‘Low Class’ people = ‘Low Class’ treatment: Colonial equations, Decolonial counter-equations

This post is the first of a series of blog posts that will explore the ideas behind educate.‘s “anti-service” philosophy, a philosophy that focuses on the idea(s) of decolonisation. Dr. Sayan Dey, the author, is an Assistant Professor at Amity Law School at Amity University, Noida in India. 


 

During my childhood days, I was always intrigued by various forms of behavioral patterns that I observed in the people around me. I was born in the late 80s and during that time online grocery stores like ‘Bigbasket’ and ‘Milkbasket’ were a distant dream in India. Therefore, for purchasing groceries we either went to the open street side markets or they were supplied to us by the street vendors at our doorsteps. My favorite pastime was to assist my parents to the market or stand at the doorstep of my house and observe the theatrics of verbal exchanges that took place between the customers and the sellers. Amongst several aspects, one interesting observation which I made was how the behavioral pattern of the customer was widely influenced by the caste belongingness of the vendors. For instance, Shubhash Kaka (name changed), a Hindu Brahmin[i]vegetable seller, always enjoyed a better profit as compared to the non-Brahmin vendors. It was so because, for being a Brahmin, people automatically interacted with him in a highly respected tone and avoided price bargains. The attitude was just the opposite in case of a non-Brahmin vendor, especially towards someone who belonged to a low caste[ii].  The people will speak with them in a loud and rough tone and if the vendor did not reduce the price according to their demand then they were verbally abused. It disturbed me a lot. I asked the people around me that why individuals have different behavior codes towards each other? Their justifications gradually unfurled a complex world of caste, class, racial, gender, religious and geographical hierarchies in front of me and they are still prominently functional in nature. The same is the situation with bus drivers, auto-rickshaw drivers, car drivers, maid servants and other individuals who are involved in menial jobs in contemporary India.

The naturalization and systematization of behavioral hierarchies in terms of caste, class, gender, religion and geography were initiated during the colonial era. The class and caste differences, which also existed in precolonial India, were highly fluid in nature. In other words, despite their socio-religious differences, people from different castes and classes freely interacted with each other. But, with the arrival of the colonizers the caste and class fluidity were disturbed and the differences were strategically incorporated within academic, administrative and government institutions. Even today, these colonially fashioned hierarchies are being celebrated as we see that most of the high posts in workplaces are occupied by the Brahmin/elite/urban patriarchy. These differences also have a drastic impact on the behavioral patterns towards each other. It is usually observed that when individuals speak to a person of equivalent official designation or of higher rank then the attitude is soft and polite. But, when it comes to someone like a table cleaner, sweeper, receptionist or a security guard the behavioral pattern turns completely opposite until and unless the person is a high caste Hindu. These colonially structured socio-cultural equations are not only a problem in India, but also a planetary issue.

A very similar situation can be seen in case of Honduras today. Precolonial Honduras was inhabited with a wide variety of people from different cultural and linguistic backgrounds like the Mayans, Chorotegas, Pipils, Mayangnas, Lencas, etc. Though the society was fragmented into various groups and sub-groups, yet they maintained a collaborative relationship through trade and commerce. This harmonious coexistence was completely disrupted by the Spanish. The last voyage of Christopher Columbus (1502) paved way for the arrival of Spanish Conquistadores who took away cattle and agricultural lands from the natives. Besides cattle ranching and agricultural activities, the Spanish colonizers were also interested in mining of gold and silver. The mining sector demanded high manual labor and therefore large number of indigenous natives were captured and recruited as slaves. Most of the slaves revolted against the exploitation of the colonizers, but some, in order to win the confidence of the colonizers and avoid punishments, voiced in favor of them. In this manner, the colonizers emerged successful in sowing the seeds of eternal socio-cultural conflicts. With the passage of time, the fragmentation aggravated and it had a massive impact on the economy of the country. The close allies of the colonizers enjoyed a decent financial status, while the enslaved natives perished under severe financial crisis. These socio-economic fragmentations get reflected through a cobweb of class divisions in contemporary Honduras – the super-rich (millionaires), the rich (landowners), the upper-middle class (university-trained professionals), the lower-middle class (small business owners), poor with possibilities (modest homes), the extremely poor (very poor houses) and the indigents (homeless). These divisions also have a drastic impact on their habitual behavioral patterns which gets reflected through the criminalization and victimization of the extremely poor and the indigents by the upper and middle class people. So, how to overcome these challenges in a collaborative, transcultural and transcontinental manner?

Keeping the various perspectives of the impact of class positionalities on the human behavior in India and Honduras at the backdrop, it is important for us to uproot the networks of colonial thinking and doing, and establish de-hierarchical, decolonial and pluriversal counter-networks. The networks can be established through transcultural and transcontinental collaborations in social, cultural, political and economic aspects. It is important for both the nations to identify the socio-cultural loopholes that explore the various possibilities of dismantling the colonially fashioned patterns of everyday existence. It is important for us to remember that this proposal for counter-networks is not a ‘fast-relief antidote’, but a gradual and consistent process underpinned with the process of generating self-awareness and revamping indigenous practices.

[i]According to ancient Hindu scriptures, a Brahmin belongs to the highest caste in the Hindu socio-religious order.

[ii]In India, selling vegetables is not regarded as a high caste duty and therefore most of the street vendors belong to low castes. They are officially categorized as scheduled castes and scheduled tribes.

10 thoughts on “‘Low Class’ people = ‘Low Class’ treatment: Colonial equations, Decolonial counter-equations

  1. Such a well put article.such informing too. In addition to pointing towards a great weakness, India, as a country has that is caste segregation it was supported by relatable examples which drilled into the psychology of every human.

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  2. Very well said! You have highlighted a very important topic and as you said, awareness is key. What more can be done to help bring about greater equality for all?

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    1. Dear Kelsea, thank you so much for your feedback. It is a very crucial question you have asked. What I feel is we need a very open, multidimensional and a very tolerant world where we need to respect each other inspite of social, cultural, geographical, political and economic differences.
      In other words we need establish a depolarized platform where we can all agree to disagree.

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      1. I agree that this caste system is a less than ideal situation. However, changing a big, already existing system is hard. A tolerant world is a nice vision but how do you think this could be achieved practically? Precisely what kind of depolarized platform do you envision?

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  3. Well the process of developing a depolarized platform in India is not a process to be summarized in a few points. But, I will try my best to put forward my arguments. So, as we need to revive our indigenous socio-cultural practices it is also important for us to realize and uproot the negative aspects caste, cultural and communal practices.
    Now the process of uprooting has to take place through regular moral education at home, schools, colleges, etc. This is how we can change the regular attitudes through transforming our habitual modes of learning from one generation to another.

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  4. If I can add – I think, on a practical level, investments actually need to be made into locally-rooted and driven work that promotes bottom-up (decolonial) “development”. By allowing communities themselves to come up with and implement projects, power relations can be shifted in a way that is tangible. That’s something we try to do in our work at educate..
    On a larger scale, tax system reform would allow wealth to actually be re-distributed, which could combat inequality on a much larger scale.

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