Dear Supriya Sule,
I hope you are doing well and my letter reaches you.
Before I start, let me tell you that I have always looked up to you for your work for women upliftment through the self-help groups in Maharashtra. I was indeed fascinated when you chose your partner without thinking about his caste.
I still remember the occasions when I met you while I was a student - once in Baramati and once in Delhi. I had proudly told my father that I met Supriya Sule, the one I considered to be one of the prominent young voices in the state back then.
On August 31st, I came across a tweet of yours, which somehow made me think twice before reacting to it. It took me three days to process, and I have finally come up with this letter.
Yes, I am referring to the same photo you posted on Twitter with the caption - "My CKP Moment - Patankar- Sardesai - Thackeray - Sule!"
The photo looks like it was taken when your family visited CM Uddhav Thackeray's residence for Ganeshotsav (Ganapati Festival). It had Minister of Tourism and Environment, Aaditya Thackeray, Yuva Sena Secretary, Varun Sardesai, along with you and your husband.
The tweet rather came as a shock to someone who has been following your father's and the party's politics for years. That reference to the caste in the caption somehow did not go well with many of the netizens, and I was one of them.
Maybe it was a light-hearted moment for you, which you shared on Twitter. But the caption you chose for it has tremendous potential to derail our struggle against the ghosts of the caste discrimination in our society.
Many Twitter users found your caption to be casteist, and expressed their minds in the comments as well. However, I guess it failed to reach you. So here I am, writing a letter to a leader for expressing my reservations over her flaunting of a caste badge on social media.
My letter is to the leader whom I wanted to see as a torchbearer in this battle against caste discrimination.
Our state, the state of Shahu, Phule, and Ambedkar has been a land of progressive thinkers in India. It has borne great leaders who fought to eliminate the caste discrimination from the society. We were the ones to identify the nuances and nuisances of the society fractured with regressive notions of caste, and tried to reform them.
We were the ones who tried to tame the caste oppression in our society. And the list of people who stood for the cause is not limited to just Shahu, Phule, and Ambedkar. And your party, let me remind you that, still claims the legacy of Shahu, Phule, and Ambedkar in the state.
Let me remind you of the time when your father sided by the cause of renaming Aurangabad's Marathwada University as Dr. Babashab Ambedkar Marathwada University. The step indeed resulted in him losing the popular Maratha vote in the region, but he stood by it till the end.
You, however, did not consider it necessary to clear the air even after many of us pointed out the troubling tweet of yours.
While many would say that this is an overreaction to the tweet, I think I must remind a leader of her responsibility in the public space.
Our forefathers may have denied equal status to many of their fellow citizens, but our generation has understood the nuisance in it.
We do not necessarily go out and torture our fellow citizens in the name of the caste. However, what we forget at times is that subtle and casual references like this, which flaunt our caste badges, indeed add to the existing issues of discrimination. Therefore, while your tweet might look like it had zero nuisance value, such light-hearted gestures of ours normalize the caste discrimination indirectly.
Because one only flaunts about a thing one is proud of, and certainly caste should not be it. Like many of the Twitter users pointed out, think about it in this way - what would have been your reaction if the former CM of Maharashtra Devendra Fadanavis posted about his "Bramhin moment" with a few other leaders who belong to the same caste.
Although we cannot necessarily call out the tweet for being casteist, such "proud" references to one's caste indeed encourage the caste discrimination we have been battling with.
Yours is not the first case with someone flaunting the caste badge on social media. Earlier, we saw a cricketer like Ravindra Jadeja, flaunt his Rajput boy tag onTwitter. The player received flak for it but failed to acknowledge his mistake.
But a person like you, who is well aware of the issues of the caste in our society, should not fail to acknowledge and rectify the mistake.
Instead of numerous Dalit outreach programs to attract the voter base and for 'empowerment of Dalits', your simple explanation on the tweet fiasco will help the cause more. It will teach a generation that our fractured notions of caste identities harm our society.
We definitely do not want you to be a caste-blind, believing in a casteless society, because identifying the existence of caste is the first step towards reaching our dream of an equal society. But we would appreciate it if you used your upper-caste privilege to help others in getting rid of the burden of caste they have been living with for ages.
Because even a harmless remark and reference to a caste by a public figure, who is believed to be secular, and one of the advocates against casteism, is not acceptable.
Looking forward to hearing from you!
Ps- We do want you to come up with a better excuse than giving a fullform of CKP as - Cool kind-hearted Platoon.
(The author is a web desk journalist with the Free Press Journal. Views expressed are personal.)