What prevents someone from just

What prevents someone from just "switching" to a higher caste? It's not like it's a different race. There's no skin color, and no facial features. If the name is the only key, just change your name! I can't understand why the notion of "caste" hasn't died out decades ago. What am I missing?

Do People Still Care about Caste?

This is an honest question – do people still care about caste in today’s world? A person I know was asked about their caste recently from an otherwise well educated, “progressive” seeming person. The question came out of the blue from nowhere! “What’s your name? Where do you stay? What’re your hobbies? What’s your caste?

Whoa, hold on there – back up!

I remember watching the movie Aarakshan a few years back and in that, a candidate is repeatedly asked and mocked about their caste. In job interviews no less! And all the while I was thinking to myself “Does this really happen?” So for those who know how things work and what the state affairs is today, please help a person who’s completely “out of the loop” to understand the answers to the following questions:

  1. Do people still care about caste?
  2. If so, why?
  3. How do you know what another person’s caste is? It’s not as if people go around holding plaquards.
  4. If the only clue to caste is the name, why don’t people simply change their name?
  5. If in a village everyone knows your caste, then won’t moving to the city end all these questions?

As far as I know, caste is invisible. While it can be difficult or impossible for a person of another race to change their skin color or features, there doesn’t seem to be anything stopping a person from simply “promoting” themselves into a higher caste. If you think your caste is low and want a better life, simply start calling yourself a Brahmin (or whatever the super duper caste is supposed to be) and you should be cool! What stops people from doing this? There must be something I’m missing or caste won’t be such a big deal.

To the best of my knowledge, caste is not something enforced by the government. Like if today I’m a Sikh and tomorrow I want to convert to Buddhism, no one is stopping me. How is caste different? Why would anyone willingly choose to be called a lower caste, face insults every day, be denied admission to schools or whatnot and not just upgrade themselves?

In my 31 years of life, no one has ever asked for my caste, and even if they did I wouldn’t know how to respond. Obviously there seem to be some people who care a great deal. From all accounts, many marriages and other important social events seem to be heavily influenced by it.

But I must admit that the matter is completely beyond my understand. Can anyone help me figure it out?

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  1. freebird says:

    I’ve been attempting to understand this too and this is what I understood so far:
    1. Yes, people do care about caste today (I personally don’t care about it at all – but people in general). To the extent that caste is the no. 1 factor in determining election results in India – If you leave a few parts of metros, this is the case everywhere. I wish this reality to change too – but it is a very very deep-rooted division.
    2. Why do they care? There are two answers. The first is of course due to the material gains and incentives which they can get because of their caste in contemporary India. The second, is about identity – they care about caste for the same reason why they care about their religion/their region. The weird part is: at times, people will still fight on these identity issues even when logic defies them. It is a complex emotional attachment – I’ve seen perfectly rational people who actually don’t believe in higher Vs. lower caste division defending why it was devised when their religion is attacked on these grounds. In my view, if we all define our identity in terms of our principles and not with proper names (like caste/religion etc. which are subjective to interpret), world will be so much better.
    3. People who care about things will always find ways to figure them out – so people who take caste seriously will figure out other people’s castes one way or the other – because they’re looking at everyone through a ‘caste’ lens. That’s how they define others – so they’ll find a way. The no. of such people in Indian society and the deep-rooted existence of this system for ages has of course made this process easier by creating easily identifiable stereotypes (name/appearance/accent etc.)
    4. This is a naive question :) People who treat caste as an identity aspect would not want to take it away from their name. They want their caste to be a part of their name/identity.
    5. Some people want their caste to be known to everyone in the village because they take pride in it. As to the others, there are many materialistic aspects (like opportunity, cost of living etc.) involved in deciding on relocation, of which caste issue may not be significant to them. And there are complex emotional aspects involved in how much attachment people have to the place where they stay. Sometimes people have inexplicable attachment to their place so they may not want to relocate however much it is troublesome to them. I don’t see this as sensible – but their choice after all.
    I’m still trying to understand what we can do to actually take this evil out.

