This question originally appeared on Quora: In practice, how does India’s caste system work in the 21st century? Answer by Haribabu Thilakar.
Shikha glanced uneasily at the man standing next to her in the elevator. Just a week before, there had been a long thread in their apartment community group on Facebook. The general consensus had been that the main elevators should be used only by residents and their visitors. The maids, gardeners, drivers, security guards, delivery boys, and all support staff were to be instructed to use only the service lift. This man was probably a driver in one of the apartments. Some people just didn’t keep their drivers in check. Shikha made a mental note to start another thread in the group.
The carpenter arrived just as she was unlocking her door. She made him wait outside while she fetched the money to pay him for the work he had done the previous week. She was glad that her husband wasn’t home. He had this annoying habit of inviting everyone inside and letting them sit on the sofa while they were waiting. The man was a social embarrassment. Last year, while visiting relatives, he had elicited gasps of horror from everyone when he gave a thousand rupees as shagun to the cook’s daughter. Who gives that much to these people?
She noticed the slight chip on the rim of the cup the maid served her tea in. It was from an old set. Some of the cups were already broken. Perhaps she should give it to the maid? They had separate utensils for their live-in maid. It was more hygienic that way. One of her friends once claimed it was ironical that it was hygienic enough for the maid to wash their utensils, but not to eat out of them. That damned female. She was always the NGO types.
Her husband returned in the evening. He was in a foul mood, pissed off at a colleague who was clearly incompetent despite being from an IIT. “He must be a quota guy,” she quipped. Both had a hearty laugh.
They had to go to her husband’s office party that night. She was chatting with one of his colleagues. He was a bachelor— smart, attractive, successful. Perhaps she could hook him up with one of her still unmarried friends. She found her opening when he was joking about how much he hated capsicum. “Are you vegetarian?” she asked. “I’m not fussy, I eat everything,” he said, with a dismissive wave of his hand. Not clear enough. “Were you born non-vegetarian?” she persisted. “When I was born, I could only drink milk. Was it any different for you?” he grinned. Idiot. Couldn’t he answer a simple question straight? Maybe she should hook him up with that NGO types.
Later that night, after her husband was asleep, she logged into her favorite website—Quora. There was a question, clearly crying for a strong answer. “In practice, how does India’s caste system work in the 21st century?”
“The caste system is almost non-existent, at least in urban areas…,” she began answering with total conviction.
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