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The Shame of Being "Untouchable" in Britain

Discussion in 'Sikh Sikhi Sikhism' started by kds1980, Dec 13, 2007.

  1. kds1980

    kds1980 India
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    VIEW FROM LONDON: The shame of being 'untouchable' in Britain-UK-World-The Times of India

    VIEW FROM LONDON: The shame of being 'untouchable' in Britain
    10 Dec 2007, 0248 hrs IST,TNN
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    On Thursday, Britain gets its first play on the caste system still alleged perniciously to operate within the local Sikh community. 'The Fifth Cup', which gets its first outing in Birmingham, is about 15-year-old Amrit Singh whose family moves home from one British city to another, in order to make a fresh start.

    But the Singhs find themselves relentlessly pursued by the sibilant hiss of that ancient marker imported from the Mother Country - low - caste origins. They are shunned by the local Sikh community, which presumably counts itself too high-born to consort with dalits. The family unit comes under intolerable strain. Amrit struggles to understand the unfairness of inherited alleged unworthiness, despite living in a 21st-century meritocracy where class distinctions may still matter but certainly not caste.

    The play is a debut production from Caste Away Arts, a new Midland's-based theatre company. It says its aim is "to tell the story ...like it is ...of those that have been 'cast away' from society because of their caste, race, religion or circumstances..." More to the point, 'The Fifth Cup' is written by Rena Dipti Annobil and Reena Bhatoa, both of whom claim to have been at the sharp end of casteist discrimination here in Britain.

    Bhatoa says she was "completely oblivious to what caste (I was)" till she turned 13. It was only after Sikh schoolmates repeatedly asked her that she sought clarification from her parents. "I discovered I was an untouchable... (I was) called nasty names, called an untouchable..." It was a devastating revelation.

    Welcome to caste-ridden Britain, home to 1.3 million Indians, many of whom still scour marriage bureaux listings and adverts in the Indian press for the appropriate Ravidasia, Ramgarhia, Lohar, Lohana, Mochi, Mistry, Shah/Vania or Tank/Shatria spouse for their sons and daughters. Suman-online is a point-and-click matrimonial service that proudly claims to be the web-child of "the pioneers of Asian matchmaking in UK and Europe, namely Suman Marriage Bureau (established 1972)".

    Those who run it admit British Indians still "don't want to marry into a lower caste. We also find that those who originate from a lower caste prefer to meet someone of the same background because they know that they may be victimized because they are of a lower caste". But the killer fact is Suman's estimate that only 25 per cent of British Indian marriages take place across caste barriers.

    Many believe even the hippest bit of our exported fusion culture - bhangra rap - is tainted by casteism. Punjabi Bhangra is seen as an unceasing anthem celebration of jat pride with noted BBC DJ Bobby Friction recently noting it is full of "songs about jat pride, about the life of a jat ... jat nationalism is running rampant in bhangra music now to the point where every bhangra album that comes out in Britain has at least one track that alludes to the power of the jats".

    So are we - the Indian abroad - really so regressive that our organic lived reality is almost exactly as Dr Ambedkar gloomily described decades ago when he said "wherever a Hindu goes, he will take his caste system with him".

    As my colleague Chidanand Rajghatta noted on these pages on December 9, the Indian-American's "dharma of diversity" means "no Indian state or group or caste is too small or too big to form a representative association in America. So, we have everything here from NAMA (North American Manipuri Association) to BANA (Bhojpuri Association of North America), from the Bruhan Maharashtra Mandali to the Bangla Samaj." He went on to lament, "Oh, how they multiply and divide".

    Castewatch UK, an activist organization set up four years ago to combat caste discrimination in Britain, believes this is the exact hideous truth of the Indian's life here, though political correctness keeps it securely hidden. Perhaps 'The Fifth Cup' will blow the covers.
     
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  3. dalsingh

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    re: The Shame of Being "Untouchable" in Britain

    It is high time we face this nonsense within the community and stop hiding it away.
     
  4. Archived_Member1

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    re: The Shame of Being "Untouchable" in Britain


    i don't see it as hidden, every gurdwara in the UK seems to proudly announce affliliation with one caste or another. it's obsurd. from the british sikhs i have met, i'd say that so called "low caste" are just as proud of their caste as so-called "high caste". they keep their caste names rather than using singh and kaur (look at the writers of the play), they have their own seperate gurdwaras, with only people of their caste on the committies... it's really depressing to see, but it's coming from both sides.
     
  5. dalsingh

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    re: The Shame of Being "Untouchable" in Britain

    Whatever the situation is, it needs addressing on all fronts. No one should imagine it is something that will disappear overnight but we should at least aim to go roughly in the right direction.
     
  6. Archived_Member1

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    re: The Shame of Being "Untouchable" in Britain

    i can agree with that. :)
     
  7. Kirpal Singh

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    re: The Shame of Being "Untouchable" in Britain

    I believe more plays like this should be considered by enlightened sikh young sikhs to get rid our society from the menace of caste system,jatt-bhapa syndrome,urban-rural divide, female infanticide,dowry menace etc.
     
