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Friday, September 4 2020


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I know how close I was to committing suicide during my time at Yorkshire. I was living my family's dream as a professional cricketer, but inside I was dying. I was dreading going to work. I was in pain every day.

That’s Azeem Rafiq—former captain of England’s under-19 team and Yorkshire’s T-20 team—who has accused the English county club of being extremely racist. His comments come on the heels of similar statements by former opener Michael Carberry, who said English cricket “is rife with racism” and “the people running the game don’t care about black people.” Illustration: Parth Savla

Big Story

Dalits: The true ‘Blacks’ of Bollywood?

The TLDR: When Chadwick Boseman died, it triggered a great conversation around race and Hollywood. We used the opportunity to turn the mirror on Bollywood—which is quick to condemn racism in America but does very little about its own far more blatant bigotry. The first part of this series looked at Boseman’s legacy and Bollywood’s repellent anti-Blackness. In this concluding part, we turn our attention to the Hindi film industry’s treatment of Dalits—whose cinematic history most closely mirrors that of Black Americans in Hollywood.

 

Does racism equal casteism?

In her latest book, Isabel Wilkerson argues the Blacks are ‘American Untouchables’—and that race is best understood as a manifestation of a caste system, where Whites operate as Brahmins:

 

“The hierarchy of caste… is about power—which groups have it and which do not. It is about resources—which groups are seen as worthy of them and which are not, who gets to acquire and control them and who does not. It is about respect, authority and assumptions of competence—who is accorded these and who is not.

 

It embeds into our bones an unconscious ranking of human characteristics and sets forth the rules, expectations and stereotypes that have been used to justify brutalities against entire groups within our species. In the American caste system, the signal of rank is what we call race, the division of humans on the basis of their appearance. In America, race is the primary tool and the visible decoy for caste.”

 

Does casteism equal racism? As in, does the reverse hold true as well? No, not really, if you consider the very different roots and history of a racial and caste-based hierarchy. Yes, if you view caste oppression as the violent enslavement of an entire group of people. Consider Wilkerson’s description of American slavery:

 

"The institution of slavery was, for a quarter millennium, the conversion of human beings into currency, into machines who existed solely for the profit of their owners, to be worked as long as the owners desired, who had no rights over their bodies or loved ones, who could be mortgaged, bred, won in a bet, given as wedding presents, bequeathed to heirs, sold away from spouses or children to convene an owner's debts or to spite a rival or to settle an estate. They were regularly whipped, raped, and branded, subjected to any whim or distemper of the people who owned them. Some were castrated or endured other tortures too grisly for these pages, tortures that the Geneva Conventions would have banned as war crimes had the conventions applied to people of African descent on this soil."

 

All of the above applies exactly to the experience of Dalits—except for the use of the past tense. To this date, Dalits are “regularly whipped, raped, and branded, subjected to any whim or distemper of the people” who own them. 

 

But sticking to the subject at hand, does caste operate in the Indian film industry exactly the same way as race? Yes, it does in Bollywood, but not in other parts of the country. 

 

The visible Dalit

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In today’s edition

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Smart And Curious

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Life Advisory

  • HBO’s ‘Perry Mason’ reboot is an unadulterated film noir delight
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