Caste of millions by Pankaj Mishra (Financial Times)
“Other noble dreams of collective emancipation and glory, too, were compromised by the many exigencies of postcolonial nation-building. The colonial state, with its aloof bureaucracy and repressive apparatus, was retained, and radical new institutions of universal adult franchise and social welfare uneasily grafted on to it. Not surprisingly, torture and extrajudicial execution remain as commonplace a feature of contemporary India as free and largely fair elections, and the red-taped state still struggles to provide effective education and healthcare.
“The hierarchies underpinning India’s older cruelties of caste and gender have also survived the egalitarian proclamations of the constitution; universal franchise has yet to lead to a civil rights revolution. Dalits are still being lynched and raped by upper-caste feudal lords, and thousands of women burnt to death for bringing insufficient dowries, even as Dalit and female politicians move into the highest offices in the land. Indeed, Ambedkar’s battle against the inequities of the caste system has had the strangest afterlife.
“Beneficiaries of en bloc voting by previously subordinate groups, a generation of low-caste leaders has now enjoyed political power in India’s most populous provinces. Accused of corruption and incompetence, they have ended up advancing group claims and identities rather than individual rights for all. The most conspicuous of the new profiteers of caste is Mayawati, the Dalit chief minister of Uttar Pradesh’s 180m citizens. She has amassed a great personal fortune; her penchant for solitaire diamonds and huge statues of herself has further undermined the state’s investment-starved economy.”