Wednesday, May 8, 2013

When Gori's Adopt the Caste System

It's my understanding that as people we openly reject being labeled *unless* we perceive the label as beneficial to our social standing. For example, we would get upset if someone labeled us as "loose" the way most westerners are labeled by Indians. It's reasonable right? I think so. However, if we belong to a group of individuals we identify with then we happily apply labels to ourselves, such as the word "pardesi" or even "gori." Many a girls in our group have proudly worn the "gori" label, I was previously one of them and still don't mind being called so as long as it's not in a negative light.

A few pardesi women, thankfully not that many anymore, have chosen to wear caste labels as if they earned them. Yes, your husband's family may have previously been Brahmin. Or now your husband is a Sardar (part of the Sikh religion). None of these apply to a pardesi who married into the family nor does his status mean anything about you or make you a more important person. You simply do not earn a caste or ranking by proxy and your husband having this label means nothing for you. Ever. 

This is one area of pardesi life that baffles me. Why you ask? Because Indians are actively working to abolish the caste system completely. It's been outlawed in the country, with exceptions for giving college seats to previously lower individuals on the caste hierarchy and such. There are (what is wrongfully still called) Dalit's fighting to prove their value in society. There are well known individuals who are actively fighting in an effort to promote a more equal social landscape. So why would a pardesi adopt such an archaic practice?

It's good to see that not many girls do this. You are not your husband. You do not need him to define you. You need more of a personal label in life, something that identifies you. You should be your own person with a husband who complements you.

Another hierarchy I've noticed in the pardesi ranks is who has been married longer. Yes, with time comes knowledge but that doesn't make you better than someone married less time. As a more seasoned wife you should be guiding and leading the newer wives and not putting them down for what they haven't yet had the time to learn/discover.

We can't all work together as long as we want or need to feel better than others. That's an insecurity within yourself. No one person is better than anyone else regardless of race, color, creed, religion, political standing, career training, etc. You may have more knowledge on a subject but that does not make you a more valuable life than anyone else.

If you're not Indian, have you ever had a place in the caste system that you identify with?
If you or your husband is Pakistani, Nepali, Sri Lankan or other Desi culture, what is your take on the caste system? Does it exist in other desi cultures?
Have you had other, more seasoned wives, treat you like a lower class citizen when looking for help on a subject you weren't familiar with?


  1. I was born into the [Nepali] Brahmin caste--I say was because I do not identify with belonging to this caste (however, I do acknowledge the many unfair advantages that I received because I belonged to said caste).

    I definitely think we should actively work to abolish the caste system and it appalls me that foreigners are adopting their husband's caste. Something else to consider is that the only reason these foreigners can even contemplate adopting said caste is because they're women. It's a patriarchal system in which a woman's husband wouldn't be able to do the same.

    My husband (who's Indian) was raised in such a way that he had no idea what his caste was until he had to put it in our wedding form.

  2. The term "Sardar" has nothing to do with caste. It's just a word to describe a Sikh man. "Sardarni" is a word for a Sikh woman.

    According to article XVII of the Rehat Maryada, Sikhs must take the name Singh (for men) and Kaur (for women) rather than keeping a caste name. Sikhi philosophy itself maintains that caste should be abolished. Granted, ideals of Sikhism and cultural practice are quite often at odds.

    So, just wondering why you singled out the term "Sardar."

  3. My partner and I are not married, but we have been together for a lot longer than most of our married friends. Just occasionally I'll meet someone or read something online and feel the person is trying to impress some kind of superiority through their marital status ... it's annoying, but I try to remember (as others have mentioned here) that it usually boils down to a sense of inferiority in them.

    It's a shame when people feel that they need a label or crutch to justify themselves, but if there are extenuating circumstances (lack of acceptance, low self- confidence stemming from childhood) then I hope these people find the kind of support they need to feel happy in just being themselves. :)

  4. My husband was similar to yours. He didn't even know his actual last name (the caste based one) until our wedding cards were printed. His family renounced it long ago and he wasn't raised with the name. Yay good old Indian system where you can get away with things like that. His uncle changed his name as well because he didn't want to be associated with the caste system and took the last name Singh (they're Hindu) just because he liked it lol. It's one thing I'm grateful my Indian family seems to want no part of.

