Brahmins are Dalits these days

Marriage ban and slave labor in India

Pongal will soon be celebrated in Keshavapuram: the South Indian harvest festival. Spices, lentils and peas are already lying on colorful cloths on the clay floor of the courtyard. Anil (and Shrilata are sitting in front of the door of their little house. They don't feel like partying. They are young and in love.

They met in college, says 23-year-old Anil. They have been married for a few months - and he has been afraid ever since. Fear of members of a higher caste who could come to the village to threaten, beat and maybe kill him. Afraid of Shrilata's parents.

"He comes from a different caste. His life is therefore in danger. Fortunately, nothing has happened so far. I haven't had any contact with my parents since the wedding. But that doesn't mean we can close our eyes and forget everything. Me still fear for his life. "

Anil is a Dalit. One who is considered untouchable, impure in the Indian caste system.

His wife Shrilata comes from a higher caste. She is a reddy.

A love not tolerated. Marriage across caste lines is still a taboo in India, says Anil.

"I'm scared. But I know that I have to fight the caste system. The first step is to marry a woman outside of my caste. And I love Shrilata very much, so the wedding was just the thing."

About 500 Dalits live here in Keshavapuram, in the middle of nowhere. Only a dusty path leads through rice and cotton fields to the small village. Most houses are made of clay and corrugated iron. Water buffalo lie in the shade of some palm trees, chickens scratch in the dust.

Keshavapuram is only around 150 kilometers from the high-tech metropolis of Hyderabad in southern India.

In the country, different rules apply than in the city. Even if the Indian constitution forbids untouchability and makes violence against Dalits a punishable offense. Here, in the village, nobody can escape the firm hierarchy of the Hindu caste system, says the activist and human rights activist Babu Gogineni. He visits the villages around Hyderabad regularly.

"In a village just 130 kilometers from Hyderabad's airport, a Dalit was stoned to death a year and a half ago for suspected of being a magician. This shows not only that Dalits are not seen as human beings, but that society as a whole Suffering from a lack of humanity. Human solidarity is completely gone. And it happens because of the caste system. That hierarchy in society is the problem; a really big, current problem. "

From birth every Indian is tied into a fixed structure, for which the terms Jati and Varna stand.

Jati refers to certain local groups or traditional professions such as Dhobi - the washer, or Gandhi - the perfume seller. There are over 2,000 such jati in India.

Varna, on the other hand, is a mythological, firmly hierarchical distinction.

This classification is already mentioned in ancient Hindu texts, the Vedas, says the sociologist Pralhad Jogdand. They write down the caste system and untouchability.

Brahmins - priests - are at the forefront of this social order; followed by the warriors, the traders and finally the shudra, the servants.

"The scriptures say that Brahmins were created from the mind, the warriors from the arms, the traders from the belly, the servants from the feet. The head represents the upper caste, superior to all others. The feet represent the inferior. So the Varna system was established. "

The Dalits are outside of this classification, are considered casteless and untouchable. They traditionally work in professions that are considered unclean, such as street sweepers, latrine cleaners or day laborers. In total, more than 160 million people, about 16 percent of India's population, are casteless.

Only Dalits live in the village of Keshavapuram. Since they traditionally performed menial jobs, dealing with dirt, excrement or death, they were excluded from the other villages centuries ago.

Even today, the residents from the neighboring villages looked down on them, says one of the men in Keshavapuram.

"The other villagers are not treating us normally. They say, go away, you are a Dalit. And when we get close to them, they complain that they have lost their purity. And then they start mumbling mantras and prayer formulas and holy water." to sprinkle to purify yourself again. "

On the campus of the National Institute of Technology in Nagpur, one of India's elite universities: students stroll along the wide avenues, past the tennis court and library building.

Electrical engineering, mechanics or mining - if you study here, you can look forward to a bright future as an engineer, says Professor Devidas Maiske. Together with his colleague Awanikumar Patil, he is on the way to the university's computer laboratory.

"I teach computer science. After my studies, I came here and did my doctorate. That was in 1982. I've been working here ever since."

"He was the first Dalit professor here. I came to the institute in 1985. When I was a lecturer, we became friends."

Meanwhile, other Dalit colleagues also teach at the university. Numerous young people from the disadvantaged cast study here. Because in India there is a quota regulation: 15 percent of the study places are reserved for Dalits. Other disadvantaged castes have meanwhile also fought for a quota allocation, says lecturer Patil.

"Young people from all over India study here. So it is a completely different way of working, among the students there are no differences, no demarcation between higher and lower castes. But deep in Indian society, deep in them, they do not grow together. They do not become Marry across the caste boundaries. And they will buy their house where people of their caste already live. Growing together takes time. "

Quotas apply not only here - at the university - but also in the public sector. However, many Dalits only work in lower positions and are hardly taken into account in promotions - sometimes also because of their poor training.

The quota rule is controversial. Because instead of performance, what counts is caste membership, say critics. An argument that Maiske vehemently contradicts.

"A part of society was denied many things such as education or certain professions. They were not treated as human beings. But our constitution says everyone is the same. How can that work when the simplest things have been denied for centuries ?! Have to go through the quota they receive additional help. Much has already changed in my generation. "

All seats in the computer laboratory are occupied. Young men bend over columns of numbers. Anyone who sits here is hoping for a job in India's future industry, as a software developer or engineer.