  8. Sinister

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    re: The Shame of Being "Untouchable" in Britain

    Well lets talk solutions

    And start with this;
    “There is something behind the throne Greater than the king himself”
    -Sir William Pitt

    If you want to hack this problem at its source look no further than hacking away at some widely held pseudo-Sikh beliefs….KARMAIC ideology being the first.

    The notion of Karma and its relation to the transmigration of souls within the caste system was the very first step in solidifying the Brahmins superiority. The idea of Karma provided the justification for the Brahmin for his abuses of power.

    The logic came down to:
    If you were born into serfdom it was because of the actions you performed in your previous life. This meant that you were obliged to die in serfdom (because only another life would bring you in the higher moral order).

    Thus Weber called India “the perfect theocracy”. (I encourage people to read his work on the formation of the pariah class/caste in India).



    The Sikh Guru’s tried to eliminate this but did not succeed…why?

    Well for starters,
    Because the new economical model that was being preached was unbeneficial and ill-developed without capitalism. Thus not many early adopters of Sikhism changed and retained their respective group titles.

    Secondly,
    The Guru’s never out rightly condemned Karma ideology, but rephrased and repackaged it. Much of Sikh theology rests on this till today. (this must have confused people)

    The easiest way of getting rid of this silliness is simply to frown upon Karmaic Ideology. And capitalism is the strongest agent for this change. A poor High caste person cannot call himself superior to a person of lower caste that has more money and power (it defies all logic)… India is experiencing its enlightenment. And sadly materialism is the only thing that can destroy the caste system. Class awareness will soon trump the Caste divide as Marx pointed out some time ago.

    Many of you might be wondering…well if that’s the case why do castes exist today in situations where everyone is economically on more or less the same level (in developed countries)?
    Well first off that is self-explanatory.

    The ultimate result of this caste system was the formation of tightly knit groups/guilds and sub-cultural ethnicities.
    --The caste system is not what it once was; it has taken on an entirely different meaning. It has evolved into an entirely different beast. Capitalism is the agent that pushed the change and will continue to complete this change. Castes awareness will be present in the future but it will synonymous with race. For example, Racial awareness exists today as well but that doesn’t mean we now think one race is superior to the other.

    “Educate the masses in social history and they will inevitably come to accept that all humanity is born equal”.
    Max Weber.

    It is religion that sought to justify this divide and it secularism that shall break it.

    NOT the other way around.
     
  9. Archived_Member1

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    re: The Shame of Being "Untouchable" in Britain


    guru sahib has given us a way out of both caste and karma. it's called amrit sanchar. when you become amritdhari, all of your past karma is wiped clean. you become part of the khalsa family. every amritdhari has the same mother and father so caste is wiped clean as well.

    seems like a simple solution to me. :)
     
  10. Sinister

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    re: The Shame of Being "Untouchable" in Britain


    The Guru’s indeed thought of a system that would bring about equality. But the reality is, it failed! The rest of my post tries to explore the reasons why it failed.

    So unless we show interest in the ‘why’ we will never know the “how come”.

    One thing we have to understand is that traditional ‘CASTE’ IS DIEING (not becoming worse). Caste has completely changed: first it was used to denote and justify economic prowess…but under the new economic order it is simply a meaningless label of group formation. IT IS LOSING ALL VALIDITY AND POWER.

    Sikhs must understand this transition…CASTE HAS BEEN DEFEATED (or at least is in the process of defeat) in the new world order.

    It is not the victory of Sikhism (although one may argue Sikhi played a role)…this is the victory of secular capitalism.

    cheers
     
  11. dalsingh

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    re: The Shame of Being "Untouchable" in Britain

    Sinister

    Although your piece was interesting and certainly contextualised the caste system in Hinduism I don't think it applies to Sikh society. The "Sikh" caste system is another beast altogether in my opinion. Yes, its antecedents may lay in the Hindu one but it has evolved into something of its own.

    In my opinion it is better described as the remnant of the pseudo feudal system that appeared in Punjab after the Sikh revolution of the early 1700s. There is significant contemporary evidence to suggest that all of the lower castes of Punjab was involved in this struggle. What it looks like is that by the mid 1700s the largest group in the Punjab had managed to take feudal charge of most of the land, although some exceptions existed (such as Jassa Kalal and Jassa Thoka).

    It is this history that forms the caste system within Sikhs. Karma notions play little in the thinking behind this. Rather it was based on land ownership/governance. The new leaders (ironically formerly considered relatively low caste themselves) persisted in perpetuating feelings of animosity and hate towards those they considered beneath them for a variety of reasons. One obvious benefit of this was to demoralise such people not to challenge their authority. You can tell by the way certain caste names today are used exactly like swear words towards people, what kind of mentality lay behind it. I don't think karmic considerations played much in this but rather arrogance and ego.

