Gopal Baba Walangkar
Kapil Dev - A Warrior for Dalit Rights
Kapil Deo was born on March 1, 1964, in a family of Dalit couple Kesari Devi and Laxmi Prasad residing in Malari village near Barachawar development block headquarters in Ghazipur district. He has six sisters and one brother. His father worked as a labour to eke out his livelihood and used to sing in spare time. He received his primary and junior education at Barachawar and did High School and Intermediate from Hartman Inter College, Hartmanpur, Ghazipur. Because of financial crisis he was deprived of further education for a year. He worked as a labour, collected some money and started graduation level education from the next year from Mathura Mahavidyalaya, Rasara, Ballia. He was married to Lalsa Devi at a young age of 11 years in 1975 and his gawana (a custom in which wife comes to her husband's home for the first time) took place in 1979. He had to face stiff resistance from the family as his wife did not bring any dowry with her.
During Emergency in 1976, he became associated with Leftist and IPF of Ghazipur. In 1980 he intensively studied for a month history of Dalit movement in Nagpur at Marathwada University. There he became influenced with the mission of Baba Saheb. On coming back home he launched 24-hour akhand kirtan(non-stop recital of devotional songs) of Hare Bhim Hare Buddha to break religious customs. This shook Hindu feudal forces. They implicated several youth of Malari village in fake criminal cases. He opposed police atrocities.
Kapil Deo made his people contest elections to panchayats in the year 1981 to get rid of feudal elements and got success too. During the next five years he played leading role in the panchayat and by 1985 got Malari completely free of crime.
While this went on he came into contact with the Delhi based organisation People's Institute for Development and Training (PIDT) and other social activists. During 1983 he led Uttar Pradesh in a research project on Energy and Rural Women funded b the International Labour Organisation. Now he decided to form a regional forum of local aware people.
His parents, however, did not subscribe to his activities and they disowned him. He moved into a hut in Malari village itself and restarted life. To earn livelihood he worked as a labour on the farm of several landlords in Malari and neighbouring villages. By 1986 he had two daughters and one son. At the time of birth of his son his wife became seriously ill. During the same year he got 15 bighas of land on lease. To get occupation of his land he had to contest suit and went to jail twice. He became a thorn in the eyes of feudal elements. Soon he donated half of his land in the name of Baba Saheb.
In 1985 he founded Poorvanchal Gramin Vikas Evam Prashikshan Sansthan and got it registered in 1987 under the Societies Registration Act, 1860. Since then he is heading the organisation. In 1989 he got the organisation registered under the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act, 1976. He played the role of trainer in Shiksha Karmi Scheme and Lok Jumbish Project of the Rajasthan Government for almost a year.
While coming back to his home he became victim of rowdy elements of Sikh community. At that time he came into contact with the organisations working at the national level. Gauri Chowdhury of Action Aid started sending Rs 1,000 per month. She cooperated him to get fellowship from Delhi based organisation Jagori. By 1990 he played role of trainer and supervisor in non-formal education project implemented by PIDIT. In 1990 he got became associated with the Ministry of Human Resource Development and other international organisations.
Soon differences cropped up in the organisation he had founded. He struggled and succeeded in getting back the organisation on rails. By 1995 he got the organisation self-reliant. In 1996 he launched a campaign for freeing Mushar community from crime. The same year his son was kidnapped from the hostel of St Xavier College, Ghazipur, and he was freed after a week in captivity.
In 1997 a state level forum of voluntary organisations was formed at the state level. He was elected as founder member of the executive body of the forum. During the same year he formed Dynamic Action Group (DAG) to promote Dalit movement under voluntary movement in the state.
His increasing fame in the social sector brought him in contact with several national and international organisations. He went on his foreign tour during 1997 to Bangladesh. He was part of 10-member delegation to that country.
Kapil Deo's wife died on September 18, 1998. He was shattered with this loss, but did not bend and continued to promote the organisation. In 1999, he was elected chairperson of Uttar Pradesh Voluntary Action Network (UPVAN). He continued to hold this position for next four years. In 2000, he was elected member of the national committee of the National Dalit Alliance, headquartered in Hyderabad. In 2001, he was made founder of Mushar Action Resource Group (MARG) to study Mushar community and sensitise other voluntary organisations on the issue. In 2001 he founded Poorvanchal Sewa Trust and is managing it since then.
