My schooling has been such that we never bothered, despite being in Bihar, who was which caste or even religion. I come from an area where brahminical dominance and idiocy is still not giving way to equality. I belong to the upper caste and unwittingly chosen surname ‘Bharti’ is often used by the lower castes. While ‘Bharti’ means Saraswati, the goddess of wisdom, I have heard people unknowingly believing I was from a lower caste and they regretted having shared their food with me.
I am from the same place where I see these untouchability being practiced every single day whether on the basis of religion or caste. I know people in my village and among friends who would claim that they vomit after shaking hands with a Muslim. Worse, they feel good about it and justify with generalisations. But I don’t forget the fact that at Sainik School Tilaiya, my alma mater, I would visit our Muslim teachers in the time for iftaar.
And I also remember how our school captain, irrespective of his religion and caste, at times a Muslim, would fast whole day on Janmashtmi and sit around holy fire chanting mantras and giving ahutis.
But at the same time I can’t say that I have always denied these identities. Prior to graduation and even during it I had many prejudices against caste and religion. This could easily be because of wrong company, wrong words being fed constantly and ignorance of fact that we choose to do as per our convenience.
This is another kind of intolerance that creeps in. Normal talks of ‘all the Muslims are not terrorists but all terrorists are muslims’ are weird correlations that we are unconsciously fed to believe. Now I fear when I hear such words from well educated individuals trying to back it up with high pitched voice devoid of logic.
Unconsciously, we pick up a North Eastern person and call him or her Chinki. I had used it. In fact due to my looks my friends always call me that but it is for the fun of it. When I used to hear it back in 2004, I found no fault in it. I used it. And I used it with insulting tones. I used it to generalise them all, seeing them all as one race which apparently are difficult to be identified. The issue of identification was a fake logic which appeared correct because many said so.
But it went away when I heard someone using Bihari as an abusive word. It didn’t sound any great even when someone said, “Hey, I am not insulting or profiling but you know Bihari are like this or that!” It did pinch and bite me. It did anger me even when said in fun.
It was then I started to avoid using any term as such. I would feel delighted when the context of the word Bihari was to convey something good. It is a proud thing to be associated with the word but there is can’t be any pride in being called a Chinki. Plainly, for the fact that it is mocking one’s appearance. So I changed my adjectives from appearance to the place. I would rather call someone Assamese, Manipuri or North Eastern rather than a general Chinki which is outrightly insulting.
The problem is, society injects you with the wrong words so much that in an accidental case you will always have the most contemptuous words for the person in front. You would say bad words, without a thought, abuse, tackle and in some cases shoot them if you have a gun! Prejudices drive people crazy and attack rational abilities of the brain.
Society, in a way, makes you a hypocrite, said a friend today. And I couldn’t agree more. At school the teacher would teach you to be objective and outside you are taught not to meet one person for one reason and another for another. Who to go, who to believe? Parents, friends, teachers all appear right to us. And till we attend our questioning abilities, if at all, it is hard to do away with our attitude which harms us and the society equally.
I am not writing to give someone a remedy. The remedy is just giving time to yourself. I took time to realise things. I am still on it. I still unconsciously become a racist, sexist, and all ‘ists’. But I realise that and try to remember it. I don’t carry a guilt about it rather I just hope to avoid being such in the next instance.
It’s not fun for the receiver however funny it is to us in whatever pitch or tone we utter words, hurl phrases and converse in closed rooms among friends. It doesn’t go away in an instance, but it does decrease slowly and becomes nil if we just care. Caring is passé, not caring is fashion. This fashion needs to be outdated for good.