Nostalgia is a deceptive emotion, clothing the past in hazy pink perhaps, and making everything old seem desirable. This emotion alone could have lain beneath the excuse offered by officials of the Urban Improvement Trust, a government agency in western Rajasthan looking after Jaisalmer, when criticized for their decision to create 47 separate, clearly demarcated cremation grounds for different castes. Assuming officials have emotions, that is. They have claimed that this was the tradition when Jaisalmer was a princely state. In spite of being officials in a government agency of what is far from a princely or feudal state, they have evidently not felt the need to question such a tradition, citing instead the continuation of the practice in the already existing cremation grounds of the Bissa and Maheshwari castes. But Jaisalmer would not be an exception in Rajasthan. Jaipurís biggest and oldest cremation ground, Chandpole, also has distinct areas for cremating the different castes. No doubt this is convenient on various levels, for, reportedly, the municipal authorities of Barmer and Dholpur have also started building work to create separate burning grounds.
It would be foolish to deny the silent force of a regionís culture. But when that culture is divisive, cruel, exploitative, inequitable and unscientific, it is expected the governments of a democracy would fight tooth and nail to change it. Such changes would be agonizingly slow and dependent on the spread of education. But the government of India, and its state governments, have had more than 65 years to make at least a dent. Yet it is a fact of everyday life in India that not only do Dalits and other underprivileged castes face discrimination in matters of places of worship, seats, or in using common resources such as water, but they are also, even if unofficially, turned away from the cremation grounds of other castes not just in Rajasthan but in many other places of India as well. Maybe the UIT in Jaisalmer decided not to mince matters but instead please all castes with a win-win arrangement. Everyone has a spot from where to pass on to his or her segregated hell or heaven. The officials are simply being practical, even in their rehearsal of nostalgia.
There is far greater hypocrisy in the Indian governmentís lip-service to the scientific temper. All that politicians, who run the government if elected, wish to do is to ride on caste and community differences for electoral gain. It is the backward, oppressive tradition that suits them, not the principles of equality enshrined in the Constitution. They do not want change. The ever-multiplying reserved categories are proof of this. The barefacedness of creating caste-based cremation grounds officially is almost refreshing compared to the governmentís stale piety regarding inequality. A divided race is easier to rule.