All these efforts got him recognition at the national and international levels. He was elected as a representative for participating in an international conference organised by the United Nations. He made declaration to end casteism along with racism. He along with Voluntary Forum of India raised Dalit issue at Durban (South Africa) and lobbied with international community and media. He got international community aware of the Dalit issue despite the challenges from the government.
He has decided to further the mission of Baba Saheb Jati Toro Manavta Joro (banish casteism link with humanity). He has decided not to rest till ill like casteism ends. Through his struggles he has dedicated himself to get complete freedom for the deprived Dalit community.
Dalit women narrate heartrending stories at public hearing
A family tried to force abortion on a woman just because her husband suspected her of having an illicit relationship with someone. The woman was forcefully taken to Chaksu hospital of Jaipur district but she fought for her right and she later gave birth to the baby but lost her family. The semi-literate woman is now fighting for her rights in the court and she is worried about the future of her baby.
There were eighteen such cases of dalit women who came out with their woeful tales during the state level public hearing on Sunday at Pastoral Social Centre, Naka Madar, organized by the Dalit Mahila Manch of Rajasthan and the Mahila Jan Adhikar Samiti.
Narrating her story at the hearing, the 20-year-old woman came from Jaipur district stated how she was harassed by her in-laws just because her husband suspected an illicit relationship. “Now my condition is that I have a two-year-old child and no place to live. No money to eat or to give my advocate’s fees. My family also went to the community panchayat but no one came to help,” she said.
In another case, 65-year-old Anguri of Bharatpur was beaten up and thrown out from her house by her own son and his wife on allegations of witchcraft. “I have to beg for bread on the roadside despite the fact that my husband left me a big house and a land. My son and his wife took everything. When I went to police, the asked my son to keep me but after sometime they again throw me out. My son’s wife alleged me to be a witch,” said Anguri, who shared her story at the public hearing.
Similarly, a woman from Bharatpur said she was harassed just because her father had not given a buffalo as dowry. She alleged that she was thrown out from the house and her in-laws kept the children and do not allow her to meet them. She went to police but nothing happened.
In another interesting case, a woman from Ajmer not only filed a case of harassment against her in-laws but also against her parents. The woman alleged that her husband beat her up with a helmet and forced her to live with him in a graveyard. “I refused to live in the graveyard and returned to my parents but my parents started harassing me so much so that I have to seek police help,” the victim said.
In another case, a 19-year-old girl said she was harassed by her husband. She now wanted a divorce and to pursue studies so as to be able to stand on her feet. “From the first day of my marriage, my husband wanted me to talk to his friend on phone at night. He was mentally sick and tortured me. When I realized the problem, I left my house. Now I want a divorce and study,” she said. Her father also supported her to be independent and continue with her studies.
“The major problem these women had were that they married early and they are not educated,” said Ruth Manorma, national coordinator of NFDW. She asked these women to get back their confidence and continue their her fight through education.
“It is not easy to break a family on small issues. Besides, we suggested them to get legal aid from the legal cell of every district court,” said D L Thripathi, vice president of PUCL . “The motive is to provide legal and social help to these women on issue of domestic violence,” said P L Mimroth of Dalit Right Centre. He added that these cases were referred to proper government bodies for disposal and “we also requesting the state government to make the police department sensitive on such issues”.
The Times of India
In Bundelkhand, one of the poorest areas of the Uttar Pradesh region in Northern India, a 47-year-old woman is breaking stereotypes, and giving woman a chance to fight for their rights, and even for their survival. This is no small feat in a country plagued by discrimination against women and by inequality.
In 2006, Sampat Pal Devi, who had been married at the age of 12 to an ice-cream vendor and had her first child when she was 15, created a group of women vigilantes that numbers over 20,000, and now has even some men as its supporters. The movement is called Gulabi Gang (pink gang), after the pink-colored saris used by the members. Another characteristic is the use of (Indian fighting sticks,) which they use to punish miscreants.
In an interview with Sanjit Das, an Indian photographer and social activist, Sampat Pat Devi explained, “The word ‘gang’ doesn’t necessarily denote criminals. It can also be used to describe a team, a crew. We are a gang for justice. In rallies and protests outside our villages, especially in crowded cities, our members used to get lost in the rush. We decided to dress in a single color, which would be easy to identify. We didn’t want to be associated with other colors, as they had associations with political or religious groups. We settled on pink, the color of life. It’s good. It makes the administration wary of us.”
