Caste, Community And Bloggers
Last night a friend of mine from Singapore pointed me to the following post on a facebook page and I have been mulling over it ever since.
The post refers to the schisms in a group of bloggers from Chennai, based on their castes- or to be more specific based on the sub sects of one particular caste – the brahmins of tamil nadu, who according to my amateur knowledge as an outsider (as a Non-Brahmin) to the community are composed of two sub castes- the iyers and iyengars based on whether they are shaivities or vaishnavaites. And even if they have multiple other subcastes (not known to me) – in effect they are one community which is often referred to (online) as the TamBhram community and here they are discriminating between the subcastes in of all places – a blogger meet.
Kind of strange to believe that any community as educated and world aware as bloggers can so divide themselves over castes and sub-castes and discourage people from mingling with them based on such outdated concepts. Or it may be that there are hidebound elements steeped in old world prejudices even now in the Internet age and connected world. Even assuming the above, I don’t wish to talk any further about this specific community or what goes on in their caste-specific (or subcaste-specific) blogger meets ( I wasn’t there and so I will refrain from talking about what I didn’t see firsthand). So let me take a broad based view and talk generally about caste in this post-millennial modern India of ours.
I am sure that, like me, every kid in India would have had “that” talk with their parents at one stage or another of their teenage lives. No, no, I am not referring to the talk about the birds and bees. Good Indian parents don’t talk to their offspring about such things (only parents in American soap serials do). The talk I am referring to is about exams and marks. As far as I remember (after all these years) the talk involved something like being told that marks around the 90th percentile wouldn’t suffice to get me into any useful course, as I had to compete in the OC or Open Competition category and hence if I had any ambition at all of getting a good education I had to slog my butt off and get a 99%percentile in my exams. I confess that came as an unpleasant shock to my system. For here I was happily complacent that if I got nine tenths of my answers right I might consider it a good days work done and now comes this piece of shocking news that I am not allowed to make even that single mistake and must perforce get everything right if I didn’t want to end up begging for a living. Even then I knew with perfect clarity that to get a high 99 percentile involved total and completed dedication and sacrifice to the one goal of mugging up answers and vomiting them in the exams and would result in the complete loss of all the things which made normal life pleasant, like movies, books, music and hanging out with friends. I was even tempted to chuck up this education system which required me to get every question right and go off to my native village to do farming, plus singing the “vivasayi, vivasayi” song like Puratchi Thalaivar MGR.
And then something dawned in me- a curiosity to understand why. Why was i expected to get more marks than my contemporaries? Why was I singled out? That question gnawed at me and so to gain my own understanding I hit the books (whatever available) at the school library and read avidly to get an understanding of caste and its various prejudices. There it was I first chanced upon E.V. Ramasawami Naicker or as he is now known- Periyar, who way back in the 1930’s had preached about a caste less society. I read about Mahatma Gandhi who, to give him credit, realized very early in his career that caste was the bane of India but who couldn’t do much about it as he was a prudent man and had bigger fights to fight and didn’t want to lose focus on his primary goal of kicking out the British Empire. I also read about Bhim Rao Ambedkar, the man who triumphed over every obstacle that fate and caste placed in his path to prove that intelligence cannot be discouraged. I also read the Marxists- Karl Marx and his views on a classless society which had overtones of a caste-less society too. I even read Mr. King and about Malcolm X and their varying approaches to fighting the racism which haunted American society in the 50’s and 60’s, for I could find parallels with the situation in India. My intellectual curiosity drove me to read a lot of incidental stuff and accidental stuff on caste and its various roles on society and after long and deep thinking and debates with various friends, I finally came to an astounding conclusion which I will share with you now.
My conclusion in a nutshell was – All human beings are basically stupid. I mean, we only have to look in the mirror to see that we all have one head and one body and two arms and legs. Even the most prejudiced of our species would not deny that all human beings are of one single species. And to divide us all based on artificial concepts like caste and community is willfully closing eyes to the obvious. We don’t need our genetic scientists to confirm our DNA codes match each other’s world over – at some fundamental level in our collective conscious we all realize that we are one single race, humanity or human beings or homo sapiens call it what you will. Hence the sympathy we feel when we see starving children in a Sudanese famine shown on TV. For us it doesn’t matter that they are from another country or another continent even- starving children are just children to our eye. Children of the human race. Our race. And our hearts go to them almost unconsciously. That alone is proof that Manu was wrong. And that division of human beings into castes and groups is crap.
We are sending space craft to mars. We are cloning animals. We are manufacturing artificial organs. We have even pared down the 6 degrees of connectivity into 4 or less with facebook, twitter, watsapp etc. And yet to keep on perpetuating old and idiotic fallacies like caste in the face of such modernity is sheer stupidity. Even the Catholic Church (after centuries of denial) finally accepted that Galileo was right and the earth is not the center of the universe. When will we accept that we are all of the same community? And i would have expected the educated to be leading the charge on this and not be constrained by such artificial barriers- but the ground reality is so very different and that’s what shocked me the most when I read about those bloggers grouping themselves on caste basis. What’s to become the future of our country if educated youth behave like this? Will we ever change? I hope so fervently.
I believe that the time is not far when we Indians will also understand that caste and community is as much a humbug as fairness creams guaranteeing fair complexions. I have hope. And like Dr. King, I have a dream.
P.S. a Special thanks to my friend Prashanth from National University Singapore for sharing with me this stuff and which made me mad enough to sit and write an entire post on it.