Guwahati, Aug 28 (PTI) Political patronage of the forces that fuel casteism, as well as growing intolerance and hatred towards other castes and religions are obstacles to the effective formation of an egalitarian society, according to social observers from Assam.
Education in the real sense of the word, not degrees, and constant efforts to eliminate socio-cultural inequalities are necessary to create a supportive environment and a positive societal narrative, they said.
Examples of families being pushed to the periphery of society for matters of caste abound in different parts of Assam, although it took the incident of a person being deprived of proper last rites due to inter-marriage. caste to raise the issue for discussion among people.
Earlier this month, the buried body of a 65-year-old villager was exhumed and cremated according to Hindu rituals by Darrang district authorities days after his death after locals refused to help his family recover. cremation due to social ostracism due to his inter-caste marriage 27 years ago.
Umesh Sarma’s body had to be buried initially as only her brother came forward to help the widow with the last rites. The deceased had married a woman belonging to a “lower caste”.
Sarma’s wife, Pranita Devi, claimed the family had been ostracized since their marriage and although they were ‘allowed’ to mingle with their neighbors on normal days, they were treated as ‘almost untouchables’ during social receptions.
Dr Pallavi Deka, who teaches political science at Handique Girls’ College in Guwahati, said the Darrang incident is not an isolated case.
“The worry is that we often brag that we are not so castist here in this part of India. But that’s a joke,” she said.
Casteism is as real in the state as religious fanaticism in the country, with both growing phenomena and increased intolerance, Deka asserted.
She was skeptical of any quick fix because “intolerance and hatred have become political propaganda”.
Sushanta Talukdar, editor of the online magazine, nezine.Com, also said, “The prevalence of an egalitarian society in Assam is a myth.”
However, he was quick to add that examples of inter-caste and inter-religious marriages accepted in many homes also exist.
While time heals the scars in most of these cases, a coordinated attempt to keep people divided along caste lines has also been at work, Talukdar claimed.
He said: “Political patronage of such regressive forces has exposed the fault lines which, if left unchecked, will bring to a complete halt the efforts of progressives to build an inclusive society that will also be egalitarian.”
According to Jayanta Kumar Sarma, Professor and Director of Bhupen Hazarika School of Mass Communication, KK Handiqui State Open University, casteism is akin to class struggle.
“Casteism and class struggle are real. But painting all members of a community with the same brush would be a mistake,” he said.
Dr Pronami Bhattacharyya, an assistant professor at the Royal Global University here, pointed out that caste issues cannot be seen on a day-to-day basis but come to the fore in Assamese society at weddings.
“However, unlike other parts of the country, marriages in Assam exhibit a combination of rigidity and flexibility. Families initially oppose an inter-caste marriage, but many later accept it” , she said.
Hemen Sarma’s marriage is a good example.
Hemen Sarma, who married a woman from a ‘lower caste’ around eight years ago, said: ‘We weren’t ostracized, but my family initially forbade us from visiting them . Only about a year ago we were allowed to stay with my family.”
“My family is based in the city of Guwahati. We had been brought up in a secular atmosphere, but when it came to accepting my wife, things changed. I couldn’t understand what was wrong” , Hemen said.
Her in-laws had welcomed the couple into their home since their marriage, just as the in-laws of the late Umesh Sarma had continued to nurture a relationship with their daughter and her new family.
“The so-called lower caste families accept inter-caste marriage because they see it as social upliftment,” Hemen said.
For Ankurita Das and her extended family, the cause of “social ostracism” was their adherence to another sect of Hinduism, which does not believe in Brahmanical rituals.
Ankurita said that her parents and the families of her uncles changed their allegiance to the new sect about 20 years ago and were immediately banned from attending any public function in their locality in a village in Bajali district.
“My grandmother had died shortly after the incident and our neighbors did not help us with the cremation. As we have a large family and other villagers helped us, we were able to ensure proper cremation and other rituals,” said Ankurita, a schoolteacher, who was then a teenager.
However, the state of alienation has gradually diminished and now neighbors are attending functions at their homes, she added.
(Some names have been changed on request)