The Art Of Dividing Castes

May 26, 2010
Priyank Chandra

A little trivia for the uninitiated. Gotra literally means 'cow-shed'. The word has been in the news for a lot of reasons, mostly because it has been the cause of a lot of violence in many parts of India, and a reminder of the conflict between traditions and modern ideas of freedom.

It is ironic how the rigid caste system tries to prevent exogamy but on a rung lower, the rigid idea of gotra tries to ensure that this prevention doesn't become too narrow. It is rigidity all around, and it what any conservative society fights to keep. A right to remain rigid about old ideas. Whether the ideas are good or bad is not a matter of concern. It is that the ideas are tradition, and without tradition there is no culture, and without culture there is no society. What is left is a chaos of change that leaves society with little permanence, only a constant flux of ideas and ideals.

We can scream and rant about how it is a regressive system, how the past is ruining the present. But what is forgotten is that it is a far more complex evolution of social institutions, and more specifically the institution of marriage. Add to the crazy mess of the caste system, the current institutions of marriage are pretty much the only reason why the regressive divisive undemocratic caste system continues to exist. If people were forced to marry outside the caste, then the ideas of caste might probably have less weight in our society.

It is thus ironic that we condemn the idea of "preventing common gotra marriages". Maybe it is because somehow the idea of society being against 'love' is shocking to many brought up on a diet of masala films and romance novels. The idea of Gotra is shockingly regressive and backed with no scientific facts, but it is one, if not very efficient, way of maintaining diversity within the caste system. And seeing that we Indians are a million miles away from ending the system of caste, I suppose we should use whatever means we can. Because sometime a regressive action is the only way to curtail another regressive action.

Maybe a little ironic. But no problem is ever as simple as many make it seem to be. Especially many of the so-called 'liberals' who write for the media. (I just read a completely shocking piece by Chetan Bhagat in the TOI.)

I hate the caste system. I hate the system of gotra. I love how the gotra system attempts to, in an odd way, reform the evils of the caste system. It makes me smile at the absurdities of living in today's times.

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