Thursday, August 20, 2009

Caste : Humanity ?

She lives in 1.5 rooms, the 0.5 being a kitchen.

Ever since her parents rescued her from an abusive tormented marriage in one of the internal rural areas, and brought her back to their own home, along with her 3 children, about 28 years ago, she has slogged at several household jobs, raising her children, trying to educate them as best as possible. Some years ago, a whole bunch of people who she worked for, chipped in and helped her raise a loan for buying the house she lives in now.

"House" is a euphemism, for a bunch of walls. But what she has made is a home.

Her 2 married sons, with wives , two grandsons, her daughter and she , live there. With a lot of understanding, consideration and concern for each other. A very difficult thing, when at the end of the day, there is someone always there a foot away from , whether playing, awake or sleeping. And privacy, is just that. A seven letter word.

She belongs to a community which is supposed to get special allowances in education and jobs. And for that she needs what is called a "caste certificate"****. Actually, she has one in her own name, but is now looking to get similar ones for her children and grandchildren.

The trouble is, she is still listed as married to the monster of a husband. Once she was away and back in her family's fold, no one thought in terms of a divorce or any legal recourse. Maybe it was a concern about being looked down upon by folks, maybe it was a need to keep the children's father very much in their scheme of things; who knew if one of the children would want to look him up ?

The application for the caste certificate lists her as married, with a name for a husband. The children's application asks for the caste certificate of their father to be presented. The certificate of the mother who gave birth to and nurtured these children through extreme hardships and difficult times, is not acceptable.

The husband, unconcerned , is almost an invalid now, thanks to his excessive drinking, and his own house is run by a live in lady, a pseudo wife, if you will. If at all he has a certificate, then this is the lady who knows where it is. And no one wants to tangle with her. Besides, it possible that her own children , father unknown, have possibly used it to get ahead in their own world.

The question is, why should a lady, who is the biological mother of these kids, and the head of her own household for the last 28 years, have to show the caste certificate , if it exists, of a more or less defunct husband , instead of her own , in order that the kids acquire their own certificates ? The application form asks that the caste certificate of a father, uncle, cousin, grandfather etc, may be shown as proof. The caste certificate issuing office refuses to accept the mothers caste certificate.

Using some basic logic, I asked her to submit court affidavits stating her life circumstances, with statements from , say 5-6 people who knew her, like her neighbors and /or people she has been working with, indicating that hers is a female-head-of-household situation, and that her caste certificate be considered enough to grant the same to her children.

Not acceptable.

Then I heard that the State government has now decided to do away with individual caste certificates and sensibly issue family caste certificates, which will be useful to the entire family unit. This has caused great concern amongst those who stand to make a lot of bribe money, withholding the caste certificates from people, as the number of applications will now reduce.

While this doesn't appear to have been implemented yet, and could just be a populist announcement in view of the impending legislative elections in the state, the lady is in a quandary .

Strangely enough, there are other entities such as the SNDT Womens University , and the National Institute of Open Schooling , that insist on the mothers name along side the fathers, on all diploma and degree certificates they issue. (It most communities in my state , the middle name of a person is the father's first name. If the person is married, then the middle name is the husbands first name. So Michelle Obama would have been Mrs Michelle Barrack Obama in India. ). And one applauds the initiative shown, in this grossly patriarchal society.

There is no dearth of people advising her to pay someone a hefty sum to get it , possibly in spurious ways. There are avaricious lawyers, offering to get things done for outlandish prices. Known to us, there are monetarily prosperous people who have obtained these certificates by such methods, simply because they bear a certain valid caste name, and a certificate guarantees them a jump to the front of the queue, as a specially granted facility, and priority admissions in educational institutions etc.

She wants her grandson to get properly educated. Her own children struggled through a traumatic childhood and tough monetary circumstances.

The caste certificate was meant to help people like her. At some point, she will give in to the system, and pay someone , to get it. Who in turn, will pay someone else , to not look in certain rows and columns of the application, and a put a quick signature somewhere.

One more person giving in to the system, possibly rotten to the core.

And so while we preen with the knowledge that our Head of state is a woman, the most powerful person behind the throne is a woman, our foreign secretary is a woman, and women shine bright amidst the stars in the corporate world, this lady, possibly equally capable in her own right, is at her wits end, running from pillar to post , trying to get advice on how best to handle this problem of getting the caste certificate for her kids....

Any advice or suggestions welcome.....

****A Caste Certificate is the proof of one’s belonging to a particular caste, especially in case one belongs to any of the ‘Scheduled Castes’, as specified in the Indian Constitution. The Government felt that the Scheduled Castes and Tribes need special encouragement and opportunities to progress at the same pace as the rest of the citizenry. As a result, as part of the Indian system of Protective Discrimination, there exist certain special privileges granted to this category of citizens, such as reservation of seats in the Legislatures and in the Government Service, waiving off a part or the whole of the fees for admission to schools and colleges, quotas in educational institutions, relaxation of upper age limits for applying to certain jobs, etc. To be able to avail these privileges, a citizen belonging to a Scheduled Caste must be in possession of a valid Caste Certificate.


  1. this is such a pathetically recurrant occurrence. Some form to fill. Some certificate to bail out the line in front of the Tahsildar or the whoever.

    Such is our case. And you so cogently argue for the lady. That not only tugs the heart, but also pulls the mind.

    I personally know of scores of people who live a life at the mercy of such forms to be submitted in triplicate and rules that are duplicitous. I try and work with them in my own small way. But that is that..

  2. This is all new and strange to me..however, this country also has bureaucratic nightmares that come with no common sense.

    In any culture is is very hard for a woman to be a single mother..

  3. I cannot offer any suggestions or advice, but I do offer my sympathy for her situation. One should not be bound by a legality when the way of life is completely different. Sending prayers that there is a way to help her..

  4. This is such a sad situation- children are considered to have the same caste as their father. And how to prove caste without the father's caste certificate- I don't know.

    I think that some organisations established on the basis of caste- 'soandso caste Mahasangh',etc. help people of that caste to get certificates.

    Even there it may be necessary to give a bribe...

  5. sad situation... really dont know what to say...

  6. can she talk to any lawyer? law school teachers may oblige this as a pro-bono case.

    Is there a legal aid center?

    In Pune is there a college of social work - There are women's cells - One of the teachers there could direct you. Lawyers also teach there.

  7. I feel very ignorant...I thought the caste system had gone away. Sorry, I have no guidance for your friend.

  8. It's still a man's world even when women head the country. I wonder how many generations it will take to do away with such a sexist system.

  9. Right to Information Act could help. Why not try that? Atleast it will show a way.

    Very down to earth post.

  10. Yes, this is an ongoing problem for so many people. Particularly bad for a woman handling things all by herself. I guess God helps those who help themselves . This lady's daughter just got a job (which also takes care of meals) in the catering section of one of the hostels/dorms on campus....

  11. Reservation is substantially correct for the above mentioned type people who really need it.

    But the other financially able scheduled caste holders are often looked upon as privileged by the people belonging to other communities feeling that they lack self respect.

    It becomes difficult for them.