THE CA­SUAL CRUELTIES OF UP­PER­CASTE INDIA

Hindustan Times ST (Mumbai) - - FRONT PAGE - RENUKA NARAYANAN

Dear HT readers, ours has been a long di­a­logue sort­ing our im­mense cul­tural and spir­i­tual bag­gage to­gether, con­sid­er­ing, as we go along, the bits we can hon­ourably keep and what we must ab­so­lutely throw out.

This week, I en­coun­tered a few in­stances of ‘throw-away’ be­hav­iour and, as al­ways, I would like to know what you think.

I was in­vited to the birth­day party of a friend’s son. Theirs is a very tra­di­tional clan. At the cru­cial mo­ment of cake-cut­ting, the fa­ther and grand­fa­ther were called up to flank the birth­day boy. The mother, who had given birth to him, brought him up, woke up early in the morn­ing to sin­gle­hand­edly do all the cook­ing, and had or­gan­ised the party and the gi­gan­tic cake, stayed qui­etly in the back­ground with other daugh­ters-in-law of the ex­tended fam­ily.

“Why aren’t you there?” I whis­pered to her, sur­prised. “My son be­longs to them, not me,” she whis­pered back. Another daugh­ter-in-law spoke up. “We show re­spect to our el­ders this way. Isn’t it bet­ter than those fam­i­lies that don’t care for grand­par­ents?”

“I don’t know fam­i­lies like that,” I whis­pered back.

“One reads about them,” she said. “Re­spect only to grand­fa­thers, not moth­ers,” re­mained un­said.

I was a guest. They were kind, sweet women and their men­folk un­fail­ingly po­lite to me, the ‘mod­ern’ woman and out­sider I loved my friend the mother very place to say more. But it both­ered me that only two ex­tremes were con­sid­ered pos­si­ble.

This was a hard­core North In­dian Brah­min fam­ily. Another time, when trav­el­ling with a proudly ‘no onion, no gar­lic’ Ba­nia house­wife to a tra­di­tional func­tion, she be­gan to speak dis­parag­ingly about vis­it­ing Kanyaku­mari and how South In­di­ans stuffed rice into their mouths.

I was sit­ting next to her and laugh­ingly protested, “Ex­cuse me, I’m South In­dian”. She felt a bit awk­ward but in­stead of a po­lite cover-up or back­track, re­sponded ag­gres­sively, ‘It’s my habit to say what I think”.

My dis­taste for such low-level so­cial con­fronta­tions kept me chat­ting faux nor­mally, es­pe­cially since we were in some­one else’s car. I did fan­ta­sise, though, about get­ting out of the ve­hi­cle then and there, even if it meant gal­lop­ing back to Delhi on a buf­falo.

Worse was to fol­low at the func­tion. As the large clan of daugh­ters-in-law gath­ered to await a cer­e­mo­nial ar­rival, an el­der aunt of the fam­ily loudly said, “Those in saris look cor­rectly dressed. Those in

look like maids.” I hap­pened to be in a sari but a cou­ple of daugh­ters-in-law and a very smart, nice maid of the host fam­ily were in sal­war-kameez. Ev­ery­body heard her; she clearly in­tended to be heard. All kept quiet. More re­spect for dis­re­spect­ful el­ders?

I dare­say other com­mu­ni­ties in India don’t lag in such ca­sual cruelties, since we’re all cut from the same cloth. In my view, it’s anti-na­tional be­hav­iour. It’s time the en­light­ened younger gen­er­a­tion spoke up po­litely but firmly against such talk, as in pre­vi­ous waves of Hindu so­cial re­form. And can’t re­li­gious chan­nels preach some ev­ery­day re­spect in­stead of only fur­ther­ing sec­tar­ian agen­das?

IM­AGE: ISTOCK

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