Do you know I am a Dalit?
I read a story in the Times of India today. Although I hardly react to the whims and fancies of journalists and their point of views, this one has made me to write this.
The story talks about how Dalit students in IITs and IIMs have committed suicide, no suicide notes have been found and how this Dalit was told that he is not needed in the AIIMS hostel.
Thankfully, I, too, have passed college. There were Dalit students in my class. But do I know if they were Dalits? No. Do I care of they were? No. Would have I cared if they told me? No.
But how do you know if the guy you are talking to is Dalit? The question to be asked should be how does it matter if the other guy is a Dalit or a Brahmin or one of the million other castes in this country?
The former question is the one thats asked, always.
People tend to find out or judge you by your surname. I remember, as early as in my first standard I was asked about my caste. The question did not come from my teachers but from fellow 6 year olds. Their questions always met with blank stares from me. I could never understand what they were asking or what they meant by “caste”. As a rehearsed script they would then ask, “Whats your surname?” “Chaudhri or Nichani,” I replied depending upon that three year period which i dont remember now exactly where I changed from Ashish Chaudhri to Shubhashish Nichani.
“oh, you are a Sindhi or a Punjabi,” came the reply depending upon what I said back then. I still stared blankly trying to thinking what purpose would this solve for a fellow 6 year old?
Nevertheless, it made me think. What is my caste? Why is it so important? Why can’t I tell what the other guy’s caste is just by knowing his name?
The answer I found in the way I was brought up. My mother never mentioned caste, creed or any other way profiling that Indians boast of.
Probably, i thought, she did not know herself or never thought it’s important to tell me. It was the former. I came to know this when my dad passed away of a heart attack this February. The priest asked for the gotra to perform his last rights. I looked towards my mother for an answer. She was as blank as I.
Ultimately the priest decided we were some high caste Hindus and finished the rituals. I don’t even remember what gotra he decided for us.
I don’t understand castes because my mother doesn’t because her parents never gave her this important lesson of being an Indian.
Today, I am Shubhashish. And I am always asked what my surname is? “I don’t have a surname,” I reply and climb up the weird-chart by leaps out of bound even for Lady Gaga.
I remember my school’s principal once asking if I fell from the sky as I don’t have a last name. My application for passport was rejected twice because the last name field was blank. The IT dept refused to give me a PAN card without knowing my surname.
Amidst all this, I am glad that I am Shubhashish. A punjabi with a Bengali name, born in a small town of Faridabad, living in Mumbai.
What’s my caste? I don’t know. My mother supported me when I decided to drop my last name. That’s all I know.