A casual chat with a friend on the kind of questionnaires that one is asked to fill in now a days for various purposes reminded me of this story. My friend had trouble when she refused to fill in a box calling for her religion. The interviewer simply put what he thought should be the answer! When she informed me about this, I suggested that it could possibly be due to a computer program that would take the information on this form as input would reject the whole form if some boxes were left empty and that is when I remembered this story.
In 1988, my son had to fill in a form in his junior college to register for the board of education records. Two of the questions that were asked pertained to his religion and his caste.
For some background information, in India these two pieces of information are very necessary for statistical purposes and to establish quotas for admission into educational institutions and government employment, subsidies etc. We have elaborate quotas for what is called affirmative action to pull up the less empowered. At the same time, we also have regular calls to be secular and not accept the restrictions imposed by religion and caste, from, you guessed it, our “leaders”.
My son could not fill in the details, as he honestly did not know what to put down. His late mother, then very much alive, was a Methodist Christian, and on one of his visits to his grand mother’s place at a much younger age, he was baptised by a visiting priest. He had undergone baptism as a lark and after that, had never heard anything more about being a Baptist or a Christian. He had also been participating in many rituals and rites in his paternal homes that followed the Hindu system. Caste was a word completely new to him.
The Principal of the college suggested that I be called for a meeting and I promptly rushed there. I explained the situation to the very smart gentleman there, but he simply said that if I did not put down something in those two boxes, my son would not get his examination tickets to appear for the Board examinations. He would not accept Nil as entries as he informed me that the computerised system did not have that as an option. I had no other option but to put down his religion as Hindu. When it came to the Caste, I thought that I might as well have some fun and asked him to suggest a caste that would be classified as “Scheduled”, so that at least in future my son would have some benefits arising out of that classification. The Principal said that he would have no problems with that but would need a certificate from an appropriate authority to that effect. I gave up and entered my caste which unfortunately does not get any affirmative action. but is subject to a lot of reverse discrimination.
I recently found that the computers everywhere, still will not accept Nil as a valid entry against Religion and Caste. So much for our Secular state.
The story however does not end there. After a few months, we had gone to a village in the neighbouring state of Tamil Nadu, and I narrated this story to a friend quite knowledgeable about these matters. He promptly berated me for being stupid and said that for a couple of hundred rupees, he could have generated that certificate from the local authority!
No affirmative action for the stupid; they are the majority.