They go out at night, like mice. And are considered just this. No one must speak to them, relating to them is even prohibited, they are never to be seen. For a living they rummage through rubbish-bins where they look for the left-overs and some rags. They are considered impure, to the point that they can’t go either to the temple to pray. Anyone who comes into contact with them – by law – should immediately wash his hands; because they can contaminate the “pure” also only by the look or even if their shadow were to brush past them.
This is not the description of Manzoni on the gravediggers, but the cruel reality that hundreds of thousands of people live in India today. Formally, free from prejudice ( January 26, 1950 the Indian Constitution stating that all citizens have equality of status, of opportunity)entered into force, the home to Ghandi, still clings to the idea of caste: you are what your birth permits you to be, without any possibility of raising your social status. This makes one stop and think of what happens on the banks of the Ganges, where it becomes clear what occurs in other parts of the world too, however masse by democracy. In fact the word “caste”has a precise meaning in the western world, the same one that has been plunged into the bottomless pit of racism again. Not to mention the so-called wars of religion, where onet kills just because the other has a different religion.
India is not an exception, but the visible projection of what right now is one of the evils of the world. In the country of Mahatma though – it has to be said-there are historical reasons. The castes have existed for over 2500 years and, although they no longer have legal value, they are the pivot of cultural and religious society. The origins of caste system dates back to the second Millennium B.C., when the Aryians (or Indo-European) arrived in the territory, but the institution of caste system gradually came about the first millennium BC, when the fundamental distinction was codified, in hierarchical order, among Brahmins (priests), Kshatriya (warriors), vaishya (merchants and craftsmen), and shudras (servants). Each of them is clearly indicated by a “varna” (Sanskrit term meaning colour) which noticeably marks out the differences, restrictions, rights and obligations. To these are added the “out-caste”, usually referred to as pariahs or untouchables: those who have no social background for the contempo in their occupation or because they have lost – or infringed the rules-thus losing caste membership, social rights and the roles of religious rituals.
Not only do castes still exist, but with the passing of time, they have fragmented, favouring the creation of sub-castes governed by equally strict rules. Then come the “invisible”(the outside caste and shudra) out of the hierarchical system which, despite all the laws and promises of various Indian governments that have followed, are often abused and harassed. As the story of a woman, belonging to the community of snakehunters, raped at night on the square of the Madurai railway station, always full of people sleeping out in the open. The next day, she went to the police to report to them of her rape, the latter, after having heard, went back accusing her she had no right to accuse and report him, and then killed her striking her on her head with a stone and then escaped, under the eyes of helpless people who at that time were near a slap in the face to to legality. Only through the intervention of non-governmental organisations that operate in the area and that promote social and education development of the nomads, the man was handed over to justice and punished.
Translation provided by Marina Stronati