What's your caste, he asked me bluntly. SC, I replied

Blog Caste Sunday, May 22, 2016 - 16:40

By Nagaraj Hettur

I’ve been looking for a house on rent in the Shantinagar and Hemavati Nagar areas of Hassan city for the past 15 days. Yesterday, I saw a house I liked which was near my daughter's school. They asked me to come the next day, so I called the Hassan district president of the ABC Shivlingegowda, who called up the owner and spoke to him.

‘Please give him the house, he is the vice president of the ABC’ Shivlingegowda said.

‘Oh, since you have recommended this person, it’s now only a formality. I will give the house, just come tomorrow morning,’ the owner said.

I was happy beyond words at the prospect of getting the house for certain as Shivlingegowda had recommended it. I had already looked over around 50 houses and was quite dejected by then.

In the morning, I drove to Shivlingegowda’s house and woke him up. ‘Come sir, let’s go’, I said to a bleary-eyed Shivlingegowda.

I was confident I should get the house at least today as Shivlingegowda was with me and the house belonged to a Gowda family.

I saw the house, and everything was fine.

I offered to pay the advance.

‘What is your caste, sir,’ the owner asked directly in Shivlingegowda’s presence.

For a moment I looked at Shivlingegowda.

He looked back at me.

Lying is not my thing because for the kind of social work I do, I appear on television or in newspapers from time to time. One day or the other the truth would be out.

SC (Scheduled Caste), I said.

The house owner’s face fell…

‘Sir, don't be offended but, I don't rent out to an SC,’ he said.

‘Why?,’ I asked.

‘My wife doesn't like it,’ he replied.

Shivlingegowda was dumbstruck. Words failed me.

I felt insulted, angry and impatient all at once.

‘Everyone is like us, give him the house, boss,’ Shivlingegowda said.

In a stern voice, the man said: ‘Sorry Shivlingegowdre.’

Which D$%**, $%^** created caste, I cursed silently. In mental agony, I thought ‘We fight for so many people, but is this out lot as well?’

I was curious to know how the president of the ABC would react to this ‘Practice of Untouchability Against Dalits over Rented Houses’. I waited.

Some distance away, he tried to console me: ‘Sir, there are people like this, too. Let it be. Don’t take it to heart. If not this one, you will get another house.’

I called up my uncle, Subbu Holeyar.

‘I’ve been insulted. Can I file an atrocity case to teach these people a lesson?’ I asked in anger.

All he said was: ‘Without a change in mindset, nothing can be done. It is their house, they can give it to anyone they like.’

I tried to calm myself, and let it drop.

Who will change their hearts? When will that time come?...

I have seen nearly 50 houses. I am ready to pay the advance and rent, but I just haven't found a house where the owner doesn't ask about caste.

Let’s see...

(Nagaraj Hettur is a Hassan-based Dalit activist and writer. This post first appeared on his Facebook page on May 12, and has been reproduced with permission. Another translated version of the same appeared on Roundtable India first.The names of Shivlingegowda and the organization he represents have been changed.)