The last name Pathak probably won’t mean anything to you, but it means something to me. It is my Mom’s maiden name and in West Indian heritage, your last name indicates your caste. According to the Hindu scriptures there are four major class classifications: 1) Brahmin, the “highest” class which encompasses the priest class; 2) Kshatriyas, the warrior class; 3) Vaishyas, the farmer and trader class; and 4) Sudras, the servant class, often known as the untouchables.
My mom and her family as well as my Dad and his family are part of the Brahmin class.
The word caste isn’t something I’ve really thought about. I was born in Dallas, Texas and raised with an awareness that I am Brahmin, but in the context of suburban America this label means absolutely nothing. Growing up, I learned that there were various religious and cultural rituals that happened in each caste, but as a teenager, my goal wasn’t to highlight differences, but it was to blend in and assimilate. I often asked my parents the significance of the caste system and they would offer some general explanations, but I don’t know if I was ever satisfied by their response.
The business of caste didn’t come up until I got married. My husband isn’t a Brahmin, but from another class. Under religious rules (which I won’t get into here) it is karmically irresponsible to marry someone outside of your caste. But I had my own ideas about love and caste. For me, love and respect defined marriage, not caste.
So your probably asking the question, what is my point? This past Sunday morning, I was reading the front page of the New York Times and my eyes gravitated toward a familiar name, Pathak. On the front page, there was a profile of not the Pathak I know, but of another women named, Nirupama Pathak, who lived in India. At twenty-two, she decided to fall in love with a man from another caste, much to the dismay of her very Brahmin parents. After some time, she announced to her family that she was secretly engaged to this man. Her family began to pressure her, trying to convince her that this was the wrong thing to do. They believed she was betraying her religion and the social constructs that governed the caste system.
Days after she confessed her love, her body was found dead in her bedroom. Her mother is in custody accused of suffocating her daughter, while the family insists that the young Pathak killed herself. Either way, a twenty-two year old is dead. And the reason why? Caste.
The image of this girl and her story lingers with me. Honor killings for caste have happened for centuries. But this particular story hit me because I started thinking about geography. I am a Brahmin girl in the United States who fell in love with an Indian boy from a different caste. We got married and have a daughter.
This Brahmin girl in India fell in love and is dead.
Geography is destiny.
What is your geography? How has it shaped you? Do you agree that geography is destiny? Do you disagree? Why?