Coronavirus has saturated our news feed, social media and daily conversations. Even the ‘Good Morning‘ messages that unnecessarily flood our WhatsApp every morning have gotten an additional tagline, “Wash your hands, be safe.” The entire globe seems to be at a standstill. News media is painting a picture of collective solidarity against the coronavirus. This solidarity in social exclusion, however is tainted with caste biases in India. From the privilege of social exclusion and hygiene to pseudo-science assertions of Corona’s origin, our caste (and class) prejudice and ignorance have come out blatantly.
With the discovery of the virus, dutiful Brahmanical supremacists made it a point to blame the impurity of non-vegetarians and their food as the source of the disease. This bias comes from the food habits associated to different castes in the caste system of India, wherein vegetarianism is automatically associated with bodily and soul’s purity. It is considered to be the ‘norm’ practiced by the high and mighty; the ideal followed by the ones closer to the divine. Within the Indian caste system, Brahmins assume the position of the pure vegetarians and people belonging to lower caste are deemed impure, for they are paradoxically allowed to consume meat.
This linkage is blatant in daily practices too. For instance, upper caste students and faculty of one of the most sought-after engineering college in India, IIT Bombay recently came under societal scrutiny for demanding separate cutlery and cooking utensils for their vegetarian food. Their body and mind were at the risk of contamination from any possible touch with meat or meat eaters. Thus, vegetarianism in India is exclusively different. It is not merely about animal care, it has roots in Brahmanical supremacy of purity.
With the discovery of the virus, dutiful Brahmanical supremacists made it a point to blame the impurity of non-vegetarians and their food as the source of the disease. This bias comes from the food habits associated to different castes in the caste system of India, wherein vegetarianism is automatically associated with bodily and soul’s purity.
Hence, in an embarrassing display of their ignorance, a number of upper caste supremacists started “NoMeatNoCoronavirus” hashtag on Twitter as a solution to the worldwide pandemic of coronavirus. Their irrational logic being: Coronavirus, an impure virus comes from the impure consumption of the non-Brahmins.
The tweets supporting the hashtag also took the benign task of asking everyone to be vegetarian (like a good Hindu) and get immune to the virus: a claim as false as it is ridiculous. To clarify: the coronavirus can spread to anyone and everyone, who has been in touch with its germs. It can spread from one person to the other, regardless of their caste and food choices! To add credence to these incredible claims, National President of Hindu Mahasabha, Swami Chakrapani announced that, “Corona is not a virus, but avatar for the protection of poor creatures. They have come to give the message of death and punishment to the one who eats them.”
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This vegetarianism also has a peculiar feature: that of social distancing and evoking a feeling of condescension towards those who don’t adhere to it. Thus, social distancing with Dalits is a natural part of Brahmanical life. Dalits and people belonging to lower caste community are also forced to embody the last hierarchy of occupation, wherein other ‘impure’ occupations of manual scavenging and sanitation work is enforced upon them.
To add credence to these incredible claims, National President of Hindu Mahasabha, Swami Chakrapani announced that, “Corona is not a virus, but avatar for the protection of poor creatures. They have come to give the message of death and punishment to the one who eats them.”
With current norms of social distancing, people have been forced to not be in close contact with each other and we have had enough wailing about the same on the internet. People are lonely and without friends. Within this privileged isolation, we have collectively chosen to ignore a community which has lived generations within this social exclusion. Their mental health and community well-being were never a matter of concern. Adding to this, can people belonging to other low caste community afford work at homes and the exorbitant level of hygiene ignorantly suggested by the government.
Most of the people are employed in occupation vested in areas of dirt and disease.
Raju Kamble, a sanitation worker rightfully scorns this suggestion. “I am a safai karmachari, my job is to pick up other people’s garbage. How can people like us work from home?” Highlighting the casteist nature of the occupation, he expanded, “All of us in this line of work are Dalit, so people have always kept their distance from us… What is the big deal about this disease? Safai karmacharis suffer from cough, cold, viral fever and breathing problems all the time.”
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While Coronavirus is a dangerous pandemic at hand, Kumble’s comments brings to light the carelessness with which Dalit bodies have been dealt by the state for years. For years, they have not been provided safety equipment, gloves and masks. Each year, we witness hundreds of deaths due to sanitation work and sewage cleansing. Deaths, which go unnoticed and are reduced to mere numbers.
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Thanks for this article. It was much needed, the upper castes and classes will share and glorify Tata’s short film on scavengers and feel satisfied; while the actual people are dying.
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