Dalit Camera: Through Un-Touchable Eyes
This is a transcript of the first video in the series of interviews Dalit Camera had documented in Kerala on the flood relief operations. The video was taken by Dr. Ravichandran Bathran; translation was done by Anish.
When I went to the camp, I saw that the rice was divided into two portions and cooked on the stove separately. So, I asked them why the rice was being divided, and they told me that the two portions are separate. I further asked why were they different, to which they responded that the portions were separate for scheduled castes and “general”. I asked, if there were any guidelines mandating that there should be two separate portions for scheduled castes and general, to which they said yes, there is. I asked them if it was given to you separately by the village officer or did you just take it for yourselves. They responded that whoever it be, they are cooking separately for scheduled castes and general. I eventually, asked them to give me my share of rice, to which they said they won’t and said “that it is your rice being cooked over there, we are taking our share”
Who said that, exactly?
It is this fellow, called Rayson, who came to take down our names…
So, that was a Syrian Christian?
And I asked if this is how things are to be done, they said yes. Then I said, “it is not possible for the village office to instruct for this (segregation), so I will go and ask the revenue officer myself if the rice is distributed separately and if so, under what provisions are they doing so”. And then other people said that segregation shall not be allowed here, and after that when a lot of people objected to it they said “you people don’t need to make an issue out of it… we will take our rice and cook it on our side (of the camp)”. That evening they cooked under somebody’s car shed a little away from here and prepared their food. The next day when some more rations came, they again came with bags, demanding that their share be given to them. We objected and told them we can’t just segregate, and we all can just stay together cordially in this camp. That is when they said that “we can be with you people, just give us our rice”, and that is when it became a bigger issue.
So, was it you that distributed the rations to other camps.
That is not how it is. At around 4 pm when the vegetables came, and it was unloaded at our camp. Ours is the main camp, and the rations at our camp were to be divided and sent to seven other camps, after which it whatever vegetables remained was just for our camp. So, our (Panchayat) Member came to us and told us to seperate it for them. We told him that we will not do that. These are rations for the camp and we won’t segregate. After which he left. Later, at 4:30 or so, from elsewhere some our rations came in. This Member informed these people that these rations are coming. So, when we were sitting there after dinner, they came in. We first thought they came because there was a . So at around 5:30 pm rations came in and even these people came in to help unload it. And once the rations were distributed in our camp, they asked it to be divided. We refused to comply, and as we refused our boys video recorded the conversation. And when it was recorded they claimed that one of our boys video recorded one their girls. We just dismissed that and told them it was only the argument over segregation that was if ever video recorded. We offered them to cook the rations inside the together, and share it equally. They responded, “we can not dine with you people”. And then they said that our parents, not our parents, our grandparents served them as help and so they can not dine with us. It’s because our people have been their servants and cooks. Even, if so, was it not food prepared by us that they ate.
Then one day evening Ramesh Chennithala came to our camp. When he came, we tried to convey all of this. But he wasn’t even registering any of it, as all he asked was if we got the rice and beans (rations). When Chennithala came in I was sitting on the floor, the rest stood up in respect, but I was annoyed by his response and I flipped at him “we want neither rice nor beans”. That’s when my husband spoke to him “sir, we have something serious to tell you…”, but Ramesh Chennithala was not ready to even listen. He just said “I shall send over the rations”, and then walked further into the camp near the big cross, where all the Christian women were standing. And then one of the women named Kochumol brought a girl whose video was apparently taken and told so to Chennithala. But it wasn’t just her that video recorded, but that of the argument we were all having that day. Earlier, we did not have the provisions to take videos and stuff. So when such arguments broke out our boys took a video to show others as proof of what happened. But they just turned it into their girl being video recorded and made an issue out of it.
Then the next morning the police came to the camp. I was cutting vegetables and then got up to enquire why they were there. The policeman was smirking and I still asked what was the matter. Then he said, “Is there love-making in this camp?”. I said we escaped our flooded homes to come here. Even in our homes, we did not have the space and time to do so, so we have no need to do that over here. Then I asked, who called them here, to which the policeman said “I can’t tell that to you”. I told them to give me the (phone) number of the person and he said even numbers can’t be given. I insisted that they must tell us who called them up to come here. He eventually said someone from the Taluk Office asked them to check. I still insisted them that even if it is the Taluk Office, we need their phone number. But they didn’t give and then left.
Then later, the Tahsildar came, right? Yes, the Tahsildar came to the camp. When he came in, he did not entertain what we told him. Still we tried to talk him about the happenings here and the police’s visit. But the Tahsildar ignored us. He came to us to hear us out only three days later, when all of this came in the news. To which, we just told him that, “we don’t need to tell you. We tried telling you earlier about the police’s visit…” I mean, for us, to even say that the police came to us is still shameful. They came into the camp, made a fuss, accuse our boys, is that not humiliating to us. We, we all live in ours homes with dignity. It is only because of the circumstances that we had move here, otherwise we didn’t have to. And then the police come saying we get drunk and “make love”, is that not at least upsetting for us.
Our (panchayat) member, without asking around about it… our member from the Ward no. 3… if him and this Rayson talked this out, we wouldn’t have had this problem. Member told me to give (divided rations) to them, telling me that this school (the camp) belongs to them. I told him that even if it is their school it is the government that gives them their salaries. After that he did not visit our camp. One day, coming back, I saw him dining with them.
Yes. With them. Three days later, our MP and him, came in and dined with us. But none of us spoke to him. Maybe, Vijayan-chayan spoke to him a bit. But other than that, all of us pretty much ignored him. After that, till date… our houses are submerged, we have are still here, not once did he bother to check on us.
He won with our support.
Yes. He won with our support. He belongs to the Congress. So, maybe that is why he does not come here (sic). Then Reliance was distributing some kits or coupons, but this man did not distribute it to a single person from the low-lying areas. He instead distributed to these people staying on higher areas.
Is it all because of this issue?
Precisely because of this that our member has just forsaken us. It is a very upsetting thing what he has done to us, along with these people. We these people all the time, but they treated us so badly.
…then (one) elderly woman, she threatened to hack off Adityan’s hands and legs. The sort of language they used can not be said here to you. Our boys told us to not respond to such things, otherwise it will escalate…
Boy in the back
They wanted to provoke us… they pretty much just wanted us to do something and make a problem out of it…
…you don’t know the atrocious things they told us, about our mothers. That is why our children were telling us to not to, even though we know how to respond to that, we also have learnt the same language. But then we thought we should listen to our children and not dismiss them. You should have heard the kind of things they spoke about our mothers.
Not so much, but then it was terrible. They were saying that we came in like moulds in to the camp. Now whatever mould might be there, even they had to go to the same camp, didn’t they? Like moulds, huh. That was the sort of thing they kept saying, and we know to respond to all of that, but we didn’t. Because if we go to fight with them, won’t our boys come along with us? So we just let it go. Our blood was boiling, and we wanted to answer back, but we did not. And they just kept tossing a lot of slurs on us. A lot of them.