My First Encounter with India's Caste Discrimination by Nalinaksha Mutsuddi SignUp
My First Encounter
with India's Caste Discrimination
Nalinaksha Mutsuddi Bookmark and Share

I grew up in a Buddhist family, in Chittagong district of erstwhile undivided Bengal. Our village was comparatively advanced to have – more than a hundred years ago-- three co-educational schools – primary, middle and a high school, a post office, a dispensary with a resident doctor and a compounder, and a Haat-- bi-weekly rural market. The high school also had provision from 1st to 10th standard.  Literacy was quite high. It was predominantly a Buddhist village, self-contained in all respects. During Pakistan time, a school inspector observed that he inspected every school of East Pakistan; nowhere he found a middle school run and manned by a single community -- all teachers and students were Buddhist.  A few Hindu and Muslim households skirt the village. They were poor and backward in comparison. Interaction with them was minimal except for hiring menial workers. Caste system is non-existent in Buddhism. Naturally, I didn’t get any opportunity of knowing about caste discrimination except from the writings of Sarat Chandra Bose. --"You mlechho! How dare you cross my shadow?"

After completion of training in the Air Force in 1957, my first posting was in Jammu. On one holiday, we – me with four Hindu colleagues -- were trekking around the hilly terrains of Jammu. At one point we found some women squatting outside the boundary of a pond earmarked for drinking water. In the scorching heat of the sun they were there seemingly gossiping with a pitcher in front, while some other women were coming and going away after filling their pitchers, unbothered about the waiting women by the roadside. In my naiveté, I uttered, why these stupid women were getting baked in the sun? They came to fetch water, do it and begone as others are doing. My friends said they can’t do that as they belong to a lower caste.

If some kind-hearted upper- caste women take pains to fill up their pitchers without touching them, they could bring drinking water home. They are not supposed to request anyone for the favour. So they keep waiting indefinitely for  some angels to visit.  We didn’t see anybody doing it while passing. The number in the gathering indicates no such angel showed up for a long time.

Suppose none fills up their pitchers, will they go home empty handed? I queried. That possibility cannot be ruled out, I was told.

Denial of drinking water to human beings by fellow human beings appeared inhuman to me. It is in the selfsame great country, which never tires to proclaim boastfully ‘Vasudhaiva kutumbakam’—the whole world is but one family.

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Comments on this Blog

Sorry, Dr.K.S.Raghavan, I was wrong. Caste is permanently fixed by birth -- it's inalienable and immutable. Dalit is an umbrella definition embracing all 'Shudra' class -- weaver,barber,sweeper, cobbler(Mochi) etc under it. Suppose, a Mochi becomes a president of any country under the changed circumstances, he is still a Mochi by caste and his progeny down the successive generations will belong to the same caste.

Nalinaksha Mutsuddi
10/27/2020 21:17 PM

You are right things remained the same as it was thousand of years ago in the villages. The provision of Indian Constitution is still invalid there. It is so deep rooted in our mind that it seems impossible to get rid of the concept of caste system. How easily we talk about the President is a Dalit; Chief Minister is a Dalit. etc. They are no more Dalits, but the label they cannot shake off. It will stay indelibly stuck on their skin indefinitely.
It is not easy for me to imagine how daring Buddha was to advocate for abolition of caste system about three thousand years ago. To me he was the greatest revolutionary.
It's a terrible tragedy that Buddhism disappeared from the land of its origin.
I am very glad to know that you are a Buddha fan. I respect your interest.

10/26/2020 02:33 AM

Comment Sir, Things haven't changed during the sixty years which have elapsed since your encounter.

I am thrilled to learn that you grew up in Buddhist family. I am an ardent Buddha fan. If Buddhism was allowed to flourish in India, we would be living in a different world. It is indeed sad that Buddha is neglected totally in the land of his birth and enlightenment.

Dr. K S Raghavan
10/26/2020 00:41 AM

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