Initially, the movement was created to help women victims of domestic abuse, but now includes all problems of inequality and abuse of women. According to the United Nations, two in three married Indian women are victims of domestic violence. Aside from domestic violence several other problems plague women in modern Indian society such as honor killings, child marriages, and the burden of dowries.
Although gender-based discrimination against female children is widespread in developing countries, India is one of the worst culprits. Discrimination against women, which starts in the womb, continues through women’s lives. In this regard, female feticide is one of the earliest and most brutal manifestations of violence against women.
Although some kinds of abuse of women such as “bride burning” have diminished among educated urban populations, many cases of dowry-related domestic violence, suicides and murders still occur. According to the Thomas Reuters Foundation, India is the fourth most dangerous place in the world for women.
Most of the members of the Gulabi Gang are poor and from India’s lowest caste, the (untouchables). Sampat Pat Devi has assumed the role commander in chief of the organization, and has appointed seven additional commanders in seven districts in Bundelkhand to help coordinate the group’s activities.
A long list of criminal charges doesn’t deter her. They include unlawful assembly, attacking a government official, and obstructing the work of an officer in duty. At times, she has had to go into hiding to protect herself. Her work, however, has inspired countless young and older women who join the group in increasing numbers.
One of the group’s earliest accomplishments happened in 2006, soon after the movement’s creation. When Sampat Pat Devi heard the cries of a woman being beaten by her husband she pleaded with the man to stop.
Rather than stopping, the man also beat her. So Sampat Pat Devi, together with other five women, beat the man when their until he begged for mercy. Soon afterwards, on hearing what had happened, many other women from her village joined the movement.
In the following years, the Gulabi Gang stopped several child marriages; forced police officers to register cases of domestic violence and organized protests against abusive dowries. As a result of their activities their fame spread beyond their village and the Gulabi Gang has now established operations in Banda, Meerut, Bjnor and several other places across Northern India.
In 2008, members of the group ambushed the local electricity office which was withholding electricity until the company’s main officers received kickbacks or sexual favors. Holding their they ambushed the local electricity office and electric power was restored an hour later.
Although most of the Gang members’ actions are on behalf of women, they are increasingly joined by men in their protests. For example, 7,000 Banda men farmers asked the group to join them in their demands for compensation for failed crops. However, members of the gang are much less frequently using their . As Sampat Pat Devi told the , “My real strength is not in the stick. It is in numbers. And one day we will be big enough to shake up Delhi, too.”
Son of a farm labourer, Kantilal Parmar is today a senior Dalit rights activist with the Navsarjan Trust. He says, his is story not his alone. Many other Dalits in India have the same experience as he, facing untouchability and discrimination. “When I talked about my life with other Dalits in Gujarat, I realized that we all had similar experience in our life. Probably I am more fortunate than many of my Dalit friends. At least, I have an opportunity to share my story, which many others don’t”, he says. Here narrates how how fought to become an activist:
I am Kantilal Ukabhai Parmar. My surname is Parmar. My father is Ukabhai and my mother is Jivuben. I was born in Chital village in Amreli district in Gujarat. I have two brothers and two sisters. I am the eldest. I have two uncles. One of them was working at the district panchayat as clerk and has just retired, while the other uncle works as peon at the Chital High School in my village. My grandmother, whom I loved a lot, passed aay at the age of 96 in 2009. We all lived in a joint family, altogether.
My ‘polluted’ coin
I am born in chamar community, a Dalit sub-caste. People called us “untouchables”. I faced ‘untouchability’ many times in primary school. I took my primary education from class one to seven at the Jashvantgadh Primary School in my village. In the classroom, we had to sit in the backbenches, without exception. We were not allowed to sit near the Patel students, the dominant caste classmates.
There was a water tank in the school, and the Dalit students had to use separate tumblers to drink water. It was not easy for us to take part in cricket game in school. We were not even allowed to pray. When the dominant caste classmates needed to exchange coins with us, they would collect coins from us after purifying them by sprinkling water on them, as they thought the coins that we had were polluted. Every day we were shamed. I could not understand what was wrong with me or why we were considered inferior.
First leaf-plate for drinking water
When I was at school, my parents worked at a farm as agricultural labourers. Whenever I had vacation or holiday, I came to the farm to assist my parents’ work along with my siblings. I remember, one day when we went to the farm, we brought our own plates and glasses. There were many people from our community to work at the farm but we only had one common tumbler. We walked in a queue. I was so thirsty, but could not use the tumbler which was used by others from the dominant caste.
