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Monday, April 13, 2009

Dalit, Dravidian and poor

[title is link to my earlier article on Dalits]

Caste & the Tamil Nation -
Dalits, Brahmins & Non Brahmins

4. 'In the rainy season,' the woman began, `it is really bad. Water mixes with the shit and when we carry it (on our heads) it drips from the baskets, on to our clothes, our bodies, our faces. When I return home I find it difficult to eat food sometimes. The smell never gets out of my clothes, my hair. But this is our fate. To feed my children I have no option but to do this work.'

Narayanamma began cleaning human excrement at 13. She is now 35. The stench is nauseating, overpowering. First, she sweeps the shit into piles. Then, using two flat pieces of tin, she scoops it up and drops it into a bamboo basket which she carries to a spot where a tractor will arrive to pick it up. No gloves. No water to wash with. She hitches up her sari tightly so that it does not trail on the ground or touch the shit. Still, it is almost impossible to go through a whole day's work without some of it inadvertently getting onto her clothes and person.

After 20-odd years of cleaning toilets. Narayanamma clings to a dignity which is markedly at variance with the work she does. She is dressed neatly, immaculately clean. Jasmine adorns her oiled and well groomed hair.

Narayanamma and 800,000 other toilet cleaners are on the lowest rung of the caste system in India. They are despised by everyone. They experience absolute exclusion from the cradle to the grave.

They are the other face of India; the one that nobody likes to see. It is in sharp contrast to the progressive, technological, we-have-the-bomb-and-are-no longer-the-Third-World face.

Chennai railway, station says it all. It has a hot spot for laptops to download mail, mobile phone chargers, international food counters offering burgers, chocolate mousse and chow mein next to hot dosas and chicken tikka. Yet, a few metres away, sweeper women clean shit in the most primitive manner possible, lifting it out of the railway track with a stick, broom and pieces of tin. Why does this unacceptable, utterly obscene dichotomy exist. Because hardly anyone wants it to change.


"Nearly one-fourth of the People of India speak one or another Dravidian language. It is the major language family in the southern States, viz. Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu, and in the Union Territories of Pondicherry and Lakshadweep Islands. Brahui, perhaps the oldest member of the Dravidian Family, is spoken by six hundred thousand people in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran; 10,000 speak Jankar in Nepal; there are old and new migrants in Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Singapore, Myanmar, Indonesia and Africa. In fact, about 30 million Dravidian speakers are migrants and settled all over the world."

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