• Sat. Sep 24th, 2022

Archers open fire on Indian caste – OZY

ByMary M. Ward

Aug 13, 2022

Old habits die hard

luminous dawn

After driving about 100 kilometers on dusty roads on a hot morning, we reach Damdama, a small village in the state of Haryana. In an open yard between a school and grazing water buffaloes, a group of young women do their warm-up exercises before shooting practice. Pulling the string of their long wooden bows, the women shoot arrows at a wooden board with a paper bull’s eye.

Besides their love for the sport, these young archers from Damdama share something else, something invisible to the Western eye. They are Dalits.

Drop shadow

While caste-based discrimination was officially outlawed in India by post-colonial rulers upon ratification of the national constitution in 1949, the caste systemThe social, cultural and economic effects of are alive and well today. Caste limits professional opportunities and influences decisions of the privileged about which companies to frequent, which in turn shapes the success, or deprivation, of each new generation, preventing many from venturing beyond their societally predestined roles. . Caste influences upbringing, aesthetics, accent, appearance, values, nutrition, and life expectancy – in short, everything.

“People often taunt us saying that we are from a lower caste and that we should focus on what other women are doing – keeping our heads down and engaging in household chores or doing menial jobs,” she said. archer Laxmi, 19, who lives with her. siblings and his mother in a one-story mud house. (Women in Haryana do not use surnames and only use first names.) Her father passed away a few years ago.

Laxmi’s house is at the end of a slender path filled with manure and cow dung. Inside the house, the walls are painted yellow, with bright green flowers.

Shraddha Kumbhojkar is a professor of history at Savitribai Phule Pune University. She explained that caste and gender act as a double bind for female Dalit athletes.

“An upper caste girl trying to pursue a career in sport will experience patriarchal strains and pressures, while a Dalit girl trying to be a sportswoman will not only face discrimination due to patriarchal attitudes, but pressure extra to be Dalit,” she said. .

Laxmi and his friends are no strangers to this double oppression. Along with constant remarks about the way they dress or behave, caste slurs are common. They can be discriminated against in an act as simple as fetching water from a public tap.

“No one here is teaching women to grow strong and achieve leadership roles,” she told us. “However, once a woman succeeds and represents the village to the world, everyone feels that pride. That day will come in my life too.

worthy medal

Good things happen to those who practice

Sapna, 19, lives a few meters from Laxmi on the same narrow street. She started practicing archery at the age of 10 and, with a lot of patience and hard work, became more and more skilled. In three national matches, she won two gold medals and one silver.

“People talk badly about my daughter,” said Sapna’s father, Shyam Veer, a farmer. “It’s like that in the villages, girls are targeted for everything. My daughter plays well, studies well. I focus on developing it instead of listening to the villagers. He showed us his medals, strung with a beautiful red, orange and green ribbon, which the family displayed on a parapet.

Sapna and Laxmi have been training with coach Joginder Panwar for six years.

“They are working for their survival,” Panwar said, referring to the families of young athletes. “Their fathers and grandfathers worked for the upper caste families in the village. Even Dalit women were often only employed to clean large houses. All this marks the students. »

If these women can make a name for themselves in archery, he says, “it will not only help them, but encourage many girls in the village to play and change their lives.”

Still ‘untouchable?’

It can be difficult for people outside of South Asia to understand how much caste shapes the lives of those in the lower echelons of India. Yet Shafey Anwarul Haque, a researcher at Aligarh Muslim University, says today those at the top of the hierarchy have the same mindset as a hundred years ago.

He acknowledged that Dalits sometimes get the chance to study in top institutions and work in reputable public or private organizations. “But they can’t separate [from] the stigma of being ‘untouchable’,” he said.

Haque described an incident last year when two upper caste men in Haridwar, Uttarakhand came to the home of Olympic hockey player Vandana Katariya and shouted caste abuse to her family after the defeat of the Indian women’s team in the semi-finals. In the same year, Katariya became the first Indian female hockey player to score a Olympic triple.


long game

chain of power

Today, many experts see affirmative action as the only way to create real opportunities for Dalits. “There are scholarships and special schools to support their education, and these provisions have, to some extent, helped them,” Haque said. But he said few Dalits have been able to find upward mobility, including in athletic competition, without outside financial help.

The village sarpanch of Damdama, or elected chief, Santosh, agreed. She said funds from the state government will be needed for archers like Sapna and Laxmi to progress in national competitions, let alone international competitions.

“To train at an academy and play at international level, you need a lot of money and advice,” she told us. “Only the government can help on this scale. We have taken up the matter with the state government, and the file is with them.

play for change

While sharing their ups and downs with OZY, these young women seemed hopeful. They send a collective message to all girls and women who want to excel in life despite difficult situations: “Don’t be discouraged. Do not abandon. Our beliefs, ideas and opinions matter, and know that you are not alone.

For her part, Laxmi feels lucky to have had a good upbringing. Posed, she told us: “In addition to playing sports, I read and I am lucky to have a mother who helped me become who I wanted to be by allowing me to discover it for myself. “

“If we stop playing, nothing will change. But if we keep playing,” she said, brushing her hair out of her eyes, “things will probably change.”

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