Ozy.com brings us the story of how a group of young people from one of the lowest castes in India, the Chuhras, won honour and dignity by forging a cricket club that practiced and slowly but surely defeated an upper caste cricket club.
The story is based on the reminiscences of Vimal Kumar, the founder of the Movement for Scavenger Community, which aims to end manual scavenging. Vimal Kumar, who belongs to the despised lower caste of the Chuhras is pursuing a Ph.D. in social work from the Tata Institute of Social Sciences. He is also an Acumen India Fellow, Ozy.com informs.
Vimal Kimar, we are told, was born into the lowest caste of India, the Chuhras, "a name so low and vile that to call someone a Chuhra is to deliver a grave insult." His family of 15 people "made our living removing and carrying excrement from toilet pits." They lived in a one-room house on the edge of a town called Ladwa with no toilet or running water. "We were the unclean cleaners with no way to clean ourselves. We were the untouchables," Vimal writes.
Ozy.com notes that "although discrimination against the untouchable caste has been illegal for 60 years, almost from the founding of the Republic, the law had not changed the behavior of those more powerful than Chuhras. And in India everyone is more powerful than Chuhras."
Vimal's mother was the toilet-cleaner at a school where he got admission and he was insulted constantly by upper caste students, more so because he was a Chuhra who had access to education. When he was in the ninth standard, the family had saved enough money to buy a cable connection for TV but the upper caste owner of the satellite TV shop refused to give him a connection.
Vimals writes that he snarled: " "Chuhras' hamlet? No, I will not give my connection to you dirty people, and I do not want to enter in your dirty area", despite being offered several months' fee in advance. To avenge the insult, Vimal and a gang of Chuhra youth indulged in 'vandalism' by cutting the cable wires of rich, upper caste folks but he soon saw the pointlessness of such actions.
The way to avenge the insults heaped upon him and his caste colleagues, he figured, would be to challenge them on the cricket fielld. He approached an upper-caste schoolmate to play and he agreed certain that the upper caste team would humiliate the lower caste players.
Vimal writes in ozy.com that "He asked me for the name of our team, and I said proudly,"The Team of Chuhras." Vimal decided tha the team would consist of only Chuhras so the victory would be only theirs.
"Our opponents assumed that their superiority extended to all aspects of life, but they could not know how tough we were. We had played in the streets, without proper equipment, without shoes and in 42-degree heat (107 degrees Fahrenheit). We had played without padding. I warned my team that we would not answer taunts with violence — but with our bats."
The upper caste lads beat the Chuhras decisively in that first match but readily agreed to another one. In the next match, the Chuhras were beaten by a smaller margin but, shortly thereafter, Vimal informs us, the 'Team of Chuhras' won the tournament and soon enough became so good that "we beat them in three tournaments and vanquished all their stars."
The moral of the story? Cricket and healthy competition are a successful formula for vanquishing the caste divide