  5. You're right about "Sardar." My reasoning is that beyond caste, some girls also try to portray this as if it means something to them and makes them more important in society as well. It's the same concept, but different story basically. I wrote this post a while back and it was a bit hasty in coming up with terms and I'm dead sure I didn't explain that part correctly.

    I've seen girls who adopt both. As in saying "my husband is a (insert caste) Sardar. When I hear these things I just think how sad it is she has no identity of her own and thinks that her husbands accomplishments validate her. It's only the pardesi's I hear this from and I've never heard a Sikh talk about his caste (which is a good thing).

  6. I think you hit the nail on the head! They are looking for a way to fit in, but this is not the route to take IMO. Good insight on where this could come from. I'm sure they are looking to try and sound more important or something of the sorts.

  7. I hope they find it too! If you give up your own identity for a relationship or you need to take on your husband/SO's identity to feel valuable then that could severely damage the relationship (if it is even any good already).

  8. Yeah, unless a Sikh is a certain kind of person who values some aspects of culture over his or her religion, you wouldn't ever hear one talk about his or her own caste. Which makes it doubly weird that the spouse of a Sardar or Sardarni would do so.

    If *I* were to have written this post, I'd probably have focused on the "(insert caste)" part and not on the "Sardar" bit. Just because it's a little frustrating to see a word from Sikhi be associated with casteism, when you're really pointing out the use of non-Sikh, cultural words.

    But yes, unfortunately just as common to hear about caste in parts of Punjab as it is elsewhere in India, especially when in the farmland areas.

    I haven't ever personally heard any wife, pardesi or not, talk about a Sikh husband's caste, but I understand your "don't lose yourself in your husband's identity!" sentiment and agree with it, too.

  9. I find this to be entirely untrue! Have you never read cars with surnames plastered across them, heard people refer to themselves as 'Jatt Sikh' or heard the names Gill, Dhillon, Virk, Bhatia, Walia etc.
    These are all ways that Sikhs use the caste system... Do you think in SIkh marriages they marry outside of Gotra?
    There is constant discussion of Jatt Sikh VS Khatri or Amritdhari VS Sehajdhari VS Gursikh and cut surd and the list goes on!
    Egos and pride are common realities of human existence. Everyone wants a label, a place to belong and a way to identify themselves. I use my husband's name only because it is not easily identifiable as an Indian name (of course not the case for Indians).

  10. Oh and if this seems like an attack I do apologise and of course I do have limited experience within a limited section of Punjabi and Sikh culture but just wanted to say that Sikhs are not beyond elitist behaviour.

  11. Yes, I agree. That's why I made the distinction between Sikhi and Punjabi culture in the first sentence of my last post.

    I don't quite understand why it is so common to see Singhs and Kaurs take caste names. That's exactly the opposite of what the Gurus wished for Sikhs. A bit disheartening, isn't it?

  12. I haven't come accross goris taking their husbands caste as such, but I have seen a fair share of ones claiming they are still Christians adopting every single hindu traditions of their husband, even when there are no in-laws to please around, going about wearing sindoor, mangalsutra, glass bangles, bindi, toe rings, observing karva chaut and yet going to Church service on Sunday. They justify their hindu marital signs as "My husband is Indian" and I can't help but wonder if these ladies are so low on confidence that then need to exist only through their husbands culture.
    Some of these ladies that are not necessary displaying any of their cultural root and aren't religious also suddenly go on the everything Indian is superior bandwagon, and are the one getting offended if anbody around them who aren't Indian are doing something "wrong" because they suddenly decide that they are the sole guardian of indian culture now that they are married to someone of Indian origin. I even had a few pointing out it was really sad to see Indian women no longer wearing Sindoor after marriage, or wearing only a tiny dot at the hair line as opposed to the whole hair line, or sad that modern women are wearing western wear when sarees and salwaar suits are so elegant...what these women are doing is holding to old practices refusing to understand that india is changing too and that many women over there don't want to be branded WIFE so oppenly and wearing all the marital status attributes at all time.

