Cultures & castes in India and the rudeness (?)

Disclaimer: This post is not at all meant to offend anybody. I respect all cultures, in fact, I like observing various cultures and people. If there is anything that feels offensive, please let me know in comments or by email. I would take the content down if I am not able to justify it.

As we all know, India is a mixed bag of different cultures and castes. There is so much diversity due to equally diverse reasons like geographical, ancestral professions, religion and what not! There are characteristics that some of us associate with different cultures and castes and that is what I am going to talk about today.

Personally, while many people will call me shallow for this, I like associating characteristics with different castes or cultures. I feel that that characteristic is like a specialty, since in my mind I am not associating the characteristic in a negative way with the caste. It is more like a specialty in my mind, a customization of those people, even if it is not something good or so. Although, in today’s world, since most of our daily life is a result of mixed culture or cosmopolitan culture, there is not much that can be attributed to these characteristics. But it is fun for me to spot the little characteristics. For example, I am a Punjabi and we are considered to be loud and we are also considered to think after we have spoken (the latter is only what I have observed among Punjabis). Similarly, I have observed that Bengalis are usually pretty big on travelling and observing cultures, oh, and they are good with usually one or the other art form like singing while on the other hand, they are relatively chilled-out about regular household chores, for example, house cleaning (?) or something (err, I can’t think of a proper household chore). I would like to repeat that this is only what I have usually observed. It may or may not be true. I like observing these characteristics, but what I don’t like is people making generalizations and with them, follow sarcastic remarks and offensive comments. 

Have you started wondering where this article is going? Well, time and again, I have come across these caste-based offensive comments and I am sure there are many I have never heard of. I wanted to share a few that I have heard. So, I am going to jot down a few here and the reasons as to why they are offensive:

  1. “Oh, you are a vegetarian, but I thought you were Punjabi” or “Oh you don’t drink, but I thought you were Punjabi”                                                                                                                               I know that this is NOT offensive, at least not as much as the other ones. The problem here is that the person asking this could do away with some common sense. Unless you are just saying it as a funny fact (which is OK in my opinion), you should understand that not everyone belonging to a caste eats the same thing, even if their caste is flexible about such things. How is it even possible for every single person in a caste to have the same food habits? :O See, generalization.
  2. “Oh you are a South Indian, but you don’t look like one”                                                                     My God! I have a South Indian friend. I have lost count the number of times we have been in embarrassing situations where someone says something rude about South Indians and then, someone realizes that she, in fact, is a South Indian and then, no one knows what to say. Personally I have felt that most rude things said during these conversations have been downright stupid. As for this comment, I agree some South Indians belonging to certain geographical regions have characteristic features like dark black curly hair, big eyes and sharp features, bronzed complexion but the keyword here is ‘some’, not all. Stop stereotyping. Basically, it works like this: if you have a South Indian friend who has any of the characteristic features, well bingo! they match one of the characteristics of their clan but if they have different hair or complexion or features than their clan, stop asking stupid things like “why don’t you have those kind of hair?”. There’s no why, that’s because not everyone has the same things in a culture or caste. Seriously, how difficult this is?
  3. “You are a baniya, you must be a miser”                                                                                                      This sentence oozes offence, even a foreigner will know that this is a negative sentence, but it is used so commonly that even Baniyas have forgotten that it is supposed to be offensive. For those who don’t know, Baniya is a caste in India developed due to the ancestral profession reasons. In ancient India, when there was a full-fledged caste system dividing Brahmins, Warriors and so on, Baniyas were the businessmen and hence, calculative. A good businessmen always takes care of his spending. That is how Baniyas became ‘misers’. :/They are calculative, extremely good at mathematics and very sharp when it comes to Sciences and Mathematics. But are ALL of them that? Then, probably, every Baniya should be seen in only professions related to those two subjects. Why are so many fashion designers Baniya then? My point: Knowing that someone is a Baniya and is good at Maths, feel glad that you were able to connect their caste’s characteristic with their personality but if they are not good at Maths, don’t come up with shit like “how can you be a Baniya when you don’t know Maths!” or “how did you agree to pay for yourself, you are a Baniya!” Well, they don’t live to save money, you know. Some of them might like saving it more than spending it, just like many people in other castes. Arrrgghhhhhhh.

Enough of the examples, while my examples are mostly taken from North India, I am sure other areas of India are not any better when it comes to stereotyping. See, personally, I believe that there are distinguishing characteristics among various cultures but that’s all what you should expect when you meet someone new. Don’t go overboard with your assumptions and remember, not everyone is the same in a culture. 

Lastly, I have only two things to say. First, in most cases, these things are meant as jokes with absolutely no ill-will. So if you have ever become a victim, try to observe with a neutral perspective. Secondly, if you received any rude comment, remember that the person saying it has a skewed and dumb perspective of the world, feel pity for him or her. 

PS: I do know that this post is kind of lame. 😛