Dialled one? Do you expect to get beaten up for it, have your hair shaved off, and then be paraded through the streets?
In Bhiwani, a village in Haryana, a Dalit youth had to go through this. Dalits belong to the lower caste. It does not matter whether they are educated or have made some money. They are stigmatised only because they are born in what is still the backward caste. It is there in the scriptures. Perhaps, it was valid then as it pointed to certain professions, although there were clear rules about how to treat the shudras. These people, even four decades after independence, carried night soil (that is, shit) on their heads in a cosmopolitan city like Mumbai. And even today in some parts of the country they have to tie a broom behind them to clean the road on which the higher caste folks will later walk. Their shadow cannot fall on these people, and they are still not permitted to enter temples.
Legally and politically they are termed Scheduled Castes/Tribes, and the term Dalit was given to lend them an identity. It is way better than being called Harijans (children of god) that Mahatma Gandhi patronisingly anointed them with.
This is what Suresh, the young man, said, “I was trying the telephone number of one of my acquaintances on Monday when I inadvertently dialled the number of Dharam Singh (another villager). The moment I realized my mistake, I apologized immediately and disconnected the phone.’’
That is what we all do. And the person either tells us it is okay or bangs down the phone. But not for him. The next day the person who received the call brought six of his friends. They tonsured him, tied him to a motorcycle and dragged him through the streets, hitting him all the while. He could not go to the cops because they threatened him.
The police have yet to register a case and are, like old Indian bureaucracy, “looking into the matter” and that too because the Dalits have demanded action.
Will they get justice? No. I am going by precedent.
And here the papers are screaming out kitschy ads about the best Ganesh pandals for which there are prizes. The deity is fed, the devotees are fed. This is the god of prosperity. Prosperity for the few. The sculptor still lives in poverty. The guys who fix those neon lights will not prosper. The fat cats will become fatter cats. The ones in the middle will think they will get something out of all this. Make a statement. The Elephant God made from different materials.
Is prosperity about this? We should be ashamed about instances such as the one I mentioned, and it is really insensitive to say, oh, what is new? No. It is not new. And it has to be restated. That is the tragedy. So, feeding gods is not going to make your home a better place and priests dunking themselves in buckets of water are not going to bring rain.
We are ethically becoming poor. Damn all the exotica. I guess, I have got the wrong number…