Friday, July 29, 2005

Coming face to face

I don't think I actually became aware of the "caste" system in India until I was quite grown up. I mean I knew it existed and the associated implications on society, but being aware as in how it had any significance in my life was lost upon me until I was asked to come face to face with some rather disturbing thoughts.

I grew up in a family where no one really impressed upon me that one could judge people and categorize them on this crazy theory of "caste". Of course I knew that there were these things called "gotro" that you needed to know for Pujo purposes when the "Thakur moshai" would ask you. And I also grew up knowing that there were issues regarding some weddings that took place in our family which were opposed by my grandmother and some others "Brahmoner haater ranna chhara khete parbo na", " barir meye der aar keu biye korbe na" kind. But in my naivette I believed it was something that belonged to the past, when my great grandfather would have two wives because he was a "kulin brahmon" and people had their horoscopes matched and families lined up before they had any hope of tying the knot. I did not even come face to face with any such issue when I got married to someone I fell in love with and no one said anything about checking out horoscopes or castes before giving us their blessing. So this whole concept remained really insignificant and a thing that belonged to the middle ages in my mind until recently.

Of late a lot of people we have met come out right after the exchange of names and pleasantries and ask us what caste we belong to. I was so taken aback the first time that I must have mumbled something like "umm I'm not so sure" and totally withdrawn from the conversation. But after the first few times now I am more seasoned and can deal with questions that to me are rude, an invasion of my privacy and downright in bad taste. I had no idea that this caste thing does bother some people and there are regions in India where it is still a strong determining factor for so many things. May be it is not such a big deal in Bengal or may be I just grew up in a protected environment. Does it really matter what caste I belong to? Will that change the person I am or how I interact with you? Or will it change the way you decide to interact with me? Is it just me or does it bother others too? I am who I am without the tag of caste or religion. Accept me or ignore me, but please don't be judgmental.

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Blogger sinusoidally said...

Actually growing up the only time I came across the caste system was in history textbooks in elementary school. How aloof I have been of the concept became more prominent the other day when I asked my boyfriend (who is bengali and I am punjabi) "honey are we going to have an intercaste marriage?" He started laughing and said "we are both brahmins!"

You are bengali too? Can you teach me a few lines to impress him?!

6:51 PM  
Blogger nothing said...

As I keep saying, my Brahminical heritage is something I am most 'un-proud' of. But that's a generalisation too. Without getting into the origins of the system and how it has got totally warped over the millennia (for a delightful account by a non-indian, read a book by octavio paz- forget the name right now, but googling should help), let us just say that it's status in present day urban, 'progressive' india is somewhat dialectical. On the one hand, we like to project we've outgrown it, and that's not just in Bengal, but even in the 'conservative' south. But on the other hand, even in 'liberal' Bengal, you'd find the upper castes (my mukhopadhyay clan, for instance) being snide and condescending towards the 'others.' It is not even something that these people actually thing, it is a sort of conditioned, inherited thought process, passed down over the millennia.
This issue has erupted in the blog world time and again: when reshma sanyal admitted to being intolerant of lower castes, and buchu took up the cudgels against her. Then again,when Hemangini admitted said she felt revolted because the guy who had molested her was from a lower caste (I'm oversimplifying, but you must have read her posts about that incident.)
Illogical and stupid as the whole thing is, I don't think we'll be able to exorcise it any time soon.

11:55 PM  
Blogger Rohan Kumar said...

Nicely written and abt a topic I somehow never thought wud be a concern in the contemporary Indian society...guess I was wrong

9:25 AM  
Blogger Rimi said...

you know, this is exactly what happened to me. i always believed caste and all that rubbish was a thing of the past, and yes, i suppose growing up in cal does numb you a bit to such socio-relegious complications. but even now i can't come to terms with the fact that people still practise the 'oor hather choa khaabo na'. i mean, my mum and aunts, the eldest of who is sixty, all married men of their choices and all of them were intercaste (i think). weired, the way the world jumps at you sometimes...

8:13 AM  
Blogger That Girl said...

oh this makes me so mad... i have had to deal with this all my life.. i am a Christian.. with a very very Hindu last name,.,and if you think caste is bad.. get a load of people asking me for my last name.. nodding then doing double takes when i tell them my religion after they ask very annoying questions....THEN the barrage of extra embarrasssing questions arise.....

always happens!!! yeah!! wat DOES is matter what a person IS?

11:46 AM  
Blogger M (tread softly upon) said...

Thanks guys for agreeing for the most part because it really pisses me off when I think about it.

@ satchisgod I think you are generalizing too with the bangal ghoti thing. I guess the discrimination is inbred into our culture but we are a predominantly "bangal" family with a number of "bou"s who are ghoti and although there is a lot of light teasing and the East bengal Mohun bagan rivalry going on, I do not think anyone actually minds too much.

@sn anytime :))

@kaashyapeya totally agree with you. My family being of the Mukhopadhyay clan as you put it has had it's share of being judgemental and condescending, but it is something that stopped one generation back. All my cousins are currently seeing people who are not the Mukherjee-Chatterjee-Banerjee-Ganguly goshti but nobody seems to be raising any issues with that! And that makes me want to be proud of my heritage and family.

@ rohan kumar well neither did I and I was wrong.

@ rimi the world does have a way of springing onto you and making you take notice of rather unpleasant things.

@grafxgurl totally understand what you're saying. Don't even get me started on religion :))

7:56 AM  
Blogger Arindam said...

hmmm...another issue. beat my "screwed up" lineage - half brahmin, half sardar and both sides adopted christianity some generations back, and hence a christian too. i don't fit in anywhere.

but luckily for me i have been more or less born and brought up in a cosmopolitan, per se, atmosphere, and hence never had the chance to ridicule or face any of this.

8:54 AM  
Blogger jaded said...

the caste system is something we have a very foggy idea about. whatever i do know is almost entirely due to history books.the varna caste system was the most prevalent one, i think.i belong to a brahmin family so maybe thats why my experience about the caste system in cal. is very limited.

i agree that the "bangal-ghoti" thing is totally inherited. i also have a kind of prejudice about bangals in general(bad sorena, very bad sorena) but i freely blame my ghoti heritage...not my fault(pleading...!!!)kidding...

3:00 PM  

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