On Being a Young Dalit Woman

There are days
When I look at myself in the mirror
And see disappointments staring back at me.

I see my privilege
Like a cuss word,
A fish bone
Stuck in my throat,
Mocking me.

But as soon as I step out of my house
Dressed in the same privileged shroud,
I see abuses being hurled at me.

My caste is a broken leg
And the world tries to mend me
By calling me chor!

And I hide my identity behind my nonchalant smile.

I am a scared woman.
Talking in hushed tones about my caste.
To tell you the truth, years ago, I ‘came out’ to my friends
And said I am a Dalit
Fearing they might stop talking to me, after all.

But how late is too late,
And how early is too early,
To tell the world that my ancestors were not kings and queens
That they struggled to fetch water, because it would get ‘polluted’ by their touch
That some gods were too angry at all the lower castes.

That kitchens of my same friends
were unwelcoming to Dalits
That some deities don’t think twice
before seeing a Dalit
and barring them from their temples.

How early is too early before you tell your friend about
the odds of getting into a good college
And they ‘casually’ tell about them being the real ‘victims’
and say, ‘reservation will help you’.

How true is your fight for justice
If it never talks about us –
The women
The men
The children
Who don’t want to go to school/college
Because they are scared of being called out?

How long would it take before understanding that
your saying ‘casteism doesn’t exist’
because you respect your domestic help
is a result of the casteist patriarchy you have grown up in
That you still support systematic oppression
Because you think treating someone with basic respect
is a statement of your good character.

I am a scared woman.
And when I add Dalit to my name,
I make myself seen
To the woke crowd
Who sit in the comforts of their homes
And complain about a Dalit snatching their rights.

‘Casteism doesn’t exist’ is same as closing your eyes
And believing that the world disappeared.
But you are right,
The world disappears for people like me
Who never escape the war of casteist slurs,
In school classes
In colleges
In offices.

I am a scared woman.
Today, my head feels heavy
Because I am a woman from a lower caste
And in this world, which always pretends to stand up for the right
We are painted as the ‘wrongs’.

I am a scared woman.
And today I feel the wrath of casteism
On my privileged middle-class skin
Where my surname is a potential threat
For the same life
which can nurture dreams
Only as long as someone doesn’t get angry.

Bharti Bansal is a 22-year-old poet from Shimla, Himachal Pradesh. You can reach her on Instagram @fallen_42.

Featured image credit: 愚木混株 Cdd20/ Pixabay