I have a love-hate relationship with my University Mondays. It is effectively the only day on which we have an inflexible afternoon schedule. We have a film screening during that time. Okay, don’t be mistaken by ‘films.’ They are documentary films and not the usual feature films that most of you may be thinking about.
Coming to the point, our class watched the gem of a movie called ‘India Untouched’ on such an afternoon. Conceptualised and created by a talented man called Stalin, it took me into a hitherto undiscovered planet of information on untouchability. And I.. was left astonished.
The film begins with a dedication note to all the people of India who think and say that untouchability does not exist here any more. It goes on to show visuals from a multitude of Indian states including my state to prove this claim wrong.
I felt very strongly about what he showcased in the film; I still do. A Malayali woman who started talking about a land feud she had with her neighbour on the grounds of roadway, ended her byte in tears explaining how the rich and the upper class neighbour also caused her husband die a slow and horrific death. How? By banging him against their house wall multiple times on different occasions. I always knew that untouchability and caste differentiation are still prevalent in those dark states of North. I never knew it was existent so close by, at home.
Another realization I had – caste was one of the reasons used by many animalistic men to exercise their ‘rights’ on poor women who did not have a voice. The film showed two Dalit women who were brutally raped at a very young age and left with nothing but deep scars. When shot, both of them were married and mature ladies, but I wonder if the wound inside would ever heal.
Two little girls explained in amusement how they (lower caste boys and girls) were made to sit on the floor in a corner while the privileged ones used the benches and desks. Additionally, they also had to clean the toilets for others to enjoy a neat and tidy experience! It is extremely pathetic that even schools, the temples of knowledge, are not devoid of caste bias.
There was a Swami (I detest calling him one though, considering the divine undertones of that word) whose interview formed the crux of the film. He was adamant that the upper class represents God’s head and the lower – His feet. For the very same reason, they should perform their respective jobs as prescribed by the caste system (read all dirty jobs for the lower caste, and the divine stuff for the upper class). He went on to say, “the lower castes do not have the right to study or do anything related to acquiring or sharing knowledge. Hinduism and Manusmriti say so. These are rules we cannot live without.” Absolute rubbish. I wonder what he knows about Hinduism which is not a religion, but a way of life; a culture in itself. For once, I felt I am much closer to God than many others who proclaim themselves to be so.
The opening and closing shots were of some innocent children from Uttar Pradesh who were born into and brought up in the filthy pool of casteism. Initially, the director asks some of the upper caste kids to accept water offered by the lower caste ones who also happens to be their classmates. They obviously don’t do that. The film ends where one kid with great hesitation gulps the ‘lower caste water.’ And lo! Nothing happens. No mountains fell, no sky came down.
Just before I say bye this time, a small point to ponder for you. A Malayali girl gave a byte that she does not think that Kerala practises casteism in anyway. She herself says though that she would prefer a person from her own caste when it comes to things like marriage. What does this mean? To you, to me, and to all of us? Is change really the thing that never changes? I don’t think so. India truly remains untouched.