In India, they call them servants.: Becoming Minnesotan

Deepak Nath, c.1999.
  • Name - Deepak Nath
  • Age at interview - 23
  • Gender - Male
  • Generation - Second Generation American
  • Date of Interview - 03.20.1997
  • A farm worker returning home after shopping, Goa, India, 2010.

    Class & Work

    Essential Question

    Life in the Old Country: What makes a country a person’s homeland?

    Class & Work: How important is work in defining a person’s identity?

    Words to look for


    Background Information

    India’s society has operated under a caste system for hundreds of years.  In a caste system, each person is born into a family that is part of a specific group that has certain expectations placed upon them and limits to what they have access to in society.  At the top is the Brahmin class (teachers and priests), the second highest is the Kshtriya (warriors and kings), the third is the Vaishay (traders, craftsmen, and farmers), and fourth is the Shudra (laborers and servants).  Below even this are the “untouchables”, now called Dalit, people traditionally kept separate from the rest of society.  Although the caste system is dying out in India, especially in cities, and caste-based discrimination is outlawed by the Indian constitution, a lower caste person will still not have the same opportunities to go to school and get jobs as a person of a higher caste will.  Many people of lower castes work as servants in other people’s homes, doing cooking, laundry, cleaning, driving, or other tasks. 

    To learn more about Asian Indian history and culture, visit our Asian Indian Community page.

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    Narrator: Deepak Nath (DN)

    DN:  I think the concept of having servants there is probably the biggest difference, the biggest understandable difference that I could actually articulate to someone else without having to go into a big long discussion. A lot of people can't comprehend or don't comprehend how socially acceptable it is to have a servant there.  And these servants aren't black and they're not dressed in a rag around the groin and that's it. They're not chained by the neck, and they're not shackled up in any way, shape, or form. They're what I call personal assistants, and that's a very politically correct way of saying "a servant".

    In India, they call them servants. They're the financially and economically and socially challenged class in India that, for a lack of a better way of getting out of that lifestyle, created themselves a future by saying, "All I ask from you is a job, and I'll do whatever you need me to do. I'll do your laundry, and I'll do such things." So anyone who was fortunate enough to be born into a higher caste or a higher financial situation, they were able to afford to have servants around the house, and it was very typical that each house has three or four servants, someone who does all the laundry, someone who does all the cooking, someone who does the driving.

    The first experience - I did think of one now that you brought it up - of an experience I had that really opened my eyes when I was a child.   I went there once, and I woke up one morning and the servant was washing my tennis shoes with a toothbrush, cleaning them off.  I was a young kid.  I grabbed them back and went, "What are you doing?"

    He said, "I'm just washing them for you."

    I said, "Don't do that." I got confused. Wash tennis shoes? With a toothbrush? I'm like, "What are you talking about?" I was all confused.

    I went to my mother and I go, "Get him out of my room. What is he doing? I don't want him in here anymore."

    I didn't realize, all he was trying to do is help out, because that's what he was used to doing. And if he had no work, he would have to find his own work, and so he'd shine shoes and shine people's tennis shoes with toothbrushes!

    Related Glossary Terms


    Adjective:  Pleasing; welcome; agreeable.


    Verb:  To speak clearly; to explain; to put into words.  (articulates, articulating, articulated)


    Noun:  Any of the hereditary social classes of South Asian societies.


    Verb:  To fully understand.  (comprehends, comprehending, comprehended)


    Noun:  An idea; an understanding; a generalization.


    Noun:  1. Participation in events, leading to knowledge, opinons, or skills.  2. The knowledge thus gathered.


    Adjective:  Related to finances, the management of money and other assets.


    Adjective: Lucky, favored by fortune.


    Noun:  The way a person lives that reflects their personal values.


    Minnesota Historical Society. Becoming Minnesotan: Stories of Recent Immigrants and Refugees. September 2010. Institute of Museum and Library Services. [Date of access].
    nid: 592