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The Psychology of Casteism and its Intersections with the Concepts of Class and Race

Ms Uditi Chakraborty, PhD Scholar, Department of English, Presidency University, Kolkata, West Bengal, India


Caste is an intensely personal lived experience with crucial consequences – individuals who

have and still continue to struggle with the realities of caste-based discrimination and

atrocious acts of violence experience caste not just in political and economic terms but as a

deeply embedded socio-cultural tradition that can be likened to a disease that corrodes human dignity, decimates psychological stability and precipitates the disintegration of human life. To construct ways and find avenues of eradicating caste or perhaps, what is more hopefully optimistic, to restrain its unregulated spread, it is therefore of utmost significance that we delve into the roots of casteism, its meaning amidst the myriad manifestations of its lived experience.

Who is a Brahmin, a Kshatriya, a Vaishya, a Shudra, a Dalit? Is a person’s identity determined by one’s innate qualities, by birth, by the purity or pollution of one’s body and/or soul? Is it a mind of supremely rare elevated spirituality or is it simply numerical strength that

grants and guarantees one the position of social, cultural, political and economic superiority

and strength? The purpose of this paper is to enquire into the notion of casteism as it is

depicted in one of the foundational texts of Hinduism, Manusmriti and posit its

intersectionality with ideas of class and race, thereby uncovering the absence of reflections on the corrosive consequences of casteism in traditional scriptures – something the eminent

cultural psychiatrist Dr. Sushrut Jadhav characterises as psychological ethnocide.

The paper attempts to reformulate the notion of casteism with its nexus of victim, perpetrator and observer as a psychological phenomenon among its varied manifestations, some of which lead to the emulation of the hegemonic discourse of Brahmanism while some others lead to internecine modes of oppression, but all of which leave their marks of trauma in the wounded psyche of the individual. Drawing recourse to Dr. Jadhav’s pioneering clinical work with people struggling with stigmatising experiences of caste, class and race in marginalised spaces both in the United Kingdom and India, the paper questions whether we can consider psycho-pathologizing caste, thereby bringing it into the domain of medical humanities.

Unlike the oppression based on racism where the overt symbol is the colour of one’s skin,

caste is hidden from the gaze and at times, presents the opportunity of concealment. The

politics of this invisibility coupled with the threat of revelation however has traumatic

consequences on the individual psyche once the oppression has been internalised.

The rampant practising of caste-based violence in the current global climate of multiculturalism begs the question: by what or whom does the Brahmin feel threatened? Is he anxious about losing his revered cultural status, afraid of the failure to preserve the notion of caste purity by enforcing practices which include endogamy? Can we characterise

Dalitphobia as the Brahmanic realisation that its hegemonic supremacy may not be eternal in

nature? The paper explores whether we can look at caste as the resultant, perpetuating

symptom of the collective unconscious by drawing recourse to the psychoanalytical

framework whereby the symptom can manifest itself in various forms – in acts of sadism,

masochism, perversion, inhumane acts of atrocity and violence. The paper will delve into the

idea of constructing one’s own superior identity on the basis of the impurity and dehumanised identity of the other as an example of such caste induced pathology.

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