When one is born as an untouchable or into a marginalised community in India, their life itself becomes a protest. For me, protest is a claim to be recognised as a human being or as equal to others. Even though the struggle is not planned, by the time we reclaim our dignity, it’s branded as a protest. Though the Constitution says all citizens are equal, our society identifies me as a scavenger, untouchable, or by my caste, religion or gender. Though we use words such as ‘emancipation’, our primary struggle for rights continues.
My life as a protester started early. When I was a child, I was called a thoti (scavenger). I used to get offended and resisted it. Despite the fact that everybody has their own culture, history and intellect, among other attributes, and despite my community being marginalised, I’d be called thoti. In school too, I faced questions about my parents’ occupation or caste. I protested by not responding to them. Silence is also a form of protest. Many a time, I replied with my silence, anger or anguish. I tell people that my parents did scavenge, but I never did. How can you call me a scavenger? If one’s parents are doctors, nobody calls their children doctor.