As PV Sindhu prepared to take on world number one Carolina Marin in the gold medal match of women’s Badminton singles at Rio Olympics, Indians poured in wishes for her in thousands. There was, however, a completely different concern that plagued the people of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana which likely prompted a Google search for Sindhu’s caste.
The Hindu, on Saturday, reported that both states claimed Sindhu was their daughter or ‘ammayi’. The paper went on to say that people looked up her caste also because her parents had a love marriage, a situation where caste differences are often ignored.
The phrase ‘pv sindhu caste’ promptly appears as a search suggestion as soon as one types PV Sindhu in the Google search bar. Digging deeper through Google Trends, I found that ‘pv sindhu caste’ was a highly-searched term, peaking on August 20, 2016, after she won the silver medal in the finals. Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Haryana are the top three states where the phrase was searched for.
Sindhu was not the only target of this bias. The phrase ‘Sakshi Malik caste’ was also a highly searched term on the day of Malik’s victory and is still an active search term, with the maximum searches from Rajasthan, Delhi and Uttar Pradesh. Related queries are, Google tells me, ‘pv sindhu caste’, ‘malik caste,’ ‘pusarala caste’ and so on.
The spike of these search terms make the question of caste extremely relevant, quite opposite to what one would like to believe. The manifestations of our biases can be seen on a daily basis when we give the sweeper an exact change for his salary so we don’t have to take the money they are carrying or when we don’t want to use an elevator when a housemaid is travelling in it.
It doesn’t quite come as a surprise then that achievements come only after caste is established, because superiority of one’s caste is over and above skill, years of hard-work and years of dedication.
For both Sindhu and Sakshi, the laurels that they brought to the country by achieving first-time feats at a very young age at an international platform are sub-par until their caste identities are established. These women faced the world’s best in their respective games and emerged victorious. But in a country where undercurrents of such discrimination are prevalent, achievements are deemed second to a caste identity. This in turn is believed to bring glory to the particular caste, elevating their status in its abject hierarchy.
But we don’t need the bigger incidents to be aware of this glorious bias. On Friday, a Twitter handle meant to ask for blood groups for patients put this out: “#Hyderabad ONLY Kamma Caste Donors, O+ ve blood needed at Max Cure Hospital. 3 yr old CHILD. Pls call 8063266677. Aug 19. Via ShekarNews”. While the handle apologised later, it does serve to show how matters of life and death can be put at stake because of a socially constructed menace.
For both Sindhu and Malik, their struggles are evident in the fantastic games they play. To reduce them to their caste identities is debilitating their life’s resolve, their perseverance and everything that they put in to reach that stage which got them accolades from the country and the world.