Rajdeep, your caste is showing!

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.

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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.

29 thoughts on “Rajdeep, your caste is showing!

  1. Well said Kaustubh! M glad you brought this up.
    I still remember an incident that comes to my mind is when I visited the so called ‘Saraswat Food Festival’ for the first time in Margao.
    After relishing the lovely Saraswat cuisine. I was quite curious to know about the Mr. and Miss/Mrs. Saraswat competition…so I just inquired with a so called elite GSB who I knew and happened to be there at the venue.
    I was point blank told…’..people normally from the GSB community only frequent this festival although others(probably I thought bcoz i was a Catholic)…are allowed entry to eat…But all other competition entries are strictly for the GSB community’. I was stunned.
    I have never again visited this festival, although I love |Saraswat cusine.
    But statements like these truly leave a bad taste…

    1. The case of Saraswat Festival is really interesting. Especially in its food festival. Many of the dishes which get served as Saraswat cuisine are prepared across households of all communities in Goa. Such festivals also need to be looked at occasions of appropriation and not only as celebration of community pride. Khatkhate, Shaak, Hooman, Godshey etc. are part of larger Goan culinary culture for long time now. It’s just that by their position of privilege, Saraswats seem to be appropriating these as Saraswat cuisine.

  2. Even today some of the GSB community askes others in a way are you Naik or Nayak, or else Dev kon tumcho so as to find out your caste.

  3. Ghodshem is common in Christian households as well. And Brahmin/Bamon arrogance is not limited only to the Hindu community in Goa, it has controlled and manipulated the lives and fortunes of Christians as well, in terms of access to education, to property ownership, to joining the Church as priests etc. The unfortunate thing is that non GSB Hindu Goans tend to lump non-Bamon Christians along with the land-owning Bamons instead of aligning with that section of the community and collectively working to improve their lot and preserve Goa from the machinations and exploitation of the Bamon upper castes.

  4. Hello Kaustubh, Good reaction to Rajdeep’s tweet. I listened to his interview in News Laundry this week and thought I got to understand man’s point of view. He seemed to be a sensible guy. Then one of my friends narrated an incident of him calling up a school admin staff and pressurizing them. And now this tweet. I think he does bring shame to Goa. :(. I have met his dad (Dilip Sardesai) in Verem Goa during his evening walks. He was a nice man though. RIP Dilip.

  5. Very well put up Pandit! You echoed the sentiments of my community, clan, family and above all, myself too! I am proud of you dear!

  6. I am unable to see what is wrong with Rajdeep’s tweet. If someone bringing caste into everything is regressive, just squarely blaming everything on caste is also sort of colonial hangover.

    I would definitely like to know what concrete evidence you would have for your claim:

    “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”

    On the contrary several places in Goa including my village had schools in early 1900s because of various saraswasts and later the Partagal mutt providing land and other assistance.

    I dont see any reason why we should be ashamed of any caste. Just the way Tim Cook publicly declaring himself gives hope to million other gay children that they too can make it big, we publicly acknowledging the achievements of fellow caste members equally gives hope to everyone else.

    Most of the anti-caste propaganda smells of leftist distortions mixed up with missionary propaganda mostly funded by people who fail to understand India’s civilization perspective. Phrases like “Thousands of years of oppression..” are thrown around without any kind of hard evidence.

    Two important and reliable sources for understanding caste before Independent India are Dharampal’s work and the Census Reports of British government.

    Dharampal basically goes to show that India had a wider network of educational institutes and higher level of education among all lower castes before the British rule. The education level among India’s lower castes and working class was far higher than that of British society.

    The census officers in 1930s concluded that the caste wise survey was meaningless because caste itself is fluid concept which government must not view as rigid structure. The officer gives detailed accounts of how several castes disappeared year on year and new castes came into existence. He explain how once a community gains influence it claims a higher place in caste order (e.g. Nabhik community turning into Nayik Brahmins) and how the whole system acts as an incentive to improve upon they level of prosperity. He concludes the report that saying any attempts to fix a caste would be counter-productive and act to perpetually bind those people into those brackets.

    Interestingly it is only the progressives and post-independent India that has created political and economic incentives for people to claim they are “backward” and “oppressed”.

    The GSB community is a very good example of why the census officers got it right. History of many families in GSB community is relatively well documented. A lot of “prabhu desai” were not GSBs to begin with. Several other GSBs belonged to various other castes 500 years ago. As and when they came into contact with the Mutt and were able to influence the Swami and help the mutt, they were inducted into GSB community. Many were expelled from the community from time to time and putting them into different caste brackets.

