For all the talk of not being casteist, young urban Indians are still listening to mummy papa when it comes to marriage.
In a move reminiscent of every other neighbourhood rishta-maker, BJP’s Sambit Patra recently demanded that Rahul Gandhi tell the world what his gotra is, lest Rahul is hiding some deep, dark secret about his religion that India absolutely need to know. Apparently, it’s fundamental that we know the caste, gotra, jati of everyone around us. Maybe this is where Sambit Patra will inform us that our Aadhaar cards will also now have to include this information.
The comment led to a lot of jokes on the internet as usual and pointed criticism from many including Omar Abdullah, Rajdeep Sardesai and Karuna Nandy. But overall, the public reaction was muffled. May be we are just used to this nonsense. Or have become immune to it. Most young Indians, however, have another worldview: ‘People like us’ don’t really care about caste and gotra, they say.
I personally leaned towards the whole ‘people like us’ thing till a short while ago when I realised we are the privileged people who not only allow, but also give impetus to the cruelty of caste that we are born with.
Recently, I spent a car ride to the airport with a student from one of India’s top tech schools. He was obviously astonishingly smart, articulate, and very charming when he wanted to be. He was also convinced that caste wasn’t an issue anymore because only “villages think of caste now”. He then began the usual diatribe about reservations vs merit in Indian education. “My roommate got through with reservation, didn’t he? Not like he’s doing well and not like he can keep up. What’s the point of doing this anymore?” he asked. Just as I was recovering from this bombshell, I got another one about how “some restrictions are good for a culture” from another young person I was speaking with, specifically in the context of marriage and love.
Personal seething aside, I wanted to think of this as an anomaly. These two people were obviously total outliers, right? Wrong, this is actually a worrying trend in India. Nearly 36 per cent of young Indians are against inter-caste marriages, and while a large number of them support reservations, they think caste doesn’t matter anymore. Here’s the funny bit: If you asked any of these people point blank, they would say that they’re not casteist, and that “gotra doesn’t matter to me bro, but you know how moms can be”.
And that’s the issue, isn’t it? We’re so complacent in our little bubbles where caste and gotra and jati are all just terms we hear from our parents and brush off as though they don’t matter. We young and privileged Indians convince ourselves that we’re above such ‘backward’ thinking. We truly believe that we can leave these ‘traps’ behind as and when we wish to, completely disregarding the fact that it is our caste status and privilege which allows us to disregard caste in the first place.
But for all the talk of not being casteist, young urban Indians are still listening to mummy papa when it comes to marriage – the key institution that propagates caste hierarchy. In a recent study, only 22 per cent said that they could marry someone their parents did not entirely approve of. And, only 10 per cent of urban respondents said in another study that someone in their family had married outside their caste.
And what best exposes our casteist mindsets than our matrimonial ads. A study of more than 10,000 matrimonial ads that appeared across major newspapers between 1970 and 2010 found that applications for “inter-caste marriages fell from 30 per cent (1970-80) to 19 per cent (2000-10)” in a few decades.
We have, in refusing to engage with age-old discriminations, allowed them legitimacy.
The fundamental disconnect in what young Indians do and what we feel creates an atmosphere where the spokesperson of the ruling party can ask about the opposition leader’s gotra and get away with it—achche din and vikas be damned. Sambit isn’t the first and he won’t be the last. Remember when the Congress jumped to claim that Rahul Gandhi was a janue-dhari Hindu, and not just any Hindu?
We might think this has nothing to do with us, but we’re wrong. Liberal arrogance and apathy have led us to the point of chaos we are at now, and I don’t know if we have the tools or the skills to bring our society back from the brink it’s almost fallen off.
We young urban Indians are a generation of people who grew up on a steady diet of MUNs, and classroom debates that convinced us that we can stand up for our truths. We’re also a generation of people who decided, instead, to be comfortable with our cosy positions in the caste hierarchy, mostly because ‘we are like this only’.
The author is a poet.