Sunday, August 17, 2008

The dreaded C-word

Wondering what that is? Caste of course! We Indians are obsessed with it. By either denying it exists or insisting it plays an important role in everything we do, or by simply refusing to discuss the issue openly, we somehow convey that it is an uncomfortable idea. I just came across this post by Preethi. It is not a rant. She somehow seems more tolerant of it that I am. But, what I find rather intriguing is that people go all the way to England and Scotland and France and make friends based on the caste of the individual. She says an acquaintance of Indian origin asked her for her caste. In her place, I would probably have taken offence. I can't really explain why, but I find it insulting when people ask me what caste I belong to. If I choose to reveal it in the course of a conversation, that's my choice. But, I don't see what difference it makes for those who talk to me.

She goes on to state that,

"During an expert interview I was warned that the caste system is very prominent amongst the South Asian diasporas in the UK but I never imagined it would be such a guiding force for young, second generationer’s."

I can't get over that. I am probably just very naive, but I somehow imagined that people become more open to other cultures when they travel. I was apparently wrong. I have relatives in the US and in Canada who take pride is forming Tamil Associations and Brahmin Societies and discouraging all contact with those who don't conform. What are we doing? Why the hell can we not treat a person as a human being rather than as a Brahmin, Hindu, or other? I probably come across as cold when I say this, but during my 2-year stay in Paris, I never found the need to bond with other Indians through social gatherings aimed exclusively at Indians. Of course, I have many Indian friends there, but the presence of a non-Indian never made a difference to the gathering. It was a meeting of friends, not one of Indians away from home. I somehow preferred it that way. My brief visits to the Maison de l'Inde were far from welcoming. I found people far too nosy and noisy. I faced questions regarding my origins, caste, parentage, language et. al. It did not matter that I was Indian. I had to be Tamil, Kannada, Hindu, Brahmin or something else. I had to "belong". To one of the numerous groups. I wonder why. No, I am not from JNU. And no, I am not from Delhi either. I did not study at Stephen's or LSR. And yes, I come from the apparently conservative city of Madras. And yes, I still use the two names interchangeably. I refused to be typecast as a Tamil, Kannadiga, or Hindu. I am just me. Is that so difficult to digest? I don't get it at all.

It is disheartening to see the caste system being not just preserved, but also reinforced every day of my life. People want to know what my caste is. My students want to know what I am. Is it not enough if I am their teacher? How does my caste matter? With the overzealous government wanting to bring in reservations in the private sector and in schools, I am being surrounded. Everywhere I go, my caste matters. I don't care any more whether X, Y or Z gets a seat in a college because of reservations. But, I would like to see my children grow up without that all-important question put to them. When I do have kids, they will not have any answers to give. Will they have to explain each day that their parents got married out of caste? Will they have to justify our choices each day of their lives and feel apologetic about not having a clear answer to that question? I certainly hope not. But, to be truthful, I see no improvement. I am losing hope.

3 comments:

Ms Cris said...

Dont. It is bad now undeniably. It really irks me when people talk in the lines of "We are like this, you people are not right?" to imply different religions or castes when talking about a general idea. I cant stand the you-we talk. Makes one wonder if everyone forgot there was one single word for all of us - humans.
But dont lose hope. Things as hard set as these could take a looott of time to go away. But one day it will, it has to.

Arun Meethale Chirakkal said...

Amrutha: Totally agree with what you said, but unfortunately what I can see just by looking at people around is that caste system is gaining its entry, more so rapidly and intensely than ever. The so called 'surnames'that indicates one's caste and which was abandoned by the previous generation is coming back and people are flaunting it so proudly. Caste, creed and region based parochialism has become the norm of the day, and it's becoming worse day by day.

Sindhu said...

I agree hundred percent with what you have said here. It is so unfortunate that the caste system is still playing a role within Indian societies (within India or outside India), and let's be honest, not too many people seem too bothered by it?! I do see most of the younger people are unfazed by caste, but they are not unfazed enough to make a difference to change the older opinions. I just feel like the divisions between caste will exist for awhile longer... it's not going anywhere anytime soon. :|