What caste are you?

Despite being born and raised in the US, I know a great deal about the Indian culture. I can speak Gujarati. I know the story of the Ramayana and Mahabharat. I have some shloks (prayers) memorized. I’ve read a lot about Indian history and have done kathak (Indian classical dance) for 12 years.

I was getting my make-up done for my brother’s garba-raas event (an Indian folk dance). The girl was an Indian-American (like me), just a few years older. While putting on my foundation she asks, “What caste are you?” I honestly replied, “I don’t know.”

I was taken aback by the question. I don’t think I’ve ever been asked that before from someone in my own generation. What does it matter, especially here in America?

She then said “Oh you are so cute”, which annoyed me. I could tell she thought I was a naive little girl, but caste has never been a big factor in my life. I know I’ve asked my parents what our caste is on numerous occasions, but they themselves are not concerned with it. Therefore it was never anything important enough that I felt the need to remember.

It has never been a restriction for me. I’ve never been told I only have to marry only within my caste..in fact, my parents themselves didn’t.

It makes me wonder why this girl who was born and raised in the States was so interested in knowing my caste. Perhaps she just meant it to be small talk or maybe she was genuinely interested. If these are the questions she asks during small talk, well then…that’s a whole other blog post.

Does it make me a bad Indian for not knowing my caste? I don’t think so! It’s an outdated practice that has no place in the US and now has no relevance in big cities in India.

Has caste played a big part in your life? Why or why not? I’d love to hear your thoughts!


10 thoughts on “What caste are you?

  1. I honestly do not know my caste and could careless to know. Though I know a lot of people that do. I dunno why it’s a bit thing, it raelly doesn’t apply to our lives here, maybe in parts of india but i feel like it isn’t relevant as it was back in the day.

  2. That’s usually a question I hear from aunties or uncles but never from a peer. I know what caste I am – mainly because I was asked a long time ago and chose to ask my folks what caste we were. Beyond that – I don’t know what it signifies nor do I care. I notice some folks of the older generations use caste as a way to determine what kind of background that individual has. In my mind, that’s no way to determine whether a person is a match or not – but that’s how it was done in the good ‘ol days. Thankfully, the future generations won’t have to ponder such questions (hopefully) seeing how cross-caste, interracial, and so on marriages/relationships will make the caste system a thing of the past.

  3. I’ll take the opposite stance. While I agree that caste has little relevance on the present and the future, it has a great deal to do with our past. Caste had a big role in our families history and how we came to the place we are today, and is more than just an indication of social status. I think its noble that so little attention has been placed on making you conscious of what your caste is and isn’t, because sadly today it is something that causes more bad than good. But it is important to know where you’re from- so to speak. Are your ancestors from the kheth? where they skilled in carpentry? has been preserving the vedas and passing on knowledge been the purpose of your forefathers? It has little relevance in who you will be tomorrow, but it tells a story of your past, and your family’s past.

    I myself had issues with feeling less than adequate not coming from a high caste- and was sadly made to feel that way because of a teacher in India, but nonetheless, i realize the situation is improving in caste-consciousness even though people’s ignorance continues to make caste a status rather than a history.

    Just looking at it a bit differently.

    • Hey Mit,

      I do agree with what you are saying. Unfortunately I know very little beyond my grandparents. I would certainly look at caste a bit differently if it gave me more of an insight into my family’s past.

      Thanks for your comment! 🙂

  4. Caste still seems to be a big part of Indian cultures, whether people admit to it or not. I am Punjabi & although I hate the fact that it exists so prominently with my people, caste is something that haunts or helps people just based on their last name. Luckily, Sikhism helps people move away from that by using Singh & Kaur as their last name, to keep people from identifying people’s caste just based on their last name, but even then, there are problems that still exist.

    Parents, even these days, will encourage or deny someone being a suitor based on their caste, which is sad, but true. Thankfully my parents are not this way, but so many of my Punjabi peers have it tough because the person they want to be with, or love, is from a lower caste than they are, which automatically turns their parents against the union.

    People show pride in their usernames, on their Facebooks & on their cars based on being “Jatt” when in actuality, it just makes them look way too overly concerned with being a particular caste.

    My brother-in-law has started an organization called Peop1e which acknowledges and critiques the caste system, violence & discrimination because of it, & tries to give those less fortunate a voice. Check it out: http://peop1e.org/

    Congrats on the new domain! Love it!


    • I have heard of many instances where the parents don’t want their kid to be with someone because of his/her caste. It’s a really sad situation.

      Your brother-in-law’s organization sounds really cool! Props to him for starting something like that. 🙂

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