When a person belongs to the Dalit or “Untouchable” class, I don’t think there’s really any gender issue to speak of. As far as societies where the caste system continues to be practiced are concerned, the Dalit or “Untouchables” are just that -”untouchables.” And being male or female is of no consequence. Dalits are considered outcastes and not honorable to socialize with or to be amongst them. They are the manual laborers who toil on the streets, work as butchers or garbage cleaners...work not considered “honorable” by the so-called elite in society. But is it not less honorable when one works in a big company but steals from the Company’s assets? Or one working in a private or government post but cheats the stakeholders? But in our materialistic world, “money speaks.” People are often measured by how well they dressed, people they socialize with, how eloquent or articulate they speak, how suave they behave in public, even how “classy” their jobs are.
I remember my trip to Agra, India. There was a beggar in the train...a gay beggar. He had make-up on, wore a mustard Indian Sari and looked pretty healthy. I thought, “He’s strong enough to work so why is he begging?” It always irritated me that people strong enough to work go around begging for money. I thought they were taking the easy way out to earn money and I wouldn’t part with my hard-earned money to give someone who’d just ask for it when he was strong enough to earn for himself. Others less fortunate and unable to take care of themselves deserve my help more. My friend gave him some money and explained after my protest, that even if the gay beggar put up a business for himself, no one would really buy from him or get his services because he’s gay and not easily accepted by society. It made me realize that in a society where such people are not given a chance to make their lives better, the road ahead will really be tough, though times are definitely changing in their favor.
And though the Caste System has been outlawed, it continues to be practiced in many countries. The marginalized continue to suffer from the discrimination, still shunned and ostracized by many. There are however, documented stories of Dalit men and women who have made a name for themselves and created their own niche in society. So in this sense, money does talk in circumstances where it becomes a measure of power...power over someone with much less, regardless of one’s caste. On the other side of it, there are stories of the so-called elite in society who have dared to cross the bridge and associate themselves closely with the Untouchables and the less privileged to give them the recognition they deserve.
Kalpana Saroj’s story, for instance, serves as an inspiration to many Dalit like her. A daughter of a Dalit police constable in Akola district of Maharashtra, she, through her own initiative and perseverance, uplifted her life and is now heading a Rs.3,000 crore business enterprise. She is living proof that one’s caste, class or whatever labelling society may give it, is not a factor when one wants to make his/her life better. She was one of five women entrepreneurs at the first trade fair organised by the Dalit Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (DICCI) who “fought not only social prejudices but also gender bias.” Saroj, along with Geeta Parmar, Aparna Kadam, Sana Ansari and Ishita Lal, had proven that neither being a Dalit nor one’s gender is an obstacle to make their lives better. (http://www.theweekendleader.com/Success/877/Dalit-prosperity.html)
Saroj’s story wasn’t easy like most Dalit women in India. She was married off at the age of 12 but returned home due to the physical and mental abuses inflicted on her by her in-laws. She tried to join the police, be a nurse and failed. Not giving up, she learned stitching and sewing and made efforts to stitch clothes of her fellow villagers but was met with antagonism by villagers who thought she was “stepping beyond her social boundaries.” At 22, she married a small-time furniture manufacturer and revived his steel-cupboard manufacture business. It was moving forward from then on.
The Advocacy Project is a social website that ”helps marginalized communities to tell their story, claim their rights and produce social change.” In Nepal, for instance, a group of Dalit journalists provide the e-Bulletin, and live and work in the communities where caste discrimination continues to thrive. The e-Bulletin's network of journalists, help provide these communities find their voice to be heard. What is significant to note is that these journalists, men and women alike, also experience economic hardships because of their being of the Dalit caste. They have less income opportunities and their struggle in reporting stories is made more difficult because of this. The Advocacy Project makes sure their voices are heard. (http://advocacynet.org/resource/968)
And my favorite story, that of Narayanan Krishnan, one of CNN’s Top 10 2010 Heroes. He left his profitable job as Chef in a 5-Star hotel around 2003 to go home and take care of the less fortunate and marginalized people in his hometown. People considered Untouchables who could not take care of themselves, the mentally challenged, the aged. He broke the chain that put a barrier between Brahmans and Untouchables, risking being outcaste himself by his own family and peers. In his own words, “Food is one part. Love is another part. Brahmans are not supposed to touch these people, hold these people, hug these people, feed these people. I’M JUST A HUMAN BEING. FOR ME EVERYBODY IS THE SAME.” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZJZoOGXIXQU&feature=player_embedded)
Naryanan is so right, everybody is the same. So there is no gender, no caste that should ever divide us.
The Advocacy Project
CNN Tribute to Narayan Krishnan
The Weekend Leader
By Lylin Aguas