Taboo of being a Dalit
The status of the Dalit community, in the Hindu Caste System, who were treated as polluted and untouchables, was a serious impediment to their education and their right to live as humans. The inflexible strictures then customary prevented them from accessing schooling, for centuries. They were treated worse than animals, denying them fundamental human rights, of drawing water from well, walking on the streets, education, right to self-respect, right to worship etc. They lived a humiliating life, for centuries.
“Educate, agitate and organize” is not just an adage, but a clarion call given by Dr. B.R.Ambedkar, an architect of Indian Constitution and an emancipator of millions of downtrodden. According to him education was “the milk of tigress”, that would empower the deprived section of the society, liberating them from slavery and ignorance. I am privileged to be born with the legacy of Ambedkar’s ideology, which preaches social justice and equality, which believes education to be a tool to awaken masses to their maladies and strengthen them to fight against the challenges of discrimination and exploitation. And indeed education became the wheel of change, setting in the revolution to wipe away the social stigma of untouchability, depolarizing the society, imparting human identity to the marginalized, subaltern, the dalits and women to survive with dignity and equality. He had said, the progress of the nation depends on the progress of a woman and made sanctions for women in the constitution of India. After Independence, education was endowed as a fundamental right in the constitution, opening the floodgates of educational opportunities for the deprived classes who responded positively to the voice of their emancipator.
In the history of my family, my parents are the first generation literates. My Grandmother an illiterate woman, unaware of the advantages of education, forcibly enrolled my father in a school against all odds. She toiled hard, day night, as a land laborer but educated her youngest son. My father is the only educated amongst the siblings. My father made her proud. He first served his nation as army personnel and later as an officer in a civil job. He not only freed himself from abject poverty and a life of disgrace but also educated his relatives, inspiring them to struggle for respectable life.
My mother too was the first generation literate in her family. She walked miles to a nearby town for her schooling. As she was unable to undertake higher studies, she has a deep passion for it and always encouraged us to be committed to our studies. My parents guaranteed we get the best education and motivated us in our academic endeavor. They scarified their life for us. My mother never accompanied my father to his transfer place but remained stationed in a city all alone so as to ensure we get quality education, while my father commuted on monthly basis. At times my mother starved, but never complained and educated us and my cousins. Today, my brothers and I occupy good position and status in the society because of her sacrifice. What I have mentioned here is just a cusp; it will need pages and pages to write of my mother’s journey of hardship, her sacrifice and her determination to overcome the adversities of life. As a woman, she is the best example of empowerment, first only a housewife later became a successful entrepreneur.
I am fortunate enough to have parents who not only catered quality education but also thought us the lessons of self-respect. The stories of inhuman behavior my kin and kith experienced had an impact on me since childhood. It became an inspiration for me, to fight, to break the shackles of injustice. I wanted to enter civil services, to be at a position, where I could deliver justice to all. I was a science student but undertook the undergraduate course taking History and Political Science as my subjects, to prepare for the civil service entrance exam. Though my parents were well off to provide me for everything, I wanted to earn and provide for my own studies. I was selected as a Stenographer in an educational institute on full time regular basis. I continued my studies and earned for my own requirements. The feeling of being self-reliant was overwhelming. But as fate would have it, a marriage proposal for me was sent to my parents and I was married off at the age of 21.
My parents ensured that my in-laws would not be a hurdle in my studies. My hubby was not against my studies, though continuing studies after marriage is near to impossible. After marriage, I got enrolled for post-graduation but was never able to accomplish it. Full-time job, ill health, responsibilities of a joint family, and then children, hampered my studies. I saw my dream crumbling in front of me. My parents were not happy, they realized their mistake, too late, and now those dreams could only be thought of, not achieved. I lived with wrinkled dreams for next seven years. In those wrinkled dreams there still lived a spark, waiting to be blown. My parents tried to rejuvenate that spark to no avail. It only takes you to rekindle the flame.
An incident in my life changed the course of my thoughts and action. Though being update, very determined and committed to my office work, some people always chided me for being a dalit. My claim to higher gradation was rejected and I promised myself, that very instance, I will not remain there as a stenographer, but will promote myself. I resumed my studies, slogging day night and acquired a post-graduate degree. I further cleared NET exam (National Eligibility Test required for being a Professor) and acquired a job as an Assistant Professor in the same institute I was looked down upon. Today, I am not a in civil service, as I always dreamed to be; still I hold a respectable post. My institute is a women educational institute with graduate and postgraduate courses. I love my job as it enables me to help many other girls like me, attain their dream. In this global era, where liberation is the word, with whole lot of awareness around, still girls face the same difficulties, as I faced. Few of my colleagues and I, pay for the fees of the girls who are economically marginalized, to undertake higher education. I have formed a strong team of girl students who spread awareness on Education, Health and hygiene, HIV/AIDs, Early Marriage, Corruption and dowry and violence against women amongst the rural and urban slums through street plays.
My professional journey was never smooth. I am a rebel. I have struggled against discrimination. Opportunities are denied. Potential goes unrecognized. A dalit is merely a “quotawala” (slang used for the one who access reservation in education and jobs without having skill or potential according to non-dalits). It is not easy to be a dalit in India. It means one has to be equipped with willpower and fortitude to fight a taboo of being a dalit. The plight of dalit, especially dalit women in the country is depressing. Every 18 minute a crime is committed against a dalit. Though there is enough law against untouchability, it is still perpetuated in some parts of India. India has near about 80 million dalit women. There is a hideous amount of sexual abuse and violence against dalit women. 21 dalit women are raped each week with low rate of conviction and many perpetrators go scot free. Media reporting of these crimes against dalit is negligible. Web 2.0 has become instrumental in circulating the news of crimes against dalit. This has enabled a formation of strong network to fight against discriminating and crime perpetuated against dalit. The condition of the dalit is grim, still I see hope. India is an ever evolving nation. There are few malicious elements but there is no dearth of good people fighting to curb the evil of denial and oppression. The excluded too have taken up the cause to destabilize the oppressive structures further asserting my hope.