What’s worse — to be a Muslim in India or a Dalit wanting azadi from caste?

Dalit conversion to Islam Muslim discrimination violence
Even if we embrace Islam and stop going to temples, will anyone be able to change our identity, ask some Dalits in Tamil Nadu | Illustration - Prathap Ravishankar

When he was 12, Kittan often fantasised sitting outside the tea stall at his village square after a hard day’s work, holding a glass tumbler full of piping hot tea and a cigarette hanging from his lips. He had just started working — assisting his father, a manual scavenger. But it didn’t take long for Kittan’s fantasy to come crashing down.

“I had gone to the tea stall and asked for a cup of tea. Although I didn’t have the money to buy a cigarette, I quickly picked up a cigarette butt lying on the ground and pretended to smoke. The tea stall owner had lined up three glasses — two glass tumblers and a paper cup. As I reached out for the glass tumbler, the next thing I remember was a tight slap landing on my face,” recalls Kittan.

Now in his 20s, Kittan has swigged down many a cup of tea and humiliation since then because of his caste by the members of caste Hindus ruling the everyday norms in his village.

Such childhood memories, Kittan says, are part of almost every Dalit’s life. “You must have heard of such stories told many times. Yet each time it happened to me over the years, the pain felt the same, if not more.”

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