Skip to main content

The Ugly Truth about Caste in Kerala

Many years ago, when I wrote this post on Kerala's caste system, I had not considered the possibility that my thoughts and my personal journey would receive such online abuse or that I would be seen as some one who was trying to insult other castes. The intention of writing is always to share an experience and not to insult others. My experience of motherhood and marriage would be different from yours. When I write about my experience, it is illogical to shout that as being insulting to your experience because our journeys are entirely different narratives. 

My question is - why do you ABUSE any caste or person here? You are free to disagree but why do you ABUSE? How does that reflect on YOU?

In my article, I shared what trials I went through, without any intention to insult any community. The intention of my article is to question - why are we even exchanging insults over an issue called caste? 

Should we not be aspiring to be above caste considerations instead of abusing each other over this?

In Kerala, one of the first things you are bound to be asked by even new people you've just met is, "What is your caste?"  This is not a tirade against any caste but my experience, personally. And just for information, I have never used my caste name 'Menon' to this day because I never believed in the caste system although there are 'anoymous' users here who say so as though they know my name fully - maybe they should first have the courage to reveal their own names before they accuse me of using my caste name - which is incorrect.

As some one who is a Menon by birth, I can also tell you frankly that it often feels like a curse because of many reasons especially when it comes to being shunned for government jobs and in educational institutions. While Kochi has a cosmopolitan approach, I found it completely different in Trivandrum during the one year I studied there.

In Trivandrum, when I was studying there, I was the last admission to the hostel that was already full. I got one of the best rooms - very spacious for four people, and it had a clean bathroom too. I didn't know how lucky I was till i got to meet the others who were final year students.

They all told me that you had to be either a VVIP (you know i am not that!) to get the room in the first year itself, or you had to be a Menon (that I am). I was shocked. I couldn't believe it though I was grateful for getting a good room. When the phone in the hostel stopped working during a holiday weekend, some of the girls asked me to go to the neighbor's house and make the complaint by phoning the telephone department. I said, why should i do that, why don't you people do this?

They told me, "The lady of the house will let only upper castes into the house."

Several Kerala Christians and Muslims accept Caste System
I said, you must be joking. I couldn't believe this is happening for real. With these girls in tow, we went to the neighbor' s home. A Christian doctor's home! Imagine, and i thought Christians were totally opposed to the caste system! 

Anyway, the door opened. The lady of the house looked at us like we were scavengers, carrying some terrible infection. I explained and she asked very rudely, "whats your caste?" and when I said Menon, she said, "Only you come in, ask the others to stand out." I was so uneasy and angry. I made the call and quickly came off. This is the extent of literacy in Kerala - we ask for caste, we demand dowry and gold but of course, we call ourselves very educated and cultured.

In the same hostel that I stayed, another Christian friend's father who came to meet his daughter asked me my caste. When I said i am a Menon, he told me directly, "I always tell my daughter never to mingle with those who are not Nairs and Menons. It's a matter of our family honour." I was shocked. This is coming from a well-known businessman from Chengannur, a Christian by religion and his daughter is an engineer who is studying for IAS!  

No wonder, Swami Vivekananda called Kerala as a 'madhouse of caste.' I agree, especially after reading all the caste-based abuses hurled at me in the comments section. 

Dear Great and WISE People, you are ABUSING a woman for sharing her personal journey? 

Kerala Menons have to fight for their basic rights whether you accept it or not

In real life, being a Menon is like being denied every decent right that is available to everyone else in the country. But I have been receiving so much abuse for saying this - what does this tell me about YOUR MINDSET? 

My father topped and got entry for both medical and engineering way back when entrance exams were not yet the norm. As always, the seat for medical colleges were prone to manipulation and his merit seat was denied to him because he is a Menon. Not just him, a whole batch of Menon students who had cleared and should have got the medical admission were denied the same in the name of caste! Thankfully, my father filed a case in court and it is the famous lawyer Advocate Shiva Shankara Panicker who argued his case (his son is Justice K Radhakrishnan, SC Judge at present). He won the case and my father got his medical seat on merit. But he had lost an academic year during the litigation process and so did the others. Even now I don't know how much has changed for the Menons. 