I asked the landlord for water. I had to get the water using my palms as the water was poured from above, since the landlord did not want my palms to touch the container, thereby polluting the entire water. The water began to flow off from my hands. I was too young to drink properly like this. Seeing this, the landlord asked me to collect some leaf from the tree nearby and use it as a plate or a tumbler to collect water. I followed him, as I was very hungry, and drank water. I did not want to do this, but had no other option.
I have my name, Kanti
People from upper castes in the village, I remember, never called me by my name Kanti; they would address me as dhedh. It was common for persons belonging to the Dalit community to be referred to as dhedh, which is a derogatory way to refer to us, a reference to our so-called impurity for doing jobs like cleaning up others’ dirt. We are often even today addressed in the same derogatory manner, especially in villages.
Chamar is a community identified as cobblers. We are expected to repair shoes and sandals. The upper caste people who came to my father to repair their shoes and sandals would throw their shoes to my father from a distance. After repairing, my father would put the shoes at some point to let the upper caste persons to collect their shoes. Payment was not guaranteed, since such work was our duty in the caste hierarchy. If at all someone was willing to pay, the payment used to be leftover food or some grains.
When there were local celebrations like a wedding or a festival in the village, my grandmother was usually informed. We were never expected to participate in such functions, nor did we expect to be invited. However, we were allowed to go to these functions, not to participate, but to collect the leftover food. My grandmother generally went for these functions. She along with others from our community would have to wait in a corner, outside the venue and away from the view of the guests, until the feast was over. In between, we were not allowed to show face anywhere around where the upper caste had even the possibility of seeing even our shadow, since even that was believed to be polluting.
Once the feast was over, the leftover food was gathered and dropped on the ground outside the festival spot or the marriage feast hall. To keep the food in one place or from being spread around we used to dig a small ditch in the ground. Once the person who had dropped the food in the ditch would leave, we were allowed to collect the food from the ditch. Most often, this used to be the food we would get after days of starvation.
Kanti, do not cross the line
We were taught by the elders in the family that we needed to behave properly in society, abiding by all the caste practices. We were continuously cautioned that we should always keep in mind that we were the lower caste. We were also cautioned that the upper caste was very superior and we were inferior. We needed to behave in such a manner that we did not cross the line. In addition to that, from daily practice, we came to know that it was dangerous to cross the line.
For example, in the school we were not allowed to be admitted into the school sports team. We were continuously reminded that we were inferior, and also continuously threatened to be immediately punished if we crossed the line. The punishment often used to be punishment in public. Not only was the punishment made in such a way that people saw it, it was often symbolic. For any “mistake” that I committed, my father or the entire community would be punished.
There was a timber merchant in our village. Many of my family members and persons from our community used to work for this merchant in his yard. There were separate glasses for us to drink water, kept beside a window in the yard, where there was a water container. If we needed to drink water, we must first make a sound like a light cough before approaching the window. This was to warn the upper caste people that we were going towards the window and hence they should not reach the spot by accident.
We were not allowed to pour water for ourselves. A person would pour water from the container without touching our glass or us. If we did not follow this rule we would be punished. Maybe it might be me who might make a mistake of touching something that we were not supposed to touch. And, the punishment would be for all the labourers in the yard from our community who worked there. The punishment would be in the form of not paying wages for the entire week, or somewhat similar, or even worse.
There were eight to ten timber merchants in our village. Only the Hindu timber merchants practiced caste discrimination. The Muslim merchants did not. But it was hard to get a job with the Muslim merchants, since there were only two or three of them, and they would generally have no vacancy.
My mother and grandmother had to buy milk from an upper caste person, usually a Patel. To make the payment for the milk, they were expected to keep the money on the ground and stay away. This was to ensure that even by accident we did not touch the upper caste persons and polluted them. The Patel, who would sell us milk, would first purify the money by spraying water on it, and then take it.
Such practices continue even today. They happen less in towns but are a way of life in villages. Not that caste identity or practices have changed in towns, but because in villages everyone knows who is who, while nobody knows who is who in towns.
Even today, we cannot easily buy a house or a property in a town or a city. When we do the documentation for buying property, we need to furnish our complete address as well as our full name. The address and the name would reveal our caste identity. Once the caste identity is revealed, often the seller would pose some excuse in order to refuse to sell us the property.
