An Outcast Girl’s Dream
by Vyomi Malik
My mother has the worst job in the whole world: Ma is a manual scavenger. Day in and day out, she does the job no one else will dream of doing- manually removing human excreta from dry latrines in our village with her bare hands. While the privileged ones just go about their business every day, she is forced to clean up after them. If she refuses, our family is beaten with sticks and stoned. Her precious hands have been soiled with the filth of others, for we belong to the ‘Balmiki’ caste. The only caste in India which has earned the distinction of being outcast even by the outcasts!
Sometimes a bamboo basket, a leaky container or, if she is lucky, a metal container; whatever is available she will use to deposit her collections. If the container leaks, she will be soaked from head to toe. She will walk for miles, pot poised delicately on her head, to dispose of the waste at our village dumping ground.
This work is our family’s legacy that has been passed down for generations. Ma’s mother and mother-in-law before her and before them their grandmothers used to support their families with this job. What about the men in our lives? Well, I prefer not to talk about them. My family’s women are the main bread winners, earning a pittance, struggling to make ends meet.
The love of my life is my school, but nobody wants me there. For the children I am unclean, to be kept away. A polluted untouchable, so impure, that when I used to go to school, I was made to sit far away from the other children in our classroom, under the tree, as my proximity to them would defile them too. From the periphery I would observe with longing, the students engrossed in their books.
It was my innermost desire to own notebooks like them, solve sums on the blackboard when the teacher called them upfront, to hold that white piece of chalk. I often wondered how it would feel to hold that little white cylinder and squeak my way through a word on that giant night- like board. Or the infinite possibilities of pencil held to paper. Alas, I was not allowed to touch anything or anyone. The children’s constant taunts and the teacher’s indifference to my existence, wore me down and I decided that it was not worth returning.
I yearned to play with the other village children, gossip aimlessly and share my thoughts about the future. My mother believes I am fool to nurture such dreams. The harsh reality of our lives is beyond escape. “If we are not even allowed near the same water source as the rest of the village, how on earth do you think your lofty ideas will ever come true?” chides Ma and I sit back in a corner of our hut dejected.
One day, a Madam from an NGO visited us. She told us that the work Ma did, had been banned years ago. Someone called “Bapu” had changed our names to “Harijan’s”- Hari meaning God and Jan meaning people. In short people close to God. If we are really close to God, then why does everyone refuse to breathe the same air as us? She asked us a lot of questions and did our recording on a camera too. She said our lives were about to change and she would ensure it.
In a few years time it will be my turn. Till that time arrives, I sit in our mud hut outside the village boundary, cooking and tending to my siblings. There is no place for me in the outside world for I am only recognized by the place society has accorded me. The caste I was born into and will die with.
How I wish there was another life I could live; a life of dignity, respect and equal opportunity. I pray every day that the ray of hope that lady showed us, would really come true one day. In my dreams, I am a school teacher, teaching children with great love, the importance of treating everyone as equal. A world where my caste does not black out my prospects straight from the womb and I am given the chances I rightfully deserve. ***