Sunday, July 8, 2012

Caste, religion and all that blah

I have been meaning to write this post since a very long time, again there was so much inside me that was waiting to get out. I have always been an anti-country, anti-religion and anti-caste. I am a human being, a woman and that is my identity in this universe. I don't even want to think I am an Indian, I belong to this globe, to this universe and it is as simple as that.

I was born into a Brahmin family (not out of my choice). I can't tell you how much I hated being born into a caste based family system. There were many things that rankled my mind when I was growing up. I never understood why my brother wore the holy thread, the mark of a brahmin. Was it to prove Brahminism? And why? There were rituals and poojas in the house and it all suffocated me after some point, especially today when I don't realise the point or sense in it. What do these religious events signify? When I was growing up, I was told to behave in a way of a Brahmin girl. Focus on traditions. So, I ask what are these traditions and why do we need them to live a life? Somehow, the child in me was always asking questions. As I was growing up, these questions became even more intense and I realised through my very own experiences that these things do not make any sense to me.

I was speaking to one of the brahmin priests (this was when my uncle passed away and the 13 day ritual was happening). I asked him the meaning of the rituals. He was appalled when I asked but was also happy and told me dad, see your daughter is asking questions, very good. I said, listen I want to know the significance of this. After I heard what I did, I completely lost it. Those were prayers to make sure my uncle went to swarglok and those prayers were meant to request people/animals in the path of his swarglok, ensuring my uncle reached only heaven. Now, tell me this, how do I know where I go, and how unless I die and experience it. We do these rituals in the name of religion, blindly, without understanding why and what. Some things in the past could be applicable in days of yore, but not now. This is what I tell my mother.

A simple example. I was at my friend's place in Bombay (she was a tamil brahmin). When I turned to touch the curd, her mother stopped me, don't touch it she said. I wondered why. It was then she told, you should touch water and then touch the curd. I understood. In those days, perishable and non perishable were kept seperately and just so that it does not get spoiled, people washed their hand and then touched the curd. Today, we have fridge, for God's sake and I still find Tam Brahms following these norms. Does that make sense?

When I probed further with spiritual gurus, I found out the concept of primary and secondary religion. Most of people do the secondary religion thing. Let me tell you the difference. Both are two ways to reach God. I think it is okay even if you don't believe in God. People who use the secondary method approach God through the thousand rituals, to appease the form God and make sure their sins are absolved. For the former, they believe in formless God and they just are spiritual people. Maybe they just believe in the supreme form and nothing else.

Dip in the ganges, rituals after rituals, going to various temples, all these are more like done to please God. I don't believe in it but yet I was forced and still forced to be a part of these pujas and rituals. Now, that I know the belief systems I possess, it is impossible for me to accept or abide by it. So, I refrain from it. I do not want to do something without understanding the purpose behind it or due to some obsolete culture or tradition.

I never liked the bindi wearing thing, or sitting and chanting some mantra because I had to. The very thing about all these things were something I could not relate to.

When people ask me about marriage and all, I say, I do not want a Brahmin guy for I do not want to be sucked into these religious things. I would rather be forced into this without a choice if I marry someone from the caste. I am an anti caste, anti religion and I am very very happy about it.

I remember once I had gone to my mother's cousin's house. He was a doctor. When the topic of marriage broached with great intent, I was spontaneous enough to tell that I chose not to marry someone from my caste. He was aghast. You will pollute our genes if you marry an outcaste. I was angered and I did not quit. I was like, how do you think caste system evolved? Basic fact-divison of labour and all this talk of Brahmin comes from head and shudras come from the feet is utter rubbish. Some sick Brahmins from the past who had all the administrative capabilities did this to have an upper hand. Nothing else. You say brahmins are more pure and educated, and what sense. If dalits or anyone else were given the opportunity to have education when brahmins did study, they would have also done well. So, the first thing, denial of basic right. So, we only controlled them, to have an upper hand and we did that by supressing them. What blood line, lineage are we talking about? I had a very healthy argument and then uncle gave up.

