You too must have encountered this many times, when someone asks your name, and when you say just your name, they cannot resist but go on to ask, “full name, please?” In India, more than your first name, your surname comes to define who you are.
But for Karan Jani, a 29-year-old astrophysicist in America, even his name could not rescue him. He was denied entry to play Garba at Sri Shakti Mandir in Ontario. Even after talking to the organisers in Gujarati, he was told that his surname did not sound Indian enough, and he had to return back. He had been attending the Garba event for six years had never faced any such trouble earlier.
Year 2018 & Shakti Mandir in Atlanta, USA denied me and my friends entry from playing garba because:
“You don’t look Hindu and last name in your IDs don’t sound Hindu”
— Dr. Karan Jani (@AstroKPJ) October 13, 2018
Despite the Indian emblem on their Identity cards, they were not allowed inside because the Id cards did not mention caste and religion. One really wonders what medieval requirements the organisers had to allow people in.
Though, this would not be the first time that people have landed into trouble for their names. Even in India, one does not need to fill out the caste and religion column in any institutional form. Just the surname is enough for people to start judging you.
Any surname is stereotyped and put into a pigeonhole. If you are a Shah or Mehta, you must come from a business family, you could possibly not be an academic researcher. If you are a Kulkarni, then you are a clever but poor Maharashtrian. If you are someone with a blue-tagged surname, then you have had it easy in life with reservations from educational and employment opportunities.
The Indian mind is unfortunately conditioned to think in these patterns. Whatever breaks the pattern is not trusted. So, even if Indians are achieving great feats abroad, they are still subjugated to this parochial stereotyping. Even in the case of Karan Jani, who made it to the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) team which discovered gravitational waves. He was humiliated for his name.
It would really be an ideal utopia when people in India would be judged for their merit, not labelled for their family names.