“The Cracked Mirror: An Indian Debate on Experience and Theory” co-authored by Gopal Guru and Sundar Sarukkai (published by Oxford University Press 2012) is a book that contains one of the most important contemporary debates in India about caste. The authors have now started a project with Prajavani, a Kannada daily. This project aims at understanding caste through the experiences of people. It will be a series of articles written by people from different walks of life belonging to different castes and communities. Through the responses from the readers of Prajavani, this will culminate in creation of a public archive of experiences of caste practices as well as of a public discourse on caste aspirations. Prajavani has dedicated a full page every Monday for this series. Interested people can follow the debate at http://www.prajavani.net/.
The long introductory note to the series written by Gopal and Sundar has been published in Prajavani on 03 December 2012, Monday (this note is published in Kannada, translated by Madhava Chippali). It introduces the complexities of talking about caste in public spaces. It is a set of carefully chosen questions that should induce people to think and write about their experiences of caste. The following are some excerpts from the introductory note:
…In spite of various attempts to eradicate active caste consciousness in our society, it continues to erupt in most obnoxious ways thus consolidating caste identity. The active and effective presence of this caste consciousness has spread from the confines of the family to the political arena, from the private to the public spaces.”
“…Caste consolidation in our society happens due to a variety of causes. In this consolidation, many abhorrent caste practices resurface. However, caste consolidation has also strengthened the oppressed castes to fight against various forms of injustice. So what should we, as members of the larger society, do about caste? Do we reinforce forgotten caste practices and prejudices? Or even introduce new ones? Or do we, like the ideals in the constitution, demand a casteless society? Is a casteless society possible or desirable without first breaking down the privileges of some castes? What would our society be like if we give up these identities and associations with our castes?”
“…First of all, are you aware of your caste? At what age did you first know what your caste was? Although we think caste is private, it is often not so. Do your friends and colleagues know your caste? What about your neighbours? Are most of your neighbours people of your own caste? How many of your close friends are people of other castes?”
“…There are many who believe that cities have overcome caste problems and therefore suggest urbanization as a solution to caste issues. Is this so? Do our readers have experiences of how caste manifests itself in urban places?”
“…There are many who take pride in belonging to their caste. This is part of the mobilization of caste identity. In this context, we would like to ask the following questions: Do you like being a member of your caste? Given a choice, would you like to belong to another caste? Do you think hierarchy is the basic character of caste? If you think your caste is inferior/superior to other castes, in what way is it so?”
“…Some writers have called women as a separate caste because they feel women have been discriminated by men from all castes. Are women discriminated by men in all castes? Is there more equality between men and women in certain castes as compared to others? Do women bond with other women better and overcome caste through this identity?…