Unveiling Caste Privilege in 12th Fail: A Critical Examination from a Dalit Perspective

Caste-privileged people need to know that the caste into which they are born comes with certain advantages that Dalits have been deprived of. They don't have to face what Dalits have to endure on a daily basis; they are not humiliated because of their caste.
Unveiling Caste Privilege in 12th Fail: A Critical Examination from a Dalit Perspective

People are talking about the movie "12th Fail" and its emotional scenes. From a Dalit perspective, this movie needs to be critically examined. Emotionally, the film attempts to connect with the audience, depicting the struggle of an individual to crack the UPSC examination. The main characters in the movie include Manoj Sharma, Pritam Pandey, Shraddha Joshi, and Gauri Bhaiya.

Manoj Sharma is portrayed as a person from a poor family, with his father initially employed but later suspended. The movie illustrates his poverty and the challenges he faced when he came to Delhi to pursue the goal of cracking the IAS exam. During his journey to Delhi, Manoj encounters theft of his belongings and money. Fortunately, he receives help from Pritam Pandey, who assists him in traveling to Delhi. In Delhi, he also receives support from Gauri Bhaiya. It appears as though he receives instant help from anyone he comes in contact with, securing prompt assistance even for admission to a coaching institution.

What is evident here is a manifestation of caste privilege, as Manoj Sharma in the movie is receiving assistance from various quarters. If the character had been a Dalit, would they have received such help instantly? I think not. It is challenging for a Dalit to obtain the kind of support depicted in Manoj Sharma's journey in the movie. The main character in the film, due to his caste, does not experience discrimination, school dropout due to caste-based humiliation, physical beatings, or the societal humiliation that Dalits often face.

The film questions whether Manoj's father faces humiliation due to his caste, highlighting the absence of the severe caste-based struggles that Dalits encounter. It contrasts the privileges enjoyed by Manoj, who doesn't face the hardships typically endured by Dalit aspirants. The movie fails to shed light on the hidden privileges derived from his caste.

In the narrative, Manoj Sharma gets the opportunity to interview twice, a luxury that may not be afforded to a Dalit in a similar situation. The reference to Tina Dabi's case, a Dalit topper facing casteist slurs and questioning of her merit, emphasizes how the concept of "merit" is perpetually tied to being Dalit.

This movie unveils the caste privilege experienced by the hero, Manoj Sharma, who is spared the challenges faced by Dalit aspirants. It also underscores the persistent issue of casteism, as seen in real-life cases like Tina Dabi's. The film fails to illuminate the hidden privileges associated with Manoj's caste and calls attention to the unacknowledged caste privileges prevalent in society.

Dalits have been deprived of the transformative power of love, touch, and acceptance, as their very touch is deemed untouchable by others.
Dalits have been deprived of the transformative power of love, touch, and acceptance, as their very touch is deemed untouchable by others.

This movie appears to glorify a person from a caste considered superior in society, showcasing his hard work. Many Dalits aspire to build successful careers, yet they lack the support that characters like Manoj Sharma receive due to financial constraints, resource scarcity, and social capital limitations, compounded by their caste. Numerous Dalits are forced to abandon their studies due to these challenges and caste-based humiliation, experiences unknown to those born into castes regarded as superior.

In the movie, Manoj, while searching for coaching, encounters Shraddha Joshi, and their love story unfolds. Shraddha becomes his support throughout his journey. Such a scenario might not occur for a Dalit character, as caste often becomes a barrier. Both Manoj and Shraddha hail from families considered superior, making it easier for them to marry in a society where caste determines everything. If Manoj were a Dalit, his love might not have been accepted, and the outcome could have been tragic. A quick online search reveals the grim reality faced by Dalits who dare to love someone from a caste considered superior, often resulting in violence or death. The love and affection of Dalits have been rejected by society, burdened by the stigma of untouchability. Dalits have been deprived of the transformative power of love, touch, and acceptance, as their very touch is deemed untouchable by others.

