As someone born into the “upper caste”, I have been gluttonously oblivious about the travesty of caste hierarchy in India in the first few years of my life. There is guilt and shame for the ignorance, but that is now, after being introduced to the reality. Being young and a female probably added to the murkiness, where I didn’t know if I was getting the attention (read privilege or veiled sarcasm) for being a child/girl/woman or because I’m young and therefore presumably less intelligent or both.
As far as Brahmin households are concerned, the human race can be broadly divided into two – 1. Brahmins 2. Non-Brahmins (“Abrahmana,” if you prefer) There isn’t even the generous classification of Savarna v. Avarna, where the top 3 varnas, namely Brahmanas, Kshatriyas and Vaishyas are clubbed together and the bottom two, Sudras and Panchamas are left slaving for them.
I have been spending quality time in understanding the dynamics of those ridiculously clubbed under the umbrella term of “non-brahmins.” Every time someone identifies my caste, no thanks to my appearance, and thinks it is ok to indulge in a conversation filled with the esoteric activities associated with the community, because who can escape these being a Brahmin after all, I cringe. To start with, there is this North Indian Brahmin and South Indian Brahmin divide, then it is sub-divided regionally (Tamil Brahmin, Telugu Brahmin etc.) and then classified based upon the group’s allegiance to the primary deities, mostly male, (Shiva, Vishnu, Dattatreya et.al) and then we go into the hierarchy based upon their clans, place of origin etc., and then their male ancestors, and finally, most dramatic of all, into males and females. The recent addition to this endless sub-classification is probably the factor of “usage,” so now, there are practicing and non-practising Brahmins. As we dig deeper, we realize that even the all-powerful God is only a tool in the hands of this system and has, ipso facto, no real role to play. All the relentless systemization would be less intimidating if it did not come in the way of one’s personal, professional, social, spiritual and political pursuits. Unfortunately, it does, and we are all happily gloating over it.
Every religion, community, even a household has its own systems and they don’t allow “others.” Why, even a mother may favour one child more than the other. Aren’t differences and prejudices a part of human life? Isn’t it natural that the similarly placed form different groups of their own even if they share a larger common cause with a bigger group? Much like WhatsApp groups, a 2 close members of a 3-member group may be privately chatting about the 3rd member even as they are all seemingly chatting with each other in their common group. Or Not. The WhatsApp example may sound like over-generalization, but, what happens when the 3rd member is sharply aware of the fact that no matter what he/she says, she will be isolated and alienated by the two, who are plotting against him/her or probably using the 3rd member because he or she is admittedly useful in some way? This has what been happening in the world of Varna System, starting from females to non-brahmins, from Dalits to non-Hindus. Elsewhere it has been called racism, bigotry, fascism, communalism and casteism. In plain English, it could be avarice, power-hunger, selfishness, insecurity, elitism, or the archaic of all emotions, hatred. Here, you would see me exploring on this aspect of the Indian-way-of-life, a humble exploration that. This will be a many part series, mainly because there is so much to learn and unlearn in the course of things and I shall do my best to not bitch about the travails of casteism and present a balanced view of things as they are. (I actually have a point, mind you!) I would expect each one of you reading to take offence, if you haven’t gone through that phase already. If things go awfully wrong, I can always moderate the comments, I guess.