I once was talking to a monk who spent most of his time meditating in the Himalayas and he told me the meaning of true brahmin. It means anyone who is a pure soul. Now, tell me does a soul have caste or religion or nationality? No. Does your blood have caste, religion? No. There are only 4 blood groups, be it Indian, American, African or anyone. So, where is this caste thing?

Even the system of arranged marriage- Brahmin, Iyer, again Palakkad iyer, tamil iyer, subdivided into tanjavur, tirunelveli, and what not. Gothram, star and then horroscope, now where will you find a man? Honestly, I am a proponent of intercaste marriages. It opens you up to looking at people for being human, beyond caste, community and other things. And just imagine, you see a person for his qualities and not for which caste he belongs to, you are creating a new thought process. Also, I do not understand, how parents bring this casteism into their children. He is the maid's boy, don't play with him. Now, how will a child know that unless he or she is told about it, right? It is we who seed caste discrimination into the young hearts and we pollute their minds. It is a disgusting thought indeed. I totally agree with Richard Dawkins when he says that when a child is born, we should let them choose their religion, when they are born. Why thrust out religious responsibilities on them? They can choose to be a Buddhist, Hindu or even an atheist.

I see my niece- she cant leave the house without a bindi, my brother would hate it. He has given up on me long back because I turned deaf ears to something I do not believe in. I would do that, not occasion demanding, but me wanting it. I will never do something I am not comfortable for the sake of religious matters.

I have taught my maid's daughter back in Mumbai, gone to their house, but I never became "polluted" because they belong to a lower caste. I even hate that word lower caste. Thankfully, my grand parents, though not educated were much forward in those days. They used to feed the dhobis who came home. In their village in kerala, they had muslim neighbours who used to come to their house and jokingly ask if they wanted fish. Grandpa was always a neat man, with white clean dhoti, religiously praying, and at the same time, a man whose heart was open with no indifference for people from other caste. That seeped into my mother. She thinks brahmin is the worst community. She keeps telling me that. I agree with her. Now, let me say, its not about being brahmin or being dalit. Brahmins should not talk about their superiority or dalits should not feel and express that they are of lower caste. By saying that, they only put themselves down. So chuck all this, lets be humans and do what we want.

So, I say, stop this brahmin talk, this superiority mentality and look at individuals for who they are. I also do not believe that blood is thicker than water. Exposed to traveling international, every individual has helped me to cross a hurdle, and these do not belong to my "bloodline". They are humans with values. Period.

Also, Meena Kandasamy has written a poem on becoming a brahmin. She is a poet, and she calls herself a Dalit. Well, I do not think you got to be a brahmin hater to be a good dalit.

There was an interesting discussion in satyamev jayate today and it was really good. Check it out.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Post for my friend's blog

Hi everyone. First off, my apologies for having disappeared completely. Some personal issues to get sorted out and such-like. Also, this project that began with K's post in the last month, continues with another dear friend Sharada pitching in.

I met Sharada while on assignment at TOI. She was with Outlook at the time. We've been friends ever since. She has also written for anthologies and is a follower of this blog and a well-wisher. Another strong woman who I love and admire is talking about being a girl / woman at home where the men are more vocal with their opinions about the fairer sex.

Growing up in a vibrant city like Mumbai, my future seemed bleak. Well, I did not think that way. It was more a thinking that came from men and society. "Oh, she can’t be an IIT engineer, she is always out playing with the boys and kids, she scores zilch in Maths and science", and then I was a tagged "loser" in my early teens. I was never a typical girl with oiled, long and plaited hair; coy and worried about how a "girl" should be. As a child, I grew up playing football, climbing trees, stealing mangoes, cycling out with the boys, with no worries about the future. Well, I still would, I don’t doubt it.

Even though we lived in a city like Bombay, the men in my family and my extended family had loads of reservations about my dressing, why l did not have a pottu on my forehead, why I never wore saree for occasions, why I never learned carnatic music, why I wore even two inch heels or coloured my lips, and the list was actually endless. Did I do all this for a reason? No. The intention was never to attract men or to go against the family. It was just for me. As simple as that. And why would anyone care? It is my face, my body.

As a boy, my brother did not have to go through any of this. No one would question him why he wore pants or jeans for a family function and not a veshti, why there were no ash marks on his forehead, or if he knew how to cook. We talk about gender inequality in society, but everything begins at home. It is a fact.