Whatever is depicted in the 12th Fail Movie may occur in the life of a caste considered superior in society, but not in the life of a Dalit, who faces the worst caste atrocities. No person will randomly come into the life of a Dalit and offer assistance. The movie fails to acknowledge the advantages that privileged caste individuals enjoy. Being born into a caste regarded as superior in society is itself a privilege. They don't have to endure untouchability or discrimination, hide their parents' names, or live in childhood fear that revealing their caste will result in social exclusion. Privileged individuals don't face the challenges Dalits do, including mockery and questioning of their credibility by teachers in school. All these struggles are experienced by Dalits. When a Dalit is born, they recognize the struggle ahead from that moment. The mainstream Bollywood movie and castes considered superior in society have failed to acknowledge the struggles, sufferings, and pain of Dalits. The normalization of atrocities against Dalits in society is evident when people dismiss such incidents, saying, "What is new in it?" This highlights how the pain and suffering of Dalits have been normalized.

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What unseen privileges do privileged caste people receive since birth? They are privileged not to be segregated or separated in society, not to live on the outskirts of the village. Do privileged caste people acknowledge these privileges? Dalits have been deprived of the social capital with which privileged caste individuals are born. Privileged caste individuals have not been deprived of education for thousands of years; they were allowed. However, Dalits were deprived. Thanks to Baba Saheb's Constitution, Dalits gained rights and fought for their place in a society where they are still beaten for minor offenses, marginalized in universities, and sometimes compelled to take their own lives.

Privileged caste individuals also enjoy the advantage that their so-called "merit" is unquestioned; they have always been regarded as meritorious. In contrast, Dalits have been labeled as so-called "meritless." The concept of merit is vague; what is this so-called "merit" when you were not allowed to compete, pursue education, and were deprived of everything for ages? The people born into a caste considered privileged in society have never acknowledged the unseen privilege they receive.

In the movie, the main character is shown displaying slippers. The hero's father is also depicted showing slippers to an officer when he gets suspended, his brother shows slippers to the MLA's workers, and he himself shows slippers to the library staff. This act of showing slippers is a privilege associated with the caste into which the movie's hero is born, a caste regarded as superior in society. Would a Dalit ever do this? No, if they did, society would brutally beat them, exclaiming, "How dare a Dalit show slippers?"

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We have seen, in cases of caste atrocities, that whenever Dalits raised their voices, they were beaten, from Khairlanji to Hathras. Recently in Gujarat, a woman allegedly forced a Dalit to hold footwear in his mouth, and in Tamil Nadu, only recently, 60 Dalits broke the pre-independence era discrimination and walked with slippers. One can only Google and see how many cases where Dalits are being garlanded with slippers and beaten with slippers for raising their voice. This is the privilege with which Manoj is born, as shown in the movie, where he can show slippers to others.

In a society where Dalits are being hit with slippers, garlanded with slippers, having slippers put on their heads, and being made to apologize, urinating on the heads of Dalits. Does this happen with a caste that is regarded as superior in society? Beating others with slippers is also a privilege, and it is a caste privilege. Do the people who are born in a caste that is regarded as a privilege in society question themselves? Power from unseen privilege can look like strength when it is, in fact, permission to dominate. Caste-privileged people need to know that the caste into which they are born comes with certain advantages that Dalits have been deprived of. They don't have to face what Dalits have to endure on a daily basis; they are not humiliated because of their caste. They are born with certain advantages that Dalits have been deprived of. We don't decide in which home we will take birth, but at least the unseen privileges that a person born in a caste regarded as superior in society has, at least they should acknowledge that privilege. It is crucial that they reflect on the advantages they have and acknowledge the disparities faced by Dalits. Recognizing privilege is a crucial step towards fostering a more equitable society. Dalits did nothing to deserve the unequal treatment that happens to them. The onus is not on Dalits to make a casteless society; the onus is on the castes who have enjoyed the privilege of their caste for ages.

- The Author Akhilesh Kumar is a PhD scholar at Jamia Millia Islamia University, specializing in the Centre for Dalit and Minorities Studies. His doctoral research focuses on Baba Saheb Ambedkar and the Question of Marginalization.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this analysis are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of any organization or entity.

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