Tuesday, July 21, 2009
Hi-caste lo-caste we no want all..!
High class low class we no want all
Everyone equal and god decide all..
I am reminded of that early 90s (was it Apache Indian?) song when I hear people say "everyone is equal", and all that matters (and should matter) is merit. Treat everyone equally, and that ends all discrimination in the world. Some more romantic ones go on to add that "Love doesn't see caste and religion." I used to think so too, at least for some period in my life. So I feel obliged to write this.
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[Achnowledgments: A first draft of this write-up happened as a comment at one blog post by Ratheesh, and I used a slightly modified version while commenting on another post, by my friend Maymon. I strongly recommend going through Maymon's post and a comment there by Anu in response to it. I am thankful to Amit and Vinita whose comments there inspired me to work on this. Even now it looks incomplete -- you are welcome to take it up from here and add your share. Thanks in advance.]
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Like in many Keralite 'Communist' families, I was also brought up with a belief that caste did not exist in Kerala any more. But as I grew up, I could smell the rot around. I heard even progressive people in my close surroundings (who I respected otherwise) making fun of a `parayan' or `pulayan' who got to a position of power (in the recent past there was a critique of an old Malayalam short story by C V Sreeraman on similar lines.)
I have the advantage and disadvantage of having born into an 'in-between' caste (OBC) and growing up in a fairly backward village/town in Kerala. In my school and college I had many friends from dalit and other backward communities, but when I went to engineering college, the difference was stark. `Quota' people suddenly became outsiders. I felt bad about it, but I could not escape it.
[image courtesy: People and Politics Worldwide India]
During my M.Tech. time I was shocked when a friend's mother (who is also very `progressive') advised me that it is ok to find a girl of your choice, just make sure that she is not a pattika or kazhukkol. (In Malayalam, scheduled castes/scheduled tribes are `pattika jathi/pattika vargam')
Even as I felt shocked at that comment, I realized that the way our society is designed, it is unlikely that I'd go for a pattika. (I had a crush on a fair Iyengar girl at that time). Even my dalit male friends have complained that it is difficult to find a good girl in their community, because they are all dark. Even in Tamil films, the heroine is essentially of the fairer kind even as she sings `Karupputhaan enakku pidicha kalaru` ('black is the colour I like..' as you'd have guessed, the hero is dark).
I still work with such issues internally, even though my beauty concepts have changed quite a lot over years. ('Karinguttayi' was one deregatory reference to colour -- used only to refer to the parayan or pulayan -- that has stayed in my memory from the childhood days.)
It is not just the skin colour -- I, like many others, often ended up judging people ('discriminating' is a bit too harsh, I know) based one one's fluency in English (or language in general), staying `calm' in a debate, even the confidence levels with which one speaks. (These qualities come much easier to those who are born in `upper' castes. That also I realized much late in my life, thanks to the `non-discriminatory' childhood. Not that I have completely stopped my judgements.)
It has not been easy working on the discriminatory elements in oneself, and trying to find out how others work on it. One may not have the energy for that always, but I have tried that whenever I could. People do change over time. Even if I am most comfortable with people from same/similar communities.
It is not that I have something against others. But at times, we can feel the distance. For instance, one person asked after reading Maymon's post: 'Lol! This guy does not want to reveal his identity, then why does he support reservations based on that identity? Thats what I understood after reading this post..' (I am not making this up).
How all can we address this issue in public spaces is sure complicated. A lawyer friend was saying in their law college in Bangalore, they fought and achieved a system where the names (of reserved category students) were not listed separately. It is debatable how much would that help. I feel it is more important to bring about an awareness that reservations are not a favour that we (when I speak as an `upper caste') do to some people, it is something that is essential and beneficial to all of us in many ways.
[Shall I say, to be continued..?]