By Neeraj Nanda
MELBOURNE, 28 September 2020: It is quite common to hear among middle-class Indians (read Hindus) that caste has withered away or does not exist anymore. Even Indians living abroad say so. It’s not uncommon to hear about caste organizations being set up to revitalize different communities (read castes). Social media (Facebook) is full of such caste accounts growing like mushrooms. The phenomenon is there whether you live in India or outside.
In our neighborhood, in West Delhi, once a new family shifted in and another neighbor’s lady loudly announced that their own (caste) are the new fellows. It was rather natural that she was happy. Nothing seems to shake her fraternity though she did not even know them. But her young son and daughter were passive. But much more was in the offing. The daughter it was rumored fell in love with a boy from her own caste. It went off well and bliss came soon.
Nothing new, anyway, if you look at the matrimonial columns of different newspaper sites and now dating apps. When I worked as a journalist in a leading English newspaper in New Delhi, its main revenue came from these matrimonials. I suspect, it still continues. Looking for a ‘Punjabi Khatri’ boy for a convent educated Khatri girl, speaks for itself. If you are a Non-Resident Indian (NRI), then your worth increases but the ‘Khatri’ stays.
Once I went to the accounts department of the newspaper and heard similar sounding surnames all over. Forget a Dalit, Muslim, or a Christian. The die is cast when the recruitment takes place. Thousands of years’ tradition (sanskar) rules. People still claim to be modern and upmarket. Meanwhile, they are not seen in less or no-intellectual departments. A Ravi Das Jayanti event remains a no-go area. Diwali is always welcome.
This division of labor between them and us is normal. Once a ‘Jamadarni’ (Cleaner woman) asked for a monthly pay rise and the comment was ‘Yeh lo ji, inko bhi jyada paisa chaiya’ (See, they also need more money). A Mai (maidservant) has the same fate and often brings her kid along (free labor) for a helping hand. Interestingly, caste remains embedded despite many doing cleaning jobs as international students in western countries. Maybe, the society they represent is absent to see them. Parents are not told about this, anyway.
Hell breaks out if there is a love affair. The biggest concern is the caste. In fact, in many villages, people cannot get married within the village. As those in villages are brothers and sisters. Forget caste or religion. Honor killings are not uncommon in many Indian and other Subcontinent states. A ‘Dalit’ in love with a ‘Swarna’ is the ultimate crime and sees a violent ending. Some lovers run away to far-flung cities and are chased. A helping hand from cops rarely comes. This despite the fact the law allows inter-caste or inter-faith marriages. A friend who runs an organization helping such couples has many stories to tell.
There was a couple (from a faith which shuns the caste system but it has taken a different form) were sent overseas on a posting to save the life of the boy as the girl’s brothers were searching him to revenge their honor. Even there are different places of worship for different castes within this faith.
In fact, the caste consciousness is strong and normally does not go away even if the person converts to another faith. So, it lingers or just stays. No doubt, despite the scientific and technological revolution the caste remains potent.
I heard of caste organizations in many Indian states having computer classes for their own. In elections, we all know the caste composition of the constituency is considered while choosing candidates. After all, caste brothers and sisters are expected they should vote for their own caste candidate. In many states, this remains the main criterion and ideology. Social and economic issues, don’t even talk about them.
Reservations in government jobs (affirmative action) for scheduled castes, tribes, and other backward communities are resented by upper castes and often raised in debates and elections. But more and more privatization seems to slowly diminish it. But the narrative of reserved categories being without merit remains strong.
The Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement in the United States has led some to start the Dalit Lives Matter (DLM) in India (mainly on social media) with a hashtag. Naturally, many are not impressed. Their mind does not accept cracking the rigid and exploitative system. Or, is it too rigid with vested interests thriving. Someone has written even if the mind does not accept caste, the surname reflects it.
The numerous Indian castes are thousands of years old and thrive in the age of computers artificial intelligence and robotics. Still, it is said caste has withered away?