Last summer, an 18 year old, 12th Std. student approached me to help him out with a project on caste. He was located at an elite school in a small town in South India, and wanted me to teach him for around 4 months, culminating in a presentation of that project.
I was very enthusiastic and delighted at the opportunity. Fresh from an MPhil in Cultural Studies, I saw this as my chance to pass on readings and ideas I had learnt and come to believe in during my postgraduate studies.
I started off with asking the student about his own personal locations, in matters of caste and discussions around it. It so happened that he was upper caste, in a school with only upper caste and mostly middles class students and teachers. I was very familiar with the school and its politics since I had studied there myself. No one ever talked to us about caste there. There was a resounding silence around it. I was surprised when he came up with the topic. I told him that no one talked about caste in the school spaces because everyone was upper caste. It was like, I explained, in a community full of men, no one will talk about gender or feminism. Or in a community of white people, how no one will talk of race. This was of course, because caste was believed to be ascribed to only lower castes and Dalits and not upper castes, and that they seemed strangely absolved of any caste identity. The middle class, upper caste idea of castelessness was the prevalent norm there.