“It needs to be understood that public policy, civil society, or international affairs, development sector, and international non-governmental agencies, this whole sector as such represents the pinnacle of privilege. It is actually a mirror of how caste works. It’s no surprise that when I am here in an Ivy League university who my classmates are. There are smart people, passionate people but for me, this is beyond passion. It's personal for us because the work we do as policymakers that will impact my siblings, my cousins, or people I know personally that is why policy for me is very personal. In my experience in this field, folks will talk about caste, like I have heard from people in my program. They would talk about caste, but they wouldn’t talk about caste to me directly that happens across. In mainstream public policy when they talk about India all the work is about poor people, the marginalised, the discriminated, the unprivileged, but then nobody goes beyond and asks the question - who are these people you are talking about? Like in the American context when we talk about urban policy or health policy, if you don’t factor race as a dimension your policy will be limited, your policy will be unidimensional. Likewise when you think about policy in terms of India, when you don't factor in caste, it will be limited.
The challenge of having only upper caste folks having the hegemony or being in leadership of the sector is that these folks would straight up come to me and say, ‘my grandfather allowed the untouchables in my village to use their tank to drink water’. That would be one end of the spectrum, and the other one is people coming and saying, “you know we should talk more about caste’ or folks who were against reservation till a year back and I have now read Annihilation of Caste and now they say Jai Bhim and we have to accept them as our comrades.”
This is an excerpt from today’s episode, where we are in conversation with Benson Neethipudi, a student in Economic and Political Development at the School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA), Columbia University. He is also the current president of the SIPA Student Association. Benson grew up in Andhra Pradesh and is an anti-caste intellectual.
In the seventh episode of Caste in the USA, Benson shares his experiences with host Thenmozhi Soundarajan, of navigating the ignorance and disregard that Indian policy makers display routinely, on the central question of caste.