“आप कौनसी जाती के हो ??”
This was the second question a farmer asked me when I happen to visit a lake in his village to catch a glimpse of the migratory birds that arrive each winter. Well the first one was where I was from!!
I was at a loss of words, who asks a complete stranger in first meeting about his caste? Or does which caste I belong to define who I am? Or he wanted to make sure whether I was worth having a conversation with?
For the first 2 decades of my life I wasn’t too aware of the caste structures, its intricacies and the prejudices that followed it. It wasn’t something that needed answers while growing up.
Was it because of the privileged background that I came from or was it for the fact that I carried a surname that stood out ?? I am sure the answer to both the above is definitely a YES!!
At home no one discussed it and at my school no one bothered about caste. It was only the Mandal Agitation that bought it out but again it was in the margins only.
It was only after I moved back to Udaipur in 2000 that the caste, sub-caste and the practiced hierarchy was revealed.
I am glad that this factor seldom crossed my mind then and even now. I personally do not want to fit myself into these brackets. As a political worker I keep getting these suggestions to play up my caste equation, for it will ensure that I get a minimum assured support from my ‘community’.
Lucky are those who can play it up for their advantage, I would much rather attach with all the possible identities that the God has blessed me with and not confine myself to one sub-set !!
And till the time I keep doing this, I will always be at a loss to answer a question on my ‘जाती’. Let others imagine my identity, for in my head I will be no different from the one I am standing next to.
BTW the farmer at the end of our conversation offered us some fresh मूली and गन्ने from his farm to take back to the answer of his first question i.e. our home in Udaipur.