Dalit women are made to remove their footwear as they pass by upper caste houses.Sunita recently went to Dangariya village with the head of the NGO she works with, which deals with development and women's empowerment. There, she was surprised to see women remove their footwear and carry it in their hands as they walked past certain places - "big people's houses", as the Dalits call them. "It was the first time I had seen such a thing. I put myself in the place of those women and I felt humiliated. I wanted to make a video on it." The IndiaUnheard staff asked Sunita to reflect on how caste differences have affected her life. "In our day-to-day lives we do a lot of things, but we don't realise it is practicing untouchability. Through my work with IndiaUnheard, I realise this." Sunita comes from the merchant caste. When she was growing up, people from all castes would come to her family's house because her father's job with the Public Water Department was such that he needed to meet with a lot of different people. It wasn't practical or possible to ostracise certain castes or adhere to all the social practices of untouchability, for instance not allowing certain people in, or not eating the same food. Her work as an activist also doesn't allow for untouchability. "I am an activist. We have to go to many people's houses to talk to them, teach them. In Karauli there aren't any other Agarwal (one of the merchant castes) houses, so I would eat and drink wherever I went, no matter what caste. Things are changing, and we are changing with the times." Sunita shows that only married women are required to remove their footwear. Traditionally, Indian women are the vanguards of cultural preservation, not men. They are given the responsibility of passing on the social customs and codes. Hence, married women will teach their children about these practices, ensuring its continuance. After marriage, Sunita moved to Karauli. "My mother-in-law goes to the well and passes by Muslim women. If their clothes touch her by mistake, she comes home and takes a bath. She told me I have to do the same," Sunita said. We asked Sunita whether she would let her child marry a Dalit. "Why not? If the person is well-educated, well-behaved...I want my children to stand on their own, make their own decisions, think on their own."
Shanti Baraik / January 21, 2021
Formal applications to get new beds have been sent thrice to the local administration. But the situation hasn't changed.