What is Justice and what is Democratization in our caste-based society?

What is Justice and what is Democratization in our caste-based society?

For the last four days (21 June, 2010 onwards) I am staying in Indian Social Institute (ISI) Bangalore to read David Mosse’s book: ‘Cultivating Development’ and reflect upon what we have been doing on our own project ‘Cast(e) out of Development’.  On 25th June, the ISI organized a talk on Human Rights.  The title of the talk: ‘The Psychology of Torture: Democratization for Constructing Cultures of Peace’.  The talk is presented by Ms. Nandana Reddy.  She is the director of ‘the Concerned for Working Children (CWC).

The entire talk revolves around two key ideas: (a) eye for eye, and (b) if a person slaps you on one cheek then, show him/her other cheek too. While the first idea comes from the Old Testament and the second one from the New Testament. She rejected the idea and arguments centered on the first idea (eye for eye).  For revenge in the form of torture results further torture and it goes on.  So where do we end?

Compromise/Reform VS Justice

The speaker, Ms. Reddy, narrates a personal incident that took place sometime ago in Sri Lanka among the Tamil Children. During the time of thick conflict between the Sinhalese and Tamils in Sri Lanka the speaker, Ms. Reddy went there to work among the Tamil children, who lost their families and relatives due to the conflict. It appears that one of those days she found that a boy beats-up another boy.  The latter is slightly weaker than the former thus, could not retaliate and began to cry.  Ms. Reddy told them a story (which she does not remember) and by the end of the story, the second boy, who was victim, got-up and said ‘sorry’ to the first boy, the victimizer, in turn, the first boy also said ‘sorry’ to the second boy. And Ms. Reddy asked the two boys to shake their hands and be friends.  Thus, the essence of the story is that, it is true that the first boy tortured the second boy. If the second boy takes revenge, in the form of the torture, on the first boy, then the act would lead to perpetuation of torture.  Instead, they both apologized to each other, and thus, there ended the problem.

Although I have a catholic up-bringing I cannot subscribe to Ms. Reddy’s conclusion.  For in the Tamil boys’ incident there is no ‘justice’. In the sense, the first boy is in advantageous position by the sheer fact that he was the victimizer and not the victim.  So he can afford to say sorry, because he is not going to lose anything. In fact, his ‘sorry’ would ensure protection from the second boy, who may, after sometime, take revenge on his victimizer. What about the second boy – the victim? Is the first boy’s ‘sorry’ do any justice to him? No, certainly not. In fact, the compromise only results in the further victimization of the victim.  In the sense, the second boy was already a victim because of the fact that he was beaten-up by the first boy.  Now, the compromise with his victimizer without justice would only results in his victimization for the second time.  Moreover, the fact that he has live with the fact that he had to compromise with his victimizer without justice is a form of torture, with which he has to endure with throughout his life. Interestingly, this is not the case with the victimizer. The compromise, in addition to buy him a permanent security from his victim– as mentioned above, would inculcate a sense of pride, because he was able to torturer a person and yet, got scot-free for his bad deed.

Although Ms. Reddy appears to appreciate the argument, she did not agree with it.  She defended her argument of compromise from a different point of view – the rape.  Rape is a form of physical as well as mental invasion of a woman by a man without her consent.  Since she is being tortured, what could be her revenge? Revenge for rape is nothing but raping the same man – sort of eye for eye. But, is that going to do any justice to the victim of rape? – questions Ms. Reddy.  If raping of victimizer (the man) is not going to do any justice the victim (the woman), then what should be our next step? Reforming the victimizer – an idea upon which our modern system of prisons have been built.  I am not convinced, for the idea behind the ‘reform’ is that reforming the victimizer so that he would feel sorry for what he has done, and also that he would not commit the same mistake of rape in the future. Reforming the victimizer for the above two reasons is fine, but, where is the justice to the victim?  We have to stop our discussion on the ideas of justice to the victim and reform the victimizer due to lack of time.

Although I require further study in order to arrive at a viable conclusion on the ideas of ‘compromise with victimizer’ and ‘reforming the victimizer’, as of now, I think that either compromise or of reform – without justice to the victim – are not only form of injustice but importantly also forms of torture and humiliation, with which the victim is hammered by in his mind day-in and day-out.  As such the justice to the victim, in my opinion should have two components: one, compensation to the victim in the form of money.  This money, in the first instance, should come from the victimizer himself.  I do not approve the idea of compensation from the State.  It was not the State, which has committed the mistake, but it was the victimizer, and hence, it was the latter that should pay the compensation and not the former. Of course, in case the victimizer is not in a position to compensate then the State can jump into the vacuum; second, punishment to the victimizer.  Here I do not subscribe the Old Testament’s idea of justice – eye for eye-, but certainly the victimizer has to undergo certain form if punishment, say of prison sentence, which would ultimately lead to his reform – a kind of compromise between the justices of Old Testament and New Testament.


Although democratization has been one of the key aspects of Ms. Reddys’s talk, she did not touch upon that aspect either theoretically or how one could democratize the Indian society. Instead, she causally touched upon how India has been a caste-based society, and how Bangalore has been changing right in front of our own eyes without either our participation or our say in the so-called development.

Now, I am somewhat skeptical about those upper castes that speak about the caste-based inequalities without giving-up the advantages, respect and recognition they gain simply because of their caste location in the hierarchy. What pains me more is to see that the upper castes that speak of high theory of egalitarianism do not even give-up, at least symbolically, their caste-based identities. For instance, the speaker Ms. Nandana, who is lamenting caste-based inequalities, while continuing to holding on to her upper-caste ‘Reddy’ identity (Ms. Nandana Reddy). I do not understand how and why the upper caste intellectuals do not see that holding on to the ascriptive identities, such as Reddy and Sharma, etc., goes against the principles of democratization, the high theory that they always love to harp on.

Moreover, I am not sure whether the upper castes are aware that by their act of holding on to the caste-based identities they are actually torturing the lower castes day-in and day-out?  Theoretically speaking, in an egalitarian society every human being is equal to every other human being. And in that society it may that some people are given importance, recognition and due respect because they did what did that earn them importance and recognition by others.  It may be that others are jealousy of the achievers because they could not achieve what the achievers have achieved. Yet, they cannot help but appreciate the achievers because the achievements are achieved through their individual (earned) capacities and not by imposed capacities. But in our society as the caste identities are imposed upon us, we are forced to acknowledge and recognize the superiority of those people that are born into upper caste categories, irrespective of those upper caste-born individuals’ capabilities and capacities. Concurrently, we are forced to mis-recognize the worthiness of the others because they are born into the lower caste categories.  To explicate this point further, the ‘Reddy’ caste identity is acknowledged by the wider society as the identity of respect and recognition. Thus, the Reddys feel proud to attach their caste identity to their names.  But the lower caste identities, say the identity of the Madigas or Holeyas, are stigmatized and mis-recognized. So the people that come from these castes do not feel proud to attach their caste identities to their names.  In other words, while the upper castes are capacitated by the society at large to feel proud of their caste identities, the lower castes are incapacitated to feel any proud of their caste identity, again, by the same society in which they are part and parcel.  And so thus, the incapacitated lower castes are always mentally tortured because they cannot claim recognition or respect to the identities, which are imposed upon them.

If this is the case, how do we achieve equality, at least some kind of symbolic equality – if not a substantive equality, in our highly segregated and in-egalitarian society? This is something that those people who wanted to see democratization in their society should ponder about.


Sam Gundimeda  (in ISI, Bangalore –  Saturday, June 26, 2010).

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