The other day I went to an acquaintance house for a dinner party. As we were all chatting, one of the guests popped a question out of nowhere to a doctor friend of mine – “It must have been really tough for you to get a seat in India right? With all these reservation quotas present, a talented person can never obtain a seat if he is a FC. Only crappy doctors with no proper talent who come on these quotas, exists everywhere. No wonder health care is bad in India.” This my friends, is a CASTEIST comment.
I had to type that out in bold, because many educated people say stuff like this, not realizing that they are being casteist. It clearly indicates that this acquaintance thought (i) backward class people have no talent, (ii) that they become doctors only because of their caste and not their marks (iii) crappy doctors are those who come on reservation quotas. Some of us argued with that person for a long time, on how wrong his mentality was, but he seemed to hold the same belief that people who come under reservation quotas are dull-heads. All through the time thinking that no one in that house belonged to a reserved class. Little did he know that my doctor friend was a Dalit.
I wished secretly that my friend would shout out his caste and say “Look at me! I am brilliant, you fool, how can you say such stuff by pointing out my caste?”. But he did not. Though he was an excellent doctor, a brilliant individual and bold person in other ways, he shied away from saying out his caste. If he had to, I think he would’ve stated he was a BC/MBC but never a Dalit. On the contrary, many of them were openly stating they were iyers, iyengars, or such higher castes but none of them in that room, were as brilliant or as good natured as my friend. And then I realized, none of the Dalits ever, seem to state openly that they belonged to that community.
That struck me real hard. Of course, one shouldn’t speak about their caste anywhere, but IF the reason for not doing so, is because one is ashamed of their caste and never want to be associated with it, then yes, it makes you ponder.
I know people who belong to reserved caste who are extremely well educated, hard working and hold a very good position in society, in India and US. But I have always noticed they don’t state their original caste when the need comes, but give out something else that is “better” than the Dalits. When asked why, they say it’s due to the mentality of others in society when they think of a SC or ST. Many in our society think that a SC or ST are not as intelligent as the higher class people. They have a mental image of how a Dalit is supposed to look like that they can never believe a well off person, with a fluent tongue and brilliant brain can be a Dalit. All that would come to their head is a person who is less talented than themselves stealing their jobs due to their caste.
Many have this Utopian idea that in this 21st century caste based discriminations don’t occur. Like racism exists in US, casteism exists in India..and “some” people carry it with them abroad too. It affects your every day life, your college, job and even marriage life. “People didn’t even have to ask me, they assumed I was SC due to my color”, laughed out another friend. “I didn’t care..until I fell in love with this girl. All was lovey-dovey, until the point of telling my caste. Once it was out, a lot of shock and cries followed. Her parents hate me for only my caste. What they are scared about, I don’t know. They say they would agree for anyone else in the world except someone from my caste! I am sure they would accept a higher class thug over me! Well, I am still fighting with them for her, let’s see who wins!”, he laughs.
While this may be true for any intercaste love marriage, it’s a little more difficult for Dalits, as it’s not possible for a person to remove the impression that others have on their caste. For those who don’t have to divulge this information, they hide behind a mask. Instead of fighting the fight, many Dalit intellectuals leave this all aside, and call themselves a different caste when the need comes. They hate being thought of a “lesser” individual amongst a group of friends. But the higher class people have no idea about any of this. Think about it, let’s say you are to write your caste name in application amongst a group of friends, have you ever seen a forward class person being ashamed to speak or write his caste? A Dalit person always is. He is born into this caste and is stamped with it forever. So he runs away from it, from all the sorry looks, the snobbish looks, the pity looks and tries to hide his caste as long as he could..as best as he could. Not that he wants to hide it, but he does it to be treated as an equal.
Let me tell you a funny and uh..disturbing story a friend shared. This friend was staying in US, sharing his apartment with 1 other guy. When the topic of caste came up somehow, he didn’t hesitate to mention that he was SC. To which, his roommate’s immediate response was silence mixed with shock and a slow “I am sorry.”. I am sorry??? You are sorry for what? For him born into a caste he had no control over? What kind of a reply was that?? Oh, and it doesn’t end there. This roommate then vacated his room and left in 2 days. So….yeah, all that education for nothing I guess. Knowledge without character – yes, it’s a complete waste. It just goes to show the mentality of many people out there in the world.
Here’s a heart-to-heart with my doc friend. Take what you want out of this..
[Me]: Why did you feel the need to say you were of a different caste than SC/ST?
