Why Caste Matters & Does Not in India

The NYTimes found the fact that India appointed a Muslim as the director of the Indian Intelligence Bureau a strong enough point to draft an entire article around it. The author wondered if Egypt would take a leaf out of India’s book and follow such a ‘secular’ model.

The article has a simplistic view of India, which is perhaps good for the country’s global standing. They author believes that India is actually secular and democratic country.

As a citizen witnessing numerous riots and clashes in everyday life, I am not sure I agree.

In terms of titular heads of various organizations, we have been quite effective in placing all castes and religions.

We had Muslim Presidents, Sikh Presidents, Prime Ministers, Supreme Court Judges etc.

But the fact that we are making such a big deal about appointing a Muslim as a direction of the IIB just shows that we are not really secular. In a secular country, the religion of a head should not matter. His religion does not really come into play in a post as high as this. We have appointed him for his skill and accomplishments. Does the fact that he is a Muslim make a difference to how he functions?

Caste and religion play an important role in everyday life.

Take Karnataka for instance. The governments here are deeply divided. Janata Dal, which used to be a popular, ‘farmer’ party, leans heavily towards Gowdas. Party loyalists know that you are not as favored if you belong to any other class.

But if you are a Lingayat, you would side with Yediyurappa. He promises you the riches.

I’m not making this stuff up. Just read any news articles in the past few months, where every minister has openly talked about this.

They do not care if they topple the government as long as someone from their caste stays in power.

Take Bihar. It is a constant war between the lower and the  upper castes. Lalu Prasad Yadav won repeatedly, as some articles pointed out, not because he brought in great development. His caste has more members in a more powerful position. And he does represent the underdog vs the Thakurs etc.

There are again the Yadavs and the Gurjars and the Tiwaris, who all have to fall back on areas that are strong with their castemen to gain votes.

I used the words ‘caste men’ specifically here, because in these areas women are yet to smell the air of ’empowerment.’

Though they legally have the power to vote, what is the ratio of women who do vote according to their choice and not what their husbands state.

Sure, the government ads show ghunghat-clad women happily powdering chillies or milking cows that will be sold and get them money, ergo empowerment. But what is the statistic for women education in these areas? What are the statistics for the deaths of women in these areas?

There are some cases that manage to leak out of the caste-enclosed communities and we read about murders in the name of family honour, rape meted out as punishment and more. But I constantly get the feeling that the actual numbers are much higher than what we get to read about.

But then, we are one of the few nations in the world to have had women Prime Minister, Chief Ministers and cops in high position. And we worship female deities as well. We have entire festivals dedicated to them, rather than leaving them on the lower altar.

That does not preclude rapes, murders, female infanticide, lower education rates, child marriage to older men and many such things.

The Indian mind works on a strange level. We are able to beautifully compartmentalize things like ‘laws’ and ‘reality’.

So, there might not be much fuss about a Muslim being a director, or a woman being a PM. Because these are things that affect us for half an hour in the morning, so to speak. We do not consider the larger impact of these things. But a woman walking down on the street late at night, a man offending your God in front of you – these are things that actually get you going.

Once that spark is lit, the other things come into play.

We aren’t democratic. For  most part, it still remains a sham… booth capturing, fake votes and lots more. We still have the system of reservation in every single aspect of our functioning.

It starts at the school level… and then continues through your life, where a guy who perhaps does not even want to be a doctor gets entry into a medical school because a) reservation quotas b) it becomes a point of honour for his family. His talent and aptitude rarely are considered here.

We are not even particularly secular. We discriminate based on sub-caste, caste, religion, gender, language and region. We are as fricking racist as one can get.

And yet, we function. As a whole. Either because we turn a blind eye to a lot of things that don’t go down easy, or we ‘adjust’. And we believe that two wrongs might just equal a right.

So, I would like to hear more about why we are NOT like Egypt. Why we are believed to have a culture of dialogue, peaceful and respectful arguing, and not a rock-throwing, boycotting, conspiracy-mongering atmosphere.

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