Part Four: Is caste a criteria for bringing change?
As you might have been reading under this series, ‘Reflections under the tree’, my new assignment requires me to go and stay in a new community as a volunteer. What does this means? It means that I am supposed to select a random village, go there and ask people to allow me to stay in their homes and I am not supposed to say very explicitly about my organization as it raises their expectations. During the entire process when I used to travel with my co-fellow and one colleague in random villages to tell them about our initiative a common question that was asked to us was on our caste. Which caste do we belong to?
Caste was like a criteria and the only way to qualify it was that you are supposed to be from the so called higher caste i.e either a Brahmin or Kshatriya. Since we all were from so called general or higher caste we always cleared that criteria and this was never an issue for us. But this makes me think that if I would have been from the lower caste would it have been so easy for me? Even if my intentions are good and I want to do something for the community, if I am from lower caste would I have got same acceptance as I get now? Even if I get a family to accommodate me from lower caste would the people of higher caste still interact with me normally? In the face no one would have said anything but I believe they would have decided in their minds not to entertain us further.
To explain my query I will support it with an example. I belong to Chhattisgarh state which has always been in news for Naxalite movements. The only thing which people here know about Chhattisgarh is the Naxalite movement so their first reaction when I tell them that I belong to Chhattisgarh state is that they become doubtful and think whether I am here for some anti-social activity? I think belonging to Chhattisgarh state was a reason for many people not showing interest in accommodating me or doubting me. Similarly if I would have been from a lower caste it would be really difficult for me to work with the community.
From my experience most of the villages have a bunch of influential people who decide everything and these people are generally from higher caste. If some organization or volunteer has to work in that village they will need support of these people and for that you are supposed to be from the higher caste. This raises a query in my mind that all my co-fellows who are working with rural community, would they have been able to work if they belong to lower castes? Can only people from higher caste work with community? Is caste an eligibility criteria if you want to bring a change?
We never came across this dimension in our batch. Not happy to know it exists..