Caste aside all prejudice

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relegionsControversy erupted after Idukki Bishop Mar Mathew Annikkuzhikkattil remarked that Christian girls should not marry SNDP (Ezhava community), Muslim and backward class boys. It is pertinent that he did not have an issue if Christian girls married Brahmin boys.

Every Sunday during private church meetings, the vicar passes such diktats. This is the first time that a bishop has made such a statement in public.

When I was in college, inter-caste and inter-faith marriages were a regular feature. Following such an incident, the priest would call an emergency meeting of all church members and ask all the girls in the gathering to confess to their ‘sins’. The practice continues.

Oddly, the communist party in Kerala has not spoken out against the bishop’s remarks, unlike in the past when the Left actively opposed such activities.

There is an assumption in India that if a backward caste individual has been able to achieve anything in life, it has been as a result of reservation. That is not the case. In fact, even reservation has not been able to improve the status of backward castes in society.

Despite changing times, casteism seems to be ingrained in the mindsets of Indians and remains an integral part of the culture – even in education, which is supposed to rid society of such ills.

As a kid, I went to kindergarten at Pathnapuram. This primary school was a far cry from the ones many fortunate readers of this magazine must have attended in metropolises. It was a wooden shed propped up on four pillars with a thatched roof made of coconut leaves. There was no furniture or stationery: We would sit on the floor and write on sand.

I vividly recall one of the teachers who initiated me into the world of letters. He was a dark, very short, bald fellow who wore attire typical of teachers in those days: white kurta and mundu. This humble gentleman has taught many generations of students in my village. Everyone called him Aashan Sir (Master Sir).

Later, in secondary school, I was fortunate in the mentorship of an energetic and proactive teacher, Kochu Kunju, who also happened to be a distant relative. He also egged us to take part in sports and extracurricular activities, even if he had to travel great distances with us. There we were exposed to healthy competition with other schools.

Unfortunately, these two gentlemen, who invested so much energy in moulding thousands of children, never got their due — because they belonged to a backward class. With a feeling of revulsion, I recall how students made casteist comments behind their backs. The contribution these two men made to our lives is immense; it is a debt that cannot be repaid. It won’t be an overstatement to say that if Kerala is a highly literate state today, it is due to the efforts of such men and women who impart valuable lessons that empower underprivileged children to change the condition of their lives.

During a recent visit home, I suggested starting a football tournament in the name of one of my teachers but to my shock most people rejected the idea. Some agreed on the condition that his name be disassociated from it.

Today, I recall that there were many incompetent teachers who made a mockery of the institution of education, yet were held in high esteem as they belonged to ‘upper’ castes. It is shameful how the caste of an individual still plays a role even when it comes to recognition. They were beneficiaries of the reservation system but did not get due respect from their students.

I remain indebted to Aashan Sir and Kochu Kunju Sir. May the coming generation of teachers also teach students not to discriminate on the basis of caste, as parents clearly are not doing a good job of it. That such retrograde thoughts are still prevalent in our society 68 years after independence makes my head hang in shame.

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