Shoe comes right back to the foot (Times of India)
“Dangariya village in eastern Rajasthan’s Karauli district is still separated from the nearest city by 80 kilometers of a long, deserted road. [...]
“Last month, an NGO put out an online petition on a shameful custom that forced married dalit women passing by the houses of upper caste families to take off their footwear and carry it in their hands. The campaign was accompanied by a video that actually showed a few of them removing their slippers as they crossed the dwellings of the sawarna community.
“‘If we walk by wearing our slippers, our husbands are taunted in the village meetings,’ said one of the women in the video that was first put up on the internet two years ago. [...]
“Now, villagers from both sides of the caste divide are afraid to discuss the matter with outsiders. Skirting the issue, they grow defensive, even hostile. Those from the Dalit community, who agree to speak, refuse to divulge their names. Initially, there is an outright refusal that the custom of removing footwear ever existed at all. But persistence yields problematic qualifiers. ‘We ask them to wear their slippers if they’re carrying them in their hands. This custom has been around since our grandparents’ time,’ says Kailash Sharma of the sawarna community in the village. [...]
“Dalits in the village almost seem to have internalized and accepted caste interactions as they take place. Saubhagyawati (name changed on request), a farm-worker, adds her own two matter-of-fact cents. ‘If someone of authority sits on a chair, won't we sit on the floor?’ she asks. Ram Shahe Meena feels there is merit in the argument that Dalit women observed the ritual of their own volition. ‘Would women go into a temple wearing slippers? Baat maryada ki hai (It’s about boundaries),’ explains Meena, beginning to get agitated. In other words, the problem is not just that of caste discrimination, but also of gender. [...]
“‘Dalits who depend on the ‘upper’ castes for their livelihood are usually afraid to speak up. In the last 20 years, we’ve heard of fewer instances of such discrimination, particularly in Bhilwada,’ says Bhanwar Meghwanshi, an activist working on caste issues in Rajasthan.”