The effect of a name should never be underestimated. What is in a name, one may wonder? Well, what isn’t? The first thing we learn about a person after greeting him or her is his or her name. Names not only reflect our personality but also give us the first inkling of the religion, race or community we belong to. There is a confusing array of names, surnames, middle names, nicknames, given names. You name it, it is there. But what concerns me most are the adhesive caste names.
The word caste derives from the Portugese ‘casta’ meaning race, breed or kind. In India, it is popularly referred to as ‘jati’ or ‘jaadhi’. The original purpose of the caste system was social stratification according to occupation so that society could function in harmony. But gradually it became exploitative, giving rise to social injustices and inequality among the people.
On 26th December, 04 when India witnessed one of the biggest disasters, Tsunami. The Government of India had ordered relief operations in states of the South. Less did it know that these operations were being carried out with caste as a determining factor. Villages like Kadapakuppam and Pattipulam of Kachipuram in Tamil Nadu, which are homes to the so called ‘untouchables’, received no immediate relief whatsoever. 175 families in Kadapakuppam and 280 in Pattipulam have suffered. Despite complaints no Govt. official had gone to their aid.
Amitabh Bachchan says that if ever asked about his caste by Census enumerators, his answer would be: Caste – Indian. That, of course, would do little more than stoke the media’s bollywood feeding frenzy yet again. Shyam Maharaj is no Bachchan. Nor is his brother, Chaitanya Prabhu. But they and the followers of their fraternity will likely throw up far more complex answers — and questions — if Census enumerators do finally pop that query on caste. “Our answer: we are ajaat. The ajaat was a bold social movement of the 1920s and ’30s that at its peak had tens of thousands of committed followers in what are present-day Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh which literally mean “ without Caste”. It was led by the colourful and eccentric social reformer Ganpati Bhabhutkar better known as Ganpati Maharaj. Chaitanya Prabhu and Shyam Maharaj are his surviving grandsons. I seriously think it is one of the greatest initiative taken ever since independence. An initiative which would fulfil the dream of a Castless India, A Castles nation.
But this movement last only till 1970s, 80s; movement witnessed a downfall with Guru’s death in 1944. And people like prabhu and chaitanya, who are still commited to this movement are bearing the brunt of doing good for this nation. Their children are not getting admissions in schools, colleges as the have never heard of their caste before. Ajaat candidates can’t contest panchayat polls, they cannot get ration cards without a huge struggle. Other villagers won’t marry into these families as their caste status lacks clarity. The followers of a once proud anti- caste reform have reduced to a couple of thousands people viewed as something like a caste themselves.
When we ask prabhu and chaitanya, so what happens if that enumerator does come around to your house with the question on caste? “Believe me,” says Prabhu, “It will confuse him. I think they should create a different category in the Census for people like us. We must declare who we are. We have fought against everything that stands for caste. But in this society, caste is in everything.”
No civilised person asks another what his caste is. But now govt plans to ask every citizen the question : “What is your caste”? Its very unfortunate that even after 63 years of independence, we don’t caste our vote, we vote our caste.
Lets not forget the great initiative of AJAAT Movement, lets not forget the very sacrifice made by people like prabhu and chaitanya, lets not make them feel that they did a mistake by doing a favour to their country. As a citizen its our responsibility to save the cause of AJAAT..
Be a part of the change, change for a Better India to live in.

Garima Jain

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