I am a Dalit, I write again and again and delete it. “Some truths need no broadcasting“, says my father, and I wonder if this is one of those truths. I remember when my father first spoke to me and my sister about our caste – we were indifferent. Perhaps, we reacted thus because we didn’t know the repercussions of it.
We were the friendly neighbors. I was a class topper, and my sister did well in her studies too. We had bunch of friends. What else could go wrong even if we were Dalits? One day, a local coaching institute came to our schools and gave us forms to fill which asked about personal information. One of the section was “caste“. I proudly said we were humans first to my friends, and they nodded along. But nonetheless, it made my heart race and I knew I had to hide the truth. So I wrote what my friend had written.
My school days sailed smoothly but one day, I decided to disclose the truth to my best friends. It was windy that day and we were standing in our school ground, casually talking when I blurted out, ”I am a Dalit“. My friends were dumbfounded. They said words of acceptance and our day went on like nothing had changed. But little did I know it was the day when the scaffold of my friendship would break forever. I knew it because then onwards, my best friend stopped eating at my house. Later, the visits ended too.
I am a Dalit, and I have an identity crisis too. I don’t know where I come from, the sacrifices made by my community, or the sheer courage it takes to accept your identity like Ambedkar did. I haven’t read any Dalit literature because my privilege allows me to. It allows me ignorance and blindness. I am protected by my father and mother but there are times when I step out and see my caste coming out with me like a ghost visible only to dominant castes.
I saw it lurking when my friend talked about how his sister couldn’t get to a medical college because we ate the space. I use “ate” because that’s what they think about us – predators, and they, ‘the helpless prey‘. My friend then went on to talk about the teachings of his grandfather justifying how oppressed castes are human too and they aren’t “small” people, which in itself is an irony because if humanising Dalits is greatness of character, then nobody is saint in this messy game of casteist hierarchy.
I still remember when I would go to the examination centers and hide my application form because it displayed my caste and students had eager eyes like vultures looking for for their next hunt. I remember students casually abusing “choodh-chamaar“, my best friend too. and I didn’t know how to react. How do you react when you are yourself confused? On one hand, you are a millennial who doesn’t believe in casteist hierarchy and on the other, your own friends demean you.
On one hand, you are too cool for caste and on the other hand you look towards your parent when you ask them for a night out at a Brahmin friend’s home. The constant clashes between who I want to be and who I am never ends and I wonder if I am the only one struggling.
To be honest, I don’t have the required energy it takes to fight someone who says, ”Casteism yaa it doesn’t happen yaa, not in cities yaaa“. Truth be told, they too have the privilege of neglecting our communities and their struggles because we are ”hungry hypocrites” as labelled by a school classmate on her Instagram post. How do I fight these routine casteist acts which scream how caste still plays the lead role in shaping our country?
Our social media allows casteism too. I have seen “proud rajput/thakur” written in people’s bios, on the bumpers of cars and so on. Nobody calls them out because caste is their biggest ‘flex yaa‘. I remember how my friend once suggested that reservation will help me clear the exam at a leading Indian institution and I couldn’t say anything. When I enrolled in that institution, a group of boys talked about how caste helped us clear the exams and I did nothing but hear them talk recklessly about how we “ate” their benefits.
The biggest solace in that big institution was having another friend who was also from a Bahujan community. The friendship bloomed because it wasn’t based on fear. Even though I know casteism has shaped me into a girl with bad defense /coping mechanisms, I do nothing to correct it.
Our ancestors fought hard for a future that I am able to dream about. But do I do anything to carve my identity around who I am? No. Why? Because I am scared of the loss. Mental health and caste do not go well with dominant caste therapists. I don’t have the courage to say, ”I am a Dalit“. I have no means to know who to ask such questions. I have mental health issues. I have dreams. I have a future to build for myself. And somehow, I become only one thing, ”Bansal? Which caste?”
I know about youth who are fighting on behalf of people like me who are scared. We are asked to fight for our rights. But what if some of us don’t have the energy to claim our identities because the struggle means accepting that dominant castes can only be allies and nothing beyond that? Nobody teaches us how to accept who we are. In a world of #yolo, who becomes the pillars to our dwindling sense of selves?
#fomo is real but we are missing out on our proud identities not because we are our caste but because we are the blood of survivors. Even though the oppressor castes will #lol it away, I know that in this fight, the only loss is the blood of our people, and the only freedom is to thrive because living is just not the option here.
Also read: A Dalit Woman’s Body In The Indian Courtroom
Bharti Bansal is a 24 year old poet from Himachal Pradesh, India. She loves moon, universe, cats and poetry. She is a student of Data Science Online Degree at IIT Madras. You may reach out to her on Instagram