news Wednesday, April 29, 2015 - 05:30
This isn’t a token attempt at breaking caste barriers. For a year, a motely group of people in the villages of Kolar district are working "part-time" to make a dent in high walls of caste that surround many Indians, starting with their own homes. Calling it the “Dalit Grihapravesha” initiative, its founder G Shivappa hopes to strike at the manner in which everyday caste differences and discrimination are practiced: in the prevention of entry into one’s home, and in not eating with a person who belongs to certain castes, especially the Scheduled Castes or Scheduled Tribes. The programme started on June 30, 2014, and since then it has been one step forward, and two behind. The main thrust of the campaign, as the title suggests, is to focus on convincing people who belong to the upper castes and inter-mediate castes to let people of lower castes enter their houses. But they have also organized “temple entry programmes” along with officials of the district administration and various other groups. Such a programme was organised at the Choudeshwari and Someshwaraswamy temples in Kadenahalli of the district. Now, it has become a wide federation of groups fighting for the same cause, taking it beyond Kolar’s borders and all across the state. Kolar district, bordering Andhra Pradesh has one of the highest concentrations of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in the state, and form a third of the district’s population of 15.4 lakh. But in southern India, Mulbagal-based Shivappa says that the hierarchies are different from those in the northern part of the country and that all of these needed to be addressed: “Here Kshatriyas are very few in number, as are the Brahmins. But like these communities, the backward classes too practice forms of untouchability against the SCs and STs. They will not allow people of lower castes to enter their houses.” A lecturer himself, Shivappa says he is saddened when even educated people are unable to see beyond caste, and added that sustained efforts were necessary to break down boundaries. “No honest attempt has been made by anyone, even by the government. This is a 1,000-year-old practice. It will not go away overnight, but if serious, continuous attempts are made, we can achieve it.” Armed with this belief, he and others go around on Sundays, visiting people they know or even don’t know, and try to talk to them. “I have a job, that’s why I can only do this part-time. We go on Sundays and holidays,” says Shivappa, who is a Vokkaliga. L E Krishnegowda, also a Vokkaliga, is one of Shivappa’s associates, and although he has never discriminated against people of lower castes, he could never get anyone to ever enter his house, he says. The only exceptions to this situation were the members of his street theatre troupe Shri Kuvempu Kannada Kala Sangha, who were all Dalit and he is the only Vokkaliga. “Kuvempu is my god. He spoke of being a vishwa manava (a universal person / cosmopolitan); we should all try to be like that and live together in society," says Krishnegowda, who belongs to Lakshmisagara village. He said that they had organized several programmes in which non-Dalit people would have their meals in the houses of people belonging to SC communities. “We would do this without burdening them, and ensure that we assisted them financially as they are already poor,” says Krishnegowda. K V Jagannath of M Gollahalli, belongs to the Balija community, which is one of the inter-mediate castes. Stating that he was fully committed to these efforts, Jagannath added that things had greatly improved since his childhood. “Back then, there were rules on who could sit on chairs and who had to sit on the ground. People should be equal in society. Men and women are different, but otherwise we are all of the same caste,” Jagannath says. Perhaps it is an indication of the results that their efforts are having, that the district administration put up a sign board saying that people of all classes had access to the temple. 
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