As a background to this story, Untouchability and Casteism in India are perils which are still haunting various regions of India, and are far from being things of the past. I find it unneccasry to elucidate what these superstitous inhuman acts are capable of unleashing, as we have had chronicles narrated to us in our schools and most of us might have witnessed it in person.
While our protagonist is in his early twenties, living in the orthodox, caste-conscious village ( like the many then, and a little less now), has an entourage of seven other youngsters in the village. Interestingly, his entourage comprises of a person from the ‘lower’ caste and this by itself has outraged the rest of the village, as it is still presumed to be ‘unholy’ and ‘degrading’ to interact closely with these people who are called as the ‘dalits’ otherwise in India.
Reiterating the fact that he was ‘rational’, he would profess to his peers that caste-based discrimination to be a foolish superstition,and people shouldn’t endorse such inhuman discriminations. His entourage was convinced better than the rest of the village.
Until now, the protagonist and his entourage had only interacted with the lower caste friend of theirs, whereas they hadn’t visited his home or eaten there.
During one festival, this friend invites the rest of the entourage to his home for the special supper. These young men, who had until then professed rationality, didn’t think otherwise; acted by their words and happily joined their friend from the ‘lower’ caste for a relishing dinner, a hitherto event in the village…
Post dinner, each one of them, because of the prejudices they were brought up in, questioned themselves, if it was any different or ‘unholy’,or if they felt ‘guilty’ to have suppered with their friend. Convinced that they had done the right thing, they slept that night peacefully.
For the next couple of days, the news about this young group of villagers having suppered at the ‘dalit’s’ home spread all across the village, into some 1000 houses, like wild fire. Every road-side conglomeration of people would discuss exhaustingly about this ‘atrocity’ committed by these youngsters. With the news reaching the village heads, and the Panchayat, they decide to summon these young men for the ‘shameful’ disdain exhibited by them.
No logic presented by these men was given heed to, and all the ‘accused’ were ‘convicted’, for the crime of having brought disgrace to the entire village, and the ‘upper caste’. As a punishment they were fined Rs.50/- each (substantial amount in the 1980’s) and were to undergo the re-purification process: It would comprise of shaving off their heads, taking a public bath with turmeric and soap-nut powder, and drinking a trickle of the ‘holy cattle water’ or the cow’s urine! As the entire village was against these men, including their own family members they had to succumb to this ridiculous process.
After undergoing this atrocity, our protagonist is outraged and furious.
During an immediate visit to the town, away from his village, he meets his brother. The brother on questioning about his new hairdo, and the subsequent narration of the entire saga, is infuriated and escorts his victimized brother to the press and everything is reported there.
As caste-based discrimination and untouchability in India are constitutional offenses, the newspaper report which appeared next day triggered the police to reach the village and hand out serious warnings to the village heads. The village heads went absconding.
Unaware of the ramifications of his newspaper interview, our protagonist reaches the village to be welcomed with stares of admiration from a few, while the rest were dreadfully scared! Once he spoke to his friends, he realized the implications of his newspaper interview and was glad that the elders were being taught a lesson for their stupidity…
After returning from their tenure of absconding, the undaunted village heads regrouped the Panchayat and decided to boycott the protagonist along with his family (seclusion from the rest of the village).
With pressure from within the house, with his brothers asking him to leave the house, the protagonist had decided to stay away from his house. But, his mother urged him to face the villagers and stay put at his home.
With moral support from his mother, he started to visit the village as he would normally. To counter the ignorance of the rest of the villagers, he began to analyze the history of the village, and noticed that there were many other upper caste people who had and were interacting with the ‘lower caste’ people for their benefits (for the sake of free labor, illegitimate relationships, exploitation and so on). He jotted down the names and instances such as those, and started questioning the village heads, who could not confront him. They started dodging him, and during this process he had mobilized a good number of other rationales from the village who would join him for this essential cause and fight against such caste-based discrimination in their village and nearby ones.
Over a period of time, the villagers’ ignorance and audacity had molded our protagonist into a leader, and he was the first member from his district to have won a Panchayat seat in the elections, standing for the party he endorses.
Even now, he is a leader who resonates to the ground level problems of his villagers and goes to great extents to see that he can help them with the best of his efforts.
PS: The name of the protagonist is G Ramakrishna, from the Malavalli taluk of Mandya district. People in his taluk are more open and welcoming to people from other castes, although the peril by itself is not fully abolished. GR even now is active in mobilizing people to stand up for their cause, bringing them out of the shackles of inhibitions and ignorance. He is one common man, who turned to be a Hero, a working class hero…
Awesome write up man!!!-Asha
Malavalli is one of the comparatively progressive villages in Karnataka. You can then imagine how bad the situation in other villages could be