The Future Veal

This morning I was greeted by a friend’s FB post. It contained a reporting from India: “Biker dies after hitting a stray cow. Cops booked him instead of its owner.”

Confusing headline. Booked “him”? Him, who? The dead biker – because it was his fault as he had hit the holy cow? Or the cow – for being responsible for the biker’s death? Him? Its? Should it be his owner or its owner then?

This news can be interpreted in both ways. Cops booked the dead man, and not the cow’s owner (or) the cops booked the cow and not its owner. In both instances, it’s going to be stupid. Ideally, no one should be booked, as one is an animal and the other a dead person, but in this instance, the owner should be booked, because in India, owners of cows deliberately let their cattle loose in order to extract compensation from the drivers should their vehicles collide with their animal.

Reading the news, I was reminded of my earlier blog post about Cowistan. This is exactly what I had addressed in that post.

We cannot blame the cows at any point. Never. They do what they know best. Chew their cud all day long. They have no malice in their nature. To think of it, no animal in the wild has any malice. What they do, they do instinctively. It’s the Man that’s the worst animal on earth. Malicious, dangerous and frightening.

This is why other animals have fear in their eyes when approached by a human they don’t recognise. They are afraid of us more than we should be of them because we will kill them just for our taste, but they will only attack out of defence.

I met this little calf on one of my recent walks in the park. First, it was so frightened that it leapt haphazardly away from me, giving a slapdash performance, but then it slowly came near me, its head lowered enough for me to pat it. It was such a delightful sight as it placed its entire trust in me.

My thought at that point – this infant will soon make its way to the market. One of my kind will hang, draw and quarter it to serve another one of us.

It should not trust me. It should not trust any of us. We are animals.

The memory of stray cows often takes my mind to a funny remark an American friend once made after seeing a photo of a cow on the streets of Rajasthan I’d shared with him. According to him, the only cow they get to see was the one inside the hamburger. He didn’t say it in a uncaring way, because he’s not that sort of a person, but the remark kind of connects my above two accounts, the stray cow and the calf reared for the purpose of its meat.

Unlike my American friend whose comment was said as a joke, my other friend, an Anglo-Iranian-Indian, who I recently met, said that he and his family were “hardcore” meat eaters. Not sure why he used the word “hardcore”. Did he mean they eat more meat than an average meat eater, or they eat only meat at every dinner, or they keep trying different animals, or they go for the kill themselves and eat like animals, uncut and uncooked?

Does that mean that I’m a “hardcore” vegetarian? Because I do all of the above but to greens. Like that cow in my photo.

Sapna Dhandh Sharma

My Imaginary World

I’m imagining my world to be just that view.

The world with the sky in it.

The world with the birds in it.

The world with the butterflies in it.

The world with the Sun in it.

The world with green grass in it.

The world with many trees in it.

The world with cattle in it.

The world with rain in it.

The world with air in it.

The world with the moon in it.

The world with the stars in it.

The world with no people in it.

The world with just me in it.

Me, my thoughts, my feelings, my emotions, my life, changing with the changing season.

My world locked in them.

…… Sapna Dhandh Sharma

What Does Being A Hindu Mean?

Svástika – A divine and spiritual symbol in Hindusim

I am born into a Hindu Brahmin family in India. This statement alone equals to passport to respect, social privileges, and positive discrimination for life. Every single application form asks for your caste and I wrote ‘Brahmin’, unbeknownst to me at the time its importance in terms of being accepted in whatever it was I was wanting to choose as long as I had the right credentials.

So, why in the world would I even want to highlight the wrongs of the millennia-old system, – ‘The Caste System of India’?

The answer is – my conscience does not allow me to continue without questioning.

This world; its system, environment and abundance should also belong to someone else as much as they do to me.

Same as I am opposed to monarchy, which represents all that meritocracy does not, I am vocal about casteism as this too advocates the by-birth rights, undermining the efforts and struggles of those from the ever-growing educated class, some of whom were not born into the upper strata of the caste hierarchy, but qualify only through the constitutional concessions, in spite of having the right credentials. Funnily, this new breed became a target of mockery – ‘educational success because of concessions’.

How can an upper caste person’s access to privileges not be labelled as a concession instead of a prerogative?