    Tracing the history of GSBs they remain somewhat on the move throughout the course of history and yet one of the well organized community in the country compared to others. A lot of this GSB history is well documented in this research work http://amzn.to/1EQfOIZ [Chitrapur Saraswat Brahmins, published by University of California].

    You might be right to point out that Tendulkar’s achievements have nothing to do with his caste, but you are quick to then claim that Tendulkar was somehow in better position than others to score those centuries because of his caste.

    Obviously people who are well off will relatively do better than others in the current generation but I fail to see why no one wants to give any evidence to the claim that the exact same people were better off throughout the history ? Almost every available piece of evidence seems to go opposite to that assumption.

    Issue of oppression of fellow man and denying them the same freedom that is available to others have is a crime. However I dont buy the claim that caste was an instrument of oppression. Some influential people oppressing others is a common theme in history everywhere. In case of slavery in US or Australia where black people were categorized as “not–human” is pretty much the case of creating a rigid structure for the purpose of exploitation and oppression.

    In case of oppression in India, the caste factor only correlated with the kind of influence the castes had at that time. For example poor people were oppressed by the ruling class or rich class with enough fluidity where poor could get rich and turn into the oppressors. Example : Nadan family of Agastheeswaram in Kerala where lower caste women were not allowed cover their breasts. This family which was at the receiving end came to prominence, got an exception from the King for their women but actively enforced the exact same restriction on others.

    This is very similar to how BJP and Congress pretend to have different economic policies but when in power follow the exact same economic policies purely because that is politically profitable for them.

    These are just my thoughts which I was nevertheless writing, I do not mean to change your opinion on anything.

    1. “several places in Goa including my village had schools in early 1900s because of various saraswasts and later the Partagal mutt providing land and other assistance”
      Solely out of historical curiosity, could you please cite the names of these village schools opened by Saraswats and the Mutts? Where these schools were and who attended these schools, were these open to students from the tribal community, the Mahar, Chamar, Kharvi, Devdasi caste groups and to non-Hindus?

      “India had a wider network of educational institutes and higher level of education among all lower castes before the British rule.”
      If this was the case, then how come the clerks, babus and those who worked for the colonial administration in India and Goa hailed mainly from the Hindu upper castes, the Christians, landowning Muslims and Anglo-Indians? Upper caste Hindus did not allow Dalits to even draw water from their wells, leave alone allow them education. Even in this day, Dalits get hanged and killed for talking to or marrying upper caste women.

      “In case of slavery in US or Australia where black people were categorized as “not–human”
      Black slavery was prevalent in parts of America, not in Australia.

      Caste is wrong in modern day India when it becomes the basis for discriminatory comparisons and policies, which are against the tenets of our Constitution.

      1. The school that I went to “Shri Damodar Vidyalaya – Loliem, Cancona” was started directly by the efforts of then head of Partagal Mutt Indirakant Tirtha Swamiji somewhere in 1920.

        It was never a caste or religion based school and open for all.

        The name of the school comes from the local deity Damodar Temple which is again a private temple with GSB owners but funded the school in initial years through various means.

        The school next to this school is Shri Nirakar Vidyalaya, again deriving its name from Nirakar Devasthan which played a smilar role.

        These schools were open not just for tribal and non-GSBs but also for Christian. I am not sure why would anyone even bring up any kind of caste discrimination into picture. Was there any Saraswat school anywhere in Goa or elsewhere which shut its door on others ?

        In case of Australia the aboriginals were classified as flora and founa (non humans). This may not be a booming slavery business but this photo should give you an idea: http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-xUWfGsyfOco/UXrHb351YYI/AAAAAAABIxU/KuWqzOzOSDc/s1600/tumblr_mf4vnnWOEB1r0t4kso1_400.jpg

        “Caste is wrong in modern day India when it becomes the basis for discriminatory comparisons and policies, which are against the tenets of our Constitution.”

        No it is not. Laws and Constitutions can grant equality to men before the law and in matters related to state (which Indian constitution does not BTW). People are free to think and discriminate in whatever way they want in their personal lives.
        People’s thoughts can not be regulated without declaring some “thoughts” as crimes. (Reminds of 1984 by Orwell?).