    • bhagwad says:

      If people view caste as part of their identity (no matter how stupid), then we’re screwed. It means that they will defend it even when it goes against them. This might explain why even lower caste people support the system.

      • bhagwad says:

        It just shows what a poor job we’ve done in the work of “nation building”. India has failed to create an identity that most people can buy into. People need castes instead of saying “I’m an Indian”. It’s there of course, but not powerful enough to override these other primitive tags.

        Of course for someone like me, I prefer to not belong to anything. But I can understand and empathize with the desire to feel a part of something larger than oneself.

      • I don’t know a whole lot about castes but from my own perspective and that of my ethnic group, the idea of being an Indian is nothing more than a political identity. It is inorganic and the whole notion of being ‘Indian’ tends to obliterate our ethno-national identity, values, culture and even brand us ‘separatists’ for what is a very natural concern of the preservation of OUR organic identity – one that reflects who we are as a people than any notion of being Indian could.
        No offence if it seems a little crude putting it that way, but as a brown man who belongs to a part of the mainstream in India AND one who looks *very* Indian, you have the luxury of posing an aura of ‘not belonging to anything’. Because at the end of the day, you don’t have to deal with an identity crisis in the public sphere – most people still see you as an Indian from your appearance alone. The moment I do that, I am likely to get branded as an ‘Angrez’ OR at times even a Pakistani/Afghan, etc. (depending on where their prejudice lies).
        On a bigger scale, my ethnic group, regardless of how much ‘Indian’ they consider themselves would not be seen as one of the mainstream. We’d always be those alien looking people who eat foods that the mainland Indians wouldn’t, speak a language that is complete alien from any of the Indian mainstream languages, have a fashion sense that is seemly at odds with ‘Indian values’ and an overall outlook towards life that is far too laid back for the average Indian (the type who is used to being competitive, nosy, manipulative and demanding even in situations that don’t demand it).

      • bhagwad says:

        Just curious – which part of India are you from? You’ve referenced something like this before when talking about “my” and “your” army or something and I admit I have no clue what you were saying or why you were saying it.

        But in general I don’t identify myself with anything – probably as a human being. I’ve written about this lack of patriotism before. I can’t really bring myself to identify with anything that’s random. And being a citizen of any country is totally random? I could have been born anywhere on earth. I had no say in the boundaries which some guy hundreds of years ago drew.

        I can’t bring myself to associate with such a flimsy structure.

      • Prem says:

        Global location is more often an accident of birth!

      • freebird says:

        I’m not aware: are you saying that your group doesn’t enjoy the same legal rights as other citizens of the country? I’m aware of AFSPA but to my understanding, the act was invoked after separatist movements started to protect the sovereignty of the country. I’m not sure why the separatist movements started in the first place – Was it because your group’s interests were not being addressed by the national government and you were denied equal rights? If our country is denying you the same rights which are being given to other citizens just because your number is lower, I think it is very unfair and needs to be addressed soon.

        Having said that, when you said you want to preserve your ‘organic identity’ which reflects who you are as people, what do you mean? To me, your values reflect who you are as a person rather than your ‘organic identity’ (color/appearance/features etc.). And to what extent do you intend to ‘preserve’ this organic identity? I’m one of those who believe in ‘What is right today may not be right tomorrow’ as we’re always evolving. Do you really think the same lifestyle, habits, customs which we follow today will be applicable just as well 200 years from now on? The more we resist change, the harder it will thrust itself on us.

        As to nationalism, it depends on how you define ‘Indian’ to be. I do not believe in associating identity with proper names (country/ethnicity/religion etc.). I associate mine with principles and assess any proper noun in relation to them. To me, India is about progress, democracy and freedom. There are aspects in my country’s social/political system which I don’t like. And I want to change them. I would condemn it if we as a country indulge in anything unethical. This has got nothing to do with how much ‘mainstream’ I am – ‘mainstream’ is not just about appearance – different people look at it in relation to different things (status/education/behavior etc). For me, the concept of ‘mainstream’ is irrelevant but I am biased towards those who think like me with similar values.

