A family which indulges in caste based discrimination at home, propagates wrong values in the society. This article is a reflection of a person from the Kunbi Maratha community who had an epiphany about his growing up years as he read about the Khairlanji massacre in which members of his community had brutally murdered Dalits in the village. The message is simple – rid yourself of the deeply ingrained cultural biases you were brought up with to help build a more equitable society.
My childhood friend Casteism – well done! You’ve made another blow to humanity!
I always believe in hope for better tomorrow and probably that’s why I chose to write. So to begin with, usually I start my day browsing through news on the Internet. I have set Nagpur city (my hometown) in news alert for Google news notifications and on 21st January 2017 I stumbled across a news story with the heading ‘Khairlanji massacre lone survivor dead’. How was it related to Nagpur?.. Well, the lone survivor died in a Nagpur hospital due to heart attack. His name was Bhaiyyalal Bhotmange, died at the age of 61. I started to read more about the Khairlanji Massacre. I found that it happened on 26th September 2006, it’s been more than 10 years now.
The killings took place in Khairlanji village in Bhandara district of Maharashtra which is very close to my hometown. The murderers killed 4 members of Bhotmange’s family. His wife, a teen-aged daughter and two young sons. Before killing Bhaiyalal’s wife and daughter, they were paraded naked in public. It was a violent act, emerged from the roots of casteism. Bhaiyyalal survived because he hid himself, watching helplessly his loved ones die. The villagers remained silent spectators, this only meant two thing; either the villagers willfully consented to the lynching of a Dalit’s family or they feared the murderers belonging to politically dominant Kunbi Maratha caste. Why this incident touched me and forced me to pen down my feelings?, well, because I also happen to be a Kunbi Maratha. It made me feel responsible for this incident. When I thought more about it, the problem appeared to be my very own because the ideology that led to Kherlanji Massacre has also been mildly cherished in my community as well – to practice caste based discrimination.
Since my childhood, I was told to be proud of being a Kunbi Maratha. To only do those things which are conveniently acceptable to Kunbi community; which also involves treating people based on their castes. But I always wondered, why no one is telling any reasons to do so? Just because I happen to be born in a particular caste, how does that makes me a better human than others? What if I was born as a Dalit, would I have to surrender my human rights to upper castes too? Later, I realised, my questions were dormant because I was surrounded by like-minded people/relatives who never gave any space to question these thoughts, never discussed what a dalit might feel like- to be look down upon. I suppose it’s hard for a person in the community to question because this casteism was deeply ingrained in daily chores around her/him, in the way we worship our Gods, the way we celebrate festivals and the way marriages are done. Alternatives were never welcomed. Today, I could see, the Khairlanji massacre was also subtly happening for so many years amidst our community – somewhere down the line we were also supporting the idea of self-supremacy and disregarded others human rights. It’s just that, we are careful enough not to kill directly but behind our home walls we would not mind discriminating a dalit from using same utensils in our homes or criticizing a boy and his whole family for a marriage outside the caste – we’d rather chose to kill’em softly.
I see casteism in my culture as some kind of a cocoon that has been tailoring the thinking of young caterpillar to metamorphose into a full blown adult butterfly, who flies in society by blindly conforming to caste based discrimination. That butterfly might fly high in terms of education and socio-economic background but the discriminatory ideology is so deep rooted that the butterfly ensures that the next cocoon should be exactly similar to his own – & the life cycle of discriminatory casteism continues. It bothers me a lot to observe how casteism is deeply rooted in decision makers of my clan, whose every part in my life’s decision is colored with casteism biases. Genuinely, I respect and admire my community’s pride they take in being Kunbi Maratha but I want to be free of bias. I want to preserve the integrity of my Maratha culture but not at the cost of someone else’s dignity.
My education, my friends and my little experience of world outside this cocoon made me believe in kindness, respect and care for each other first. I wonder does casteism talks about the culture which promotes equality in all walks of life, educating girls and respecting women for taking decisions of her life. I don’t think so. Because if it did, then there wouldn’t be such stark biases on caste issues in our society and Bhaiyyalal wouldn’t have to lose his family.
I think, it is time that we need to seriously think about our cultural biases. What is right and what is simply unacceptable need to be discussed out in open. The idea needs to be communicated from peers to parents alike. It is true that whatever happened with Bhaiyyalal is more than 10 years old story but I could still feel the heat of similar regressive thoughts. To change the mindset would not be easy but it is certainly not impossible. After all this is not a fight or a blame game with our own people but an effort for making realisations possible – to bring a progressive transition in ideologies towards more equal society.