This post is dedicated to a Facebook friend who, when I asked her her caste, replied: “Now, now, now! In any case, with the brouhaha surrounding the census, what’s the proper form these days? Mention of caste in or out?”
I woke up to this headline in The Indian Express today. My reaction was to wonder what many others’ reaction would have been? Those who argue that reservation and ‘caste census’ and such measures serve to solidify caste identities rather than weaken them – I wonder what they would make of this headline?
The article reads:
As the packed house brought the roof down, Poonia shouted over the din to tell a reporter that that she was happy that all winners were from India. “And all from Jat families,” she added.
I wonder what some of the Express columnists, who have passionately argued against reservations for OBCs and counting OBCs in the census, made of the headline? Did they cringe? Did they not notice anything problematic with it? Did they feel happy that the Jat community’s contributions are being hailed in a national integration sort of way? Did they think the paper should have exercised some self-censorship? Did the paper make them wonder about the co-incidence of Jats doing well in the Commonwealth games? Did it make them wonder that caste communities have some advantages, and some disadvantages? Did they wonder about the word they throw at you when you say caste, that m-word, “merit”?
(I also wondered if the Jat performance in the Commonwealth Games was anticipated by the community’s leaders who gave up their threat to besiege Delhi and prevent the games to press for their demand of being granted Other Backward Classes status.)
On the Indian Express website, I found I was right! The people-who-pretend-caste-does-not-exist are all there in the comments! I’m reproducing some here:
At 8:30 AM – first thing in the morning – a certain Dilip comments:
Why highlight caste?
Highlighting caste (“Jats”) in this story’s headline was unnecessary and reflects poorly on your newspaper’s journalistic and editorial standards. When we are hypersensitive to how foreign commentators and newspapers report on us but use societal stratifications and stereotypes, it smacks of immaturity and double standards.
This one from Ashok B: (And I wonder if B is for Brahmin?!)
Using Poonia’s ‘Jats pride’ exclamation in your headline was like reporting on CBSE results with the header “Brahmin boys take top 3 spots in school-leaving examination”. Would your readers stand for it?
As the sun rises, the comment writers get angrier. Ajit Singh says:
its good ,you informed us that all the three winners were indians,and all of the were JATS…..now please tell us which caste the other winners were..which ethnic groups did they belong….what language they speak…..which religion did the practise….lets do a thorough postmortem.why so less muslims….that means our CHAMARS are not doing well in sports…..today onwards please….please tell us the caste of every medal winner..a patient too should know the caste of his doctor….we should know the caste of the fighter pilot who bombs the enemy….well done indian express…well done indian media…..
Delta goes up a step to call it racism (oops! Does he know the Government of India denies ‘casteism’ is racism!)
What a racist. With people like this India will always be “developing”. And why does the paper glorify this?
Jayakrishnan brings in the nation:
CWG is an international game, and Indian athletics winning medals should be given a National sense of Pride. This piece from the outright has a tinge of anti-national sentiments. All Jats night?What is this?Are you saying that you are keeping your eyes open to see which Indian athletes belonging to which caste is being tracked? What next, All Malayalees Night? A tasteless piece of article reeking of caste sentiments. Absolutely poor piece of reporting.
Richa Singh jumps in to say it’s the Jatnis, not the Jats!
PROUD… Keep hoing jatnis… reading this news gave me a wonderful feeling……..proud and honoured…..all d best
One Mazhar comes in:
This is a pity that that natinal glory and big accomplishments of our medal winners has been reduced to castist head line. May I request atlest Indian express to keep itself away from this kind of jurnalism.
One Jat Ram replies the above:
I would request you to relook at the tally……more than 50% of medals won by India are actually won by Jats. When Media can malign Jats image for KHAP PANCHAYATs and call them TALIBAANI>…… then why not publish this story with clear names of JATS……… Jats have done wonderful job in CWG 2010. You need to accept it well.
It’s past ten and the Jats seemed to have arrived! Jaldeep Mangawa posts:
jat are the proud of india……………..jat rocks
One Lt Col Anand Pahal stops short of telling these nation-vs-caste types that the Indian Army has a Jat regiment:
It is incorrect to term this artical racist/ anti national. It indeed induce competition among castes. Their ( Poonia and Antil) caste feelings have motivated them to win medal for the country. I support this artical. Any caste doing well should be praised and motivated after all the medal is for the country and not for their caste… the players should be motivated.. The method of motivation is immaterial
Satya speaks the truth:
Can somebuddy tell me how many champions of eradication of Caste choose names of their children from other religions or social groups. Why a tamil doesn’t name his kid Mandip Singh; why a Bangali doesn’t name his kid Kumaraswami, why?Why a Hindu doesn’t choose the name Irfan Khan? Wht stops a person from letting his regional, or religious, or National identity be dissolved into a Universal Naught. When two strangers meet, the second thing they want to know is the place which other belongs to; why? Does this question divide the country? Dear sirs, wht is required is Harmony not eradication of identities. Who will contend that Marwaris are great traders, or that Gorkhas are a bit aggressive. In India, each caste has deeply assimilated particular sort of culture. Who doesn’t know abt Bishnoi (In Rajasthan) people’s love for Wild life or secular style of Jats? So, b cool..And Jat anyway is not a caste, its more of a life-style. [Italics mine.]
By now caste-vs.nation has become caste-for-the-nation. It’s nearly 4 pm. Kumar writes:
If caste affiliation can motivate people to do well for our country, then whats wrong in that. Jats take great pride in being hard working farmers, loyal soldiers of the country and able sportsmen. If they take pride in that, then why are other people crying on that? At the end of the day its the country which is benefited. If caste/regional/tribal affiliations can motivate people to do good things for our country, then its not a bad thing.
And Jat Ram’s reply to Mazhar above seems to have had some impact on Mazhar, who comes back with:
I have very high regards for the Jat community as such many of my good friends and classmates were coming from this caste. The way things are moving I am sure that these Indian girls and boys coming from such gens and healthy food/lifestyle background would make India proud with many more gold medals and going forward even in Olympics. My mind is open, keep rocking.
By 6 pm Sundeep Antil (any relation to Seema Antil, one of the Jat winners?) seems to have resolved and closed the debate, with a comment that seeks to make everyone sugar happy:
the line said by poonia that “All are from JAT families” is wrongly analysed this is not castist headline…she want to convey the message to all the indian peoples that when the girls from the jat community over whom there are so many social and community restriction can creat the history than why not the other community which are more resourceful and have less social restriction can won the medal for the country and make India proud…this is only motivational message to all indian in single line that lets make India proud..we all can do this..players always represent country not the caste. [Italics mine.]
These responses reveal how India obsessively debates caste with itself, how a small elite wants us to forget their own uper caste privileges and for that reason don’t want the c-word uttered. That does not mean they will stop living in, by, for caste society. We want to live caste without acknowledging it. We won’t concede that that amounts to hypocrisy, or that is an attempt at maintaining social status quo, that it is a conspiracy of silence. Like so much else about us – sexuality, corruption, deprivation – we want this Bollywood number to be our national song:
Lastly, to the Indian Express editors: thank you for this headline. By the way, I’m Khatri by caste.
Update, a day later: Rohit points out in the comments below that Mail Today has also taken note of the Jat performance at the Commonwealth Games.