        A freer market makes caste and other forms of discrimination economically expensive for those people who believe in them. Over time it becomes out of fashion to practice these sort of outdated ideas. That is how better ideas live.

        A free society gives its citizens right to believe in whatever they want including pride in castes or any other form of congregation.

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  8. well written. Judging a persons capabilities by their caste is so sickening. People have just changed their outward appearances saying they stay in the 21st century but from their hearts n mind they are the same old 19 century folks. Instead of having pride on caste that also with deeds done by someone else, people should have courage to do those deed themselves and then talk. Normally people who talk such things about caste have high educational degrees but no common sense, they are basically empty vessels which make lots of sound.

    PS : frustration vent up, self experience the incidents mentioned.

  9. Very good article and extremely backward thought process of that 2nd ranker’s mother, But just few points to note

    1) Vinod Kambli performed poorly and was removed. There is no question of caste here.

    2) Being proud of one’s caste is ugly but I feel there’s no problem in being proud of your last name. the last name is in many ways your identity, where you come from, your lineage. I ask people’s last name not to guess their caste (in most cases I can’t) but to remember them by their full name.

    3) I know this is meant to be a neutral article, but you owe it to the readers to mention as a footnote as to where Naiks belong in this make-believe caste system. It is important for the reader to know where the perspective is coming from as there are always 2 sides to a coin.

    PS – I am not a GSB and I don’t care.

  10. I am from Goa, I love my state and i equally love my country. I am so proud to be an Indian because of so many reasons, one of the reasons being living in an multicultural society.
    I grew up in a place where we had a church, a mosque and a temple within an area of 200 meters. I am Hindu by religion, but because i am an Indian it my religion is always secondary.
    In Goa Christmas is as big a festival for me as Ganesh or Diwali.
    We have Christians, Muslims celebrating Holi with equal enthusiasm.

    Religion is your belief, your faith, that is between you and your God, while caste is just discrimination.

    We human beings are hungry for love, we are drawn towards those little things that makes us happy and drawn towards people who makes us feel accepted.

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  12. I am a GSB…I love to eat fish. Visit Goa…etc etc.
    I agree with most of the points raised in this article – Don’t have time for Rajdeep Sardesai’s GSB pride thingie…but yet
    Doesn’t this article indulge in mass condemnation of GSBs …extrapolates a behavior of few (or more than a few) GSBs to the entire community. Kaustub makes a lot of assumptions about GSBs …But may be just may be there are many a GSBs who indeed have come up in life from humble origins…without relying on whatever benefits their caste may have given them. May be there are some who are not as anal or pathetic as the one who Kaustub quotes at the end. Essentially the tone of this note veers dangerously towards blanket condemnation of all and every GSBs. Maybe most GSBs are obnoxious…pathetic….have a superiority complex. But then there is no such proof given in the article. In the end, Kaustub does essentially what he criticizes Rajdeep for….in the opposite direction though

    1. I’m responsible for what I write and not what you interpret. Mass condemnation? I don’t know. I’ve nowhere mentioned that all GSBs need to be condemned. Yes there are many GSBs who’ve come up from humble origins and I personally know a few of them. But that number is tiny fraction as compared to a mass of population which is beyond quantification that still struggles to rise up even an inch of their so called humble origins. And also, would strongly disagree with the statement that they’ve done so without relying on their caste benefits. You never know.
      Also, read this. http://roundtableindia.co.in/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=7832:sardesai-caste-pride-and-the-kalyug-of-inverted-logic&catid=119:feature&Itemid=132

      1. Once again you generalise…Let me give an example. You wrote ” Yes there are many GSBs who’ve come up from humble origins and I personally know a few of them. But that number is tiny fraction as compared to a mass of population which is beyond quantification”….
        How can you be so sure that the number of GSBs who did not possess financial advantage and grew from humble origins etc are a tiny fraction of the total GSBs. Is there a study on this. If so, can you provide a link /reference. I suspect, you are basing that conclusion on anecdotal (your personal) evidence. My personal experience + what I have seen of others is different. Doesn’t mean that what I saw in a admittedly few hundred Mumbai GSBs can be extrapolated to all the GSBs. This is true for you as well – Not sure how varied /deep your knowledge is …But if you are making statements like these solely on what you have seen in Goa + Pune, that conclusion may be incomplete or at the very least not definite (not incorrect, just that you dont have enough evidence).
        Having said all this, I believe Rajdeep’s article was flawed for one basic reason – He implies that UC/GSBs are in the cabinet solely on merit while the others were included solely for political considerations….thereby implying that they do not have qualifiactions etc for the job….which can be extrapolated to say that none of the MBC/OBCs/SC/ST etc have qualifications etc…A highly questionable thought.

