What is home? For me, home is where you go when the whole world is falling apart, to find comfort within the confines of the wicked world and be reminded that no matter how much miserable things are, there will always be something good waiting when you return.
But what if there’s no good waiting for you at your home; what awaits is unemployment, hunger, institutionalised caste discrimination and exploitation? This is what awaits for most of the migrants labours who returned home after back breaking journeys of thousand of kilometers on foot and a handful of ration, majority of which comes from Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe only to find their entry blocked by a handful of powerful upper caste landlords and rich. Only to be so close to their family and not be able to even greet them.
India as they say is a land of villages, and if that be true then it can be contested that India is a land divided on caste based lines. Upper caste owns the lion share of the village and backward caste is just surviving. The homes of backward caste people are nothing more than a place where they can take shed from rain or hide their skin from the scorching heat of the sun. For anything else they have to go out from their so called home.
This realisation came to me when one fine morning I and my friend visited a nearby village, hitherto unknown about the tragic drama that was unfolding just 40 kilometers away from our homes. Labourers have returned from different states, mainly backward caste people- their cluster is being ghettoised by people of upper caste. Bamboo sticks are the new barriers of two different nations in the same village. One side of the barrier represents the rich and the powerful, the other; poor and lower ranked Dalits and OBCs. The “others” are separated by a long barrier of bamboo sticks stretched across the lane, debarring them entry to rest of the village. The new arrived migrants need to go through the circle of Upper caste landlords to enter the inner circle where the low caste people live, their circle of degraded living. Those who are inside the circle, they can’t go anywhere except to remain in their so called houses (most of them even lack drinking water system) and those who have arrived fleeing from big cities must remain outside the outer cricle. A villager told us that ” एक ठो लइका उस तरफ़ चला गया था, उसको बहुत मार मारा और अब हम लोग को अपने यहां काम भी नहीं करने देता है ” (Other day a child crossed that bamboo border, he received a heavy beating and now they are not even letting us work at their homes or fields). Same village received people of upper caste also, coming from other cities from the fear of COVID 19. But there is a difference. For them home is home, full of meetings- greetings. They aren’t even required to be in home quarantine.
One can call it hypocrisy but I call it “Being Indian”- I personally feel (talking metaphorically) that it’s in our genes to even justify our wrongs proudly. This time if you will ask any upper caste regarding their discriminatory behaviour, they will put forward the case of Corona virus. Some other time they will have something else ready to serve to justify their wrong. It’s been always like this in our country. We all know about #black_lives_matter, about protests in the United States and world across or how New Zealand is corona free now but we don’t know what’s happening around us, in our locality, in our villages. We all are equally ignorant or let’s say we are just “Indians”.
This isn’t a fight with others, this is a fight with oneself. We can fight all the others later. But most of all we need to fight ourselves.
Farhan Siddique studies Law at Aligarh Muslim University. Views expressed here are personal.