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We all live in a shared world

Updated: Sep 10, 2020

- Sanchita Ain (She/Her), Advocate-on-Record, Supreme Court of India.

A first generation lawyer whose surname means 'Law'. Does that help? Sometimes, yes. Particularly when my name read together would mean one who gathers law. Only if people cared to notice and also paid heed to something that insignificant!

Instead, the most common question I have heard since childhood has been, 'Christian?' 'Muslim?' Perhaps I was more aware of my identity as a Bengali in a 'non-Bengali' State at that time. So I would say, "No, Bengali." People would still look unconvinced. I later figured out the answer should be Hindu or Hindu-Bengali. I was narrating these experiences to a friend who is of half-Arab and half-Brit descent. I had asked her if her growth as a person would have been the same if she had a name/surname of Arab origin in the UK. She had never thought about it. She found the question interesting. She was quite astonished that teachers in India could ask what your religion was so openly. Sometimes people don't even ask. You just know. It happens with all sections in the society. Muslims hear my first name and know I'm not a Muslim. Hindus hear my surname and the University I went to and assume that I'm a Muslim. Sometimes it makes a difference. Sometimes it doesn't. Sometimes even Bengalis don't care to consider that Ain would mean law in Bengali language too, and language doesn't belong to any religion (Oh not to forget, certain Bengali accents do get associated with a religion and/or with a certain stereotype though).

Determining my caste has also been another problem many Indians have faced. It's a rare surname. So, do I get benefit of doubt? Say, her ancestors may have got it as a title? No. Mostly, I don't. A teacher once asked what surname my mother's side writes in order to ascertain my caste. He was astonished to realise that I came from a 'high' caste. He couldn't hold back and exclaimed, "How can it be!"

Once a lawyer first said yes for AOR training, then he asked me my full name and refused. So much for not being Sanchita Banerjee or Sanjeeda Ain! Again, my father had a transferable job (first impression of most people is, 'must be a big-shot government servant'. So the next question is what does/did he do).

I was born in Bihar. OK. But you are a Bengali, right? Right. I stayed in UP for 10 years. OK. Still a Bengali. I stayed in Bengal for 10 years. You came to stay quite later in life, Probashi Bangali. I guess that's where my sense of belongingness to all regions, all religions and all castes came from. Some people dislike me for this without realising that's where it came from: from their dislike.

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