Helping hand of Brahmin teacher
At the secondary school, teachers would often abusively call us as “son-in-law” of the government. This was done to make a mockery of the government schemes which help persons from lower castes to reach the mainstream. Teachers often used to say, “Hey son-law-law of the government, come here.”
However, all teachers from upper caste were not like that. Anshuyaben, a female teacher from the Brahmin caste, gave me free English tuition after the school. She supported me a lot. She considered me as her son, and I was allowed to go to the teacher’s home. The teacher also visited my house. I used to work hard and was always the first or second in the class.
However, there was another teacher, named Sangani, who taught male students. He would ask me “Why do you study English? You do not need to study English. You should not study English.” He tried to discourage me this way. I am sure that he believed in what he said; perhaps to him a lower caste person like me was nothing but a fellow destined to do inhuman labour. To him, education was of no use to us.
One day I asked him, “Why can’t I study?” And the teacher replied, “What are you going to do after finishing the school? Even if you secure good marks in the examination, what would you do? You are chamar. You cannot go to college. And you should not go to college. Besides, who is going to take you to the college?”
This was in sharp contrast to Anshuyaben, whose duty was to teach only female students, yet she encouraged me in every possible way. Finally, when the examination results were published, I was the first in the school. I got 66 per cent marks. It was 1986. When Sangani came to know of my result, he said, “You did something wrong.”
Following the result, people started visiting me with food or sweets and congratulated me. However, my family did not have anything to give back to the guests, not even a cup of tea, as we were so poor. The entire village came to know of my high score. A local newspaper published my name and photograph, and I was so happy. However, I realized soon: I did not have money to study more. My parents could not afford higher studies. I must return to work.
The students who scored the highest mark in the school would be awarded Rs 251 as an award in the village. But neither the school nor the village gave me the award, because I am Dalit.
My uncle was working in the local administration at that time. He had more money. People told my uncle to help me. My uncle told my father that he would help me to travel from the village to the city and get me enrolled for diploma in electronics engineering. But my father denied the offer, not because he did not want me to study, but because he did not want to end up in debt, even to his own brother.
My uncle insisted to accept the help and finally my father agreed. My uncle said, “Kanti is one among us. He is good at studies. We must encourage him. This might be his only way out of this curse of caste”.
College was no different
In Bhavnagar town, where I studied, initially I did not notice the practice of caste discrimination. When I enrolled at the college my education certificates exposed my caste identity along with my village name. At the college hostel where I stayed, I realized soon that the upper caste students, as always, had the upper hand. They could stay anywhere they wished, in any room of the hostel. However, we from the lower castes were all boarded in a separate hostel, the “exclusive” Dalit hostel.
It is very tough in Gujarat during summer due to heat, and water is a much sought after commodity. There was a water tank for the upper caste students, but none for us in the hostel. We could not take a shower or wash our clothes. Often, we did not even have enough water to drink. We had to wait for the leftover water from the upper caste community. The hostel for the upper caste students had more facilities, including electrical gadgets and television. Nothing was there for us. Soon I realized that the college was no different from the village.
I had borrowed a cycle from my uncle for commuting between the hostel and the college. There used to be movie shows at night in the town. One day, an upper caste student came to me and said, “Give me your cycle. I need to go to go for a movie tonight.” I refused. “I won’t give you my cycle, because I don’t want to give it to you“, I said. The same night my cycle was destroyed. I was very angry and also sad. I could not complain against him. I just had to keep quiet.
The upper caste students could pick up any Dalit student they chose to beat us up. This could be with or without any reason. Sometimes they would come drunk and beat up Dalit students just for fun. We had no right to say “No”. We had to face it. We could not complain. If we dared, we would face abuse from the college administration. We just had to obey.
Some upper caste boys would bring girls to the institution. When they required our room to spend their time with girls, we were expected to vacate our rooms. If we objected, we were assaulted. We were treated as servants even in the college. It became intolerable. I soon moved from Bhavnagar town to Amreli for diploma course.
At Amreli, I started organizing Dalit students. I would directly contact those Dalits students who were admitted in the college. I encouraged them to stay together and formed a Dalit students’ union. I became a Dalit student union leader. The name of the Dalit student union was Dalit Yuva Vidyarthai Sangathan (Dalit Young Students’ Federation). We dealt with issues concerning Dalit students, and also started writing complaints, even petitions to the Prime Minister.
