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Mainstream, Vol XLVII, No 18, April 18, 2009

Doormats Cast(e) Aside

Saturday 18 April 2009, by S G Vombatkere


Every “respectable” person has a doormat at his/her doorstep. Doormats serve a useful purpose, namely, that of cleaning the soles of footwear before entering the home. Visitors are expected to use the doormat to leave the dust and grime of the street at the doorstep, so that the home remains clean. Family and friends appreciate doormats and, being from the same social class, they too have doormats. Doormats may be used in any manner whatever, even kicking it when the user is in a foul mood and, well, treating it as a doormat, because doormats have no rights under the Consti-tution of India. They remain inert and inarticulate according to the karma of doormats, which cannot become shoes by an act of conversion. In short, doormats are a “good thing” and everyone should have them in their homes. But it needs to be remembered that taking away anybody’s doormat is construed as an attack on the way of life. OK, so why are we discussing doormats?

Let us cut to the pernicious Great Indian Caste System (GICS), which is alive and well, thank you, notwithstanding the Constitution of India. There is the brahmin at the top of the heap and, in pecking order, the kshatriya and vaisya (together, the “upper” castes) and the sudra. The accident of birth ensures that a person remains in his/her caste permanently. The sudra at the bottom of the heap bears the weight of the tiers above and takes the orders and the shit from above—quite literally since, in some places the banned, inhuman system of carrying excrement still exists. They have been renamed as dalit, and even though they have protection under the Constitution which We the People gave unto Ourselves, and further protection under the Atrocities Act, the GICS ensures that regardless of religion, dalits remain as social doormats and are used as such.

Unholy tradition has it that dalits could not cast their “unclean” shadows on people of the “upper” castes, they could not wear chappals when passing certain areas (since doormats cannot become chappals), their women were not allowed to wear any clothing above the waist, they were denied education, and had at all times to remain subservient and available for all purposes to the “upper” castes. Even today in some places they cannot draw water from “upper caste” wells, they are served food and drink in separate utensils when they are served at all, they are not permitted inside temples for worship, and they are beaten or killed, their women stripped, paraded naked and raped for defiance of “upper” caste wishes. And the “upper” castes cannot countenance co-dining or, dare I mention, inter-marriage with them.

Caste has been eradicated only on the paper on which the Constitution is printed, but the pervasive GICS exists subtly and not so subtly all across India. It ensures that there is always a class of people who serve the menial needs of the “upper classes” of urban India and rural Bharat, across religious communities. The communities which “own” these social doormats want them to remain servile and subjugated, and not seek better conditions under other “owners” across the religious divisions, even by exercise of their freedom of conscience guaranteed under the Constitution. However now, dalits and other depressed classes are beginning to demand their rightful due of freedoms, social justice and equity that have traditionally and systema-tically been denied to them over the centuries, with a growing assertiveness that should and will ultimately succeed. One day, even doormats will speak.

Major General S.G. Vombatkere retired from military service in 1996 and has since been engaged in voluntary social service with Mysore Grahakara Parishat (MGP), National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM) and People’s Union for Civil LIiberties (PUCL).

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