Mr Sadashiv Rao is a pharmacist. He works with an organization that conducts free medical camps for people. He is the one issuing drugs. The patients are mainly muslim and dalit. Along with Mr. Rao, the mobile clinic has a doctor, an administrator and a driver. At the office everyone eats separately. Mr Rao eats on his own at a vegetarian brahmin hotel. The doctor eats by herself as she is non-vegetarian and uses onion and garlic in her cooking which the others don’t like. The driver eats separately because he is generally of a lower status. The other five partake of an onion and garlic free vegetarian diet.
Apart from the driver, the rest of the mobile team are unanimous in their disgust towards the communities they visit. As soon as their mobile health van enters a slum, the doctor and administrator, as if on cue, hold their noses. Every time they pass a beef stall or stalls of food outside a mosque, they look like they will faint. The administrator feels like her intestines will recoil and throw up. Her savarna friends and family members often ask her how she can even bear to enter muslim areas. She shudders each time she describes her visits. Her whole body convulses as though to throw away the memory of the carcasses that greet her every visit. “We never drink tea in that area.” She often reassures her savarna family members. “These muslims’ says her husband ‘They breed like cattle. They are told by their mullahs to multiply and increase their population. They have so many children. They are so filthy.’
“Yes’ agrees the administrator readily and she often shares this opinion with the rest of her office team and they all wholeheartedly agree. The doctor refuses to touch any of the patients.
The muslim offers an easy soft target for the savarna. Muslims are easy villains. The number of children that muslim women have is seen as proof of their villainy. There is adequate data that any woman – muslim, christian, jain, hindu – if living in poverty, with poor access to health services, reduced decision making powers, lower education and without an independent source of income will have more children. The solution is not to vilify muslim women but to demand and ensure that they have equal access to education, livelihood and healthcare that other women have access too. There is also the fact that female foeticide and infanticide is much higher in hindu communities that have an obsessive need for male children.
The muslim eating habits are again vilified. Expressing disgust at food of muslims is open and readily accepted. Holding one’s nose when entering a muslim area seems to have become the mark of a real savarna. There are however many savarnas who choose to go to a muslim area to enjoy a beef roll, a kabab or a phal. There are many young people who would vouch for the delicious spread that the muslim areas offer. It is therefore only a case of broadening one’s domain of acceptance. To stop being disrespectful of other people and to separate poverty and poor hygiene from religion.
The mobile clinic boasts on its van that the organization fights poverty, neglect and discrimination. This becomes just an inanity if attitudes do not change in one’s day to day life. Discrimination through casteism, islamophobia, classism is there in many of our actions.
These are things one has to fight everyday. It is not some distant theoretical phenomenon. It’s about who we eat our food with, whose food we reject, whose company we reject because of the food WE eat, whose company we reject because of the food THEY eat, where we eat our food, who gets left out of these eating spaces, how we judge the way people eat, the faces we make when confronted with ‘other’ foods.
Understanding and addressing this is the one of the early steps of fighting discrimination.