“Although the law states that everyone is equal in the society, people seldom follow or believe in it. As a Dalit woman, I’ve faced a lot of discrimination in my life, right from my childhood. In school, teachers would be very particular about making all the students sit together and mingle. But they couldn’t control what happened outside the class. I remember when the midday meal was cooked and served by a Dalit. Kids stopped eating! When I think about it today, I wonder the kind of conditioning by generations that has affects kids as young as five-years-old.
Working as an agricultural labourer, the discrimination only got worse. People would pour water in my hand when I was thirsty. I stopped asking them for water! It hurts but I can’t change it. I have two teenage children and as much as I want them to believe in equality, I can’t hide them from the society that treats them differently right from their birth. I remember how my kid once ran into a house of an upper class family. He didn’t know caste and creed, but they shouted at him. In situations like this, I can’t help but tell my kids that people treat us as inferior. A few Dalits in my family have become engineers and nurses but they’re treated the same way even today. I’ve not lived in a city but looks like it’s the same everywhere. It made me feel like education doesn’t change everything. The right education and teachings is what makes one a good human being. Aparna madam had moved to our village many years ago, and given the severe droughts she suggested we could stitch bags to make some money to overcome the loss. Some of her friends helped us too. We started, and today we procure fabric from Madurai, and stitch and sell across India and abroad. We make them from scratch and also add prints depending on the demand of the customer. Earning some money has made me feel empowered and strong. My kids look at me and feel proud of what I do. Who cares what my caste is – I’m capable enough to work and earn money for my family.”
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