You should write about your Dalit experience, said my friend, your elite Dalit experience, to which I almost nodded in agreement, instantly realizing, how furious it made me.
Yes, for a Dalit woman, I live a very privileged life, but what does my privilege exactly include? As far as I know, I am just a regular working class educated woman living an independent life. Apparently meeting the basic requirements of life makes me elite and in my case an elite Dalit woman, however, when the same applied to a ‘Savarna’ (upper caste) woman, it qualifies her as a ‘normal’ girl.
Just the thought of trying to de-construct “Elite Dalit woman” seems daunting, it is indeed a profound almost soul searching task, but I am ready today.
So what is it that makes me an elite (Dalit woman) and them not so elite?
The point that I am trying to make here is that Dalit Elite is an oxymoron. It is intrinsically and fundamentally against the notion of being a Dalit in Indian society.
Yes, I accept that I am privileged when compared to other women from my community. Yes, my privilege has allowed me to enter spaces unimaginable to a Dalit, leave alone a Dalit woman.
I learnt to talk like the ‘Savarnas’, I learnt to walk like the ‘Savarna‘, I learnt to eat like the ‘Savarnas’, but I couldn’t learn to think like the ‘Savarnas‘. From centuries of ostracization, no access to knowledge systems, inadequate resources, I couldn’t think like the Savarnas, my struggle is of a very different kind, even with the badge of ‘privilege’.
My privilege led me to Savarna social circles and I ended up dating Savarna boys, one of them I almost got married to, almost because, “Joota chahe sone ka bhi ho, pehna pairon mein hee jata hai (Even if a shoe is made of gold, it’s still worn on the feet),” said his parents.
According to Ambedkar, the only way caste could be eradicated from the Indian social fabric was through inter-caste marriages, it’s 2019 and I am still not quite sure about this.
For the first time ever in my life, I was suddenly slapped with this new imposed identity of mine. I recalled my mother’s words to me as a child, “Beta pyar sirf bade logo (read upper caste/class) ke liye hota hai, not for us (Daughter, love is only for people from the upper castes).”
The definition of what it meant to be ‘us’, was once again slapped across my face 20+ years later. Over the next few years, I don’t know if I fell out of love or if that is even possible but I was NOT going to be okay with being treated like a second class citizen especially in the name of love, and honestly, I was way out of this Savarna boy’s league.
I am also miserably judged for coming from a very cool hip family as my parents had lived abroad and till the age of 18, I had mostly lived in and out of the country since my father was in the foreign services. Imagine a Dalit man’s experience as a diplomat. As part of the diplomatic culture, there are a lot of parties that happen. Imagine that Dalit man’s experience who never feasted on the other side of the table, but always at the receiving end of one.
Imagine a Dalit woman’s experience, a woman, who doesn’t know how to read, write, or speak English. She had to host parties where one had to engage with the educated, the elite, the rich and she had no idea what it meant to be either one of them.
As a kid, I would always wonder how my parents never had any friends or social life. As I have grown older, I have understood that it is very very difficult to engage with the world from that space of mind. Ever wondered, why Dalits, Muslims or people from other marginalised communities live in ghettos, that’s exactly why. It feels good, it feels comfortable.
My parents have seen the world, but they chose to go back to their community because as a Dalit person, the world outside can be lonely and very alienating. Rarely does it happen that anyone understands or empathizes with your experiences. On the other hand, what happens is #metoo, how Brahmanical patriarchy has also ostracized Brahmin women!
I come from a farming community or semi-farming with people in government jobs here and there. Genetically speaking, farming yes, it reflects in our eating habits, it reflects in the way we look, it reflects in the way we live.
I am thin because for centuries we didn’t have enough to eat. I am thin because when we didn’t have enough to eat, we didn’t have exquisite Nani aur Dadi ki recipes. Of course, I can afford to dine like a pig now but I choose not to.
I must admit though that, centuries of having no food culture has made us pretty healthy people I must say. Especially coming from the semi-agricultural family that I belong to, my father has always laid great emphasis on seasonal vegetables, grains and fruits.
So, if you were to randomly pick words, like fit, organic, tall, slim, healthy, I sound like an organic tea from a chic south Delhi store, bourgeois indeed.
The world Dalit makes you uncomfortable and the word ‘elite’ makes us uncomfortable.
I must confess though, that I never really felt deeply rooted in my Dalit identity. However, over the years, as I was forced to take my rose-tinted glasses off, I was almost coerced to face my identity as a Dalit woman in today’s time. As if fighting patriarchy wasn’t exhausting enough.
The fact that my Instagram bio reads, #thirdculturekid today is because I am a second generation reservation kid, my father cleared the SSC exams because of which I got the life that was given to me, which I am certainly grateful for, otherwise, there is no way you would have been reading this blog today! And as they say, “until the lions learn how to speak, history will always glorify the hunter.”
There aren’t too many public spaces, conducive spaces where I can share my Dalit experience, in fact, these conversations mostly happen in really intimate settings and writing happens to be one of those spaces.
Certainly, no one in my entire family (from both sides) is educated enough. So much so that I am the first woman to have completed their bachelor’s degree and the first person to have completed their masters.
I sit comfortably, at the age of 30, typing on a MacBook Air trying to comprehend what it means to be a Dalit woman in today’s time.
First, I fight racism, then I fight patriarchy, then I fight casteism and then you ask me, why the resting bitch face?