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Vocal Point: Marriages are bucking caste systems everywhere

My wife and I have a friend who came from India, the land of the Taj Mahal, telephone tech support and the caste system. I know that I am leaving some things out.

This friend has children, grade school to college age. She is divorced and runs her own business here in the Lilac City. She has considerable assets and is an entrepreneur.

This friend recently returned to India for a month. She went home to get married. She married out of her caste. The caste system apparently has lost some of its power in the large cities like Calcutta, Delhi and Mumbai (not Bombay, which is more likely found on a B-52). But our Indian friend reports that the caste system is still a strong force in the rural areas.

In India, the caste system is important to social standing, political clout and even what occupation individuals take up. As you might imagine, there is some tension at the positive discrimination some castes enjoy and others do not. The whole system gets complicated. There are the standard castes, scheduled castes, scheduled tribes (including the untouchables) and the Backward Classes.

Our friend’s new husband is working through some paperwork back in India but should be coming to join his bride in the near future. Of course, we of small minds can’t wait to see the unfolding relationship of this mixed caste marriage, i.e., who will be the boss. The couple was married according to the dictates of his caste. Our friend, the bride, admitted that there were lots of rituals and traditions played out in the wedding ceremony that she did not understand. America is different. Prior to the wedding, I advised our marriage-bound friend that the Hitching Post in Coeur d’Alene provides a simple and nonritual ceremony. Exchange rings and “I do’s.” Fork over another 10 bucks and they will play a CD with organ music (“Here Comes The Bride”).

Indian weddings are a big deal. Poor or rich. Our friend showed us a huge professional photo remembrance book of her wedding. More pages than a Holy Bible with a lot more pictures. That book cost more than my own out-of-caste wedding to a lawyer’s daughter from Sandpoint. I was from Hillyard reaching for the stars. Which brings me to the point of this lesson on the caste system. I have lived in Spokane all my life and have sensed a bit of a local caste system right here in River City. It goes like this.

First: Brahmans (the highest caste) – doctors, lawyers and season-ticket holders to GU basketball games

Second: Lake Home owners – Coeur d’Alene, Priest and Hayden Lake – get you to the top of this group. Of course, this caste requires that the lake homes be second residences. If your lake home is your primary residence, well, I am sorry for you.

Third: South Hill residents – the glamour and prestige of a South Hill residence has lost a lot over the years but still, the South Hill folks are esteemed as cake eaters. And Rockwood Boulevard is where Jay Gatsby (and F. Scott Fitzgerald) would reside if they were Spokanites.

Fourth: The Valley – probably most envied by other castes because they don’t have to drive Second Avenue downtown during the perpetual construction.

Fifth: The Rest of Us – we are not exactly the great unwashed but some of us do ride the STA, buy bulk at Costco and get our news from a printed page. Note: Hillyard has been upgraded from “Untouchable” to “The Rest of Us” since the new street and building renovation has been completed. And that upgrade in caste had nothing to do with me moving away.


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