Where do Indian surnames come from
Why didn't you want a surname?
So-called honor killings are still part of everyday life in India. The historian Soni Soni on the question of how they are related to the caste system, the power of Bollywood - and why she is not married.
From Silvia SüessMail to author (interview) and Florian Bachmann (photo)
WOZ: Soni Soni, you have the same first and last name. Why?
Soni Soni: Soni is actually my first name, originally I also had a last name. But when I graduated from school, my last name was missing from my final school report due to a bureaucratic error - at the time I was too young to realize that this could be a problem. On the other hand, the full name was still in the tenth year graduation certificate. These two testimonies are very important in India. To apply for a passport, I brought the two documents with me. It was then that the officer noticed that the names on it did not match. I then had to choose the passport: I said that if I had the choice, I definitely didn't want a surname. That's why my first name is now both at the same time.
Why didn't you want a surname anymore?
On the one hand, the surname is gendered in India: You take over the last name of your father, who in turn has taken over his from his father. But then there is also this very complicated matter called caste: the last name is directly linked to the caste. So everyone in India can deduce from your last name which caste you belong to.
You didn't want that?
The caste system in India is very, very powerful and influential in all areas of society and politics. But I don't identify with the politics that go with this system - a system that is still the cause of violence, murder and manslaughter. People are killed because of their caste affiliation, they fight each other because they belong to different castes ... In my state of Bihar many people are now dropping their surnames - not only those from lower castes, but also from higher castes.
You lead an independent life in Europe as an unmarried woman. What does your family think of this?
My mother encouraged me a lot. She comes from a poor family and has never completed any training herself. She always dreamed of a life of freedom and worked to ensure that I got the education that she did not have. However, she didn't expect my studies to take that long.
Was she hoping that you would get married after you graduate?
Yes. My family is not at all happy that I am so old and still unmarried. But getting married in India comes with so many restrictions and complications: You can't just marry someone from another caste, for example. Within the caste there is also gotra, which means something like clan. If you fall in love with someone from the same Gotra, you cannot marry him either. Because that means that you have the same ancestors.
So you have to marry within the caste, but not within the Gotra?
Exactly. My brother, for example, was lucky: he married his childhood love, who fortunately came from the same caste but from a different Gotra. But if I fell in love with someone from a different caste, it would be quite impossible to marry him. A white man would be more accepted than a lower-caste man.
What if you fell in love with a Muslim man?
Oh! This is a huge, huge, huge no-go! That would simply not be possible. Honor killings are part of everyday life in India: If the families do not agree with their children's choice of mate, they hunt the couple and kill them. There are so many cases where young couples have been murdered by their families, it's cruel. By the way, many Bollywood films deal with this topic - some even very well.
Do the Bollywood films in India also have an educational function?
Yes, in any case. The film industry has great power over the people of India. Unfortunately, it is also used negatively.
In the stereotypical representation of women and men, for example. But also in the completely wrong presentation of historical facts. It is interesting that a lot of historical films are currently being produced in Bollywood. A recent one tells, for example, of the pre-colonial conflict between Hindus and Muslims and shows how a Hindu king defeats a cruel Muslim king. This religious conflict never existed, most of the conflicts were of a political nature. But the film serves Prime Minister Narendra Modi's current policy and legitimizes his Hindu nationalist and anti-Muslim policies by claiming that Hindus and Muslims have been at war for centuries and that Muslims are cruel. The film is a crime against the work of any serious historian.
The historian Soni Soni (31) grew up in eastern India. At sixteen she moved to Patna - five to eight hours by train from home (depending on the delays of the trains) - and attended high school there.
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