      • @ freebird
        That was how the AFSPA was and is still withheld by the Indian legal system. National security. However, the fact that the AFSPA gives the Indian military powers to arbitrarily arrest and prosecute anyone on grounds of suspicious, without any judicial process means that every North Eastern under the purview of this act is at the mercy of the Indian government. Since this government is elected into power by a majority comprising the demography of the mainland, who are unaffected by this act and choose to look the other way as the rape, torture and executions are carried out at their fancy and whim; I do hold every mainland Indian implicitly responsible for it, unless they explicit state and voice their disagreement for such a gross violation of human rights.
        As for culture, you cannot actually develop a value system that isn’t influenced by the kind of social setup you grew up in, regardless of how unique you believe you one. For example, most Indians internalise the feudal concept of social hierarchy so deep that they play it on a subcon

      • bhagwad says:

        For what it’s worth, AFSPA needs to go. It’s a travesty of a law.

      • freebird says:

        I agree. AFSPA needs to go – I especially don’t trust the Indian govt. to not abuse it.

      • …subconsciously, even when they are not explicit aware of it. As a person whose hasn’t internalised a feudal concept of socio-economic hierarchy, this is VERY obvious.

        As for how separatism came into North East, you have to go back in history and understand how the region has never been a part of the Indian mainland but a distinct and separate region of South East Asia. The Indian government which ‘inherited’ the region as a British colony, could of course have none of that. To prevent any fostering of such an idea in NE India that might threaten its legitimacy, it passed the AFSPA so that the military could simply silence whoever spouts such ‘radical’ ideas that we are not a part of India. It is India’s Tibet.

  2. A. Madhavan says:

    I feel the people who care about caste are the upper-castes, LOL.
    One of the arguments against yours truly, Firangi Bahu, was that I was “ruining the Brahmin bloodline” of my Tamil Iyengar family. What a load of crap. As if they have a blood type of gold…?!
    And of course, now they are not so concerned, now they go on and on about my daughter’s fair skin. (vomit!)

    • bhagwad says:

      One explanation is that everyone is of a higher caste than someone else! As long as you can lord it over some other poor bugger you have a vested interest in keeping things the way they are.

  3. Suneetha says:

    It all boils dwn to the fact of wat one’s brain is soaked in frm the moment he/she has started waking up to the world around……if one has listened to the name of their caste and religion quoted in every occasion….b it in pride or problem…..as a means of support or solving an issue……then that sinks in deeply frm childhood like a deep scar or mind block and refuses to c any other reasoning as they grow up…..dats how it becomes a matter of their identity and defending that imaginative cause becomes a reason for their existence to some even…….as in the khaap panchayats….!!! They don’t know how else or wat else to think in such circumstances….thanks to illiteracy and lac oaf exposure to the rest of the world ……hence they dogmatically insist that their next of kin also follow on their path as they consider it the only safe way to salvation ……!!! And the politicians add fuel to this fire to cash in on the vote banks of ths dumb lot….!!!! So it is a viscous circle of one feeding the other and so on ……things are slowly changing …..but wd take a long long time fr things to improve in the northern states in comparison……coz politics thrives on caste based vote banks up north……and the political vultures wdnt let go of their prey so soon……worst still they wd fight to keep things that way as long as possible…!!!!

    • bhagwad says:

      I feel that though our upbringing has a huge influence on us, we have the capacity to break free of it once we start thinking for ourselves. But it’s obvious that a lot of people remain the same :(

  4. Kim says:

    You have already answered your own question because you, too, are deeply committed to the act of subjugating others to inflate your own self-worth. You’ve said so repeatedly in your own blog. Anyone who goes out of their way to rant about how an existing system– even if it’s unfair and you don’t agree with it– makes it OK to keep kicking those beneath them is obviously committed to ideas of caste and classism.

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