Of Cabbages and Kings

May 12, 2007

1857 and this week

Filed under: Across the Universe, Random musing — Chinmayi @ 5:48 pm

Yesterday, a friend mentioned something about celebrating ‘1857’. I screeched “1857?” repeatedly, much in the manner of my grandmother screeching “orkut?”, until the friend asked a little snippily if I know what 1857 is. Yes, I know what 1857 is. What I don’t know, is why we are celebrating it.

We are delighted with ourselves because over a century ago, Indian soldiers rebelled for the first time against the British and refused to rifles with cartridges that were greased with animal fat. They refused because to bite a cartridge covered with animal fat would be to lose caste. Versions of exactly what form the revolt took vary, but all sources agree on the origins – caste. And there we have it a ignomious caste encrusted beginning which we insist on pegging as the starting point of the Indian war for Independence.

And look how far we have come. In the same week that we are making a hullabaloo about 1857, we are passing legislations that ban women from working at night, we are beating up priests, burning down newspaper offices (and killing people in them) and burning paintings in art schools.

I suppose there is some irony in all this – that we should begin fighting because of caste, and we should end up a country which has graduated to persecuting its minority religious groups, women, the press, artists and anyone else that dares to have an opinion.

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