I had a terrible dream. One of the worst dreams I’ve ever had. This is what happened. I went to take a nap after 11 hours of technical work – the work I had started in the morning at 7:00. I was drained. Very tired. I fell into slumber almost immediately, but I wouldn’t have rest. Instead, I was greeted with a nightmare:
I saw in my dream that for some reason, there were Dalit protests going on. I don’t know the reason but that’s where I began. Some 20-30 people were protesting something. One of my brother’s friend was among them. And because of him, my brother was among them as well. They had all gathered at one of the roads. By the looks of it, it looked like one of the crossroads in my city. There were several sessions of protests as I drifted in and out of the nightmare.
During the second or the third session of the protest, a bus came. A bus full of Hindu priests. They were brought here to calm the Dalits but instead, as expected, their arrival only agitated them more. The authorities were on the scene as well. The authorities and the priests combined were enough to outnumber the protesting Dalits. The priests were greeting each of the Dalits one by one. Greeting them without touching them. However, there was one Dalit, whose head butted against one of the priests. And there was a situation. The authorities gathered around that man and started asking questions about what had happened.
The priest said, “he headbutted me”, but the poor old Dalit was saying it happened by mistake. I don’t really know what happened. It could’ve been either but the priests were clearly making a big deal out of a simple touching of heads. It wasn’t like the priest was injured or anything. However, it was made out into a big deal, and the two groups were head to head. Violence could break out at any moment.
During this heated moment, the person who had touched the priest’s head became excited. He was a man past his prime. Short, kind of round and not the most handsome. He would be around 50. He saw the people behind him in support and found the courage to address the point of contention. Everyone knew what the tension was about. A Dalit had touched a Brahmin. An untouchable had touched the head of a holy man. I know for a fact that none present there were holy, but here, philosophies were at war. Religion, pride, honour and power were at stake. The authorities and the priests were at one side, believing that they had to right the wrong. That they had to address this crossing of boundaries laid down centuries ago. The Dalits were on the other side, ready to overthrow all the oppressive boundaries in one single act of defiance. The act of touching the priests.
And to this tension, the old man gave a voice. He said, “I see you have come here to calm us down. But why haven’t you touched any one of us since you came here?” There was an uproar. The Dalits were on the attack and the authorities and the priests on the back foot. They had no answer that wouldn’t further agitate the Dalits. The old man once again raised his voice and said, “We will touch you today!” as he reached out with his arm to grab one of the priests.
At this moment, something changed inside all the other Dalits. A sudden wave of silence covered the protesters. Someone had uttered the taboo words. Someone, one of their own, had incurred the wrath of not only the upper castes but of Gods. Some of them still half-heartedly believed that their place in the world was decided by their birth. They were still shocked by the unholy faith that they were, in fact, “untouchables”. And to go against that creed was not only to incur the wrath of the community but of Gods themselves. Nobody said a single word. One of the protestors started leaving. Others followed him. As their number started to dwindle, fear crept in the minds of those who were still with the old man. One by one everyone left. Except for the old man. He couldn’t leave. The authorities had grabbed him. He had committed an unpardonable sin. He must be made an example.
And thus the authorities and the priests discussed what should be done with him. This is what they did to him. All of this was done in full view of the public. They stripped him naked. Covered his face with cow dung. They first beat him with their bare hands and legs. They insulted him while they were kicking him on the ground. Then, some demon brought a hammer. They started breaking his bones. First shoulders, then legs, knees. I do not have the stomach to write all the things they did with the hammer. I couldn’t watch it as it was happening before me. It only made it worse that all through his torture, he didn’t scream once. I opened my eyes several times during the dream to stop the dream, but once I closed them after a few seconds, the same scene continued. The torture continued. I didn’t have the stomach for watching the rest of it so I woke up, leaving the poor old man to his murderers. I didn’t see it but I’m sure they blinded him before killing him.
And that is how one more man was martyred at the shrine of moral cowardice. At the shrine of lies. At the shrine of that unholy belief that “all men are not created equal”. His sacrifice was in vain, as the people who he died for, denounced and deserted him. They returned back into the same oppressive fold, out of which they had come out in meagre protest.
I thought it was only a dream. But when I open the newspaper or watch the news on TV I realize that my nightmare has spilt into reality and it’s only getting worse. It’s not only about touching a priest. It’s about putting cows above human lives. It’s about the honour of a long dead fictional queen. It’s about preventing women from entering a place of worship. I’m wide awake and the nightmare continues.