Today was our first day looking at projects in the poorer areas of Delhi. I woke up nervous, which was annoying. Several toilet visits and lots of praying, and I had myself more or less under control.
First, we went to the charity field office. Various people did presentations, and we learned something about India. I learned about the Dalit people. In India, they have a caste system, which I vaguely knew about. Depending on your name, ancestors and family homeland, you slot into a class of society. The Dalit people are below even the lowest class.
I also learned about Debt Bondage. You are deemed to be responsible for paying the debts that are owed by your ancestors – for the things they might have done wrong ( so not material debts, sort of spiritual debts, owed to society.) These can never really ever be repaid, which in effect means that people are slaves. ( Not sure if I am explaining this correctly – anyone with more knowledge than me, please jump into the comments section below!)
Apparently, the good old British compounded the problem when they ruled here. The British introduced toilets. These toilets needed to be emptied. Only the Dalit people were considered low enough to carry poo, so they came from rural communities into the cities, where they were the poo carriers. The problem (for other people) arose because when they carried poo, they earned money. They then used this money to return to the rural community and buy land. This left no one carrying poo. So the British, in their wisdom, made a law that meant no Dalit people could own land. Hence leaving them available for poo carrying. Even today, Dalit people do 33% of the agricultural work, but only own 1% of the land.
Now, I don’t want to discuss the politics of this. I am fairly sure British Rule made some terrible decisions in its time. I am also suspicious that sometimes countries who have had generations of people since then, like to blame some of their current injustices on the British. However, today people are downtrodden and unfairly treated, and whatever the reasons, this is wrong. The law in India now allows Dalit people to own land. In practice, very few do.
I asked how people know which caste someone is in. I was told that a person’s last name, their family occupation and place their family originates from, all give clues. Plus it is apparently openly discussed. If someone says they don’t know which caste they belong to, they will be upper caste, because the lower castes can never forget the weight of oppression they feel. I thought that perhaps, instead of withdrawing currency, the government could withdraw family names and reissue everyone with a casteless one. But perhaps that kind of sweeping rule is why the British made some bad decisions in the past. Perhaps I should just keep quiet and listen for longer, so I can fully understand this culture.
We left the field office and drove to the community centre. This was a room. There were two very steep steps into it from the street. Inside, it was painted and had a few pictures and slogans stuck to the wall. We met the children. It was Children’s Day in India, when schools are usually closed and communities plan treats ( like picnics.) These children were from a poor community and they had planned a protest march. They lined up outside and held signs and banners they had made. Then they all marched through the streets, shouting slogans they had learned. ” We have a right to education.” ” We have a right to food.” ” We have a right to clean water.” “Girls have a right to life.” Makes you think, doesn’t it……
The girl’s right to life is a big one, and something the charity are working on. In India, parents often choose to terminate a pregnancy when they have the ultrasound scan and learn it’s a female. In some areas, very few girls are being born.
The march finished on an area of scrubland, where they held a rally. Some mothers sat and listened, and a few teenaged boys wandered over. They had hard faces but the same silly haircuts that lots of boys who I’ve taught have, so I felt quite comfortable. We sat on hard dusty seats in the hot sun, while stray dogs fought behind us and clouds of flies floated around. We were surrounded by houses – tall many storied buildings with balconies filled with washing drying and people leaning over to listen. It was very foreign.
The ‘rally’ consisted of a few more slogans chanted, then a brief talk in Hindi. There was then a film, telling the children they had the right to not be abused. Our translator said this was a big problem. Many women stayed in the home all day, they had very few rights. Children were frequently abused by family members. The film was a good one, surprisingly blatant for a children’s film, but very clear – child abuse is wrong and children should tell an adult and call Childline. They then taught the children the Childline number.
Then we were asked if we would speak. There were about 100 children, plus maybe 50 adults, not very different to a school assembly or church service, so I was happy to give a short speech. ( I talked about how special my children were, at every age, and how no one was allowed to hurt them or make them do things they didn’t want to. And these people were special too, whatever their age, they had the same rights.) It was hard to remember to pause, so it could be translated into Hindi. It was also, actually, very hard to not mention God. For me, God is the reason they are special, they are God’s created people and he loves them. But I wasn’t sure what the people I was speaking to believed, didn’t know if they would be angry or offended if I mentioned God. So I didn’t, I tried to tell them what I thought God would tell them, if he was there.
Afterwards, lots of people wanted to touch us and take selfies or say hello. It was strange, we were treated almost like celebrities, even though actually they had given to us, by inviting us to share their day. I got stroked a lot. There are now a lot of terrible photos of me in India, as I was wearing very strange ‘walking through poo’ heavy boots and a mix of Indian tunic with light trousers and a headscarf. And glasses – which make me look like an ageing aunty!
Then we went to a house and met a group of women. Very strong women. I will write about it tomorrow.
Thank you for reading.
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Marching through the streets – while cars and lorries passed us and motorbikes squeezed through. A teacher’s nightmare!
The place where they held their ‘rally’.