Rohit Kumar's Views

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What is your caste?

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Anwer Mooraj

Just as this writer has never met anybody who is looking forward to his next appointment with the dentist, he has also not met anybody who doesn’t go a little pale when an envelope arrives from the income tax department. So when this ominous looking sachet turned up a couple of days ago from the Darakshan police station at this writer’s residence, he was greatly relieved to discover that all that the envelope contained was a printed data collection form which asked a resident to provide basic information about a householder and his family which would help the law enforcement agency to act expeditiously in the event of an emergency.

The police didn’t specify just how details on the form would help the flatfoots nab an intruder. However, though one greatly appreciated the gesture, one couldn’t help being a little irked by the inclusion of a word which had been scribbled in, as if as an afterthought. The word not only stuck out like a sore thumb, but also conveyed the impression that the answer to the query might determine the degree of promptness and alacrity with which the police would tackle a problem should it arise. The word, in case the reader hasn’t guessed it after reading this far, was …caste.

What is quite inexplicable is that the word which ought to have been thrown out in 1947 still appears in government forms and applications. One remembers an incident in a sessions court in the late 1990s, when it made an ignominious verbal appearance, and this writer who had kissed the Blarney Stone in Ireland to acquire the gift of eloquence, was, for the first time in his life, at a loss for words.

He was appearing as a witness in a case where a student, in a fit of unrequited passion, had emptied the chamber of his pistol on the premises of the cultural centre of which the writer was executive director. The day had apparently started rather badly for the lady judge who had a powerful voice which could be heard in the parking lot. She had a cold and her stenographer had not turned up. This meant she had to record details in long hand. This posed something of a problem as the pen, after recording the witness’ name and family details, refused to cooperate. Suddenly, the judge looked up from her desk and fixing this writer with a cold stare said, “caste?”

This was the moment of truth. There was pin drop silence in the hall and one got the impression that all eyes were turned on the witness who felt that if he gave a derisory answer, he might be banished to the salt mines. For a brief second, he contemplated telling the judge that he believed there were no castes in Islam and if she wanted to find out if somebody was a Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaishya or Shudra, she should cross the eastern border. But as he had only three seconds to come up with an answer, before he was suspected of being an immigrant from the Transvaal, he took a deep breath and said, “Rajput.”

This seemed to satisfy the judge and everybody else in the courtroom who nodded sagely, and it must have satisfied the police. Regrettably, the caste system is alive and kicking in Pakistan.


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