Caste Dictated my Story once but I am rewriting it now (1)
Story by Richa Khobragade
My name gave away my roots. Coming from a scheduled class community and growing up as a Buddhist in a small town in Maharashtra, was not easy. In school, people credited my caste for my marks as my hard work went unacknowledged; I was even called out for my scholarship due to reservation. It became harder with my father’s death when I was studying in 11th. I lost both of my parents in a way, as my mother fell apart after the incident. Being the eldest among the three siblings, I had to look after my family. I felt all alone.
As I left home for engineering studies, I found many girls in the hostel living in a world completely different from mine. They were carefree, enjoying college life, while I was dedicated to my studies, almost obsequious to the ways of my place. While everyone else had a boyfriend, I saw it as a crime. Stuck between the two voices in my head that desired to experience things and that controlled my actions and mind to be an achiever, I was lost. And there began my battle with mental health. I guess I had laid so many expectations on a 17-year-old that I forgot to live for myself.
Having moved to a new city, I decided to build a new life; telling myself that it is acceptable to have a boyfriend. And later I did find myself in a relationship. I guess because I was battling so many things all alone, he felt like my support system.
I wasn’t aware of the fact that he was a Brahmin, until quite some time into the relationship. And I realised he knew about my caste on the day he came forward and told me “Jai Bhim” on Dussehra which is also celebrated as Dhamma Parivartan diwas (marking the day Dr. Ambedkar converted to Buddhism) in Maharashtra. I was pretty sure this would affect our relationship. We never talked about it again; it remained as a tacit fact.
Later we started working in 2 cities.
Whenever the topic of marriage was up for discussion, he avoided it.
My mother found about my relationship. She was angry and even hit me. She said, “I sent you to the engineering college to study, hoping you would get a good job and then take care of the family. But look at what you are up to. He is a Brahmin. He will definitely leave you.”
Despite being together for 6-7 years, his family was unaware of our relationship. And when he finally spoke to his parents, they were against our union because of my caste. I still remember his father’s words, “A Maratha or OBC woman would have been fine. But not a scheduled caste/Dalit. They hate and abuse Brahmins. We will have no standing left in society”. This went on for a while. The reasons kept changing, from caste to differences in upbringing and culture.
Remaining undaunted by their statements, his parents wanted to match our horoscopes. However, this was not something that was observed in our house. I didn’t even have a patrika. And when my boyfriend asked me for my time of birth, I never thought it would be used make my horoscope. After having an astrologer check our horoscopes, I was told that our dashas were not aligning and that I would bring bad luck into the marriage, causing the death of his family and would even give birth to stillborn children or children with defects.
This affected me a lot. Adding on to this, my family expected me to get married as I was the eldest. My sister did not want to wait until I got married. I was even given an ultimatum by my mother to get married or to have my sister married first. I agreed and saw my sister’s marriage. My entire family was taken aback.
Despite all that, I kept my trust in “us”. Little did I know that it was all in vain, as my 10 year relationship came to an end. My caste had a bigger say in our relationship.
Caste Dictated my Story once but I am rewriting it now (2)
With time I saw that my boyfriend was behaving differently. He dropped in hints about our relationship not working out and gave me many excuses about how his parents were not ready to meet mine or how he did not want to hurt his parents by going against them.
I could not imagine my life without him even though I thought of breaking up with him, but I also knew that he was equally in a tough place. With everything going on, I was relying on antidepressants to keep me moving.
One day he told me, “this girl from my office has proposed to me and I said yes”. It was unbelievable. He was having an affair with a married woman while we were together! She was planning to divorce her husband since my boyfriend accepted her proposal. His parents seemed fine with that relationship even though she was older than him and already married, because she was a Brahmin! However, he did not get married to her but to someone else and that was a love marriage!
It was one of the rough patches in my life. I felt numb having lost someone I loved with all my heart. I would have been married to him, if it was not for my caste in a hypothetical scenario. I was abandoned because of my roots. It shook me. I just needed to get him out of my head.
Later, I went on dating apps and hooked up with couple of guys and had one-night stands. I chose not to disclose my identity there either, because I knew it would have become a barrier. Moreover, I had heard from my friends that, using #dalitlivesmatter in their bio resulted in zero matches.
But I did meet someone on the app, who seemed sensible and understanding. From a casual friendship, we ended up dating each other, and it was only then that I chose to share with him about my identity. He was different from other men and this relationship felt different from my previous one. I was elder than him and he was from a different state, with a privileged background. None of this stopped him from seeing and accepting me for who I was.
He eased my insecurities and helped me realize how important it is to embrace my identity as a Dalit and to look beyond my economically backward background. We broke up after an year of dating because of reasons unrelated to my identity.
Despite having received many rishtas, I refused to get married as I did not want to give in to the expected role of a housewife, cooking and cleaning.I have come to terms with the fact that I will be remaining as a spinster until I meet someone who would take me in for all that I am. As a romantic Dalit woman, I want someone to look at me beyond all the differences that may exist, to accept and respect me as an individual, with a sense of freedom and personal space. I want to be in a relationship, where I don’t lose myself, where there is a space for expressing my opinions and thoughts, where I matter.
For a long while, I blamed myself for how things ended up in my first relationship. But now I know that I am not at fault. I no longer hide my identity. I don’t have to.
I am much more vocal about where I come from now.
From early adolescence to my first relationship, caste dictated my story. But I am rewriting it. And now, I have the bigger say in my life.