Most members of the diaspora believe they space anti-caste and progressive, and also yet their caste identification remains essential to them.

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Dibyangshu Sarkar/AFP
A few years ago, 2 of us, newly-arrived student in a little town in Sweden, visited a supermarket on the university campus. Us spotted a South oriental man, talking to his son in Hindi. The man noticed united state too. With a laugh on his face, he walked up to united state for an introduction, however our names, that turned out, go not meet him. “Surname?” the guy asked. He was insistent. “Kumar what?”, the asked in an answer to one answer, and gleefully recognized the other answer v the exclamation “Kayasth”. The conversation ended with that informing united state of his Brahmin caste.

To part caste-practicing southern Asians, this may seem a casual conversation, especially since the man probably had no will to discriminate. Nevertheless, what taken place was a couched delinquent of a superior identity, the socio-cultural ordered placing of his identification in relation to ours. Questioning last surname is frequently how some educated Indian elite politely insinuate their caste. However who gets to asking the caste that others and also why? the too, in a foreign land, where there are restricted opportunities to exercise caste-based inspection unless world who think in caste are in a position of authority.

This concern is an ext salient in light of California suing modern technology giant Cisco end the allegation that an engineer challenged discrimination in ~ its Silicon sink headquarters due to the fact that he is Dalit. One op-ed ~ above the instance in The brand-new York Times discussed that in among the first caste surveys in the united state in 2018, 59% that the 1,200 South asian participants had actually experienced casteist insults and also jokes. A quarter of them had witnessed physical attack because of their caste, and fifty percent were afraid of being outed as Dalits.

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Tech gigantic Cisco has actually been sue over the allegation that an engineer challenged discrimination at its headquarters due to the fact that he is Dalit. Credit: Pau Barrena/AFP

Caste Habitus

To know why the surname conversation is carefully linked v caste privilege, it is crucial to unravel how caste operates. French philosopher and also anthropologist Pierre Bourdieu’s concept of habitus is helpful in expertise the widespread absorption that caste in everyday life. Because that Bourdieu, habitus is a normative people that shapes the actions and behaviours of people inhabiting it. It is a collection of dispositions the the individual learns and imitates as they grow. It forms their immediate cognitive solution and bodily behaviour, i beg your pardon prompts what they say and also don’t say, what is commonsensical and scandalous, the impossible and also the probable, the reasonable and the unreasonable. The habitus creates these responses as natural, given and unproblematic, and people more reproduce this habitus through their responses and also interactions through others.

Caste is a habitus. That generates specific normative principles and also taken-for-granted behaviours that an individual absorbs gradually from family, culture and the world, and also manifests v their body, behaviour and cognitive response. Caste, as an ideology and practice, developed to divide the human society among the upper three varnas (Brahmins, Kshatriyas and Vaisyas); “low and also inferior” Shudras (“lower castes”); and also Atishudras (the outcaste Dalits, whose just existence to be to offer the three greater varnas). For social elites, together political scientist Gopal Guru notes, the affirmation that caste bring power, status and ego. Yet for the others, it brings low-paid, degrading hand-operated labour, along with outcaste status, humiliation and suffering. The project of the caste habitus, then, is to safeguard this division in regular times and also times the crises. It normalises and also justifies hierarchy, difference, violence, humiliation and also systemic othering that the reduced castes and Dalits. This habitus is inculcated from childhood with families, schooling, day-to-day conversations, conflicts, media, texts, and covert and overt violence.

Usually, the habitus calls for a space (educational institutions, workspace, housing, households, etc.) whereby caste inequality deserve to be practiced. Yet it can likewise be produced and reproduced by casual, voluntarily conversations and also by objectifying the lock culture. In the West, which is residence to a huge Indian diaspora, an individual and social domain take away a central role in reproducing the caste habitus. For instance, an educated upper-caste father, who proclaims to be indifferent come caste hierarchy, once comforted she anti-caste daughter when she to be undergoing a tough phase that life in the united state by saying, “When in doubt, mental you space a Brahmin’s daughter and also keep your head high.” there are countless such instances where the me is couched in a caste hierarchy. A variety of high caste neighborhoods in the united state organise “sacred thread” ceremonies for their children and educate them around their social position. Admittedly, these civilization may not necessarily practice caste-based discrimination, however what they need to not forget is the it is an old discriminatory practice which, according to historian RS Sharma, was clearly denied to lower castes and also women.

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Shaadi.com, among the leading matrimonial sites, provides a seek database that classifies caste under community.

This caste habitus is more sustained by endogamous marriages and also their advertisements. Shaadi.com, one of the top matrimonial sites because that diasporic Indians, provides a searchable database the classifies caste under community and also the drop-down menu shows an ext than 60 kinds of subdivisions in the Brahmin classification alone. Because that the rest, there is every caste and sub-caste feasible to choose from. Kareem Khubchandani, a social theorist, while discussing the “absent” caste in the famous Netflix present Indian Matchmaking, points out exactly how American fact dating shows refer to the participants just by their very first name. In this show, however, every potential match is described by the an initial and last name. This might be because, as Khubchandani explains, critical names reveal and silence any kind of tension about where we come from.

