Caste no bar

Has everyone heard about the Indian government’s new plan to help erase the scourge that is the ages-old caste system? If I may offer my humble opinion…I think it is sheer brilliance. Check it:

THE Indian Government is offering 50,000 rupees (£580) to higher-caste people who marry spouses from the lowest castes in its latest controversial effort to dismantle the ancient Hindu social hierarchy…

The proposed bonus is a small fortune in a country where average annual income per capita is £280, and where official corruption is rampant. [Link]

This new incentive is making me consider taking a trip to India to find my bride. Let’s face reality. I have a lot of factors working against my search for a bride/girlfriend here in the U.S., and frankly, they are making my life miserable.

  1. I am not getting any younger
  2. I have a mountain of debt from my undergraduate years
  3. My parents insist “it is time”
  4. I blog

I do have one HUGE advantage working for me however. I am Brahmin. Why not use it? I am sure there are quite a few lower-caste girls with “good features” that will do just fine. If it helps pay down my college debt then I am not going to complain about it one bit. Besides, I hear that lower-caste girls aren’t nearly as uppity and are FAR more reasonable. Just listen:

Meira Kumar, the Social Justice Minister, who is from a lower caste, defended the plan yesterday before meeting officials from the 28 Indian states to persuade them to approve it.

“Yes, I know this is not the only way to end the caste discrimination, but one has to start somewhere,” she said. “All proposals have initial hiccups. That does not mean that we give them up.” Ever since independence in 1947, Indian governments have tried in vain to break down the complex caste system, which divides society into hereditary hierarchical groups. [Link]

There is one additional advantage that I possess which makes this plan especially appealing to me. I’m Guju:

But the amount differs from state to state – in Gujarat a couple gets the full $1,100 (50,000 rupees) – whereas in West Bengal state the amount is $45. [Link]

Ha Ha! Sucks to be an upper-caste West Bengali.

118 thoughts on “Caste no bar

  1. Sophie:

    It is impossible to generalize the role caste plays in the mindset of a desi person, irrespective of whether they were born in India or not. There are highly educated people who still succumb (sp?) to the segregation of the caste system. Likewise, there are many who realize it is antiquated and irrelevant in the modern world. I would also like to point out, and I’m sure many readers know more about this subject than I, that caste is not necessarily a product of any original Hindu philosophy. Rather, it developed over a long period of time due to societal stigmas and pressures.

    The point I am trying to make is that you should ask your boyfriend in direct terms about his feelings with respect to caste, tradition, religion, etc. If he his very conservative in his views, then there might be some troubles ahead. At the same time, don’t let the fact that he grew up in India cloud your judgment. There are plenty of people from the motherland who view the caste system as it, in my humble opinion, should be viewed (as something antiquated and damaging to the society as a whole). I think a frank talk with your boyfriend should happen sooner rather than later.

  2. sophie, you have very good reasons to be uneasy. “fetishistic about skin tone and ancestry” – the guy sounds like an insecure pighead. sorry for this, but woman, its gonna be a tough ride.

  3. I think my new boyfriend could be something of a racist. Not anything like the crazy ones..but in a subtle way, or maybe there is something in the culture I dont understand yet.

    Sophie: I think you understand the culture perfectly well. Go with your instincts. You seem like the type of person who sees intuitively, what it takes others a lifetime to realize.

  4. Yes, skin tone is something he mentions often, like I think Ive heard about my skin tone 1000x. Im very pale, too pale, I dont like it, he loves it, and is always mentioning it.

    This is the type of indian man, we will gladly let you have.

  5. DJ DP How can anyone not get the three billy goat gruff reference? I thought it was quite clever. I fondly remember that story as the first play i ever acted in. I was 5 and in kindergarten. I crawled in my hands and knees and played a goat.

    Thanks, Taz. I also thought the reference was deserving of a gold-star-on-the-forehead (along with your breakout performance as a bakri) but alas, it seems that South Asians sadly grow up without any knowledge of goats. @=)

  6. The four varnas (sometimes translated as “castes”) are mentioned in the Gita wherein Bhagavan Sri Krishna declares that he is the creator of these four divisions of human labour and then the gunas (qualities) of each are listed systematically. However, it more or less ends there. Krishna does declare that the varnas arise from guna and karma (qualities and actions), no mention of janma (birth), but the argument is that certain gunas and karmas will be inherent in certain births and that is why that soul took birth in such a family.

    Elsewhere in the Gita Krishna says that from “varna-sankara” or “mixing of varnas”, degradation of society ensues. However, what exactly is meant by “varna-sankara” is not easily determined and various Gita commentators have slightly differing views.

    It’s interesting to note here though that in Sanskrit “varna” also means “color”.

    My understanding is that gotra is family lineage and varna is one’s occupation. It seems that somewhere along the way, the two got merged.

    Where does jati play into this? Is jati one’s varna or one’s family lineage?

  7. Where does jati play into this? Is jati one’s varna or one’s family lineage?

    I second that question. I’ve never understood the distinctions here.

  8. 1) The fourfold varna system has always been an ideal, and in reality never existed in large parts of India. For example, in South India, the Ksatriya and Vaishya is practically absent, though in modern times, some communities have claimed membership in both varnas. Some commentators believe varna can only be based on birth, and other claim that its based on qualities. The ancient literaure has examples of both types of arguments. In modern times, the push has been to make varna based on qualities, though sections of the orthodox are committed to the birth-based view (eg. Shankaracharyas). The government of India is siding with the quality view. Eg, it opened up the priesthood to non-Brahmins in a 2002 Supreme Court ruling.