I started developing my own small group for the Dalit students’ rights, specifically on issues like scholarship for Dalit students. In my case, however, even though I was qualified to get a scholarship it was denied to me.
The ration shop experience
In 1988, the government reserved ration distribution shop in my village for the Dalit community members. My father, who had studied up to the fourth standard, helped by my uncle, filled up a form to run the ration shop. His application was granted and he began his ration shop.
After my father got the license for the ration shop, my father stopped working in the farm as he had to open the ration shop every day till late evening. When he used to go to the farm, he would accompany with him other family members like my mother, grandmother and my sisters to work at the farm. However, with the absence of male members in the family, it became difficult to go outside of the village for farm work.
The ration shop needed more than one person to be run. It also required some investment for which my father had to get a loan from a bank. But the loan and the interest was too high for my father to pay back. My father also wanted some support for running the shop and asked my uncle to join as partner. The problem was that the profit from the ration shop was not high enough and had to be reinvested in the shop for ten years.
This ten year period was the toughest time for my family. Any profit there was had to be divided for three persons, and after division. We got nothing. In addition to that, I was studying at the time.
Though the shop began in the village, half of the ration card holders in the village went to Amreli town to collect their ration since they did not want to buy it at my father’s shop. Thus we lost 50 per cent of the potential customers.
There was a village head, belonging to the upper caste community. A BJP leader, he intentionally kept changing the ration card register which had the record of those who were registered with the ration shop. The ration card holders started getting confused as to where to go to collect their ration and blamed it on my father. They believed that my father cheated them since they could not find their names under my father’s ration shop in which the ration card holders initially registered their names.
My father and my uncle who was a second partner were not aware how to run the ration shop and the legalities involved. They found it difficult to understand what the village head was doing by changing the register. However, another uncle, the third partner, who was working in the government service, came to know of what was going on. My uncle could not say that the village head was wrong. He was not supposed to be involved in the ration shop as he was working for the government.
My father and uncles struggled for a while by talking to people. During the first part of running the ration shop, we faced various problems, one after another. It was believed that Dalits should not run a ration shop and it had been dominated by the upper caste. However, it was the government which had granted us the license for the ration shop and they could not prevent us from running it.
I used go to home during vacation. My father was running the ration shop and mother and sisters worked at the farm. I also went to work at the farm to support my family. However, even after hard labour at the farm, we did not have food to eat at home. We were so poor, that often we would only had water and some dry rotis to keep us alive. However, none of us complained.
When I was studying at college, many people used to come to me for writing a complaint and getting a petition done. Even when the upper caste people threatened me, the hostel was safe. I did not have to pay the rent in the hostel, as it was subsidized for me by the government. This was the time that I read an article written by Martin Macwan, who had founded Navsarjan Trust in 1998 as a Dalit rights group.
I was already a self-styled activist and became interested in social work for the community. I did not sit for my examination. I was engaged in something else, rather than studying. I almost stopped studying in 1993, as I became a social activist insideout. After reading Macwan’s article, I met him and asked him, “Can I work with you?” I joined Navsarjan Trust as a village human rights defender in 1998. This was my new beginning as a human rights activist.
Putting theory into practice
The first case I dealt with was the case of Devaliya village in which the water pipeline for the Dalits was cut off by the upper caste people. We protested it and created social tension, which resulted in the social boycott of the village by the upper caste for a long period of time, about three to four years. I started meeting people, writing complaints and organized protest meetings. Various people came to us and inquired as to what had gone wrong.
It developed into a huge social issue. People from the central intelligence department approached me. One of them was a Dalit. He said, “Why don’t you complain to the National Human Rights Commission?” He gave me the address. This was my first petition to the National Human Rights Commission, which responded with an order consisting of 21 pages, though generally it responds in just one or two lines.
We took the order to the High Court as public interest litigation. The High Court stated that what the National Human Rights Commission had said was right and must be enforced. I started to learn how these things could be used and how the mechanism could be utilized.
Macwan would often for regular session of activists regarding different issues of law, land reforms, social issues etc. He gave regular coaching to activists to empower them with the essential tools and basic knowledge. As I started working with him, I immediately got an opportunity to put theory into practice, and it succeeded.
Meanwhile, I found that my family had some apprehensions. Even today it has. They say that I should be careful and I should be afraid of this and that. However, when circumstances forced me to react and when I got exposed to more knowledge, I realized that caste discrimination was wrong and there were different laws and mechanisms. I tried to find some remedy. Initially I was afraid. As time passed by, I slowly became courageous and got results.
