Caste and conservatism in our TV serials
Why do most of Indian serials feature basic types like Banias, Punjabi mercantile communities or Rajputs?
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The 9pm serial on Star Plus, India’s biggest entertainment channel, is Diya Aur Baati Hum. It is, according to the channel’s website, “the story of Sandhya’s struggles, who dreams of becoming an IPS officer. She dreams to break the boundaries of her confined existence of middle class values. The story is also about Sooraj, who is a self made man. Sooraj runs a famous sweet shop near his house”.
The two main families in the serial are the Rathis and the Kotharis.
Rathis are Maheshwari Banias (same community as the Birlas). Kotharis are also Banias from the Maheshwari community.
The Star Plus serial at 9.30pm is Yeh Rishta Kya Kehlata Hai, which has been running for over five years. The channel says “this is a beautiful and heart warming story of a girl called Akshara who, not unlike millions of other girls in India, knows that her marriage will happen with the consent of her parents and family. Like other young girls, she also has grown up fancying film stars and cricket starts… but to fall in love before marriage remains a distant dream for her”.
The two main families are the Maheshwaris and Singhanias, both Bania surnames.
The show at 10pm is Pyar Ka Dard Hai Meetha Meetha Pyara Pyara. Its story revolves around the Guptas and the Kumars. Kumar doesn’t point to any particular caste. Guptas are Banias.
At 11pm is Yeh Hai Mohabbatein. It features families called Bhalla, Arora and Khurana, which are Punjabi trading communities from the Arora and Khatri communities.
11.30pm has Ek Hasina Thi. The main family here is the Goenkas, a Bania surname under the Agarwal community.
Zee TV’s 8.30pm daily is Do Dil Bandhe Ek Dori Se. The channel says the protagonist “Shivani Rana was born and raised in Jaipur. She belongs to a super-rich Rajasthani family on the fringes of royalty”.
Rana is the title given to the leader of the Sisodiya Rajputs of Mewar (Rana Pratap).
At 9pm, Zee shows Kumkum Bhagya, starring the families Arora, Mehra and Khanna. These are all three Punjabi mercantile communities which are either Khatri or Arora.
At 9.30pm is Qubool Hai, a show with Muslim protagonists from the Khan and Qureshi families. Both names are generic and don’t really show caste. Quraish is the tribe of Muhammad, but is also the most common surname of north Indians from the Kasai (butcher) community.
At 10pm Aur Pyaar Ho Gaya has the Khandelwal family, who are Banias.
Doli Armaanon Ki at 10.30pm is set in the Rathore family. Rathores are the dominant Rajput community from Marwar.
The show at 10.45pm is Ek Mutthi Aasmaan. The main families are the Singhanias (Banias) and Jadhav, which is a generic Maharashtrian name, but most often used by Marathas.
At 11.15pm Pavitra Rishta has the Kirloskar (Brahmin) and Deshmukh (Maratha) families.
Colors is the third largest channel.
Its show at 8.30pm, Madhubala—Ek Ishq Ek Junoon, has the Sharma (Brahmin) family with a protagonist who is a Kundra. I’m not sure what Kundras are and the name doesn’t appear in my volumes of People Of India, published by the Anthropological Survey of India.
At 9pm is Beintehaa, a serial whose protagonists are Muslims from the Abdullah family.
At 9.30pm, Rangrasiya has the Mehras (Punjabi Khatri) and Ranawat (Rajput) families.
The show at 10pm is Meri Aashiqui Tum Se Hi. It has the Parekh (Gujarati Bania) with a protagonist who is a Gujarati Rajput (Vaghela).
Uttaran at 10.30pm has the Chatterjee (Brahmin) family and also some martial characters of Rajput origin (Rathore, Bundela).
The new show at 11pm is Shastri Sisters, whose main families are Brahmin (Shastri and Pandey) with some characters (Sareen) who are Khatri.
Life OK’s show at 8.30pm is Ek Boond Ishq about the Shekhawats, a family of Rajputs from Shekhawati.
Tumhari Paakhi at 9.30pm has the Rathores (Rajput).
At 8pm Sony Entertainment Television airs a show called Adaalat whose protagonist, a lawyer, is Pathak (Brahmin).
At 8.30pm is Ekk Nayi Pehchaan starring the Modi (Bania) family. This show is ending and is being replaced by Itti Si Khushi starting 29 September, whose protagonist is a Goel (Bania).
9:30pm has Hum Hain Na, about the Mishra and Mukhopadhyay (both Brahmin) families.
The new show at 10.30pm is Humsafars about a Muslim couple called Pathania and Chaudhry. Both this show and the other Muslim show, Qubool Hai on Zee, are produced by the same people, 4 Lions Films.
The question is—why do most of the serials feature these basic types? They are either Banias, Punjabi mercantile communities or Rajputs. All together, these will not make up more than 2% of India’s population.
Are we a nation that sees some castes as more attractive than others? The answer is of course yes. Even the lower castes will admit this through practice and it’s a subject for serious academic study.
Sociologist M.N. Srinivas (whose house is down the lane from mine) called this Sankritization—the process by which a lower caste adopted the practices of a caste above it.
The question then produced is: Do we see other castes as being off-putting? And I would say yes to that also.
Growing up in Surat, I learned words of abuse (Dubla, Dhed, Bhangi) that I discovered much later were names of scavenging and other lower castes.
Dubla was used for someone who was dirty (“Dubla jevo che”). Volume 22, Part 2 of the People Of India series quotes R.E. Enthoven, who put together The Tribes And Castes Of Bombay as saying: “The Dublas or weaklings, as their name is said to mean, are a feeble people, soon aged by their hard life and their fondness for liquor”. The volume says Dublas “are non-vegetarian, consuming mutton, fish, chicken and eggs”. The Dhed, the same volume says, are “non-vegetarians: eating mutton, beef, fish, eggs etc.” who “consume alcohol especially at the time of Narasingh Devta Puja. They are in the habit of smoking for the last 10 years”.
These things, drinking and eating meat, inexorably stigmatized them for Gujaratis, but I didn’t see it that way as a child. There is no conceivable way that people in Gujarat would like to see a serial about a Dubla family.
The truth is, we accept that the attributes that the serials’ characters aspire to—sobriety, nobility, traditionalism and conservatism—come to the Indian from birth and family not individual achievement.
We casually use the phrase achche ghar ka (from a good family) to show this.
Also Read | Aakar’s previous Lounge columns