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Thursday, August 2, 2012

An encounter with TRUTH.........

On that hot summer morning in Amritsar standing on the crowded holy bridge, holding parshad ( a sweet made up of wheat, sugar and ghee) in hands, altogether a different feeling came over me! I felt like a curious teenage girl who needed some answers immediately to steer her life in one direction. As a matter of fact, the bridge was like a bridge of faith for me-faith in my religion, society and myself; and I was crossing it now!

Untill I was in graduation, I wasn’t even sure what the word ‘caste’ even meant. I had grown up in a secular atmosphere which was secure from this dirty politics of Castism. And here I was, standing in one of the most pious of Sikh shrines; asking my Mom “Did our Gurus create Caste along with Sikhism?” ‘No’, immediately came the reply and I almost sighed with relief. The burden of castism did not rest on my community originally at least!

“But, Sikhs also have castes, How did this result then?” I asked. As expected the answer was that Sikhs had emerged from Hindus and the crude age-old system of Castism could not be eradicated from their minds even after conversion. Somehow other issues like idol workship, fasting and other hard core traditions got refined but Manu’s play was still on here. Then came the big question, “what would be your reaction if I marry a Sikh from lower caste?”  Almost immediately, my Mom replies that she would not be happy ofcourse! When I challenge her against the basic connotation of our religion, after an abrupt silence she changes her verdict. “If the boy is well educated and has a good job, we would not mind if you get married to a lower caste Sikh” Mom replied.  ‘What determines your acceptance of the groom from a lower caste or even a groom from other religion for your own daughter? Society?’ Yes, Mom agreed. “Then what exactly is Society?”

She looks at me curiously as I define society as age old beliefs of people becoming a way of life for the newer generation! But are they all to be followed? Who would judge that? Who is there to challenge the rules or norms which hurt? I keep wondering about the helplessness of man in a society as the Shabad (Hymns being sung in a Gurudwara) “SatGur Mera Poora’ (God is Complete) plays in the back drop of the serene place.  


What does it take to be in Army? Apart from physical and mental fitness, there is a core value that binds all men in green! The sole aim to serve their homeland; fight for her respect and dignity. This unity in ideas is what makes Army a unique institution. What if the unity we see is only skin deep? What if caste and regionalism raise its ugly head in this perfect world too?

Today Army is afflicted with many problems like dearth of officers, lack of latest equipments and technology upgradation as well as the most feared corrupt officials ‘here and there’. What is still a hidden problem is differentiation of troops by region and caste. The magnitude of the problem is small but it reminds me of the phrase; ‘Elephant passed through the needle but the tail still remained!’ Here the tail of the elephant includes two regiments; Sikhs and Marathas. They still seem to be living in typical manu’s society. SIKH Regiment is purely Jat Sikhs  (Jats being the upper caste) whereas SIKHLI  is the  fusion of all Majhabi sikhs (lower castes of the Sikh community). As a matter of fact, when Sikh religion was born, it had no place for any concept of caste. The very first five men, “Panj Pyaare’ who were decorated as Sikhs belonged to lower caste of Hindus. There was no discrimination against them and they were considered the pious ones!

Coming to the second one, MARATHA LI  Regiment, which is considered to be a pure regiment consists of all upper caste Marathas, whereas MAHAR  is a regiment  of all lower castes! Here again what seems important to notice is that Mahar is the name of the lowest of castes in Maharashtra who have the history of being  ‘wronged’ against.

The recruitment of soldiers (not officers) is done according to their caste in these two regiments. I wonder why this discrimination only in these two regiments when the whole of India suffers from the grunt of Castism? As we hand over  the reins of the country to our young well educated officers, we can never imagine that they would be differentiated in such a menial way! Then why our soldiers? It may be the fact that when Army was constituted,  Britishers allowed the ‘problem of caste’ to continue into the system.  but today,  if Army  insticates the differences due to caste in minds of soldiers, it may be dangerous for the strength of the institution.

The concept of regionalism in Army can still be understood as the warriors from different regions came together to form the great institution. But I still seek the answer to why a difference due to caste exists in a secular arm of the Defence forces even up to this day? Is there anyone to offer that logic to me? Or the answer still remains as hidden as why educated humans still believe in dehumanising caste traditions?