Disliking A “Dalit” Name

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“After mid fifties, very few upper caste Hindus christened their sons ‘Siddharth’ in Maharashtra.” This is a finding of a recent anthropological study on male names in Maharashtra. Do you know the reason? Well, Siddharth is the name of Buddha before his so-called enlightenment. And in Maharashtra, Buddha is considered to be the “god of Dalits” because Dr B R Ambedkar and his Dalit followers embraced Buddhism in Nagpur way back in 1954. Since then, neo-Buddhists (the followers of Ambedkar) of Maharashtra began to christen their male offsprings’ names Siddharth, Buddha and his other names.

It’s worthwhile to mention that even the 16 different names of Buddha are avoided by the Maharashtrian upper castes (especially Brahmins).

I remember, when a Maharashtrian Brahmin army officer named his son ‘Tathagat’ (one who’s beyond lives and deaths – Buddha was called ‘Tathagat’  because he got salvation in his lifetime), I casually told him that it was one of Buddha’s names. After a few days, he changed it to ‘Nisheeth’ (midnight)! The darkness of midnight was more preferable to him than the name of an enlightened soul!

Dalits are so contemptible in Maharashtra that even their god’s name is an anathema to the high caste Hindus. I also remember when Leena Chandavarkar’s first husband Siddharth Bandodkar (a Goa-based Konkani Maharashtrian Brahmin with political connexions) died in dubious circumstances on the night of the marriage in 1974, a Maharashtrian writer wrote that it was “Siddharth’s Curse.”

The name Gautam (Buddha’s name) gets a modicum of acceptance because there was one Gautam rishi in Ramayana, whose smashing wife was enamoured of Indra, the randiest Hindu god and there was yet another Gautam who was coeval of Mahavir.

If we still call ourselves to be civilised and evolved then, I think, we need to change the definition and perception of being “enlightened”.  

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 16-31 October 2012 on page no. 11

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