Thursday, September 16, 2010

Can we say no to ‘the caste system’ itself…? Can we go beyond caste?

This is in response to Laltabh’s post ‘say no to the caste based census’ ( and also to the article ‘Go beyond caste’ published in The Times of India on Sep. 14.

The fear that 'cast based census' would lead to polarisation is uncalled for, because even without this census we Indians are divided and polarised. The fear that it will help Mandal politicians to further their decisive interests is unnecessary, as they have already done enough damage to our social integrity.

Also the ‘caste base census’ is not at all new in India.  It was first done by the British. The Indian government has been officially recording our castes in various forms for years. The only difference is that the government has no authority to disclose them publicly. The government is trying to seek this authority now.

What difference would this public declaration make to our deeply rooted caste system which is openly followed otherwise?

What difference would the public declaration of the number of Brahmin or Maratha people make, if a Brahmin and Maratha ‘arraigned’ marriage is still a remote or rare possibility?

I am married to my wife of my same caste. I have described my failure to do an inter-caste arranged marriage on my post:‘Dangerously Modern’.

It is a good suggestion of Lalitabh that we should stop using surnames. But it creates problems. When you decide to disown your surname, you stand out and people look at you askance. My wife uses no surname (either mine or her maiden). She is a doctor. Most of her patients doubt her credibility as a doctor, just because they can’t find a surname mentioned after her name. People find it very awkward to call her without her surname. They keep asking her surname.  

At the institute where I teach, I introduce myself only with my name. Once a student came to me and persistently asked my surname saying that he felt very awkward to take my name. I asked him why, he said that calling a teacher only with his name sounds disrespectful. Thus, in India surnames are given more respect than simply names. I bluntly said to him that I do not want respect at all.

I have a daughter of around two years.  I have decided not to give her my surname. However, when my daughter was born, her birth certificate had to have the mention of my caste. Otherwise, I could not have got a birth certificate for my daughter.  A few months ago when a census-taker (a female teacher by profession) came home to take my family details, she said that it was mandatory to register my daughter’s caste though her name could be registered without a surname. So what is the use of not giving my daughter my surname? I am simply avoiding the open manifestation of her caste, but her caste still exits.  So in India you must record your caste. No matter, whether you believe in the caste system or not, you can't disown it practically.  Avoiding the open manifestation of what you actually possess or of what you can’t disown at all is hypocrisy.

Following the caste system and taking its benefits on the one hand while avoiding its open manifestation on the other is one of the pretences that our lives are fraught with.  How this pretence makes you helpless is nicely exposed in a Marathi play called ‘Anandbhog Mall’ written by Ashutosh Potdar. In the play there is a couple where the husband and the wife are from different castes. The husband belongs to the caste of Maratha and the wife is a Brahmin. Though they have done an inter-caste love marriage, they are unable to shed their caste identities. On one hand they criticise the caste system, on the other hand they can’t avoid taking the benefits of their caste identities. Without openly taking the names of ‘castes’, they keep on criticising each other’s castes. When they realise this pretence, they find themselves very helpless. 

Those who have benefited the reservation system based on castes do not have self-dignity, as they know that their achievements will always be looked at doubtfully.  The selection of the chief justice of India does not have any quota system. Still, when Balakrishnan became the chief justice in India, it became a news item that he is the first ‘Dalit’ Chief Justice of India. ‘Dalit’ itself has become a caste now, a caste that ‘castes’ aspersions on the genuine capability of a person who is Dalit.

Most of your relatives are of your own caste and community. You can't disown them though you can't believe in the caste-system. One of my uncles is part of a trust whose members exclusively belong to my caste and community. If I decide to oppose him on the grounds of ‘division and polarisation’, I have to put my relationship with him in jeopardy. You have caste based unions and organisations. You can’t disown them for this or that reason.

Then what is the point in saying no to 'the caste based census'? Why this pretension? Why this shying away?

 Saying no to castes altogether is more important than saying no to 'caste based census'.

In order to uproot the caste system in India, it is not useful simply to say no to ‘caste based census’, we have to say no to the system of reservations based on castes and also to the system of surnames

We should say no to reservations based on castes, and make them only on the basis of ‘economic status’

We should not only say no to the system of surnames but also run a mass movement to force the government pass the bill to abolish the system of surnames once and all. How should I convince my billions of countrymen this? (Most of them are illiterate, and I am expressing my views in English. Only 0.6% of our total population knows English. And out of those who can know English, only 0.002% read serous articles.)

We can even burn all the caste-records. (According to Bhalchandra Nemade, a veteran Marathi writer, the first line of census was written in India by the British and they did it on the basis of castes. The first Maratha conference was organised by a British man. The system of castes became firmly established since then. The caste system was never so firm and severe before the British as it is now even after sixty years of independence, thanks to the British and also to ‘us Indians’ in a way).

Nandan Nilekani, the so-called intellectual is working on a project called ‘Unique Identification Number.’ Is his number given to you going to record your surname and in turn your caste? If yes, he is not doing any great work. Is he leaving out your surname and your caste while recording your personal details for the number? If no, then he is wasting a great opportunity to uproot the caste system in India. Is there no difference between Nandan Nilekani and our politicians?

Certainly, there is no difference between Nanadan Nilekani and me. Both of us can’t get rid of surnames. A surname is a caste.

I can certainly say no to the caste base census. But the question is, can I say no to the caste based system itself? If not, then why this pretence?


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. I worry about the caste based census because
    1) it will clearly bring out the population in different castes leading to further vote-bank politics

    2) it will make caste system EVEN MORE difficult to eradicate.

    BTW Mr.Nilekani will be doing what has been mandated to him by the client i.e. Govt. of India. He can't be blamed for the mandate, his job is ONLY till the execution of the same.