    The message of the SIkh Gurus towards caste is pretty plain. Such dehumanisation of other people being openly challenged. The amrit ceremony of the Khalsa is CLEARLY a direct full on assault on such mentality which compelled initiates to drink together (jhoota) despite caste differences and consider themselves as members of one family. The fact that the Sikh holy book contains verses by so called untouchables is also telling.

    So in summary I would say the existence of caste within Sikhism is down to the good old fashioned desire of humans to dominate others for financial reasons and holding others in contempt to create an innate feeling of superiority, which fuels the ego making us feel really good about ourselves.
     
  12. Huck_Finn

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    re: The Shame of Being "Untouchable" in Britain

    <<guru sahib has given us a way out of both caste and karma. it's called amrit sanchar. when you become amritdhari, all of your past karma is wiped clean. you become part of the khalsa family. every amritdhari has the same mother and father so caste is wiped clean as well.
    >>

    are you talking of the "reborn" concept prevalent in judeo-christian theology?
     
  13. kds1980

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    re: The Shame of Being "Untouchable" in Britain

    Sinister caste system is not dieing its increasing.Thanks to the reservation policy of india
    people are more and more associating with their caste.The recent meena' gujjar was the perfect example of this.Many caste's in india are now taking unneccessary benefit under the backward class.e.g. Jaats,gujjars maratha's..These communities were never oppressed but due to their large votebank they forced the government.On the other hand
    many communities whihc were really oppressed are suffering reason low votebank
     
  14. Archived_Member1

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    re: The Shame of Being "Untouchable" in Britain


    no, although i guess it might be similar. there are a lot of similarities between religions. :)
     
  15. Sinister

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    re: The Shame of Being "Untouchable" in Britain

    Kds

    im not concerned about "votebank" which is a word that magically appears in every conversation we have.

    Read my post carefully...what I am trying to relay is that the meaning of Caste is transforming (it is not what it once was). Caste is being replaced by Class. Capitalism has made Caste into an ethnicity and its role in determining a persons economic prowess is decreasing.

    thus the traditional sense of the word 'caste' is dead or dieing.

    for example:
    if a person from a high rank (low caste) comes into contact with a low rank (high caste) in an office or any social scenario, who will dominate the social setting?
    Naturally the one with more power and money, which is the High rank (low caste).

    caste in its traditional role in enforcing economic hierarchy is dieing.

    Poorer people (the ones who are low caste) are seeing more oppurtunities for upward mobility. The modern free-market enterprise rewards not caste but productivity. Thus, those who are born into serfdom are no longer obliged to die in serfdom.

    It is a fundamental attitude shift.
    cheers.
     
  16. Sinister

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    re: The Shame of Being "Untouchable" in Britain

    Discourse continued from yesterdays post.

    Now that we have explored the foundation of this shift and formation of caste into a new entity, we can continue in providing solutions.

    We now know that caste is becoming and in many scenario's already is an ethnic grouping. There are two ways in which we can deal with "Caste" (note the quotations).

    FIRST SOLUTION: Cultural Pluralism

    This is a route that religious zealots are unlikely to yield to (in violation of their beliefs and their guru's teachings).

    In this scenario...Sikhs embrace their differences.

    Note; embracing differences does not entail the belief that one be superior to the other.

    However to be fair there is a downfall, Cultural Pluralism may just start to erode the larger group collective conscious.



    SECOND SOLUTION: Melting Pot/Assimilationist/Homogenous society

    Homogenous Sikhism may be achieved one of two ways

    1) creating an atmosphere of perpetual fear within the populace
    2) creating an atmosphere of directional hate towards a common enemy

    Aside from these dangers there are more: erosion of sub-cultural groupings and cultural variety within sikhism.




    The tragic events of the 1980’s are a perfect example of when the Sikh collective conscious reached a pinnacle and smaller differences within the Sikh populace were dissolved. Sikhs stood united. If we want a homogenous society we would need another event on this magnitude. A common enemy, perpetual hate, perpetual fear ... the same things that united the sikh movement in its infancy (coupled with strong leadership)

    So solution 1 is obviously the best solution.

    Lets embrace these differences. Traditional Caste awareness is being trumped by class awareness anyway.

    Caste is nothing but a sub-cultural entity….its hollow>>> its been defeated.

     
  17. dalsingh

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    re: The Shame of Being "Untouchable" in Britain

    So you think that the movement was born out of perpetual hate and fear!!


    You get any people who have any spirit, then harass them, kill their beloved leaders and try and subvert and dominate them (which the Moguls did.) What results is not hate, but a natural reaction for survival and freedom. Also hate and anger are not the same thing. Some Sikh reactions in the past have been the result of anger at mistreatment - not perpetual hate/fear.

    The fact that Sikhs gave Muslims of the Punjab a generally easy time in the 1700s considering what they had been through, shows you that Sikhs were not as hate filled as your suggesting. Sure they may have been some but the fact that Muslims accepted and even encouraged some Sikh sardars to take leadership paints an altogether different picture from what you are suggesting.
     

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