Video Editor: Prashant Chauhan
Camera: Mukul Bhandari
(This video is being reposted from The Quint’s archives as the Uttar Pradesh transport department has launched a drive to seize vehicles that sport caste stickers. The report was originally published on 7 September 2019)
Big, bold, stylish stickers of Jatts, Gurjar, Rajput, Chaudhary, Thakur etc are a common sight in Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and many other Indian states. The Quint hit the roads of Delhi, Noida and Gurugram to ask people about this trend of flashing caste on cars.
We asked, why do people want to put their castes on their cars?
Almost everyone said they are proud of their caste and that’s why they love displaying it. When asked if such caste labels give them an edge on the road, most said that they don’t intend to intimidate anyone but they are fully aware of the effect these stickers have on people.
‘Koi humse faltu panga nahi leta’, ‘Sabko pata chal jaye chaudhary sahab ki gaddi khadi hai’, were the replies of some motorists. But does that mean that they can take panga with people? To this question, people promptly replied ‘Why will I not abide by the law?’, and ‘I am not a don. If the police stop me, I do. I get fined too’.
A lot of people said that these stickers prove useful when they are in trouble as other people belonging to the same caste come to help. This has become a way of enjoying the pride of their community.
“I am a Kshatriya, I belong to a high caste, that’s why I flaunt it,” said a taxi driver in Greater Noida. We asked, what about the people who don’t belong to a high-caste like his? Would he judge a person driving a car with a sticker of a lower caste than his? To this, he quickly reasoned by saying that, “It’s a trend. One person does and the rest follow. It’s not about the competition on the road, I do it because I like it and anyone who likes it can flaunt a sticker on their car.”
Whatever may be the intention, people revealed how they feel intimidated by motorists with such stickers, especially by the locals who are seen as creating trouble and indulging in hooliganism. People who don’t have such stickers were of the view that this creates unnecessary divides in society.
Stickers with ‘Perks’
Cars are seen with stickers of Army, Police, Advocate, VIP, Pradhan, etc. Funnily, most people driving cars with these stickers aren’t actually what these stickers advertise them to be.
A person in Gurugram flaunting an ‘Army’ sticker told us that nobody from his family is in the army but this sticker is to show patriotism. He doesn’t mind if people assume him to be in the Indian Army because of the sticker and agrees that the ‘Army’ impression has helped him out of some situations.
“The trend of caste stickers has risen from the 2000s. About 200-300 customers per month come to get these stickers.”Adil, Shop owner, Auto Market, Noida Sector 16
In early 2000, Greater Noida and Yamuna Expressway Industrial Authorities in addition to the state government started acquiring farmlands. Some farmers also either sold bits and pieces of their lands or leased them out. This resulted in rapid real estate development and a cash-rich class of society. Now, for these cash-rich people, a car is a symbol of wealth. It’s a status statement. That’s why high-end luxury cars are a common sight in the urban villages of Gurugram, Noida and Greater Noida.
Some young Gurjar boys from Palam village told us that their elders were farmers but they are not interested in farming. Hence, some sold part of their farmland and with the money, started a business, someone got a restaurant/community complex/farm-house constructed, someone leased out the land to a builder, etc. As they are away from their village where their identity is their caste, they feel the need to advertise it so that their identity is not lost.
What started as an attempt to assert one’s identity became a popular culture with identity influence.
After ‘Operation Clean’ by Noida Police,1,457 two- and four-wheelers with unauthorised stickers denoting caste, religion, profession, link to political parties, etc on their number plates and rear windows were issued challans. The Traffic Department of Rajasthan too has issued an order to penalise motorists who display caste, religion, profession and affiliation to political parties on their vehicles.
Any kind of graphic on the number plate of vehicles is illegal with a penalty of Rs 5,000, as per the Motor Vehicle Act, 1988.
The concerns raised in the order were that the vinyl on a vehicle’s windscreen is dangerous because it reduces the visibility of the driver. Also, rampant display of caste stickers encourages and promotes casteism and communalism in society.