Is Indian Diaspora out of caste

 

The Nihang Sikhs mutilated Lakhbir Singh at the Singhu border. Perhaps, the Indian media was too busy blaming farmers’ agitation as anti-national; they forgot to mention the caste killing but made headlines of anarchy in the state. Meanwhile, I discussed the case with my friend via an Instagram chat and the caste factor that killed the Dalit Sikh, I received a WhatsApp text at 11:00 PM. My new Indian friend Shri who lives on the next street to Campus Irena lost her keys and didn’t have a place to stay. Palpably, she was in front of my door but wasn’t sure. I opened the door and found a person stressed and smirking. As soon as she entered, she gave me a polite hug. I could imagine she was in distress. She described her situation, and I asked her to relax and make herself comfortable. I told her Leuven got a few key makers and she could get the job done by Friday, and I would help her if she wanted me to do so. She sat on the couch, and I offered her a cup of coffee. 

My roommate Anurag wasn’t comfortable with a girl coming to our room, not just because he is an introvert but he generally doesn’t like anyone to enter his personal space.  He didn’t make things worse, if any better. Our big room had two beds, one small kitchen, a common washroom, and one small couch and chair. There is a big wooden slab beside the window to sit and study, and there you could see my unmanaged readings, books, empty wine glasses and a blue lamp that strengthen me with the blue colour and light. 

Fortunately, we got two beds, and one is a double bed mattress where she could sleep at night. They introduced themselves to each other, and I was happy they bonded so fast until they asked each other if they were Brahmins. It’s been five years since I dropped my last name because it ascribes an identity of caste that I never sought, and how people recognise each other’s caste just by their family name is not a surprise. I spent more than twenty years in the caste society of India. Axiomatically, once the caste identities are started as a course of the discussion, we all had to introduce ourselves.[1] 

Instead of a follow-up to Shri’s question, I served them the coffee, and I asked her if she eats chicken, and I got a reply, “what do you think, does a brahmin eat chicken?” It was an obvious question not to be asked to an identifying brahmin in India, but I wasn’t sure if that would be the case in Belgium because Anurag loves chicken and fish. The dinner was served, and I had my chicken rice, and both of them had rice and curd with some Pickle. Anurag comes from a well-off family, and so does Shri; they both are from the Middle part of India, Mumbai and Goa. Her family roots are from Mangalore, but they shifted to Goa and Harish identified as migrated Tamilian, thus, his last three generations lived in Mumbai. They have lived all their lives at home for more than twenty years, and my experience is distinct from theirs. I was born in Kanpur and then moved to Haryana, and due to my involvement in Badminton, I had to keep moving from Haryana to Delhi, Delhi to Karnataka etc. Moreover, I had to go to Manipal for my college, a small globalised town in Karnataka. 

We all were enjoying our meal, and I was eating with my left hand, they both were eating with their right hand, and there she mentioned, “by the way, you are not a brahmin right?” and I wonder, I didn’t follow-up her question but she realised my varna. Though, I realised she saw my eating manners. It is a typical Hindu tradition to eat with the right hand. With my prior experiences in India, I remember, Brahminised people strictly follow it. She asked my last name, and I told her my caste and varna as well. She had a very expected reaction as we share with any other identity in a civilised society; there was no discomfort. We continued eating and shared our nostalgia for school life. I had a pretty repressive and adventurous school life; therefore, I didn’t prefer to share much, neither they did. However, when Anurag mentioned his experience sharing the same classes with the kids of Bollywood actors, that made Shri excited. After all, he studied in an international school in Mumbai, and it was apparent to share courses with celebrities’ kids. 

We all had our meal and started discussing family and expectations they had from us when they sent us abroad for studies. We all were in our early twenties, and it is not so common for parents in India to send their children abroad; it comes with an amount of privilege that the child and the family share. [2] Shri mentioned her sister; she is living with her Dutch boyfriend in the Netherlands. She explained how heart-wrenching it was for her parents when she left India and the promises, she ought to make not to make a boyfriend from different ethnicity. She calls her sister boyfriend “Jiju“, which means sister’s husband. She is hopeful that they will get married by next year. 

However, she was also concerned that her “Jiju” couldn’t get along with her family. Shri’s family felt betrayed when her sister opened up about a live-in relationship, but eventually, they were fine. She said her family is progressive and doesn’t care much what relatives say about her sister but deep down, they aren’t happy. Her mother often mentions how her sister never thought about the family before moving in with the Dutch guy. Her mother told her expectation how she wanted both her sisters to get married within the community, nevertheless, it doesn’t end with the same varna but with a Havyaka Brahmin which is their sub-identity in particular varna. After that, she mentioned that she is Havyaka Brahmin and asked him for his sub identity. Anurag said, since his first generation came to Mumbai, they aren’t using the varna name. It is Iyer who are Palakkad Brahmins or Tamil Brahmins last name. 

It was past two hours midnight, and we were still engaged in our conversations. I didn’t want them to stop as well, not just because I was getting notes for my mini-project. But, it was an open conversation that was new for me to understand the intersectionalities of the gender and caste performed via endogamy and subjectivity of those who perform it. Shri’s subjectivity generates an agency for her by making a promise to her mother; it got her a pass to study abroad. All such factors were relatively new for me to hear through a real-life experience.[3]  

We ended our discussion on the mass detention camps in India made by Narendra Modi’s government for Muslims who can’t show papers as per the new CAA and NRC law. They mentioned how India is heading towards a fascist state and just a minute after, I received another notification ” Sanitation worker Arun Valmiki died in UP police custody.” and in my mind, I couldn’t disagree with them anymore. 


[1] However, before I did that, I made sure that I was making notes of this discussion. I mentioned that I would be doing a tiny observation for my project, and both my friends Shri and Harish were okay with that.

[2] “I want you to know that receiving scholarships by organisations or institutions by meritocracy has a cultural and social privilege factor which is usually overlooked. None of us in that room had received scholarships. Therefore, a financial and social privilege led us to KU Leuven to sustain in Belgium for the upcoming year.”  

[3] “I am not claiming such kind of subjectivity is as oppressive as the caste subjectivity of Varna system, the model of agency hierarchy is comparatively perplexed in the intersection of caste and gender than gender and caste; therefore, this text does not make any claim that equates the caste struggle of a Dalit individual to gender struggle of a Brahmin cis-heteronormative girl,”