“My parents have a problem with your caste so I can’t take things further… It’s only been a couple of months and it’s not like I am in love with you.”
I wish I could say I was shocked, but I wasn’t. When you are a Dalit, someone is always going to have a problem with your caste, be it at school, college, office, or even a social gathering. I’m always prepared for such eventualities.
To not seem blatantly casteist, he conveniently reduced the dating period to “a couple of months” and politely added that it’s not like he was in love with me enough to take a stand against his prejudiced parents. The irony is, he was the one always joking about “if we get married.” I knew how many kids he wanted and how he would raise them. I even knew his vasectomy plans!
But now that caste became an issue, he tried hard to maintain his liberal façade by diluting the situation and shifting the blame. Not only did he act like a complete jerk, he refused to believe that he was being casteist.
I have faced a lot of casteism in my 30 years, but there’s an element of surprise here – I’m talking about a 32-year-old well-educated man, who spent the last seven years in the US. And oh, we met through a dating app!
Caste, not compatibility, decides whom to date.
I come from one of the posh localities in south Delhi, so my caste is not obvious. I have a master’s degree from one of the best institutions in the country. I would like to believe I am kind, sophisticated, good looking and intelligent. But no matter what, I will not be treated as an equal. Adding insult to my injury, I also have to hear people say, “There is no casteism in urban India.”
Yet, casteism has chased me down all the way to even dating apps.
“My parents have a problem with you being left-handed”
Consider an alternate scenario: “My parents have a problem with you being left-handed. We’ve only been seeing each other for a couple of months and it’s not like I am in love with you to risk fighting with them over this.”
How is that for an excuse?
One does not have to be in love to know how insipid it is to validate such a prejudice by even thinking of basing a decision off it, let alone actually going ahead with it. A sane person would not pay heed to his parents’ opinion on a matter this whimsical. Then why are things different when it comes to caste?
“We had a fight and I had second thoughts”
It’s like this man was contending for the ‘most ludicrous excuses ever’ award. He went on to claim that we had one tiff (like all people getting to know each other do) and realised that I’m not worth arguing with his parents over. Even his excuses were asinine and casteist!
So what does one expect while dating a lower caste woman? That she should constantly walk on eggshells and agree with everything you say or do?
The moment even one problem arises, as it does for all couples, suddenly she’s not worth pursing because it’s too much of an effort, given she’s been rejected by their parents anyway. So let’s just date upper caste women instead and don our liberal façade saying, “If I ever fall in love with a lower caste girl, I will fight with my parents.” Though this man will never risk being in a position where he could fall in love with a lower caste woman.
How is this not casteism?
Rationally, any upper caste girl he meets at this point would have the exact same odds of making things work or have an equally uncertain future. Then why was I treated differently?
If this is not casteism, what is?
Only I decide my worth?
My worth was decided by a pseudo-liberal and obviously casteist family, which claims to be okay with an inter-caste marriage – as long as it is not with a Scheduled Caste. They judged me purely on my caste, having never even met me. It is your privilege if you can say that only you get to decide your worth. When I get judged for my caste, I am not only denigrated but also denied equal opportunities, irrespective of how highly I may think of myself. When such people become in-charge of recruitments and promotions, do you honestly think they would consider someone like me, regardless of how qualified or talented I may be?
I do not even have the same dating opportunities as you and you think I would be treated equally in other walks of life? Can you really tell someone like me that casteism does not exist in urban India?
Ignoring casteism means you are supporting it
If you have a last name that is obviously not a Scheduled Caste, you could have gone through life having never even known your caste, without anyone asking you what your caste is. This does not mean caste no longer matters, it just means that you have a last name which tells people you are not a lower caste, so nobody has to ask.
Just as men, too, are victims of patriarchy; we are all victims of casteism.
You may not get discriminated against, but having a higher caste prevents you from understanding your privilege or the profundity of your actions. You are conditioned to believe that only blatant, physically manifested forms of discrimination are casteism. That it is a ‘poor’ or ‘rural’ problem. This prevents you from taking a stand against the covert casteism that exists among rich urban Indians. You might think it is justified to let covert casteism guide your decisions because we all have to accept the norms of the society we live in.
When this 32-year-old man faced racism in the US, it was discrimination; but when he supported casteist values in India, he could say, “We have to live according to society. Not everyone can be a revolutionary.”
If you don’t stand up for a female colleague who faced sexism, are you not validating those sexist values?
These are not battles to be fought in the name of love; this is not a 1980s Bollywood flick. These are basic dialogues we ought to hold if we believe in equality. And when we don’t take a stand against such discrimination, we stand with it. It really is that simple. We don’t have to be revolutionaries; we just have to be human.
This casteist man eventually dug his own grave by asking if I would ever date a Muslim or a firang (foreigner). His justification was based on an (incorrect) assumption that I would discriminate against certain people too, so I should understand why it is okay for him to discriminate against me.
Reservation by upper caste?
There is an accepted form of reservation where upper caste parents reserve their children for each other. This is the kind of reservation that is actually oppressive. Yet, we have internalised it so well that when someone breaks up over caste we say, “Why would he go against his parents?” But what if the reason was equally whimsical – being left-handed or having brown eyes? Would you validate your parents’ prejudice then?
I was angered by this incident, not over the loss of some ignorant 32-year-old privileged man who still lets his narrow-minded parents dictate his choices, but over how to take things forward in life. Am I supposed to mention my caste on dating apps now? Am I supposed to tell men to bring their parents along on our first date so they can approve or reject me before I waste anymore of my time?
So while the ignorant upper caste man easily moves on without an iota of guilt, I am left dealing with the consequences of his actions. Every time I meet someone nice I wonder how long before even his parents have a problem with my caste. And of course, I am expected to excuse any future casteist behaviour if the man tells me, “It’s not like I am in love with you.”
This is what being a lower caste is – carrying someone else’s burden.
Go ahead, tell me once more how casteism doesn’t exist in urban India.
The writer is a Delhi-based former journalist who was rudely reminded that we’re run by caste hierarchies no matter where we are placed economically. Currently, she is studying the intersection between caste and policy decisions at a premiere institute in India.
Featured image credit: Pariplab Chakraborty