    2) Jatis are birth-based endogamous communities, eg. Punjabi Khatris, Jat Sikhs, Tamil Iyengars. Jatis exited before varna, and are not static. New jatis come into being all the time, and they rise and fall in the social hierarchy, which is based on locality.

    3) Having a low ritual staus (varna) does not mean you have a low social status. Eg., Bengali Kayasthas are categorized by the orthodox as Shudras, but they are part of the “bhadralok.”

  9. madhurima,

    I was refering to the custom of murdering youth who rebelled against the caste divide.

    When did that happen??.. and in what scale?. I know even now we hear about such incidents in rural areas in newspapers.. But is it Ok to generalise based on a few incidents??..

    For example, my family has a history of inter-caste marriages, I myself and my brothers have married outside caste and religion. And we are alive ( … :-) ) and have never experienced any harassment from anyone in India… And a considerable number of my collegemates married outside caste though I would like a further higher percentage…

    Also, I belong to a “low caste” and brown skinned..

  10. Yes, I’d also like to know to what extent such murders are taking place. Inter-caste marriage is common in India. Maybe it’s not the majority or even half of the marriages, but it is a big enough percentage to be considered common.

    I’ve heard of people being cut-off from family inheritances for this, but I’ve never heard of any murders or such extreme measures.

  11. What about the dissolution of culture?

    Many people take cultural pride in their family lineages (gotras) and family occupations that were passed down through the milleniums. By obliterating that, culture and customs associated with those gotras or varnas may also be obliterated.

    I am against caste-based discrimination, and against the sometimes big deal that is made out of inter-caste marriages, but what is wrong if one takes pride in one’s family culture and continues the (positive) customs?

  12. Sophie,

    I can’t think of one relationship I have where me and the other person meet eye to eye on all ideological issues.

    You have to determine the extent of your differing viewpoints and if they are so great as to effect the emotions between you.

    Sounds to me that he is a person who prefers light skin to dark. You are light skinned, so that works in your favor.

    Try being in a position where he prefers your opposite skin tone but is with you as a “concession”. That is a million times worse.

    Caste is a division of society in India. Every society has it’s divisions. I dare say that every human has her/his prejudices, whether they are vocal about them or not, or consciously aware of them or not.

    Again you have to determine if these things are so important as to warrant a break up of an otherwise very loving union.

    I’m in the same position myself but by the sound of it, my situation is much worse than yours, since I am not the coveted skin tone or race. I’m the “concession”.

  13. When the rest of the world is realizing the excesses and injustices of the caste system, would you believe that ISKCON (the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, otherwise known as “hare krishnas”) has a branch that is working to implement it within the western world, amongst those not born into the hindu fold???

    Several of the organization’s websites detail this.

  14. I just happened to find myself here. I too am dating a Bramin man, (and I’m a white whitey white Girl). He isn’t hung up on color, but does get hung up on guilt. Because of guilt, he has to keep me a TOTAL secret. I understand that he respects his parents and doesn’t want to hurt his ENTIRE family with this love, but what of our future?

    I love him, he loves me and we want a future, but I fear he feels like he has to bear all of this responsability to his “culture” even if he is an AMERICAN now. He still is the only son. I don’t envy him his “proper genitals” if it means he isn’t supposed to love the person he loves.

  15. I just happened to find myself here. I too am dating a Bramin man, (and I’m a white whitey white Girl). He isn’t hung up on color, but does get hung up on guilt. Because of guilt, he has to keep me a TOTAL secret. I understand that he respects his parents and doesn’t want to hurt his ENTIRE family with this love, but what of our future? I love him, he loves me and we want a future, but I fear he feels like he has to bear all of this responsability to his “culture” even if he is an AMERICAN now. He still is the only son. I don’t envy him his “proper genitals” if it means he isn’t supposed to love the person he loves.

    Chaos -

    Been there, done that, got the salwar/kameez.

    It will not work.

    Insist that he introduce you to his family NOW. If they are not in the same country where you two are, insist to speak to them on the phone. If he refuses, save yourself a future heartbreak and move on.

  16. Its a shame that some one has to offer money for marrying lower caste girl. It could have already been practiced by many Indians with their own interest by now. In a country where people have more superstitions and beliefs in swamijis, gurujis etc, I doubt this will work. There is still a stigma associated with those born to intercastes particularly if one of the parents are upper caste. This experiment might not work immediately but could make some difference in far future.

  17. Are whites respected? I dont know, I’m not so sure actually. I spent a year in India, Some people respected me, but I was also called a Lal Bandar alot in the North (people assumed I didn’t understand any Hindi). Of course there are lots of people in India, and they have a range of views. Many Indians like other cultures, and intermarriage is also possible nowadays I agree. But some also don’t respect us and commonly use words like Lal Bandar for whites, and for other types of mlecchas they use Chinky and so on. In India being called a Lal Bandar was almost normal for someone like me-it was so common I almost thought it was my name! I got used to it but I could see that a lot of people are corroded by jealosy & envy in North India (not very good for their blood pressure or stomach acidity I suppose). I’m a vegetarian teatoataller and a Yoga teacher, but anyway, I’m also a Lal Bandar. What caste is a Lal Bandar like me supposed to be? Any ideas?