I’ve lived most of my life blind to caste realities. I understand that this is a privilege not everyone shares.
Recently, in Bangalore, I met someone who insisted on me telling them my caste name. To say I was surprised would be an understatement. I never knew that it mattered so much in 21st century urban India! Further complicating matters was the fact that I had no idea what exact caste I was. I ended up talking for an hour with my parents and doing my own research to find out this information.
In the midst of this, I also read the book Castes in India: Their Mechanism, Genesis and Development. In this book, Ambedkar proposes a theory for the origins and propagation of caste in India. This thesis states that caste is fundamentally about exclusion. That endogamy is caste and caste is endogamy. A social norm maintained through extreme punishment of violations.
The idea is that a caste does not exist in isolation but in a system of mutual coercion by other castes. i.e. A caste system. The origin and propagation would work through a dual mechanism. Some castes would close their doors to others. Some would find the door closed on them. Since societies consist of classes and since lower classes imitate higher classes, it’s likely that this system originated through enforcement by the priestly classes and propagated downwards through social imitation. Thus the strictest rituals and punishments would often be found at the highest levels and would decrease in intensity with their distance from these groups.
I hope to avoid playing this game. Being that I’ve one life, it’s important that I get to focus on that which I really care about. Time will tell whether I succeed. A strategy of keeping an eye out and a zero-tolerance policy seem like a good place to start.