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Clubhouse Caste: How Silicon Valley Insiders Look In India

Clubhouse is a social audio app where users can communicate in audio chat rooms

Prasangana Paul

"Cultivation of mind should be the ultimate aim of existence."
Babasaheb Ambedkar.

-Essay-

NEW DELHI — The latest entrant in the world of social media has been Clubhouse. While the audio-based platform boasts of providing a 'room' for free-wheeling discussions on anything and everything, it is imperative that it take note and address the casteism being blatantly practiced in these rooms.

I stumbled upon the casteist side of Clubhouse when I came across a room with a clickbait topic: "Should reservation be constitutional?" In that room, the savarna hosts gave each other plenty of time to speak, but did not pass the mic to those debating the very idea of hosting such a discussion in the first place.

Hijacking our life experiences

The topic was triggering for many like me, who come from marginalised communities. Instead of letting us put our points across, we were repeatedly relegated to the audience section.

Over time, I've been witness to numerous rooms like this where elite upper-caste speakers invalidate your trauma – and in a way, your very existence – by using all sorts of hurtful words to add to the generational oppression. They keep hijacking our life experiences while blowing horns of their merit.

They don't hear us at all.

Upper castes define merit in their own ways

To those even remotely wondering as to why such talks are allowed to exist in the first place, one must remember that there are many in the audience – typically belonging to the same caste as the speakers – who not only support these casteist beliefs but also feel the need to highlight these rooms and hype the speakers, or so-called icons, who are mostly self-proclaimed intellectuals.

This is simply the age-old practice savarna gatekeeping at work.

In the room on reservation, the speakers cribbed about how seats are snatched away by Dalit students and how only those who apply through the general categories are meritorious. Such arguments are hardly limited to Clubhouse. With all their generational wealth and caste privileges, the upper castes try to define merit in their own ways.

But what many fail to understand is that we are not here to prove anything to them. We are fighting our own battles everyday and struggling to live a life in a caste-centric society where casteist comments are casually passed, where Dalits are beaten for hoisting the national flag and even murdered for riding a horse at their own wedding. Dalit women are raped and killed in the hundreds yearly, and justice is rarely done. There are countless examples of real-life violence caused by upper castes against the Bahujan community. And the vicious loop never ends.

Dalits in India live in constant fear. So how are there people who want to host Clubhouse rooms to debate if reservation should exist or not?


Photo of people protesting against increasing atrocities on Dalit communityDemonstrators protesting against increasing atrocities on Dalit community, October 2020Mayank Makhija/NurPhoto/ZUMA

It is so daunting to notice how not just Clubhouse, but almost every platform is dominated by savarnas who claim to be progressive on the outside but wouldn't bat an eyelid while discussing the merits and demerits of reservation. They would rather pat their own back and say "I have a Dalit friend", but would never hold their favorite influencer accountable if they are caught using casteist slurs.

The day I encountered the Clubhouse room on reservation, I also came across a group chat where many privileged men wrote to me, asking, "So we can't even have a discussion on reservation and talk about what is right and wrong about it?"

I responded, asserting that it isn't a matter of right or wrong – it is about representation. Instead of paying attention to what I had to say, they mocked me, calling me 'too sensitive' as I was being unable to explain the facts to them calmly. How could they expect me to stay calm when the DBA samaj was being insulted in front of me, and my own voice was being invalidated? They humiliated me, even as many others stood by quietly and let it happen.

You shrink yourself in a room that is entirely yours.

DBA artists who have been hosting anti-caste rooms are barely noticed. On the other hand, savarna speakers who moderate discussions on clickbait topics by appropriating our voices have a considerable number of followers. You may have also noticed how very few artists from the DBA community are verified on Instagram or other platforms. On the other hand, savarnas are kept on a high pedestal for doing the bare minimum.

Among the words I absolutely detest is 'merit' – I simply can't stand the ridiculous nature of the word and how it forms the very grounds of discrimination. Growing up, my mother used to say, "Don't let the world dictate you, you deserve to go anywhere and everywhere". But how do I tell her that I am scared of this savarna supremacist society playing their savarnatokenism everywhere?

In a world that keeps questioning your existence, you get tired of seeking space for yourself. You shrink yourself in a room that is entirely yours.

The time has come to create our own spaces.

Prasangana Paul is an International Relations student at Jadavpur University.

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