A brief note on caste and anti-racism

Priyamvada Gopal
2 min readJun 29, 2018

Re-reading both Annihilation of Caste and Hatred in the Belly ahead of the Bradford Literary Festival, I fully understand why there is a deep and necessary critique of the disproportionate and outsize platform Brahmins and other savarnas, including me, have both within and without India. This critique has to be taken on the chin by those of us who benefit relentlessly from caste privilege even when it is somewhat off-base and reductive (e.g. savarnas like me who reject racism are doing so because they are caste-entitled — doesn’t actually make any contextual sense. It’s not dissimilar, ironically, to a certain marxist reading of anti-racism as class privileged ‘identity politics’). Still, I see where it’s coming from and accept it for what it is in a historical frame). There are a few cautionary comments to make, though.

1. White racism in the West does not make a distinction between savarnas and non-savarnas. If you have black or brown skin, or wear a beard or hijab, you will be targetted regardless of caste. The many black (not Asian) people who suffer from white racism, working class or not, do not protest because of caste privilege. Solidarity with them cannot be reduced to caste entitlement even as we must remain alert to the workings of the latter.

2. There can be no rejection of racism that doesn’t enjoin upon us a rejection of caste and its insidious workings and bloody violence. By the same token, you cannot have a repudiation of caste and casteism that is not a repudiation of racism. I cannot see why both may not be undertaken: for me, constantly, racism is a reminder of my own complicity in and advantaging by a caste hierarchy.

3. Might be worth keeping in mind how blanket attacks on anti-racism as only savarna entitlement actually gives joyous blank cheque to white liberal racists who see it as a get-out clause for themselves. These people are the savarnas of their own cultures. In other words, when made carelessly and reductively, some critiques only give white privilege a free run — allowing for a forgetting of the fact that upper-caste whites helped entrench the existing privilege South Asian upper-castes by making them collaborators (and I think of my own ancestors here) against the ‘millions whom we govern.’