India’s Dalits still fighting untouchability (BBC News)
“Dr Sonkar’s soft voice turns angry as he describes the scene.
“For years, he says, he worked hard to leave behind his childhood of poverty, abuse at school and teasing at university.
“By the time he had walked into the Rajasthan teashop, he had turned his life into a success story.
“He had a PhD in law and a teaching position at a Delhi university.
“Yet, as the shop owner handed him his tea, he asked him what caste he belonged to.
“‘I am a Dalit,’ Dr Sonkar said.
“‘In that case, wash your glass when you are done,’ the shop owner said.
“‘He didn’t want to touch whatever I had touched. I made it impure. I am an untouchable.’ says Dr Sonkar. [...]
“‘It’s like you are born with a stamp on your forehead and you can never get rid of it,’ says Amit, one of the community correspondents.
“Amit’s village in the northern state of Haryana is just a three-hour bumpy drive away from the capital, and yet Dalits here are not allowed to enter temples or visit houses of the upper castes.
“‘Today, here in Haryana, we the Dalits are still being tied to trees and beaten by upper caste people. Police do nothing because none of the policemen are Dalit,’ Amit says.
“Amit and his neighbours admit that things are slowly changing.
“There are now laws protecting Dalits and affirmative action programmes. And Dalits have worked hard to increase their political power–several states have even elected Dalit chief ministers.
“But, only a very few manage to break out of the cycle of poverty and caste that they are born into.
“Untouchability helps to lock Dalits, who traditionally do the dirtiest manual jobs, in their occupations.
“Even if a Dalit scavenger can afford to buy a cow and sell milk or open a shop, for example, upper caste customers are unlikely to buy any of the produce.
“In Amit’s village Ladwa, like in most of India, no Dalits own land although his friend Vimal has moved into a house he bought from the upper caste members.
“It’s a spacious, solid building but the neighbourhood has changed.
“‘As Dalits moved in, all upper caste neighbours moved out, so the prices have really come down,’ Vimal says.
“But, he admits that discrimination is not limited to the upper caste, within the Dalit community there are many sub-castes and hierarchies.”