Saturday, May 11, 2013

Amitabh Bachan on Caste

Karnataka State Election results came out on the 8th May. TV channels showed off their skills in Caste Arithmetic. This was a sorry sight in a country that decided decades ago that the practice of caste had held us back for centuries. But here was caste on steroids. Visit Caste consciousness is on the increase and not otherwise. Graphics showed what region of the state had what percentage of Lingayats, Vokkaligas, etc. The anchors expounded on how a leader had defeated his former party by taking away the bulk of the votes of people of his caste. I do not know why the discussion of caste in the context of election cannot be banned by the Election Commission. This appears to me to be the worst form of corrupt practice in elections - to manipulate caste feelings and to seek votes on the basis of caste.

Amitabh Bachan was on Headlines TV this evening and happened to mention how his family did not respect the notion of caste. When his father admitted Amitabh to school, he was asked to mention the student’s caste. The father wrote “Bachan”, which in fact was the pseudonym under which he wrote poetry – not “Srivastava” which had been the family name. I remembered a well-known computer scientist of Indian origin, Arvind, who had also chosen to drop his last name which would have been a caste name.

Amitabh added another example of how his father was above these narrow loyalties. His mother had been a Punjabi – one of the first Punjabi brides to set foot into Allahabad. 

He (Amitabh) went on to say that a few years ago, the census taker had insisted that he should record his caste name. Amitabh had to stand firm to avoid this. This reminded me of my own experience over 30 years ago.  I had told a census taker that my mother tongue was English.  (To this day, my mother speaks in English to me). The census taker told me that he would not accept my declaration. He suggested that I mention any language I wanted to – Malayalam, Tamil, Hindi, etc., but English was not acceptable! He warned me that I could be arrested for giving “false” information to a census taker!  Satyameva Jayate!

Now, come back to caste. Why don’t we invent a new synthetic caste name, for example, “Daata” meaning a donor or giver! We could invent an incantation like “We will not let evil netas divide us in the name of caste”. To become a member of this “caste” one needs only recite this incantation and donate Rs 10 or more to a Society to Eradicate the Evil of Caste. 

What use will this be? Will the census taker accept it? Forget him. It is enough if a man or women could declare his/her caste to be Daata to the chosen partner.

Tamil Nadu had adopted the custom of dropping caste names long ago. This worked in most cases. Why can’t the rest of India follow this excellent idea?

Srinivasan Ramani  

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