This article has been written by Pravidhi Rawat (II Year, B.A., LL.B. (Hons.)) and the illustration has been made by the author.
Image Description: Two white speakers on a pink background. One of them has a rainbow wire connected to the socket and noise is coming out of it. The other one has a dark blue wire and is plugged. The socket for the second one has been taped shut.
My first pride parade was perhaps one of the times I have felt the most like myself. I remember being sick a day before and simply willing myself into getting better because I knew how badly I wanted to go. I had called my parents with so much glee to announce that ‘it’ was finally happening and my friends never heard the end of it the week before the parade was supposed to happen.
In contrast, the other times I have felt most like myself include when just before leaving my college my mother sat me down and told me that I need not wear my caste on my sleeve. Guilt, fear, and doubt had made a home in my mind about not belonging - even before I stepped foot in Law School.
I had come to the university announcing my pronouns in the class groups and my queerness on Instagram stories, on display for my peers. My ‘coming out’ as queer never happened because I had made it impossible to not know that I was queer through the jokes I made (and really everything else :p). I mostly did feel safe enough to make them. Coming from a school that was just one homophobic slur per sentence, I was heavily grateful for the space that Law School had provided me with to finally express myself.
Lockdown helped too, in terms of reading theory that would help me come to terms with my identity. The months leading up to Law School had been a garbage salad of preparing for CLAT, and grappling back to back with ideas of sexuality and gender. It was never-ending; but I enjoyed reading, and it helped a lot to figure out how I could deal with everything that I could not figure out as someone who was never comfortable with any label. The ‘liberal’ space that Law School provided extended its support in the form of a small queer family I had made for myself here. As a consequence of whatever support I had received and the (fortunate and unfortunate) conversations I had been a part of, my queer identity had learned to stretch its arms, step in loudly, and take up space in jokes and the less funny, more sensitive conversations. However, my caste identity had taken the backseat. Despite the support that I was fortunate enough to get from the DBA (Dalit-Bahujan-Adivasi) seniors and peers, I never really learned to more than whisper my caste history in circles of friends I knew were ‘safe’. I spent so much of the second and third trimesters of my first year unsettled, trying to grapple with the anxiety I suffered in conversations on caste- which was in clear contrast to my other identity markers. One side really was rainbows. But after more hours spent on this regularly than I’d like to admit and a conversation with a Dalit queer senior I finally understood how subtly this space (willingly or unwillingly) tends to alienate you in your caste experience.
In my short experience in Law School, the chances I was given to engage with queer identities were open and willing. Even if the support in public spaces was superficial it was still preferred to the threat of subtle hostility and othering that conversations on caste came with. Perhaps in an effort to not be disrespectful or owing to their lack of chances to engage with questions of caste sensitively before Law School, most people seemed to escape any engagement with the topic. In its mission to make this space ‘safe’ for people from the DBA community, Law School invisiblises caste by drowning public conversations on how it plays out in your daily interactions. The guilt, anger or disdain that resides in the hearts of most Savarnas in spaces like these incapacitates them from engaging with caste in a free manner while it still constantly looms above our heads. The connection they feel to the DBA oppression or privilege (depending on who you talk to) is more directly related to their own identities and this space has failed to give them tools to deal with it in an acceptable manner- so these conversations fall completely silent. Unlike the regularly observed and more talked about alienation of marginalised identities via lack of institutional academic support, most conversations fail to address this aspect of alienation. There is no space to talk about identities except the groups we have formed with our DBA peers and a few allies sprinkled in.
I came to NLS carrying so much shame and guilt which perhaps would have solidified its place in my heart if not for a few fortunate encounters with some seniors. This space has failed to offer me (and other DBA Folks) a platform to engage with my(/our) identity in the readings we were provided or the classroom conversations or even just everyday woke rants. I had learned pretty fast that these rants from the woke-school-liberal-law-students made place only for a few topics that came easily to them. Any discomfort in engagement was never outright outcasted but subtly the Law School would let you know the time and space for talking about the right things. Caste was definitely not one of them. I am fortunate enough to say that I have not had to debate matters like reservation (or my general right to live) with my batchmates in public spaces, but most of it was because there was no conversation at all. The most that you would get is a mathematical and practiced equation of privilege acknowledgment. Although it saved me from the labor of explaining caste oppression and history to people who claim to know it better than me, I don’t know if that was a trade-off worth being alienated in my experiences.
Another thing is that my experience in law school has been sheltered, because I found people who were either from the DBA community or had earned the title of ‘safe’ from them. So, most of my personal conversations, if concerning, were subtly hostile at best and just blatantly ignorant and clueless at worst. However, other people have not been fortunate enough in their interactions with the student body and faculty alike. It’s just that these conversations do not happen. All we get is a DBA community-wide alert for our safety but there is no place for us to engage with people outside of the community, except maybe our friends. There is no conversation culture.
The purpose of this piece is neither to compare nor discount the struggles of queer people in comparison to DBA folks, but to highlight the absolute lack of conversation spaces where the same is discussed for one identity unlike the other. Additionally, I do not wish to imply that Law School has mastered the process of addressing the queer struggle, but to show that it is wholly unwilling to even meaningfully engage with the (anti-)caste struggle.