The Insidious Interlocking of Caste And Gender In India

[dropcap]I[/dropcap] just saw a show of Sharmistha Saha’s and Shubham Sumit’s play Romeo Ravidas And Juliet Devi. Apart from the playful title, Shakespeare’s classic love story is reinvented against the gruesome background of caste and gender in India. It is an altogether familiar reality for those of us willing to admit the pernicious nature of caste that is part of our subcontinent’s DNA. We have naturalised caste. Its ever-spiralling hegemonic structures and sub-structures are complex, but its social legitimacy is not in doubt, notwithstanding the special laws against it, and in spite of the supreme law of our Constitution. At a moment in the play there is a telling depiction – a literal and a metaphorical insight into this malignant body of our community and culture.


Watch Here: Romeo Ravidas And Juliet Devi Teaser


Gendering caste


The revised edition of Uma Chakravarti’s “Gendering Caste Through A Feminist Lens” is an erudite study of this malignancy with a great emphasis on gender. Uma Chakravarti tells us ever so pertinently, that we will never be able to fully understand caste if we do not appreciate the gender mechanisms through which women are controlled in our society. Caste and gender in Indian society are inexorably linked. This is evident in a number of ways, but one of the more obvious is to prevent inter caste marriages and many times with extreme brutality. This has been reflected in our cinema and in our theatre and in the instant example of the play mentioned here.



Upper caste women and Brahmanical patriarchy


Gendering Caste: through a feminist lens, by Uma Chakravarti | Published by Sage India, 2018 | 203 pages | Paperback: Rs 495 (9789381345443) | SAGE Stree


Upper caste women have reinforced Brahmanical patriarchy, though they are victims themselves. Uma Chakravarti minces no words when she labels the condition of patriarchy in India as “Brahmanical Patriarchy”. This goes to the root of the problem and its manifestation. A more trenchant realisation of this in our post independence history came about at the moment of the Mandal Commission implemented by V.P. Singh in the late eighties when he was Prime Minister. It was a turning moment in caste and gender politics, but few feminist scholars then could grasp the entrenched underpinnings as upper caste women came out in protest. As Uma Chakravarti reminds us, the larger debates on the issue at the time were more simple really; an outburst to the self-immolations that the young, upper caste men underwent, a terrible event nonetheless. The subtext of caste and gender was, however, lost.



Caste and gender relationships


The book, divided into nine chapters with a prologue, is a detailed outlay of the various aspects that have come to determine and mould caste and gender relationship. The colonial experience led to a transformation in the traditional hierarchies, but the essential structure with its many layers remain untouched as they continue to this day. It is as if caste is self perpetuating, and no doubt this then ties up with the economics of class of which ownership of land and property have been a crucial determiner of not only the imbedded power structures but also of the other kinds of patriarchies, including Dalit patriarchy. It’s an important book for anyone who seeks to wade deeper into the maze of caste politics and its sociology, and even more significantly for any feminist studying India.



The Leaflet