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Social Exclusion and The Criminalization of the Poor

I was in lower parel, the first time I saw a policeman harassing a family who was homeless. This was the first time I felt the familiarity of invisible walls built up in the center of a city that stretched just as far as the wallets of those willing to pay just enough to not be exposed to the poverty their blindness perpetuates. I too have experienced invisible walls. I too have known communities that I am not allowed to enter into, neighborhoods where I will always receive tightly clutched purses, unwelcomed second glances, and the individual attention of the nearest police officer. But these were invisible walls in a very different context, yet the sum of discrimination always points to the same unequal signs.

In the context of India, many want to believe that racial discrimination doesn’t exist. Yet social exclusions implies an historical presence of a Hindu social order that has coincidentally positioned those with lighter skin in positions of power and those who with darker skin are commonly categorized as Dalits or “untouchables,” a category that strips people of their humanity and places them into the most extreme positions of marginality. Not only are they discriminated against, but they are literally labeled as individuals who cannot be touched due to the work sectors they have been historically forced to enter into.

Caste personifies numerous modes of iconic devaluation, defining what they call lower caste as a detested category and authenticates a variety of injustice including physical harm, marginalizing, silencing, isolating, segregating, rejecting, subjugating, suppressing, and disenfranchisement. Caste is a process that rips humans away from humanity, stripping individuals from communities to make them singularly vulnerable. Caste– “a bivalent collectivity” partially rooted in economic hindrance, religiously-sanctioned segregation and pre-organization of a dark dipped skin occupation, with the lower castes associated with the most stigmatization in jobs, survival, and life.

If one came in contact with an untouchable, they were considered polluted by the greater society. Even in rural areas untouchables are pushed to the edge of villages that turn backs on that lives considered backward in the eyes of those who are pure.

Social exclusion has been used as a mechanism to marginalize and produce barriers for the poor in Mumbai for more than a century. However, it is only recently that this social exclusion has translated into a legalized form of containment and policing of poor and disadvantaged groups.

Social exclusions is a blurred line between the individual choices people make and the prejudice that surfaces in a society. Ultimately, this sort of exclusion is difficult (yet still necessary) to fight against. Legal exclusion however, is open, visible, and vulnerable to the attacks of any and everyone that cares about human rights, civil liberty, and freedom. Legal forms of exclusion (making it illegal for poor people to ask for money in certain areas of the city or even allowing the police to arrest people for trivial acts) needs to be fought against on all counts, and only then can we move to fight against the more subtle and nuanced forms of discrimination, not always based in law, but settled in the every day actions of everyday people: class, race, caste, religion, ethnicity, gender, sexuality. This list could go on for far too long.


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