A dog has been excommunicated from the high caste quarters of Manikpur village in Morena district, north Madhya Pradesh, to the Dalit quarters beyond the village. The gram panchayat has been shocked out of its wits at the dog’s behaviour as reported by its owner Rampal Singh, a rich Rajput farmer with political connections.
The story goes that the dog was walking around his owner’s fields as dogs are wont to do. Sunita Jatav had carried lunch for her farm labourer husband as farm labourers’ wives are wont to do. The husband had finished the lunch and one roti was left over. Sunita saw the dog and invited him to have it. He politely accepted the invitation, probably assuming that one roti was as good as another. Poor dog. Evidently he had not been trained to distinguish between dalit rotis and Rajput rotis. Sunita Jatav’s roti was, like her, dalit to the core.
When Shri Rampal Singh saw what the dog had done, he went ballistic. How could his pet, fondly named Sheru, brought up as a true blue Rajput, have polluted himself so unforgivably, and in the bargain put the entire village at risk of….er, umm, I’m supposed to know what that risk is. But I’m that anti-national, anti-Hindu, westernized, educated, secular thing that’s destroying the fabric of Bharat that is not India. And so I am at sea. Anyway assuming that the dog’s deed was going to give the whole village scabies or worse, turn them into earthworms in their next birth, the only way to save themselves from either calamity was to punish the dog.
The gram panchayat got into an instant huddle and excommunicated Sheru from the village. That meant they dragged him off across the village border and tied him to a pole outside Sunita’s house, there to eat her rotis forever. Henceforth neither he, his shadow nor his pee would be allowed to corrupt the purity of the village environs.
I can see a whole old-style Bollywood movie here. Rampal Singh’s little son who has grown up with Sheru sneaks to Sunita’s hut, cuddles his “brother” and also eats Sunita’s rotis. Nobody knows what’s going on till one day he grows up and wants to marry Sunita’s fair skinned, light-eyed, lavishly coiffeured, buxom daughter and gets to make a speech about all human beings being equal for show me one who can tell the blood of a dalit from the blood of a Kshatriya. Rampal Singh, struck by the radiant obviousness of this truth, breaks into tears of remorse and everyone embraces everyone else.
One story leads to another. The excommunicated Sheru reminds me of another animal that fell foul of the law and came close to being leg-cuffed. This was the unnamed brown sow of Gogol’s "The Tale of How Ivan Ivanovich Quarreled with Ivan Nikiforovich". She was suspected of running off with court documents that would have proved one Ivan right against the other. The problem was, the law books said nothing about how brown sows were to be punished.
In India we are lucky. We have customs. So we don’t bother about law books. Sunita has discovered this to her intense anger and shock. She’s been shuttling from one police station to another to register a case against Rampal Singh for publicly insulting her with the words, “Cobbler woman how dare you feed my dog with your roti?” She would have swallowed the insult had the gram panchayat not compounded it with the injury of slapping a Rs 15,000 fine on her for her misdemeanour.
As she sits in police stations, including the one meant to register atrocities against dalits, vainly trying to file her complaint, she must be kicking herself for not having found a happier way of disposing of her leftover roti. She could, for instance, have buried it deep in Rampal Singh’s soil, there to nourish his next crop which would then have entered his granary and from there, by natural progression, his alimentary canal without his being any the wiser. That way she could have been sitting in her hut at this very moment rocking with laughter, rather than in unhelpful police stations
As an act of subversion, this would have equaled the one that Daya Pawar describes in his autobiographical book “Baluta”. One of the village duties of the Mahars, the caste to which he belonged before he converted to Buddhism, was to play music at upper caste weddings. If their music group burst into occasional laughter without a word having been said, it was because one of them had played a juicy obscenity on his instrument against the host in a code that only they knew.