On The Pervasiveness Of Casteism In Our Campuses

“What? You’re a Brahmin?! Wow, I’m so glad to have made your acquaintance! You don’t know, I’ve been yearning to find a Brahmin friend for days here!” exclaimed my friend, as we conversed with our new classmates in the swanky campus cafeteria.

I was curious.

“Hey, technically, I’m a Brahmin too”, I quipped.

“Nah nah”, she said. “You are a bhrasht (corrupt) Brahmin.”

I was corrupt.

My new friend was referring to the fact that I chose to indulge in the occasional chicken tikka. To my alcohol-drinking new-age teenager friend, the fact that I chose to include meat in my diet plan was a greater sin against Brahminism than her equally independent choice to have a drink when she felt like it. Whilst I had never fathomed holding her choice to enjoy a drink against her so-called dharma, apparently, she had decided to hold my meat-eating against me. I did not wish to tell her that I had just finished chanting the Vishnu Sahasranamam that was silently playing in the kitchen behind us in my head for I had other things on my mind.

Why was my Brahmin classmate searching for other Brahmins amongst us? I had never sought out people of my caste before. Having been a junior college student instead of a high school student for my Higher Secondary Certificate exam, I was sure I had not encountered such a conscious search for same-caste friends at my junior college.

In fact, that government-aided junior college, the likes of which my private college classmates look down upon, was our haven for open discussion on religion, caste and their various implications in an open and unbiased forum. It was a place where Hindus and Muslims and all others were one as we joyously exchanged cultures and myths with other keen connoisseurs of knowledge, where we could walk up to a Maratha classmate with questions and listen, as they patiently explained the dynamics of the ongoing protests at the time. It was a place that facilitated a free exchange of ideas among students that came from the most varied plethora of social and cultural backgrounds, and I treasured it.

On the other hand, little had I known that the ‘Brahmin’ debacle was but the first of a series of incidents that would lead me to start seriously questioning my faith in a generation that I had thought stood a chance to bring about progressive change in post-modern India.

It is true that I had no expectations from law school when I walked in. On the contrary, I held higher expectations for my peers. The people I had encountered during my short stint at coaching classes were mostly mature people with definite opinions on relevant happenings, and a cool head that aided them in their decision to pursue the noble profession of law. The people I met at law school stood in stark difference. Whilst professors advised us to start trying to behave in a sober, court-appearance-like fashion, they yelled and hooted at the most minor opportunity presented. When lecturers discussed internalised misogyny, race and caste differences and cultures pertaining to rape and objectification at length in classes that sparked shockingly little interest, a debate involving both batches of the new school saw participants objectifying women openly. We encountered a slew of racial slurs being thrown about in casual settings in the first week and I wondered if this is how people think popularity will come to them.

At the end of two weeks, I am shaken up at best. One could never expect any generation, or group of students, for that matter, to be perfect. But, do we not pride ourselves in being ‘progressive’?  Or is ‘progressive’ limited to certain first world perks we are lucky to be enjoying in this third world country? Does progress really only mean that Rs. 2400/- H&M crop top and those Rs. 8000/- Madden heels strutting rather maliciously all over the rights of all races, classes, castes, sexes, genders, and PEOPLE?

Perhaps, some mindfulness is called for after all.

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