Underneath the superficial shine and glitter, the very biased, ugly and narrow-minded nature of India’s celebrity mindset is exposed once again. Another sportsman from cricket, considered as “religion” in India is being vastly criticised for hailing his upper-caste “Brahmin identity”.
Not Raina alone, the majority of Indian celebs promotes the caste system
So what did Suresh Raina actually say?
The former Indian cricketer said he embraces the culture in Chennai as he is “also Brahmin”. Raina, who hails Uttar Pradesh, said this while his commentary during the opening game of the fifth season of Tamil Nadu Premier League. During the match, a commentator asked Raina, a part of the Chennai Super Kings team in the Indian Premier League, how has he embraced the south Indian culture, after he was seen donning a veshti, dancing and whistling.
In reply, Raina said: “I think, I am also Brahmin. I have been playing since 2004 in Chennai, I love the culture… I love my teammates. I have played with Anirudha Srikanth, Badri (Subramaniam Badrinath), Bala Bhai (L Balaji)… I think you need to learn something good from there. We have a good administration, we have the license to explore ourselves. I love the culture there, and I’m lucky to be part of CSK. Hopefully, we will play more matches there.”
The problem is deep-rooted
But it would be unfair to blame Raina alone for his comment. Also, this is not the first time that an Indian celebrity boasted about his or her own caste or promoted the discriminating caste system of our country through ad campaigns, films, songs and social media posts. Only a handful of celebs only spoke against it while supporting equality.
Last year on 14 September, following the rape and subsequent death of a Dalit woman in Hathras, Uttar Pradesh, India widespread protests against caste-based atrocities and institutionalised discrimination. However, when Hardik Pandya of Mumbai Indians took a knee during an IPL match on 26 October, it was in the support of the ongoing #BlackLivesMatter movement that gained worldwide attention following the killing of George Floyd in the US in May. Pandya’s decision to support a movement against racial injustice, while remaining mum on caste-based atrocities in India, shows his caste privilege and reveals a hypocritical performative engagement with “popular” social justice movements in the Western world.
If we look at Bollywood…
Again, it wasn’t Pandya alone. At that time, several celebs, including Priyanka Chopra, backed the #BLM movement while remaining silent about the Hathras tragedy. What is this pseudo citizen consciousness that only speaks for some selective social menaces and stays blind to its counterparts at home? Or is it a more effective way to “stay in the news” by commenting on the #BLM movement and not Hathras?
Here’s another instance. Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan’s daughter Suhana Khan late last year made headlines for her recent Instagram post, in which she slammed India’s fetish for fair skin and recalled how she had been called ugly because of her skin color since she was 12. Many hailed the brave post. Suhana could also be the first star kid in India to open up about facing colour bias. Unfortunately, his dad, being a huge public figure, has been promoting fairness cream products, promoting colourism – an ingrained subject of the caste system.
Lead characters, who belong largely to ‘upper’ caste/Savarna Hindu families, have been an unwritten rule in Bollywood movies. Whether it’s NRIs living abroad, middle-class families of metropolitan India or the alternate movies of Hrishikesh Mukherjee, Bollywood has mostly showcased the stories of Savarnas alone. This trend has not changed with Bollywood’s newfound love – the smaller towns of north India. Look at recent films like Zero, Raanjhanaa, Tanu Weds Manu, Badhaai Ho, Bareilly Ki Barfi, Toilet Ek Prem Katha, Jolly LLB, Badrinath Ki Dulhaniya all portray heroes from the Brahmin or upper-caste families. Bollywood still writes songs like Beyonce Sharma Jaayegi. Even if they show Dalit characters, it’s mostly they’re shown as unfair, dark or brown-skinned and people in dirty and clothes. For example, Udta Punjab, Super 30, Gully Boy etc.
Social media, for example, shows the crude display of privilege and the mono-cultural world of the so-called upper castes or Savarnas. Be it someone playing an out-of-tune ukulele in mood lighting, or showing off their ‘struggles’ of not being able to visit Goa this year with some trending song playing in the background. What all these diverse videos have in common are hyper-perfect Savarna aesthetics.
The same story goes on in cricket as well
Cricketers hailed as “God”s in India promote or flaunt their caste privileges openly in the public sphere. Sachin Tendulkar posted pictures of him wearing the “Janeu,” a thread worn by Brahmin males that is considered a symbol of oppression; Ravindra Jadeja wields swords to emphasise that he is a “Rajput boy;” while Yuvraj Singh was recently criticised for flippantly referring to his former teammate Yuzvendra Chahal as “Bhangi,” and later claimed he did not have any knowledge of the caste implications.
The Indian cricket community fails to address this discriminatory system. This is reflective of a privileged Indian upbringing, where caste is not necessarily addressed within the family unit and outside, with the belief that they live in a caste-free society if they do not speak about it or actively discriminate. Therefore, if they do not “see” caste, it does not exist. Despite being questioned on the upper caste composition of the team and administration, the cricketing fraternity flatly rejects any notion of a bias, even though only four Dalits — Eknath Solkar, Karsan Ghavri, Vinod Kambli, and Bhuvneshwar Kumar — have previously played international test cricket for the country. It could be that many other lower caste cricketers also played for India but refrained from declaring their caste identity out of fear of stigmatisation etc.
How many aspiring lower-caste cricketers enjoy proper guidance and facilities to realise their best potential? Cricket, the “gentleman’s sport”, was launched in India by the colonial rulers who reaped benefits from India’s caste system. Raina’s comment is just the surface of the problem, while the root is deeply ingrained in our system.