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Lived in constant fear of being found I'm not Brahmin, says Dalit author

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Press Trust of India New Delhi
Discrimination on the basis of caste is prevalent in urban spaces too, says author Yashica Dutt who has come out with her memoir in which she talks of "living in a constant fear" of being identified as a "Dalit".
In "Coming Out As Dalit", Dutt recalls her journey from Ajmer to New Delhi to New York, where she is based now, describing how she came to terms with her "real identity" after years of "passing off as a Brahmin".
She also seeks to make a compelling case for the community through stories from her life and others including that of Rohith Vemula, a PhD scholar at University of Hyderabad, whose suicide in 2016 triggered a major debate on caste system.
"There was a constant fear in my mind that I'll be recognised, because I was effectively living a lie (about being Brahmin) and I did not want to be caught. So that was, to put it succinctly, growing up in Ajmer coming to St. Stephen's in Delhi and then working here through multiple jobs, living here for 10 years throughout that entire time I was hoping that nobody finds out I am a Dalit," she said.
"I was trying really hard to hide the fact that what my real caste was, or who I really was. And it helped me in a lot of ways. I did not feel any discrimination," she told PTI.
"People just assumed that I am an upper caste person because I was playing the role so well. This whole journey was marked by being somebody who was hiding their identity, living with a burden of what it feels like not being yourself," she said.
Dutt, 33, recalled incidents from her childhood about discrimination that had left her "scarred" and became the reason for choosing to hide her caste even when working with a leading daily in New Delhi.
"Often when I returned from school, my mother would enquire if someone asked me about my caste and if someone did I am supposed to say 'Brahmin' because she was worried that if I revealed I was from the 'bhangi' caste, I would face discrimination even by my teachers and friends in Ajmer and miss out on opportunities," she said reminiscing the Rajasthan of early 1990s.
Asked if the "gap" in "discrimination" shrinks in urban spaces where money and services appear more dominant instead of caste, she said in villages caste is more visible, in cities it is invisible but it is equally present in both areas.
"People who come to collect garbage at homes are almost always Dalits, those who do manual scavenging 99 per cent times they are Dalits, nobody from upper caste seeks quota in these jobs. Because Dalits have been doing these jobs, and they exist in cities also," she said.
Through her book, published by Aleph Book Company, Dutt said she wants to reach out to those "who think we live in a post-caste world" and caste discrimination existed only in ancient India.
"I want to start a conversation. I am trying to tell stories that have not found space so far in media or pop culture narratives. I am trying to document what this side of being a Dalit is like. So far this subject has not received any attention," she said.

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First Published: Feb 27 2019 | 1:30 PM IST

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