The square of systemic oppressions: Experiences of a Dalit queer man.
Posted On 18/10/2020
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 doubles 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, it was only gradually that colony developed with more such migrants mostly with Dalit families.
My siblings and I are the first members to get a proper formal education in our generation, from a typical Hindi-medium government school. It was the time when parents in our area used to send their children to school, stimulated by the “Mid-day meal scheme”. During my school time, almost 65-70% of the students belonged to Scheduled Castes, hence I did not feel much different socially but it was during that time when I was struggling with my own sexuality. My preferences were not the same as my classmates and talking about these, would only invite judgments and sometimes bullying.
I decided to divert my mind from all of these and invested all my attention towards my studies as I was told that it was the only means that can get us out of our situation, at that time. The inflection point in my life came when I made my way to University of Delhi. People were no longer from the same socio-economic background, they had different values, caste, ethnicity, gender identity and so on, then was the time when my identity of being a Dalit and queer aligned with my social understanding. 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 there when I was able to witness the subtle casteism and homophobia at different spaces. It was a baggage to represent yourself in a certain way to hang out with “upper-caste hetero folx” just to experience the so-called “coolness”.
Having observed the values, lifestyle, and culture of upper-caste students, I arrived at several conclusions. Firstly, upper-caste – middle/upper-class people need to acknowledge the existence of caste rather than disregarding it. They often tend to reduce it to the reservation, rural issues, and historical concept. “Casteism does not exist anymore” invalidates our struggle, the Dalits, and the cost that we had to bear, to be able to access the same institution that you are in. Having different social-economic positions invalidates the entire anti-caste movement that has been going on for decades. I have often come across this statement by upper caste people who utter “I don’t believe in caste”- people who are already carrying the caste privilege just don’t want to acknowledge and 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 out our seats, they are not deserving or meritorious”. This clearly shows their social conditioning and upbringing where they have hardly been exposed to caste reality or have been inculcated from childhood per se that people who clean their sewer, manual scavenger, their maid are filthy and unhygienic
I would like to enlighten my dear, upper-caste fellows that 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.
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 in 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 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, a Dalit transwoman, 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.
About the author: The author is an intersectional queer feminist studying at Delhi University. A peer educator specialized in facilitating workshops on gender and sexuality, consent, pleasure, and sexual reproductive health and rights. He deems himself an Ambedkar fellow, vocalizing the voice of marginalized sections, an avid dancer and writer sometimes.