There are 260 million Dalits around the world, 166,635,700 of whom live in India. In Asian countries where caste system operates, Dalits are born at the very bottom of a hierarchical system. Caste is determined by birth and whilst national law outlaws discrimination against people of low castes, in reality, there is still widespread oppression and violence against Dalit people. Dalit means ‘broken’ or ‘ground down’. Many people still use the word ‘untouchable’ which indicates the extreme discrimination which affects the Dalits. Even today, mostly, members of the ‘higher caste’ community would not get married into a Dalit family, invite them into their house or share food with them.
I am one of those children who was born in a Dalit Family. Being the second girl child in the family, I was not really welcomed wholeheartedly as everyone in the family wished for a boy. My mother had no voice, she only suffered in silence. Extreme poverty in my mother’s family led to her marriage at the age of 12. She never went to school, she didn’t even know how to write her name.
I had no clue what it meant to be born in a Dalit family. We are at the bottom of the caste system that exists in India. We used to be called ‘untouchables’. I had a lot of doubts and questions in my mind about why we were called ‘untouchables’, in what sense were we untouchables. No one could clarify my doubts. I found we were just following customs without any reasoning.
I am from a small village called Chakalta Sahar, located in Bankura district of West Bengal. My father was a farmer and the entire family would depend on the rains for farming. Due to an extreme drought, my father left the village and went to the nearest semi-urban area called Panagarthe in the year 1973. He started working as a daily labourer and we lived hand to mouth on his meagre earnings. After a year he started working in a shop, and gradually after 3 years, he opened his own shop, selling motor parts.
Child sexual abuse is a serious and widespread problem in India and many parts of the world today. The trauma associated with sexual abuse can contribute to arrested development, as well as a host of psychological and emotional disorders, that some children and adolescents may never overcome. When sexual abuse goes unreported and children are not given the protective and therapeutic assistance they need, they are left to suffer in silence. In India, a child is sexually abused every 15 minutes, according to the latest government figures.
I am a survivor of child sexual abuse. My home was not safe and my mother had no voice. Two of my family members abused me over a period of one year and I had to live with it. I had no one to talk to, nor did I have the courage to tell my mother – as I thought no one would believe me. So I kept quiet and tolerated everything in silence. I would feel angry and lived with a lot of stress and fear. My childhood was completely messed up with low self-esteem, and constant rejection from my father made me a stubborn child. I felt caged by people around me. Extreme domestic violence in my home due to alcoholism made me more vulnerable and I went into a shell where I just wanted to kill myself.
My father put me in a boarding school at a very early age. I felt all alone there and could not focus on my studies. It seemed like I was just transported from one cage to another. I still remember I scored 7 out of 100 in Physical Science during my half-yearly exams in 8th grade. Such poor academic performance caught the headmistress’ attention, Mrs Shubra Ghosal. She was my first angel who saw the spark in me and held my hand throughout. Little love from her worked like magic in my life. I scored 87 out of 100 in my final exam. And, from that day I never looked back. It was like a turning point in my life. I realised, if I wanted to see myself in a better position, education was the only weapon. It could bring changes in my life as well as in the others’.
One incident of when I was in the 8th grade, is still fresh in my memory. I was in the rural part of Bankura district in West Bengal. There was a common tube well in our hostel compound for everyone to draw drinking water. It was mid-summer. There was a huge water crisis in that locality. So the school authority allowed local community members to access drinking water from our tube well. One evening, I saw a few community women drawing water from the well. It so happened that I too went there to collect water from the tap. By mistake, I touched their filled water pot. The lady looked at me with anger and threw out all the water in front of me. After that, she cleaned the pot thoroughly and asked me to stand a little far away from them. I was very angry because I just couldn’t figure out what had actually happened. My senior whispered to me, ‘Don’t you know, we are Dalits and they are Brahmins. We are not allowed to touch them’. This was the first time I was made aware of my ‘untouchability’.
My parents didn’t want me to continue my education after 10th grade. But I was meant for much bigger things in life. My headmistress took full responsibility for me. Ever since then, I stood 1st in class, topped in graduation as well as at the post-graduation level. In spite of facing constant discrimination during my school-days and in college-days, I didn’t give up. I stood still like a rock and faced all the hurdles that came my way. The burning desires and the fire in my belly kept me going one step after another.
I found my life partner, (or so I thought) who belongs to the higher caste (Brahmin). Somehow the relationship didn’t work out and we both gave up 20 years of our relationship. As I say, we don’t make our destiny, it’s already been decided. We just simply walk the path and right things appear in front of us, at the right time.
Due to my lost childhood, I always felt a deep connection with other children. Since childhood, I was always connected to children, be it a child on the streets or at home. I always felt like I wanted to protect their childhood. I didn’t want to see another Rupali suffering in silence. Whenever I found a child in discomfort, I rushed to the child to give her/him comfort. My extreme vulnerable childhood made me strong for other children. For almost 13 years now, I have been working with children. Whenever I am with them, I find my real self. I enjoy the most of my life being with children. My passion for children has helped me to heal my own childhood scars. I see myself in every child. Now that I have a daughter who is just 7, I see her face in those children’s face. My present job is to infuse love, passion and compassion in those innocent souls so that they become messengers of love and peace in the world.
The supreme power gave me the tremendous capacity to turn any negative situation into extreme positivity. The more pain I got, the more powerful I became. Being there with children, I acquire a lot more divine energy and that helps me tread beyond my work responsibilities.
My message to the world is that we have one life and it’s a gift to all of us. Let’s make it more beautiful, adventurous, colourful and peaceful. Trust your journey completely. Each one of us is unique and we all have a unique purpose in life. Don’t give up, wherever you are, keep moving. You will surely reach your destination. Enjoy your journey and feel the bliss. Life has so much to offer. Be crazy… be notorious… get out of your comfort zone… and win over your fears.
If you are a survivor, parent or guardian who wants to seek help for child sexual abuse, or know someone who might, you can dial 1098 for CHILDLINE (a 24-hour national helpline) or email them at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also call NGO Arpan on their helpline 091-98190-86444, for counselling support.