The New Dalit – Sanjay Salwan
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He wants to be the world's best saxophone player.
[Text and pictures by Mayank Austen Soofi]
His father is a sweeper. His grandfather was also a sweeper. His great-grand father too, was a sweeper. But he wants to be the world's best saxophone player.
"When my mind is filled with tension, I play my saxophone and I feel fresh," says Mr Sanjay Salwan, a 21-year-old school dropout Dalit who lives in Delhi's Valmiki Sadan, popularly known as Dalit Colony. (This story is first of a five-part series –
However, to be one of the best players, one needs hours of practice and that's not possible in a two-room flat shared by seven family members. But you can always trust an artist to find his space.
Each day Mr Salwan walks up to the edge of the colony, climbs the dump yard and walks over to his secret hideout — Bhooli Bhatiyari Park, a garden with overgrown grass and unwieldy trees. There, in the company of birds and stray dogs, Mr Salwan plays ragas.
"I used to help papa sweep a Connaught Place block next to Plaza Theatre," says Mr Salwan. "But it was a ganda job and I stopped it once I learnt how to play the saxophone." Dad doesn't mind. "Each night papa repeats the same thing — padai karo, padai karo, padai karo."
The family was initially unsettled when the son took up the instrument but now dad advises that "if it has to be music, I should do it with full lagan." Even if it comes at a high price. In 2008 Mr Salwan decided that he needed an imported saxophone that cost a bomb — Rs 50, 000. After it became clear that whatever the boy had made by playing in clubs and hotels was not enough, the family pitched in with the rest of the amount.
Once bought, the 'Made-In-USA' saxophone was taken to a Hanuman mandir in nearby Paharganj, blessed by the priest, and now everyone hopes that this brass instrument lifts the boy high in the world.
Taken out of its velvet case, unwrapped from the white silken cloth, the sax is beautiful to look at. Under the glint of the afternoon sunlight, its golden trumpet twinkles, just like Mayawati's birthday jewels. Mayawati is India's most popular Dalit leader, often disdained in upper caste Delhi living rooms as a corrupt politician.
"I love Mayawati and like to see her in nice clothes and costly jewellery," says Mr Salwan. He doesn't object to what some call Mayawati's ostentatious display of wealth. "She is one of us," he says. "I hate the word 'Dalit', which signifies something low, and Mayawati, unlike other netas, says 'apne log', never 'Dalit log'."
However, politics is not a major concern for our sax player. Mr Salwan has more urgent priorities. "I want to play like Kenny G," he says. "And I'm working on it."
At Bhooli Bhatiyari Park
Play on, Sir
Solitude... well, almost
On the rooftop
Look here, please
In the Children's Park
Back to Bhooli Bhatiyari
Good luck, Mr Salwan
The New Dalit - Praveen Parcha
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He is against job reservations for Dalits.
[Text and picture by Mayank Austen Soofi]
His life could be like the plot of an old Amitabh Bachchan film. Both his grandfather and father were sweepers. Both met with an accident while on the job. Grandfather died. Father got soft in the head so mother got the father's job.
Meanwhile, Mr Praveen Parcha grew up to become a painter by passion with a day-job as a call centre employee. He is a 25-year-old school-dropout who lives in Delhi's Valmiki Sadan, popularly known as Dalit Colony. (This story is the third of a five-part series – The New Dalit, The Changing World of Delhi's 'Untouchables'.)
During a stint in HSBC, around two years ago, he fell in love with Urmila, a Brahmin girl. The families protested so they got married in a court. Urmila Bhardwaj became Urmila Parcha. "It's the old folk who bother about caste," says Mr Parcha. "In the call centres, despite knowing that I was a Dalit, no one thought twice before sharing my tiffin." But he hasn't forgotten the past. "My school teacher once said that no matter how arty I might be, one day I will end up sweeping."
That's what his mother wanted. After all, being a sweeper in New Delhi Municipal Corporation means a permanent sarkari job. Why be a penniless painter?
But Mr Parcha dreams of being another M.F. Husain, although at present no one recognises him in the streets. "I trust my talent," he says. "That's why I'm also against job reservations — where you end up snatching other people's rights."
Neither is Mr Parcha a fan of Mayawati, India's most popular Dalit leader. "She is creating cracks in the society," he says. "If she continues showing concern only for our community, other people will feel left out." That's some consideration.