I’ve written about my classroom, here and elsewhere often times. It’s a diverse space that comes with its own boundaries and problems — as does virtually everything — however, sometimes some things just tease out the power dynamics much better than other moments. When you imagine the following dialogue, please bear in mind, this is happening across English, Hindi, Marathi, Hindustani, French and Tulu. I don’t necessarily believe that the nation-state can or *should* be a point of reference for people’s characters — but I do know one thing, Mohanty was right when she said, “A place on the map is a place in history”. There are moments, when we carry our nations, some half-tongues within us, and in even rarer moments — they come out to visit. So I’ve used [nationality] and for Indian students, the [region] where we come from to mark the geopolitics we embody. All the Canadians in this particular class are white.
[Prof]: “What do we think of the Hindu Right gaining increasing momentum in Mumbai and Gujurat?”
[UPite]: “Oh even in UP! But I don’t think it’ll come to much. I am not so scared of the Hindu Right — they talk a big game but do almost nothing.”
[Mumbaiite]: “What?! Have you forgotten the Gujurat 2002 carnage? The Kargil war and the wave of intense hate-Pakistan-nationalism that followed soon after? How can you say the Hindu Right doesn’t *do* anything?!!? I LITERALLY DON’T UNDERSTAND THIS!”.
[Asamese]: Before S* can reply, can I just say I agree with her? I agree the Hindu Right is ideologically wrong, but from where I come from — it’s the State (and the Nation increasingly collapsed into each other) that poses a threat for us. Let’s keep that in mind, the Hindu Right may not be a lot of things, but it’s never imposed a military rule on us”.
[Me/Another Mumbaiite]: “UM. What. Right, so who instated the AFSPA? We’re forgetting that even the ‘Glorious Nehruvian Socialism FOR ALL ERA!!!111 was deeply gendered and casteist, it celebrated the forming of the military state. I mean, just look at how democracy was defined then (shit, it’s still the same today!), to attack Mumbai, or the Center is ‘anti-democratic’ and to attack Manipur, Kashmir, Arunachal is to make sure democracy is preserved”.
[UPiite]: “I think we’re sort of forgetting that UP has seen a range of Left governments, however, we still have had waves of Naxalbari. I’m starting to feel like we glorify Left governments and just assume that they are a viable solution for our increasingly-capitalist-totalitarian State”.
[Prof]: “A couple of things. Yes, about glorification about Left governments — how come we forget Bose’s fascist tendencies? His connection to Burma and Hitler? Yes, the Left could propose a real threat in this country, but going back to the Nehru point — I think it’ll be good if we just for this moment forget that Nehruvian Era was supposed to be socialist. Look at what happened to the Hindu Code Bill debates, the deeply casteist remarks it spurred, that only a Dalit could propose the “sacred” Hindu marriage is a contract and so on. Remember, talking about caste (outside of census and sociological debates) was to be casteist itself. We’re talking about generations bred up to think that to mention their caste, is as if, to admit that there’s something ‘wrong’ or ‘missing’.
[Canadian]: “This is so interesting. Because back home, the Christian Right have real as well as theoretical power. Here the Right seems to be a symbolic signifier more than anything”.
[Bangalorian]: “Repeating P* on the Gujurat carnage of 2002, the current (forced) indoctrination of religious minorities to Hinduism, the riots of the early 90’s. I think people let’s settle on one basic thing, far Right or far Left are both seriously problematic. What we should be talking about is, what happens to Mumbai and Gujurat, two seats of burgeoning cultural capital if Hindu Right forces are now overtly part and parcel of the market”.
[Salvadorian]: “To just step out of India for a moment, I don’t think I can ever think the Right can ever be ‘harmless’ as S* seems to be suggesting. Like, harmless, sure, but to whom? I’m pretty sure, this wouldn’t be a part of the discussion if S* wasn’t an upper-caste Hindu woman who grew up in an urban city like Delhi. This isn’t to play oppression olympics — but geopolitics and socialisation play a big part in what you see, and the privilege that allows you to unsee, so to speak”.
[Another Canadian]: “Till I came to India, I had no idea how bad the caste question really was. No amount of books can teach you such sort of lived discrimination”.
[Bengali]: “It’s true, we’ve grown up thinking that we upper caste liberals are so progressive that we don’t mention caste at all. Truth is, caste is unfolding always. Even when we say we don’t “talk about caste”, we do say, “I hope so and so doesn’t marry inter-caste”. I won’t even broach what inter-religious unions can do in a upper caste Bengali bourgeoisie”.
[Another Canadian]: “This is something that is only half-thought out, so… I take a couple of classes over at the politics department, we never talk of caste. It seems, that this class goes out of its way to make sure it’s a part of our conversation almost every day. I wonder, why don’t other departments don’t want to address it”.
[Me/Another Mumbaiite]: “Same reason, let’s say the feminist academia doesn’t talk about its Eur-Am bias, India doesn’t talk about its ‘big brother-y’ role in SAARC, some people in this class don’t see a particular type of politics as dangerous — their life chances don’t depend on it. I HAVE to talk of race, my geopolitical location every time I step into feminist academia, this is a promise I’ve made to myself. Because too much goes unsaid, it’s too traumatic to ever fully acknowledge that you were a part of a process that just re-affirmed the current world order and you didn’t say anything”.
[Delhiite]: “Right, but then do you talk about caste? Or that’s just the responsibility of those damned lower and backward castes huh?”
[Me/Mumbaiite]: “I don’t see what I can do talking about caste. Like sure, I could tell you about the slurs I grew up with, that are a part of my linguistic training in Gujarati (my supposed mother tongue) that speak of the Kolis, the Warkaris and the Adivasis in specific racialised, derogatory words. I’m sure they’re important to see how caste, race, sexuality, stereotypes unfold in our everyday. But, I firmly believe I can’t be the one to merely speak about caste, I have to do at the same time. I usually don’t think theory and practice have such clear distinctions — but things like, giving the Valmiki caste woman who my landlady employs to clean the house the same cup I use to drink coffee in. Or to understand that to a large section of the society, notions of space, health and access are very different — and such an analysis has to leave the pages. It has to happen before I can say, I’m okay with theorising about caste”.
[Prof]: “Okay, let me try something here. Tell me, how many of you have ever faced any sort of racial and caste discrimination? Number and name the instances. [After a long pause] See, I’m quite certain that most of you have firsthand experiences of both forms of prejudice, but you cannot label such experiences so clinically. I think caste has to be done too, but not necessarily done and then spoken about — I do get why you said do and speak, in this instance, but let me put this a bit further. How come talking about caste is relatively easy for say, the Canadians? And why is talking about race something we have to bring ourselves to say? At the same time, if you ask our friends from the rural area, who are sitting besides us because of certain reservations, affirmative action so to speak, why can they talk to caste to me in only Hindi, Marathi, Tamil, whatever. They speak and I translate — what does it mean that I have to be that bridge between their conversations and yours? Why do they think, me, an upper caste woman (who is strongly influenced by Ambedkar and Periyar) is safer, than other people who may be around them in the caste hierarchy?”
“I am not particularly interested to see what the class thinks of the Hindu Right, but to see how can we talk to each other, if our tongues, broken and full (but this can be contested heavily too), have to mediate our embodied regions, races, castes? Why and how does race become a global phenomenon, but caste something particular to India? Why do we need constant translation in class, even though we’ve almost never ever fully agreed with each other? There’s something to think about this — how our languages in this classroom mediate everything we’ve said and want to say, where we come from and what kind of history we carry with our bodies”.
Still parsing what she said. But, can I just say, during such times, I really do love my class?