Skip to main content

A peep into Australia's South Asians obsessed with finding out each other's caste

Counterview Desk 
There appears to be no end to South Asians settling abroad taking with them their casteist, anti-Dalit mindset – a fact brought to light by Deepak Joshi, a Facebook friend who lives in Melbourne, Australia. Joshi has shared on his Facebook timeline an article published in the ABC Radio National site titled “They've left South Asia, but they can't escape the discrimination and division of its caste system” authored by Karishma Luthria. It is actually a first person blog.
What is shocking is, and this is what Joshi is particularly concerned about – that after he shared this article in a Facebook group called ‘Indians in South East Melbourne’, not only was the article removed by the Facebook administrators stating that it encouraged ‘Hate Speech or Bullying’. Joshi himself has been barred from commenting in the group!
The Facebook group has 16.8 thousand members. Its very first post, authored by one of the two admins of the group, states, “Any accusations on elected government without legal proof will not be entertained here. If you want to talk about elected government then please stay away from this group. If you have legal proof go to the court as this is not a court.”
Taking down the article, the group admins appear to believe that criticising caste discrimination among diaspora is a violation of their group's following rule: “Make sure everyone feels safe. Bullying of any kind isn't allowed, and degrading comments about things such as race, religion, culture, sexual orientation, gender or identity will not be tolerated.”
Be that as it may, reproduced here is Luthria’s article, which seeks to suggest how casteism has been kicking among the South Asian diaspora, especially from India and Nepal:
***
When I was at university, another South Asian asked me what my caste was.
I replied that I didn't know.
But as Jasbeer Mustafa, an academic from Western Sydney University, told me: "If you don't know your caste, it's most likely you're upper caste."
As a new migrant to Australia I was surprised when I learnt caste discrimination exists in a country so far removed geographically and culturally from South Asia.
I grew up in Mumbai, and it wasn't until the Dalit Lives Matter movement was retriggered by the murder of a Dalit in India last September that I started to question the caste system and the role I played in it.
I was curious to know more about how casteism impacts people in Australia, so I started speaking to a number of migrants who had first-hand experience with the caste system.
Melbourne-based academic and filmmaker Vikrant Kishore says "caste goes where South Asians go".
"Australia is no exception," Dr Kishore says.
He says some South Asians in Australia even personalise their car's number plate to display their caste pride.
"It is all about the privilege, it's all about boasting of their background," he says.
"Most of the Australians, they wouldn't even be knowing what it is doing — but Indians generally know what the person is trying to announce to the world."
Aparna Ramteke, a human resources professional, Dalit woman and advocate for Dalit rights, says diaspora South Asians in Australia can be obsessed with finding out each other's caste.
She says it is common for Indians who meet in Australia to end their conversation by asking each other their last name.
"Why are we asking the last name – to understand which caste system you come from. It's such a casual discrimination," she says.
"It's just amazing to note how intricately this has divided people on the basis of the caste system."
San Kumar Gazmere changed his last name when he arrived in Australia to avoid caste discrimination among the Nepalese community in Cairns.
In Australia, Mr Gazmere manages a fast food restaurant and remembers when he first moved here people from the community laughed at his surname.
"Some Nepalese people … pronounce it in a very weird voice, and they yell really loudly with that name," Mr Gazmere says.
"We feel embarrassed because people who had that last name have got bad memories and bad experiences."
Mr Gazmere says people from his caste are not allowed into people's homes in Nepal — and in Australia too.
"They keep dogs, cats, everything inside the house, but they don't let people go inside because of only that [their] last name."

Those who can evade discrimination, and those who can't

I'm Sindhi, and Sindhis don't follow a typical caste hierarchy -- rather, we divide ourselves on class lines.
That's why when I asked my dad recently what caste we were, he was really vague about it.
He said we might be Vasihyas -- the traders -- due to our family's history of running businesses.
This confused me even more. If I'm not as high up in the hierarchy, how am I able to evade the impacts of the caste system?
Ms Ramteke says because of her professional HR job, she has not experienced typical caste discrimination in Australia.
"Somebody who has got a good house, a good family, they wouldn't talk about the caste system," she says.
She says in cases such as hers, any discrimination is not in your face, but behind your back.
But for recently arrived migrants from lower castes, casteism is not that subtle.
A Nepali Dalit man, who wanted to remain anonymous, told me he was evicted from his rental in Brisbane after the owner, an upper caste Nepali, found out he was an "untouchable".
When he complained about the eviction, the owner told him to shut up, and that he should be ashamed about not disclosing his caste.
Girish Makwana
Melbourne filmmaker Girish Makwana had a similar experience as an international student in Australia.
"[The landlord] asked me: 'Where are you from, what's your caste?' And then very nicely just brushed me off," he says.
Mr Makwana then found out that the landlord had accepted five other applicants, but not him, because he is a Dalit.
"Later one of the guys living there told me it's because they have a protocol in their house. Then I decided I will not live with any Indians any more."

