The year was 1985 and I had been married for a few months. We had gone to Jhansi, my hometown and decided to spend a day in Khajuraho. We boarded the early morning bus from the railway station. I didn’t know that it would be this bus journey that I would remember and not the erotic sculptures of Khajuraho.
We reached and were a bit disappointed to see the bus nearly full. So I asked the bus conductor ‘Is there a place for two? We wouldn’t want to go standing.’ He climbed inside the bus, surveyed the layout, and said, ‘Yes, come on in.’ Saying this he gave a resounding whack to someone who didn’t look like a city-dweller, and shouted, ‘Did I ask you to sit on the seats? Get up, you dumbass, get up you bloody…’ and his shower of expletives made me look at Specky apprehensively. But we quietly boarded the bus and sat on the seats where the village folk had been sitting. I was thoroughly confused and didn’t know if it would be fine to even protest.
No, there was no outrage. I was nervous and shaken.
But this was just the start. As the bus moved, the conductor shouted again, ‘Are you bloody idiots? Did I ask you to board the bus to get me kicked out of my job? Then all these bastards standing sit on the floor. Now!’ And the men and women, who were all village folk and not the well-to-do village folk, just sat on the dirty floor. The conductor then warned them not to get up even once or he would throw them out. ‘And I mean every word,’ he warned.
There was still no outrage but we sat there stunned and surprised.
Specky whispered to me, ‘You belong to this place. What is this happening?’ I just shook my head and whispered back, ‘I have no idea what is happening.’ I closed my eyes and was about to settle down for a short nap when there was another blitz of expletives and I noticed the conductor was holding a man by his collar.
‘Mathar***d, apni aukaat dekhi hai? Seher se char paise kama kar bhool gaya ki to hai kaun?’ (Son of a motherfucker, look at yourself, just because you’ve been to a city and earned some money doesn’t mean you forget where your place is.) The conductor was angry and his victim was trembling but his eyes seemed carelessly fearless. A few years in a low-paid job in the city had made him forget the distance between a low-caste and the upper castes. I heard him say, ‘I am also a human being. Don’t treat us like dirt.’ And then what happened simply burned the word ‘outrage’ in my mind forever. The conductor simply opened the door and threw this man’s brand new suitcase out. The man whose suitcase had been thrown out had tears in his eyes and he protested, ‘For my family. They were gifts for my family. It had all that I had earned in one year. Why did you do this? Why?’
The conductor then whistled to the driver to stop the bus and then he gave this man a hard push. He lay there on the road and looked at us all with anger, incomprehension, frustration, and sorrow converging and reaching out through the tears in his eyes.
But not one person spoke anything. Not a single word, not one sound of protest. Not even from me. I know there must have been outrage in that silence that day. It was outrage that didn’t know how to respond to what was happening. And then the conductor’s voice boomed, ‘Any other shudra who wants pretend he can confront me can get up and get lost.’ I had spent years in this region without realising what being a dalit really meant. I knew now that it meant you had to travel in a bus sitting on the floor though you’ve paid for a ticket. It meant that you and your belongings could be thrown out anywhere in the wilderness and miles from nowhere on just a whim.
At some stage of the journey that day I did ask the conductor, ‘Who are you? Who was that man you threw out?’ He said, ‘Woh dalit aur main Yadav. But sir, don’t worry, this is normal here.’ ‘Normal,’ I muttered and was no longer interested in even reaching Khajuraho. I now link outrage with Khajuraho.
Outrage is back.
Outrage is back and is once again connected to the same state: UP. And this time outrage is so terribly intertwined with contorted and convulsive rapes that are taking place with an unnerving frequency. It is again the dalits, the lower castes and the under-privileged suffering the high-handedness of the so-called upper castes, the Yadavs. Or should I call them goons? Or just dismiss every incident of rape with a casual, ‘Ladke toh ladke hain. Ho jata hai. Ab phaansi thodi na lagaoge inhe!’
Yes, outrage is back… and brings with it all those memories that have been slowly gnawing my insides all these years. Only this time, outrage comes out in the form of words appealing to every sane mind to stand up against such injustice. Let the feeling of outrage in every heart come together in the form of a giant wave that washes away this feeling of discrimination and the resultant perpetration of such heinous crimes that exists in this country. UP is just one of the 29 states where this happens.
02 June 2014
This article was published in ‘The Education Post’ dated 23 June 2014…