Another instance of just how the caste habitus functions is the app Indian Caste Hub, i beg your pardon categorises and classifies surnames with their caste affiliations. The tagline – “Search any kind of surname, find which caste that belongs to” – is a tragic reminder the the case of numerous urban, educated Indians and also non-resident ind that we live in a post-caste culture is not also remotely defensible.

Against the background of these examples and also context, our supermarket incident reveals just how caste spills into the public sphere to develop a diasporic me that is entrenched in caste – that members think, we room educated, anti-caste and also progressive, but the caste identification is nevertheless important.

History of Oppression

The caste habitus itself evolves in time through interaction and response. Because that example, in the light of a growing anti-caste discourse and also legal regime, questioning one’s caste straight is maybe offensive. Yet asking surnames is still taken into consideration permissible. To difficulty this evolving structuring the the caste habitus, it is important to know the privilege that surnames produce.

Last names space a deeply political category and also sometimes bring a cruel background of oppression. In an post in The Atlantic, Edward Delman mentions part state-led programmes supposed to produce homogenous identities, such as Spanish colonisers dictating Filipinos’ surnames, and also the Communist Bulgaria authorities deciding Turk and Bulgarian Muslims surnames in the 1980s. The surname history of the Jews living in main and east Europe depicts the strength of the early contemporary states and dominant human being controlling the resides of the marginalised utilizing naming hierarchy. Joseph II, the ruler of the Habsburg empire, while providing Jews the same legal rights as Christians, inquiry them to strictly adopt German very first names and family surname in 1781. Maidename Weiss to write in The origin of Jewish household Names the Jews’ names were often chose by civic authorities, who made decision the humiliating Kanalgeruch (sewer’s stink) and also Ostertag (Easter). The state authorities, on their part, created surnames native plants’ name (Rosenzweig, Mandelbaum), stones (Steinberg, Steinmann), physical appearance (Gross, Lang, Kurz), and also occupations (Koch, Schmied, Zimmermann). It to be no surprise then that once Israel was founded, countless Jews with humiliating and European-sounding names embraced Hebrew names.

India has a much older tradition of the surname culture, but it got a unique character due to the fact that of the caste system. Vedic literary works (1500-1000 BC) mentions names through surnames that were obtained from the surname of the father, mother, gotra (clan) and locality. Later, however, Grihyasutras (literature on residential rituals native 600-300 BC) and also Manusmriti (lawbook composed by Brahmanical scholar Manu about 200-400 AD) propose caste-based hierarchized surname conventions. Both stated that Brahmins might end their names v Śarman (happiness or blessing), Kshatriyas through Varman (strength and protection), Vaishyas through Gupta (prosperity), Shudras v Dasa/Das (slave, service and also dependence). Manu additionally recommended the Brahmin names should suggest auspiciousness (mangla), Kshatriya names strength, Vaishya names wealth, and also Shudra names lowness and also contempt.

One have the right to note similarities between what Joseph II and also his public official ordered because that Jews in the 18th and also 19th century and also what the Brahmanical lawgiver prescribed because that the lowest castes in the 1st and 2nd century. In both cases, surnames became the mite of humiliation and a degraded standing for a section of humanity. RS Sharma claims that in the post-Vedic period, Brahmanical lawmakers collection such bigoted rules that a Shudra can not call the upper varnas by their names if greeting them. However, your rules to be not always followed. The lower castes often did not stick to the Das surname – they one of two people did not have actually a castle or supplied their town name or father’s name.

Asserting your Identity

The caste-based surname society solidified under the British early american regime, which provided primacy come Brahmanical laws and also a caste/community-based knowledge of the society. With regard to reduced castes and Dalits, a new politics of standing assertion and anti-caste politics arised in early american India, which lugged a brand-new surname culture. Ramnarayan Rawat points come the struggles of educated phibìc Indian Dalits (Chamar caste) in using respectable, assertive surnames such as Yadav, Jatav, Yaduvanshi instead of humiliating surnames. There to be also, together William Pinch notes, a conceptual reconfiguration of the word Das (a slave) by reduced castes who, affected by the Bhakti movement, connected the hatchet to their devotion to deities than to the caste hierarchy. This gave rise to names such as ram Das, Chhote Kishan Das.

A trickster critique of the caste-based surname society emerged through the increase of Sikhism. Its spiritual advocates said for the abolition of all caste surnames, except for Kaur (for women) and Singh (for men) to eradicate caste distinctions. In practice, though, caste surnames go not totally disappear, and Kaur/Singh sometimes became middle names.

After independence, India saw the rise of a more contested surname society as a an outcome of identity politics, anti-caste movements and also greater assertion of the non-Bahujan identity against affirmative action. Further complicating the issue were gendered surnames.

It is possible to envision a more humane habitus in which we rethink our implementation of critical names. However achieving it may not be as easy as dropping surnames, prefer some progressives have actually done. The would rather require the demolition that the caste habitus by critically interrogating the caste privileges the surnames extend. Us would require laws in addition to institutional and socio-cultural frameworks the guarantee equal therapy of all humans in both private and also public realms.

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Arun Kumar is a historian based in ~ Nottingham University, UK and also tweets at historian_arun. Amrita Ghosh is a visiting researcher of cultural and postcolonial researches at Lund University, Sweden and also tweets at MsBiryani.