17 August 2013

A peep into the Caste System

A happy Poonam at the school.

In our society, discrimination is rife and can be experienced at different levels and in different ways. This is because India has a highly stratified society. If there is one single thing that defines the social structure in India it is Caste. Caste permeates every aspect of our social life, from performance of rituals to treatment of ‘others’.

For thousands of years, some communities have been classified as “untouchables”. Members of these communities were, and continue to be, forbidden from entering places of worship, barred from using wells/other utilities, and denied access to education.

The Musahar are a scheduled caste community, spread across Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. Their traditional occupation is ‘rat catching’. They are among the poorest and disadvantaged people in India, suffering deprivation at various levels.

I stumbled on an interesting old piece by a foreign journalist on the Musahar community. Here’s an excerpt where she describes a school for the Musahar girls, run by a courageous social activist from Kerala.

Ninety schoolgirls line up and hold out their hands for the steel thali tray that will be their plate from now on. The cook holds out the ladle to the first in line to serve herself, but the girl is frozen in confusion. All down the row, eyes are wide, disbelieving. 

It is more food than most of them have seen in their lives.

These girls – who have always eaten last, left with only the scraps at the edge of the pot – are being told to help themselves. To fill their plates.
And they do. They eat and eat, giggling through mouths stuffed full. When at last they sit back on their heels, unable to swallow one more grain of rice, their plates are still covered in food.
Read the complete article here.

I wonder what makes humans, supposedly the most intelligent species on this planet, turn negatively discriminatory and indifferent toward their fellow beings.
Check these photographs of the school girls, who are determined to rise above their miserable circumstances.
If you wish to know a brief history of the caste system, click here.

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