This unfortunate social phenomenon called caste has further divided Kerala as a caste-ridden, materialistic society that places almost zero emphasis on nurturing human values like compassion and commitment to the unfortunate or vulnerable sections of the society. We have become a state that is obsessed with status symbols more than anything else. This shame is growing with us, destroying all that was good, pure and beautiful about Kerala.

Okay, i am not accusing anybody here, am just telling u what an ordinary Menon/Nair/Nambiar goes through in Kerala and we don't really enjoy this , not the way some people here enjoy abusing me in the comments section. 

It also ironically means that you get more respect in the homes of Christians and Muslims who in turn love to call you by your caste name, as a sign of respect. I would have expected people of other religions to embrace equality rather than subscribe to narrow casteist views. For many of their weddings, they tell us, "We have kept separate seating arrangements for you, Menonkutty." Not sure whether that's a good or bad sign yet. I am happy to be me - an Indian, thank you very much. 

In a nutshell, we as Menons and Nairs, are deprived of opportunities in education, government jobs and government promotion lists (but we have the right to die out of frustrations arising out of govt discrimination). I am making fun of the entire system, not glorifying it, for God's sake. We have social respectability, as if that can pay our bills! 

However, I also wonder why people prefer to forget that the very last Rajah of Travancore passed a law which allowed those who were socially vilified as "Untouchables" to enter the temples in his realm. This was way back in 1936. Does anyone remember it today? We talk of other social reformers who have now earned the status of gods. I admire them but why is it that the last Rajah of Travancore is never given the same respect? Is it because he is unfortunately of royal birth and lineage? Lets at least start with a balanced view of how casteism is not supported by every Malayali out there. There are many who opposed it right from the start.

Mata Amritanandamayi on Caste
In an intimate conversation that I was blessed to have with Her Divine Grace Jagadguru Mata Amritanandamayi Devi (Amma, as those of us who love her call her - but please note, I am not a devotee, i am someone who loves her deeply - ), I asked her, "Ammey, why is there so much hatred and anger and intolerance in the name of caste in our society? Isn't God above caste? Why is it such a big problem even today? Do you support it?"

Amma looked deep into my eyes and held me close and said, "My child, it has and will always be a big problem in our society. That will not change. No one can change it. You cannot change it."

I was deeply disappointed by her reply and I persisted, "But Ammey, you emphasis only on love. Why then do you speak in support of the caste system?"

She smiled a beautiful smile, the one that intoxicates our hearts with deep, unbelievable love. Then, she told me, "I do not support the caste system because God is above caste. Caste is of no importance to God. God sees and responds only to love. But when you, as a person and as a daughter in a family, live in a society that believes in caste and has age old practices relating to caste, you have a duty to respect the beliefs of others,  because you are part of the society, your family is part of it and so it goes from one family to another. God is not bound by caste, it is people who are bound by it because they chose to. Amma, specifically, believes only in love and not in caste."

I always wonder - Why is it that in God's Own Country, this is never really put into practice? Why have we not yet opened our minds and hearts to greater awareness?  Amma is a beautiful example of loving patience, compassion, and incredible simplicity - maybe we should learn something from her too. Have you ever heard her ABUSE anyone over a different viewpoint?

I oppose the caste system strongly and do not believe in it. When you abuse me, you reveal the ugly side of all that is wrong in India's caste ridden society.

P.S. Before you abuse me using 'anonymous' IDs saying that I am glorifying Menons or criticizing other castes, please understand this: I don't have an agenda here - I am not a politician trying to woo a vote bank. I am an Indian woman, who does not believe in the caste system, has never used the surname Menon and is very HAPPILY married to a Thiyya and my son is perhaps the best amalgamation of both castes. Is that so difficult to understand? For Anonynous people with an agenda to abuse, I guess it is still rocket science.