Vacation photos or Facebook entries can be seen on some computers. When Maiske and Patil enter the laboratory, the pages are quickly clicked away.

"With the growing economy in India, more and more people are moving to the cities. There are still caste differences there, but they are disappearing more and more. Because in the city there are better educational and job opportunities. Here you can choose yourself "In the villages they are tied to their traditional caste occupations or agriculture. My grandfather was a farmer too. When such people move to the cities today, they are usually better off. However, it can take a generation or two."

After getting up, Mandula Ellamma sweeps the yard and cooks rice for her small daughter and her blind husband. Then she makes her way to the fields of the large landowners, several kilometers from Keshavapuram.

"I get 1 Euro 50 for a day's work if I plant rice or pick cotton. But there is not such a job every day. That's why I usually harvest peanuts for 30 cents a basket. I manage to fill two baskets a day So I get 60 cents a day. These are the usual wages here. "

Today Ellamma works with her neighbors in the rice field. Bent over, she trudges through the ankle-high water and plants seedlings. Dalits are typically employed in agriculture - as day laborers, because very few have their own land.

Some of the villagers have incurred debts with their employers and now have to work them off - under conditions reminiscent of serfdom or slavery. When they die, the debts often pass to the children.

He earns 2,000 rupees a month, says one of the indebted men. Almost 30 euros. With the money he would have to pay off his debts immediately. If his three children need clothes or other purchases are pending, he has to borrow money again.

He gets up at five in the morning. He seldom comes home before ten o'clock in the evening, says the man, 365 working days a year. A vicious circle that can hardly be broken.

But what should I do? He says. I have to eat.

J. Veeraswamy comes from one of the neighboring villages of Keshavapuram and has been fighting for years against illegal land expropriation by the Dalits and for fair wages. The working conditions in the village show one thing for him: the discrimination against the Dalits has not changed to this day.

"In the real estate industry, in the hotel business, in the area of ‚Äč‚Äčcommunication or IT, in all these professional fields there are hardly any Dalits to be found. That is the modern discrimination today. We fight for our rights, for example for our country. But the other castes have power and Money. The difference is still huge. "

The Indian caste system is based on the Hindu religion, but also divides adherents of other faiths into the social hierarchy. Therefore, not only the 80 percent Indian Hindus are affected by the rigid system, but also, for example, the 13 percent Muslim and about two percent Christians.

To this day it is unclear how the caste system came about in India. Some historians suggest that the Aryan tribe established the strict social hierarchy. The Aryans immigrated to India around 2000 BC. Through the caste system, they might want to prevent intermingling with the subjugated native population.

People in white clothes crowd into the huge domed building of the Buddhist temple; the Deekshabhoomi in the north Indian city of Nagpur.

Devidas Maiske takes off his shoes in front of the entrance. Visitors are only allowed to enter the sanctuary barefoot.


In the middle of the marble hall there is a statue of Buddha, in front of which is the urn of a national hero: Bimrau Ambedkar. He was one of the authors of the Indian constitution, which already in 1950 established the equality of all Indians before the law; regardless of which caste they belong to.

Maiske folds his hands in front of his chest and bows shortly before the sanctuary. For him Ambedkar is a kind of liberator from the bondage of the caste system.

Even Bhimrao Ambedkar, father of the constitution and former minister of justice, could not avoid this discrimination. Once a Dalit, always a Dalit. Ambedkar converted to Buddhism in protest in 1956. Maiske, whose father was friends with Ambedkar, was also among the hundreds of thousands who attended the ceremony.

"I was barely three months old when we all converted. My mother took me with her back then. Later she always told me how people flocked to Nagpur en masse - around 500,000."

In front of the stupa, musicians are singing songs about the mass conversion.

Ambedkar inspired people, says Maiske. They still express their gratitude in their songs today.

However, Ambedkar was unable to form a unified political movement. The Republican Party of India he founded split up into dozen factions a few years after his death in 1956.

Nevertheless, some Dalits are now represented in high political offices. Both the parliamentary speaker Meira Kumar and the former head of government in the state of Uttar Pradesh Mayawati Kumari come from the Dalit caste.

For Thanksgiving, all the villagers in Keshavapuram got together and bought a cow to be slaughtered.

After the feast, a couple of plastic chairs are placed in front of the huts and tea is drunk. Time to talk. It quickly comes to the village school. A new teacher works there. And that creates problems, say some residents.

She wouldn't eat the school meals. She doesn't even drink water here, says Miriyala Bhadrayya. Because food prepared by Dalits is considered unclean.

Now the villagers want to speak to the teacher and complain. Because only through protest can they change something, says Bhadrayya. The 46-year-old remembers a story that happened in the village ten years ago.

"There was a well near here that we weren't allowed to drink from. If we were thirsty, we had to wait next to the well until someone from a higher caste fetched water for us. In one of the harvests we finally had enough of it and asked us: Why, damn it, don't they let us go to the well? And then we all just jumped into the water together. "

An older woman interrupts the narrator, others suddenly join in too. Everyone wants to tell about the heroic deed.

The story is only marginally about thirst or drinking water. By jumping into the well, the Dalits broke a centuries-old taboo. This enabled them to develop a new level of self-confidence.