There is a hierarchy within untouchables.The top sub-castes do not dine with, marry or even touch the lowest layers By Manu Joseph TNN epaper.timesofindia.com
In any given situation in this country, there is a Brahmin and there is a Shudra. Even within an impoverished group that is emotionally called Dalits or the untouchables, someone is higher and someone is lower. There are about a thousand recognised sub-castes within the 160-million dalits, and almost all of them come under the scheduled caste. The top echelons of the community, like the Vankars and Mahars who were traditionally weavers or farmers, do not mingle with the lowest sub-castes, and in villages today, they do not even touch the Valmikis who have traditionally been sanitation workers. So the leaders of Dalit liberation wear two faces and neither is a mask. Sometimes they froth at the cruelties committed against them and their forefathers by the upper castes. Sometimes they turn sheepish under the burden of a quiet acceptance that Dalits themselves perpetrate the same crimes on the lowest of the low. This food chain is inspiring the untouchables among the untouchables, to ask for reservations within the scheduled caste quota. The battle lines are clear in some states and just forming in others. Dalit leaders fear a looming civil war. When Martin Macwan, a social activist, ate in the household of a sweeper in one Gujarat village, he was denied entry into a Vankar village for that reason. “There are Dalit activists who do not drink water in a Valmiki village,” he says. Many at the bottom of the Dalit underground run away to towns to seek anonymity and escape discrimination by other Dalits. In the cities, they settle for professions that are baser than what some animals have to endure. They are hired by morgues, especially in Ahmedabad, to squat on corpses during autopsy, take out body parts and show them to the doctor who may not want to touch the cadaver. They clean human excreta with their hands, like in Jain monasteries where meditating inmates refuse to install flushes in the fear that flushing will kill germs, a micro murder that is unacceptable to their faith. Valmikis also get into manholes where they die sometimes after inhaling poisonous gases. These cursed sub-castes that go by different names in different states are beginning to complain that it is only a handful of somewhat liberated comities of Dalits who enjoy quotas the most. Communities like Chamars in Maharashtra and Malas in Andhra Pradesh have over the years prospered due to persistence with schooling and by that virtue being in a position to take advantage of reservation. While communities like Moshahars still catch rats and eat them because they have no other means of surviving. The growing financial and even social inequality between various Dalit sub-castes is at the heart of the lowest groups demanding further fragment the scheduled caste reservation. These demands are growing stronger, muffled only by the fact that influential Dalit leaders are against such a liquidity. “Splitting the country into anymore caste categories can disintegrate the nation,” says Dalit leader Udit Raj who believes that there is a serious distinction between bifurcating and splintering. In Andhra Pradesh, Haryana and to some extent Karnataka, the movement to further split the scheduled caste quota is formidable. In other states, the murmurs are waiting for the arrival of an opportunistic politician. In AP, Naxalites of PWG are inciting a lowly subcaste called Madigas to carve out a separate quota. “They are claiming that educated sections like Malas are taking away all the benefits,” says G Shankar, secretary general of AP Scheduled Caste Welfare Association. “Such splintering is very complicated, because a sub-caste which is not doing well in one state may be doing well in another.” The issue smoulders down many grey rustic lanes of the country far away from the mainstream. It is dividing the Dalits and disturbing the battle plans of liberated Dalits who can see clearly how official fragmentation of untouchables will dilute their struggle for welfare. So, though one may find it hard to believe, there are times when educated Dalits think reservation is bad.