IN THE realm of economic life, globalisation has offered an expanded and varied life for the rich and made the poor poorer. In India, where caste occupations remain the survival source of the lower caste communities, globalisation killed many such trades and displaced traditional labour from the fields. Labour displacement created nightmarish conditions for the poor. Dalit-Bahujan movements have to grapple with this situation and resist economic globalisation.
In the cultural realm, globalisation seems to have opened up a new channel of hope for the historically suppressed masses. Modern sociological studies have shown that the Brahminic notion of purity and pollution in relation to ritual-culture, food habits and dress code kept a majority of India's masses as cultural slaves. Productive culture was defined as impure and the ritual-consumerist culture constructed as pure and great. Even the concept of knowledge was defined in relation to a consumerist culture; while the productive knowledge was no knowledge.
Knowledge was essentially seen as the ability to read the classical Sanskritic texts. The day-to-day activities of producing food, domesticating animals, constructing irrigation systems, building technological systems were considered unworthy in the realm of religion. The semi-scientific experiments of people were not even allowed to become part of textual knowledge.
Even Muslim rule and the cultural hegemony that Islamic thought established in the late medieval and early modern periods did not change the Brahminic notions of culture. Though Islamic thought did not see religion and productive activity as antagonistic, Muslim scholars never thought of changing the cultural relations of people as they too became Brahminised in many ways. Muslim scholarship did not try to study the productive culture of the Dalit-Bahujans.
The real change came after the Christian missionaries began interacting with India's productive masses. The missionaries, instead of condemning the food habits, dress code, ritual practices of these masses, began seeing them as part of the divine process. They lived with them, ate their food and adopted their dress code in order to give them cultural confidence. The practices of William Carrey and de Nobili are good examples. Scholars such as Verrier Elwin and Hermandoff built integrative values among the Adivasis as well. A major blow to the process of the productive masses being denied the right to read and write, as these were considered divine, was the opening up of schools for all.
The missionaries opened schools for the children of what Jyotirao Phule called Sudras and Ati-Sudras. Some educated Dalit-Bahujan youth began to understand the commonness between Western culture and their own. For the first time, the productive masses began to feel that their culture had globally respectable aspects.
During the nationalist campaign and more so in the post-Independence reconstruction of the cultural realm, Brahminism regained the ground it lost during the colonial period. The productive masses again felt insecure in the cultural sphere. The recent globalisation process has re-opened channels of cultural integration of the productive mass culture with the global culture. This gave enormous confidence to the intellectuals who began organising anti-Brahminic campaigns. It is well known that education is the major instrument of upgrading people's culture. This very education was denied to the productive masses before the colonial administration opened that channel for them. Phule, among the first to be educated in an English medium school, revolted against the inward-looking Hindu culture.
Language and religion are two essential channels of culturally assimilating diversified social groups. The globalisation of Indian education has been done with the expansion of English medium schools. Regional language education to the poor and English to the rich had stalled the process of cultural exchange between the Indian masses' un-Hindu culture and the Western cultures. Yet, English is more available to the masses now than Sanskrit in the ancient period, and Urdu and Persian in the medieval times. It appears that the first national language with which the children of all sections came in contact was English. It came without any spiritual tags. The Dalit-Bahujan children who came in touch with the language acquired skills to learn global knowledge and skills. They too could communicate with a global audience. Though over a period of time even English became the social capital of the upper castes, quite a large number of people coming from the oppressed castes learnt it and came in touch with the world's egalitarian knowledge systems. There is a world of difference between persons from historically educated castes learning English and historically suppressed communities learning the language and reaching out to the knowledge of the West.
For a Brahmin scholar, for example, Western culture that came through English was a negation of his own inward-looking culture — whether the culture of food and drink or the spiritual culture of worship of an inward-looking nature. For a Dalit-Bahujan who learns English and adopts the Western culture, there are many things in it that are common with his/her own `condemned culture' back home. Eating on a dining table with spoons and forks may appear new but there is a lot in common between Western foods and those of the Dalit-Bahujans.
A vegetarian Brahmin/Baniya has to make an extra effort to get Westernised and that too at the cost of being socially ostracised. For Dalit-Bahujans there is no such need. The question of ostracism also does not arise because there is no ban on foods such as pork. When B. R. Ambedkar went to New York for education he did not have to make promises to his parents or relatives of preserving his food culture like Gandhi did. He could eat whatever was on his table with ease. Which culture is Indian? Ambedkar's or Gandhi's?
Unlike Gandhi and Nehru, Ambedkar wore a suit throughout his life without facing any problems from his community. Gandhi had to struggle a lot to de-westernise himself. Nehru, for all his socialist ideas and rational thinking, wore a thread on his body under his sherwani. Yet, Ambedkar was not an accepted Hindu.
Many Brahminic writers who criticised Ambedkar for getting Westernised so quickly and praised Gandhi for adopting Indian simplicity are now competing to adopt the Western culture. Many such critics of Ambedkar wear suits on many occasions. They are not dressed in Gandhian attire at all. Some BJP Ministers are good cases in point. One is sure the suit will become a formal dress for all Indian men in the future. Those who keep struggling to become Westernised want to preserve Indian culture only with regard to women's dress and make-up code. Who is afraid of cultural globalisation then? There is a Brahminic patriarchal morality in opposing cultural globalisation.
Cultural globalisation negates the Brahminic myth of purity and pollution and liberates the Dalit-Bahujans in several ways. The first and foremost liberation takes place with the simple fact that what is condemned at home becomes, in a globalised culture, a positive commodity for sale. Their condemned self becomes respectable. The danger lies in economic globalisation itself.