Tuesday 21st May 2024,
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‘Caste’ Your Vote For Pandit or Bandit Sunak ?

‘Caste’ Your Vote For Pandit or Bandit Sunak ?

At the time of writing the contest between the leader of the Conservative Party, and indeed prime minister of the UK, stands between Liz truss and Rishi Sunak. Normally the candidate’s experience, ideas, policies and calibre would be looked at. But this is no normal contest. Britain may have its third female prime minister and its first-ever ethnic minority one.

Reflecting the mood of the times with the risk of nuclear war, in 1984 Liverpool-based band Frankie Goes to Hollywood stormed to the top of the charts with Two Tribes. While in wider geopolitics we now have three or more tribes, in this contest for leadership there are indeed two tribes. Their positions are entrenched, implacably hostile, and will not compromise. In this context, all sorts of mud-slinging is happening.

Caste Off the Candidate

Gathered into a room a bunch of slave owners signed a document that would mark the constitution, guaranteeing that slavery was an enshrined property rights. In another time and place a man who had suffered indignities because of his supposed low status wrote the constitution of a new democratic republic. This was of course Dr Ambedkar of India, who came from the Dalit caste known as Mahar.

The first example is of course the United States, where a constitution stating that all men were equal was written by slave-owners George Washington and Thomas Jefferson.

History is the selection of certain facts. Choose some, omit others, and you change the narrative. The present accepted narrative is that America was born as a modern democracy, with slavery an aberration that was resolved by the Civil War, and racism absolved by civil rights.

In fact, slavery was not resolved by the Civil War. It morphed into peonage, chain gangs and segregation. Civil rights led to a violent backlash of the Ku Klux Klan, various Nazi organisations, racialised prisons and street gangs. In like manner, Ambedkar becoming the father of the constitution is seen as an anomaly.

India is still portrayed as a poverty-stricken failure state, with the root cause being the Hindu caste system. The present prime minister Narendra Modi is portrayed in mainstream media as imposing a right-wing fascist, Hindu fundamentalist, high caste Hindu Reich on the masses. In fact, he was democratically elected, came from an impoverished background, and belongs to the Ganchi community which is classed as OBC (Other Backward Caste).

The president of India is Droupadi Murmu from the tribal Santal community. Her predecessor was Ram Nath Kovind, who came from an impoverished community of Dalits known as Koli.

But inconvenient facts are not accepted by a mainstream narrative that merges old-school racism and colonialism into a very modern updated Hinduphobia.

Since Sunak announced his election bid, social media has been awash with allegations that he will impose the Hindu caste system on Britain. Now we have to understand the past. Before the days of social media, the Conservative leadership of Thatcher was brought down by the doomed attempt to impose the poll tax. Now Thatcher had come to power because strikes and paralysis had eroded the power of Labour under Callaghan who failed to control trade union militancy. Yet somehow Rishi Sunak will be more powerful than both these giants and do something even more social engineered than the poll tax or union reform.

Another Bowl of Porridge Please

In the novel Oliver Twist, Charles Dickens describes the hero, a five-year-old boy in a workhouse for daring to ask for more watery porridge. For this, he is severely reprimanded and punished by the workhouse board, who are portrayed as obese, gluttonous tyrants. As Dickens was to portray poverty in books, Charlie Chaplin was to don on screen almost a century later.

A giant of the silent cinema, as movies emerged, Charlie Chaplin was famous for playing characters trying to survive desperate poverty in early twentieth century America.

This was notable in the 1921 film The Kid. Poignant and yet comic, it was also based on Chaplin’s own childhood experiences of growing up in poverty in London. His mother was barely able to provide and Chaplin was sent to the dreaded workhouse, forbidding institutions which you would not enter unless starvation came knocking.

While Victorian Britain is remembered as a time of imperial glory, when the UK was the manufacturing capital of the world, there was a nasty side with child labour, the potato famine in Ireland, workhouses for those on the edge of death, transportation as convicts to Australia, exploitative labour practices, and considerable poverty. Until 1867 working class men did not have the vote. Women only got some of the franchise in 1918.

Upstairs, Downstairs

The feudal ranking system that was in place before coming under erosion from the demographic calamity of the Black Death, enclosures and resultant urbanisation carried the existing caste family names over into the modern period.

As well as the obvious knights, baronets, viscount, and lords we have surnames such as Smith, Butcher, Carpenter, and Baker which allude to their respective origins in hereditary occupations.

As Modern Britain emerged in the nineteenth century the growth of factories based on industries of iron, steel, and coal offset rural destitution caused by enclosures which had improved agriculture but only further entrenched the power of the landed gentry.