So, in some way, both sides of the caste-scale fall under constitutional concessions. One side has all set. The other, not so. If the caste-scale transformed into a caste-balance, it will tip to one side. The more the weight of privileges, the lighter it becomes. Oppositely, the burden of inequality is heavier, which means those on that side will forever struggle to tip the balance in their favour.

Will it ever happen? I doubt it would in my lifetime, for there is a life beyond the educational system. The upper-caste mafia rules the roost in every region, department, field, discipline, branch, sector, and so on. For some have-nots, it is a grim situation of one-step-forward-and-two-step-backwards.

Social inequality is rife worldwide. India, on the other hand, has it etched in its institution of caste. India’s caste system dates back thousands of years. It is much debated, argued and, in recent years, even denied, especially by the “modern” Indians. Constitutionally, caste-based discrimination is abolished, but socially, it is practised as openly, and somewhat shamelessly, as it always has been and reflects a different reality to the radical statement of the modern-day Indian youth.

Having said that, in my experience, the caste-based discrimination among Indians living in the West is far greater than those living in India’s urban settings. The migrators who left the subcontinent decades ago held onto the ancient and un-progressive order they were born into like an infant onto its mother’s bosom. In many cases, minimal to none social integration, or interaction with the indigenous population meant further isolation from the progressive mindset, one which India’s youth wholeheartedly adopted and want to perpetuate. The mindset I gradually started to embrace by mentally shedding the upper caste skin. I don’t remember having interactions around religon or caste. I mildly lived that life in my home, around family who had their own cultural beliefs, but without being imposed upon. We had discussions in the house, but never foisting of ideologies. A pleasantly secular household. I had freedom to make choices in life. I was like a pampered child who was left loose in a sweet shop. Perhaps, that was partly the reason I felt ill-prepared for a world beyond my childhood, a world where freedom was not considered a birth-right.

My friends were from all faiths, castes and genders. There was no fear about anything in my life that was being shaped in the same pre-dominantly Hindu and casteist society. We discussed everything under the sky, except our differences. For a girl like me, stepping into the Indian life of Britain was like stepping into a world I did not grow up knowing. Even my parents did not grow up knowing that world. This might have been a world somewhat before theirs.

British Indian society, I felt, was a sort of strange concoction of desi and fringed native, an impotent east-west cocktail with illogical, uncompromising values at its core. The elders were unwilling to adapt, leaving their offsprings in a state of utter confusion. The result was sheer misery for many. Casteism, plus racism, combined with ever-present misogynistic attitude and double standards. This is not to say that Indians in India do not have these, but they can be excused for not having lived in the West where there is far greater equality. How can one enjoy the freedom that western life offers, but be unwilling to relinquish the life alien to the free world?

Some elders go as far as making their kids feel guilty by loudly reminiscing their own marriages to their uncles’ and aunts’ family relations, skipping one gotra, as they say. If kids had any sense, or freedom to that sense, they would argue back by calling it ‘marrying a second cousin’. So, the elders not only want their children to marry in the same caste, but in the same family too, if they can help it. Familyism?

Intercaste interactions will, despite the brainwashing and emotional blackmailing, occur. They have been happening for centuries. But, somehow, such interactions seem less in a familial situation than in the realms of matrimony or out-of-family friendships. Marrying outside the caste is still seen as an unacceptable, and somewhat shameful, act. One elder actually told me that her entire family had to relocate to another city, cutting off all the neighbourhood ties, because the daughter brought shame on the family by marrying a, what she described as, a lower caste man. This elder would never mention her daughter’s married surname to people because of the shame factor.

This is another thing… In Indian families, even if you leave the caste, the caste doesn’t leave you. It’s attached in the form of your surname. This whole ‘shame’ concept is simply incomprehensible to me, especially when families living in England engage in this kind of nonsense, but I also know that it’s a culturally inherent trait that has to be dealt at grass-roots level. It is almost like no one wants to steer the boat that faces the tide.

Each caste is happily or unhappily a part of this very complex network of occupational inter-dependence. This is a chain where every unit plays a designated role. You break that link, the whole network is affected. So, when the modern youth starts uttering liberal platitudes, he has to think about which section of the matrix he should first snap in order for the system to respond positively to bring about the much-required change.

What remains to be seen is how long can a system, which took thousands of years to evolve and perfect to this degree of inter-exploitation, be changed within the lifetime of any of those alive!

Will that change be internal, or will it only be a superficial victory?

….Sapna Dhandh-Sharma