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The Ugly Truth about Caste in Kerala

Many years ago, when I wrote this post on Kerala's caste system, I had not considered the possibility that my thoughts and my personal journey would receive such online abuse or that I would be seen as some one who was trying to insult other castes. The intention of writing is always to share an experience and not to insult others. My experience of motherhood and marriage would be different from yours. When I write about my experience, it is illogical to shout that as being insulting to your experience because our journeys are entirely different narratives. 

My question is - why do you ABUSE any caste or person here? You are free to disagree but why do you ABUSE? How does that reflect on YOU?

In my article, I shared what trials I went through, without any intention to insult any community. The intention of my article is to question - why are we even exchanging insults over an issue called caste? 

Should we not be aspiring to be above caste considerations instead of abusing each other over this?

In Kerala, one of the first things you are bound to be asked by even new people you've just met is, "What is your caste?"  This is not a tirade against any caste but my experience, personally. And just for information, I have never used my caste name 'Menon' to this day because I never believed in the caste system although there are 'anoymous' users here who say so as though they know my name fully - maybe they should first have the courage to reveal their own names before they accuse me of using my caste name - which is incorrect.

As some one who is a Menon by birth, I can also tell you frankly that it often feels like a curse because of many reasons especially when it comes to being shunned for government jobs and in educational institutions. While Kochi has a cosmopolitan approach, I found it completely different in Trivandrum during the one year I studied there.

In Trivandrum, when I was studying there, I was the last admission to the hostel that was already full. I got one of the best rooms - very spacious for four people, and it had a clean bathroom too. I didn't know how lucky I was till i got to meet the others who were final year students.

They all told me that you had to be either a VVIP (you know i am not that!) to get the room in the first year itself, or you had to be a Menon (that I am). I was shocked. I couldn't believe it though I was grateful for getting a good room. When the phone in the hostel stopped working during a holiday weekend, some of the girls asked me to go to the neighbor's house and make the complaint by phoning the telephone department. I said, why should i do that, why don't you people do this?

They told me, "The lady of the house will let only upper castes into the house."

Several Kerala Christians and Muslims accept Caste System
I said, you must be joking. I couldn't believe this is happening for real. With these girls in tow, we went to the neighbor' s home. A Christian doctor's home! Imagine, and i thought Christians were totally opposed to the caste system! 

Anyway, the door opened. The lady of the house looked at us like we were scavengers, carrying some terrible infection. I explained and she asked very rudely, "whats your caste?" and when I said Menon, she said, "Only you come in, ask the others to stand out." I was so uneasy and angry. I made the call and quickly came off. This is the extent of literacy in Kerala - we ask for caste, we demand dowry and gold but of course, we call ourselves very educated and cultured.

In the same hostel that I stayed, another Christian friend's father who came to meet his daughter asked me my caste. When I said i am a Menon, he told me directly, "I always tell my daughter never to mingle with those who are not Nairs and Menons. It's a matter of our family honour." I was shocked. This is coming from a well-known businessman from Chengannur, a Christian by religion and his daughter is an engineer who is studying for IAS!  

No wonder, Swami Vivekananda called Kerala as a 'madhouse of caste.' I agree, especially after reading all the caste-based abuses hurled at me in the comments section. 

Dear Great and WISE People, you are ABUSING a woman for sharing her personal journey? 

Kerala Menons have to fight for their basic rights whether you accept it or not

In real life, being a Menon is like being denied every decent right that is available to everyone else in the country. But I have been receiving so much abuse for saying this - what does this tell me about YOUR MINDSET? 

My father topped and got entry for both medical and engineering way back when entrance exams were not yet the norm. As always, the seat for medical colleges were prone to manipulation and his merit seat was denied to him because he is a Menon. Not just him, a whole batch of Menon students who had cleared and should have got the medical admission were denied the same in the name of caste! Thankfully, my father filed a case in court and it is the famous lawyer Advocate Shiva Shankara Panicker who argued his case (his son is Justice K Radhakrishnan, SC Judge at present). He won the case and my father got his medical seat on merit. But he had lost an academic year during the litigation process and so did the others. Even now I don't know how much has changed for the Menons. 