[Friend]: It’s like this. I strived hard for years to be in a position that I am in. I worked hard to have those degrees behind my name, everyone appreciates my work, and some have even openly said they are jealous of the life I have. But once I state my caste, in their eyes, I immediately turn into a lesser individual, who went into medical school just because I belong to a particular caste. Many have got a wrong view that all SC/STs are all supposed to be brainless and FCs are ALL highly intelligent for some reason. In fact BCs, MBCs are also looked at as people of intelligence, it’s just the Dalits who people fail to appreciate as intelligent ones. If I tell them I am SC, all those people who earlier looked at my years of hard work, would in a second think it was only due to my caste I was able to prosper. Somehow my research, the pains I took, my parent’s hard ships, my years of study would all vanish from their memory.
[Me]: Do any of your friends know your true caste?
[Friend]: Haha. You know it! Does it matter amongst real friends? Well, as you know, my close school and college friends know it. Some of my friends belong to FC too, but we still are close. I am not saying every higher caste person thinks this way. Some do. Some don’t. Anyways, it’s your everyday acquaintances, your neighbors, your colleagues, your not-so-close friends who still are in touch because you live in the same city, people like that..we hide our caste.
[Me]: So, how do you think people’s reactions will be when they know your caste? Will they stop speaking to you?
[Friend]: Mmmm. Good question. I don’t know. It depends on the person. For one or two I am sure it wouldn’t matter..I think. But for the rest, it would. I know few families would try to avoid me after knowing the caste. Perhaps not blatantly, but in a more “shall-we-meet-later-perhaps” kind of manner. Not that I need such people. But there would be a lot of awkward eyes, some pity ones, some angry ones, once the caste name is spoken out. I have gone through that in my college days, so why go through it again? I have my kids too to think about, who are friends with their kids..so I don’t know how that will be. I don’t want them to go through the sorry looks from elders when they play together.
[Me]: Speaking of kids, since your kid is born in US, are you happy she is caste free?
[Friend]: Yes! Oh yes!! You know, every FC thinks it is great to be born as a SC and get a reservation seat. That’s all they can think of. I promise you none of the Dalits want to be a SC or ST. They would give it back if that’s possible. We detest the name. I mean, after all it’s a caste, but why does everyone look down so much on a person who is a SC or ST? Doesn’t he have a heart and a brain? The FCs argue they want “just” rewards for their studies. Who is going to give justice for all the Dalits, who were oppressed education for generations together? Who is going to give just rewards for their children? My grandfather was stoned every time he crossed a particular well, to go to school. Because the well was the place the higher class people took their pious bath. My father was always ridiculed for coming from a “keezh jaathi” (lower caste) and wearing torn pants to school. But he is my idol. He studied hard and made me study hard. Even when he worked, he faced lots of trouble for being a SC..I don’t want to tell his story, that’s his to tell. He has so many. Even in this generation, many don’t have a good opinion of SC..there are bad people in every caste! If I was born ever again, I would only pray to God to not be born as a SC. So many mental tortures like you have never imagined..
I didn’t want to continue. But I just wanted people to think before they they blurt out on how Dalits are taking away their seats. Think about what was taken away from them earlier. If the Dalits or the backward classes had to complain, they have thousands of reasons to be angry about. When I was speaking about this with a friend of mine, who belonged to a higher caste, she mentioned what “really” worried her was that the richer Dalits seemed to be making use of the reservation seats than the poorer ones. My question to her was, how do we even know that? She shrugged and said everyone says so. At least she was truthful. Do any of us know how many poor Dalits have got education? Oh, think about the rich Management quotas, who gets that? Do any of us know whether Dalits own political power or any influential power in our country? Everyone even talks about some MNCs in Chennai hiring only FC candidates for employment. Talk is talk, we have to understand that.
Dalits hide from their caste, and are ashamed of it, only because of the way they are viewed and treated in the society. We rant about some Christian missionaries converting the Dalits to Christianity. But there are many who convert themselves to Buddhism, just to avoid the caste based identity. Doesn’t seem right..Anyways, for people like whom I met at the party, I just wanted to let you know – in a room full of intellectuals, there would also be Dalits present, but you wouldn’t be able to find that out in any way. They look like you, speak like you and are as intelligent as you. So it would be good to keep your casteist comments to yourself. The world can do without another negative person.
Just understand that the Dalits have to work twice as hard, to get half the respect of what the higher caste people have got from the beginning (Scandal inspired. Thanks Shonda). Oh by the way, did you know that Dalit literally means “suppressed, smashed, broken to pieces”?