  13. Well, my husband is a 'high caste' Kashmiri Muslim.
    This rather puzzled me for a while.
    There is NO caste in Islam according to the Quran.
    I asked my husband about this & he just grinned & shrugged.
    I asked my husband what caste is a white American woman married to a 'high caste' Kashmiri Muslim man?
    He said 'You don't have to worry about that.'
    So I asked my teenaged Kashmiri Muslim nieces & nephews what 'caste' meant to them.
    This is what they said-
    'We are high caste so it is no problem for us.'
    What about 'low caste' people, is 'caste' unfair to them?
    Once again-
    "We are high caste so it is no problem for us, we don't know how it affects low caste people.'
    But there is no 'caste' in Islam, so 'caste' is un-Islamic, right?
    Giggles & shoulder shrugs.
    Shows you what a blend of Hinduism & Islam there is in Kashmir.
    Bet the Taliban wouldn't like that.

  14. "Caste goes beyond religion."

    That is precisely my point, in India all religions are 'Hinduized' to some extent.

    Easter celebrates the resurrection of Jesus Christ, it does share common symbolism with the Jewish Passover. In Latin countries Easter is Pascha or Paschal from the Hebrew Pesach & is indeed homonymous. In English/Germanic speaking countries 'Easter' was used, possibly from the Indo-European goddess of the dawn 'Oestre' or possibly a corruption of the Latin 'in albis' or 'month of opening'.

  15. Yeah I think that sums up caste fairly well lol. I am sure the Taliban wouldn't like the blend with Hindiusm either. Let's hope they don't read my post coming up on the caste system in general. :P

  16. There is a bit of a contradiction in what you are saying, not that I do not agree ('You do not need him to define you') but gori/pardesi group is by definition based on women connected by who they are married to (or in a relationship with), it's by definition not very feminist at all!! That's why I talked on my blog about contradictions! And logically those who have been married/in a relationship with a desi longer would probably know more about some of the issues discussed, even if the some of the experiences they are aware of are those of friends and family! But of course, help should be offered. But if you can't meet up in real life and share your experiences, you can see how you could end up dispensing advice. For myself I feel that I've enjoyed being part of the community but the concerns are mainly those of your 20s and 30s and as I will be 39 soon, I'm thinking of stopping my blog as I've not got much more to contribute and I want to move on, though I would like to carry on my language blog.

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  18. You make a great point. I hadn't thought of that! I don't use the pardesi/gori label offline at all. I think I actually only use it on the blog as a distinction more than a label. It is something to think about though. It's like one of those good labels we think makes us fit into the group more.

    It would be sad to see your blog go away but I understand your feelings on the issue.

  19. I've still got a few more posts so will see - it's been a shame that a lot of the ones I liked have stopped or blog only vary rarely, however I like yours!

  20. What I really think is that women share more generally with female friends than men share with male friends. That is the real reason we group together, it looks like we are defining ourselves by who we are married to but it's more a reflection of the fact that we share information. So if men (in this case desi men married/in relationship with pardesi women) shared more about their personal lives with male friends they would also want link to other men with pardesi wives but the way men are they would feel awkward I think and not have much to say!! Obviously there are excpetions I used to read Bideshi Biya

  21. Thank you! I'm glad you like my blog. I wish so many didn't just stop blogging as well. There were quite a few good blogs out there who quit because their families found out and they couldn't blog freely anymore or other things like that. It's so sad to see them go.

  22. Yeah I miss Bideshi Biya. He was one of my favorites. I think some commenters were too harsh on him. I'm not sure why some people can't seem to handle if others have different (or more negative) opinions than them.

  23. just curious why did your in laws converted to sikhism?i thought brahmin is upper caste?

  24. They didn't convert, they're still Hindu. They've also renounced the caste system but as far as I know Brahmin is upper caste.