Dating outside of your caste

Caste also seeps into our dating lives. There is a dating app called Dil Mil, which means meeting of hearts.
The app has a filter option allowing those from top tier caste groups to find matches within their own caste — but there are no options for lower caste groups.
Rather than a meeting of hearts, it is more a meeting of castes.
On finding this out, it made me ill-at-ease. Are young South Asians so obsessed with caste that we come up with apps by upper castes for upper castes?
Kushal, whose name I have changed to provide anonymity, is a Nepalese migrant in Tasmania who fell in love with an upper caste girl.
"After a few years, maybe, her parents figured it out," he says.
Her family would not let them get married.
"She was beaten by her parents, saying that: 'Why do you want to stay in a relationship with those kinds of people?'"
They ran away together, but Kushal says there was no respite.
"Her parents used to call her, saying, 'Come back, we'll find a better guy for you.'"

'They didn't want to drink water while I was there'

Birkha Diyali, a Bishwakarma, the Nepalese equivalent of an untouchable, lives in Cairns.
"There's a lot of caste-based discrimination in Cairns," he says. "The Brahmins don't eat what we touch and they won't let us enter their houses."
When his father-in-law passed away in 2012, they were unable to find a priest to conduct his last rites.
"We thought the Brahmin priests could perform the ritual, without coming into our house but they refused," he says. "All they offered was a very short naming ceremony."
"Eventually we found a priest from Adelaide who directed me over the phone to perform the ritual. I felt it wasn't my father-in-law who died, it was me who was dying."
His wife Pabitra Diyali says this sort of discrimination is not an isolated experience in Australia.
"I was sitting with someone from a higher caste on the same couch and they didn't want to drink water while I was there. She said it was her culture," she says.
Sydney businessman Gokulan Gopal is from a caste that the Indian government categorises as "backward".
He says Hinduism "is at the core" of the caste system.
One of Hinduism's sacred and earliest texts, Manusmriti, identifies caste as a way to order society. The book is also considered to be the source of Hindu law, and governs key aspects of Hindu life from marriage, and occupation to location.
"For me, I don't accept Hinduism anymore," Mr Gopal says.
One of his first experiences of caste discrimination was at a temple as a teenager.
He was strongly reprimanded for entering the kitchen, a place priests consider pure. A place where someone like Mr Gopal was unwelcome.
Because of the systemic nature of casteist discrimination, in the 1950s, India's first Dalit lawmaker, Dr Bhim Rao Ambedkar, encouraged Dalits to adopt Buddhism.
"He said, 'I've studied all the other religious books, and this religion [Buddhism] offers equality, brotherhood, compassion,'" Ms Ramteke says.
Ms Ramteke is an Ambedkarite —a follower of Dr Ambedkar.
"And that's what we practice, where everybody is treated equally, fair and square," she says.
Dr Ambedkar's contributions are largely ignored in modern Indian society.

Dalit Lives Matter

For some global South Asian communities, Dalit Lives Matter dominated 2020 just as much as Black Lives Matter.
The movement was reignited by the alleged rape and murder of Manisha Valmiki in Hathras, Uttar Pradesh, by four upper caste men. It reminded many of the discrimination that lower caste communities have faced for thousands of years.
Ms Ramteke was a speaker at a vigil for Ms Valmiki in Parramatta. She believes Indians don't support Dalit causes because there is stigma attached to it.
"People are a bit ashamed, because I think supporting a Dalit is below [their] dignity," she says.
"They don't want to associate with that. There is a reason for it, because there is no human life value to it.
"If people are not ready to talk about it, people like us should be the voice of the voiceless."
As I heard stories of discrimination in Australia -- my privilege as an upper-middle-class Indian kept coming back to me. I wondered what my role is and was in perpetuating the caste system.
I remember as a teenager in India, my friends and I used casteist abuses towards each other.
For example, we used the word "Bhangi" to call each other dirty, but we didn't realise its origin was as a derogatory term directed at Dalits.
I even heard a relative of mine say it recently in Sydney. I told them not to use it, but to no avail.
Dr Kishore says he's heard such abuses used by prominent community members in Melbourne.
He says these same people post on social media about Black Lives Matter but don't recognise their own double standards.
Karishma Luthria
"You talk about racism. Good. You want to talk about Black Lives Matter. Good. Have you talked about yourself and your own prejudices? No, then get lost. You need to get schooled."
In 1950, the Indian constitution outlawed untouchability and caste discrimination. But it did not outlaw the entire caste system itself.
Quoting Dr Ambedkar, Dr Kishore says we need to get rid of the caste system, now more than ever.
"Turn in any direction you like, caste is the monster that crosses your path. You cannot have political reform, you cannot have economic reform, unless you kill the monster."
Dr Kishore made me realise that I am that person of colour who complains about racism in Australia.
And much like white guilt, I have guilt for never questioning my privilege until Black and Dalit Lives Matter in 2020, for never calling out casteism whenever I came across it in my social circles and for never standing up against it.
But now, after speaking to people who are strong, and resilient fighters against the insidious nature of the culture I grew up in — I can't stay as silent as I used to.
---
Slightly abridged

