Sunday, September 23, 2012

Karma


I went to the field today with Balramji, Ramanek, and Ronak. Balramji had taken his laptop to show two short films in the village of Karma. In an open but sheltered patio, we watched these two films. They were about rainfed agriculture. Most of the film watching crowd consisted of women, some fifteen of them. Men were also present, but they were generally standing. Everyone else was sitting on the floor. We were on a cot and a flat wooden table. A brief discussion followed about the techniques the farmers use in crop cultivation and what is or is not working for them.

A few young children wobbled outside in the heat. Their stomachs were bloated and their hair was light brown with tinges of blonde. They were living displays of malnutrition. The sunlight was yellow, in an animated sort of way. The air was lethargic, warm, pushed with the occasional breeze that cooled the rivulets of sweat forming at my temples.

We went over to the Harijan area of the village with the aim of understanding the household expenditure patterns and sources of income. At the first place we stopped by, a meeting of many men was taking place. As soon as we arrived, the chatter came to an abrupt halt and all eyes turned toward us. Ronak and I explained that we were from VSK and that we wanted to understand the socio-economic condition of Dalits to better advocate for certain government policies and schemes. The men nodded at us but didn’t seem to keen on giving us time. We went on our way.

The next house we stopped at was hidden behind large, gray boulders and dense tree-cover. Four women, all fairly young, were breastfeeding their children. Talking to them was a challenge, because they did not reply to my queries. Instead, they would look at each other and smile knowingly. I understand their concern. If strangers came to my neighborhood and asked all sorts of personal questions, then I would most likely feel just as uncomfortable.

We walked some more and stopped by the home of a tribal family. At the time I did not know this, and I assumed that it was a Dalit family. A frail, coffee-coloured man was sitting on a mud ledge jutting out from the base of a house. The house was wide, holding a veranda and many rooms inside it. The man appeared to be more than sixty years old. His hair was peppered with more white than gray, but he was sitting straight up, winding a cream-coloured fiber of a tree that was going to end up as rope. I asked him questions about his family. He did not mention his wife’s name, nor would he mention the names of his daughters-in-law. For that, he called his grandson from inside the house. The boy that emerged was a muscular, lean fellow with a bright smile. As I was talking to these two, the women slowly came out from inside the house, and sat at a distance from the conversation. They didn’t participate, even when I asked about prices and quantities of food items. Only the elderly man’s wife interjected every once in a while. At one point she said ‘Just put 3 kg for each food item’, referring to the question about weekly purchases. She seemed to be getting impatient.

At one point, I asked about sickness in the family. The man was silent – here was another word that he would not say. He looked at his grandson. ‘Malaria’, the young one said. Now that the M-word was out of the way, the man continued. ‘I never really got better. You can tell I have not completely recovered. I am just skin and bones now.’ As far as expenditure was concerned, the tribal family seemed to have more to spend. They also ate a greater variety of foods such as grains, fruits, vegetables, daals, etc. However, the Dalit family did not eat certain foods which would lead to nutrient deficiency. It seems that the general perception of tribals is that they too look down upon Dalits. Tribals have land and they have a history of self-sustenance. However, Dalits have been oppressed for time immemorial and continue to be pushed down. I can not say who is better or worse off, but the politics between the two groups in this area was interesting to note.

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