This isn’t a token attempt at breaking caste barriers. For one-and-a-half years, 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.
In April, its founder G Shivappa had told The News Minute that they called it “Dalit Grihapravesha”, a programme with which he and his friends hoped 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 was to focus on convincing people who belong to the upper castes and inter-mediate castes to let people of lower castes enter their houses.
However, today, they have expanded their activities to a wide range of interventions to address caste barriers. Today, Shivappa says that the group works to get Dalit people enter the houses of non-Dalits, eating of meals in Dalit houses, address the prohibition of Dalits drawing water from the same wells as upper caste people, temple entry programmes, and lastly administering oaths to school and college students on the refusal to practice untouchability in any form.
The group has 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. Among the upper castes, it is the Vokkaligas and Kurubas (OBC) who dominate.
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.
Asked why he started doing this, Shivappa said that some years ago, he realised that his family too practised untouchability. He said that like many other houses in many villages in Karnataka, his family too organized bhajan events.
“The musicians would always be outside. (I realised) we had kept that tradition alive. I wanted them to sit inside along with all the guests,” Shivappa said.
Asked whether his family did not oppose his ideas, he said that his family “did not resist” because the ground work to be open to non-discrimination had already been laid.
(A version of this story was first published on April 29, 2015 under the headline “Meet Kolar’s part-time anti-caste crusaders”. It has since been updated and republished.)