Comments

TRENDING

Whither Govt of India strategy to reduce import dependence on crude oil, natural gas?

By NS Venkataraman*  India presently imports around 80% of it’s crude oil requirement and around 50% of its natural gas requirements . As the domestic production of crude oil and natural gas are virtually stagnant and the domestic demand is increasing at around 7% per annum, India’s steadily increasing dependence on import of the vital energy source is a matter of high energy security concern. This is particularly so, since the price of crude oil and natural gas are considerably fluctuating / increasing in the global market due to geo political factors, which are beyond the control of India. India has promised to achieve zero emission by the year 2070, which mean that the level of emission has to start declining at slow and steady rate from now onwards. It is now well recognized that global emission is caused largely due to use of coal as fuel and natural gas as fuel and feedstock. While burning of coal as fuel cause emission of global warming carbon dioxide gas and sulphur

Muslim intellectuals met Bhagwat, extra-constitutional authority 'like Sanjay Gandhi'

By Shamsul Islam*  In a significant development a delegation of five Muslim intellectuals namely former chief election commissioner SY Quraishi; former senior bureaucrat Najeeb Jung; former AMU vice-chancellor and Lt Gen (retd) Zameer U Shah; politician-cum-journalist Shahid Siddiqui (presently with RLD); and businessman Saeed Shervani [Samajvadi Party] met RSS Supremo Mohan Bhagwat at RSS Delhi headquarters. The meeting was kept secret for reasons known to the participants and was held in August. According to the Muslim intellectuals the meeting held in “a very cordial” atmosphere continued for 75 minutes whereas time allotted was 30 minutes! In a post-meeting justification of the parleys Quraishi stated that their main concern was “the insecurity being increasingly felt by the Muslim community in the wake of recurring incidents of lynching of innocents, calls by Hindutva hotheads for genocide and the marginalisation of the community in almost every sphere”. This delegation consistin

'Massive concern for people': Modi seeking to turn India into global manufacturing hub

By Shankar Sharma*  The news item quoting Narendra Modi at the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) meet, "Want to turn India into a manufacturing hub: PM Modi at SCO Summit" should be of massive concern to our people. One can only continue to be shocked by such policies, which can be termed as ill-conceived to say the least. Without objectively considering the environmental and social impacts on our communities in the medium to long term, such policies will also result in massive economic impacts because a lack of environmental and social perspective cannot be economically attractive either. In order to become the global manufacturing hub, India will have to meet an enormous demand for energy of various kinds, and in order to meet this much energy demand the economy has to manufacture enormous number of appliances/ gadgets/ machineries (to generate and distribute commercial forms of energy such as coal, nuclear, gas, hydro, and renewable energy (RE) sources such as so

Denying dissent democratic space in Gujarat: 'sad narrative of eroding ethical values'

By Sandeep Pandey*  A padyatra (foot march) was to be taken out between 26 September and 4 October, 2022 from Randhikpur village in Dahod district of Gujarat to Ahmedabad to apologise to Bilkis Bano. Randhikpur is Bilkis Bano’s village. In 2002 Gujarat communal violence she was gang raped, her 3 years old daughter, another child in womb and a total of 14 family members were killed. 11 people were convicted and sentenced for life in 2008. However, on 15 August, 2022 after Prime Minister Narendra Modi made a speech from Red Fort appealing to people to change their attitude towards women and treat them with respect, a district level committee of Panchmahal decided to release the 11 rapists and murderers. A Bhartiya Janata Party leader described four of these criminals as virtuous Brahmins. Before the padyatra could begin from Randhikpur, on 25 September night, 7 activists were picked up from Godhra corporator Hanif Kalandar’s house where they had gone for d

Pesticide companies' lobbying 'seriously impairing' basics of governance, regulation