Most Popular Posts

A Dad's advice to the daughter he loves: Be yourself, remember you are special and treasure your strengths

Just a week ago, Dad gave me a very emotional pep talk at the Bangalore airport. The good thing is that whenever I feel emotionally vulnerable or stressed out, I replay Dad's conversation. It lifts me up and instantly brings a huge smile to my face. That's my Dad - yeah! 

As a teenager, Bangalore used to be one of my favorite cities though the garden city was not as ''global'' and ''vibrant'' as it is today. It was a pretty cool place to go shopping for stylish accessories, not that I could splurge and go crazy with shopping but I could do so on a limited budget. So, I used to look forward to our summer trips to Bangalore, from where we would head out to Whitefield. 

The busy, broad streets, the scent of street food and the vibrant atmosphere had always perked me up every time I reached Bangalore. Be it heading to Puttaparthi or Whitefield, my parents and I have traveled to Bangalore so many times that it became a kind of ''routine'…

Mahamrityunjaya Mantra: Meaning, Benefit of Chanting and Who can Chant the Mantra

Mahadmrityunjaya Mantra: Benefit of chanting this mantra nee

There are very few mantras that are as powerful as the Maha Mrityunjaya Mantra. Do read my post: Does Mahamrityunajaya mantra really work?Of course, it does but you need to undertstand the meaning and significance of the mantra first.
This mantra is believed to have the power to remove all sufferings, diseases and bestow the one who chants it with good health and long life. It is also believed that constant contemplation of the Maha Mrityunjaya Mantra can help spiritual aspirants to overcome the cycle of birth and death.
What got me fascinated about this mantra is something personal.  I learned this mantra from my father but it is my maternal grandmother who chanted it all the time and repeatedly told me of its tremendous power to protect. However, I did not chant this mantra regularly. [ Do READ: THE POWER OF LOVE]
But at the age of two, my son was taught some mantras by my mother who explained what it means to him and he becam…

Top 10 Skincare tips for Summer

Come summer, and we women worry a lot about how the sun lashes out on our skin. True, skincare tips for the summer are plenty but what about the hushed secrets - yes, those tried and tested family secrets that are passed on from mother to daughters? [ALSO READ: How to NEVER EVER GIVE UP on the spiritual path]

Here are some that are totally easy to do. Best of all, these are effective and bring on a feel-good factor in the peak of summer.

1. Replace water with rosewater. It keeps your skin luminous and fragrant throughout the day. It's a good toner too.

2. Cleanse your skin by combining these ingredients - honey, milk, rosewater/rosepetals and turmeric. Add a dash of olive oil and yes, it feels wonderful.

3. Almond oil body baths are a must-have! You will smell delicious all day. This summer, skip all those body lotions & moisturizers! You will love the way almond oil pampers your skin all day!

4. Use a mixture of almond oil and olive oil for your feet. Your feet will sparkle an…

Amazing Signs You are an Earth Angel

Doreen Virtue’s book, “Assertiveness for Earth Angels” brings to life the reality of Earth Angels in very easy way. It’s an exciting must-read! 


Earth Angels have amazing superpowers in: MusicArtsWriting HealingManifesting miracles for others such as controlling weather conditions and  becoming invisible at will.
[MUST READ: A Dad's Advice to the Daughter He loves]

How to Identify Earth Angels by their Traits
To know whether you are an Earth Angel, take a look at their known traits that are explained in this book:

You have a graceful and compassionate aura that inspires people.Your presence “lifts” everyone to happier spirits – it is proof of who you really are.You don’t judge others but you overdo the “acceptance” bit. So, you tolerate even those who show no respect for boundaries.You cannot stand anyone suffering or being in pain. You are constantly “rescuing people” because it is in your nature to want to see everyone happy in …

Why salad is good and healthy for you - 3 life-changing reasons to park more vegetables on your plate

Nowadays, I love making salads, not just because they are easy and fun to eat but I also enjoy playing around with different textures, colours and flavours. I don't follow any recipes when it comes to salads - I just love to experiment. Sometimes, the salad comes out really colourful and yummy, on bad days, it can turn out not so great. Here's one that came out so delicious that I can't wait to make it again!

