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?
It’s terribly difficult as a western European to get my head around honour killings for reasons such as caste. Times change and India (with China) is shaping up to be one of the two major world powers in the very near future. Can the caste system continue to exist? As countries develop, so the wider population is brought out of poverty and I’m just wondering, would the self-made millionaire care about his Sudras caste and would his now university educated daughter still be an unsuitable match for someone of the Brahmin caste? As times goes on, I think such things will no longer matter.
We unfortunately *very* occasionally hear of honour killings here in the UK and I find them incredibly upsetting. Apart from the obvious, they have no place in *our* culture. We have many faults here in the UK I know but freedom of the individual to be who they want to be, fall in love and marry who they want to be with is intrinsically a part of us.
You’re so right. Geography *is* destiny and it’s another reason why I may moan about aspects of Britain but oh how I love my country for the freedom it affords me.
Holy cow. That’s a terrible story. I’m so thankful I was allowed to choose my spouse and marry for love!
Geography has definitely played a role in shaping my life post marriage as i live in America with husband and kids , all my family is in India. I always think i would be a totally different person if i lived in India -the experiences and people i have met over the years has been totally determined by geography.
You’re absolutely right – geography is destiny. And that is why I’m here in the US whereas the rest of my family isn’t where I can make my decisions based on my own needs rather than societal expectations. I went through a divorce (which was a taboo so no one dares discuss it there), met someone else and had a baby with him. I’m not married but they think I am. Because my mom, who knows, could not bring herself to tell them otherwise – or so she says.
And that is why even though I am honest in my blog, I have to be careful with the things I reveal. I am proud of the life I have here – I just wish I didn’t have to hide it from them.
That said, I’m still grateful that I broke away from a society that would’ve otherwise held me back from living the life of my own choosing. My American Dream is not so much the big house and fancy cars, it’s the ability for me to choose and make my own destiny.
I believe that geography is everything for sure. It plays a big part on who you are as a person.
Reading newspaper everymorning while I lived in India, it was very depressing to read these stories about honor killing. I hated reading newspaper for that reason.
This reminds me of this particular story about village my grand parents lived. One of the neighbour’s daughter who used to play with us in summer when we used to go to my grandparents house for break. We were so used to seeing her at my grandparent house all the time during summer time. She was a little older than me and my sisters but she was really nice and we became good friends. we loved playing with her when she was with us.
It was really nice to have her with us, but one summer she did not come to play with us. So, we asked my grandmother, why isn’t she coming to play with us? She informed us that her father killed her because she was in love with some guy who was not her class and caste. I was so horrored by the fact, her father would rather have her dead than alive with someone not from the caste or class. I told myself that day, I am so glad I live in the city rather than this stupid village where girls get killed over stupid pride of caste and class.
There’s so much here, Rudri. Not only a tragic story (to Western viewpoints), but issues of name, heritage, cultural honor, even persecution.
Yes, geography is essential. Look at the freedoms we all exercise here, because of this geography. This country. The freedoms women exercise here, generally. Or various ethnic groups.
Look again at those same demographics, and even within this country, geography makes a huge difference in ways that are subtle and not. In terms of acceptance, safety, opportunities, even relationships. Likewise, religious affiliation.
Yes, geography. And also time. How far we’ve come in even 20 years, in many ways. (And farther still to go.)
Oh such terrible stories as this I know are a fact of life still in India. The other thing I read about so very often is how wives get killed by husband’s or else brutally disfigured by being set on fire or some other such horror because as they become more educated they challenge the old accepted regimes of obeying their husbands etc. Where we are born so very definitely has such a great influence on our lives. Also time – imagine myself being born a century earlier than I actually was, would I have had a full education, a career that allowed me to travel the world and have ended up here. Not at all.
Another very thought provoking post.
Gut wrenching, Rudri. Many, many years ago someone said to me, “You’re so lucky to have been born [in the United States].” At the time I was very young, very naive. I thought it was a strange comment.
