Somewhere, rather recently, in a farm-based rural district of India, the social forestry department planted ‘saplings’ on a piece of land in an afforestation effort. The department obviously sought to rework a perhaps profoundly uncertain ecological imbalance. Yet, a few days later, a group of angered marginalized SC men and women, uprooted these saplings contesting the hypocrisy of the social forestry project. The SC men and women were objecting to the ‘denial’ of ‘ceiling land’ appropriately due to them, which the scheming and powerful landlords continued to hold illegally. (Guru, 1995).
Most thinkers and scholars might consider those men and women as lacking ecological knowledge, and as craving selfishly only for their personal well-being. The expert would argue that these marginalized caste groups regularly destroyed all efforts at refurbishing eco-diversity. Everyone however, knew that big money, irascible farming and ecological exploitation degraded the environment. Yet the SC communities would remain condemnable because they failed to guarantee the greater common good and the survival of the common future. (1995)
This argument misses the obvious: that is, only an egalitarian distribution of land among the marginalized caste groups can guarantee the restoration of ecological balance and bio-diversity. The Indian experience is special because only marginalized Adivasi groups know how to save the environment from total degradation, because of their proximity to an eco-friendly way of life. Hence land-distribution on behalf of marginalized forest communities will benefit ecology, not degrade it. Yet the upper caste/middle class communities moralize over the environment, debunk, if not criminalize, the role and contribution of the marginalized caste communities regarding the environment (1995). Therefore, such ecological efforts do not enhance social equality at all; they merely discriminate on the basis of caste.
Thus, in the current context, the nature and practice of social discrimination becomes profoundly complicated. In other words, any form of social discrimination cannot remain free from another; every discrimination rides on the underbelly of another. Thus the ‘moral economy’ (1995) of middle-class/upper caste do-gooder- environmentalists abjure the actual potential of ecological balance, whose guardians have been the Adivasi communities. In denying land to these marginalized groups and using it for afforestation, the environmentalist writes economic discrimination on the bodies of Adivasi and Dalit communities.
Indeed, since the nature of social injustice itself has altered, the delivery of social justice must change too. A one-at-a-time specificity may not suffice anymore because all forms of discrimination, victimization and subjugation are inter-sectional, weaving one form of injustice into another. Caste violence is written on the bodies of women, making caste issues integral to gender questions; class-based environmentalism is heavily caste-marked; and sexual violence is often determined either by class or caste politics. Thus, the practice of social justice demands a different ‘way of seeing’ (Williams, 1989) social reality. No longer can one accept simplistic advocacy as the perfect resolution to contemporary forms of injustice.
Social justice demands today an archeological approach (Foucault, 1972), which evaluates varied forms of power underpinned by oppressive discriminatory structures. Simply speaking, only a multi-dimensional approach to social change can answer the inter-sectional nature of social discrimination.
As Ambedkar would consistently argue, it is never sufficient to achieve freedom without working out both equality and fraternity. And only then… there will be justice for all.
Foucault, Michel The Archeology of Knowledge 1972
Guru, Gopal “Dalit Women Talk Differently” EPW (Oct 14-21) 1995
Williams, Raymond Resources Of Hope: Culture, Democracy, Socialism 1972
By Etienne Rassendren MA PhD
Dr. Etienne Rassendren is a part of the Department of English at St. Joseph’s College, Bengaluru.