Dr Bhimrao Ambedkar, one of the greatest leaders of India, shares his first experience of caste-based discrimination, which took place in 1901 when he was just 9 years old. He had gone with his brother and cousins to meet his father in Koregaon, which is now in Maharashtra.
“Long did we wait, but no one turned up. An hour elapsed and the station master came to enquire. He asked us for our tickets. We showed them to him.
“He asked us why we tarried. We told that we were bound for Koregaon and that we were waiting for father and for his servant to come, but that neither had turned up and that we did not know how to reach Koregaon.
“We were well-dressed children. From our dress or talk, no one could make out that we were children of the untouchables. Indeed the station master was quite sure we were Brahmin children and was extremely touched at the plight in which he found us.
“As is usual among Hindus, the station master asked us who we were. Without a moment’s thought, I blurted out that we were Maharas (one of the communities which were treated as untouchables in the Bombay presidency).
“He was stunned. His face underwent a sudden change. We could see that he was overpowered by a strange feeling of repulsion.
“As soon as he heard my reply, he went away to his room and we stood where we were. 15 to 20 minutes elapsed. The sun was almost setting.
“Our father had not turned up nor had he sent his servant and now the station master had also left. We were quite bewildered and the joy and happiness which we felt at the beginning of the journey gave way to a feeling of extreme sadness.
“After half an hour, the station master returned and asked us what we propose to do. We said that if we could get a bullock cart on hire, we could go to Koregaon, and if it was not very far, we could like to start straight away.
“There were many Bullock carts plying for hire. But my reply to the station master that we were Mahar had gone round among the cartmen and not one of them was prepared to suffer being polluted and to demean himself carrying passengers of the untouchable caste.
“We were prepared to pay double the fare, but we found that money did not work. The station master who was negotiating on our behalf stood silent, not knowing what to do.”