Breaking the neo-caste barrier of speech and opinions

An interesting, and for most of us, encouraging, phenomenon is visible in India today. It is the brick by brick dismantling of the neo-caste system in our society. Of course, the caste system per se was abolished by our constitution shortly after independence, yet the same independence slowly engendered this other, equally insidious neo-caste system in the country.

It had only two gradations in its scheme of things – ‘us’ and ‘them’. ‘Us’ being the ‘upper caste’, the progenitors and propagators of the system, and ‘them’ being the rest of us. From politics to Bollywood to newsrooms, seminar rooms to the social circuit, members of the neo-elite had ready access.

It worked very well to propagate careers of member’s progeny with their own domains – politician’s kin getting tickets and star-brats getting roles. But it was equally effective in providing cross-entries – so a Chief Minister’s son with questionable talent could walk into movies and, despite giving flop after flop, continue to get roles. And a has been star could similarly be rehabilitated through a party ticket, or a Rajya Sabha membership.

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The hand-full of people from the ‘them’ caste who managed to reach any level of accomplishment had two choices – either to try hard to be accepted into the ‘us’ clique, or remain second class citizens despite their achievements.

Since all the channels of dissemination information were tightly controlled by the upper caste, it was difficult for others to even get their voices heard. And since the only voices that the public at large heard were of the upper caste, other voices didn’t even matter. Rebellion against the upper caste was therefore virtually unheard of, probably because even if it did take place, no one heard of it.

Till, suddenly, a new breed of achievers burst onto the scene, breaking the caste barrier to make it big through their hard work and talent. This breed is unique in its refusal to toe the line of the established prima donnas. And with social media giving them an option for being heard by the people directly, they are suddenly posing a grave threat to the cosy clique.

So the feisty Kangna Ranaut’s plain speaking interview with biggie Karan Jauhar, where she minced no words in pointing out the ridicule and snobbery she had to face as a newcomer, including from Karan Jauhar himself, left the normally verbose Jauhar speechless. Such rebellion would probably have been unheard of a few years back.

Then, recently when a few celebrities – representatives of the ‘lower’ caste being first generation outsiders – dared to take a stand contrary to one popular with the elite, they were sought to be dismissed as if their opinions didn’t matter.

Javed Akhtar, a blue blooded insider tweeted haughtily, dismissing the gold medallist Babita Phogat’s opinion as she was ‘hardly literate’, she gave back as good as she got. She also minced no words in letting novelist and AAP supporter Krishna Pratap Singh and another self styled journalist Rana Ayyub, what she thought of them making fun of her home state. In both cases, of course, there was no response from the taunters.

Seemingly minor, these instances point to the larger change that is taking place in our country. Where the ‘elite’ are no longer assured of controlling the narrative.

However hard they may try to pretend otherwise, today their views and opinions are not the last word in public discourse. Notwithstanding their assumed monopoly on discerning the right from the wrong, they can no longer insulate themselves via pretence superiority. Specially on social media, where everyone has a voice, and the number of retweets and ‘likes’ are a clear barometer of public opinion, as are the replies to their tweets.

Clearly, the neo-caste barrier has been broken. It may take a while yet to dismantle this nepotistic system of patronage, but a good beginning is being made.

(this was first published on author’s blog)


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