Day 1: Discovering India Readathon

When the clock struck the Midnight of 12th, we all gathered our weapons and folded the demons inside us. As we ruffled through, the one who shall be named was now right in front of us. Terrified, blinking, we took it out. We had to, we had no choice or did we? Now that the levels were up, I had to get my draught of peace, else how would I have fought the one who shall be named soon? I hurriedly gulped down the entire pot, and voila! The one who shall be named was gone. Was he really gone, I wondered.

Say hello to my overly dramatised writing, I was referring sleep as the one who shall be named soon and you can guess the potion I drank, you can, I know. The enthusiasm with which this readathon began is incomprehensible. My phone kept buzzing with reading updates of people and apart from the potion, this was another force dragging me to complete my Day 1 challenge. Aye NO! Don’t judge, it was an e-book and I mysteriously transform into a sloth while reading e-books.

My pick was Untouchables by Mulk Raj Anand. A novel simple in its approach yet powerful to rock your mind and conscience. Untouchables as the author calls them, talk about the systematic oppression in a classified society of our country. The protagonist, Bakha, is an outcast and forbidden from doing better in his life as his touch and presence are considered impure and corrupting. He is guided by the idea ‘you are what you wear’ and tries to adapt to the English peepul’s (people’s) fashun (fashion), dismisses the natus (natives) way of living. Bakha is a representative of the oppressed in the pre-independent era of India. The author also subtly highlights the hypocrisy of the upper caste people. Like, Pandit Kali Nath enjoys the touch of the lower caste girls, but do not treat lower caste people equally in other spheres. It was intriguing to find hierarchy invading the outcasts as well. How certain outcast still considered them superior to other outcasts. Through Bakha, the author has tried to portray the oppression, injustice, humiliation conferred to the whole community of the outcasts in India.

There were instances where I had to put down the book because I couldn’t take it. What is disheartening and blood boiling is that we are still oblivious to the caste system prevailing in our country. The practice of manual scavenging from private and public dry toilets and open drains still lingers in several parts of South Asia. India since independence has adopted legislative policies to end manual scavenging. While there are prohibitions on engaging anyone to do this work, but sadly these policies are not properly implemented. Lack of awareness deprives them of their right to refuse, and if they do try to refuse, they face threats of violence and expulsion. Remember the recent Dalit beatings and killings?

India’s Constitution has banned the practice of untouchability, and the Protection of Civil Rights Act, 1955, prohibits forcing anyone to practice manual scavenging. The Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act, 1993, has declared the employment of manual scavengers and construction of dry toilets to be a punishable offence. In March 2014, the Indian Supreme Court held that India’s constitution requires state intervention to end manual scavenging and “rehabilitate” all people engaged in the practice. This meant an end to not only the practice but also abuses faced by communities. But has it worked? Not in entirety. Miles to go before we realise that casteism has done more wrong than good for the people. And probably decades to go for working it out on the ground.

They think we are dirt because we clean their dirt.

For them, I am a sweeper, sweeper — untouchable! Untouchable! Untouchable! That’s the word! Untouchable! I am an Untouchable!

If you haven’t participated in the readathon yet, don’t ya worry. Get your books out and start it now. We still have three days to go. Yayy! Check out the post below.

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