Years later I was a journalism student, reading and writing about all manner of atrocities in the world, and I suddenly thought, “Oh, God, that comment was on the mark.” I choose to look at it as blessed, not lucky, but either way, my life is a gift. It’s a gift of having been born in this place, at this time.
We could get very detailed about geography, of course, as I think my experience was different from those who lived in other neighborhoods within the same city. Where you are – and when you are – matters, of that I’m certain.
And it breaks my heart to realize how much it matters.
Wow! What a moving story! I remember you telling me, when we first met, about you and Ash being in different castes and how scared you both were to tell your families and communities that you were in love and wanted to get married. I had never known anyone from Indian descent and subject to these “caste rules”, so I remember thinking how crazy that sounded – that your family would not want to you to marry someone you truly loved if that person was from a different caste??? It is very sad about this lady in India – that whether she was murdered or committed suicide – it was all because that rule trumped true love.
great post Rudri… Geography is indeed important, but so is the family that you are born into. My mom and dad fell in love and married in India in 1970 and belonged to different religions. If you think caste is taboo, imagine religion. But I have never seen two families that have been more different than each other come together and be more tolerant of the other. Of the 21 cousins I have, about 10 of us picked who we wanted to marry- caste, religion, and even language was no bar!!!! Only good people may apply. So yes, while this caste hideousness still occurs, there are definately enough examples of tolerance, also abundantly found. Caste’ism is a bane on Indian society and is a blight on the heritage of a great nation and I would argue, even against the essence of Hindu philosophy. For, who is the real brahmin? Per the Gita, it is anyone who tries to find the Bhrahman and comes upon the knowledge that we are all the same… ( as in the universal connectedness that binds us all together). Is it not ironic that the heritage that gave us this, is the same one that is shackled by a system that is so divisive and so medieval ?
Geography is destiny. Yes. And powerful stuff. I try my best to impart little pieces of this on my nearly 8-year-old son. I want him to be aware of the freedoms he has even now, at 8, that other children across the world do not…freedom, advantages, rights, etc.
I admire any and all love that tries to contradict the politics of its time and its location–it is devastating that this young woman’s life ended this way. I really cannot imagine having been born and raised in such a culture. It’s frightening, really, that people’s ideals of something like caste can outweigh L-O-V-E…the most basic of human principles and emotions.
Wow. Indeed, geography is destiny. I try to remind myself of this often, in a way of cultivating gratitude. How lucky I am – and it is just sheer luck, nothing else – to have been born here. To live in a country where women are empowered and hard work often yields financial security.
One of my best friends is Indian, born here in the US to parents who emigrated from India. She just returned from studying in India, and I was fascinated by her stories, mesmerized by trying to imagine what it is like there. (Bride burnings stuck in my mind – so shocking and hard to even imagine here.) Ultimately, I think the more we learn about other cultures the more we understand one another – so thank you for sharing this story, as very sad as it is.
Powerful post. And something I am so unfamiliar with – at least enough to think that this mindset is “old fashioned” and no longer followed. So sad, because there is never honor in killing.
Thanks for stopping by my blog and offering some much-needed encouragement about the residency process…I’m excited to check out your blog now too- I’ve bookmarked it so I can stop back later in the week and read through past posts!
Good morning. Came here through Justine, and love it. Am subscribing now.
I’m looking for blogs like these.
What an important and provocative post about a subject that is always sad and powerful; the way you tie it to geography is really interesting and thought-provoking. In my case, geography has proved to be destiny, though I’ve settled close to where I began. Geography has everything to do with the kind of culture and poverty that I know but that for many others remains obscure. It has shaped what I’ve chosen to do at work and how I choose to live at home.
I read this post a couple of weeks ago and kept meaning to come back to comment on it. This is such a powerful story. I do feel that geography is destiny, and I owe much thanks to my parents for changing our geography and therefore our fates. My parents immigrated from China to Peru to the US, and I am acutely aware of how different my life would have been had I grown up in either of those two countries…night and day…and it is all because of my parents’ decisions to move. I could easily be in a developing country right now…assuming I’d still be alive. Thanks for this post.