Ozg Lifestyle

The Hindu Caste Dating @ Orkut / Facebook


India's caste system – or, as I like to call it, Hinduism's version of institutionalised apartheid – has lost some influence in the sixty-two years since independence. But certain social barriers remain – and now, for the first time, social networks such as Facebook and Orkut are offering all castes the chance to register their anger about them.


Nowadays, the untouchable classes are delicately described as "scheduled" castes and "tribes", but to many outsiders remain "Dalits" – and they constitute nearly a quarter of India's total population. Previously referred to as the "Depressed Class" in the era of the British Raj (for the depressing jobs they endured), their numbers have risen rapidly in the last few decades.


As part of "the biggest democracy in the world", Dalits have now used their numbers to gain political, as well as economic power, and by law are guaranteed  between 7.5 per cent and 15 per cent of vacancies in Indian Government jobs, something that riles the upper-castes. As recently as 18 months ago, a Dalit was murdered by upper-caste criminals because he had the audacity to visit a temple to pay homage to the goddess Durga.


In a country of nearly 1.2 billion people, there are 54 million internet users, and Indians use their mobiles for everything. (There are more than 500 million Indians who have mobiles, so in general this is how social networks are accessed.) Facebook and local social networking site Orkut and even Twitter (with a mere 1.5 million users) are widely accessed and the caste debate has led to the creation of hundreds of groups.


And the forums on these sites only underscore how divided these communities still are. In a recent example, 3,000 members of a scheduled online community bemoaned how their caste identity had created an unbreakable glass ceiling, while other more venomous comments from higher-caste members accused them of being "beggars" who used their status to acquire jobs. Comparable, some would say, to the more unpleasant debates about immigration in the UK.


In a matter of hours, the thread was full of odium and hatred as the vying communities made their respective feelings known. According to a study by PUKAR (Partners for Urban Knowledge, Action and Research), it found that 32 random Orkut online communities based on caste showed an increase of nearly 30,000 members in just three months and most of them are highly educated people, and very angry ones at that.


However,  as I drilled down into these communities and ignored the bilious caste comments, something else caught my social network eye. Yes, it was love and marriage. So, while these groups profess to allow different caste members to shout and scream, there were a lot more posts about boys and girls hoping to find somebody from their own social group or caste to hook up with. Somebody for the their parents to approve of, in other words. Plus ça change.


Sourced from Telegraph, UK / April 2nd, 2010