The rural masses had their way of life uprooted. In this very unequal society, the aristocracy controlled wealth and politics and were almost a separate species from the servants and labourers whose very lives were under their directorship.

Social commentators spoke of classes. While no longer actually feudal, these various communities did retain kinship links and inherited occupations. Caste was not uniquely Indian or Hindu but found across the world.

The aristocracy was challenged in its dominance by the newly emerging industrialists and entrepreneurs. Commercial success was seen as respectable as ideas of the free market replaced protectionist mercantilism.

This is what led to the 1832 Reform Act which led to the newly affluent property-owning merchant class getting the bite, and in the next year the abolition of slavery (or its revamp as indentured labour) in the colonies. Factories replaced farms as the main employers as the rural masses flooded into the urban centres looking for work. In these slums was born the working-class.

It took decades of struggle to get unions, national insurance, pensions and other protections. In fact, the modern welfare state was not fully implemented until 1945. It saw the death knell of domestic service in the manor house as a viable form of work with its lifetime sentence of monastic incarceration. As the head butler Anthony Hopkins played this eloquently in Remains of the Day.

As the ever-efficient 1930s butler, Stevens manages the household well and prides in and derives his entire identity from his profession. He displays total professionalism by carrying on as his father lies dying.

When the film moves to 1958 much has changed, most interestingly that Stevens cannot get enough staff to work at the manor house. This is what happened in reality. Social changes from the war allowed new jobs and opportunities rather than being stuck into an emotionless android dead-end state like the butler Mr Stevens.

Upstairs, Downstairs was a British television drama series which ran from 1971 to 1975. Set in a large townhouse in central London, the series depicts the servants—”downstairs”—and their masters, the family—”upstairs”—between the years 1903 and 1930, and shows this slow decline of the British aristocracy.

Along with new jobs for former servants, life peerages were eroded entitling the aristocracy to sit in the House of Lords as the twentieth century progressed.

Upstairs from Upstairs

Programmes such as Upstairs, Downstairs and more recently Downton Abbey evoke a time when social ideas were ordered and everyone knew their place. Now with technology giants and social media stars, stratospheric levels of wealth have been created that were beyond anything imagined by the old-style aristocracy. The USA sees itself as classless and indeed many British moved here to escape the stuffy class system that persisted even after the war.

Yet it is in America where the wealth chasm has been most pronounced. Amazon, Facebook, Twitter, Google all dominate and earn huge profits. Meanwhile, workers at Amazon become automata in an even more dehumanised state than Mr Stevens, becoming sick and hospitalised.

Millions of middle-class Americans can no longer afford health care and often go abroad for treatment or rely on medical charities for the basics. The streets have become

new slum towns for the homeless. Political office is in practice restricted to those with money and contacts. Calls from Trump supporters to drain the ‘swamp’ were in vain because the only options were the swamp inhabitants.

India meanwhile while suffering poverty and problems with health care outside the private sector, has made important strides to try and correct this. Such moves would be denounced in the USA as socialist, state controlled and wasting tax money.

But then that is because the lobbying power of big pharmaceuticals drowns out debate and gaslights the narrative. It keeps medical poverty and an increasingly entrenched caste system in America; notably Skid Row where that country’s ‘untouchables’ congregate.

Caste the Net

So with all these examples of inequality both past and present, as well into the future, why all the accusations of caste against Sunak? The reason is that India’s poverty is blamed on the ‘Hindu’ caste system. Vedas and Manusmirti-backed caste.

Brahmins enforce caste and get rich and fat off it like Mr Bumble and the workhouse board in Oliver Twist. In reality, caste does not exist because it was enforced by Brahmins. Rather it exists because in a pre-industrial age, and indeed into a hi-tech age, social differences form. It reflects that reality then to pretend there is equality if we just get out of this ‘swamp’.

While the UK like so many other nations faces fuel poverty, inflation and social dislocation, these are situations that would face any leader. Yet instead of focusing on what Sunak would do about this, the detractors focus on his Hindu background and the fear he will impose further inequality with this caste system.

Decades of brainwashing through well-meaning ideas of equality have created this accepted narrative that western ideas derived from Christianity, from evangelicals to hardcore Marxists, at source believe in equality. Hinduism with its Brahmins and Manusmirti does not.

Instead of looking how India could develop like other nations and move from rural to industrial and urban base to overcome the social inequalities, it is easier to blame Hindu caste system for the poverty while ignoring the very real caste chasms appearing in their own developed societies. In looking for a scapegoat for austerity and poverty, the Hindu provides the easy scapegoat.


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