My brother was allowed to take his bike and go out late at nights, spend nights with his friends, bring them home, go on a travel vacation without having to worry about hearing a ‘no’ from my dad. The case with me was different. Even on days when I was working for an NGO, coming home at 9.30 invited chaos. I was never allowed to watch MTV or Channel V like my classmates from my posh South Mumbai college. During those times, I used to sit alone in a room, listening to old English classics on FM Rainbow. I was not allowed to dream, to choose my career, but my brother could do all that. I had to break this shackle - being a woman and still choosing my independence and way of life.

Tag me a tomboy, tag me a brash girl, or someone who does not follow traditions, it does not matter to me. Honestly. When the point came to choosing my education, my brother rather ruthlessly dragged me into commerce when my mind dreamed of doing literature and economics and pursuing journalism. Writing was my biggest emotional outlet and it gave me a sense of freedom. Enough was enough. I took a decision to break this indiscriminate inequality right at home.

Think about this. There are two people at home and one is given all the freedom because he is a man and one is stripped of even basic freedom because she is a woman and she is to be married someday. So the girl, in essence, learns Palakkad Iyer cooking, maintains long hair, doesn’t raise her voice, gets up early in the morning, cleans and mops the house, does not mingle with the boys and take a career that is ‘safe’ for women.

When I wanted to make a career in fashion designing or hospitality industry, I was not allowed to give entrance exam because these careers were apparently not good for women. So, I ask what is a good career for a man? And you will hear - "a man can do anything". If a man can, then why not a woman? I hate being typecast into something because I am a woman.

I did become a journalist. I remember the days when I used to come home late in the night after working for a newspaper. My father would be scoffing at me every morning for getting up late and how I would carry off a marital life, if I was like this.

The essence of the thing is control-over the clothes you wear, over not being allowed to go out with boys and party, late night movies, job, everything needed a nod from the men in the family. So who am I in the world, in this godforsaken society and what is my real identity? It was after I ventured out, listening to my heart, that I realised that it was something I had to create from within, and it was something I would live with.

Years have passed, times have changed, people have changed and so has society, and I have evolved from a tom boy to a woman who loves draping sarees, celebrating festivals, cooking and all the other things that women are ‘expected’ to do. The difference is - I am doing this because I love and enjoy it.

It is for ME, not to please anyone. It is not to show off culture, or to prove that I am ‘God fearing’ (as portrayed by matrimonial profiles), or to prove a point that, “Hey, look, I have challenged you and proved to be successful.” Nothing of that sort. I am not here to prove a point. I am not here to argue that I made it.

The feeling of being yourself, making your own decisions despite a hundred odds makes you stand up for yourself. It is as simple as that. After a successful career and moving across cities, I cherished the independence of meeting new people, getting up when I wanted to, keeping my home messy at times, cook for myself, go on a long walk to the beach at night, without having to worry about who will be waiting at home to churn my mind. I breathe freedom. It has elevated me in many ways.

I can take care of myself, without having to counsel my family on every little thing, I am super confident about all the decisions I make, and I have no regrets. If I was the one who would succumb to family pressures of being a homely woman, I would not have reached this far. When you ask a man, why you draw these lines for women about time factor, dressing, going out, you are most likely to hear this - "we care for you", or "we are scared something might happen to you".

Concern is fine, but in the name of ‘we care for you’, you are only imposing and not allowing us to explore the world on our own. We all have our own judgements about people and surroundings. As women, we also know how to take care of ourselves, only if you give us a chance to let that experience enter our life, rather than saying - "don’t talk to this boy, he will dump you, don’t take this as career, you can’t do it, don’t go out at night, something will happen". How long are the women going to be in this cobweb of not choosing to feel and live her life in the name of security, safety, care and protection? Give me a break!

Be it a man or a woman, let’s face it, we make choices for ourselves, not for the family and not for society. As I always like to say individuality is much more important and essential than just bending down to rules of men and society. And to recognise and realise this individuality mandates independent thinking, which can only come when you make decisions, not someone else choosing for you, be it life partner, career or even your way of living!