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Dhire-dhire; slowly slowly, things can change. A yak on caste!

Clearing off the cock-roaches from the western toilet–a fancy American toilet compared to the squatty potties of India–each morning doesn’t seem all that luxurious does it? Well, it is. I am in India living with a Brahman family. Privileged decendents of priests they have the ability to sit upon a porcelain throne, resting their ankles as they dangle to the floor unlike the thigh-stretching squat position. Banaras, being one of the more conservative Hindu cities, has its clout with caste discrimination; originally, Brahman families are placed at the top of the spiritual food chain-serving as community priests. This world will always be in poverty, and in wealth. Whether it is a toilet, access to safe food, or even shelter, too many from the west see these things as a given life accommodation. Caste and class continue to be big issues that can be found all over India. Dalit discrimination, outlawed after the Indian constitution in 1950, which banned untouchability, can be compared to the United States civil rights movement. Much like discrimination ended in the United States, racism still exists in many communities. Religion in India has a tendency to outweigh government decisions, it has said to be the only true social system the people will accept. This leaves some people of the lower castes to be swept under the Persian rug.

A modern example of discrimination was recently explained to me by a mentor: Back and forth like a rubbish-filled beach ball, each time spewing more garbage out of the torn plastic and into the garden, Manish threatened- “One more time, and we’ll throw it in the front gate!”. This tiny caste war took place in 2011 at the Father Francis Sewa Sangam Society (SSS) community garden. Their enemies were their upper caste neighbors who wanted the land for themselves. This war was an act on caste discrimination. The SSS garden is primarily for the use of the Dalit community (the oppressed people; named by Mahatma Gandhi to replace the term untouchable). Their neighbors had not wanted to share their land with those they saw as below their status, dropping a metaphorical bomb that claimed the SSS community as garbage.

They did it; on Manish’s command, the garden manager and human resources personnel, he and Father Francis stormed their neighbors gate with the trash bag bomb, and never had any trouble with them again.

In the beginning, the Dalit community was forced out of their religion by their work. Cows in Hindu culture are sacred and known to a Hindu as their second mother. Imagine the horror of going to work, and being forced to chop up your mother for a nice pair of shoes–they had to skin deceased cows for leather export by demand of their wealthier, higher caste landlords. For this reason, their caste was known for committing murderous activities and smelling like the stench of dead animals. The higher castes did not see the job as a fact of life, but claimed Dalits had these jobs for their past lives were lived out in a not so karmicly honorable way. The word Brahman stands for “twice born”, being seen that they once served well in life and now deserve the higher religious status.

In modern day India, the four main castes do still exist, but are not seen as prominently as they once were. Dalit people are now, in most circumstances, able to communicate with who ever they please and not be discriminated against. There are still lower caste, and lower paying jobs that some Dalit people will stay with today such as rickshaw wallas and the laundry men. Some rickshaw drivers can be seen at night sleeping in their vehicle in case more business arises, or they simply cannot afford housing. Other people have changed societies old ways by attending university; it is now very common to see doctors and medical students who come from a Dalit background. Thanks to many programs, like the Sewa Sangam Society, governmental aid, and other public schools who teach newer specialty skills such as English and computer skills, it is much easier to lessen the educational and professional divide there once was.

Many people from the younger generation are hoping to change societies structure by abolishing caste; my instructor, who visits India so often she could be considered a local, once told me that her friends will go out and only tell people their first name, thus not revealing their caste with the last name they were given-this is what progress looks like, a small gesture of change.