Dr Narasimha Reddy Donthi*  The Indian agricultural sector is grappling with low incomes, shortage of natural resources, increasing pest incidence and low public investments in research and extension. Pest attacks are increasing. Previously unknown pests are attacking crops. Farmers, indebted as they are due to various market mechanisms, are finding it hard to protect their crop investments. Thus, farmers are pushed into the conundrum of pesticide usage by pesticide markets and companies. Pesticide usage in India is increasingly becoming a regulatory problem. Regulation has not been effective in the face of such challenges. Scientific expertise on pesticides is often subsumed in the policy tradeoffs that, in the ultimate scenario, encourage production and marketing of Highly Hazardous Pesticides (HHPs). Expert Committee reports, which are recommending withdrawal of certain HHPs, are not being acted upon. Lobbying by pesticide companies has seriously impaired the basics of governance an

Kerala health bill public hearing? Here the minister 'ensured' cameras were turned off

By Our Representative  On Friday, September 30, 2022, about 100 members of the general public gathered at the conference room of the collectorate at Ernakulam, Kerala, to express their apprehensions about the Kerala Public Health Bill, 2021, which the state assembly referred to a 15-member select committee chaired by state health and family welfare minister, Veena George. Minister Veena George asserted at the outset that this was a sitting of the select committee, and all cameras would need to be turned off. Advocate PA Pouran, general secretary of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties in Kerala, stood up in protest, arguing that the meeting was a public hearing and should ideally be televised to reach vast numbers of people. Other members of the audience protested too, but the minister insisted that the gathering was part of a sitting of the select committee.  “Why then did you invite all of us?” protested George Mathew, who had arrived from Aluva and earlier served as a member of t

How Gandhian values have become 'casualty' in India under majoritarian BJP rule

By Sandeep Pandey*  A Muslim youth was beaten recently when he tried to witness the famous garba performance during the Hindu religious nine days festival of Navratri in Gujarat. There was a time when Muslims could easily participate in Garbha events in an atmosphere of cordiality. Bilkis Bano was gang raped in 2002 Gujarat communal violence, her 3 years old daughter, the child in womb and a total of 14 family members were killed. 11 accused were awarded life term. However, recently a District level committee has decided to release all the culprits. A ruling Bhartiya Janata Party leader has described some of these criminals as virtuous Brahmins, the highest among the Hindu hierarchical caste system. In a communally polarized Gujarat today most Muslims feel offended by the decision of the government and BJP supporters either justify the release of rapists and murderers or just ignore the ignominious decision. Mahatma Gandhi came from the Guj

GoI 'feeling threatened' by forces which can potentially fight 'Brahmanical fascism'

Counterview Desk  A network of civil rights and people’s organisations , Campaign Against State Repression (CASR)*, has characterised the recently-imposed ban on Popular Front of India (PFI), National Confederation of Human Rights Organizations (NCHRO) and other organisations as “Brahmanical Hindutva fascist” move of the Government of India (GoI), calling it “onslaught on democratic dissent”. In a statement, CASR said, the move is aimed at terrorizing and vilifying the Muslim community, adding, at the same time, the GoI is curbing any protest and demonstration against the “fascist diktat of ban”, with peoplebeing “detained and arrested.” It added, “This kind of attack on right to oppose or criticize any step of government should be conceived as an attack on the very democratic values of the people.” Text : On 28 September 2022, Central Government led by BJP-RSS banned the Popular Front of India, National Confederation of Human Rights Organizations, Campus Front of India, National Wom

Buddhist shrines were 'massively destroyed' by Brahmanical rulers: Historian DN Jha

Nalanda mahavihara By Our Representative Prominent historian DN Jha, an expert in India's ancient and medieval past, in his new book , "Against the Grain: Notes on Identity, Intolerance and History", in a sharp critique of "Hindutva ideologues", who look at the ancient period of Indian history as "a golden age marked by social harmony, devoid of any religious violence", has said, "Demolition and desecration of rival religious establishments, and the appropriation of their idols, was not uncommon in India before the advent of Islam".

Golwalkar's views on tricolour, martyrs, minorities, caste as per RSS archives

By Shamsul Islam*  First time in the history of independent India, the in-charge minister of the Cultural Ministry in the current Modi government, Prahlad Singh Patel, has glorified MS Golwalkar, second supremo of the RSS and the most prominent ideologue of the RSS till date, on his birth anniversary, February 19. In a tweet he wrote : “Remembering a great thinker, scholar, and remarkable leader #MSGolwalkar on his birth anniversary. His thoughts will remain a source of inspiration & continue to guide generations.”