of the institution is treated during an academic session. You find it in the way a particular intellectual, be it Arundhuti Roy or Meena Kandasamy, is given special attention for saying something quite plain, perhaps something that the not so celebrated guy on the street is also aware of, in one way or the other.
It is in this special privileging of a particular manner of articulation, of a particular arrangement of labor, which takes the form of being an intellectual and earning a certain credibility from an elite circle that is considered more valuable intrinsically, that the roots of Brahmanism lie. Indeed, it cannot be explained with precision in the sense as defined by the parameters set by the same casteist system that perpetuates such exclusionary, discriminatory tendencies. It lies in privileging intellectual labor over manual labor even as you express solidarity with the movements and struggles of that “uneducated” class. It is like the “white savior complex” that we find in most of the Hollywood that even remotely touches upon the race issue. Or closer home in the “male savior complex” in mainstream movies where it is the boy who has to salvage the situation and get ‘his girl’ out of trouble. I am not doubting the genuineness of the efforts of those who extend such solidarities and participate in working class movements and so on. I am just saying that it would be hypocritical to deny that when you upload your picture with a book written by you and which has just been published, you are not exposing the pleasures that you derive from the exclusionary establishment that the world of academics is. It may appear ridiculous to many to raise such objections about what appears to be a ‘simple display of excitement or happiness over one’s hard work’. However, let us not forget the time when it was considered pretty commonsensical that the only designated place for the woman is the kitchen.