        Lastly the link that you sent. Its an interesting perspective…Nothing to argue against. Though the author in a way ignores that (not sure how many…) not all UCs were/are born rich/priveleged. It is as if the sins of their fathers are being held against them. The critical aspect that needs to be worked on in India, is how do you untangle the “opportunity” equation. How can you offer similar opportunities to citizens irrespective of caste, religion, income levels etc. Long way to go on that. Unfortunately quasi left model was unable to solve that equation. Personally I believe the answer lies in unfettered market economy. Let’s see

        1. Saurabh I am a GSB residing in Pune right now. I have lived for past 22 years in Indore where there are N number of Maharashtrians and Goans. I fully agree with Kaustubh. Even if he is making the statements solely based on his experiences + what he has seen in Goa and Pune, he is not entirely wrong. I have seen such kind of discrimination in Indore as well as Nagpur.

  13. Once again, I would emphasize that I am not responsible for what you interpret! When I say that GSBs coming from humble origins is a tiny fraction, I was comparing against the mass of population that is non-Upper caste and which still lives in marginalized conditions (and have not come up from their “humble origins yet”) across the country. GSBs aren’t the only one that I am referring here.

    Also, read your first comment. You use “Maybe” 5 times in that comment to argue your case about GSBs coming up from humble origins but instead ask me to have an empirical evidence of each claim I am making here? You yourself aren’t sure about how many GSBs have come up from humble origins and struggle to make a living still. This is what Gaurav’s nicely articulates in his article that UCs telling “hey we are victims tooo, you know?” Also, there’s another article that I’ve posted on this blog explaining my understanding of caste, privilege and equality. Equality is deceptive, at least in this country.

    1. I use the word “may be” a lot – because in absence of data (at least I don’t have access to) I don’t like to sound definitive.

      I am also not responsible for what you interpret. My case isn’t that all/many GSBs have come up from humble origins. I thought I made it clear, that I have no data backed evidence for taking a stance either way – Just anecdotal evidence that some who I know have.

  14. Very well said Kaustubh. Especially liked the paragraph ‘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’
    I am a GSB and that doesn’t have a bit of a part in my accomplishments and failures. And yeah I am proud of Sachin, not as a Goan or a GSB but as an Indian.
    Check out the blog http://gauravsabnis.blogspot.com/ headed under Identity is not always community.
    This problem of ‘Whats your surname?’ is everywhere. Even some of my elders ask the same question to me when I mention a new friend as though a surname marks the character of a person.
    Being proud of our community is not an issue but being judgmental of a person because of his/her community or being overly proud of the community makes a whole lot of difference, in a bad way.
    Yes I an proud of being from Goa and India, but I am more proud of being a good human and much more proud of the accomplishments or failures that came through because of what I am not because of what my surname is.

  15. Kaustubh, you assume that GSBs are/were a privileged community; I am afraid that is a patently wrong assumption! GSBs were famously persecuted by Portgueses thanks to their strong adherence to Hinduism. Maharashtra, Karnataka, and Kerala witnessed persistent and centuries long smear campaign against GSBs, their brahmin status questioned over and over again due to non vegetarian diet. In the state of Kerala, GSBs were ridiculed because of their speaking Konkani. Over the centuries, GSBs had had to grapple with very formidable opposition! Under the circumstances, some of us feel proud we are able to make positive contributions towards the progress and pride of India! Are GSBs Caste conscious? May be! Are GSBs Casteist? No!!!

  16. If there is one thing i have learnt as an ‘upper caste hindu myself’ (from the warrior and trader castes which i have disowned myself from), is that upper caste hindus in general are inherently dishonest when they claim they dont see caste. They do, they just dont want the rest of the world to know about it. I see this too often with the upper caste Hindu communities living in western countries. They never speak out against caste atrocities in India. When the Jats burned down the town of Rohtak in Haryana, not one Hindu i know spoke out against except for one Jat lady i know who was sympathising with the rioters saying they ‘needed a quota system just like the dalits’. Some of my own relatives who claim they are against caste were criticising a girl in my family who married a boy from what they said was a ‘lower background’. I was furious and i called them out on their hypocrisy and all i got was back tracking and denial.

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