When I was in school it was not chocolates or dolls that I craved for. The only thing I wanted was for my mother to comb my hair, and knot it into braids before sending me to school. But this morning ritual of joy, which other normal kids might have taken for granted, was always denied to me. Not because my mother did not love to fuss over my hair but because she simply could not. She had to reach the construction site where she was working as a labourer at 7.30 a.m. While other mothers kept pestering their children to eat their food, mine was at the labour site carrying heavy cement bags on her fragile back.
During vacations, my mother used to leave me in the care of mothers in the neighbourhood. Other working women in our vicinity, too, left their children in the care of these mothers. They looked after us like their own, unmindful of our caste or colour. Jisha’s tragedy was that she did not have neighbourhood mothers who could look out for her. She was living in ‘puramboke’ land, in a house without proper doors or even a bathroom, all her life. Jisha is no ordinary girl, she is talented and beautiful.
It was the amazing grace in her movements that first told me that she was a dancer. The men in the neighbourhood were waiting for an opportunity to pounce on her. It was only natural that Jisha’s mother shut her off completely from the neighbourhood. In fact, innumerable attempts were made in the past years to rape her.
Jisha’s mother had lodged complaints with the SI, CI, DySP, and even the Vanitha Cell, all in vain. Jisha was so insecure that she walked around with a hidden pen camera. If only one of the neighbours refused to be blind to the fears of this mother and daughter. It is strange that a single mother with two girls had to wait endlessly for land and a house.
But then, dalits can expect nothing more from the society. Of the 45 lakh scheduled caste and scheduled tribes in the state, 32 lakh are left homeless. And those with a roof over their heads are dumped in 26,000 dalit colonies and 7,700 settlements. These are no cosy places; cramped, unhygienic, with no basic facilities. As if all this humiliation is not enough, we are not even given rights over the land on which we live.
Normal people can never comprehend this injustice. They can pledge their land and get loans for all their needs. But a dalit cannot. They live steeped in poverty, without land, without a home, without education. For a day of MGNREGA work they do, they get `150, the amount spend for a single meal by the upper class in the state. It has been found that 1,200 people have used fake SC certificates to secure our jobs. Not surprisingly, the government has not moved a finger against them.
Our women and children matter even less. Last year I went to a dalit colony in Wayanad. It was worse than animal existence. 200 people, including 30 children, were living in 24 cramped huts. There were no latrines, no electricity.
There was worse in store. In one of the huts I entered there were two children on the verge of death. The older one, four years old, was unconscious. The younger one, just ‘one and a half’ months old, had its eyes open. But its hands and legs were rotting. Both were immediately rushed to the hospital.
Horrors kept unravelling before me. Two teenage girls were missing from another hut. We soon found out that they were taken to a large mansion in Koothattukulam in Ernakulam and made to do menial work. I called up the owner and told him to produce the girls within 24 hours or face the community’s wrath. He did so, and we could eventually put the girls back to school. We have no choice but to keep fighting, as our reformers have exhorted us.
(The author is a tribal social activist)...