If you are wondering what the health reasons are for eating salad, there are plenty, but I am going to share the ones that matter to me. 1. Salads are packed with fibre The good thing about salads is that they are packed with fibre, which is known to keep your cholesterol levels in check. Plus, it enables your system to eliminate toxins faster.
2. Salads are nutrient-rich The reason why salads are a must-have in our daily diet is because you can pack in the best nutrient-rich veggies on to your plate at one go. Having more greens in your daily…

Sage Tiruvalluvar's golden advice on how friendship affects your life

Ruzbeh N Bharucha's latest book, ICE with Very Unusual Spirits, is a book that I have absolutely enjoyed reading. While reading every chapter, I began to contemplate a lot on the friendships in my life, as the book blends in some of the most valuable teachings of Sage Tiruvalluvar and Sai Baba of Shirdi. The essence of the book revolves around true friendship and how it can make us not just more human but it can make us divine beings too.

As human beings, we thrive on friendship. These days, I've started wondering, ''Is there real friendship out there?'' From experiences that span four decades now (yeah, I am that old!), I am beginning to wonder about the authenticity of most ''friendships.'' [Do read: How to Console a Friend who Lost her Spouse]

A friend whom we knew since childhood days invites us home for dinner but when we visit, we don't get served dinner, but popcorn. Our mistake? We arrived in an auto, instead of a taxi (it is a differe…

Five ways to take charge of your anger

“It is wise to direct your anger towards problems -- not people; to focus your energies on answers -- not excuses.” ― William Arthur Ward
Every day, the newspaper headlines are full of scary stories of people killing each other over trivial things - mostly these incidents happen when individuals lose their temper and turn violent. In traffic jams across Noida in the evenings, people don't hesitate to walk out and hit each other.  At workplaces, colleagues lose their temper and say things that they regret later. During holidays with loved ones, small things set us off and we say things that damage relationships forever. No one stops anyone. Everyone likes a big, bad fight. It's great to vent. After all, what's the big deal about getting angry? After all, if you cannot express what pisses you off, how can you call yourself human? 

Does anger solve your problems? You know the answer!

If anger solved all the problems in the world, this world would have been a perfect place centur…

Balanced diet for ladies: Eat according to your body’s age

Experts say that as years roll by, your body’s ability to absorb nutrients decline, so it is even more important to formulate a balanced diet and eat according to one’s age.

The following age-specific information (excluding the details given under ‘Expectant Mothers’) is a summary from an article I read in the popular UK food magazine called Delicious and the article is titled “Eat your age: Wise up to your changing needs.” It is written by Anna Montague and published in  March 2011.
Balanced Diet during Teen Years Iron deficiency is seen as a pre-dominant condition in most teenage girls and this trend is increasing. Teenage girls are not getting enough iron from their diet.

200gm of low fat yoghurt every dayLean meat, fish, pulses and eggsDried fruitsLeafy vegetablesFresh fruitsSay no to sugary drinksHaving a daily sufficient calcium intake is important for girls as it is like having ‘bone in the bank’ for the future.
Balanced Diet in the 20s’ Fortified cerealsHave fresh and dried nutsFrui…

Mumbai Police Movie Review: Prithviraj breaks the typical 'hero' mold, challenges sexual stereotyping

Exploring a completely different dimension in his latest film Mumbai Police, Director Rosshan Anddrews delivers a fast-paced, thriller film after his award winning fims such as Udayananu Tharam, Notebook and others.

To flesh out the script written by Boby Sanjay, Rosshan Anddrews ropes in actors such as Prithviraj, Rahman and Jayasurya to portray three police officers: Antony Moses, Farhan and Aryan respectively.
The story begins with a phone call that Antony Moses (starring Prithviraj) makes to Farhan (starring Rahman) saying that he has solved the murder mystery of Aryan (starring Jayasurya). Just as he says this, there is an accident and Antony Moses loses his memory. From then, Farhan's attempt is to take Antony through people and places that are likely to trigger his memory so that they can solve the murder of their close friend and colleague Aryan. A series of events happen, almost hurtling us towards it.
And I am taking the liberty to hand out trophies for the following: