When I moved to Delhi from Pune, one thing I was relieved of was not having to answer condescending Punekars asking me my last name. It’s a “not so subtle” way of asking “What’s your caste?” and the tone of the conversation that would follow was largely dependent on whether I was a Brahmin or not. While I was aware of caste discrimination since my days in Goa, I became aware of caste atrocities and how it plays a major role (more than one can think of) in one’s life when I moved to Pune. Social segregation, ghettoization of dalit communities etc. were starkly visible in a Pune where the Brahmins have had a stronghold in shaping it as a city. My relief from being asked Pune’s typical conversation starter “What’s your last name?” didn’t last long until last week when I went to Goa Sadan for the annual “Goa Festival”. This time it was a Goan (a GSB) asking me the same question and all I could do is laugh and tell him what my last name is.
The reason for this post is the latest controversy that Rajdeep Sardesai has stirred by tweeting about his “Sarswat” pride after fellow GSBians, Manohar Parrikar and Suresh Prabhu were inducted into Modi’s cabinet.
Well I had already called it a sick behaviour from Rajdeep’s side by tweeting that “There’s nothing great in taking pride in people inducted into power who already hail from privileged classes”. While I thought the controversy ended there, Rajdeep has now written a column in HT justifying the tweet thereby paving way for a fresh controversy. And in course of responding to that, GSB sentiments of a fellow twitter user, Nilay Bhandare (@kharobangdo) seems to have been hurt or disturbed. This post is to address the concerns after having read reactions by both and probably address larger problem of caste with particular reference to Goa.
Let’s look at Rajdeep first (Nilay deserves another post) because if not anything else, the article is a bit hilarious too at some level.
“GSB” refers to the Gaud Saraswat Brahmins, a tiny, but highly progressive community of fish-eating Brahmins that I belong to which nestles along the Konkan coast, across Maharashtra, Goa, through to parts of Karnataka.
A “Highly progressive community” that decides how they would talk to a person depending on his or her skin tone and last name. A highly progressive community that controls temple ownership in Goa and denies entry into sanctum sanctorum for other communities. A highly progressive community that asserts their own dialect as an official language onto rest of the state. This list of highly progressive attributes can go on but let’s stop here.
Rajdeep further mentions that
In his valuable book Saraswats, Chandrakant Keni traces the history of the Saraswat community, of the migration from Kashmir, of how they faced oppression from the conquering Portuguese, how they zealously held onto their family traditions and village deities, and placed a premium on education as a path to upward mobility.
While I have not read the book by Chandrakant Keni, I will refrain from making remarks on his arguments about Sarswats but only thing here is that I have problem with is GSBs placing a premium on education as a path to upward mobility. When you are the only community having access to education and knowledge systems and thus denying the right to education to rest of the communities, aren’t you the only one who’s going to ride on the path of upward mobility? It’s like running the race alone or with fellow racers who are handicapped by social structure which you’ve ensured remains intact for centuries and then claiming victory?
The next para would put any standup comedian to shame which read like
Despite the small numbers, the Saraswat community has contributed enormously to the country: In cricket, led by the big two Sunil Gavaskar and Sachin Tendulkar, Saraswats have scored more than a hundred Test hundreds; in cinema and the arts, we have the splendid Girish Karnad, Shyam Benegal, Guru Dutt and the latest Hindi film dream girl, Deepika Padukone; in education, the Pais of Manipal have led the way; and in business and finance, the likes of Nandan Nilekani and KV Kamath have been pioneers.
Of course there is no doubt about Tendulkar and Gavaskar’s legacy but when their hundreds translates into “Saraswats” scoring more than a hundred test hundreds, it does look ugly for reasons more than one. Also we need to think what societal setup that “allows” Sachin Tendulkar to score hundreds while Vinod Kambli’s career gets a halt and gets the tag of “characterless”. It looks like Rajdeep has no understanding of the privileges that upper caste communities in India have always enjoyed. He strengthens this belief further by saying
Casteism is when a caste identity is used to promote hatred and separateness towards the other, when it creates social barriers based on occupation, marriage or inter-dining.
Alas! Paisaa aaya par class consciousness nahi gaya! If it was only that simple. This is the urban elite understanding of “casteism” and Rajdeep seems like a frontrunner of such bullshit that gets disguised as liberalism. Casteism is what happened in Khairlanji and rising cases of atrocities against Dalits. It’s also ridiculing of the Ambedkar followers on 6th December and discussing how these “Jai Bheem” people need to be shown their place who crowd and litter the city of Bombay, which is otherwise clean and devoid of any crowds. It’s also Brahmin students cancelling their admissions from Aurangabad University when it was being renamed as Babasaheb Ambedkar University. It’s also asking someone their last name. It’s also advertising in a local Marathi Daily that It’s a celebratory moment for “Bamons” of Goa because after Parrikar, a Kamat has been made the CM. Reminding anyone of their deprivation by invoking a pride in one’s own caste or directly ridiculing the other, is casteism.
Will just share an incident that happened with my cousin few years back. She studies in an elite school in Margao and scores well enough to come first in the class. A fellow GSB classmate of hers comes second. On the day of results, the mother of this GSB girl asked my cousin, “Your last name is Naik, right? How do you then come first in class?” As if coming first in class (and hence being intelligent and worthy of acquiring knowledge) was a trait peculiar to GSBs. Perhaps Rajdeep never got asked this question. Perhaps he wasn’t denied access to education (and hence empowerment) because of his caste.
One can be ignorant about his or her privilege, it’s only by agency of caste one learns to be proud arrogant about it.