Sunday, August 18, 2013

Why I still use my last name...

Recently I was sharing my views in one Facebook discussion related with caste system in India. I don't support that system and believe that it is totally flawed and unfair system. It should be banished as soon as possible, because it divides people for no reason. During the discussion one person who was trying to justify this system (using usual arguments like original system was flawless and people messed it up, caste is not decided by birth, etc. which all people who support this system use) said that even though some of us are against this system we all still proudly use our surnames (or last names). He also claimed that the reason we still use it is we all feel proud to associate our selves with glory of our last name. While there are many who are really proud of their caste, I am not one of them. Normally last name or surname in India indicates so many things (like place of origin, profession of ancestors, caste or office of authority, etc.). Mostly they indicate the caste that person belongs, most people who feel proud of their last name (which indicates caste) belong to those so called upper castes (very obvious, no surprise). There are some caste based organizations who glorify some people just because they belong to their caste. There are many great people from history and present generation who did lot of great work and one should feel proud of them but not because of their caste, but for the work which they did, their work is more important than their caste. For me their work is important not their caste.

Now some people might think that I am against use of last names/surnames, no..not at all, rather I come from state in India (Maharashtra) which I think have largest variety of surnames, some of them are really unique and funny and I really love many of those names. I am talking here about names to which people associate some caste, nothing wrong with those names as such but it's association with particular caste is the problem according to me. 

For most of us our name is decided by our parents and before we know anything about caste or religion that name is printed on all our official documents and to change first or last name is not an easy thing, but this is just a technical point, one can change it if one wants. For most Indians my last name is easy giveaway to know which caste I belong, so it's obvious to ask, why I still carny on that tag which represents the system in which I don't believe and don't have any respect, a very perfect and valid question to ask. Actually at one point I thought of removing it, but it's very complicated process (but this can't be a excuse) and I also thought what purpose will it serve? I didn't get find any satisfactory reason to get rid of it and that's the reason I still have it. My last name also acts as a reminder for me, a reminder of that horrible past where this system allowed exploitation of millions of people in the name of caste. So even though I don't believe in that system, my last name reminds me about that system which still exists and practiced (in very different way, specially in rural areas).

Believe it or not there are many people still love to talk proudly about their caste and glorify it, there is no surprise that most these people belong to either brahmin (so called intellectuals), warrior (kshatriya) or vaishya (business class) castes, so called top three varnas of caste system. These three castes are guilty of exploiting castes belonging to fourth varna, shudra. Shudras (all lower castes including untouchables) were exploited by all other varnas for centuries because of this caste system, many times they were treated worst than animals (cattle were treated better than them). So I wonder how can one be proud of product (caste) of such a system which allowed such horrible thing to happen for centuries. Not only people from upper castes allowed it to happen, they were actively involved in it and when shudras protested against this injustice these so called upper castes tried their best to crush their protest and preserve this system which gave them unfair advantage. Fortunately untouchability doesn't exist in India any more in it's original form, but caste system is still present, plays very important role in politics in some regions. There were many attempts to eradicate it but it is so deep rooted in people's mind that they are not willing to let it go so easily.

My last name acts as good reminder for me that we still need to fight against this system which still exists and divides people based on their family of birth. For me the name doesn't have any special meaning, I like my name like many other like their's, it's part of my identity but any other name would have served same purpose, nothing special about this name. As far as my kids are concerned it's entirely up to them if they want to carry this last name with them or not. They were not aware of meaning of this name until I explained it to them, this is because they live in a country where this name (or tag) doesn't have any obvious meaning, it doesn't suggest or indicate anything to people around, so they are quite OK and neutral about it, which is the way it should be. But that's not the case with me, because I know what does it mean, even though that meaning is not important or have any significance to me, I know very well what it means, what it indicates, so it's my conscious decision to keep that name. It is in one way a reminder for me for all autocracies committed against those innocent people in the name of caste.

I wait for the day when my last name (along with many other names which indicate caste) will cease to have any association with any caste, they will be like just any other names which are totally personal, not social. They will mean anything but will not indicate any caste and categorize people, may be it will never happen or may not happen in my lifetime but I believe it's my duty to try to eradicate this system, my fight will continue as long as people know which caste my (or many other) last name belongs, that is as long as caste system exists, so it will be in use just to make it useless one day. Casteism, racism, gender discrimination or any type of discrimination are social evils, we need to eradicate them from society as soon as possible.

Thanks for reading and please share your views on this topic.

(Copyright: Vinay Thakur. Please contact the author for re-posting or publishing)

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2 comments:

  1. Speaking of casteism,'reverse casteism'should also be discussed. I have experienced it,believe it or not. I am totally for reservations-they are necessary. But if you just go through marathi blogs here,you'll notice that many blogs are doing the 'reverse discrimination'. Recent removal of Dadoji Konddeo's statue from Lal Mahal,Attack on Bhandarkar institute etc are examples of this kind of discrimination.

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    1. You are absolutely right, intolerance in any form is bad not matter from which section of society it comes. Some of these so called cultural organization which are only interested in protecting their selfish interests behave in this way. My intention is not to blame only so called upper castes but in today's world all castes are responsible for this systems existence, ways have changed but hatred and discrimination is still there (including reverse casteism about which you are talking), we need to condemn and oppose all this. This social evil of casteism need to be uprooted from people's mind. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

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