Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Brahmins and Dalits

A couple of friendly chaps in Mumbai sparked up a conversation with me in the street. Turns out they work for an NGO which is struggling to provide equality for the minority "untouchable" caste, the dalits. They were dalits themselves, and were very passionate about the subject. Though the caste system has been officially abolished in the Indian constitution, according to these gentleman it is still very much alive, especially in the rural areas that stick to tradition and which the politicians ignore.
I won't go into all the ins and outs of the caste system here, but they did throw a few shocking bits of information my way. On the night of a marriage between a dalit man dalit woman, the woman will go home not with her new husband, but with the brahmin landowner of their property.
There are seperate glasses and plates at the restaurants for Dalits, seperate parts of the town (like a "ghetto" they explained) for the dalits, and everything else that goes along with extreme segregation.
I asked how one knows the caste of another person, since there is no physical distinction between a brahmin and a dalit, or any other caste. According to them "it's all in the name", that is, your surname would give away which caste you belong to. I was grateful for their infomative conversation. Traveling about as I do, I don't see the discrimination with my eyes, but it is very much alive under the surface. Best of luck to you gentlemen on your mission!
In stark contrast to it's northern neighbor Rajasthan (which I will be heading to next), Gujarat state is utterly devoid of foreign tourists. In addition I'm noticing a steep deterioration of English ability as I plunge into the western depths of the state. I just may have to break down and learn some words in Hindi. Well I know a few, but "namaskar sardarji" (good evening sir) only gets me so far though "bas" (enough) comes it quite handy with the aggressive hordes of begging children. Really it's an exciting and long overdue proposition. I've grown lazy because of the brilliant English spoken here thus far.
Today marks me first camel sighting in India. Can't wait to ride one of those suckers around the deserts of Rajasthan.


pj said...

Speaking of the caste system, here in the US we like to think of ourselves as having outgrown that with abolition or at least the civil rights amendment. And we don't seem to see instances where "they" are fed on special plates or drink from designated drinking fountains. Still, underneath all of that is the uglier and still very much alive reason for the segregation and degradation of the "bad other". Who is justifiably self-righteous on that inner level? And what is within must surface, even if in slightly updated manifestations.

So let us all take a look at our brothers and sisters and gaze lovingly into their eyes. We all yearn for the same things.

pj said...

Oh yes, one other thing Seth... in order to fully taste and see the wonder of India, shouldn't you experience the Kumbh Mela which is going on right now? Have you made plans to become one of the millions of devotees at the largest religious festival in the world?

Bharat Sharma said...

So, The Dalit wife is supposed to sleep with a Brahmin landowner right.

This is BS as in Bull Shit of the highest order.

To get the facts right, more Brahmins are below the poverty line than the so called Dalits.

Please see this video at You Tube to get the data