It’s like nutty season in India. This is the 21st century and vast numbers of Indians still hang on to their base, demeaning and unconscionable caste prejudices. A survey finds that even those who should know better, people who should at least have heard of soap, state firmly that people who clean bathrooms should not be allowed to cook.

Perhaps we do not need to call such people ‘upper’ castes any more, because there is nothing ‘upper’ in their thinking. It is low thinking: how can one see it otherwise?

At an election rally in Delhi, Union Minister of State Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti allegedly made communal remarks, asking voters to choose between ‘Ram’s sons” and “illegitimate sons”. Pic/PTI
At an election rally in Delhi, Union Minister of State Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti allegedly made communal remarks, asking voters to choose between ‘Ram’s sons” and “illegitimate sons”. Pic/PTI

If this is not bad enough, a school in Mysore appoints a Dalit to cook the mid-day meals. It shames me to write the word Dalit in this context, but here’s why: upper caste parents rushed to the school to stop their children from eating this food. This is how low we can sink. Would you like to look at the date again? It’s the end of the year 2014. And we still behave in this appalling manner.

And then, there are those who set the example. A minister in the Chhattisgarh government declares that only Brahmins can save Indian society. Save it from themselves and other upper caste low lifes… one can only hope.

A minister in the Central government says at an election rally that Muslims and Christians can declare themselves as sons of Ram (as in from the Ramayana) or leave the country. After a ruckus in Parliament, Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti apologised. Perhaps she could have used the defence suggested by Venkaiah Naidu of the BJP: that the media and the Opposition cannot base their arguments against the government based on what was said at election rallies. The only assumption one can make is that Naidu is admitting that politicians talk rubbish at election rallies, which should not be taken seriously. This may be fine with the media and other politicians, but where does it leave the poor voter who has nothing else to go by?

Of course, there is always Giriraj Singh, who said in an election rally, where else do they speak that those who opposed Narendra Modi could always go to Pakistan.

The Hindu Mahasabha and why should it be left out of all this outpouring of Hindu and upper caste religious supremacy has apparently decided to move the Supreme Court to get item girls (in Indian films, one assumes) termed as “prostitutes”.

This is the level to which we seem to have sunk in our public discourse. Nothing else matters, except varying degrees of prejudice, sectarianism and misogyny. And yet, this is a “New India”, one that was promised bullet trains and mind-boggling development. Instead, we have returned to territory we left behind: obsessions with rewriting history, with using government money to answer personal insecurities about religion and origin.

If progress means moving forward, then we’re not involved in progress at all. We are in a regressive mode, where it’s open season for anyone who sees a mic to say what they want. On what basis does a minister state that Brahmins are custodians of Indian culture? Or another minister decide that everyone either has to be a son of Ram or leave the country? Not everything can be excused under the blanket term of election rhetoric. And “prostitutes” as a term for actresses and dancers? Is this the language that we want to hear? Demeaning to women and to those people who work wherever they do, either out of choice or compulsion? Do we need more backward elements to capture our public space? Aren’t the khap panchayats and the fatwas of Deoband bad enough?

But, when it’s nutty season, everyone realises they can have their say. The prime minister makes grand pronouncements and no one follows them — except a few celebrities who pick up someone else’s broom to shift garbage from one side of a street to another. We have rhetoric — which we’re not supposed to believe — and little else. And we have 31 per cent of India, who voted for change, who are still waiting. And the rest of India, which doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry.

Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist. You can follow her on twitter @ranjona

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