This unfortunate social phenomenon called caste has further divided Kerala as a caste-ridden, materialistic society that places almost zero emphasis on nurturing human values like compassion and commitment to the unfortunate or vulnerable sections of the society. We have become a state that is obsessed with status symbols more than anything else. This shame is growing with us, destroying all that was good, pure and beautiful about Kerala.

Okay, i am not accusing anybody here, am just telling u what an ordinary Menon/Nair/Nambiar goes through in Kerala and we don't really enjoy this , not the way some people here enjoy abusing me in the comments section. 

It also ironically means that you get more respect in the homes of Christians and Muslims who in turn love to call you by your caste name, as a sign of respect. I would have expected people of other religions to embrace equality rather than subscribe to narrow casteist views. For many of their weddings, they tell us, "We have kept separate seating arrangements for you, Menonkutty." Not sure whether that's a good or bad sign yet. I am happy to be me - an Indian, thank you very much. 

In a nutshell, we as Menons and Nairs, are deprived of opportunities in education, government jobs and government promotion lists (but we have the right to die out of frustrations arising out of govt discrimination). I am making fun of the entire system, not glorifying it, for God's sake. We have social respectability, as if that can pay our bills! 

However, I also wonder why people prefer to forget that the very last Rajah of Travancore passed a law which allowed those who were socially vilified as "Untouchables" to enter the temples in his realm. This was way back in 1936. Does anyone remember it today? We talk of other social reformers who have now earned the status of gods. I admire them but why is it that the last Rajah of Travancore is never given the same respect? Is it because he is unfortunately of royal birth and lineage? Lets at least start with a balanced view of how casteism is not supported by every Malayali out there. There are many who opposed it right from the start.

Mata Amritanandamayi on Caste
In an intimate conversation that I was blessed to have with Her Divine Grace Jagadguru Mata Amritanandamayi Devi (Amma, as those of us who love her call her - but please note, I am not a devotee, i am someone who loves her deeply - ), I asked her, "Ammey, why is there so much hatred and anger and intolerance in the name of caste in our society? Isn't God above caste? Why is it such a big problem even today? Do you support it?"

Amma looked deep into my eyes and held me close and said, "My child, it has and will always be a big problem in our society. That will not change. No one can change it. You cannot change it."

I was deeply disappointed by her reply and I persisted, "But Ammey, you emphasis only on love. Why then do you speak in support of the caste system?"

She smiled a beautiful smile, the one that intoxicates our hearts with deep, unbelievable love. Then, she told me, "I do not support the caste system because God is above caste. Caste is of no importance to God. God sees and responds only to love. But when you, as a person and as a daughter in a family, live in a society that believes in caste and has age old practices relating to caste, you have a duty to respect the beliefs of others,  because you are part of the society, your family is part of it and so it goes from one family to another. God is not bound by caste, it is people who are bound by it because they chose to. Amma, specifically, believes only in love and not in caste."

I always wonder - Why is it that in God's Own Country, this is never really put into practice? Why have we not yet opened our minds and hearts to greater awareness?  Amma is a beautiful example of loving patience, compassion, and incredible simplicity - maybe we should learn something from her too. Have you ever heard her ABUSE anyone over a different viewpoint?

I oppose the caste system strongly and do not believe in it. When you abuse me, you reveal the ugly side of all that is wrong in India's caste ridden society.

P.S. Before you abuse me using 'anonymous' IDs saying that I am glorifying Menons or criticizing other castes, please understand this: I don't have an agenda here - I am not a politician trying to woo a vote bank. I am an Indian woman, who does not believe in the caste system, has never used the surname Menon and is very HAPPILY married to a Thiyya and my son is perhaps the best amalgamation of both castes. Is that so difficult to understand? For Anonynous people with an agenda to abuse, I guess it is still rocket science.


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