THE caste system has always been an issue for an Indian, irrespective of where the individual is.
I have always felt that the lack of understanding by the Indian Diaspora has led the issue to be hijacked by irresponsible individuals to be used for personal gain and further split the community deeply. I repeat, my focus here is narrowed down to the Indian Diaspora and I am further narrowing it down specifically towards Malaysian Indians.
I have always had people complaining that the caste system should be abolished in Malaysia and it is causing racism within the community. Every time I try to explain it on my point of view, I end up being labelled as racist and so on. And then it hits me that lack of basic understanding of caste system in Malaysia had led to a negative viewpoint. Firstly I am going to further narrow down the subject to Malaysian Indians whom are Tamils. There are other communities that don’t face much of an issue in general. The Telegu’s would name their kids and add on the caste they come from such as Rao or Naidu whereas the Malayalee’s would add Menon or Nair. The only Malaysian Indian community that has a major problem with caste is the Tamils.
Before we go on even further, let me brief slightly on what is an Indian caste and how it works. Broadly speaking a caste system is a process of placing people in occupational groups. It has pervaded several aspects of Indian society for centuries. Rooted in religion and based on a division of labour, the caste system, among other things, dictates the type of occupations a person can pursue and the social interactions the individual may have.
Caste is an aspect of HINDU RELIGION. OTHER RELIGION in India does not follow the system.
Castes today are ranked in hierarchical order but what’s amazing is that the system wasn’t to have a hierarchy based on personality which leads to my understanding that it has been skewed somehow over time. The order then further determines the behaviour of one member of society over another. In the northern region of India, the system is classed mainly in 4. Whereas for the southern region and the Tamils in particular and as far being a Tamil myself, the system is divided to either Low Class or High Class. The most obvious problem with this system was that under its rigidity, the lower castes were prevented from aspiring to climb higher, and, therefore, economic progress was restricted. In India the government is sensitive about reserving seats in colleges and job opportunities for them. The government too has legislations to make up for the past suppression and oppression of the lower caste. Castes still rarely intermarry and are definitely not changeable. In urban India and the diaspora Indians, people of all castes meet socially or for business. This is indeed the briefest explanation I could give that gives you a general idea on the Indian Caste system.
But here in Malaysia it’s a very simple issue. The caste system is indeed a community issue rather than a national issue. Any Indian irrespective of caste is given equal opportunity and reward according to his skills and talent. If an Indian commits a crime, he faces the law irrespective of any preferences. There are only 2 scenarios that the caste issue is brought up in Malaysia which is at marriages and politics. The caste issues have also been much diluted by marriages through interracial marriages and inter caste marriages. Parents these days through experiences rather get their child married to a good partner irrespective of caste. At times love brings the differences together and breaks the caste dominance.
The only major breakout of Caste issues comes out of Malaysian Indian political parties as groups of individuals would accuse another group for giving positions to family members of individuals of the same caste. Of course it is for political gains which at times I deem as unnecessary and dangerous. A split of a major Malaysian Indian political party was heavily due to caste. Till date they have not been able to patch back for the common good. Will these politicians ever stop playing the dangerous game? NO. And having known that the caste card does not determine the livelihood of a Malaysian Indian, I always wished whomever that played the caste card to be not re-elected due to the irresponsible motives that brings no good to any individual.
So is it okay for these caste individuals to have meet ups and associations?
In my personal opinion I would say why not. When the Chinese could have associations for a particular community, why not the Indians? When the Malayalee’s and Telugu’s are proud of their identities, why can’t the Tamils be? As long the Tamils don’t use the caste card to bring any other community down and further focus in bringing the Malaysian Indians and the nation forward, by all means go ahead. In Malaysia hard work and honesty put food on your plate, not your caste. Caste is just an identity that is upon our description to either accept it or reject it. We have communities around us that lives harmoniously with what we are struggling at. To me, the caste system has been wrongly projected in Malaysia by irresponsible individuals and a rational understanding is needed not by the Malaysian Indians but by the Malaysian Tamils.
The article is written by Navinn Rajendran, a Malaysian Access reader. Article written is strictly his personal view.