I completed my schooling in Mumbai, and till the age of 17 when I completed my 12th grade – I had no idea about the prevailing caste system in India. It was 1992, and I don’t think we students even bothered to ask each other’s caste in school. Of course everyone had surnames – Nair, Acharya, Singh, Pendse, Mali, Pawar – but being a Tamil I never had one. Thanks to Thanthai Periyar – we Tamils (except Iyers and Iyengars) don’t use surnames but use father’s name as an initial or second name, so my name was either G Kennedi or Kennedi Gopalan (where G or Gopalan stood for my father’s name).
When I moved to Coimbatore from Mumbai to do my Under Graduation, it was a bolt from the blue – there were different streets for different castes in my hometown (Tiruppur). The Scheduled castes and the Forward caste people lived on different streets. I was naive those days and I thought it was a one of case, and not the norm.
In colleges and hostels, I personally didn’t find any discrimination based on casteism happening but then whenever there were debates about castes in our late night chats everyone by default told me that – ‘Kennedi, you have no idea about the caste system in India because you were brought up in Mumbai. In Tamil Nadu things are different – something which you will understand with time and age.’ I didn’t agree with them then and lived in a fantasy world that casteism is an age old stigma that has been eradicated long back – but then today 30 years later I stand corrected.
Time flew I finished my PG in Mass Communication, moved back to Mumbai to work with The Indian Express and with the dot com booming moved back to Chennai to join Satyam Infoway as a Channel Manager. It was a kick in the guts again. Nothing had changed.
People belonging to a particular upper caste made sure they stood out differently from the rest. They either kept adjusting their cross threads in a way it was visible for the others or painted their faces with the holy ash or with sandal paste and vermilion on their forehead.
I wouldn’t surely say that promotion or salary hike ever depended upon the caste you belonged to – it was purely performance based but then I somehow never understood why there was a necessity to prove one’s dominance over the others by using caste as a reason.
“He got his IIM (A) seat due to his Scheduled Caste quota,” commented an upper caste colleague to me referring to a guy who never threw his weight around because of his humble beginning. I didn’t know how to react then and hence ignored him. But then realised that somewhere people still look down upon someone who comes up in life using reservations.
A couple of days back I met my sister who works as a Wealth Manager in one of the reputed banks in Chennai. As the topic of conversation with her slowly drifted to the caste system in India, she said that 75% of the money or wealth lies with 3% forward caste people in Tamil Nadu. I surely was shocked but not angry or upset about it. Everyone has the right to make money and accumulate it using their hard work, effort and intelligence. If someone is not making enough money or accumulating it, it is their fault so don’t blame your caste for it.
The segregation of the caste system was created by the Indian government. The reservation in education was basically provided for economically backward classes who by default belonged to a particular caste. But then the respect that each caste in India earns is not by the food they eat or the Gods they pray to or the mantras they chant or the skin colour they have. It is by the success a person belonging to a particular caste has achieved. And every casteist person has the right to be proud of his or her caste depending upon what their clan has achieved and contributed to the world. Why shouldn’t a person having Ambani as his surname be proud of his caste? He indeed should be.
All human beings are the same, there shouldn’t be any caste system, there shouldn’t be any reservations, all are equal in front of God – these are absolute rubbish thoughts. The world is open today, everyone has a smart phone and everyone has access to the Internet. Develop a skill, work hard towards your goal, compete with others, achieve something others cannot, bring glory to the caste you belong to, and then proudly put your caste name after your name – whether you are SC or ST should not matter.
If there can be an Iyengar bakery with utmost pride today there should be a Parayar or Chakkiliyar restaurant tomorrow that possesses a Michelin star.
Stop whining and complaining and let us all work hard to bring glory to our own caste and clan without an iota of shame and exist in harmony in spite of diversity. And stop saying there ain’t no caste system in India, it exists in India and it will exist in India forever.