A Dalit's Story
A Dalit's Story
Dalit is what I am, and I work in Bangalore city in Karnataka as a private sewer. My job is to clean the sewer whenever I am called in by contractors or some housing societies. I keep the sewers clean so that all your shit doesn’t block up the sewerage and create a stink.
My wife works as a housemaid. Wherein She gets two square meals, and a salary paid. We live in a 6*6 feet tin shed by the lake. We cook using a fuelwood stove outside, basically an evening meal. Not for us the LPG, the scheme of your PMji. Without papers, one cannot avail of the scheme. My wife walks her way to a couple of houses where she works. I cycle my way through the city as and when people call my mobile.
We belong to the low caste, and that is the label we carry around. Your society treats us as an untouchable. Mahatma and Ambedkar tried their best. But what have we become?
Some people say that Bangalore is the fastest growing city. But we live in fear of the upper caste and police, and for us, the city is full of atrocity against us Dalits. My wife though dark has some beauty. I know that the upper caste men and the police leer at her, even though she remains untouchable.
My wife and I have decided not to have children. What is the point of it all? They will remain Dalit and end up doing some shitty job. Even if they get educated, they stay as Dalits. Some men argue with us that the President of our country is a Dalit. Where else a Dalit can become a President. Our country is great; they say with all that tradition, Puranas, temple, and culture. Does anyone look at the country from a Dalit’s point of view? We remain oppressed for centuries. Our history can get summed up in one word, ‘shit.’
Now it was coronavirus times. Just the other day, I read in papers that four Dalits got killed in Tamilnadu. Some well-meaning gentleman had stated that the upper caste is using the opportunity of Coronavirus to let loose atrocities on us.
My wife has been asked not to come and work until the Coronavirus gets over. No pay and food for her. I also find that these days phone calls don’t come. Once a week, I get a call when sewerage gets blocked, and the stink becomes unbearable with the overflow of water. I tell them to call me regularly so that maintenance becomes easy. When the sewerage becomes blocked, it becomes a dangerous job for me to clean the sewer.
We got some ration from some well-meaning social organization. With the lockdown getting extended and a limit to people’s generosity, rations got stopped. We don’t know how we can survive without any income.
Ah! My phone is ringing, and I got called. I am quite tired because of the low intake of food. For the past two weeks or so, we have one meal a day. I haven’t eaten beef for nearly a month now. But I have no choice. I tell my wife and get on my bicycle. I have to pedal almost 10-12 km. The summer has begun, and it is scorching 38 degrees plus now. I tie a mundaas (headgear), fill up my plastic bottle with some water, and start pedaling.
It took me two hours, and by the time I reach, the impatient Secretary of the apartment started shouting at me. I am used to all this, but tell him I had to cycle 12 km. It falls in deaf ears as he continues to berate me. It was also a tactic to pay me low. You came so late, and hence fewer wages, something like that goes their logic.
I tell him the job will take two days and will cost him Rs 2000.00. I also know a bit about human psychology. We bargain finally he gives in, and we settle at Rs 1750.00. I ask for half advance since I tell him I need to get some chemical. “But how will you manage chemicals,” he asks me. I say to him that I have the number of the shop keeper where I regularly buy and can collect it from his home. The shop keeper lives on top of his shop. The Secretary agrees and pays me the advance.
I don’t feel good when I open the sewerage. The blockade in the sewer must have been there for a few days and not since yesterday, as the Secretary told me. Some gases can be toxic. Though I don’t know their names, I can feel the risk intuitively. I call up my wife and tell her about the job and the location.
I tie a rope around myself and tie the other end to the pillar. And I tell the watchman to keep a watch over me. If something goes wrong, I will pull the rope and that it is an indication I am in danger.
Within seconds I am gasping for breath, with toxic fumes all around me, and the last thing I remember was that I tugged at the rope.
I don’t know how many hours or days had passed. Some faint voices I heard. I first saw the large white wings and then the face of the angel. She was beckoning me. While in school, I had heard about stories of angels. Why was she here and calling me? I remember my angel, my wife. Without me, what will she do?
I felt a nick, and I got swept into a cesspool of darkness. I just managed to remember entering the sewerage.
Sometime later, I opened my eyes. I saw my wife, who was in tears. Someone wearing a coat next to her said that I am out of danger now. The injection seemed to have worked well, he added.
My wife said the newspaper was full of my story, and the Secretary has got arrested. Some welfare organization had come and sanctioned Rs 50,000 as compensation. As I closed my eyes, I saw the angel with her large wings. Maybe she did, I thought, the compensation.