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Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The Caste Shadow

I am not sure if I have mentioned this incident in any of my previous blogs. If I have, forgive the repetition . Couple of years back, when we visited Jaisalmer and took a taxi to Sam Dhani desert, the driver informed us with great pride that he was a Rajput and insisted we let him know if we were Rajputs too. We were obviously taken aback but responded saying that there was no caste named Rajput in South India, where we came from. But he was adamant and asked if our caste was at least equivalent to Rajputs :) .. As we traveled through the desert in the blasting heat, he showed us at a distance few huts and informed with contempt - "Those are the Achooths (untouchables) ". Till then, I had thought that India had long time back shed the concept of untouchability !

Perhaps I shouldn't have been surprised for I can easily related to similar behavior been exercised to the so called 'Harijans' back at my mother's maternal home. From a long time, a family of SC/ST has been working at my mother's home; they are dark-complexioned as opposed to their wheatish/light-skinned Nair employers and can generally be easily recognized by their names which are like 'Valli' , 'Mundan' , 'Chatappan' etc. Their entry to the house is restricted to the back door and food is served in separate plates , which shouldn't be touched , used or washed by the other family members. Even though they stayed close by and their kids often went to the same govt as as my cousins went to, their kids were not allowed to mingle with the Nair kids.

It might be interesting to know that by virtue of my father belonging to a caste that falls under Backward  Hindu (or BH) , I don't fall into the category of a complete Nair and could easily be given a separate plate/glass at my own mother's ancestral home .Even interesting is the fact that until about 14 or 15 years of marriage ,my mother wasn't even aware that she was married to a non-Nair  and none of her relatives are still aware of that ( i e if they don't read this blog). Even after my mother knew about it, my parents thought (considering the grave consequences associated with it) it was better that all of us kept mum .

However, when I finally found the man I wanted to get married to , (whose surname ends with a 'Nair' ), my father felt it was important to communicate the 'strange case of caste mess up' to my then potential in-laws . Now, my in-laws hail from a orthodox Nair family and they didn't have any reason to have me in .So they resisted and made it clear that they are clearly not interested in "taking in" a bahu from a lower caste , irrespective of the education and other things.Well, to this day, that's another secret that's maintained by my in-laws ( i e if their relatives don't read this blog). My in-laws probably spent the entire wedding fearing someone would ask my caste and how they could distract them. They are unable to imagine the deterioration in their social standing and the associated shame , if their relatives and people in the social circle got to know about their half-Nair daughter-in-law !!

Now ,let's go back to our Jaisalmer illiterate driver who was adamant about knowing our caste.He might have asked me to get out mid-way , considering my 'lower' social standing but considering he is uneducated and illiterate , I would have let it go. But what can be done to improve the conditioning of a society and the people in it, who boasts of being wise and educated ?


  1. Tell me about it!! I think my daughter might be in the same position you are provided our society doesn't change in the next 25 - 30 years. I do not see any advantage of being a Menon (BTW Menon are same as Nairs ... this info is for those non-malayalees who might read my comment)and yes for being married to a non-nair, my cousin brother refused to invite any of his friends/relatives to my wedding as he happens to be some unidentified member of Nair Samajam. Thankfully it reduced the total count of (unidentifiable) invitees at the wedding by at least a 100.

    During my stay in Kerala (during my college days)I was pained to see the prevalence of such strong caste system in a state that boasts to be 100% literate. That is when I realized the humongous Gap between being EDUCATED and being LITERATE ! I pity my relatives who go berserk in search of a Nair Groom/Bride and miss out on good human beings in the name of Caste. Having said that I do not mean all belonging to Nair Community are weirdos, it is just that I am saddened to see such importance being given to caste and creed inspite of all the years we spend in school and college in our endeavor to be educated but end up being barely literate.

  2. Not too long ago a Keralite orignating from what's classified as a "lower caste" held the highest public office in India. Speaking of K R Narayanan of course, who while holding the esteemed office, exhibited remarkable humility about the whole affair.

    Cutting to the scene in Rajasthan, a cab driver exhuding superiority due to his apparent position in a social classification, is simply hilarious! (If he'd chosen instead to display pride on being a self-employed inidividual able to extract value from his own skill and effort, this would have made some sense)

    Good post D. Keep writing!!

  3. "i e if their relatives don't read this blog"..

    Haha! That is stated twice in your monologue. Are you sure you do not have devil horns growing out?