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Are You Aiding In The Formation Of Caste Stereotypes?

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As I stood there waiting for my bus, a young boy in his early teens walked towards the bus stop. He was a scrawny built fellow with a barely-there mustache. Printed on his T-shirt were the following letters in bold “GARV SE BOLO ‘Y‘ HAI”. (Proudly say that you belong to the caste Y). I have used variables like X and Y to represent castes as the exact names are not relevant for the purpose of this article. You can fill in anyone you like.

I was quite amused by seeing this. As a person with no last name, I have had the experience of dealing with people who come up with innovative ways to politely figure out what my caste is. Last names are useful in that way as they can give a ballpark estimate of the same. It’s not very unusual for people to inquire about one’s caste in India. We have a caste-based reservation system in place for jobs and admissions in educational institutions, so people are more or less used to such inquiries & usually don’t take offense, but it can get awkward at times. A T-shirt like that could really come in handy in avoiding such awkward conversations. “These young kids have it all figured out don’t they?” I thought to myself, “maybe I should get one too.”

My train of thoughts was interrupted by loud gunshot-like noises that came from a modified exhaust of a Royal Enfield motorcycle. The biker came to a screeching halt at the bus stop, spit out the Gutka he was chewing and then took out his phone to answer it. He talked rather loudly in an uncivil tone and had a certain expletive as a pet phrase that he used in every other sentence.

Pointing to the bike’s license plate, an elderly man standing nearby said: “Ye saare ‘X’ aise hi hote hai” (All these Xs are the same). The biker had installed an additional plate above the license plate that said ‘X’ and had a picture of 2 crossed swords. I was taken aback with his comment, as incidentally, I belong to the same caste X  but I was nothing like the biker. It then struck me that these caste-based merchandises are no laughing matter as I had earlier thought them to be and could lead to false or negative stereotyping of the entire community.

Say ‘Xs’ have had a glorious past and I feel proud to be a part of it. If I put on a t-shirt that says ‘X’ and go around the town behaving in an unruly manner, can I then blame the people for painting all Xs with the same brush?

My bus arrived and I took a seat. I decided to take shake off uncle’s comment and opened YouTube to ease my mind. In the trending section of app number 3 was a Jatt rap called Jatt da muqabla. It was not the first time I had seen a Punjabi/ Jatt rap trend, they are usually up there among the top trends along with comedy/ gags and romantic statuses for WhatsApp. However, the episode at the bus stop made me pay special attention to it.

The video thumbnail presented the rapper pointing a gun and the second ‘T’ of the word JATT was also made out to look like a gun. The video had all the ingredients of a typical rap video from Learjets to low riders, and from exotic cars to girls who are there strictly for ornamental purposes.

There have been many prominent Jatt personalities whose contribution to the country has been immense. Listing their achievements would require a separate article of its own and is beyond the scope of this one. However, which image do you think is more likely to pop up into the minds of people, especially young ones, when they think of Jatts; the historical greats or the gun brandishing rapper with 12 Million views? It doesn’t take a genius to figure that out.

I didn’t use a variable for Jatts like in the case of caste X or Y as the rap video can be easily looked up and its contents can be verified, whereas the incident with the teenage boy and the biker were personal observations.

For better or for worse, the caste system has been a part of Indian society since time immemorial. But the urban life and the ‘woke’ conversations with friends and on the social media had led me to believe that perhaps caste is not that relevant for the educated and independent youth of today as it may have been a generation earlier. I was wrong and the rise in the popularity of caste-based merchandise (T-shirts, Decals for vehicles, etc.) provides evidence for it. An article that I found online says that the most popular t-shirt among the youth is the one that depicts caste and 20-25 t-shirts are sold every day in Shamli (A city in Uttar Pradesh) alone.

I must make it clear over here that I, by no means am making a case for censorship – moral or otherwise. People should have complete freedom to decide what they want to say, wear, eat, etc. The boy, the biker and the rapper, all have their right to freedom of expression and they chose to exercise it in a way they thought was appropriate. I too have the same freedom of expression and in my opinion, when one decides to sport such merchandise they must do so with a responsibility. It’s like wearing a uniform that makes you a representative of the entire community and people are going to judge all the others based on your actions and how you carry yourself. I believe that greatness cannot be inherited by the virtue of birth alone, and we are what we make of ourselves. Instead of hogging on the achievement of others and demanding respect for it, why not achieve something on your own?

As I reached my destination, the silly idea of wearing a caste t-shirt that I had at the bus stop was no more amusing to me. Let people ask me directly if they’re interested or find other ways to do so. I will wear a t-shirt like that only if I feel I am worthy of it, until then the best that I can do for my fellow ‘Xs’ is not sport such merchandise thus not contributing in the creation of negative stereotypes. Vowing to do so I de-boarded the bus, thus concluding what turned out to be a rather enlightening bus ride for me.

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