Playing God in caste-crazy Bihar | india | Hindustan Times
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Playing God in caste-crazy Bihar

BIRTH RITE: Caste consciousness runs very deep; many childless couples demand to know the sperm donor’s caste. Ruchira Hoon reports. Special

india Updated: Apr 06, 2009 01:07 IST
Ruchira Hoon

If many childless parents in Bihar had their way, they would want vaults at sperm banks with clear labels: “Brahmin”. “Bhumihar”. “Yadav”.

Couples opting for sperm donations in Bihar are demanding to know the donor’s caste before they go ahead — and often getting their answers as well.

“Neither features nor height nor even IQ concerned us as much,” says Anuradha Rai (36), an Internet marketing manager from the Bhumihar community. “My husband felt if the sperm donor was from a different caste, the baby would not get the right genes.”

It is a stunning statement of how even young, urban, educated Indians, their lives transformed by the emerging India, have been unable to unshackle themselves from the centuries-old caste consciousness despite their desperation to have a child.

And it could have deep political meanings in a national election that will perhaps have caste as a far stronger factor than ever before, and likely throw up a government glued largely on the basis of caste politics.

After all, in a nation of more than 1 billion people, every fourth Indian is from a scheduled caste or scheduled tribe, the name given to lower castes in the Hindu social ladder. And at least 40 per cent belong to Other Backward Castes.

In Uttar Pradesh and Bihar are India’s biggest theatre of caste politics, every caste chieftain has realised the importance of reaching out to other castes also. For the first time, a Dalit politician — UP chief minister Mayawati — is being billed as a possible contender for the prime minister’s job and caste politics champions like Lalu Yadav, Mulayam
Singh Yadav and Ram Vilas Paswan are joining forces.

That’s because caste, which has long divided India, is also seen by many as the biggest uniting force. “Many couples feel if they know the caste, they know a lot about the person,” says R.N. Sharma, sociologist, Patna College.

Political churning is underway. In UP, Mayawati is trying to woo voters from other castes. And in Bihar, the intermediary
Kurmi community is seen as having broken away from their longtime leader Lalu Yadav, and are allying with Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal (United) and the BJP.

Dr Himanshu Roy, a gynaecologist, says most couples ask about the educational and background of the sperm provider. “But the most common questions are about culture, health… and caste,” says Roy.

Sharma calls it’s the purity factor. “They want to ensure the bloodline stays pure,” he says.

Smriti Singh (34), a Rajput, says her family insisted on knowing the caste of the donor. “The argument was that the right caste would ensure healthy blood grouping,” she says.

“Name, address and contact details are kept anonymous, but people are insistent, almost fanatical, about caste,” says Dr Savanth Kumar, who owns sperm bank Frozen Cell. “We can’t give it on paper, but we find we have to tell them.”

(With inputs from Vikas Pathak, New Delhi)